Those of you in the email list, and following my Facebook, or twitter found out about this in advance, but today it’s time to announce on the blog what my epic summer language learning mission is, tell you where I’ll be, and precisely what I’ll be working on in TEN languages so that you can get inspiration if one of them happens to be yours!
(If you read this in the LHL email or on Facebook already, scroll down to see an update to my travels!)
10 times crazier than any other mission before it
I’ve mentioned in emails and blog posts that I’ll be taking on a new language in September (hints as to what that will be will be given in the email list in advance, but not for several months) and going to the wrong country to learn it to fluency in three months, to prove that immersion doesn’t depend on your latitude and longitude. With what I’ve learned to tweak from this Chinese project, greater success will be even more likely
But you know what that means? Three entire months of only focusing on one language, followed by several months of travelling in the country that speaks that language (since I’ll be learning it to ultimately use it for the cultural and social experience of course!)
That’s a huge chunk of time, and if I were to go into it straight away now, the lack of practice I’ve had in my other languages would mean they’d get way too rusty. We can’t forget those, now can we!
So until about mid-September, my mission is not just to “practice” my current languages, it’s to noticeably improve my use of every single one of them.
How many languages does that involve? Well, I’ve had my permanent list of languages I’ll maintain for good (has been seven excluding English for some time; Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, German, Irish), and have dabbled in a few others, but there have been some I’ve been really sad to let go.
With that in mind, this summer I’m coming back to two languages I had learned last year, which I want to add to my permanent list
When you take the original seven, add in two that I had learned last year AND of course Mandarin that I’m going to continue to improve on, that’s an epic ten (non English) languages that I want to be able to say that I can communicate in very well for the rest of my life.
Pushing great languages on to the next level
Here is my plan of attack, per language:
Where I’m at: I’m already a C2 (advanced mastery with Instituto Cervantes certification) in this language, but my accent is all over the place. I’ve been told that I have South American phrasing with a mainland Spanish voice and a sprinkling of Canary Island pronunciation. Despite this, my sentence rhythm is still definitely not native.
What I plan to do: I’m speaking regularly with a linguist from Spain who is drilling my rhythm issues out of me. So far, for example, while talking to her, I’ve discovered that in Spanish (at least from Spain), the tone of sentences tends to rise just before a comma (or other temporary pause). This is not the case in most other European languages. I was kind of aware of this, but knowing for sure and trying to apply it myself will make my Spanish sound that extra bit better.
I also have to have my words flow together better. So instead of saying qualquier otro as two distinct words, it sounds much better if you say it as qualquierotro (a subtle but important difference). Or “estadounidense” (the word for a US American, used in Spain) is somewhat muffled quickly except for the tonic syllable, whereas I was pronouncing each part too distinctly. Not “wrong”, just not very (European) Spanish.
So my goal in Spanish is obviously to have a much more convincing accent! I’m also watching a Spanish TV comedy show (La que se avencina, since I used to watch the prequel series to this when I lived in Valencia; Aquí no hay quien viva) when I get the chance and picking apart their slang, jokes, and sentence rhythm to make sure I get it all.
Being able to reference popular TV shows, books and movies in conversations is crucial for cultural references. For instance, in English if you don’t understand “We’re not in Kansas anymore” beyond the literal meaning, you will get lost. Throwing in such expressions like un poquíto de por favor when with Spaniards has helped break the ice tremendously quickly.
Finally, I’m reading Cien años de soledad in its entirety. I’ve only ever read the first few chapters (twice) and had to leave it there because the book was too heavy to travel with. Since I travel with an Amazon Kindle, it was easy to get the book this time, and I can take it everywhere with me without worrying about weight issues. This book is a classic, and as such is only really suited to more advanced learners (there are indeed country-life terms I have to look up, but luckily I can do it quickly thanks to the Kindle’s dictionary, after downloading the Spanish one). I want to have read it entirely by mid September (as well as the other million things I’m doing as described in this email).
You’ll notice that apart from the spoken training lessons, this is hardly a “speak from day one” mission. When you reach a certain stage in a language, practice isn’t the biggest issue you need to work on. Some people may say that you can never sound like a native speaker, and I say it’s very simply because they are not intentionally trying to improve their accent.
