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LingQ cofounder and Godfather of the internet polyglot scene Steve Kaufmann shares his language learning goals with us in today’s episode.
Elle: Hi, everyone.
It’s me Elle and welcome to episode four of the English LingQ podcast.
Remember if you want to study this video as a lesson on LingQ, the link to the lesson is in the description.
So today I’m joined again by
Elle: are you?
Steve: I’m fine. Thank you Elle. How are you?
Elle: I’m great.
How was your Christmas?
Steve: Well, it was a more limited than normal, um, because of the COVID restrictions.
Um, but, uh, it was pleasant.
Um, we were able to meet with, uh, with Mark and his family sort of outside and exchange gifts and stuff.
The rules were, uh, no, Christmas dinner.
Uh, you know, it was like everyone under one roof.
So if you’ve been living under one roof with someone, you are allowed to get together with them, otherwise,
even your bubble was, it was not allowed theoretically, although I’m sure a lot of people didn’t necessarily follow that, but yeah, we’re past that now looking forward to the new year.
Um, yeah, I also had Christmas with uh bubble, I guess it’s not really breaking the rules because my husband’s parents, who live next door, to us, uh, look after our son.
So it’s yeah, the guidelines were kind of unclear, but, but in that sense, clear, I guess if your caregiver is having your child on christmas Eve, I think it’s okay christmas day to also… but anyway.
Steve: And when we consider when we consider that the premier of the province was going to break his own rules until he was caught.
And then he said, Oh, I’m sorry.
I won’t do that.
Yeah, I think we just have to be a little bit reasonable.
I didn’t go to a sports bar and shout and do karaoke with a bunch of people.
I don’t know.
I think these restrictions help stop the 50-person Christmas party.
So that’s good.
But, um, yeah..
Steve: You, you were telling me that, uh, that, uh, your husband and your father-in-law have a tradition of, uh, going crabbing and, and, and prawning, uh, every, uh, 24th of December, then they bring home a big catch and, and you guys have a big, uh, seafood feast.
How was that?
Elle: Yeah, it was delicious.
They go out every Christmas Eve they drop a trap for prawns, a trap trap for crabs, just off West Vancouver, around where you live and yeah, great haul, I think eight crabs and around 50 prawns this year so….
Steve: percent, I mean, I’ve been crabbing there and, and, uh, depending on the time of year, you get a lot of small crabs.
You get a lot of females which have to go back.
What percentage of the crabs were legal size males that they could take home?
Have you any idea?
Elle: Uh, I think it’s usually, I mean, I’ve been many times I didn’t go on Christmas Eve, but.
It’s usually like even 50% are thrown back.
50% are thrown back.
Elle: We’re really strict because we have this measuring device, this plastic
Steve: I think most people
Yeah, you have to be, if we want people to be able to do this, you know, forever, then we have to have to go by the rules.
But yeah, it’s really sweet this time of year too, the meat, and the prawns in the winter and the crabs
shell is very soft, so yeah, it’s just delicious.
Steve: Wow. Okay, good.
Elle: But, um, yeah, I wanted to get you on today to talk about your goals, language learning, and otherwise for 2021.
What are you up to?
Steve: Uh, well, I have, let’s say I have two sets of goals.
I have goals with regard to my own language learning.
And then I also have a goal with regards to sort of language learning content.
So right now I’m in my Middle Eastern period.
So I had my three month challenge with Arabic, where I feel that I improved, my comprehension improved.
I feel that in the livestream that I did, I spoke better than I have before.
I’m on Persian.
Persian is easier than Arabic because it’s an Indo-European language and the structure is more like things that we’re familiar with.
Uh, and Turkish is difficult because it’s a different language family, but it’s easier because it’s written in the Latin alphabet.
So I’m, I’ve decided to leave Turkish on the back burner and totally try to get used to this, uh, Arabic writing system.
Um, so my immediate goals would be to stay with Persian for another couple of months.
Probably go back to Arabic and at some point introduce Turkish again.
So those would be my language learning goals, uh, during the year.
Um, yeah, the other thing is, um, I’m very interested in the whole subject of, of creating content.
Uh, the person that works with us, she lives in Iran.
Sahra creates tremendous content
in…in, in Persian.
Uh, she sent one yesterday about, uh, Persian soup…. Uh, so I mean, it’s just fun.
And she had a number of them on Persian cuisine on, uh, she’s done them on Persian history.
