Follow Yoga Philosophy And You'll Have A Confident Conversation Today

Did you know that I used to try to be absolutely perfect in English? That even today it bothers me a tiny bit when people tell me they can hear my German accent?

I remember that I used to be the best in my class in English. Then I changed schools and better people came along. I was the best IELTS taker my university had ever seen at IELTS 9.0. Then I went out to the pub and understood no one. One thing I learnt in that progress is that trying to be flawless is like guaranteeing yourself a failure. Turns out perfectionism doesn't work if you want to learn a language. We don't have to be the best to be good.

In the haze of ambitious new year's goals, let's have a look at how to achieve everything you want without pressure and perfectionism.

Perfectionism By Another Name

You are probably already aware that "perfectionism is bad". There are many who warn about its dangers. It makes logical sense to start before you're ready and keep practicing until you achieve fluency, but in reality I've seen many learners who never seem to be ready. A former German student of mine had this habit of pausing in the middle of the sentence because he forgot a word. He'd switch to English very quickly, exclaiming that he's tired and today just isn't the right day. He asked for grammar exercises instead, trying to rule out any language learning flaws before he even started.

The "I have to be perfect" feeling is sneaky. It doesn't hide in a labelled box inside your mind and heart. Perfectionism works hard to keep its hold on you. Funnily enough, the feeling loves it most when you are trying to speak in your target language. This is when perfectionism has a good day. Here are statements to look out for. Ever had a thought like this?

  • "I need to be ready before I can speak"

(and what exactly is ready?)

  • "I just want to make sure I get this right"

(what if there is no right?)

  • "Is this how a native speaker would say it?"

(native speakers aren't perfect)

  • "Am I making enough progress?"

(if you are learning, the answer is yes)

  • "Am I good enough?!"


Perfectionism is Bad Because..

It paralyzes you, because your high ambition will stop you from trying before you are "ready". It's never worse than when the task is to speak. The fear of what others may think of you, the instant vulnerability of being on the spot, and the stress of thinking so fast are good nutrition for perfectionism. This is why you may prefer to keep quiet or spend another few days preparing. And before you know it, a year of study has passed and you've spoken to nobody.

It frustrates you and kills your will to try again. Last week, I was chatting to a girl at a friend's party and mentioned that I'm a Welsh learner. She exclaimed "wyt ti'n dysgu cymraeg?!" and revealed that Welsh is her native language. Oh my! I had to speak! After a few sentences of conversation she complimented me on my skills (which is ridiculous since half the conversation was "how do I say .... in Welsh?"). Then came the fatal moment. I said something, and she replied "that's not how we would say it in Wales", then explained to me how the locals shorten words in slang. And of course I felt embarrassed! Of course I was gutted to have been so uncool and use stilted uncomfortable Welsh.

The frustration of that moment must not stop me from learning more and trying again. I'll have to keep speaking in textbook Welsh for now. I have to stay on my own path, and the same goes for you if you're learning another language. Never let yourself feel frustrated enough to stop, just because you made a mistake once before.

Remember that being bad at your target language is good, because you'll get better. But when you stop, that's the single way you will fail at learning a language.

The Yoga Analogy

In yoga, there is a philosophy that freedom in the practice means freeing yourself from the desire to achieve perfect poses at all times. It's about letting go of your ego and of having to be right all the time. You work with recognizing your own body and its capabilities. You accept good days and bad days, and you thank yourself for doing what you can. Your prize is not a perfect yoga pose, but a better relationship with your body.

In language learning, that wonderful freedom is waiting for you too. I have received feedback about my failings time and time again, and have had to remind myself that language is a living and evolving tool, never used in the perfect way. Now at age 32, I guess my way through Welsh conversations and feel excited when mistakes are corrected. I work on my mindset much more than my "conversation prep", and trust that everything others correct will be the best and most useful vocabulary I could possibly acquire.

Something magical happens when we put aside those high standards and just surrender. Surrender to mistakes as and when they happen. Surrender to looking like a non-expert. Surrender to trusting the process and letting yourself learn.

With allowing your mind to simply engage and progress at its own speed, you get to discover how capable you really are. The question of being "good enough?" becomes irrelevant as you discover that you are truly the best that you can be. And verb endings, imperfect accents, all those things that trip you up in speaking your target language become things that you learn as you go along.

Mistakes are visitors you bump into on your journey. They are added training bonuses that show you where to focus. They're what keeps you in the game when you risk complacency. I wish we would reframe the way we think about mistakes in language learning and accept that they are boosters, power-ups, encouragers - whatever you want to call them, mistakes are that perfection you're looking for.

3 Practical Tips for Being Perfectly Non-Perfectionist

1) Start Before You're Ready, But Start Easy

So you've studied Polish for 3 weeks and not talked yet? Come on now. Just get yourself to the Polish shop, to a community class, or to italki, or on HelloTalk and quit having excuses.

Language learning is not about being the best or the most impressive person out there. Your interest in another language is enough validation, so go with the journey and take it super-easy at the start. It is NOT embarrassing to aim for saying one sentence correctly before you say another. Remember that yoga pose: You want to ease into it, not muscle into it.