Years or decades of passive exposure and casual use won’t make a difference in this case; you need to put conscious energy into making improvements, based on real problems that you are having, and eliminating these problems one by one.
I’ll never convince people 100% of the time that I’m Spanish, but I’ve noticed that in reducing my accent, native speakers forget that I’m a foreigner while speaking to me, and the interaction is far more intimate than how they speak to foreigners in general. I like to joke around and tomar el pelo in Spanish, and that’s easier when the other person doesn’t hear such a strong accent coming through, and less common expressions can be used.
Where I’m at: My French is perhaps a C1 or C2 level (more on what these levels I’m talking about mean here), with a few mistakes creeping in from not practising it as much as I should.
What I plan to do: This summer I want it to be a safe C2, get comfortable in it again and understand subtleties in the language much better.
Once again, I’m talking with a native speaker, who has been helping me tweak the problems I’m having.
Like in Spanish, I have some issues with the musicality of the sentence (in this case I am rising way too much at the end of sentences, even when it’s not a question, and need to put emphasis on important words of the sentence) and will be fixing these so that my accent is much more convincing. I’ve also been analysing well known French movies (such as Le dîner de cons) for particular parts of the dialogue to make sure I understand absolutely everything that is being said at a more subtle level, and remembering important dialogues of movies like that in case it ever comes up in conversation.
While doing this, I’m also reading through Jules Verne’s Le tour du monde en 80 jours, which I’m thoroughly enjoying so far! The Kindle lets you install a dictionary such that if you place the cursor just before a word it gets instantly translated. Rather than translations, I’m using the A.F.’s French-French dictionary in this case for any words I’m not sure of to see them defined in French itself.
Since the book is from the 19th century, I thought I’d have a little trouble reading it, but it doesn’t feel like work at all, and I’m really enjoying the story! I’ll finish this very soon and start reading more books in French this summer, as well as aiming to be more confident in my listening comprehension and speaking abilities.
Where I’m at: I like to think of German as my “worst best language”, because I was a hair away from passing a C2 exam, but unlike with my Spanish and French, I didn’t have over a year to really get used to using it day in and out. It’s the last language I had added to my permanent list, two years ago, and since then I’ve been so busy with other language projects that it has been slipping away from me, and I definitely feel quite rusty when I speak it.
What I plan to do: Bring it back to the level I had before, and improve on this if possible. I’m getting spoken lessons so I can clear away all the cobwebs and rust, and reading articles online using LWT.
Italian & Portuguese
I speak both of these languages very well in social situations, but have never really pushed myself to use them in more demanding situations. In both, I’m meeting with people on Skype and discussing complex issues and having all my mistakes pointed out immediately.
I haven’t defined specific goals just yet, because I’ll be more focused on these two languages later in the summer. In both I’m currently reading a lot, and listening to the news in the languages (via online radio or streamed TV broadcasts) in the hour or so before a spoken session.
While browsing the Kindle store, I found a book in Esperanto of course! I plan to finish it this summer, as well as speak the language with people as always.
Depending on how my travels pan out, since there are still a few weeks I’m uncertain of, I may attend an Esperanto event and even consider sitting the C1 examination (although I wouldn’t do much preparation for it if I did).
My Gaeilge is the first (of three) priority languages of the summer, getting more time than the others! Since it’s the least practiced out of all of my active languages, it has been slipping away from me quite fast.
When my site was getting media attention this year in Irish newspapers, I was invited to talk on Irish language radio no less than three times (separate stations). Sadly I had to turn them all down because with all the Chinese in my head I’d only really confidently give a professional style radio interview in my top three or four non-English languages at the time, and that doesn’t include Irish :’(
I won’t be doing much with it over the next month, but (as you’ll see below) my travels will take me back to Ireland and I plan to spend several weeks in the Gaeltacht (the region of Ireland where Irish is still spoken primarily). In this time I plan to bring my Irish up a serious notch, as it will get the majority of my attention all day long for several weeks, while I’m in an ideal place to practise and improve on it.
If the invitations still stand I will definitely present myself to the radio stations in August! Talking on national radio in the language is certainly a challenge worth standing up to, and a mission in itself!
I want this year’s first major language that I’ve learned to go on the permanent list, so you can bet I won’t be forgetting it and letting it slip away! I’ll be consistently practising it throughout the summer. Not being in Mandarin speaking territory won’t be an issue.
