Category Archives: Language learning

Many (Language) Loves

Today I want to do in blog form what many people have done on video: introduce the languages I am learning or have spent time learning, as far as possible in those languages.

Since I really don’t focus on output at all, this blog post is intended to be a start in that direction. I think the fact that I am writing this to be read by others is more motivating to me than the idea of keeping a journal. I have never been much of a journal writer – even in English. However, because I am not in the habit of writing in foreign languages, I have struggled with writing the below, and I am certain that it is full of errors. But it’s a first step of hopefully more to come.


Afrikaans is my ‘eerste’ tweede taal. As Suid Afrikaner, het ek ‘natuurlik’ Afrikaans as tweede taal op skool geleer. Ek dink dit was miskien vanaf die derde graad, toe ek so tien jaar oud was. Maar ek gebruik die taal eintlik nie gereeld nie.


Ich habe Deutsch zwei Jahre auf Universität studiert, und danach das Zertifikat Deutsch besteht. Seid dann, habe ich noch manchmal Nachrichten gelesen usw. Deshalb ist meine Verständnis, ich glaube, nicht zu viel vermindert in die vergangenen Jahren.


J’ai aussi Français en université appris, mais seulement un an. Je trouve Français un peu difficile – de comprendre ce que j’écoute, et aussi le grammaire. Mais, j’ai besoin d’étude!


Ho imparato un po’ italiano in una classe di Scuola Italiana. ‘E stato molto lentamente. Ma io sono continuato con il mio studio da solo. Come ho detto, io leggo un libro in italiano al momento.


No habla mucho español, mas lo es similar al italiano, y ese ajuda con comprensión.


Eu ‘falo’ pouco português, mais entende mas que eu posso falar (quando eu leio). I have pretty much only used Duolingo for Portuguese, which was a really helpful start, but it needs a lot of work.


私夫は大学に1年日本語ならった。 私もひとりでべんきょうしました。アニミからたくさんことばおもいました。 かんじはたいへんむずかしいとおもうけど,がんばります!今はMEMRISEでべんきょうします。

Tiếng Việt

Tôi đang học tiếng Việt. Nó là kho làm. 

Other languages

Other languages I have dabbled in / studied and mostly forgotten, but I fully intend to continue learning in the future, include:

Русский язык: Здравствуйте. Я говорю по русски (So I can lie. In Russian! I think…?)

Ελληνικά: really can’t remember a thing in Greek, sadly, but it’s sitting there on my Duolingo list, waiting to be reactivated. I used the FSI course to learn a little of it a few years ago.

Xhosa. Molo. Igama lam nguKate. Ndisazama ukufunda isiXhosa. I actually had a year or two of Xhosa study in primary school. It’s actually frightening how little one can learn of a languages in a classroom situation in one or two years. Nowadays, I have a Teach Yourself book that I dip into from time to time.

Korean. I was delving into this and Mandarin Chinese a year or two ago. I am not quite ‘fluent’ with the writing system, and I only really remember a few words. My favorite word is from Korean dramas: “jinjja!”. 

Mandarin Chinese. Same story as Korean, only the writing is WAY more of a barrier, especially for someone like me, who focuses more on reading.

Well, it’s been fun. Until next time!

“Summer language learning goals”… or not

…because it’s winter here in the southern hemisphere. Also, my university days, with those amazing 2-month long summer holidays are, sadly, long gone. But I have discovered some new pologlots online lately and have been quite inspired to:

  1. Really try and give this language blogging thing a proper go, and hopefully do some blogging in other languages too – practising that output!
  2. Get more structured with my learning!

You can find the very inspiring Polyglot Progress and DevenirPolygotte on Youtube. They’re also on Twitter and elswehere and DevenirPolyglotte has a WordPress blog, which I have browsed through and plan to keep reading more of. They have both recently done the ‘Summer language goals’ thing. As for me, this is just my ‘general language goals for the interim’.

So, onto my language learning goals for the next while. I do know that goals are supposed to be a bit more specific and mine aren’t really, but anyway…


This is the main language I am focusing on at the moment. I think I started it this year. I have some Vietnames friends, so I might be able to get a little practice in, once I have got to a reasonable level for trying to talk. So far I am finding the grammar fairly simple, but I need to work on tones! I also struggle to remember which diacritics to apply to each word, but that is probably because I am not properly distinguishing tones and pronunciation.


I do have a bit of Japanese vocabulary already, but it needs some grammar study, filling in gaps and, very importantly, learning to read some Kanji! At the moment Memrise is my main tool for attempting to learn Kanji. I’ve chosen a set that teaches kanji and vocabulary built from kanji, alternating kani-english and then kanji-pronunciation, so that each portion is taught twice. I’m feeling positive about it. So I’ll see how that goes!


I have a novel in Italian that I found at a second hand book store some years ago. It’s called “Il Romanzo di Ramses: La Battaglia di Qadesh” by Christian Jacq (it’s a translation from French actually). Where I live, you are more likely to find second hand Dutch, German and French books, so this Italian book was a rare find. I have also recently aquired a book of Spanish poetry – equally rare! I think I tried to start reading this novel back then but didn’t get past the first chapter. Now I am five chapters in and managing okay – progress! The chapters are each quite short luckily – nice for one or two sittings per chapter. It is going slowly though, and needless to say, it is going to take a long time to get through the whole 400-odd-page book. But my goal here is to persevere through it.