Uh, we’ve got a series of Persians or Iranians talking about themselves, their lives, what they do, uh, you know, uh, Coronavirus, whatever it might be.
And I would love to see some way that we can get people in all or their various native languages to kind of contribute a monologues, dialogues, talking about their countries, talking with their friends.
Uh, and if we can get it transcribed, uh, either they transcribe it or they use automatic transcription.
I, I would like to see us get more of this kind of casual content going.
I don’t know how I, how I go about doing that, but that’s something that I, I would like to see if there’s some way we can make that happen, but in terms of the things that I can control, uh, I’m going to be staying with my, uh, Middle Eastern languages and, and, and learning about the history at the same time.
Elle: so you didn’t have that kind of content for Arabic then?
Steve: No, that’s I it’s, uh, I know I wasn’t able to generate that.
It’s not so easy to do.
And I, I went to Upwork and tried to find people to do that, but people have to understand like this Sahra in Iran, she really understands it.
She really understands it.
She has a voice that’s pleasant to listen to, which is important, good quality audio.
And, uh, she creates a, she has these 26 episodes on the history of Iran followed by circling questions.
She has a thing on Persian food followed by circling questions.
She really understands it.
Uh, I got a good series of Ukrainians talking about themselves, uh, but the key is it’s not everyone who can do it.
And with Arabic, I’m sort of stuck between, uh, you know, the mini stories on the one hand and the Al-Jazeera podcasts at the other end, which are difficult.
Uh, I would love to have content in Arabic where someone say, we could have a series called the Egyptians, have another one called the, the, the Moroccans and another one called the Lebanese or the Syrians.
The problem is of course that the natural language that those people speak in their everyday lives is not the standard Arabic that I’m learning, but they could, they could do it.
I mean, we have Egyptian and Leventine Arabic at LingQ, so they could do it in thos uh, you know, forms of Arabic as well, or they do it in, in standard Arabic.
Uh, but the key thing is to get people who can just talk casually on subjects of interest, not too difficult and somehow, uh, arrange for the transcript.
And, uh, but I like to see it in other languages in French.
I mean, we have Francais Authentique, I think there’s more of that intermediate content available in some of those other languages, Polish, for example, Piotr, whom I know.
Uh, but I would like to see more of that kind of content because it’s easy to find beginner content.
Although, I believe that our mini stories are better because there’s so much repetition.
Your typical minis, your typical beginner content just moves you from the train station to the customs, to the hospital, to whatever.
And it’s not a lot of, not a lot of repetition, uh, but there’s a lot of beginner material and there’s a lot of advanced material.
And I would like to see more of this intermediate.
But genuinely interesting intermediate material develop.
Elle: And what exactly is your history then sticking with Persian?
I know you’ve said you’ve studied it a little before.
Did you, do you did a 90 day challenge in Persian?
So what would you say your level is?
So my level in, I would say that I’ve spent far more time… Like if I studied my statistics at LingQ, I will see that I started into Arabic Persian two years ago.
And I’ve spent most of the time on Arabic.
I’ve spent, uh, maybe four or five months on Persian, three months on Turkish.
Uh, but my Persian is, I would say.
It’s difficult to compare.
I think I know have a bigger vocabulary in Arabic, but I find it easier to speak in Persian.
Uh, and, and if I were to spend another two months, like I had three months, full-time on Arabic.
If I not go three months, full-time on Persian, I’ll be ahead in my Persian, uh, simply because it’s easier.
Um, but, but I I’m concentrating on those two because I want to get better at reading and I’m a lot better at reading.
One of the biggest problems with Persian and Arabic is that the people who produce books, their font is so small.
And it’s so difficult to read that script.
And the font is so small.
Uh, but now I find that I’m starting to be able to read in books, even with a small font, to some extent, to some extent.
So I’m getting there.
But it’s a long road.
It’s a long road.
Elle: And of course, uh, as a Vancouverite, um, there there’s huge, uh, Persian community, especially in North Vancouver.
I don’t know about, uh, West Vancouver, I guess, too.
And so have you chatted with anyone?
Steve: Oh of course, I never, never miss an opportunity.
Never miss an opportunity.
There’s so many Iranians here and you go to a store, you go to a pharmacy and wherever you go and you go to, if I want to have a good conversation in Farsi or Persian, I just go to Best Buy,
because half the sales staff, there are Persians, but, um, Of course nowadays with COVID I’m not so anxious to go out and interact with people, random people in stores.
Uh, but that was one of my motivations.
