New Podcast: Becky Morales on Perfect Pronunciation and Having 4 Bilingual Kids

becky language podcast

Hey, welcome to lucky episode 13 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast. In this episode, I'll be sharing a delicious foodie article and talking about Kid World Citizens with Becky Morales.

You Will Learn More About:

  • How Becky went from Maths major to Spanish lover in college
  • What it takes and what it means to become bilingual
  • How to put together a golden approach to teaching language
  • Why pronunciation can be something you master at any age if you only have time, dedication and fun
  • How to create an environment where you can learn a language to any level from your own home

Article of the Week

Top Five Russian Pasta DIshes on Transparent Language

Bonus! Recipes of the Week

Jewish Noodle Kugel

German Spätzle

Kazakh Beshbarmak

Tips of the Week

Out of the following three tips, Becky chose number 1 as her favourite tip -  personalize your language learning experience by building your own vocab decks.

1) DIY your Memrise Courses

2) Start with Pronunciation (here's Gabriel Wyner's take)

3) Incorporate all the senses into your vocab learning habits (Science Daily)

Tips and Links from this Podcast

Support this Podcast through Patreon

The Top 10 Podcasts to Help you Learn a Language

Heartwarming video of Brazilian students practicing with elderly Americans

Kid World Citizen : Becky's Website

The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners, Becky's book and on (Buy through this link to support my podcast!)

Language Linkfest: February 2015

Hello and welcome to the latest language linkfest, everyone. I know that we skipped an edition on 30 January 2015 to make space for the Language Book Club event over on Facebook, so this month I'm back to once again share what's caught my eye online.

Gorgeous image by Alexey Kijatov on Flickr

Gorgeous image by Alexey Kijatov on Flickr

Best of Fluent's Blog

Best Language Articles, January 2015

Edupreneur's Corner

And that is it for the Fluent month, which has been ever hectic. I have been very proud to launch my new brand building course Savvy Brand Academy for the Spring intake this week, which is a Branding class for online teachers. So go check it out if you're ready to teach better, earn more and have awesome students.

Feel like Giving up Learning a Language?

People, I have some shocking news for you. Remember all that New Year 2015 enthusiasm? Those promises you made? Those ideas about fluency being within reach? That's less than 2 months ago!! Today's guest post comes from a fellow language teacher who's seen that deflation before.

Jimmy Monaghan is  from Ireland and currently works in Malta, where he is working with the Elanguest English Language School. He enjoys studying and practicing French in his spare time. I thought his tips for reviving enthusiasm and staying motivated were just perfect for this time of the year. Enjoy!

img ©paul fisher on Flickr

img ©paul fisher on Flickr

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
— Thomas A. Edison

Thomas A. Edison was a smart man. As well as inventing some of the most important devices of our civilisation, he knew all about the importance of persistence. He certainly didn’t invent the light bulb over night, and if he had taken the easy way out and given up on his vision, then we would all still be spending a lot of time lighting candles. Language learning is a mountain to climb. Any body that has ever attempted to do so knows how disheartening it can be to feel like you are getting somewhere, only to realise how much further you have to go. And like anything that is hard to do, the temptation of giving up is sometimes too great. But everyday millions of people all over the world are having success learning new languages, so why shouldn’t you? Here are a few tips that might help inspire you to overcome that block in the road and continue on your (long but rewarding) journey towards learning a new language.

1. Set Obtainable Goals

How come I’m not fluent yet? If you start learning a new language and expect to be fluent within a couple of months, then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment, which will ultimately increase the likelihood of you throwing in the towel. Despite there being websites that offer to make you fluent in three months, the majority of us will only be at an advanced beginners stage after this little time. If you set obtainable goals for yourself then you are much more likely to meet those goals and feel a sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to continue towards fluency.

Examples of obtainable goals:

"I will be able to read and understand an entire children’s book without a dictionary."

"I will be able to book a hotel room over the telephone."

"I will be able to watch a movie without subtitles in my own language, but subtitled in its original language."

2. Be OK with your ability

The truth of the matter is is that some people just have an easier time learning languages than others. Maybe it’s the way our brains our wired: all different, highly complex machines, no two alike. It might not seem fair but hey, that’s life. This fact doesn’t just apply to languages however. Some people learn how to drive after a few lessons, while for others it can take months or even years. It is important to accept this, to identify at what rate you can comfortably learn, and to not compare your ability to that of others.

