a.k.a. Language tag!
This post is based on the Language tag which is normally answered in a video shared on Youtube. I wasn’t tagged but found the questions interesting and felt more comfortable answering them in writing.
1. What do you consider to be your native language?
French. I was raised by monolingual parents in a monolingual country so this one was easy.
2. What was your first language learning experience?
For a long time, I thought it was learning my first Spice Girls’ song around the age of 8, but I’m not so sure anymore. My mother has a cousin who lives in Spain and we visited her a few times when I was a kid. She used to own a bar in Barcelona, and I remember spending a few hours there, desperate to help around the bar despite my young age.
Once, she let me wash the dishes under her supervision and taught me the words for each item I washed. My first Spanish words were “plato” (plate), “vaso” (glass), “cuchillo” (knife), etc. Later, she taught me the names of colours and animals. It’s such a shame that the last time I saw her, in France, four years ago, I couldn’t speak any Spanish.
3. What languages have you studied and why did you start them?
Here is the short answer:
English: because I had to – but it was never a chore as I fell in love with this language right away.
German: also because I had to – but it was definitely a chore until I chose to learn it ‘for real’.
Japanese: because I wanted to – but I had to learn too much, too fast and couldn’t handle it.
Spanish: also because I wanted to – and I’m thrilled that I was taught Spanish in French and English.
Italian and Russian: by default – because I wasn’t allowed to take Spanish and then Italian again.
ASL: out of curiosity and probably because of the American series Switched at Birth.
I guess that’s it. For the long answer, see Keeping track of #02 – Language learning.
4. How does your personality affect how you learn languages?
I’m not entirely sure. I think it depends on my mood, overall state, language ability, and resulting motivation level. Let’s take Skype calls as an example: some days I am talkative and curious, while others I struggle to find things to say; some days I speak almost fluently and it feels amazing, while others it seems like I have forgotten 75% of my active vocabulary – and self-confidence because of it. I think the trait that most affects my learning is my stubbornness.
5. Do you prefer learning languages in a class or individually?
I have so many bad things to say about language classes that I guess I prefer learning on my own. It doesn’t have to be that way, though; I just need my teacher to be a decent human being who respects their students, and my fellow students to be genuinely interested in and motivated by what we are taught – and show it by doing their homework. Ideally, all students would have a similar level in the language so that none of them would feel like another was holding them back.
6. What are your favourite language learning materials?
German: German is easy! is incredibly helpful to understand what all those bloody prefixes are about.
Japanese: I find Self Taught Japanese so interesting that I read it even though it is far above my level.
Spanish: I absolutely love Yorokobu, it has become my main resource for reading in Spanish.
Italian: Becoming Italian Word by Word is my favourite blog on Italian culture.
Russian: Multitran (or rather Мультитран) is an absolute lifesaver even for a complete beginner.
ASL: ASLU has everything you need to get started, from a dictionary to lessons and quizzes.
Finally, Easy Languages on Youtube is a great channel to listen to native speakers of many different languages.
7. How much time do you spend actively learning per day/week?
My goal is to dedicate at least 1.5 hour a day to German and Spanish – ideally 45 minutes to each. In practice, this isn’t always the case. Right now, I am mostly in “maintenance mode” and don’t really try to learn new things as I have to focus on my work-related goals for a while.
8. What are your short-term and long-term language-learning goals?
The thing is, I don’t really have any specific goals. I guess my main goal, for now, is to go (back) to Germany/Spain/Italy and actually use German/Spanish/Italian. Ideally, I would like to eventually (i.e. much later) add German/Spanish/Italian to my working languages and translate professionally from German/Spanish/Italian into French.
9. What is your favourite language?
Oh woaw – I don’t know! I want to say English because it has been the most important foreign language in my life for many years. At some point, I really thought I loved it more than my mother tongue, but I’ve learnt to love this one too so I’m not so sure anymore. I like German a lot, with its wonderful grammar and word formation, but do I love it? How about Spanish? I really don’t know!
10. What is the next language you want to learn?
Ideally, I would like to become fluent in all of the languages I have studied, which means that after German and Spanish, I would like to focus on ASL, Italian, Japanese, and Russian, preferably in this order. But if I start with a sign language, it will probably be the French one. As for other languages, I have been thinking of learning some Breton so that I can surprise my grandmother the next time I visit her, but I’m not sure I’ll do it.
11. What advice can you give to new language learners?
Start speaking (or signing) as soon and as often as you can. If it’s too difficult, spend some time learning as much vocabulary as you can (start with vocabulary relevant to you and the things that interest you, then move on to a frequency list). Once you know more words, speaking, writing, reading, and listening will be easier, but don’t neglect grammar.
Also, seek advice but don’t worry if it doesn’t work for you: you have your own learning style, not all the things that work for others are going to work for you. Try something for a week or a month, see how it goes, and if you think it doesn’t help, move on and try something else. So basically, treat advice as inspiration and don’t follow it too much. Come up with your own battle plan.
Featured image: european-union-flags-olga by Olga Lednichenko on Flickr, resized and cropped by me.