2) Prep 5 Stock Phrases

Stock sentences are useful phrases that you can always say to buy yourself a little time, to enter or exit a conversation. They're useful things like "What does _ mean" and "How do I say _", along with asking the other person to slow down and be patient. Stock phrases also contain polite formulas like please and thank you, and maybe "Do you want a drink?". When I say prep, what I mean is you should have these stock phrases down so well that you could recite them at 3 in the morning if I shake you out of your sleep.

These stock sentences are your safety blanket, the lines you know you've got right no matter what. The reason I recommend you learn no more than 5 is that studying stock phrases isn't the point of learning a language.

You need enough to help you manage, but not so much that it stops your creativity. Remember - this is all about embracing restrictions so that you

3) Keep A Log

Instead of remembering the times that you made a mistake and "looked like an idiot", make sure you make a note of every correction that you get. Focus on what you're learning and how the other person is helping you improve. Even if you post a pronunciation video on YouTube and get "Your Russian Sucks!", so what! Ask the commenter what exactly you did wrong and upload another one. Remember that Yoga pose, where you are building your strength and easing into it.

Love Yoga? Love Languages?

If you enjoyed this blog article, check out my regular newsletter and please leave me a comment letting me know what your own perspective on mistakes and perfection in language learning is.

Podcast Episode 32: Discover Your Language Learning Tendencies

Brought to you by Lindsay's course Successful Self Study - save $20 with offer code FLUENT.

language learning style

This episode is about habits and how we build and create them. Listen to find out what our tendencies are and how we use them to make our language routines.

  • What motivates you to do things?
  • What motivates you to keep going?
  • Do you set yourself goals and always meet them? Or do you hate goals?
  • Are you likely to spend weeks just looking for the perfect textbook before you start?
  • Or are goals only meaningful when others set them for you?
  • Or do you only set them when they make sense?

So many questions! And in this podcast, we promise you some proper answers.


In the episode, we dove deep into the Four Tendencies Framework developed by Gretchen Rubin, which is all about how you motivate yourself to keep going and to do things.

Take this quiz before or during the show to get the most out of it. Can't wait to read about your results!

Finding Your Language Learning Style

  • How can you use your tendency for language learning?
  • What is the best ever way of researching language learning methods?
  • Which tendency is perfect for the ultimate self-guided language learner?
  • Do some tendencies profit more from classes and masterminds than others?



Try and be aware of the four tendencies and look for how they influence you, but also people around you.

We Want To Hear From You!!

Please comment or tweet us (#cllp, and we're @kerstinhammes and @ldlanguages) and tell us what your tendencies are.

  • Do you think your tendency influences how you learn a language?
  • Do you have ideas for how you can work with the tendency?

Teach Yourself a Language Quicker & More Cheaply With This New Online Course

Hi everyone, and strap yourselves in for today's review post all about a new course released by Lindsay from Lindsay does Languages. The course is called Successful Self Study, and it's all about every single step you need to follow for teaching yourself a language.

If you're a solo language learner hoping to meet an ambitious goal this year, read on to discover how Successful Self Study makes language learning easier.

Is This Instructor Worth Your Time?

You'll already know that Lindsay is my co-host on the Creative Language Learning Podcast. Lindsay is British, but she's one of the language-craziest people I know. She has studied over 8 foreign languages,.

Last year, she completed a self-directed university degree at the Open University. This means the end of 6 years doing a distance-learning course - the pinnacle of self study! And at the end of those 6 years, Lindsay has mastered a skill that so many of us struggle with: how to focus on your language studies and make real progress.

So before I go any further, let's go full disclosure: I have a lot of time for this person, and I believe she's totally trustworthy when it comes to language learning.

Lindsay has created the new course Successful Self Study, and allowed me a Sneak Preview so I can review it for you today.

The TL;DR Version: 7 Things You Need to Know

  1. This course is perfect if you're trying to learn a language by yourself and you struggle with

    1. Having no time to study
    2. Getting distracted all the time
    3. Loneliness
    4. Lacking the commitment to your studies
    5. Feeling like you're stuck
    6. Over-researching and reading too many "guides to language mastery"
  2. It's great value when you add up 60 items, consisting of videos + guides + the most incredible workbook I've ever seen + a private online community + downloadable bonuses
  3. The thing is this: If you're learning a language by yourself, this is going to save you so much money and time in the long run that it would be ridiculous to mess around on Facebook's "Polyglot Procrastination" forums any longer
  4. I liked the course structure and found that the approach throughout is totally about the practice - this is designed to make you do stuff!
  5. It contains 3 amazing webinars, including my excellent goal-setting class with Lindsay that we held right at the start of the new year
  6. That workbook really is the BEST language learning book I've ever seen, and I wish I could go into a book shop and buy a printed version. Do yourself a favour and download it today
  7. Overall rating: 4.5/5

If you're ready to find out more and see the full curriculum, head over to Lindsay's site and watch the first video.

If you want to know more about what's inside Successful Self Study, let's have a look together.

The Look and Experience

This course is a combination of videos, workbooks, audio, and some extra downloads. It's hosted on the Teachable platform, which I can only applaud as this is what I chose as your best experience for the Fluent courses, too. The video selection is 50% Lindsay's friendly vlogging style and 50% screencast videos which demonstrate how different apps work.

The audio sections are going to be downloadable so you can listen and learn on the go (I haven't heard these yet, but they are announced for the release date.)

What's Inside The Course?

