You have told us that you learn languages because they make your life better. How does learning languages contribute to making your life better, and what opportunities has this given you throughout your professional and personal life?
The more languages I learn, the more I realize that all humans have the same feelings but express them in different ways, and languages reflect those differences. Learning a language in itself is an accomplishment. Languages help you better understand the world you live in, even if you don’t use them for work. In my case, languages helped me find a job, and when you do something that you love it never feels like a job. Also, when you travel, things are much easier not only when you visit a given country but also if you have to move there. It is also much easier to make friends and connect with others around the world. Love and friendship are also precious opportunities that languages can give us.
Do you think languages can contribute to one’s spirituality?
There was a discussion going on recently about whether speaking more languages can change our personalities. I don’t think it necessarily changes our nature, but what languages show are the different sides of our personalities that would be more dominant had we grown up in different countries. When you reach a native-like level of a language, you not only start to speak like a native, but also to act like one. From a psychological point of you, what I noticed is that my brain processes information much faster than it’s ever done before, not only for languages but for everything. And it was proven through scientific research that bilinguals have in some aspects faster cognitive processes. There is not one negative thing than can happen to you from learning another language.
Do you ever google languages that you don’t speak or listen to people speaking them on Youtube? Does that motivate you or maybe even make you feel a bit jealous?
It has happened. Sometimes out of nowhere I feel like I want to learn Armenian just because somebody talked about it. Once it happened to me with Navajo. I found some clips on Youtube about Navajo and I was fascinated. But when I learn languages I try to focus on one language. I enjoy languages when I’m learning them, and what I enjoy more is using them and making them a part of me.
You have mentioned before that you don’t choose the language but the language chooses you. How does the language exactly choose you?
To give you a concrete example, I can tell you my story with Hungarian. I stumbled upon a book by a very famous polyglot whose name is Kató Lomb. She’s Hungarian. Then I went to a polyglot conference in Budapest, which happened for the first time in 2013. I was conquered by Hungarian. This is how Hungarian chose me. When you learn a language make sure your motivations are clear. Make sure your motivation has something to do with “connecting”, be it a trip you’ve had, a person you’ve met or a video you’ve seen. Have a personal connection with something related to the language you want to learn is extremely powerful.
Can you give us a short summary about how you deal with learning a language starting from the day the language calls you all the way to the day you can officially say you speak it fluently?
What I do is make sure I know why I’m learning the language. Once I know why exactly I’m learning the language, I establish a date I will start learning. Now, how do I do that?
First I make sure that I have the tools. These tools are usually language learning material, such as Teach Yourself or Assimil, which I use. What is important is not the book itself, but how I use it. I use a translation technique, meaning that I choose a text in the language I’m learning and I translate this text back and forth at given interval times so that I’m not just listening and reading but also retranslating actively the language to understand its structure.
What’s most important is adhering to the principle of learning everyday. Once I understand the basics of a language I start to have conversations with people on Skype and I record them. Once I start holding conversations and reading and listening to things I like, I start taking it to the next level by watching documentaries, and by creating a micro and macro environment for language learning, meaning, meeting people or living with people who speak the language. I normally spend one year learning the basics of the language, and then I get out there to live the language.
Basically I have three phases:
1- I deliberately spend some time (3 months to 1 year) figuring out the overall structure of the language. I apply my technique to language learning material for beginners.
2- Once I get a grasp of the language, I make sure I start practicing it with native speakers and I get exposed to interesting content I find on the internet.
3- I start using the language as much as I can in every possible situation, as much as I do with my native language. This is how language learners become really good at any foreign language: by living it to the fullest.