I did an interview this weekend.

These were some of the questions:

How did you get interested in languages as a hobby? (i.e. first experience learning a language on your own, what drew you to continue learning languages, etc.)

It’s quite a long story, but I’ll do my best to keep it short! It didn’t start from an academic perspective at all. I sat next to this boy in Maths class for two years, and really, really fancied him. He’s Polish, but wasn’t especially interested in me, so I asked a Polish friend to teach me some phrases. That wasn’t quite enough, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I knew nothing about how to learn a new language, as our French classes only really consisted of songs about ice cream, and my Dad took me to the local bookshop and let me choose a Polish dictionary (absolutely not how you learn language). Despite not being very successful — both with Polish and with the boy — I was quite hooked on the fact that people could speak another language fluently, and I desperately wanted to understand it.
When I was 12, my cousin introduced me to KPop. This led to watching everything I could in Korean — TV shows, YouTube videos, everything. I still didn’t really know much about how to get good at languages, and was in a profoundly monolingual environment.
It was only when I got to sixth form (where you do your A Levels/IB, aged 16-18) that I was in an international boarding school, surrounded by people who spoke many, many different languages. I’d been taking French classes for years by this point, and obsessively started trying to improve my accent and pronunciation, and even spent a month living with a French family in the summer. I also was using Duolingo at this point, which seemed like the easiest way to dabble.
From there, my love of languages only got more intense, becoming the obsession it now is.

What component (reading, listening, speaking, writing) do you prefer practicing, most to least? Maybe add a little bit about why?

Interesting. Definitely:
Speaking — I have a history in theatre, and it’s always at the forefront of language learning for me. Although I’ve most recently been learning Latin to aid my medieval studies, and it’s the first time that speaking from the get-go isn’t really what’s “done”, so that’s been an interesting experience. But speaking, definitely, is always my favourite.
Reading —  I love reading in general, and I’ve definitely made reading in my target languages a habit in the past few years. I feel like it’s my responsibility as a historian to actively engage in the news, and therefore learning languages gives me access to so many different perspectives. Obviously reading novels, and poetry, and plays are also fantastic ways to properly consume the culture, with learning vocabulary and getting comfortable with new grammatical structures and tenses as a by-product.
Listening — I used to find listening the hardest, because my main experience of listening was in French, and the French language is designed to make all sounds merge into one. However, if you want to speak it, you have to be able to listen to, and it’s something that I’ve definitely overcome my fear of.
Writing — It’s my least practised skill usually. After doing formal classes for years in French until I finished my A Levels, I sort of stopped writing in French as much, or if I did, it would have to be a conscious effort. It just comes up less frequently in my daily life.

What are some aspects of the polyglot community you think are noteworthy or important? (Perhaps a bit of a vague question, but I’ll leave it up to your interpretation.)

Interesting question. I think the Polyglot Community is an invaluable resource for the preservation of languages, or the aid of the influx of migrants into new countries, and is something that should be discussed more. There’s been lots of research in the PC about the impact of bilingualism or multilingualism on autism and cognitive development, which is absolutely fascinating and something that was at the centre of the Conference this year. In general, I’ve found the Community so accepting and encouraging.
However, my main frustration with the Community is that there is often the “sensationalists”, who claim they can speak X number of languages, when that isn’t necessarily what is important. I think as long as the Polyglot Community retains having a love of languages at its focus, and intends to use that love to help contribute to wider society, then this isn’t an issue, but it’s definitely something that personally irks me.

What are some ways you can/do keep up to date with things in the polyglot community? Do you have particular things you like to look out for?

I went to the Polyglot Conference in Iceland this year, so that was a pretty good way of keeping up to date with the major discussions. Also, the Community has a predominantly online presence, so using social media sites particularly the Facebook group, or watching YouTubers who are part of the Polyglot Community is a good way of feeling part of it.

Are you a part of any language-related clubs/classes or do you have a language-related major or minor? Can you describe a bit of your experience with these?

I don’t officially have a language-related degree (I study in London, and the UK’s university system is usually that you just study one subject). However, studying medieval history means you encounter languages frequently — Latin and Arabic are inescapable, so I’ve been taking an Arabic evening class this year, and have started studying Latin on my own as well.
However, I do take one French class. It’s quite traditional and old-fashioned, but it’s a good way of giving me structure to my language learning. When you get to a certain level of fluency, it’s difficult to know how to progress.

