Podcast Episode 26: Language Careers, Language Events, Language Inspiration

In this episode, Lindsay and Kerstin discuss a good bunch of topics around the topic of language learning in person.

This episode is brought to you with support from Other Cats to Whip, a cute French book that you can buy for 10% off using the code FLUENT.

  • What was language learning like before the internet?
  • What’s so great about an event like the Language Show?
  • Our ideas for Langathon and Language Speed Dating
  • Language and Careers: What’s out there beyond Teaching and Translating?
  • Lindsay’s passionate explanation of “Primary Languages” in the UK, and how to instil a language passion for life in younger learners
  • Our appreciation of multilingual actors and subtitles in TV and movies

Our podcast also featured a short interview with Dan McIntyre from the University of Huddersfield and our discussion around what fluency involved.

Tip of the Week

Lindsay chose Tip 2 as the winning tip for this episode and added more great ideas on how you can present to people, even when they are not learning your language.

1) Draw a trilingual vocab chart to practice vocab divergence

2) Prepare a presentation for your tutor or buddy

3) Swipe in two languages using the Swiftkey Keyboard app

Links and Interesting Stuff from This Show

Language Learning Events around the World

Language Show Live

Polyglot Gathering

Polyglot Conference

Polyglot Workshops

Creative Language Learning Podcast 26 language show

Which Language Should I Learn?

img ©srhabay.wikispaces.com

img ©srhabay.wikispaces.com

So you have decided that you want to learn a new language. This is big. This will change your life. If you are wondering which language to learn, here is a little bit of help. Here are a few thoughts that you might find useful:

1) Ignore Thoughts of “Easy” and “Difficult”

Here are some common reasons why you might hold back from learning a difficult language:

The New Alphabet

You might know that my current language learning journey is learning Russian. But this is my 7th foreign language. Until I was 28, I never even considered learning Russian. I thought it was difficult. But then came my first business trip to Kazakhstan: A country where street signs look like this:

Kazakhstan street sign

No English! No Western script! I had to find my way around the streets, and it showed me just how quickly learning a new alphabet can be done. I had been scared of this all my life, and it turned out to be a really small problem.

The New Systems

Now, what about the fact that some languages are just naturally difficult or easy? This is partly true if you measure languages by how similar they are to English. You may find that the ideas listed in this graphic are going to work for you:

But if you have an understanding of the English grammar, you already have a basic understanding of language and you will very quickly find that your existing knowledge makes learning easier. Any langauge makes more sense once you know grammar.

The Bad Experience

Many people tell me that they are not interested in learning German or French because they had to study at school and they were bad at it. It is almost as if a bad grade in school was a message to these people, telling them that they are not allowed to try again.

If you have similar thoughts, please adjust. Language learning is not about how you did in school, or about what you found difficult when you were 13. Most adult learners now look at languages from a different point of view, and as a teacher I have often experienced that even the most basic knowledge of a language will be reactivated when you come back to it after many years. So in other words, if it was difficult at school you must not expect it to be difficult after school.

2) 1000 Speakers Is Enough

Many people decide that they want to learn a popular language spoken by many people everywhere. But did you know that even minority languages like Irish Gaelic or Maltese are spoken by over 100,000 people around the world? This means there are more people than you could speak to in a lifetime.

When you decide to learn a new language, choosing the popular language can help you find more native speakers makes it easier to find materials and fellow learners. But there are also advantages to learning the rare language. For example, native speakers will appreciate your effort so much more. Plus, rare languages can actually boost your career! My friend Mike is a native English speaker and found that his skill in Finnish helped him start his translation business in a smaller market and attract bigger clients a lot more easily. This would be a lot harder if you were working in a language spoken by millions.

3) Your Interest is The Best Guide

The first and strongest bit of advice I can give you is to choose a language that truly interests you. This matters more than the number of speakers, the career prospects, the difficulty or anything else. If you are fascinated by the desert palaces of Rajasthan in India, you should not be looking at learning Spanish!

Every expert will tell you that learning a language just gets so much better when you can make it come alive. Obviously, this means speaking in most cases. But even if a language is hardly used in modern times, you can still become extremely passionate about it. Latin learners will enjoy reading the smart (sometimes really funny) writings of Ovid, and if you are in Europe it will give you a new perspective on your own country. This can be fascinating and rewarding, and we haven’t even started to talk about how useful Latin is for learning Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian and so many more.

