The most famous example people know of me (and my friend Moses) levelling up, is when we went to a mall in Columbus Ohio and spoke over a dozen languages.
I've had people email me to ask where are good places to level up, as if a list can be compiled. Actually, you can do this anywhere. Let me give you several examples today!
Mandarin in a fishing village… in Ireland
I decided to take a break from my intensive book tour and spent a few days last weekend at the edge of the Gaeltacht in Ireland, in a fishing village called Killybegs (Na Cealla Beaga). While I did drive into the Gaeltacht and speak Irish, something interesting happened on my last evening back in the village.
I went for a jog into the countryside yesterday (with my phone speaking to me in German to update me on my pace and distance remaining- more on how I use my multilingual resources coming up on my new Youtube channel, and on fi3mplus.com), and on the last stretch when I was coming back into the road entering town, I saw two lost tourists.
One of them was looking back at me waiting until I arrived to ask a question, so I slowed down and took out my earphones and he greeted me and asked me in English with a very strong Chinese accent if I could help him find the supermarket.
Not one to miss out on an opportunity, I hazarded a guess Nǐmen shì zhōngguó rén ma? [Are you Chinese?] And he replied shì! with an astonished smile. His father, who was walking along with him in a very Chinese hands-folded-behind-him-leaning-forward-keeping-his-eyes-on-the-road way, on hearing Mandarin, suddenly turned to me and looked at me like I had suddenly materialized out of thin air!
Without batting an eyelid, I started telling him that to go to the chāoshì, he had to yìzhízŏu (keep going straight) and then zài guăi jiăo (at the corner) wàng zuŏ guăi (turn left) liǎng cì (twice) – although I used different word order from what I remembered, to keep the time sooner in the sentence. I was still jogging on the spot at this stage and panting a little, and sort of thinking in a half Irish, half German daydream, but didn't give myself time to think about things, and burst into Mandarin that I hadn't spoken in a while despite the rustiness.
It's a good thing they ran into me, because he told me that he just walked straight out from his hotel and thought he'd find something in this direction, and he would have gone the 5K I had just jogged, the long way into town without some intervention! We talked about how I had learned Mandarin in Taiwan and then travelled China by train. A very nice, and unexpected chat and a great chance to level up my Mandarin!
Hungarian in Spain
A few days before I was to start my Japanese project, I went to an Erasmus party with my friend Scott in Valencia. This was a great event because there were people there for me to practise Dutch, German, French and a lot of Italian with (and you know, some Spanish too of course!)
The funniest of all though, was when I spoke to a couple who were from Hungary. I hadn't spoken Hungarian properly in years, but I did have a mini-project a few months before to revive what I knew, so I had some still relatively fresh in my mind and broke it out to ask them how their Spanish learning was going… in Hungarian.
I've never seen jaws drop so much. I think people who consider their languages the hardest, like Hungarians and Poles are especially impressed when you know anything in their language. They consider even the basics to be impenetrable! The funny thing is that I could barely remember anything and was just saying a few basic phrases, but the couple ran off to get another Hungarian to come and watch this “show”.
People just love to get surprised and see you speak their language in unexpected places!
Esperanto in England
Back to recently, and on this book tour again, I've been surprised by Esperanto in England! I joined forces with those at Memrise and we had a joint meet-up in London, and one of the readers who knew who I was immediately said hello in Esperanto to me – in this case it was him levelling up with me. Nice to have the tables turned!
But shortly after, in Cambridge, I recognized a familiar face in the audience who has promoted Esperanto himself so I took the chance when he said he had a question, and told him to ask it in Esperanto!
Even outside of England, Fi3M's official full-time encourager Brandon has told me that as soon as he put on his polyglot t-shirt for his site photo, he was spoken to in Esperanto. I've had a few people email me to tell me that they have levelled up thanks to their t-shirts telling the world which languages to practise with them!
This is just a tiny fraction of some experiences that I have regularly in getting to practise my target languages outside of the countries they are spoken in, and the stories I hear of others doing the same.
Since the book came out, many others have heard about Moses' levelling up, and have emulated his fun experiences on their own. I love receiving these stories in my inbox!
You just need to keep your eyes open, be willing to not be shy and use what you have, even if it's rusty or basic, and you can level up and remind yourself how languages are a living thing.