What’s your inspiration for learning a language? Today we’re hearing from Jack, a student and blogger at LangLearningBlog, on how he got addicted…
What inspired you to start learning French?
I never really was fond of languages, and I only studied French at school for a GCSE in a language – but bear with me! Soon I became almost addicted to language learning and I actually started enjoying learning completely alien and new vocabulary. Some thrive from obsessing over football fixtures and their league tables, others however (us!), are addicted to language learning. Let them obsess over futile fixtures. Meanwhile, we can be learning all the words a language holds!
What gives you motivation to continue learning?
Getting yourself motivated to learn new vocab or review flashcards is so difficult (especially when they’ve been stored at the back of a drawer for a few months!!).
My main motivation hack is that I keep my learning sessions short but regular. Not five minutes, but never over one hour, I find vocab literally pours into my brain doing regular learning sessions. Obviously there’s been days where I’ve done little or no vocab learning or reviewing, a.k.a ‘forgetting days’. Short bursts or an adrenaline-kicking 30 minutes are definitely my way forward to keeping motivated.
YouTube definitely helps, personally I think the short TED Talks speeches are great. They cover a huge range of topics, including language learning, and are never too lengthy. Beware though, or before you know it you’ll be watching pandas falling down slides and dogs dancing – one could say I have some experience getting distracted by YouTube.
What’s your biggest language learning challenge?
My learning routine has always been split into two halves: school and home independent study. School would give me the content, and my vocab learning at home would help me consolidate this and go further. Harder in practice though. One of the biggest challenges I had was the content that GCSE French covered. There was no ‘off the cuff’ speaking, nor conventional speaking topics (except food). The course seemed to shy away from practical topics that I’d actually need in France, like ordering bus tickets. So doing online reviewing programmes and not being able to translate some really simple stuff, it felt like learning the language was a waste.
What’s your favourite French expression?
On my visit to St-Etienne, France, I did work experience in a primary school. One night, some of the students on the work experience and teachers at the school went to a restaurant, and were all sat around this square table. Conversation slowed and we divided into two groups: English natives and French natives. It then turned to ;it’s raining cats and dogs’, then soon after all the students attempting to explain other idioms too. Trying to decode the French idioms to English was hard. I did manage to glean from the French idiom conversation ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’. It translates literally as ‘eating the dandelions by the roots’, roughly meaning ‘pushing up daisies’. Obviously my favourite French expression to date – not because it’s unusual, but because it still reminds me of some of the French native’s facial expressions it got in return.
What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
Having the chance to visit the country is definitely the most rewarding thing about the entire years-long learning process. Before I knew it I was conversing with a bookshop assistant asking them to recommend books, and where I’d find them. I was explaining tasks to groups of primary school children and earwigging into conversations on the plane (apparently some French people really like TK Maxx).
After years of learning what felt like an artificial language, as I’d never heard it in action, all this learning had finally paid off, allowing me to not only have some great conversations, but also food – French crêpes and cheese cannot be described in words.
If you, like us, are now dreaming of crêpes (and cheese), and you’ve been inspired to learn some French, visit our website to see how we can help. Or download uTalk for iOS and start learning for free!
We’ve all had that moment, haven’t we? That moment when you’re in another country, you don’t speak the language, and suddenly realise you don’t know which loo is the men’s and which is the women’s. Do you guess, and risk getting it wrong? Or do you just cross your legs and convince yourself you didn’t really need to go anyway?
This happened to me several years ago, and it’s still one of my favourite stories (I’ve got a story for every occasion, as anyone at EuroTalk will tell you) – but it came to be the inspiration for a tool that’s helped millions of people learn a language over the past 20 years.
In the pioneer days of EuroTalk I was travelling to Budapest with my business partner Andrew for a meeting. Our plane landed 40 minutes early, so we had nothing to do but sit in the deserted airport and wait for someone to come and get us. During this wait, I went off to use the facilities, but realised when I got there that I had no idea from looking at the Hungarian signs which toilet was for men and which one was for women. After 20 minutes of waiting with crossed legs, I finally resorted to tossing a coin to decide which one I should use. Fortunately, it worked!
But the incident made me realise how important it is to help people make more informed decisions in other languages. That’s why we made toilet talk – or at least the information about how to ask correctly for male and female toilets – an essential part of our Talk Now product and we now give the words for male and female toilets away for free in 120+ languages through our uTalk app. So you’ll never get caught short, wherever you are.
For me, the big glacé cherry on top of the holiday cake is seizing the opportunity to say something in the local language. There is nothing – nothing! – more dispiriting than shying away from an opportunity to test your language skills, forcing someone else to speak your language instead.
When I went to Ghent this month, I was determined to speak as much Flemish as I could. Not that you really need to speak Flemish in Ghent: every single person I met seemed not only to be comfortable with the official languages of French, Dutch and German, but also able to flip between English and Spanish too. But most people started the conversation in Flemish, giving the perfect opportunity to respond in kind.
I downloaded uTalk Flemish a few weeks in advance and planned to work through a little bit every day. Of course, this turned out to be a bit over-ambitious, but by the time I got to the Eurostar I was fairly sure I had the basics under control. Even if I wasn’t planning to have long conversations in the language, I felt much more confident about exploring the city than if I hadn’t known any Flemish, mostly because I felt I was showing some respect to the local language and culture, rather than ignoring it and charging into conversations in my native English.
Of course, there were some down-points: at the very first bar I entered, the waitress’s torrent of Flemish was so incomprehensible to me that I utterly forgot every Flemish word and experienced total linguistic paralysis, unable to form a reply in any language. My brother stepped in with rusty French, which got the desired result (a very cold glass of Belgium’s delicious Jupiler beer), but made me feel something of a failure.
Still, it could only get better, and as we wandered around the city in the afternoon, dipping into chocolate shops and sampling the famous rode neuzen sweets (gummy red cones sold at every street corner), I had plenty of chances to eavesdrop on Flemish conversations. Having run through a lot of vocabulary in the app but not necessarily having spent enough time to fully memorise it all, I now had the pleasant experience of picking out words I had skimmed across, and recognising them from the back of my memory. With Flemish being somewhat similar to English, there was also the thrill of occasionally recognising a word I hadn’t learnt, but could easily guess – just look at how similar some words are between the two languages:
one, two, three : één, twee, drie
Thank you : Dank u
milk : de melk
Excuse me : Excuseer
cup of coffee : de kop koffie
There’s no question that I’ll be going back to Ghent; unlike its chocolate-box neighbour Bruges, it has the feel of a real, working town with lots of interesting things to see, and I loved everything about it, including the wonderfully friendly people. AND I felt fantastic at having managed to get us a table and order three different beers of different sizes – all in Flemish! Here was the happy result:
We want to hear your language success stories! If you’ve got a tale to share, please email email@example.com.