I attended the Polyglot Conference 2019 in Fukuoka, Japan this last weekend. All the workshops and presentations were held by polyglots, people who know multiple languages.
As a bilingual (and aspiring polyglot) I was really eager to find out how these amazing people learned their various languages. Here are my language learning takeaways from the various talks I attended.
Immersion Isn’t the Only Way
Workshop by Rebecca Howie (co-host of Language Chats Podcast)
Rebecca says you can “immerse” yourself in a language without having to visit another country. To do this, she suggested people create practical opportunities for themselves.
Practical opportunities for learning languages means stepping away from ‘traditional’ study method and doing a hobby/something fun.
This often involves talking to yourself so you don’t have to get anyone else involved if you don’t want to. Or you can get other people who know the language involved! (Teachers, friends, study buddies, etc.)
Rebecca made it very clear that to make practical opportunities work you need to make a plan.
① So first, pick what you’re going to do. Make sure it’s something fun and you want to do!
- food related (restaurant/cafe)
- sight seeing
- art gallery/museum
- people watching
② Next, draft up a play. Try to be as specific as possible. Pick a day and time (doesn’t have to be all day) then write out each step; at least a to-do list! Some things that could be useful include:
- timeline (e.g 15 mins doing A, then 5 minutes doing B)
- vocabulary/useful words list
- rules/guidelines (e.g no English no matter what!)
- gather plans & resources to help you
③ Do your activity then document it. This is particularly important because you’ll want to review it later. You’ll want to document what you actually did:
- vocabulary/grammar you used
- anything you didn’t know but want to know
- new vocabulary
You can document these via:
- language diary/notebook
- social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
④ And finally review! There’s not much point doing this kind of exercise if you’re not going to learn from it. Quickly reviewing what you didn’t know (or didn’t know well) can help you in the long run.
- add new terms to spaced repetition programs (Anki, Decks, etc.)
- teach someone else (e.g on a blog)
- recount what you did in that language (so go through the whole day in past tense-spoken/written)
Rebecca gave a great example if you’re not sure how to apply the above.
She loves going to art galleries, so she planned 1.5 hours at her local gallery. She planned what she’d look at and prepared vocabulary for it (e.g art, frame, sculpture, etc.) Then when she went she picked up the guide in the language she was learning and spend time reading it and looking up vocabulary. She went around and described all the art to herself out loud in the language she was learning. Then she recorded a vlog of herself talking and added photos and descriptions (in the language) on her Instagram.
10 Secrets to Learn Languages
Workshop by Elisa Polese (professor and creator of Speak from Day One With Elisa)
Elisa is not just a polyglot but a professor of linguistics. She even teaches multiple of the languages she knows! Her talk was very interested (although most of it I already knew from doing Japanese Talk Online), but her main point was that anyone can learn a language.
① Spend at least 5 minutes practicing your languages every day.
② Use the languages you’re learning. Practice!
③ Practice the skills you want to improve. (e.g speaking, reading, writing, listening.)
④ Do what you love in the languages. (e.g. read books, play video games, listen to podcasts, audio books, etc.)
⑤ Focus on the right things. Structure your language learning so it’s relevant to you. (e.g I want to learn to read so I’ll focus on reading.)
⑥ Create a routine and stick to it.
⑦ Be open to learning and be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up or stress yourself out! (You don’t learn when you’re stressed.)
⑧ Set definable and realistic goals. Give yourself small steps. Ask yourself “what can I do now to improve?”
⑨ Focus on either accuracy or fluency at one time. It’s good to practice being accurate, which means taking it slow and trying not to make mistakes. But making mistakes is okay too! When you want to focus on fluency you want to practice doing without thinking and not worry about making mistakes.
⑩ To learn multiple languages at the same time you want to follow three steps.
[She explains this more in her interview with Language Mastery Podcast.]
Phase 1: Study each language separately. (Don’t study the Japanese and Korean words for family. Learn one, then the other.)
Phase 2: Focus on the differences between the language. (This helps you distinguish between them and not get them mixed up.)
Phase 3: Switch between them. (This helps you get used to switching.)
Holistic Language Learning Through Immersion and Culture Shock
Presentation by Lindie Botes (polyglot YouTuber)
I’d seen a few of Lindie’s videos before on YouTube and have to say she’s as charming in the flash as she is online. Her presentation was more about her life story, but it had some great tips on learning languages scattered throughout.
Here were my language learning takeaways:
- Do EVERYTHING in the language. (e.g watch TV, play games, cook, write notes, etc.) Even if you’re not as ‘advanced’ as you “should” be.
- Keep diaries/notes in the language you’re learning. (e.g to-do lists, monthly diary/calendar, etc.) If you’re a beginner writing the terms you don’t know in English, then look them up and learn them later!
- Get books on subjects you’re interested in and learn the field specific language. (e.g Lindie got magazines and books about design in Japanese and read them and studied every word.)
- Talk, talk, talk. To strangers via the internet (through sites like italki or other phone apps).
Personalities and Polyglottery
Presentation by Alex Rawlings (polyglot and author)
Alex’s presentation was similar to Lindie’s where is was mostly a talk about his language learning experience. His talk was different though as he was talking about how polyglots don’t actually have different personalities in different languages.
He argued that when we learn languages we mimic the people around us. We take on their personalities (in a way). And at an advance level polyglots can express their own personalities as long as they know themselves; What is it in your native language that makes you you?
But the tips he gave at the end to help you do this in another language were; Find yourself a native speaker role model.
This role model should be someone who inspires you, someone who is similar to you, and who has videos/interviews etc. to watch and listen.
Take your role model’s videos/interviews and watch them. Repeat phrases, make notes and imitate their accent and body language, learn the words they use, etc.
Then once you’ve studied this person inside and out, you take what you like about them, what you want to change, and use these things to express your personality in your target language. [This is certainly more of a tool for advanced learners!]
Summary – My Favorite Tips
I went to more talks than the four listed above, but these were the ones with the most useful language learning tips. I certainly felt some tips were more useful than either. Personally I really liked (and have already started to apply);
- Study at least 5 minutes a day.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Do fun things with languages.
- Plan practical language learning opportunities.
- Find a role model.
- Keep notes/to-do lists/diary etc. in the other language.
Other Useful Articles
- Hacks for Reading Japanese Novels
- Quality Japanese Self Study Techniques
- Why You MUST Read in Japanese