3. There is no such thing as Wasted Time

One big contributing factor to a lot of people giving up their language learning aspirations is not seeing immediate results, and fearing that they have simply wasted their time. Every minute spent studying a language will eventually pay off and help you somewhere down the road. And while it’s easy to feel like you are wasting hours studying a language you aren’t making progress in, so much more is happening in the brain than you might imagine. Any studious activity, especially language learning, is like taking your brain to the gym and training it. The results can seep into other areas of your life such as helping to strengthen your memory or increase abstract and creative thinking. There is no such thing as wasted time.

4. Be humble and don’t overestimate yourself

So you’ve been busy studying. You’ve been making personal breakthroughs and are feeling pretty good about yourself. You feel like your level of comprehension has gotten better and you can just picture yourself effortlessly constructing beautifully poetic sentences at parties while others marvel at your command of the language. Then you go to a party and meet a native speaker. You get a little nervous and think ‘OK, here’s my chance to finally put all of my study into practice…’ and then you choke. You can’t even think of the most common words. The person you just met has to explain even the simplest of phrases to you while inside you’re screaming, “I’m so much better than this, I promise!” If this doesn’t make you feel like giving up then you don’t need to be reading this article. Finding out that you are not as good as you thought you were can be hard and demotivating, but a big part of this is confidence. I’ve met people with a very low level of English who have so much confidence that they can barely stop talking, despite making mistakes with every second word. On the other hand I know people who know so much but are afraid of making any mistakes that they won’t even open their mouths. Out of these two, who do you think is getting the most useful practice? The only mistake you can make is to be worried about making mistakes.

5. Don’t care what other People think about you

People are horrible, generally. We judge others and we have high expectations yet we are all so self centred and selfish. This last tip is one that can be applied to all areas of your life, but is especially useful in your language-learning journey. If you are constantly worried that other people will think that you are stupid or a slow learner because you haven’t mastered a language, then you will be creating a lot of unnecessary stress for yourself. Remember that you (under most circumstances) are learning a language for yourself, for your future, not theirs. If you think that you are good at speaking a language, then you are. If somebody else thinks otherwise, who cares? Be proud of everything that you have learned, even if it’s a little, because you have taken the time and energy to better yourself. If you keep letting other people bring you down and make you feel like there’s no point, then you will be a lot more likely to give up, and if Thomas Edison had done that, we would all be sitting in the dark.

I hope this article has been helpful and that it might inspire you to keep focused and determined while learning a new language.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.

My 8 Top Apps No Traveller Should Be Without

top travel apps

There is a German saying that sums up all that is annoying and all that is important about travelling:

Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter. Es gibt nur schlechte Kleidung.

This means "there's no bad weather, there's just bad clothing". While single-handedly giving you and explanation for all those German tourists dressed in pro-level hiking gear, the saying also talks about attitude and preparation. Without good prep, travel won't be fun, so today I thought I'll share a few tools that I use every single time I travel abroad. And no, it hasn't stopped me from doing some remarkably stupid things such as forgetting my passport at home (ouch) and turning up at the airport a whole 24 hours too late. But imagine how much less organised I could be!

Be Smart about App Usage on the Road

It's important to watch your smartphone's data consumption when you travel. The EU roaming fee law that we all waited for has now been pushed back until 2018, so even from the UK to Germany it's important to ensure you've researched before you go.

I'm UK-based and have found the best deals for using my smartphone abroad with Three and o2. More information for UK-based users is available on the always excellent Money Saving Expert website.

No matter where you are, here are my top phone tips before you go travelling:

  • Get your phone unlocked and research buying a local SIM if you stay longer than a week, you travel to another country regularly or you're planning to use a lot of data.
  • If in doubt, switch off international roaming.
  • Research where you can get free Wi-Fi access.

The List of Apps and Services

This is the list of travel apps that I am never without on my phone. Most offer app options for iOS and Android. I'll be linking to their websites so you can select your download option. None of the links in this article are affiliate links, but I've used my "Refer a Friend" where I've got it.

1. tripit

Oh my god, I'd be lost without this site. TripIt creates a master travel itinerary. You can forward most train, car hire, hotel and flight confirmations to their email address and it reads them automatically and puts them into the calendar. The service also integrates with online calendars, so your diary is up to date.

The best thing about TripIt is that I can share my itinerary and allow others to post things to it. It's completely stopped that irritating "What time is our flight again? Which terminal?" conversation I used to have with my partner on every single trip. Instead, we just say "it's in the TripIt".


The above link gets you free travel credit, feel free to use it!