Do you have a preferred textbook or audio series from which to learn?

So, it varies language-to-language, and these things are all specific to my level.
Russian — my favourite is the Babbel course, because I think it breaks down this reasonably difficult language well, and was the best resource I found. It is an application, so a combination of a textbook and audio series.
Arabic — The Mastering Arabic series is an absolute dream.
Latin — The Cambridge Latin Course is also idyllic, as it integrates history, grammar and vocabulary in a fantastic way.
Spanish, Italian and German — Benny Lewis’ Language Hacking series focuses on a “speak first” approach, which is definitely how I like to learn languages.
Swedish — the Teach Yourself Swedish Tutor is absolutely brilliant for this.
French is hard to pinpoint. There aren’t really any courses that I use that I like, but I have lots of favourite novels (like Bel Ami and Bonjour Tristesse).
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Dating Russian Resources (a review)

I’m planning on doing a video on the best and worst of Russian resources, as I’ve been ‘around the block’ with many of them. Many of them have been limited to one-night stands, while there are a couple of gems I’m trying to coerce into marriage (as ever, I’ve pushed the metaphor too far, but I’m going to continue with it). As there’s only so much that can be said in a video, I thought I’d start summarise here with paper resources (although many I only have in PDF form).

Ruslan

Oh Ruslan. The high school boyfriend everyone looks back on and is embarrassed by. So many questions: why did we have to talk about Ivan and Luydimila all the time? Why do you keep suggesting that Ivan isn’t actually a businessman? Why do you want to make me learn cursive? Why are all your pictures so Soviet? Why do you break into song about suitcases at the end of every day?
Ruslan was not a great introduction to the Russian dating world. I do not recommend as the first resource. While there’s a lot of dialogues that you can listen to with recordings, and also an encouragement on practising all your skills, it is incredibly uninspiring and I do not recommend it. It’s designed for a very old-fashioned classroom, and would not be found on Tinder.
Date rating: 1.5/5

Russian Grammar You Really Need to Know (Teach Yourself)

This is definitely the bootycall book. Whenever everyone else is busy, I call back to it at 2am, but it’s not enough to sustain me alone.
Everything is clearly explained, but it’s not designed to be a primary partner.
Date rating: 4/5

Russian Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook (Teach Yourself)

This book is the equivalent to starting the date by asking for my hand in marriage while talking about the ex too much. It can’t quite decide whether it wants to guide you or leave you to run after it.
I recommend it only for an experienced learner, unlike the other books in the Tutor series (Swedish Tutor is incredibly friendly and I fell for it instantly). However, it does feature a lot of exercises and some adequate explanations.
Date rating: 3/5

Beginners’ Russian (Penguin)

My newest love, featuring the world’s sexiest index. A really good balance between vocabulary and grammar, and works through at a good pace.
However, this book is ugly. You do not want to wake up next to it. Your friends will make fun of you for it. Some expressions will be hard to read because of this.
Needs to be taken shopping and given a nice suit.
Date rating: 4/5

Teach Yourself Complete Russian (Teach Yourself)

More or less a prettier version of the Ruslan books (I know comparison is the thief of joy, but we all sit round with our friends and talk about our exes, don’t we? …don’t we?) Very uninspiring content, and badly structured, but with good explanations.
I’m sure he’ll make a good father one day, but it’s a little too safe and dull for me right now. Also everything is grey. Oppressively grey. I felt like I was in the mind of a dog after a little while, and not a cute puppy that was excited by the world.
Date rating: 2.5/5

BBC Talk Russian (BBC)

This may be the prettiest book of all, but it is definitely the most superficial and has an uncomfortable number of mistakes. (Здразвствyй as an informal hi? Maybe if you’re the prince in Snow White.)
Definitely the one you date ‘for something different’ after Ruslan. Bad idea, although it will look nice in pictures if you want to torture yourself over that skiing holiday you broke up at the end of.
Date rating: 1/5

Colloquial Russian (Routledge)

Hello, 1960s. Don’t get me wrong — I like an older man, but this one needs to be brought forward half a century. It suffers from the worst parts of Ruslan and the Penguin Beginner’s book.
You tried, I know. We’re just not meant to be. Also too many mistakes to feel comfortable with. You will be called ‘boring Pavel’ among my friends, I’m afraid.
Date rating: 1/5

Russian Short Stories for Beginners

Something modern and not too flashy. You can’t fully commit, and you need back up because this book still forces you to be independent, but there’s enough range to grow together and it’s pretty but not too pretty.
I fell for this book big time (well done, Alex Rawlings).
Date rating: 4/5

 

So. If I could roll the Russian Short stories, the Penguin book and the Teach Yourself grammar book into one resource, it would be the world’s sexiest thing (the closest thing at the moment for me is Babbel).