This course is divided into three main section, prefaced by a cute little introduction featuring Lindsay's own story as your instructor.

Section 1: Study Skills

The first section of the course is a short tour of the best practice in studying a foreign language by yourself.

The topic breaks down into aspects like motivation, productivity and how to build a language learning habit for the long haul. This section is what you think you already know, until you find yourself googling "how to speak a language tips" because you actually don't. Nice and useful to have it all in one place, and Lindsay definitely speaks from experience.

There's a definite focus on developing a routine, and it's just perfect for you if you're someone who needs to make every minute count. She's thought of every possible question: motivation, time management, confidence, productivity. It's like a secret library of self study shortcuts.

The course section can be kind of intense if you apply it all in one go, so remember that you have lifetime access and take it step by step. But you know...if we all wanted an easy hobby, we'd be Netflixing and not learning languages.

Section 2: Language Skills

Okay, this is a strange one for me but I bet you're going to like it lots. The second part of Successful Self Study is all about getting into learning a language (not just anything). It's structured perfectly featuring the 4 core skills (listening, reading, speaking and writing) together with vocabulary and grammar. Exactly how I would do it!

Lindsay is super practical She doesn't waste too much time telling you why each aspect matters, instead the approach here is this:

If we know we gotta do this thing, how can be make it the easiest thing ever?

As a result, it's motivating and very actionable. Within just a few minutes of watching these videos, I promise you're going to be excited to try out new tools and jump deeply into your new language.

She recommends the best possible tools for every aspect, so that you can come away with a roadmap for learning vocabulary, grammar, and every important language skill you need for fluency.

Section 2 is my favourite because it's the most "language-nerdy". I like background and research about what works for us from a scientific or social perspective. This isn't covered in the videos, but easily accessible with links to Lindsay's best articles around the web.

Section 3: Tech Training

The list of tech training resources is excellent - overall she's demonstrating 11 different websites, apps and tools. None of them costs any money at all, so this is like the ticket to the biggest free online playground you've ever seen. You're guaranteed to find something new to try - my favourites were Periscope and italki.

Some of these videos felt pretty basic and could be a little shorter. Things like joining Facebook groups seem obvious, and many of you have done this already. Having said that, remember that I'm pretty tech-savvy, I write a blog and it's my job to know this stuff.

I don't think as a learner you need to become hung up on the two videos about the tool you already knew. Use this section in line with your own priorities, and you'll have saved yourself a likely 300 hours of googling over the next year.

The key is that you don't just find it, but you do something with it. And the way Lindsay builds in this accountability is absolutely fantastic - let me tell you more!

Now THIS Is Going To Double Your Productivity

The absolute key to a course with so much content is to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Lindsay doesn't tell you when, how, or for how long you should work on this.

But this doesn't mean that you're left alone. Quite the contrary!

The course structure and delivery are solid, and Lindsay concludes every single lecture with an actionable exercise - you don't get to be passive. As a fellow online teacher, I rate this a very good thing.

The one thing you have GOT to do right after sitting down and clicking the purchase button (if you choose to) is download that amazing workbook.

It's an editable PDF. But that description does it no justice. Let me try and say it differently.

I Love This Self Study Workbook!!!!

This workbook is the single most awesome self study language learning resource I've ever seen. If you are one of the people who liked the 3-Week Planner in Fluency Made Achievable, you are going to faint with excitement at the sight of this thing.

I would really hate for super-keen learners to discover it halfway through the course. So do yourself a favour and listen to me here: You want to download this and have it by your side as the course companion, as it contains every planning worksheet, printout, notes section, EVERYTHING.

The one thing it was missing at the time I tested it was a table of contents to help you navigate through the book, but Lindsay has promised to add this in the next edition.

You can choose to have the workbook with you and make your notes on the computer, or to print it out. In fact, send the PDF to my local printer and have it bound. The workbook is just really, really good.


The bonus section contains starter credit for italki and HelloTalk plus four webinars with a bunch of experienced and knowledgeable guests (spot me and my super-cool hoodie) on topics like goal-setting and maintaining motivation.


Yep, we've got to a conclusion stage at the end of this super-detailed review.

Successful Self Study ratings:

  • For structure and engagement (workbook!), it's 5/5.
  • For video quality, it's 5/5.
  • The tech training is a 3/5 in my book, because I would skip a lot of it.

For the results you can expect from taking this course, it's 5/5 because if you do the work, it is guaranteed to

  • help you learn a language quickly
  • teach you that discipline so you don't feel overwhelmed and busy
  • boost your confidence so you actually start speaking within a few weeks
  • save you money - with all the tools, a new langauge can be studied very cheaply.

Overall rating: 4.5/5 - highly recommended for anyone new to studying by themselves or struggling because life is busy. So that's all of us then.

How to Get Started

You can join Lindsay's Course Successful Self Study today.

It's easy peasy:

  1. Follow this link to get to the course page and select the yellow course
  2. Click "Enroll in Course for $97"
  3. Enter the code FLUENT so you can get $20 Discount

I want to thank you specifically so for anyone using the affiliate link above to purchase Successful Self Study, I'm throwing in a FREE audiobook of Fluency Made Achievable, my book about core skills.