I started using Airbnb in 2011 and it's become one of my go-to travel tools since then. Airbnb has been a big success story. It allows people with a little extra room, from a spare couch to a tree house, to rent out that space to travellers and visitors. I know that Couchsurfing runs this for free, but after years of business travel I just became a little spoilt and I'd rather set up a transaction with my host and have guaranteed safety and comfort in return.

I've now used Airbnb on trips to Cardiff, Kendal, San Francisco, Portland and London and have never had a bad experience. One of my friends has also started hosting on there, so if you're ever going to Edinburgh, email me for more details.

3.Award Wallet

Click the link above. The first 10 people to use the code "free-siaumd" get an upgrade coupon through my account.

If you never use your frequent traveller miles, you're not alone but you're missing out. AwardWallet is a website that tracks your airline and hotel loyalty schemes - something no one can really keep track off properly, right? The site will give you one central point to check your balances of every loyalty scheme going, including expiry dates and links to the original scheme websites.

Last year, I travelled around the USA and back for just $500, by the way. That was entirely due to using my frequent flyer miles, so this is worth looking into!

4. HotelTonight

My Referral Code KHAMMES will give you a £15 discount.

When I travel on my own, I like to be as free and unrestricted as I can. Road trips, spontaneous day trips and added nights in beautiful places are commonplace for me, so that means I rarely book a full itinerary in advance. There always has to be an unorganised bunch of nights in there, allowing me to feel free to roam. And HotelTonight has got to be the BESTEST EVER THING FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME.

The app is pretty, reliable and so easy to use it's unreal. Originally a last-minute reservation service for "tonight" only, they've now expanded their offering and allow you to use the app for reservations up to 7 days in advance. The rates are always competitive and their range of hotels is gorgeous. Without HotelTonight, my road trip to California would not have been as much fun.


A new addition to my travel arsenal, Parkopedia is a British website listing reviews and tips on the best and most affordable parking spaces in 52 countries. It's saved me hundreds on my most recent Christmas trip by simply showing us a cheaper car park 500 metres away from our hotel. Absolutely worth looking into!

6. Kayak and 7. SkyScanner

Both of these websites are designed to deliver straightforward flight searches, allowing you to get the best connections all around the world. There are of course millions of flight search websites out there. Google has recently added its own service to the market as well after they bought the awesome ITA Scanner a few years ago. But for a bargain hunter like me, the two above are always worth checking out.

Kayak is great as a starting point for major airline connections and offers you a search featuring nearby airports, flexible dates and lots of route options. They miss out a bunch of low-cost airlines, so Skyscanner is my second favourite place to check for flight options because they will include Ryanair, easyJet, WizzAir and so on. Invaluable for Euro travel.

8. Happy Cow

If you're a vegetarian on the road, use Happy Cow. If you are looking for quirky restaurants that offer awesome healthy food, use it too. Basically: Use Happy Cow! This restaurant guide has listings of veggie-friendly places in even the most unlikely locations like Moscow and Lisbon. I've often dragged friends and travel partners to Happy Cow locations and had the best meal of my whole trip. The app offers you directions and opening hours and also lists health food stores. For going beyond the usual travel fare, this is your new best friend.

More App Recommendations

The list above is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. I also make regular use of TripAdvisor and the LEO Dictionary app. And I am always on the hunt for a really good packing list app, I've just not found one yet.

What are your own favourite apps for travelling? How do you prepare for a trip abroad?

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.

7 of the Best Language Learning Rules Ever

best language rules

Today I want to go a little bit deeper into the content of all our Language Book Club interviews from 30 January. As you saw last week, the event was truly epic and delivered some wisdom from no fewer than 11 multilingual people (polyglots! yes they are!).

Between me and Chris Broholm from Actual Fluency, we had the chance to interview a great bunch of people about writing, language learning and challenges on the day, so here are the most important things that Language Book Club taught us:

1) Forget Fluency

Fluency is not a word that most polyglots or language teachers love. Yes, we all call our blogs after it, but fluency is truly a concept that you need to define in more detail. It certainly doesn't help when you are working on your goals. Instead of aiming to define fluency, try setting short-term goals such as reading a certain book in the next month. I admit that I’m pretty pleased with myself for my own definition, which goes a bit like “if you can avoid communication breakdown and keep a conversation flowing, you’re pretty fluent."

2) Learn Vocabulary in Context

Flashcards and vocab are hot property, but there are lots of different ways of doing them. From detailed Anki interaction to paper-based systems like my simple Write-Look-Cover-Repeat system, the biggest key is in creating a rich context for whatever you are learning. In fact, you can develop this all the way to creating language memory palaces. Anthony Metivier believes that the memory palace is great for simple grammar principles and vocabulary, and emphasises that it is the most fundamental way of developing your memory (read here for my own mini palace attempt).