Sorry if the dating metaphor made you uncomfortable.

I hope you’re having a good week,

Cognition and Creativity in Language Learning // Polyglot Conference Day 2

The final day my friends! I can’t quite believe it’s over.

I tweeted throughout the day, but I went to five absolutely fantastic talks:

But the highlight was, of course, Shereen Sharaan’s talk on autism and cognitive functions in bilingualism, who let me pick her brains and catch up with her afterwards.

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Interviews with Shereen, but also Bérengère Digard and Tyler will be in my video of the polyglot conference, so stay tuned!

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We ended with such incredible energy, with Richard and Alex announcing the next conference…

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This has been such a tremendous experience, leaving me absolutely exhausted, but be assured that I shall be updating you all very soon with my video of my time here.

Wishing you a wonderful start to the week,

Autism, bilingualism and beautiful Iceland // Polyglot Conference Day 1

We’ve had a successful first day of the Polyglot Conference!

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Here’s a recap in what went down:

The amazing Vigdís Finnbogadottír (a.k.a the first ever elected female head of state) opened the conference with her wonderful humour and sobering comments about the impact of anglicisms on Icelandic language and culture.

I met the very lovely Tyler and also the very lovely Simon.

I got to gush to Benny Lewis about his book series.

That wasn’t enough gushing, so I then went to the Teach Yourself stand, and spoke to them for so long, they finally agreed to take my email address, probably so I quieten down.

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I met a professor of Old Norse, who gave me some helpful pointers if I want to do my dissertation on homoeroticism in Icelandic sagas.

I got to gush to Alex Rawlings about him as a person.

I got to practise all of my languages.

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I attended my favourite talk so far: Bérengère Digard discussed questions relating to Autism and Bilingualism, such as whether in non-verbal children, bilingualism should be abandoned, as well as the complications of active language learning in autistic people but also some advantages they may experience. This varied from the stress of the school-based language environment, where language classes often feature group work and general auditory processing disorders making the comprehension of even native languages much slower, to ease of identifying patterns and actively learning a language’s culture, rather than being expected to implicitly absorb it, having incredible benefits in combatting the isolation frequently experienced by those with autism. (I will never be able to do her talk or her research justice, so I do recommend you check out what she has online).

And I also got to see more of beautiful beautiful beautiful Iceland.

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I hope you’re having a lovely week, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.

It makes memories, right? // Polyglot Conference Day -1

Picture this.

The sun is setting.

The sky is filled with extraordinary colours.

Time to snuggle up with a delicious cup of Earl Grey.

THIS is the time that I left my flat for the airport.

Three tubes later, and I’m writing yesterday’s blogpost. I’m glad I didn’t know at the time.

The plane was delayed and we landed at midnight in Iceland.

An hour later, and I found the bus. I’d been told to get the bus for the Grand Hotel, because my AirBnB was near there.

At 2am, the bus stops at “my hotel”. I was the last person on the bus, so I asked the bus driver (who was Russian, so I was hoping I could score some points) for directions to the house I’d rented a room at.

She takes a good fifteen minute detour to help me (Спасибо, I will be eternally grateful), and points me down a terrifying pitch-black abandoned alleyway. She tells me it will be only a few minutes away.

Half an hour of walking down this road, and I must say, I was quite scared.

I would not walk on my own in London any good distance past midnight ideally, even in places I know like the back of my hand, which are well-light and busy through the night. Let alone an abandoned alleyway. Now, I know Iceland is meant to be safe. But I’ve seen the Bridge. I know what can happen if someone wants to make a statement — perhaps an organised crime group want to make a statement about tourists in Iceland suffocating Icelandic culture with stereotypes, or maybe my death will be used as fuel for Brexit, I thought to myself.

Several friends of mine had been very kind to offer that I call them when I arrive, no matter what time it was. Unfortunately, 3am BST was everyone’s time of deep sleep, and no one answered (if you’re my mum and you’re reading this, I’m really sorry; I told you Emma answered because I didn’t want you to worry any more than you already had, and yes, I should have rung you because you were awake).