Here's that sign-up link again:

So you're getting

  • the world's most awesome workbook
  • tech training
  • 6 language study videos
  • membership in a private online community of language learnears
  • bonus webinars
  • PDF guides to help you master language exchanges, YouTube & more
  • practical self study tutorials
  • my audiobook.

Compare that to $500 spent on Rosetta Stone, or at your local Goethe institute. WHOAH. Go for it.

Tell Me More!

Have you joined Successful Self Study? How did you find it? I'd love to hear what you thought in the comments below.

*This offer's good throughout 2016.

Taming the Dragon: My 3-Month Welsh Language Learning Update

Welcome to my first progress report on my own language study. It's pretty comprehensive and longer than my usual blog articles, so I figured we'll just jump in!

welsh language

First of all, let me give you a quick impression of how the past 3 months have gone:

  • I've been spending 1-3 hours per week on my Welsh studies, sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less
  • I've been combining a good bunch of resources and several people who talked to me in Welsh
  • I'm feeling really positive about my progress and where I'm headed

3 Month Progress

One of the best ways of tracking my language learning progress is blogging about it, which is probably the only way that I know how long I've been at this.

So here's where I'm at: I didn't seriously start learning Welsh until I returned from honeymoon in September. So that makes it about 3 months of study, the often-cited time it takes to build a habit. And I'm shocked at how much progress I have made.

Here is an in-depth update of exactly what has been going on, and how I'm feeling about my 4 core skills.

Understanding Welsh

Understanding groups listening and reading, and I feel significant progress particularly in understanding spoken Welsh. Don't get me wrong. I've still got absolutely no clue what is going on when people talk at normal speed, or when I'm watching TV in Welsh.

But I've been repeating my input and training myself to pick out the words that I do know, and it's made a big difference.

For example:

  • I am beginning to anticipate Welsh words based on the English subtitles in TV shows or on Youtube (if you want to know which shows I like, listen to podcast episode 31)
  • Understanding and spotting patterns that occur regularly in Welsh is becoming easier as well, which means I'm now able to know where sentences start and end, and if they're in future, past, or present tense

In the coming months, I would love to be able to understand more social media posts in Welsh. Lucky for me, most Welsh speakers are bilingual (Welsh/English) and post in both languages.

The progress goal here will be to recognise and know more nouns and patterns, which I can study just by tracking what I look up in the dictionary.

Speaking Welsh

I've called this section "speaking", but I actually mean producing language in both speaking and writing. Here again, I feel like my progress has been awesome.

I'm absolutely ready to speak Welsh at any time. Sure, it will be terrible Welsh. It will be full of mistakes, and I'll last about 20 seconds without an English word.

But none of that matters. It isn't about the quality of my speaking. It's about doing it over and over again, little and often.

2 weeks ago, we went out for drinks with some new people. One of them turns out to be Welsh and we started talking. I wasn't Shakespeare, but I managed to ask her if she wants a drink, talk about my studies and a little bit about where I'm from. Respectable progress for 3 months of slow burn study!

In the coming months, my next goal is that I'd like to speak Welsh on the phone. Calling up a B&B or a language school with an enquiry is a simple enough task, but it has instant feedback in case I can't get my words out.

Here's How I've Been Studying My Language

  • Community Class

I went to a class called Clwb Siârad in Preston, where I met a great mix of native speakers and language learners. The most amazing thing about Welsh Club is the fact that they're "offline polyglots" - a large group of language lovers in my county that I never knew about. The Welsh learners were speaking and learning more than just Welsh, so that our lesson ended up featuring 6 languages altogether.

  • 1-to-1 Tuition

Working with a 1-to-1 tutor is a huge benefit to my speaking skills! I've not been able to commit to weekly lessons, but decided not to let that stop me. Instead, I book a session with Mererid around once a month to top up and consolidate what I've been working on.

I learn something new in every tutoring session, and always come away feeling inspired and positive.

This podcast is currently my main speaking resource, and prompts the listener to speak continuously and right from the start. I worked with this concept before when I tried Michel Thomas, but this system of focusing entirely on patterns is easier to follow and more effective in my mind.

Main downside: I've got to find vocabulary resources for words somewhere else, meaning it trains patterns and structure way before it adds many words.

  • Instagram

Believe it or not, Instagram is a regular place for me to get just a little bit of Welsh language and practice what I'm doing. I've started giving every post a level of "added" Welsh by talking about the photo in both English and Welsh. The kind community of Instagram users out there (especially #iglc folks) has been great at helping me with corrections.

In the coming months, I also want to add the Cwrs Mynediad book, which I downloaded as a £5 app for my iphone. And of course, there's that Duolingo thing which has now got the Welsh language. I am not a big Duolingo fan, but happy to give it a try.

A Problem I Need to Solve: No Study Corner

When I'm at my laptop, my mind switches into work mode and language learning is more difficult (priming affects how we learn languages). I can tell I'm more engaged and make better progress when I am studying differently, on the couch or the stairs.

This explains why building my Memrise course and watching the BBC videos has fallen behind - both of those only work on a desktop AFAIK.

In the next month, I want to find a study corner in my house. It won't be easy, because my house is pretty tiny, but with some creativity I think the Welsh corner is going to be a great resource.