3) Don't get hung up on Accents

No matter where you go and speak a native language kinda badly, you'll still be welcome and accepted. this message was reinforced by Jared Romey and the girls from Russian Step by Step. Jared talked about how easy it can be to become disoriented even within the same language as he recounted his experiences of embarrassing Puerto Rican shopgirls. You might be feeling self-conscious or embarrassed when you step off the plane and have to open your mouth and “talk foreign” for the first time. But Jared says: “The most important thing is that you learn Spanish. Afterwards, you can adjust it, but don’t let dialects stop you."

4) Appreciate how big the World is

Language learning is not just about remembering words and grammar structures. It's about a whole different world view. Becky Morales shared the story of American high schoolers who met their first Mexican in their teenage years and enquired whether she had ever seen an orange. When you learn a language, she said, you become a world citizen and that's what really enriches your life.

5) Look Beyond the Idea of Hacking

There is no language hack and no single method of making language learning easier for all. From Benny Lewis and the emphasis on speaking and communication, to Gabriel Wyner's intense pronunciation focus, no polyglot can promise you the answer to getting things entirely right. Many share what works for them, and all of us hope that it will work for you too. In that sense keep trying, because you're not getting things wrong any time soon. Looking for a shortcut to better language skills is fine, but every one of our experts on the day has been a language learner for many years. The tips that you get are honed through years of experience, discipline and habit-building. What is the key to good language learning? Enjoy the journey!

6) See and Believe the Impossible

It's all right to be a fan boy! In Teatime with Chris, my Co-host Chris Broholm talked about his own journey of self-development and finding a purpose. It’s a pretty inspiring story and really does stand out as proof of how language learning as a personal challenge can help with even the biggest challenges. Chris started his own podcast as a means of learning from the people he admired. He says “It’s been such a big motivation for me when I see people doing things that didn’t even seem possible to me, and once you see what you think is impossible then it becomes possible."

7) Chill out at least some of the Time

When you feel overwhelmed, it's fine to slow down. Instead of trying every method of language learning all at once, just chill out and reconnect with your own preferences. Language learning is about what you do best. It has to be in sync with your own learning style. Not only did I discuss this as part of my own hour of Language Book Club Live, but I actually built this principle into the entire concept of The Vocab Cookbook. It's a cookbook: a collection of recipes to inspire and inform. Like with every other collection and every other blog, I want you to try out the ones that sound nice. You'll still get your time's worth.

Get Involved in Language Book Club

You can join Language Book Club on Facebook to stay up to date with news and discussions around language learning and books, and of course the updates on our next event when we make it happen later in 2015!

And if you claimed a free copy of The Vocab Cookbook on the day, don't forget that you can claim the action-focused worksheets for Vocab Cookbook readers simply by submitting an Amazon review and letting me know about it on Twitter, facebook or here in the comments.

Building a Language Foundation with Apps: Babbel and Duolingo

If you're a Fluent regular, you'll be familiar with my regular guest author Angel Armstead, who is ambitious and varies her studies by learning German, Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. Angel has been focusing on German recently and is on hand today with her own experience report of two leading apps, Duolingo and Babbel.

In this article, she shares the frustrations and benefits of using apps to get a first language foundation.

babbel duolingo

My Language App Choices

I decided late last year to look up German language apps and courses. I came across both Babbel, Duolingo and many others. A lot of apps were just teaching vocabulary which I also need but some didn’t have any sentences so they didn’t keep my attention for long. I eventually decided to go for a Duolingo/Babbel combo and see how that would work.

I heard of Duolingo back when it was still new, and started off with some doubts. I just didn’t believe that it was really 100% free. I assumed that I would do a few lessons and like everything else it would eventually ask for my credit card number. The small amount of languages turned me off. They’re getting Russian soon and hopefully Japanese & Mandarin. Its game-like features also had me wondering if I would learn anything.

In December last year I decided to try it out after getting Pimsleur German from the library. I could understand what was being said in Pimsleur but I was sure that I couldn’t spell any of the words. That’s when I decided to try out Duolingo because I knew they had German. On closer examination, another objection was answered too: I did find out from other users that there were no hidden fees. Duolingo being free was my main reason for trying it out.

