1. When learning a language, when do you try to start speaking with people?

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As you know, there are people who believe that speaking from day one is the best way to start learning and speaking a language. On the other hand, others advocate that one needs to read and listen to the language a lot before attempting to speak a language. They say that once you have absorbed the language, it will be easier to speak once you start speaking with someone, and also, you are able to understand them better, while if you start speaking immediately, you might be able to form sentences but you will not probably understand a lot of what people say because your brain hasn’t developed sufficient listening skills. Depending on your nature, your language experience, your attitude towards learning and people, your target language and your native tongue, one approach can be more beneficial than another.

Let me give you an example with 2 extreme opposite situations. Imagine a person who has been learning a few languages, who loves talking to people and who is learning a language which is similar to their own mother tongue or a language they know. I believe that in this case, speaking from day one would be a benefit. This is because he would rely on a language he has already learned and acquiring the ability to speak would be very fast. Also, if the structure and the words of the language are similar to the structure and the words of your own native tongue, it is likely that even without a lot of input you will be able to understand the meaning of the sentences.

On the other hand, a person who has never learned a foreign language might find it difficult to form the most basic sentences at the beginning, no matter how similar the language is, and will also have a problem understanding the interlocutor. In this case, the problem is mainly psychological: he or she has to do something they have never done before, that is, interact with other people in a foreign language.

As for me, I have to say that I have slightly changed my approach over the years. When I started learning German, or Spanish, Dutch, Swedish and Russian, I waited for 1-2 years before starting to speak with anyone. Not that I didn’t want to. I just didn’t get the chance to do it and when I did, I started speaking naturally. But in the case of Polish, I decided to speak from the very beginning, because in Polish the sentences and the form of many words have a lot in common with Russian. I made sure I found a person I liked to talk to and I started to have a weekly session. I developed my speaking skills quickly. The same thing for Portuguese. In the case of Japanese though, I decided to have more input first, because the way you form a sentence in Japanese is very different, and the language is alien (different) from any other I had previously studied.

So to recap, there is no one best approach, but before deciding when and with whom to start, evaluate first some of the conditions you find yourself in, and then simply start using the language. Even the same person can have a different approach depending on the nature of the language, and one’s opportunity to practice it and speak.


2. When you learn a language, do you consider that the study of the culture, history and psychology of the people who speak it is as important as learning the language itself?

Screenshot 2015-01-07 12.00.33I believe that first you should ask yourself to what point you want to speak a language, and how much you want it to be part of your life. If you want to have just a smattering of the language, I don’t think it is strictly necessary. If you want to visit the country and, say, briefly interact with people in restaurants and bars with very simple conversations, you don’t need to know the culture and history of a given country. That said though, I believe that speaking a language for real implies that you LIVE it. Through people, books, movies. Attending events, sitting around a table talking about everything, and many other things. In that case, you might not even think about whether the culture and history and psychology that that language expresses are important or not, because you will absorb them by interacting with people in multiple situations. In fact, I strongly believe that people carry with themselves the history, culture and mentality of a given country. I experienced all that in France, when I lived for some time with the family of my ex-girlfriend. I absorbed the mentality, the gestures, the history by talking for hours around a table, going around the country with them, and many other things that you simply live and absorb day by day. Obviously, other than interacting with people reading books, watching movies and documentaries, listening to the radio, might help you deepen and reinforce your overall knowledge of a given country and a given people.


3. What is your daily life like? Spanish por favor?

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Every day is different but I can tell you a typical, average day

I wake up around 9.30 (depending on when I go to bed) and have breakfast. While I have breakfast I normally listen to the news in French (France24) or in German (there is a very interesting radio program called “Echo des Tages, WDR 5”. Then I have a coaching session in the morning, that is normally done in 2 foreign languages (English into Spanish, Russian into Spanish or English into Russian for example), then I start working on the book. I eat lunch around 14h, and then I take a quick nap – in Italy especially in the center and in the South we do the so-called siesta, but it also depends on your family.

Then I go running – I haven’t run in 1 month but I normally try to do it every day, although sometimes I have to stop cause the knees hurt – you know I am getting old, then I come back and I give another lesson, which is normally done with a student from the US because of the time difference. Then I normally try to do a little bit of Japanese, normally 30 to 45 minutes, and then 15-30 minutes in Polish. I try to do it every other day, reviewing the conversation I normally have once a week with my Japanese friend Saeko and my Polish friend Joanna. Then I have dinner, and I listen to Echo Movsky or watch the news in Russia (pervyj kanal) which offers the news AND the transcript, and after dinner it really depends on the day. If I stay home, I watch a movie or I read a book or a magazine, or have a chat with my housemates, in English or Dutch. If I go out, I normally do it with my foreign friends here in Rome or go to a bar where you can speak multiple languages.

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