Meet Will. He’s the writer and adventurer behind travel blog The Broke Backpacker, and he just embarked on an epic two-year journey from home in the UK to Papua New Guinea.
The twist? He’s not taking any flights. Oh, and he’s travelling on a daily budget of $30.
Will’s been on the road already for two weeks, and is currently making his way through Europe. Over the next two years he’ll be visiting 30 countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, Myanmar, Tibet, and Indonesia, and sharing his adventures along the way.
Why are we telling you this?
Well. When we heard what he was planning, we figured Will might find himself in need of an app that includes over 120 languages from all across the world, which would enable him to talk to people wherever he goes.
Fortunately, it just so happens we have an app like that. So we’re very excited to announce that uTalk is the official language sponsor of Will’s adventure, and he’ll be using the app on the road to learn and speak everything from German to Tajiki, Albanian to Khmer. He’ll even be able to greet people in Tok Pisin on his arrival in PNG.
Will’s been travelling for seven years, and knows how important it is to speak a bit of the local language: “Learning a new language is hands down the best way to make new friends and peek behind the curtain. uTalk helps me to break down barriers, learn the local lingo and make friends in the most unexpected of places.”
We can’t wait to follow Will as he makes his way across the world, visiting some fascinating countries and meeting loads of interesting people. And we’re looking forward to hearing him speak all the languages 😉
Today we’ve got a fantastic guest post from Kelly Wang – English teacher, accidental traveller, cake whisperer, dinosaur believer – on her personal language learning journey.
If you’ve got a language story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Now over to you, Kelly…
My journey through languages began in sequins and shoulder pads.
At the age of seven I remember clutching a Pot Noodle (Chow Mein flavour, if you must know), with an A4 pad in front of me and one of those 10 coloured pens ready and poised, waiting for the Eurovision Song Contest.
It has long been a tradition in my family to watch the Eurovision together, and to give marks out of ten to the acts. And at that age, I was of the opinion that English was the only language in the world, so my marking scheme would include whether or not the songs were in English. No English? Nil points.
I even took exception to the fact that each country when giving their own points spoke in their own language. How rude.
Fast forward to the last year of primary school and we learnt a few French words like bonjour and le livre and la fenêtre.
But then, on reaching secondary school, when we started to learn a ‘modern foreign language’ regularly (in my case, French), I loved it. I loved the idea of being able to speak to everyone, no matter the language. And better than that, I was picking it up pretty easily.
The following year there was a repeat performance with learning German, and I remember a sort of teenage arrogance of thinking that languages were going to be ‘my thing’, because by the time I was sixteen I could also say Θέλω να πάω σπίτι in Greek – Thélo̱ na páo̱ spíti (I want to go home).
Over the years I’ve flirted with a lot of languages. I tried Chinese for a while, but with the complicated tonation, I was more worried about causing offence with the way I said a word, and less worried about actually stringing a sentence together.
And then, I found my true language love. The one language I could lose myself in and spend hours learning just for fun. The one language I would squeal over if I heard it spoken in public. Which is Finnish. Naturally.
Finnish may sound like an odd choice, but it made perfect sense to me. What started with a passing interest listening to Finnish metal music erupted into a bit of an obsession when I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t understand the Finnish ice hockey commentary.
For almost two years, Finnish became my number one hobby. Being relatively self-disciplined when it comes to studies, I decided to learn through a mix of self study and online language exchanges. Many an adventure was had along the way, and that perhaps is a story for another time, but I loved it. No prepositions to learn because everything was a suffix, and by changing the word ending you could say a whole range of things about it: saunassa, saunasta, saunan (in the sauna, from the sauna, for the sauna). No articles, no need to wonder if your table was a girl and your chair was a boy, it didn’t matter. Neither did you have to refer to a person as he or she, one simple han and it was covered! Beautiful.