First Impressions of Duolingo

When I first signed up, I had decided that I would only be around for a few days then I would move on to something else. Duolingo has an RPG feel, which I liked a lot since those are my favorite games. You get to earn points, level up and buy things with the currency (lingots) that you earn. But I still didn’t expect to do more than just a week because I didn’t expect to learn anything. Within the first few days I learnt a few new words and sentences here and there. I confirmed that I totally couldn’t spell those words. I do like being able to take timed tests to see how fast I can answer a question.  And now, I’m still going with Duolingo. It has become extremely addictive to have RPG aspects plus learning on the same site. It’s the same aspect that keeps me addicted to sites such as HabitRPG.

Duolingo has Skills that you learn and some skills have up to 10 or more lessons. Skills are things such as “Basics” “Food” “Phrases” and a lot more. Duolingo German currently has over 70 skills. I have a long ways to go due to my study for a few days then review for a few days habit. I won’t be finishing my “Skill” tree for quite some time. The lessons seems so short and they are but it’s amazing how many mistakes I can make in such a short lesson. Duolingo has optional skills such as Flirting, Idioms & Christmas that you can buy with the lingots that you earn. I’ve decided to do all the optional skills last.

First Impressions of Babbel

I didn’t have the same negative assumptions toward Babbel as I did with Duolingo. The few people I talked to that used it said they learned a lot of vocabulary and were more confident in the language they were learning. But I wanted more than just the vocab part, so I ordered the three month course last month while they were offering 6 months for the price of 3. I found Babbel just by putting in German language in my Kindle Fire app store. I got Babbel after I started Duolingo and originally was getting it to have something to reinforce what I was learning from Duolingo. I also wanted to learn through different teaching methods.

One thing I noticed straight away is that Babbel is not as game oriented as Duolingo. There are many courses once you pay the fee. I’ve started with the Beginners course and there are 6 beginners courses in all with various lessons in each course. I’ve gone over how to greet someone, ask simple questions and practice dialogues. I’ve even printed out all my dialogues so far.

I love that you have a review lesson to go over those things. When you complete a course, Babbel lets you know what you should know and where it falls in CEFR. Duolingo is fun but I needed more explanation. I needed to know why some things were wrong. I couldn’t understand the German case system at first and wondered why der forms sometimes would change to den. With Babbel, I had to practice going over when to use der or den. I had the same problem with the different ways I saw sie being used. I got it wrong so much in the beginning but now I rarely do. One thing I like about Babbel are the certificates for each course you complete. Maybe I’m a bit of a showoff? This is something I would print out and frame so I can feel a little accomplished even if it’s simply the beginner’s course.

What I like Best about Duolingo & Babbel

I love the RPG aspect of Duolingo such as the leveling up, gaining lingots and “buying” timed tests. I retain a lot more than I expected that I would.  I like Babbel because I feel like it explains things more in depth and is a bit more serious. There are parts of Babbel where I had a whole page of practicing forms.

Once you’ve been put through such a long exercise of practicing all the forms for You, Me and I, you’ll find that they are way harder to forget.

Frustrations with Both

No site is perfect. The thing that bothers me the most is sometimes I feel that other translations could be used. An impersonal teacher such as a program cannot have every viable answer in it. It has the best ones but sometimes the “best” translation is not the one I write down.

Babbel is very strict on spelling. I’ve gotten a lot wrong due to that. I happen to spell too many words based on English spelling and not German. When it first happened it was disappointing because it seemed like I misspelled every word. In Duolingo you would get kicked out the lesson if you did really badly. Duolingo gives you three hearts per session, and if you lose them all you’re kicked out and have to start over. Babbel is not as quite frustrating but I’m kind of a perfectionist and I just kept getting the same words wrong every time. I ended up making flash cards of those words since they seemed to be ones I was having the biggest problems with. Funnily enough, I must be getting things right. Now my problem is the reverse! When I’m supposed to translate, I end up spelling the words in German. I’ve been spelling good as gut and man as Mann. But that doesn’t frustrate me as much when I make that mistake because it shows that at least I do remember the German word now.  

Where do I see my Language Skills 3 Months from now?

I don’t expect to be finished either Duolingo or Babbel because of how I study. I study for 5 days straight and then take a few days to review. I’m fine with taking my time to work on these programs. I wouldn’t mind in three months understanding more of some of my favorite German songs or even understanding more in a video game. I have future plans of a class, a private tutor or both, and I like the idea of having a foundation in the language before doing either.

Duolingo and Babbel are just two of the apps that I have decided to test out to see how well they really do. Busuu will be next and whatever else I can find. Apps are easily accessible to everyone and when I find some that I think can help I can easily recommend to other language learners. There are a lot of people that I talk to that would love to learn another language but either lack of time or money feel they can’t. Apps make it a bit more affordable in the case of Duolingo or are just simply convenient (Babble). And maybe the excuses for learning a language will grow a little smaller due to apps like these (and future apps).

