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Maureen started her blog, Mo’s Language Learning Journey to promote language learning to others. She shares articles about her travels and learning experiences. We had a chat with her in hopes of getting an insight on how to become a polyglot.
Tips and tricks to become a polyglot
“Some advice I would give to those who would like to be fluent in several languages are to plan your time carefully, 30 minutes of study each day works much better than two hours on just one day a week, avoid starting two similar languages from beginner level at the same time, choose a variety of resources to avoid becoming bored, try and find a language partner or Skype tutor to practise speaking, use sites like Memrise to boost your vocabulary and sites like Lang-8.com to practise writing texts which a native speaker will then correct for you.
I find that writing really helps the language stick. Depending on your time available, you may only be able to learn one language at a time. Throughout my life, I have always been able to learn at least two at the same time but that’s best when they’re either at different levels or from different language families. Once you reach intermediate or advanced level and you’re ready to take on more languages, you need to plan how you will maintain the old ones so that you don’t lose your skills.”
Born to be a polyglot?
“English is my native language and I also speak fluent Italian, Spanish and Portuguese as well as intermediate Norwegian, French, Greek, German and Catalan. I have basic knowledge of Scottish Gaelic, Lithuanian, Levantine Arabic and Dutch and I have just started learning Mandarin Chinese.
I was brought up in a monolingual household in Scotland. I went to school in both Scotland and England where languages were unfortunately taught very badly. As a result, I left school unable to have a conversation in a foreign language. I started learning languages seriously at age 16 and I went on to study Spanish and Italian at university. Following my graduation, I went to work in the European Finance Department of a multinational company. Over the years, I have learned more languages for both work and leisure. My great-grandparents spoke Scottish Gaelic and Lithuanian but unfortunately these languages were not passed down the family to me.”
Why Scottish Gaelic?
“Scottish Gaelic is from my home country, I wasn’t fortunate enough to have been taught it through school. There are less than 60,000 speakers left and the language is going through a revival. I recently completed a three month challenge of learning Gaelic where I went to the Isle of Lewis in the north of Scotland and I was able to speak Gaelic with some native speakers and attend one of their church services where they still have the unique Gaelic Psalms singing. I find it really interesting to bring the Gaelic language back into my family.”
Learning languages makes you a social butterfly
“Over the years I have met many interesting people mainly through the Polyglot Conference and Polyglot Gathering events. However, the most memorable is Derick Herning from the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Derick is now aged 83 years old and he is a hyper-polyglot. In 1989, he won the ‘Polyglot of Europe’ competition in Brussels where he was tested by native speakers in 22 languages. Derick now maintains 10 languages and works part-time as a tour guide on Shetland. Prior to that, he learned Russian in the army and taught German at a high school. Derick told me his best languages are Russian, German, Dutch and Norwegian.”
“Luckily I manage to separate my languages fairly well but I do remember when I was working with a lot of Italians, I started thinking in Italian before English. For example, the Italian word for “to print” is “stampare”. Once when I was about to print something, I said in English “I need to stamp that” instead of “I need to print that”. The Italians found it very funny as I had the word “stampare” stuck in my head!”
The Next Challenge
“My next challenge is Mandarin Chinese. I have already had a few lessons from a fabulous tutor from Italki. I plan to visit China in January so that is one reason why I started learning now. I’m also interested in learning a language that is completely different to any others I already know.”
“You have as many lives as many languages you speak.” goes the Slavic Proverb
“It’s a very interesting proverb and I can see why it makes sense. When I change over to other languages, it almost feels like I put a different head on and my brain just starts operating in the other language, so yes I would say I have different modes I can switch in and out of.”
Life without languages
“My life would be completely boring without my languages. I would not be able to travel as easily, because I feel more comfortable when I can speak the language of the country I’m going to. Also, I have a lot of international friends and I have met many of them by attending language events in various countries. My languages have enabled me to learn more about other customs and cultures and I would not have been able to travel with work if I did not have language skills.
My languages have given me more confidence in social situations. I try and speak other languages as much as I can and I have been encouraged by other polyglots to even try and practise with strangers which is something I would not have done when I was younger.”
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