All in All: A Feeling of Ease

Welsh is the first language that I am truly teaching myself, without attending any regular group classes. It's also the most modern self-taught process I've ever used, because most of my first languages were studied in school in the 90s when mobile phones looked like this:

90s mobile phone

I'm wondering what exactly is different between this language and Russian, my previous experiment. Russian had the added difficulty of Cyrillic, so it was slightly less accessible. I also didn't feel the same level of curiosity in the end - Wales and Welsh are more exciting to me right now, and that is an entirely personal thing.

And ultimately, the materials and speakers I've worked with are just so supportive and welcoming. They are what's made my studies feel easy, and I think a feeling of ease is the key to keeping going.

Overall, I feel like things are going well. I have regular success moments, even tiny things like completing an episode of my study podcast. Those are the key to keeping going, because I never feel like I'm stuck.

Saying I'm feeling ease does not mean I'm actually "good at Welsh" yet. It just means that I'm feeling progress without frustration. But ultimately, my goals and results belong to me and this is exactly the result I am happy with.

Book to Try: Fluency Made Achievable

If you're learning a language and you haven't read my book Fluency Made Achievable yet, check it out today. Fluency Made Achievable is my guide to what it takes to learn a language and do what's necessary for achieving that feeling of ease and fluency.

It goes into depth about those 4 core skills and helps you understand why they matter and how you can create easy routines for yourself in language learning.

And now that I'm learning a new language again, I can tell even more just how useful it is to get your practice right and I want you to benefit from the same insights.

If you do own the book already, let me know how you used it in your own learning routine in the comments below!

And of course, please share your thoughts and updates on YOUR language learning routines. In other words, I invite you to comment on this post and tell me more about your own studies. I love hearing what you're up to!

The Hottest German Lesson in Town: Deutschland 83 and Major Tom (PLUS Free Lyric & Vocab Sheet)

One of the most wonderful things about learning a foreign language is to get to know the country behind that language. What is beyond the flashcards? What makes that place? It's awesome to dive into history and geography, cook a few recipes (like Shannon from Eurolinguiste) and of course discover what they watch and listen to.

If you're a regular listener of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, you may have already noticed that there is a new German language TV show on the block. Deutschland 83 is a spy drama set in one of my favourite periods of German history: the 1980s, right in the cold war. You can catch it on iTunes, on Amazon, or currently on Channel 4 in the UK.

german lesson deutschland 83

German History: Spies, Terror and Economic Miracles

So here's the world at the time of Deutschland 83: Germany lost a world war and then the Eastern part of the country was made into a Socialist republic. The West started a kick-ass economy that went so well it became known for its Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle of the 1950s. In the 1960s, youth rebellion and peace movement shook our society, and Western Germany even struggled with its own terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. All the while, the Eastern part of Germany was locked away behind a wall and involved in the hottest army race of the 20th century: the Cold War.

Plenty going on at the time of Deutschland 83 then! The show's premise places a young Eastern German soldier into the West, where he's given a new identity and a bunch of adventurous spy tasks. It shows society in the West and East, the big fear of atom bombs laying waste to all of Europe, and a few hilarious scenes where a confused bunch of high-level spies stare at a floppy disc, wondering what it does.

Discover Germany's Answer to David Bowie

One of the unmissable things about Deutschland 83 is its awesome soundtrack. Let me introduce you to its theme song "Major Tom", Germany's synth driven response to the wonderful David Bowie. I've prepared a lyric sheet for German learners which you can download below.

Major Tom, written by Peter Schilling, was inspired by Bowie's song "Space Oddity", which tells the story of an astronaut abandoning his mission, decoupling from base and going off to live in space.  In Germany, the song became a huge hit and one of the flagship sounds of Neue Deutsche Welle, the biggest 1980s pop music trend which also included Nena and her famous song "99 Luftballons". In fact, if you pay attention in episode one of Deutschland 83, you'll hear the song playing in the background at a party in East Germany (where playing Western music would have been an offence!).

Germans have never stopped loving Major Tom, and today there is no good beerfest without everyone shouting völlig schwerelos (completely weightless) and waving their hands about.

Bonus: Major Tom in French

Major Tom's fame was all over Europe in the 80s, so if you're a French learner you can use the same song for study. Here's the cover by Belgian synthmeister Plastic Bertrand (of Ça plane pour moi fame) will make sure that you don't miss out.

If you're listening to this song and can't shake the feeling that you know it from somewhere, it might be because Deutschland 83 is not the first show to feature Major Tom. If you're a fan of AMC's "Breaking Bad", you might remember the Gale Boetticher version - are those Thai subtitles?

Share Your Playlist

I'd love to hear from you about your own favourite 1980s tunes. Do you love pop music like Major Tom? Tell me about your playlist in the comments.

If you love the sound of Major Tom, don't forget to download your free Vocab & Lyric Sheet. 

You can also check out this article to get a step-by-step guide to using music for language learning.


Podcast Episode 31: Watching TV in a Foreign Language


Welcome to Episode 31, where Lindsay and I took a deep dive into revealing our TV watching habits and how they aid our language learning. Plus: Listener feedback and over 20 show recommendations.

language learning with tv

We are sponsored today by Savvy Brand Academy, a mastermind & brand course for onlinte teachers, as part of our "podcasters are doin' it for themselves month".

1) What type of TV do you watch?