So, Which Language Should You Learn?

In my life, I have so far studied 7 languages. It never felt like a waste of time. Now that I am studying Russian I know that each and every one of the other 6 is making it easier for me. But the important thing was that I stuck with those languages, and I didn’t start more than one at the same time. My best advice would be to just make a decision and start learning. Stick with your language. If you become interested in a different one in the future, you have not wasted your time because language study is connected, and teaches you a new way of looking at the world.

Stop wasting your time choosing the easiest language, instead choose the most interesting one.

There is just one thing to think about when you want to learn a new language: You will learn nothing if you stay lazy. New languages are always a lot of work, and the only way to keep going is to motivate yourself all the time. This can be because of cultural reasons, but the interest in your own achievement is just as powerful. For example, I never learnt French because I wanted to move to France. But at the same time, I never gave up on French and I committed my time and effort. Now I am fluent in French, and still have never lived in France. French culture is not my passion, but being able to speak French has always been such a strong goal that I just kept going. The formula I would share with you is a bit like this:

Interest * (Commitment + Engagement) * Time = Fluency

If one of these is zero, you will not achieve fluency.

I hope this article helped you make up your mind. Which language do you dream of? What’s holding you back from studying it?

Further Reading:

Insider Post: What the A-Level exams were really like

 As promised, this week the blog will shed a little light on exams in the school system and today I'm extremely honoured to present you with some notes from the front line! Tom Pandolfino has been sweating over this year's A-Levels and he's now one of millions of students anxious to receive their results tomorrow. In today's blog post, Tom lets us in on his thoughts about the last two years of language in the school system, and whether he thinks it was worth it.

International Readers: A-Levels are the UK's school leaving exams at 18, the senior high school is called "Sixth Form", and GCSE are the ones at about 16. They love exams in this country. 

Judgement day...? Perhaps for some!

For many young students, tomorrow is seen as the 'make it or break it day'. It’s already that time of year again in which we as students receive our A-level results. There is much pressure upon us to get those grades in order to go to the university of our choice or to go on with future life achieving the best possible results. I am sure that many finger nails will have been bitten to shreds! 


Having worked hard for the past two years and particularly hard in the last year, the summer time came around and it was time for my exams. Being stressed is an understatement as to how I felt. I can safely say that this was a shared feeling for the majority of my friends and other students. You really feel like your whole life depends on these exams, however sometimes you just need to remind yourself that it is not the end of the world and that there really are much worse and more serious things in life than writing on a piece of paper in timed conditions. 

In my own case, I feel nervous about the results tomorrow, but I maintain the mindset that it is all done now and I tried my best, so I cannot be tough upon myself, whatever is to happen. Yet at the same time I am very much looking forward to getting my results as I want to go on with the next stage of my life and start a new chapter at university! 

The beginning of the past two years...  

After my GCSEs, I personally decided to continue with my studies in the form of A-levels as I hoped to go on to study at university. Having been successful in both French and German at GCSE level, I decided to take the plunge and continue them both on as two of my A-level choices. 

Foreign languages had always intrigued me whilst I was at school, and I got so much satisfaction in communicating with others as there is so much to be learnt about our wonderful world! I still find it thrilling now talking in a different language as it allows you to see and feel the world in a different light. My other subjects that I decided to study for A-Level along with my languages were Economics and Government and Politics. These were subjects that I chose as I thought they would be relevant to and linked with languages, in a modern and inter-linked global world.

So what are these exams really like?

I spent my two years of sixth form working up to the A-Level exams, and after a total of 8 exams in the exam season just gone, I can happily say that I feel they all went well! Some of course were harder than others and there are always parts of the exam paper itself that were very difficult. You know that dreaded after thought of ‘wait...should I have written this instead?’ or ‘was it actually A and not B?’ Perhaps though as far as I am concerned the most difficult exams are the writing exams for the languages.

