This week, I'm very pleased to share the story and successes of Mickey Mangan.
Mickey is best known on the internet as the host of the Lernen to Talk show. He has done all of us language learners a big favour by charting his progress as a native English speaker learning German during a year of living in Germany and taking his language skills from very basic to very comfortable.
If you have never seen or heard of the LTTS, I recommend you watch Mickey's own short introduction to the show.
I had the pleasure of speaking to him last week, highlights of which will be available to watch on Wednesday. (Note this interview is written as paraphrases, not word for word transcripts of Mickey's answers.)
Hey Mickey, thanks for chatting to me! I am definitely a fan of LTTS and I get a lot out of the episodes both as a teacher and as an expat getting to see her home country in real life snapshots. You mention right at the start that your goal is to show others how much improvement attacking a language like a fun, passionate project can bring. Are you a linguist by trade?
No, I actually went to university and took Mechanical Engineering. My first foreign language was Spanish, and I would say that yes, I liked it at school but after all those hours leading me to high school graduation I still didn't feel as though I could actually speak any of it. Think about it - that's approximately 1000 hours spent on a language and the result didn't feel like anything resembling fluency. I was left with a sense of wasted time.
When I went on to university, the desire to make all those hours count stuck with me, and so I enrolled on a Study Abroad semester in Chile. That was my first experience of living in a country and going from these low-level speaking skills to full confidence (what many people would consider fluent). I made the most of every day and I had such fun using the language in real life.
Did you take Spanish in the partner university in Chile?
I took Engineering modules, but the experience of my own subject paled in comparison to the energy and stimulation I felt from focusing on understanding it all in Spanish. I found myself doing better at my own subject because it was taught in another language. That extra challenge just kick-started my interest.
On my return from Chile, I was filled such excitement and appreciation for taking the learning experience into real life that I just wanted to go abroad again and learn another language.
Was that the motivation behind LTTS as well?
Yes and no. My semester in Chile gave me a clear appreciation of how much and how fast progress in language learning can be made. But the real idea for LTTS came at summer camp!
I had a job as a counsellor at Concordia LV, a camp which provides this immersive foreign language experience for children. When I was there, I could see that those students who really signed on to making the most out of camp were the ones that improved the most. I wanted to show them what can be achieved in language learning by talking to people, and eventually the idea of the videos was born.
Fast forward to your trip to Germany. How and why Germany?
The programme was CBYX. It had a lot of attractive aspects for me in particular, being an engineer interested in sustainable energy sources for example.
And in the LTTS videos, you have managed to document a full year of language improvements. Did you ever feel that you might not achieve your goal?
Actually, I must say I knew with 100% certainty that I would be fluent in German within a year. In fact, as I was filming the LTTS I always had the final time lapse in mind - I couldn't wait to cut the videos together and just show all this progress. I felt that having this as a project and attacking it with a sense of fun really kept my motivation going. The point of LTTS is having fun and instilling motivation.
And from the comments that you receive on your videos, I can tell that it has worked!
Finally, I noticed how confident you are right from the start. How aware were you of your own progress?
I didn't feel it very strongly in the first two months, but after those two I moved to a different place and suddenly made contact with so many new people who all met me for the first time. They were so impressed with how much German I had learnt in just two months that it really boosted my confidence. Progress can be so microscopically incremental for a language learner that I would really say the best way to stay encouraged is to change your environment completely. Find a new person to practice with or join a new group, so that you can get the positive feedback.
So, now that your CBYX year has come to an end, would you say you're "done", a finished product now fluent in German?
Well. I would confidently write "fluent" next to my German and Spanish on my CV - but fluent is a meaningless word by most measures - but really I wouldn't say I'm fluent until I can fully enjoy a novel in the language. With progress comes more interest and motivation, so now I want to discover Goethe.