  • Listener Colin likes to watch with the whole family
  • Chris Stewart who likes watching reality tv like “Come dine with me”
  • For me: Serials
  • For Lindsay: youtube as part of a routine
  • My student Randy: Tagesschau

2) HOW do you watch?

  • Is there such a thing as guilty learning vs. not-guilty learning?

  • Should you watch with subtitles or without? Subtitles in your own language or the other language? Immersion or full understand mode?

  • Big debate: How can TV count as "deliberate study time"?

  • Where can you find shows that are appropriate for your level?

  • What makes TV for kids a good choice?

3) Where can you find cool things to watch? (Big Link Collection)

YouTube and Yabla:

TV Apps and Websites Where You Can Find International TV

Shows Kerstin Loves (75% contains crime)

I've added links for UK and US audiences - comment if you need a link for another region.

  • Welsh Language: 
  • French Language:
  • French and Flemish Language:
    • Salamander (Netflix, DVD in the UK and USA)
  • German Language:
    • Deutschland 83 (live on Channel 4 UK, iTunes, DVD in the UK and USA)
    • Films: Good Bye Lenin! (DVD in the UK and USA), The Edukators (DVD in the UK and USA)
  • Danish and Swedish Language
    • The Bridge (Cable by Xfinity, Hulu Plus, streaming on Amazon UK, DVD in the UK and USA)
  • Danish Language
    • The Killing (streaming on VUDU, DVD in the UK)
    • Borgen (DVD in the UK and USA)
  • Korean Language
    • Boys Over Flowers (streaming on Viki, Hulu, DVD in the UK and in the USA)


If you have not done this already, catch an episode of 1980s German spy show Deutschland 83 - here it is on Amazon.comand here it is on All 4 in the UK

How Sia Learnt Chinese By Saying No To Traditional Methods

Today's guest post comes from a writer whose story is both motivating and challenging. Sia Mohajer learnt more Chinese in 3 months than others learn in a year. Just like me, he's a teacher who says you shouldn't always listen to your teachers. I love how Sia has shared the most important language learning points: Independence and Autonomy! Enjoy this awesome guest post - Thank you, Sia!

sia mohajer

Kung Fu, Learning Mandarin and Not Listening To My Teachers

If you ask me where I’m from, I might give you a different answer every time. The truth is I don’t even like answering this question. My cultural and ethnic roots are so mixed up, I’d rather just avoid the question than give a mini-biography. I was born in Iran, during the height of the Iran-Iraq war, fled as a refugee where my single mother and I sought asylum in Germany, Sweden, France, California before finding our “home” in Canada. 

My house was a linguist’s classroom, at any point in the day you could find people arguing or talking politely in four different languages. Multicultural wasn’t something we thought about, it was just life. So when Jackie Chan came into my life at eleven years old, I was ready for him.  

Jackie Chan's movies were a Hollywood interpretation of Chinese culture. Through him, I discovered kung fu - a whole lot of it. My favorite. My love. My reason for existing as an eleven year old. I grew up on kung fu. 

My mom had been working at a computer company and one of her coworkers gave her some bootleg Jackie Chan VHS tapes. This was during Chan's prolific rise to fame; titles included “Rumble in the Bronx” and “Drunken Master”. I watched those videos probably fifteen times. Somewhere in all that martial arts awesomeness, through crowded-Asian streets and the hustle and bustle, something caught my imagination. I decided there and then that I’d “move to Asia one day”. 15 years later, here I am living in Asia; still somehow enchanted by the adventure of living fifty thousand miles from home despite the occasional turbulence of daily life.

But this story isn't about kung fu or Jackie Chan, but about learning Mandarin.

My Escape to Taiwan

My ambition to one day move to Asia did not include mastering Chinese. The thought had never come to mind. Perhaps, I had relegated it to the realm of impossibility. 

In the summer of 2008, two months after graduating from university in Canada, I moved to the hot-sweaty claustrophobic mess that is Taipei City in the summertime. I got a job at a cram school and embarked on the usual delights of exploring a new culture. I wasn't any good at learning Mandarin, mostly because I didn't care. Almost five months passed and I had only learned embarrassing essentials: "beer", "no spicy", "more beer", "you're pretty" and "I'm from Canada". Beyond that nothing, basically I was your typical ex-pat.

In April of that year, I decided to spend a generous 100 dollar birthday gift from my mother on 10 private Chinese classes. My teachers were terrible. One was an overly flirtatious middle-aged women who taught me absolutely nothing. The other was a wizened-looking older Chinese man with a long ponytail and an office filled with Buddhist ornaments. He insisted on lightly slapping my hand whenever I made a mistake. I, of course, obliged his request - half out of amusement and half out of bewilderment. Needless to say my Chinese learning efforts weren't very fruitful and I was ready to quit.

My Language Learning Paradigm Shift

Near the end of my tenth lesson where I had learned approximately 300 words, I overheard another student talking about a website - Chinesepod. I went home and checked it out. At that time, it was an independently run website that offered free signups for podcasts and Mandarin learning material. 

I signed up, and I was hooked.

I guess I've never been one for classroom learning. I was that student who would rather stare out the window than focus on the task at hand. Chinesepod opened my eyes. I realized that language learning wasn't restricted to a classroom, a teacher and weird light-hand slapping. I could learn where, when, and what I wanted. Most importantly, I was in charge of my own learning.

