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).

2 thoughts on “I did an interview this weekend.”

  1. Absolutely loving your answers – always so creative! Since watching your videos, I have grown more and more interested in the whole autism and bilingualism question. Any tips on where to start? I’m already over on TED digging out all the speeches, hihi.

    Liked by 1 person

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