So there I went.

By some miracle, I eventually found my new home, God only knows how. Not murdered. Not mugged.

The next adventure the following morning was to find a supermarket, or perhaps some life in Reykjavik. I’ve come to think that this… “city” is a place for drivers, rather than pedestrians, or people who like public transport. Unfortunately, I have only a provisional driver’s licence and have never had a driving lesson in my life (although I have driven a few cars quite unsuccessfully — a story for another time).

Something you should know about me is that I am terrible at directions. I mean. Disgustingly awful.

Most of today was spent fighting through the rain to find a Bonús. I had intended to go to the Polyglot Conference welcome event, but by the time I found it, it was pitch black and the Harpa centre was empty.

I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

I hope you’re having a wonderful start to the weekend,

I still can’t spell Rejkya… Reyka… Reykjavik

Hello friends! Við förum til Íslands!

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I’m currently sitting in Heathrow airport with a Peroni with two hours to spare (because I can’t live life in any other way) until I get on the plane to Reykjavik, a place I don’t think I’ll ever be able to spell.

I think this mildly crazed photo sums up how I’m feeling.

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I’m so excited. I’ve never been to Iceland before, and it’s one of those stuff-of-fantasy-novels (or at least, very His Dark Materials; speaking of which, Philip Pullman just wrote a new one — crazy times) places.

Can you tell I write as I speak?

Here’s my plan:

I plan to write a post each day from the Polyglot Conference, because even though I will make a video, I think it would be good to keep a little diary that I can link as an accompaniment, as I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to make coherent content.

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I decided to bring with me my Swedish and Russian Tutor books, because despite intending to stop Swedish, I just can’t leave it behind.

Okay, I think it’s time for me to nervously pace the airport now.

I post a lot more on Twitter and Instagram, if you want to know how it’s going in the moment.

Books I’m currently using to learn French, Arabic and Russian

Today’s video covers my language plans for the upcoming semester, and I thought it would be useful to show what I’m using to learn at the moment.

French

Course books

Édito: Méthode de français (3e edition, C1) — Élodie Heu and Jean-Jacques Mabilat, Didier (just a very standard textbook)

Édito: Cahier d’activités (3e edition, C1) — Élodie Heu and Jean-Jacques Mabilat, Didier (just a very standard exercise book)

Personal books

Les 500 Exercises de Grammaire (C1) — Hachette (a super rigorous grammar series)

Schaum’s French Grammar (Sixth Edition) — McGraw Hill Education (another grammar book and an old favourite of mine)

Mot à Mot: New Advanced French Vocabulary — Paul Humberstone, Hodder Education (a really great vocabulary book for targeting specific issues)

New Advanced French Vocabulary — Horsfall (another vocab book that I acquired years ago; I find it it’s good to compare them, especially if I’m uncertain about usage/translation)

Les Prostiutées (Onze nouvelles) — Maupassant (the fiction book I’m currently reading)

Arabic (MSA)

Course books

Mastering Arabic 1 (Third Edition) — Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, Palgrave Press (so far a really great and clear textbook)

Mastering Arabic 1 Activity Book (Second Edition) — Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, Palgrave Press (a clear exercise book that compliments the textbook well)

Personal books

Read and Write Arabic Script — Mourad Diori, Teach Yourself (a reference book for the script, which again, I find very clear and easy to follow)

Get Started in Arabic: Absolute Beginner Course — Frances Altorfer and Mairi Smart (a fun and colourful non-scary textbook I’m using alongside as an introduction)

Russian

“Course books”

I’m sort of running my own course, so it’s not exactly the same, but currently:

Russian Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook — Michael Ransome and Marta Tomaszewski, Teach Yourself (the textbook I’m using as the basis for my weekly Russian “class” that I’m doing with my friend)

“Personal books”

Russian Grammar You Really Need To Know — Daphne West, Teach Yourself (мы main grammar reference book)

Рассказы Для Детей (Stories for Children) — М. Зощенко, Малыш (my main fiction resource for vocabulary)

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Obviously there are many many online and free resources I’m using — this blog post is just a reference point for anyone curious about exactly what I’m using for classes and in personal study on a week-by-week basis.

I hope you’re having a very lovely week, and I wish you good luck with learning!