1. “Do you think you were born with the ability to be a polyglot or you become a polyglot with time?” Monse Palafox
Everybody is different, and we were all born in a different family, in a given country, and evolve as human beings under the most diverse cirmustances. I generally think that 2 main things play a role in the way we develop the ability to speak multiple languages
- – internal inclinations
- – external conditions (micro and macro environment)
The external conditions concern the micro and macro environment in which we live.The microenvironment is … the macro is (copy from the article on the blog + image)* Language-wise, some people live in strictly monolingual families and countries, such as France, Italy, Spain or England. Others instead live in a multilingual household in countries such as Belgium, Congo and Switzerland. Obviously, a multilingual family offers the unique opportunity to speak multiple languages from birth but doesn’t necessary mean that that person will become a polyglot. I think that in this regard, what can be really important is an inspiring figure within the family who pushes you towards languages.
To give a concrete example, a kid who lives in France, with an Italian mother and Russian father who talk to the kid in their respective language, is going to speak native French, and, possibly (depending on how he reacts to his parents talking to him in their languages) native-like Russian and Italian. Later in life, that kid might decide to learn even more languages, or choose another path and career.
I was born in a completely monolingual family, but my grandmother and aunt liked languages, and I was inspired by my aunt to learn English at the age of 10. Living in a monolingual family and in a monolingual country such as Italy didn’t keep me from learning 11 foreign languages. What counted was my inner desire to discover the world through language, inspired by a members of my family.
Every individual is different. I have come to realize that everyone has one or more specific inclinations – “strenghts” so to speak. Drawing. Language. Maths. You name it. Some people discover their inclination early, others later. Language, like any other discipline, can be nurtured with time, and we can develop apparently amazing skills if we decide to incorporte daily use of these skills in our daily routine. Since language is a means with which we communicate with others, this can be done by choosing the people we surround ourselves with. I have met so many people speaking multiple languages. For most of them, it was nothing surprising. Even without an apparent “talent”, without a multilingual family or an inspiring person showing you the way, what it really boils down to is your lifestyle and the decisions you make in life.
What most people who have become multilingual have in common is the way they live, the people they meet, the movies and books they watch. You can decide to live your life in multiple lanugages. In my case, I have been watching movies, listening to the readio, reading books and magazines in multiple lanugages, as well as living and going out with foreigners. In the long run, that’s what has made me the person I am now. The more languages a person speaks, the more challenging it becomes to maintain fluency in all of them. One can try to listen to multiple languages as much as one can by reading books. What really keeps languages alive is also the need of communicating with other human beings.
We live in a time where even if we don’t have direct contact with natives in the place we live, we can talk to people on the internet.
I work as a language coach, using Italian, English, French, Spanish, German and Russian on a daily basis. I live in a microenvironment (my apartment) where I get to speak English and Dutch on a daily basis, and I also very often go out with foreigners, and practice also Swedish, Chinese and other languages. Without this lifestyle, my fluency would inevitably go down. So, what really counts is the way I live, not the methods or the books I use and read.
2. “How do you stay motivated when learning a language? I understand motivation is the key and every once in a while when studying a language something happens and the light switch flips. For example, take someone who is studying German and then meet a Moroccan and his perspectives change and now he becomes interested in the Sahara and wants to learn Arabic. This is just an example but I just want to know how to keep up with it” – Ian Shotts
“A good start is half the battle” – they say. Even before thinking about how to maintain motivation, it is important to start with clear reasons and goals. Why are you learning a language? Have you ever found yourself question your motives after some time? Maybe because you heard a friend of yours say he has been learning Spanish for 3 months because he “likes the language”. Or because you MUST learn it at school as a subject. This is extrinsic motivation. Something that was imposed on you or by which you were influenced, something that you decided on the spot without giving it much a thought.
A much stronger form of motivation is intrisic. Something that comes from within and that is less likely to waver with time. You met a special person. Visited a country. Tasted some special food. Read a book or watched a movie that struck you. A poem. A song. Each and every one of us finds some events, people or places suddenly inspiring. “I want to learn this language” – you tell yourself, and then off you go.
Whether intrisic or extrinsic, your motivation will inevitably wear out a bit over the course of time. Motivation is deeply connected with the way our brains works. It needs a reward to keep going, to install a virtuous circle. One of the tricks to keep your motivation high is to “reward yourself from time to time”. If you are learning, say, Japanese, and find it difficult, try to have a short conversation with a native speaker on the internet or in the city you live in. Even a short conversation can have an amazing effect on your motivation. “I used the language!”. Watch a movie. Understanding small pieces of a conversation can be a self-inspiring moment. But you don’t need necessarly to talk to people. If you can, go visit a country or the country where your target language is being spoken. You will come back with a lot of colours, images, sounds and smells in your mind. And most importantly, the will to learn that language, because it will be clear to you that literally HUNDREDS of people, amazing places and tasty food is to be discovered in a deeper way because of language.
So, to wrap it all up, motivation is a virtous circle that we can create by thinking about the real reasons we want to learn a language. We can literally create these reasons by opening our hearts, travelling to a given country, falling in love, finding a friend, or by simply reading a book, watching a movie or eating a tastymeal. To keep the momentum, discover the way your brain likes to be rewarded and do this at regular interval. Travel somewhere, find a cool person to talk to – Inspire yourself on a regular basis and the rest will follow.
3. “Do you practice each of your languages every day, and how much of your time per day is devoted to your personal language study? In English or French” – Joanne Wallace
I will first define what it means to study a language, pratice it and live it.
When I start learning a language, I deliberately find time during the day to sit down, get a book, and learn. We struggle the most at the beginning because – unless it is very similar to our native tongue or a language we have already learned – everything is foreign, unknow. Have you ever sat down for 1 hour, and felt tired after? That’s because you have made mental effort to figure out and produce words and sentences. I believe that the relationship between mental effort (energy) and time dramatically changes along our language path, and the secret to deal with it is to adapt it to the phase we find ourselves in.
When we start speaking and understanding a language better, we can dedicate more deliberate time to it while spending less energy. When you have a solid foundation in a given language 2 hours can feel like 30 minutes. The process becomes more enjoyable, and it becomes very rewarding. You’ll notice that you will not even think about time anymore when you reach a certain threshold.
So, the time I dedicate to language study is relatively shourt compared to the time I dedicate to living and practicing languages. I tend to LIVE through Italian, English, Spanish, French, German and Dutch on a daily basis, as well as Swedish Chinese and Portuguese on a weekly basis.
I tend to practice Japanese and Polish 3 times a week (1 hour every time) because I still have to dedicate some deliberate time to bring them to the next level. I am not currently learning any new languages, but when I start learn Hungarian, I will add 30 minutes to my language learning schedule.
So, to wrap it all up, if I am in the beginner phase when learning a language, I make sure I dedicate at least 30 minutes to it EVERY day. If I have an intermediate level, I make sure I practice/review the language/s at least 2-3 days a week, and I organize my life so that I can live thorugh the strongest language on a daily bases for the “core languages” and on a weekly/monthly bases for the languages I speak less well. This way, I can keep learning languages and maintain the ones I have already learned.