Like I started with Arabic and then there’s hardly any Arabic speakers in Vancouver, but there’s lots of, uh, Persian speakers.
So I said, well, I may as well learn Persian.
But any opportunity and different language communities react differently when you speak to them in their language, uh, the Persians react very positively if you speak to them.
You know, some people say, well, what’s the matter, you think I can’t speak English?
You know, you get sometimes get the kind of reaction, like, not necessarily, but the Persians generally speaking are just, Oh, and I had a very nice, uh, interaction at the supermarket here because there is the occasional Iranian there.
Uh, say checkout clerk.
So I arrive and there’s this, uh, checkout clerk and she has some kind of a Muslim name.
So I’m assuming, I assume that she’s a Iranian.
So I greet her in Persian and she says, no, no, I’m not Persian.
So I said, that’s fine.
So I switched to Arabic.
She was so happy.
I don’t know who was happier.
Was she happier?
Was I happier?
I don’t know, but it was fun.
Elle: something that just… that I’ve always wanted to ask you that is not so relevant to goals, but when you’re learning languages, do you, do you ever dream in the language?
Maybe you’ve been asked this before.
Steve: I don’t dream in the language that I’m learning.
If I’m going to dream in another language, I’ll dream in a language that I speak well.
So depending on what the dream is about.
If the dream is taking place in Japan or in France or Spain or something, then I’ll speak those languages… chinese.
I’m not going to dream… and the dream, it means that that a character in my dream will speak in those languages and I’ll answer in those languages in my dream.
But I can hardly remember.
I can hardly remember what the dream was about, except that I do remember that there was some other language there.
Elle: Right, right.
It’s a good idea to… I’m really into dreams… write it down in the morning.
If you have a very strange one.
Cause it’s crazy how you can wake up and think that was an amazing dream and then just forget it.
The amazing thing about dreams is how creative we are in our dreams.
Like just like going from one thing to something totally unconnected.
And it’s all very clever how it all fits together and in the morning it’s gone.
Elle: Um, so with, of course, COVID this question, this is something maybe you’d be doing a long ways off, but I know that when you learn a language, you are really interested in traveling to the country.
Elle: So with that, have you ever been to Iran?
think so, eh.
Steve: I’ve never
been to… oh, actually in 1967, I visited Tehran for two or three days because I was assigned to Hong Kong.
So I went out and I stopped at a number of places along the way.
Uh, New Delhi and, and, but Tehran and, uh, I stopped there for three days.
I have a vague recollection, 1967 in Tehran, but definitely would like to go back and I’m reading about the history of Iran and, uh, about Isfahan and Shiraz and all these places.
And, uh, certainly would like to go there.
And, uh, it’s not ideal right now that a, because of COVID and even the political situation there is, is not the best.
I don’t like being in countries where.
You know, people are hauled off to jail and executed and stuff like that in general.
Not so much fun.
Elle: UM, and in terms of goals then too, of course, you’re a language learner, but you’re a YouTuber, famous polyglot Youtuber.
Um, are there any plans for specific content this year?
Is there anything you’d like to do on your channel?
Steve: You know,
again, so if I get back to this issue of something that we should discuss, um, I mean this whole idea of, I understand that a lot of my videos are used by people who are learning English, which is a good thing to do.
And most of my videos appear as lessons in LingQ with the closed captions.
It’s easy to follow.
The learners can import those lessons into those videos, into LingQ as, as lessons and so forth.
I’ve often thought, you know, not everybody wants to watch a video.
Uh, I, some, I feel I should be doing more podcasting with the goal of just like this LingQ podcast here is providing people with more sort of casually spoken English, uh, which they can use as learning material.
If it’s just a podcast it’s more difficult in fact, to get at the transcript.
We have some background fans in the background.
Elle: That’s my son.
Steve: Um, so I don’t know if it, no problem.
Um, yeah, if we just make podcasts, how do they get the transcripts?
So, but I would like to do podcasts.
I might even want to talk a bit about yeah,
whatever and encourage other people to do the same.
I, I, I’m just, I don’t know how to go about this, but trying to create a bit of a, of a movement where people are putting out podcasts, which can on a variety of different subjects that are just casual learning material in their native language, the issue always is transcripts.
So on YouTube, we have the closed captions automatically.
But if it’s a podcast, I don’t know how, I mean automatic transcription, but that’s like 10 bucks a month that I’m paying.
Not everybody wants to do that.