Have you tried out Duolingo and Babbel? How long did you stick with it? How much did it help? As always, we'd love to hear more from you in the comments, and don't forget to consider supporting Fluent with just $1 in my Patreon Support Campaign.

Lean Back and Enjoy our Language Book Club Videos (Plus: Free T-Shirt!)

Even though it seems like only yesterday, our Language Book Club event is now already two weeks ago and I haven't even had the time to thank all of you who watched and interacted with us. Language Book Club was an 11-hour long live event featuring language book discounts, interviews with authors, live video chats and extra giveaways. Both co-host Chris Broholm and I had a full but fascinating and amazing day.

The Vocab Cookbook Freebies

I want to thank each of the 255 (yay!) people who downloaded a copy of The Vocab Cookbook, my book which I had made available for free on the day.

Don't forget that you can claim your free action-focused worksheets for Vocab Cookbook readers simply by submitting an Amazon review and letting me know about it. I am also giving away a pretty cute "I love Languages" t-shirt. You must enter by the end of February for a chance win this.

What I Learnt on the Day

In the course of our day, Chris and I produced a cool total of 9 interviews with our guests. From textbook authors to published bloggers, I think I enjoyed every single conversation that I had. Without further ado, I want you guys to immerse yourself in all these chats, so all you need to do is check this out and press Play.

What surprised me about these video conversations was the format. In the run-up to Language Book Club, Chris had brought in the idea of video interviews. He envisaged this epic live feed session that allowed our viewers almost non-stop interaction. And I must admit that this just sounded crazy to me. I thought no one was going to watch and that this was a waste of time! 

While we didn't manage to pull off 11 straight hours of video, we did come pretty close. Every hour, our audience members got to meet a new author and most were able to join us live on Hangouts on Air. I had not anticipated how well this was going to go. You guys were nothing but fantastic, asking questions on Facebook and interacting with the guests. I hadn't expected video interviews to be so much fun. So the lesson for me is to keep trying out new things and pushing myself out of the comfort zone, both here on the Fluent blog and in my books and courses. I have Chris to thank for that.

Did you follow Language Book Club and grab a book on the day? What were your impressions? Which videos did you enjoy the most?

My New Year Language Challenge: The First 15 Days of Italian

Ciao everyone, today I'm quite excited to be sharing my guest writer Tanja's first update on how she is getting on with the italki Language Challenge.

“Monolingualism is curable”

italian challenge2

Ciao a tutti! Today’s title is quoting a local professor who always used to say this to her students. I think it’s a charming notion - and a good one. I am now a little more than two weeks into my italki Challenge adventure, I have had eight sessions since January 15th, so I’m slightly ahead of schedule. I said my first sentences in Italian in November and now I am reading a book about Greek philosophers, watching films about murders in Sicily and having conversations about social movements in Europe during the 70s, all in Italian. None of this comes easy, but it’s doable.

Staying motivated

italki is providing the challenge participants with weekly motivational emails. As they have correctly pointed out, most people remain motivated in the first week - it’s further on that it gets harder. I admit I initially did not even consider three hours a week too much of a challenge. Intensive courses with five hours a day: that’s what I call intense. And yet, there have been midweek 9pm sessions after a full day of work and appointments when “sleep” seemed like a much more attractive option. No matter how tired I was, I always felt a sense of achievement after attending. It's similar to the feeling you get when you’ve made yourself go for a run - both because I’d opted out of being lazy and because my lessons have in fact been enjoyable throughout.

I did cancel my offline lessons (for the duration of the challenge, at least), for two reasons: a) It would have been tricky to fit more lessons into my week, b) I figured that it’ll be easier to eventually assess my “italki-progress” that way.

Learning with italki

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to pick a second teacher. Three lessons a week with one person seemed excessive, especially with my usual teacher's very time-consuming (for him) method of making Anki cards to address frequent mistakes I make. Since we are not following a strict course of study anyway, I opted for asking another teacher whether she’d like to help me along. It’s working out very well - I stick to similar grammar topics across the board (recently: pronouns, next up: future tense) and yet they both do things very differently. My second teacher sends me stuff in advance while I receive my other teacher's materials after the lesson. The homework varies, the conversations focus on very different topics.

The Skype sessions feel more one to one than even offline lessons, because everyone is so focused. At the same time, exercises deemed too time-consuming are immediately assigned as homework, so that no valuable teaching time is wasted.