Well those are my main goals for now. I don’t have much more than an hour or so each workday evening, though the weekends give me a bit more time. So if I want to get serious about the above goals, I will have to try to avoid the tempatation of other languages for now. But I will no doubt dabble from time to time.

Perhaps in another post I will talk about my ‘hit list’, as I have heard it called, and more about myself. But to be honest, it has been so long since I last wrote on this blog, that I actually am not sure what all I have said before. Shocking! And I really would like to do some blogging in my other languages – at least German to start with.

Good-bye for now.


Beginning the new year with Korean

Well, it has been a long time since I last posted here. It’s been one of those ‘figure out the meaning of my life’ breaks – a life-long thought process to be sure – but I might be ready to do a bit of blogging again.

Over the christmas holidays, I dabbled a bit in Chinese and Korean, and I think I would like to focus on those two and work more on my patchy Japanese knowledge this year. I hope I can continue to focus on that goal and not have my head turned by the next language that walks by.

Inevitably, it turns out that finding a truly awesome free resource was what got me excited about Korean and so now I am focusing on that first and keeping the Chinese for later…

TalkToMeInKorean is just fantastic. The lessons take the form of an audio file with an accompanying pdf. The people who present it do so in a fun, engaging way (to be honest their reparté reminds me a bit of two deejays who do the afternoon show on a local radio station in my city), the lessons are short and digestible, and I feel they give a nice amount of vocabulary along with the grammatical concepts. They also say sentences slowly as well as at normal talking speed. These are my impressions after completing level one of the lessons.

There is a dialogue based on level 1’s lessons, so I am taking a break from doing more lessons this week to try and review and memorise everything I’ve learned in level one – then I will listen to the dialogue and hopefully understand it! Wish me luck.

TTMIK meosisseoyo!

The introverted language learner

I love to learn languages, but not in order to talk to people. I don’t learn languages, like many people do, in order to meet new people, interact with different cultures and do so in the other person’s mother-tongue. I just don’t.

I am an introvert. I can also be quite shy. But these are two different things. When I am at a social gathering and I’m not introducing myself to new people, it’s usually because I don’t particularly want to. I like being around people and enjoy the company of a good friends, but return to introspection and solitary activities. As an indication, I have on many occasions been asked that ridiculous question, “Why are you so quiet?”

While I’m not going to lump all introverts together, there is a certain difficulty in being introverted and wanting to learn foreign languages. When people say I’m quiet, this is even in my mother-tongue, English.

The self-taught polyglots who are vocal on the internet may have different methods, but mostly seem to have the goal of speaking to new people in their language, in some cases giving the advice to get out there and start speaking.

Where does that leave me? And surely I cannot be the only abberant introvert who is passionate about foreign languages…

Well, I would suggest that if you are self-teaching, lots of input is the only thing to do, really. Read and listen and watch, wherever and whenever you can. Always situate your language learning in something enjoyable to you – read things you are interested in. That is standard.

But now I would also suggest that possibly, for an introvert, a class, particularly a small class, may be the way to go. A class is kind of like a social gathering that is controlled. You know you won’t be there for more than, say, two hours. You get practice actually speaking with less pressure. Of course, teaching methods may differ, so it may depend.

These are just my thoughts lately. I have been reading so much from the perspective of extroverts, who insist you have to go and find people to speak to, and becoming more critical of myself. But now I want to forge a new way forward to pursue my passion without beating myself up.

2 factors that affect success in second language learning (and a comforting thought)

Okay, so we all learned our first language no problem. But amongst people who start learning a second language later in life, there is such a wide range of success levels. According to David Birdsong, age remains the ‘strongest predictor of ultimate attainment’ in learning a second language’. But here’s the thing: this is not necessarily because we are getting older and our brains are not structured the same as when we were younger, etc.
Many late learners seem to ‘fail’ at language learning. But the fact is that there are plenty of success stories; people who could pass as native speakers, even though they started as adults.
So, what affects our success as second language learners? The myriad factors that come into play as we get older and our ‘selves’ develop…

1. Input

Are you immersed in the second language environment? What kind of input are you getting? Obviously the more the better. If you are teaching yourself, as I am, remember the L + 1 idea: your input at any given time should not be too much beyond your current level. For example, it is said, by such people as Paul Nation, that to maximise ‘incidental vocabulary acquisition’ from extensive reading, you need to understand 98% of it. Then it is likely that you will be able to figure out what the additional words mean from context. On the other hand, if you have to look up 50% of the words, you won’t remember them, and probably won’t understand very well what you are reading.

2. Motivation

Motivation is important. And sad to say (for me), being immersed in the second language environment is probably a pretty motivating factor.. I also find from a self-instructional perspective, finding the right materials that work for me, interest me and/or aren’t so much work I get tired, is quite important. If I don’t WANT to, I probably won’t.

A comforting thought

Another academic in the field, Vivian Cook, has pointed out that it makes more sense to compare a second language learner to a bilingual than a monolingual native speaker. Bilinguals’ languages affect each other. Think of any bilingual you know; they don’t sound like monolingual speakers of their less dominant language. I find that a rather comforting thought: unless you’re training to become a spy, don’t worry that you don’t sound exactly ‘right’.

Rather, understand that the mistakes you make are part of your ‘interlanguage’ on your way to being a successful polyglot. In partially understanding another language, you are already more than a monolingual!