You can probably relate to this. Multiple times a year…not scrap that, maybe multiple times a month, I’m asked the following question by people I’ve just met, and by people who are good at stuff other than languages:
How do you learn so many languages?!
The answer that I want to give would leave them bored to tears.
Something along the lines of…
Well it gets easier the more you know as you go along you begin to discover patterns between similar languages and even patterns between seemingly different languages so it’s really all very interesting and then even the grammatical structures become easier once you understand the concept behind something so really you could do it too if you…
I purposefully used no punctuation there to mimic exactly how I would say it. I get excited. What can I say?
So the reaction when you say “I’m taking 12 lessons in 12 different languages this month” is pretty much the same.
But really, it’s not that impressive. It’s just fun. And when you make it fun, the pressure is off and it really does become a joy.
So let’s talk about that joy then. Because last month, I did just that (“last month” at the time of writing of course, that means “last month” = July 2017).
At the very end of June, knowing I’d be facing a busy month ahead and not have time to set myself lofty goals to advance in the language I’m currently focusing on (Guaraní), I decided at the last minute to join the italki Diversity Language Challenge.
And I’ve even done a similar challenge to this to keep my language brain happy when other busy stuff is going on – I set myself the year-long Language Script Challenge in 2015 when I was studying for the final year of my degree.
So I knew that a) the italki Language Challenge had proved itself a successful accountability marker for be and b) exploring lots of random languages (some I’d barely even heard of) had proved itself an enjoyable distraction from other busy stuff going on in my life.
But this italki Language Challenge was different. This was the italki Diversity Language Challenge. Why the ‘Diversity’ you ask?
Well, part of the challenge was to take at least one lesson in a language from their Featured Languages list, highlighting lesser studied and potentially endangered languages. For the first lesson you took in a language on this list, italki donated to Wikitongues, an organisation that does great work with all languages. I highly recommend you check them out.
(Sidenote – I write for their blog sometimes alongside a team with awesome and fascinating insights into lots of aspects of language and linguistics!)
I could have taken a lesson or two in languages I’d previously studied, but I decided to take things further and aim for all the languages I took lessons in to be new ones to me, and ideally to be on the list of Featured Languages on the italki website.
I started by bookmarking tutors in these languages…aaaand ended up with well over 12 languages!
Next I focused on when I could have lessons and checked their schedules to see if our times matched. It’s always important for me that lessons are at a convenient time for me as a student, and with timezones, this is often surprisingly easy.
Finally, I planned roughly a week ahead each time, with most of my lessons being on the weekends.
I ended up with lessons in the following languages (in this order, and linking to the tutors I had):
Cuban Spanish (slightly cheating but needed to grab an extra lesson on the last weekend to hit my goal of 12 lessons!)
Here’s what happened…
When did I have lessons + how did I fit it in?
I’m really grateful that the italki Diversity Language Challenge fell when it did. July was a crazy month. Ash was doing three triathlons to raise money to buy bikes for the school he worked at – so weekends were all about driving to places for that, we were getting ready to go away for a year – so mornings and evenings were all about that, and there was the school play and yearbook that I helped out with a lot in July too.
Basically, on the surface, I would have said “no way!” to anything new without something like this to sign up for and push me to actually do something.
And it’s really surprising it worked. I normally took lessons early morning on the weekends or mid-afternoon/early evening depending on the availability of the tutors.
Personally, I prefer taking lessons first thing in the morning as it sets you up right for the day, and I’m much more alert than mid-afternoon/early evening.
If you’re looking at your current life patterns and wondering where to fit stuff like this in, it might surprise you just how possible it is.
So I’m basically fluent now, right?
HA! Of course not. I can’t remember much of what I learnt but for me, it’s not always about that. It’s about opening up to learn new things about new people and places.
And maybe even find a language or two I want to learn more about and maybe even become fluent in in the future. Sort of a try before you buy kinda situation.
Regardless of how much you learn or how you remember, spending time learning a language is always valuable. It’s a great way to learn about other cultures, even just with a few words.
If you’re curious to learn more for yourself and take a lesson in a language you’ve never studied (or maybe never even heard of) take a look at italki for a good place to start.
Did you do the italki Diversity Language Challenge? How did you do? Which languages did you study? Share in the comments below!