Recently, we’ve had the pleasure of exchanging our insights on learning languages with Simone, who is as passionate about them as we are 🙂 Check out our interview and take your language learning to the next level!
VocApp: Is it true that knowing languages makes travelling easier?
Simone: You bet it does! Knowing languages makes travelling a lot easier especially in those countries where English is not spoken (or at least not that much). A good example can be Italy, my motherland, where not everyone working on railway stations speaks fluent English, especially if you go out of the big cities. I know it’s always challenging for tourists who need information. On the other hand, Italians are known to make themselves understood just by using their hand gestures, so the tourists can rest assured 😉 I’d also like to add that knowing languages not only makes travelling easier but it enriches your travel experience a lot. If I think about my solo trip to South America it wouldn’t have been the same without being able to speak Spanish. The locals were really open with me and I was even invited for lunch or dinner a few times. I really had a full immersion in the local culture, both in Argentina and Chile, and got to know much more about their traditions thanks to the language.
On your blog you wrote that you moved to Germany not knowing the language at all. Was it difficult to get by?
Being a traveler, I saw that as a new adventure and a challenge, so I must say it was more funny than hard. On the one hand, Düsseldorf is a very international city so there was no problem at all in meeting English speakers and making friends even without knowing the local language. On the other hand, the company I was working for was located in a smaller town – I remember asking for information using hands (Italian style again) or ordering food just by pointing during the very first stage of my stay.
What languages do you speak apart from German?
English and Spanish, plus my mother tongue: Italian.
Which one was the easiest to learn, and which one was the toughest?
The toughest was surely German – even by living in the country I was mainly working in English and that surely didn’t help improve the language. It skyrocketed when I moved to a new apartment shared with Tim and Verena, who were both German (thanks guys!). The easiest language to learn was Spanish – the language is similar to Italian and the structure of the sentences is basically the same. I picked the vocabulary real quick by watching TV series and reading books and had the opportunity to practice it extensively during my trip to South America.
You put strong emphasis on motivation as the key factor in learning new languages. How to find it and how to maintain it, which, I imagine, is the more difficult part. What if going abroad is not an option?
Before even starting to learn a foreign language always ask yourself: “WHY am I doing this?” If the answer is “just for fun” or “because I like that Italian song” it might not be enough. A friend of mine picked up Chinese very quickly to impress a Chinese girl he was dating – that’s an example of a very strong motivation! 🙂 I repeat: always ask yourself WHY you are studying a language. I started to learn Spanish because I really love the way the language sounds and I’m fascinated with the Spanish and South American culture. That was my motivation – but everyone is different and you must find the one that suits you best. As you say the most difficult part is to keep the motivation while learning. I am a very lazy person and I am no exception. Sometimes I come back from work and I am so tired that the last thing I want to do is to study. How to keep the motivation then? Well – again it is about finding your own way of doing it. In my case I tend to mix studying (books, exercises, standard boring stuff) with “having fun”. By “having fun” I mean doing something related to the language that you want to learn that is not strictly exercise/book related. For example, you can watch your favourite movie or TV series in that specific language. Read a book in that language. I started to read comic books in German as soon as I was able to understand a few words – the pictures would would help me out with the rest and comic books are a great resource for learning the colloquial langauge. On my blog I wrote an article where I give some tips on how to keep yourself motivated throughout the whole learning process.
Apart from motivation, you need methods. What will make you succeed in the end?
That’s a difficult question. I’d say: by failing a lot and not being afraid of making mistakes. You are always going to learn from your mistakes and when it comes to language learning even the worst mistake can’t be so bad. Think about it. What can happen? Grammar doesn’t die even if you kill it. However, it is not just by making mistakes that you will end up learning a new language – it is very important, but there’s much more than that: you need a method. How am I going to learn this language? When? What does it mean to be fluent in a certain language? S.M.A.R.T. is a well know technique in project management and it can help you set your language learning objectives. Your goals have to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound. Here’s an example: within 100 days I want to be able to hold a 30-minute conversation in Italian with a native speaker. That is a language learning smart objective.
What should be the departure point for learning a new language? Is it vocabulary or grammar, which, according to some, might not be as crucial as many people have thought.
I also don’t think that grammar is so important when you start to learn a new language. Building vocabulary should always come first because it gives you the chance to talk to other people right away and practice the language you want to learn. Being able to hold the first conversations gives you confidence and motivates you to keep on learning. You can always refine grammar later, but without vocabulary you won’t be able to talk to people and chances are you’ll get discouraged and make no progress whatsoever.
What yields better results: working on your own or in a group?
A good mix of both. We all approach language learning in a different way – what works for me might not work for someone else – that’s why very often I like to study on my own. At the same time I must say that working with other people has many advantages. Each and every one of us has good and bad days and motivating each other during the learning process is crucial to achieve better results. Creating a little bit of a challenge within a group of learners brings benefits as well as it pushes everyone to do their best.
What is your approach to new technologies? Are they useful in learning languages? Do you use them?
I use technologies a lot… actually, no: I abuse technologies to reach my language learning goals 🙂 Nowadays there’s really a lot of apps and websites that can support language learners. My suggestion is to try out a few of them and then focus on those that better suit your learning style and daily routine. Fewer but better is usually a good rule.
Are you planning to learn another language? If yes, what is it going to be?
Definitely yes! The plan is to start with French next month. I have some new ideas to make this new experience even more fun and challenging than it has even been. A couple of friends and other language learners are going to be involved, too. Ready to start this new adventure, folks? 🙂
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Simone is a world citizen travelling on a budget. Journeys and languages are his life and he writes about them on his . When he’s not on the road, he’s probably planning his next trip right now. He collects vinyls and drinks too much coffee. He’s currently based in Linz, Austria.
Don’t forget to visit his blog: The World Passenger