It is my belief that the speaking exams remain the most nerve-racking even though I feel that is where I am strongest. At the end of the day, my favourite part about language learning is using the language face to face and getting stuck in to conversation. In these exams, I noticed how much confidence I had gained in speaking the languages as I really pushed myself throughout my last year of A-levels to not just get an A-level grade in my languages but to actually try and be able to really USE them. It is such a shame in my opinion that many people will leave school, often having studied a language and sometimes even to a fairly advanced level, such as A-level standard, but will never use their skill. They will just let their knowledge fade away. 

Find out if it was worth the work

It really did soon become quite clear to me that having studied both French and German, I had reached quite a high level of proficiency from having done my A-levels. I can by no means claim that I speak them perfectly and I do not understand every single word that I hear or read, but I have achieved an intermediate or upper intermediate level in both languages. With the internet at my disposal I can log on and quite confidently have conversations in these languages about most subjects with people around the world. Of course once again I do not know every specific word related to fixing a car or to sky diving but I can make myself understood. For me that, is my goal: to make myself understood as best as I can. Of course I would hope that by doing this and learning from my mistakes my linguistic abilities will improve as time goes on. 

All in all, I would say that having taken languages as two of my subjects, I have had great fun. It is tough work whatever someone decides to do for their A-levels but languages in particular will require a lot of commitment to really try and get the best possible grades.

If anyone reading this is unsure whether to take a language or two or even three (I know someone who did this) for their A-levels, go for it! You will benefit so much from being able to understand and communicate even at a basic level and it is so much fun! It further shows that you are not afraid of a challenge! But to all those who get their results tomorrow I wish you all the best and I hope that you all get the grades that you want and can like me go on to the university of your choice! 

 You can follow Tom on YouTube, and please do leave a comment to wish the guy good luck for tomorrow!

Guest Post: Safety first… sanity second?

 Today I'm very happy to be able to feature a guest post from fellow language tutor Sally Holmwood. I'm a German who was mad about Britain and English learning as a teenager, Sally is a Brit who's mad about German and Germany! Only good things can come from this. She's writing about the topic of foreign exchanges - find out how they changed her life!

Safety first...sanity second?

Brits have a worldwide reputation for being the kings of Health and Safety but this time they may have taken things a step too far! I recently came across articles by both the Daily Mail and BBC, explaining a Welsh Council’s decision to halt exchanges to foreign towns amid safety concerns.

Any adult knows that there is a risk involved in anything we do. It seems a great shame, however, to withdraw such a great opportunity from pupils without first exploring all possible avenues of making it the safest experience it could be.

The linguistic and motivational benefits of spending time in a native setting are crystal clear, as recent Fluent blog guest Mickey Mangan demonstrated so beautifully. And school exchanges have long contributed to making language learning greater for students from anywhere.

Impressions of Neheim, Germany  ©sally holmwood

Impressions of Neheim, Germany
©sally holmwood

Take my own story, for example…

At 12 years old, I wrote a letter in very basic German to be sent, along with those of my classmates, to a school in the Sauerland.  We’d only recently begun learning German and such interaction was seen as a valuable part of the learning experience. Our school had a long-standing link with the St. Ursula Gymnasium and ran a biannual exchange programme. A few years, and several letters, later and my pen-friend, who had initially chosen to write to me because I had a guinea pig, was standing infront of me with her family, ready to take me back to Germany for two weeks!

In the mid-90s, we had two 10 day stays at each others’ places, and I loved every minute. I was a mood board pioneer and glued all kinds of weird and wonderful mementoes into a diary – receipts, tickets and even chocolate wrappers found their way in, much to the amusement of my friends. We went on several guided tours, and I became so keen to hear and speak German that I asked my teacher to allow me to walk around with the German group!

Since those school days, I have been back to my “German home” of Neheim so often in the last 20 years that I now know my way around. In some of my favourite shops, assistants know me by name. I have fond memories of a Junggesellinnenabschied (hen night) with all its traditions and would urge any visitor to experience the town’s centuries-old Jägerfest celebration to experience local culture at its best. 

Exchanges are a challenge with huge benefits                 

Diversity Abroad, a leading US website dedicated to international mobility, cites so many benefits to taking part in an exchange programme of any description – increased self-confidence, maturity, improved problem-solving skills, and a greater understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses among them.