I can see myself taking Skype lessons for a while

Are there disadvantages? Well - depends. What you don’t have in these lessons is interaction with other learners, so for people who like to compare themselves with others that might be a disadvantage. The lessons are also intense and you can’t escape your teacher - which is what a surprising number of students in classrooms seem to try to do. For me that’s not an option, there is nobody else except the native speaker teacher to listen to me, so I am not nervous to speak “in class”. Personally, I can see myself taking Skype lessons for a while, while I had not committed to regular courses for a long time.

Have I studied hard?

Surprisingly, with three lessons a week, I lack the time to do my “usual” kind of studying: making lists, checking them twice etc. Both teachers give me a fair amount of homework, which I appreciate. Since life continues on, however, I have not had huge amounts of time to do other studying with my own books. I have tried hard to get my hands onto “immersion materials”. In an attempt to familiarise myself with Italian culture, I have developed a slightly unhealthy obsession with Commissario Montalbano, even though I don’t even like detective series very much. I first checked it out because it was on Prime (editor note: This is Amazon Prime, click here for a free trial through Fluent's Affiliate link) for free, and now I have ordered the DVD set (with English subtitles). I have also watched a few episodes of other shows on youtube, and while it’s still very difficult to even get the gist, it’s nice to be able to listen to “real conversation at original speed”.

It’s all Greek to me

Speaking of comprehension: I’ve noticed a number of weird issues. A few weeks ago, I downloaded some podcasts and it took me until the third one to notice that the guy was alternating between Spanish and Italian, using the former to explain the latter. Clearly my brain was just set to “foreign”. I hope this will stop happening in the future when Italian becomes much more “my language”.

Also, accents: My new teacher comes from a different region which I assume means she speaks with a different accent. I couldn’t say, though, and I have long had the theory that learners can’t really tell accents apart in the early stages of learning. How else would any young Brit on a language exchange ever understand Bavarians?

Core Language Skills

Practising reading, writing, listening and speaking at the same time is essential for my personal definition of “becoming fluent”. Various blogs suggest learning very basic grammar and then spending most of your time learning vocabulary. This seems a fair approach if you are learning a language for communication, because as we all know it’s perfectly possible usually to understand speakers with poor grammar skills. This is true, by the way, for native as well as non-native speakers, and that is my issue with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Their tests, similar to language entrance exams at national universities, would be quite a challenge for a lot of native speakers who can’t actually summarise articles in their mother tongue, or find it hard to have an ad-hoc conversation about “advanced” topics. When “measuring” language skills, the inventors seem to more or less cater for an “academic” clientele. I have a lot more to say about that (maybe some other time) but, for now, I’ll admit that I am said clientele and that I do want to know the stuff required on those levels.

With my knowledge of language structures and my familiarity with cognates, I have a fair understanding even of intermediate texts because I just know the words from other languages and have a knack for guessing from context. What I lack is a solid grammar foundation that is taught at levels A1 and A2. That’s because my lessons are mainly focussed on speaking, with the “learning” happening in between sessions. This suits me fine, because I really don’t need to have someone sit on the other side of the internet while I do gap-fills. Grammar is not, however, drilled into me. As I have mentioned before, drills never made me fluent in French, so I am interested to see if I become better at the basics as my speaking and my comprehension progress. The above-mentioned approach insists that grammar will become much easier once you already “know” the language. Also (and I am sorry I forgot the source, I have been reading zillions of blog posts) it was said somewhere that you can’t learn a language, you just get used to it. That sounds good, right?

What have I learned?

I have learned that Italian has some seriously long words, that language apps are not always perfect (for example, one insists that “tazza” is another word for “toilet”, but all my dictionaries disagree, though who knows about colloquialisms) but mostly useful (I think the 3400 words app has had some real effect on my vocabulary skills). I finally figured out my HD receiver and found out that I have an Italian news channel! The most important insight however is that I really like Italian, so I am very glad to be diving into it.

Note from Kerstin: Core Skills Book

If you are interested in finding out more about the four core language skills and how you can train them in your language learning, I recommend you check out my book Fluency Made Achievable, which comes with targeted exercise ideas and a 3 Week Planner for Fluency.

Language Book Club: A One-Day Sale and Event with Language Authors

Have you put tomorrow's date (Jan 30) in your diary? The whole day will be filled with fun and learning, giveaways and special deals during Language Book Club, our Facebook event.


Here are All Discounted Books

Just a few of our discounted books on the day..

Just a few of our discounted books on the day..