And then there’s issues of punctuation and stuff.
So I don’t know how we do that.
Maybe we can get members of LingQ to work together in some way that help each other with the punctuation correcting these automatic trends.
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
It’s just a vague, vague thing I’d like to get at in the new year.
I actually just…
I actually just started a podcast for intermediate English learners, as a little segway into that.
It’s called What the English?!
There is, there are transcripts for that two, three, I’ve only done three episodes.
Steve: So do we get the transcripts?
Elle: I it’s actually a scripted podcast, so I present, um, just weird topics and, um, with vocabulary and…
Steve: Ok, very good.
Elle: About 15 minutes.
I think I’ve done Halloween, Bigfoot.
Now the next episode is on flat earth, the flat earth inspired by our conversation on conspiracy theories.
It’s uh, yeah, it’s tough.
Like you say, it is tough to get the transcripts, but, um, but these episodes, I edit the transcripts and then also, so that they’re good in terms of punctuation, but yeah, it’s.
It’s a struggle for sure.
The auto-generated and not always great.
And any other goals for 2021?
Any other, um, thing you want to achieve.
Steve: hopefully we’ll be able to start traveling again, my wife and I, and, um, but other than that, I try to stay active, you know,
Elle: Are you still playing hockey? No, I stopped.
Steve: Well, I stopped the hockey when we started going down to Palm Springs.
Cause I’m never up here and now I could be playing, but they’ve suspended the, you know, indoor sports activities.
So that’s not happening right now.
But if they opened that up again, certainly, I’ll go and play hockey again.
Uh, But, um, realistically I just, I think we’re going to be another three months is going to be worse.
And then hopefully in the spring, more and more people will be vaccinated and things will improve.
I don’t see it getting better.
I Guess they’re going to do it in tiers, age and vulnerability and all that.
Steve: Yeah, fair enough.
But they seem to be very slow in getting started.
I don’t know why.
I don’t know why.
I don’t know what they’re doing.
I mean, you, you can’t worry about things that you have no control over, and I’m sure there are people there who know what they’re doing and who are.
Doing the best they can.
But when I look at the numbers in other countries like Israel has, is, is vaccinating, ah, you know, a million people a day or something or some tremendous number and we’ve hardly done any.
And in the… on American TV, they’re all complaining about how poorly they’re doing there, but they’re doing a lot better than Canada.
Canada’s not doing much of anything.
I don’t know whether we didn’t get delivery of the vaccine or we’re just slow in putting it out.
Again, this is not a sprint.
So the, the issue is how many people will be vaccinated by the end of January, end of February.
So there’s no point in worrying about these things, but realistically, it’s going to be the summer before we, uh, get back to any kind of normal life.
Elle: My mum actually has COVID right now.
Steve: Oh Really?
Where does your mum live?
Elle: She’s in the UK.
She’s in Wales.
She’s she’s doing well.
She has, she has the loss of smell and taste and, uh, just awful, awful headache.
But it was over Christmas, so she had to spend Christmas alone and sick, which is awful, but she’s yeah, I’m very grateful.
I’m very happy that she’s doing well.
And she will be fine.
Steve: Well, I hope she quickly improves
Elle: The UK is a mess. It really is.
Steve: It looks that way, but, uh, the thing is it’s an opportunity to learn languages.
You gotta look on the bright side.
Elle: Exactly, stay home. Study a language on LingQ.
Steve: Right. Does your mum live in, in Wales or in, in, uh, England?
Elle: She lives in Wales. Yeah. All of my family live in Wales. Yeah. Well,
Steve: you know, if we get people to create the mini stories in Welsh, we’ll put Welsh up on LingQ. That would
Elle: be fantastic. I know. I get emails.
I used to get them quite often.
I’m surprised at how many people are interested in learning Welsh, uh, it is, it’s a cool language.
How about you Steve?
Steve: Who knows.
I mean, I can’t do everything.
People say, why don’t you learn Finnish?
Why don’t you learn… I don’t know Mongolian?
I mean, you can’t.
Can’t learn them all.
If you go to a buffet and they have the beautiful steaks and salmon and you can’t eat it all, you have to choose which dish you’re going to eat.
And I go one step at a time right now I’m in the Middle East.
So I’m staying here for awhile.
Elle: Well, it’s been a pleasure, Steve, as always. Thank you so much.
Steve: Okay. Thank you. All right. Stay safe.
Elle: Yeah, you too.
Steve: Bye. Bye. Yeah.