Chinesepod opened the door to a host of other online language learning programs: flashcard programs, writing apps, video websites and language exchange websites. Before I knew it, I had created an a highly diversified language learning schedule which I tailored to whatever I wanted to learn. If I had a problem explaining something I wanted, I'd look up that topic. If I just wanted to be lazy, I'd watch a Chinese movie.

If I had a language learning itch, I’d scratch it. It turned out that scratching those itches were the best things I could have possibly done. 

Why Working Better Beats Working More

When we approach a problem we generally follow the status quo.

Want to learn something? Study more.

Want more money? Work more.

What this approach lacks in precision, it makes up for in workload. Instead of just studying more and more, I used the most efficient multiple learning methods while avoiding methods that didn’t work. There’s science behind this. 

In 1896 Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, discovered a unique constant in economic calculations. Later known as the 80/20 principle or Pareto’s Principle, it stated that 80% of results come from 20% of the causes. The same holds true for language learning. Finding that 20% allowed me to learn much faster than others, who were forced into methods of language learning that were perhaps not suited to her interests or personality. My 20% were podcasts, writing down absolutely every word I encountered in the dirtiest-little notepad you have ever seen, and practicing with every person I met.

Finding your 20 % is a task you alone can accomplish, but I can guarantee you will start learning faster than you ever have. 

Once I found the method that worked for me, I was studying literally all day long in a virtual learning classroom. The results showed. I was fluent in a year. Even at the three month mark I was already using such complicated grammar and vocabulary that my roommate, a full time Chinese student enrolled in a prestigious intensive Mandarin course, couldn't understand me.

My roommate had bought into the hype of her school. She actually believed the promotional material that said “our course will teach you 5000 words in 10 weeks”. She studied everyday and went home to do the assigned character writing. She was told that students who emerge from the program will have superior Chinese as demonstrated by the institute's history. The problem was her Chinese was nowhere near superior. She lacked confidence, spoke too slowly, often confused words because she knew so many and was engaged in a constant battle not to forget her 15-plus stroke-order characters. Her issues were not a result of bad teaching or her being a poor student, but rather a consequence of classroom-based language learning in general.

What They Don’t Teach You in School

I’ve been a language learner and teacher for ten years and I can confidently assert that classroom-based language learning for adults should be a supplement to real-life learning. Your classroom setting should provide you with the tools and fundamentals to allow you to go out into the world, be curious, make mistakes and have fun. Otherwise, the routines, writing assignments and pressure to learn all the material will detract from your main purpose - to communicate effectively.

Effective communication is developed when you make mistakes that you can learn fromthrough effective mistake-making. The feedback loop of the classroom is an ineffectual one because it is an artificial environment. Artificial environments are great to start off with. All variables can be controlled and you can get exactly the results you want; however, these results often don’t apply in the real world. This isn’t a criticism of classroom learning in general, but as it applies to language learning in this context, I think that self-directed independent language learning in multiple contexts trumps classroom-based language acquisition. In other words: Go to class if you like, but never stay there full-time.

Getting all this done is not impossible. It’sIt’s just a matter of effective time management.  While my roommate was spending one hour continuously writing characters I could have reviewed flashcards, written down ten new words using Pinyin ( English transliteration of Chinese) and had a 45 minute skype conversation in Chinese. 

You Live in the Best Time to Learn Any Language

My new found Mandarin ability eventually found me a great job which I am still at today. I was able to explore new parts of the culture that I previously couldn't access or was simply too scared to. My virtual learning experience led to further professional education, where I completed several distance education qualifications.

My point is this - we live in the best time in human history to learn any language. You are no longer restricted to the classroom. Creating a virtual classroom where you decide what you want to learn and when you learn, infuses your language learning with meaning. 

I can only speak for myself when I say that mastering something that is seen as incredibly difficult is a life-changing experience. It might sound melodramatic, but learning a new language, not just Chinese, might be that spark you need to get yourself going. Your language learning doesn’t need to be defined by a course or a textbook. You can be in charge and create a world you want to study in.

In the end, staying curious is one of the best ways to stay motivated. 

I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried alternative methods of language learning and had success. Drop a comment below and let me know. I’ll respond to all the comments. 

If you're a Mandarin learner, you can also find me on

11 Short & Sweet Tips To Help You Learn a Language in 2016

Ahh, happy new year to all of you! Even though the last two weeks have been quite busy, I did take a few minutes to note down my resolutions for the next year.

One thing that struck me this year is something I had not realised before. There is this huge difference between goals and resolutions. A goal is something specific, concrete, something that you can achieve and then feel good about your success. A resolution is deeper and comes from your emotional centre. It's about what you really want to change in your life.

learn a language new year

Language Learning Resolutions vs Goals

Resolutions are often ambitious and come out of the desire to improve something and feel better as a result. Here are some great language learning resolutions:

  • To become fearless in the face of talking to strangers in a foreign language
  • To feel comfortable watching foreign TV without subtitles
  • To become less self-critical
  • To build a habit of reviewing vocabulary every single week 

Success comes from combining ambition and goal. So once your ambition is set, think about how to break it down into goals - how much can you do in 3 months, how much can you do in a week? Documenting all those goals will give you a clear roadmap, with the resolution as your fuel and the ambition as the destination.

