Questions I get asked often:
Q: Which languages do you speak and when did you learn them?
A: My home language is Afrikaans, but I’ve always attended English schools. I started learning French, Urdu, Arabic and Spanish at school, but now I’m only intermediate in French and have a basic knowledge in the others. In 2009 I started learning Korean, and to date it’s my most fluent foreign language. I started learning Japanese in 2013. I’ve dabbled in Mandarin Chinese since 2012, but have only recently started taking it more seriously. Other languages that I’m learning part-time are Vietnamese, Malay, Indonesian, Hungarian, Tagalog and Thai. I’d like to refresh or pick up Urdu, Norwegian, Hokkien, Hakka, Mongolian, Italian, Arabic and Tamil soon.
Q: How can I learn a new language from scratch?
A: Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to answer this question simply. Everyone has different language-learning techniques, and apart from that, the relation between language you learn and your native language also has a significant impact on how fast you can learn it. For example, if you have a background in Korean, learning Japanese will be easy because of grammar and vocabulary similarities, whereas if you speak French only, learning Japanese may be hard but learning Spanish will be easy for you. The good news is that there are some tips that can apply to learning any language, though! I’ve made a video about it here:
Q: I want to learn both Korean and Japanese. Which one should I start with?
A: As much as I wish I could, I can’t answer this question for you. The language you learn should be a personal choice, as the reason you decide to learn it should become the motivation for you to continue. If you’re equally interested in both languages (and this can apply to any language – I just somehow get the KR/JP question very often), then consider asking yourself the following questions:
– Which language makes me the most excited when I hear it?
– Which language can I see myself using in the future?
– Why do I want to learn the language? Is it for school, an exam, work, holiday, understanding music, dramas, lyrics? A significant other? Writing down reasons for learning a language can help you prioritize which one is most important.
– For which language can I most easily find native speakers and resources right now?
– Do I have people around me who can help me with this language?
– Can I see myself using this language for the rest of my life? i.e is it important to invest a lot of time in the language, or is it a short-lived phase?
– Can I start with one and then use it to learn the other? If so, can I find resources in the first language that can teach me the second language?
– Which culture am I most attracted to, can understand and respect, and can adapt to the easiest? Perhaps the politeness, perfectness and stiffness of the Japanese culture puts you off if you’ve got a rebellious spirit. Maybe you’re afraid of straightforward conversations and would rather soften things – then maybe learn Japanese instead of Korean (Koreans tend to say things much more straightforwardly than the Japanese).
Let’s look at the flipside. What are some bad reasons to learn a language?
– To impress people (they’ll get bored eventually and you won’t have a solid foundation to stay motivated with)
– To look good on your CV (as in, this is your only reason, not a benefit in addiction to reasons)
– A boyfriend/girlfriend unless you’re serious about staying together for the long term. I say this because many people have told me after they break up, they have such a negative feeling towards a language and don’t want to continue at all. People and situations change, and you need a more sustainable reason to learn a language than romance. This opinion is up for debate though!
Q: I can’t find or afford a textbook. How can I learn a language?
A: Lots of websites have free lessons and usually go up to intermediate levels. Browsing the langauge resources tag on Tumblr is handy as well, and you can always check out YouTube videos teaching the language. You can also try apps like Memrise, Duolingo, Clozemaster and LingQ for various languages. Instead of getting a textbook, you may consider getting a language tutor on italki. You can get $10 free credits for your first italki lesson if you use this link! If you don’t want to have lessons, consider getting a language partner on apps like Tandem or HelloTalk. See my video on tips to have a successful language exchange here.
Other things you can do is to begin by looking up the 100 most common words, as well as basic greetings in a language. You can easily find these online. You can also stream radio and movies/TV/music online and get your ear used to the language. Lots of podcasts also offer language lessons, like the pod101 series online.
I also have resource pages, so click the menu at the top of this website and check it out!
Q: What tips can you give me for note-taking?
A: I have a post on how I take notes for Japanese here, but you can also take a look at these videos:
How I take Japanese notes
How I take Korean notes from a textbook
How I study Chinese Vocabulary (note-taking focus)
Q: I’m struggling to reproduce some sounds in my target language.
A: It comes with practice! It took me almost two years to get two sounds down in Korean, and I only got it once a native speaker showed me how to move my tongue in my mouth to produce the sound.
I suggest increasing the amount of time you spend listening to and speaking the language. Shadowing or repeating what people say in movies or TV shows is a good way to practice as well. You can pause the part, repeat and record yourself, and then play it back to see how accurate it is. Some language learning apps also have parts where you need to record yourself and it measures the soundwaves to see how accurate your pronunciation is. If there’s a word you struggle with, listen to it being pronounced on a website like Forvo over and over until you get it. You can also record yourself and upload the clip to HiNative and native speakers can give you tips on how to improve.
Spend lots of time speaking to someone – think about it this way – if you’re British and move to America, the more time you spend speaking to Americans, the more you’ll eventually sound American yourself too. Same with accents in language learning.
Q: Are you ever going to learn XYZ language?
A: If I’m not learning it now, probably not. I focus on languages I’m interested in and see a future with. I appreciate when people are passionate about sharing their native language with others, but it gets frustrating when someone constantly “requests” me to learn their language, so let’s refrain from doing that.
Q: You mentioned you’re interested in minimalism. How do you apply minimalism principles to your daily life and language learning?
A: I started becoming interested in minimalism in university, when I followed a bunch of minimalist youtubers. After a while I realized some people take the lifestyle and the name too far, so I just applied what I thought was helpful and beneficial to myself. When I graduated university, I moved to another city all by myself, using my car. I didn’t want to move a ton of stuff I didn’t need or use, and neither did I want to make unnecessary trips back and forth, so before moving I had a jumble sale at my flat and sold a ton of books, clothes and other clutter. What caught my eye the most about minimalism was both the aesthetic (clean, simple spaces) as well as the thinking behind it (only keep what you use and what’s really special to you).
When it came to my language books, though with tears in my eyes, I got rid of a lot of them because I simply wasn’t using them. I couldn’t keep lying to myself, saying that I’ll study the language eventually, when deep down I knew I wouldn’t really ever use the book.
Q: Can you teach me XYZ language?
Yes, I tutor through Skype. I charge $16 an hour and all materials are provided. More information and a contact form is on my services page.