Fast forward another year, and I found myself attempting to get to grips with Hungarian. Now for those of you who don’t know, Finnish and Hungarian are cousins of the language world, and it depends on which scholar you speak to as to how close a family they are. My experience was that whilst it sounded an awful lot like Finnish, Hungarian was nothing like it at all, except for the odd words like toilet: Hungarian – vécé, Finnish vessa.
And currently, I find myself in Spain. Adamantly not learning the language.
Because the problem now, with being a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ when it comes to language, is that they all get tangled up. A waiter asks me if I want a refill, I answer in a mix of Spanish and Hungarian. I overhear staff in my local Chinese supermarket and confuse them – and myself – by responding in Chinese rather than Spanish. And recently on a stopover in Paris, I managed to respond to questions in French but found myself asking questions in Finnish.
What I really could do with is a babel fish. Or to live in the TARDIS. Unfortunately, I am in the wrong reality for that. But. I still love languages.
So. I don’t know what the foreign language for me is going to be. Should I return to French, attempt to master Finnish, or take up something new like Dothraki? Or will that lead to more unnecessary tongue twisting? I just don’t know. Would you like to join me on my journey?
“Everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.” Richard L. Evans
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So, you’ve decided to learn a language. Great! Now what?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have gone straight to the Internet in a fit of great enthusiasm, and bought yourself a language course – whether that’s in an app, on a CD or online. You might even have gone a step further and enrolled in a class.
But then the sun comes out, or the World Cup kicks off, or you decide to start reading the Game of Thrones books (only recommended if you have nothing else to do with your time for at least six months), and that passion for your new language starts to fade a little bit. Suddenly there are other things to do with your time, and although you definitely still want to be able to speak the language, you just don’t seem to have the time or enthusiasm to actually learn it.
And so that language course you bought, which promised so much, is forgotten and unused, and your dream of going travelling and fitting in like a local remains just that – a dream.
Can anyone else hear violins…?
It might sound obvious, but the thing about language courses, whether it’s EuroTalk, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo or any of the other multitude of programs out there, is that they’re only as useful as you allow them to be. I wish I could tell you that simply by downloading uTalk to your iPhone, the vocabulary will magically find its way into your brain while you’re sleeping, but it’s just not true (although if you want to try it, it’s available from the App Store).
Let’s look at this another way. You want to lose weight, so you join a gym. Logical. Maybe you even go along a few times after work. But then six months later you’re still not skinny, and on top of that you’re out of money and you probably feel pretty bad about yourself too. According to research by online accountants Crunch.co.uk, here in Britain we were wasting £37m a year on unused gym memberships in 2011. Just think what we could have been doing with that money. Or how fit we could all have got if we’d kept going to the gym.
The fact is, gyms don’t magically make you fit, or thin. (If it were as easy as that, I’d have joined one a long time ago.) They just provide the conditions you need to get yourself there. Even a personal trainer, whose job it is to help you, will only get so far if you’re not willing to meet them in the middle. And it’s the same with language software – if you don’t use it, it can’t help you. We’d all love a big red button that will get us instantly to where we want to be, but life isn’t like that.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Learning a language isn’t just about being able to speak that language. It’s also about the things you’ll discover along the way. You’ll learn to appreciate your own native tongue, understand the culture of the language you’re learning; you might even make a whole new group of friends. And personally, I think the satisfaction you feel the very first time you manage to speak to someone in another language, even if it’s just to say hello or thank you, is much greater than the pleasure you gain from becoming fluent. In the same way, reaching your target weight will feel amazing – but nothing will beat that first pound you lose.
So my advice is this – don’t buy language software, unless you’re going to use it. Because as the late Maya Angelou once said, ‘Nothing will work unless you do.’ And we don’t want your language app gathering virtual dust on your iPhone, until one day you realise you don’t need it any more and quietly delete it.
But if you do decide to invest in a course (hopefully EuroTalk!), and you follow through on that crazy plan you had one day to learn Russian, or Korean, or even Klingon, that’s great. I guarantee you won’t regret it – and it’ll definitely be less painful than going to the gym.