The following books will drop their prices for one day only. (Note I can't guarantee this and am informing you based on their promise, so no, you can't sue me if there's no deal to be found. I can promise you that my deal goes ahead.)

This is my own guide to acquiring vocabulary and never forgetting it, and I'm making it FREE for the day. Look out for my bonus deal at 11am GMT in the Facebook event.

You know about Anthony Metivier from my review of his language learning course here on Fluent. He's obsessed with memorizing things! If you want to build memory palaces and learn how to get great at remembering words, Anthony can help.

Benny Lewis's book takes the message from his blog and makes it even more accessible for anyone: Language learning is possible. You don't need money or years, you can get started straight away.

Russian Step By Step means textbooks written by really passionate teachers. I've had the pleasure of working with Natasha and Anna, the ladies behind this fab series recently, and can't recommend their commitment to Russian teaching enough. They teach what normal people need to know - not scholars.

In this book, Ben writes about attitudes and methods for successful French learning. It's a quick and simple read and will help any French learner over the common road blocks.

This is a whopper! Jared and Diana from Speaking Latino are offering 12 books as a huge bundle helping you discover Spanish from Argentinia, Chile, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. Have I missed one?

Pick up this book by Olly Richards to discover more about why you keep forgetting foreign language vocabulary, and how to be better at it.

For independent learners and teaching parents alike, this book provides a solid foundation to language learning. It focuses not on courses, but stories - the fun way to get unblocked!

This is a novel set in Northern England, and written both for English and Chinese learners. Aidan O'Rourke has crafted a captivating story.

And Here is the Much Anticipated Schedule

Get your questions ready, join our Facebook group and event, and tomorrow you will be able to live chat with all of the following authors. All these times are in GMT.

10:00 Benny Lewis

11:00 Kerstin Hammes

12:00 Olly Richards

13:00 Benjamin Houy

14:00 Speaking Latino (Jared Romey)

15:00 Anthony Metivier

17:00 Chris Broholm

18:00 Kid World Citizen (Becky Morales)

19:00 Mystery Guest (tbc)

20:00 Aidan O'Rourke

Support the Organisers

By now, you've probably become aware that we're not just holding the event to make money. There are so many discounts and so much organisation involved in these kinds of events that I simply have to take a second and ask you guys if you could possibly spare $1 to support us?

If your answer is yes, then here are a few ways to do it:

1. Boost my Patreon Campaign for anything you can afford at all

2. Support Chris Broholm on Indiegogo

3. Use our Affiliate links so Amazon can pay us like 0.05% of what you buy

All the links above are affiliate links and go to, so if you do buy through these you're giving a tiny cut to Fluent too at no extra cost to yourself. Thank you in advance for all your support. It really means a lot to us! I want to make more podcast, run more language events and create courses for you guys but it is impossible without paying the rent and the website.

See you guys tomorrow!

New Podcast: Chris Broholm on Challenges, Information Overload and Book Club (and the Owl!)

In Episode 12 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, I interviewed a fellow podcaster! Chris Broholm is a language learner with a big mission: 10 Languages in 10 Years!

Listen to our interview to find out more about

  • Who everybody's favourite owl is!

  • How Chris built up his own support community of inspiring language learners through the Actual Fluency Podcast

  • Whether there is a best way to approach language learning methods

  • What to think about when you set yourself an ambitious goal like Chris Broholm's 10 Languages in 10 Years

  • The importance of bewaring information overload

  • The language learning method that you absolutely must try out

  • And why trying it out is all that we can tell you to do!

As long as you’re doing something, you’re doing it right.
— Chris on Language Learning Methods

And most importantly...

We talk about Language Book Club and how much we're looking forward to it!

Article of the Week

Duolingo is Getting More Serious by Kay Alexander on Fair Languages

Tips of the Week

Chris chose Tip 1 as his favourite, because goal setting is still WAY undervalued in learning a new language.

  • Tip 1: set your chosen Fluency level (travel fluent, job fluent?)

  • Tip 2: Be a historical linguist

    • Word origins and vocab divergence can help with remembering words

    • Look up "etymology"

  • Tip 3: Sprint with the Language Challenge

Tips and Links from this Podcast

Support the Creative Language Learning Podcast through Patreon - from just $1!

Actual Fluency Indiegogo Campaign

The italki New Year Challenge: Study 20 Lessons and Win

Actual Fluency Episode 32 with me talking about how to be an independent online teacher

Handbook of Russian Affixes

Russian in 10 Minutes a Day by Kristine Kershul

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.