Removing yourself from your comfort zone and actively embracing an environment that boasts new traditions will inevitably be difficult and intensely challenging. But to be part of such an experience is incredibly character-building.  And there is, of course, the added bonus that you return home at the end of your stay with a host of new life-long foreign friends.

About Sally Holmwood

Sally lives and works in West Sussex, England. She splits her working week between individuals of all ages with special needs, and languages (specifically German and French). Sally loves to make time to travel the world when she's not working - sometimes Europe, sometimes even further afield! Furthermore, she is a big fan of great television: Sherlock, Bones, The Big Bang Theory and Doctor Who.

You have GOT to follow Sally on Twitter or Facebook, she is fab! And don't forget to check out her tutoring services at Indigo Languages.

Get involved: How to make language lessons great

Remember only a few weeks ago, when we looked at the findings of the British Academy's State of the Nation report? I'm sorry to keep battering you, Great Britain, but the alarm bells really do start ringing when you read articles like this one, in the UK Guardian.

It starts with an image of language learning that certainly would have never given me my passion:

Learning a foreign language is difficult, right? Well, yes it is if you start at 11, only do it for three years, get the bare minimum of curriculum time, have your classes so spaced out that you forget what you learned last Wednesday when it comes to the next lesson on Tuesday, and never get to apply your skills, so it’s all theory and no practice (let alone pleasure).
— Guardian, Languages in UK schools: where we are vs where we need to be

Gosh. Yes. I think I would hate most subjects taught like that.

The article goes on to describe how a lot of the teaching is too driven by exams and motivation and fun come in much lower. Academics and language experts decry the design of the GCSE exams as really narrow - no one would feel challenged or intrigued by their content.

Design a School

img: morguefile

img: morguefile

Compare the ideas above with the tuition I experienced in Germany. My own curriculum looked a little like this:

  • In Kindergarten and primary school, there were no formal foreign language lesson. We sang "Sur le pont d'Avignon" and "If you're happy and you know it", that's about it.
  • English was introduced at age 10 in my new school. At this stage I was REALLY EXCITED to study 4-5lessons a week. The number of lessons didn't drop until I left school (I chose this after age 16). We were reading plays and books about halfway in. We had school exchanges and the language was relevant to other subjects.
  • At age 12/13, I had to take second foreign language but got a choice of Latin vs French. I went with French "because Latin is dead". Most of the geeky guys in my class went with Latin. This again came in at 4-5 lessons a week for the next 5 years. Again, we did have school exchanges.
  • There was a voluntary option of taking a third foreign language in the afternoons at age 14 (2 hrs a week), and I chose Italian out of Italian vs Spanish vs French for the Latiners.
  • Enter age 15/16 and I had to drop Italian. We continued for a bit as a club rather than a school subject, but things fizzled out. Instead, I got the option of taking up Latin - once again at 5 lessons a week.

Honestly, I couldn't have imagined a much better environment. I would have probably liked to continue with Italian, but I did get to drop it in favour of another language. I wasn't even at a foreign language or Europe-focused school, just seemingly one that offers all it can.

Twinning is winning

I think exchanges and twinning were so much more significant and important than how I imagine having taken a physics lesson in French. We got to hang out with ENGLISH TEENAGERS. I had AN ENGLISH BOYFRIEND (for 2 days). They came to our parties and drank our alcohol. That, ladies and gentlement, is intercultural bonding.

And perhaps controversially, I was also more than happy to start learning languages at the age that I did.

What would your ideal language school look like?

Dream in the comments, please! We can probably all do a job at least as good as Michael Gove.

  1. How many lessons a week do you think children need?
  2. At what age would you start?
  3. Would you incorporate language learning in other subjects (the new FLAME project is keen on that)?
  4. Would you include foreign trips, language exchanges or virtual twinning with other schools?

Sylvia Guinan, experienced Greece-based English online teacher, added that the space in which you are taught can make a huge difference to interest and wellbeing. She found great ideas in this gallery of cool learning spaces, and points out how they also have the best in blended learning options available.

The Extreme Classroom is my favourite - learn a language by going out into the world and using it, reading it and so on. If we can't all go to Germany, is the internet the next best thing?