In fact, I’m spending the next 11 days in Hong Kong, where quite a lot of people can’t speak it (which is not the case in nearby places where Cantonese is also the main language, like Guangzhou). I won’t be learning Cantonese this time – I’m mostly in Hong Kong to check out an interesting city, even if I have to do a lot of things outside the house in English for once. Despite this, at home, I’ll be speaking (and studying) Mandarin for several hours a day.
As you can see from what I wrote above, I’ve given myself a slight head start on this polyglot mission, and have been getting back into the above languages since the beginning of this month. So, I’ve already been giving less attention to Mandarin than over the first months of the year.
Despite this, I’ll continue learning vocabulary and getting spoken lessons for corrections. I’m also focusing much more on reading the characters than speaking (since that will indeed still be relevant when I’m out and about in Hong Kong), and I’m focusing on improving my spoken flow and sounding more natural.
I’ll wrap up my time in Asia with another interview in Chinese, this time about a way more interesting topic than any videos I made in my first 3 months.
American Sign Language
The third major priority language of the summer (after Chinese this month, and Irish in August) is ASL for the month of July!
This is also the first language after Mandarin that is to get added to my permanent list, so I can show the flag (presumably US flag) on my site’s sidebar among the languages I confidently know. I spent just a few weeks on this last year, but absolutely loved communicating with the deaf community and want this to be something I can use for over the long term.
From lack of practice my level has become quite dormant, but it’s still there. I’ve been getting online lessons to wake it up again and am pushing it on to the next level.
One of my destinations in my upcoming travels will include Washington, D.C., where I’ll be visiting academics and students at Gadaullet University and I plan to interview some deaf people on camera! I’d love for some of you to see the amazing deaf culture that I was lucky enough to get a glimpse into last year.
And FINALLY, we are on to the tenth language of this ridiculous mega-mission!
Those of you who’ve been on the blog for the last year will have seen me cover this one too. At the end, I was kind of sure I wanted to move on and not maintain it, but what happened was that despite thinking my Dutch would just float away as other languages I didn’t maintain, I ran into Dutch and Belgian people in various countries since (even nearly having a romantic encounter entirely in Dutch in Peru…) and enjoyed speaking to them in my dwindling Dutch much more than I was expecting!
With this in mind, I genuinely want to add Dutch to the mix and give it a proper position and make sure I’m speaking it much better!
I’ve been getting private spoken lessons to expand on my vocabulary and get back on track to first bring it back to the basic conversational stage it would have been at a year ago, and then I want to make sure I am not confusing it with German any more, since I use my German too much as a crutch to get me through conversations, and the person I am speaking is more likely to understand me if they speak German too, which is quite pointless.
But I think there’s room in my head and my heart for this language, so I’ll squeeze it in Expect to see a video interview with an interesting native Dutch speaker later in the summer!
And that’s it!
The 10-part-mission that will keep me busy over the next three months! I certainly won’t be lying on a beach somewhere, taking it easy as I used to think summer should be – I’ll be as active as ever!! But unlike with my Chinese over those first stressful months of intensive learning, I can genuinely communicate (at various levels) in each of these languages.
This is why I feel I can handle switching between two or more languages every day with one language making more appearances than the rest (ASL and Mandarin over next weeks, Irish in August, and Portuguese/Italian in September).
In what I’ve been doing so far, it’s been genuinely fun and interesting! I love reading Jules Verne, hearing the beauty of how Spanish phonetics work, getting back into sign language small talk, laughing at jokes in Italian, using subtle and dry humour with the French etc. It will be intensive, but it will also charge my batteries and let me “relax” in my own way, so that I will be all set for a new language in September, and be entirely focused on that language and nothing else.
Just note that I definitely would not recommend you try something similar to this!!! Keep in mind that I’ve had an “any language anywhere” mission before, switching between a bunch of languages, so I know I can handle this, although there will be genuine goals rather than simply practising this time, and a few more languages in the mix.
Still, for most people I’d really recommend FOCUS and having that focus on just one project if you want success in language learning. That’s all I ever do, so this chaotic mix is my break before I get back into it in September
I’m sure there are many questions like how on earth I’ll be managing my time doing all this while travelling, where I found all these teachers (some where on italki, and you can connect to my profile there here), and what other resources I’m using etc. etc. so you can expect me to write up blog posts about all of that of course! Stay tuned!