How to Start Reaching That Language Learning Ambition

The following set of tips is a summary of the best advice that Lindsay and I discussed in Episode 30 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast. You can listen to the episode to find out how we go about learning our own target languages, Japanese and Welsh.

1. Work With a Diary or Calendar

Automating a new habit is such a fantastic way to stop negotiating with yourself. If your diary usually has things like doctor's appointments and meetings with your boss in it, how can you question its authority? So use that rock in your life and start adding little bits of language study time, for example coaching sessions or vocab reviews.

2. Don't Rely on Empty Time

Instead of hoping for that Duolingo-at-the-bus-stop moment, set some time aside as a regular appointment with yourself. Lindsay sets time aside from 7am to 8am so she can enjoy an hour of language learning where she can do what she wants to do. I'm less consistent but have a Sunday afternoon study hour where I work on learning my languages.

3. Don't Be Quiet About Your Resolution

It's too easy to commit to a big resolution without even telling people about it. But when it comes to actually doing stuff, it helps to look out for other people that want to do the same. As language learners, this is more true for us than any other people. You want to learn a language, so you want to talk to people. Get started with the "people" part of it now and find a language learning buddy or a tutor to support you.

4. Build on Existing Habits

If there is a slot in your day that you repeat regularly, you have found a great opportunity to learn your language. For example, I know that every morning I sit on the stairs in my house and drink a coffee. The coffee is already a fixed part of my day, so adding a daily Welsh practice or reviewing one page of my learning notebook won't take too much willpower. Instead of going on Facebook before you drop off to sleep, could you spend 10 minutes with the flashcards?

5. Make Your Chunks Big and Small Enough

When you are studying at beginner level, it's too difficult to aim for passing the big C2 immigration exam. When you are advanced but haven't got travel money for the next 6 months, it's too unrealistic to aim for that in-country conversation with a native speaker. These goals need to be broken down so that you can see the end in sight of your current project. What can you do today so that it's a bit easier for you to get to the vision tomorrow?

6. Be Super Precise

Precision is essential for setting a good language learning goal. You must define exactly what it is that you are aiming for. Fluency is a vague desire, but what you need is more than that. Your goals have to be measurable in precise terms, so try to zoom in on those step-by-step achievements. For example, I tend to avoid putting my goals in terms of "having a conversation". Instead, I may want to finish Lesson 8 in my textbook next week or say 15 new sentences based on what I already know. The key is to DO something that will make you feel good when you've done it. Imagining your success does not count.

7.Once the Course is Set, Do Not Question It

It can be so tempting to set a big ambitious goal and leave a little bit of wriggle-room open for yourself when things don't quite work out. When you are setting your New Year's Resolution, is it so ambitious that you already know you're going to fail? If yes, then revise it. Halve it. Make it achievable so that you know you'll be committed.

This is where writing a goal down and sharing it come in handy. Write it in the comments of this blog article as a first step! Set yourself a reminder to come back to it. Whatever you do, don't just go away and forget what excited you enough to get started.

8. Repeat Your Successes

Meeting a goal doesn't mean that you'll never have to do it again. It is the first step to building an awesome new habit. So once you've had your first Skype lesson, you're one step further along the way. But you're not there. You may never be there.

Last year, my New Year's Resolution was to become a more punctual person. But that is an ambition and not a goal. A goal would have been to say "I will turn up 10 minutes early for every appointment I have tomorrow". And for the first day, I did just that. I was super proud! Now imagine what would have happened if I'd just stopped caring after that goal. I'd be just as late as I always was. But if I met the goal every single day, I'd start building new pathways and habits and become a more punctual person.

9. Identify What's Driving You

Behind all our ambitions for becoming a polyglot, more fluent, a better student, a more productive person, there is an assumption that you have a problem right now. It's extremely important to work out what drives your ambition and to identify this personal issue, so that you can start observing the progress you are making. Even if you don't meet every single goal or milestone along the way, are you learning more about yourself? Are you making progress? Are you trying out a new way of thinking?

10. Observe the Progress

It's very common to feel like you are falling behind within the first few weeks of the new year energy. But could you critique yourself in a positive way instead of being self-critical? Don't forget that failing to meet a hard goal doesn't signal a major failure. I'm reminded of Ron Gullekson's recent blog post where he spoke about failing the German exam he had spent months preparing for. Does that mean Ron is a complete German failure? No! He went through intense preparation, so even he still benefited from a tight learning schedule and improved his written German.

Finally, here is a great tip if you feel like this time is not right for resolutions, but you still want to welcome 2016 in the right way:

11. Set a Theme, Not a Resolution

If you didn't have the energy or courage to set yourself a specific goal, the theme for your year, month, or week can act as a wonderful guide to take its place. It also helps you focus on appreciating what you have got right now without becoming too self-critical. As I am entering a new year in my language studies and my teaching business, my theme will be "Figure it out!", a message to myself that giving up isn't what I'm here for.

What Are Your New Year's Resolutions?

So now it's over to you:

  • What are your plans?

  • How are you going to make sure you stay committed?

  • Have you found a buddy yet?

No matter if you have a language learning resolution or something else, I'm looking forward to reading about what you're planning in the comments below.

For more tips about how to learn a language the right way, check out Lindsay's new course Successful Self Study or my popular books Fluency Made Achievable and The Vocab Cookbook.