I plan to make several videos in most, if not all, of these languages (interviewing natives with interesting stories to share, in person or via Skype), about many topics. You all know my story already, I’d prefer to show you that I learn to speak these languages specifically to hear other people’s stories and learn from them.
As well as this, I’ll make a few videos in several languages. The multilingual videos would actually be purely for entertainment purposes (to be totally honest, I don’t see much other reason to do them), since such videos do well online and may bring more people to the blog to get inspired rather than just entertained, and hopefully they’ll stick around to watch me upload regular (less entertaining, but more inspiring) videos of struggling in the early stages of my next language.
When I release those videos, I’ll appreciate if you share them on Facebook!
But where will Benny be in the world during this mission?
Location doesn’t matter for learning a language. It’s why I’ve been handling what I’ve wanted for each language fine over the net this month. With that in mind, apart from going to Ireland, Washington D.C. and a couple of other places I’ll add later when I’m sure, most of my travels this summer are for reasons that have nothing to do with languages, and yet I will be practising my languages fine!
So here is where I’ll be:
Up to July 3rd: Hong Kong.
July 3rd to July 11th: Portland, Oregon
Like last year, I’ll be at the “World Domination Summit“. This has nothing to do with Pinky and the Brain trying to take over the world, but is a gathering of bloggers like myself.
I’ll be speaking at this conference; something like a combination of my TEDx talk, and a blow-by-blow account of how I made it through learning Mandarin to the level I did. That part of the talk will be based on a much more detailed (free) update to the Language Hacking Guide I’ll send out to people some time around the end of the summer, that gives a more chronological style plan of action to what I do in my own 3 month missions.
Sadly, I can’t record this particular talk, but I’m looking into other conferences that I can give the talk at, that are either in the states in July or in Europe up to mid September, and if I can record it, it will go on Youtube of course!
The 10th of July will be my (30th) birthday! Unfortunately, I haven’t really celebrated my birthday since I was 21 due to having just arrived in some country and not knowing anyone well enough yet most of the time (there are many good things about travelling the world, but this is indeed a downside). Luckily some great friends of mine will be there to celebrate it with me in Portland!
July 11th to July 20th: Indianapolis (IN), Columbus (OH), Albuquerque/Santa Fe (NM).
I have particular people that I am going especially to visit (and one is to be interviewed for the blog, who you’ll see later!)
July 20th to 24th: Baltimore and Washington D.C.
This will be my time to use the ASL
[If you want to meet me in any of these cities, write me an email and I'll get back to you if I have time to set up an Fi3M meetup. I'll likely be too busy to meet people one on one, or passing through some places to quickly to meet up with anyone]
July 24th to August 2nd AND August 24th to Mid September
I actually have no idea where I’ll be for these periods! People have been emailing me suggestions of interesting events to check out or conferences I could speak at, so I’ll see where I end up (in Europe, or maybe hang around a few more days in the states), although I’m obviously not going to learn a new language in this time.
You’ll see me update people on my travel plans on Facebook! If I organise a spontaneous meet-up, I will keep the conversation there because Facebook lets me update Page messages per location. So I can post many times and only people who live there will see it, and others won’t be bothered by irrelevant messages.
August 2nd to 24th: Back in Ireland!
I’ll be spending time with my family and checking out the Fleadh, the largest traditional Irish music festival in the world, which my home town will host again just like last year.
As well as this, I’ll be in various parts of the “Gaeltacht”, for at least two weeks of my time back in the Emerald Isle. At this time Irish will be my priority language and I hope to bring it up a notch with some very intensive tweaking. I’ll likely travel to several Gaeltacht areas if I can, so I can make a video or two to share this world with you!
Mid September on
This will be when my next language learning project begins! I am pretty sure I know the details of this mission, but don’t want to think about it much for a while, as I have plenty on my plate as it is! I’ll tease you with clues about what it will be at the end of the summer, to see if you can guess it before I announce it! Those clues will be given in the email list only.
Lots of fun coming up this summer!
I’m looking forward to sharing some videos with you in pretty much all of these languages, and I hope you’ll enjoy following me along in this epic mission to make good languages even better!
Thanks for reading, and share your thoughts with me in the comments!
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If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
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