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In today’s episode Elle caught up with Bong of the YouTube channel BigBong. Bong is a language learner, mentor and entertainer. Check out their super interesting chat, and don’t forget to click on the lesson link above to use the transcript and audio as an English lesson.
Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me Elle. If you would like to study this podcast episode as an English lesson, I’ve created it for you. The lesson link is in the description. The lesson is on LingQ. You work through the transcript, listening and reading and translate words and phrases that you don’t know. While you’re on LingQ why not check out the challenges page? We have various challenges in many different languages so see if your target language is there. I’m currently studying French, and so I’m in the French 90-Day Challenge. I’m about halfway through. I’m meeting targets for 90 days and I’m using the challenge to read my first novel in French. For those of you listening on a podcast platform, Apple, Google, Spotify SoundCloud, please give us a like a share a review. It is greatly appreciated. This week’s guest is YouTuber, performer, teacher and language learner, Big Bong. Bong, thank you so much for joining us. How’s it going? Bong: Thank you for having me. Not too bad. Thank you. How are you?
Elle: I’m good. I’m good. Thank you. So, um, so I’m in Vancouver, Canada, and you today are joining us from Montreal in Canada, right? Bong: That’s correct. Yes.
Elle: And how is life in Montreal? I haven’t been, I need to get there. I know it’s a beautiful city. Bong: Yeah, well, it’s the same country, but, uh, as you know, it’s a very, a very big country, so it’s, it’s uh, we have a three hour, three hour difference, but, uh, the weather right now is pretty similar to Vancouver I would say. It’s a very cloudy, foggy, uh, we, we feel like winter is coming. Elle: Yes. I was going to ask you actually how is early fall/ late summer. So the same. Yeah.
We’re having a… Bong: The same yeah, but when we have the nice colors, you know, orange, red, and yellow, but that lasts for about two weeks.
And then after that, it’s just all gone and winter is what follows. Elle: Right.
So not so many… because in the west coast of Canada, we have a lot of evergreen trees, I guess, more deciduous trees on the east coast, right?
Bong: Well, actually what we do, but, uh, yes, we do. We do. Um, but, uh, yeah, we have all sorts of trees. So depending on where you are, sometimes you don’t see any leaves. Sometimes if you go skiing… like we have, we don’t have huge mountains like in Vancouver, but, uh, it really depends where you are, but, uh, yeah, right now we still have a bit of a greenery, but it’s going to be gone soon, I think in a couple of weeks or a month. Elle: Yeah.
Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s all of a sudden, it seems very wintry. Yeah.
Funny how that happens.
Bong: It’s Canada, right? Elle: Yeah.
At least we don’t get too, well, I guess in Montreal that you get a lot of snow in the winter, right? Bong: Yes, we do. And it’s very nice for skiing, but again, we don’t have the same mountains, so it’s not as enjoyable as on the west coast, unfortunately, but, uh… yeah, we do with what we have. Elle: And so did you grow up in Montreal?
Bong: Nope. I was born and raised in France and I moved to, uh, to Montreal, uh, almost seven years ago now and, uh, by myself and, uh, yeah, it’s been a pretty, uh, nice experience so far, I would say. Elle: Yeah.
You staying for kind of the foreseeable future?
Bong: Yeah, well, I came here with a working holiday visa and it was like, yeah, this is a good place to, to live so I’m just going to stay a little bit. And then after that, I completed a master’s degree at a university here and now I’m working. So, you know, time flies by, but, uh, Montrealkeeps me here so I’m staying. Elle: So you grew up in France. So tell us about your, your kind of childhood, cause reading up on you. I, I read that you spoke multiple languages growing up. Is that right?
Bong: Yes. Well, multiple is, is a big word. So I was born in France. My father is half French, half Lebanese. And unfortunately he, uh, he’s never spoken the language so Arabic was not part of the languages I could speak growing up. And also my Lebanese families, uh, everybody in my Lebanese family is fluent in at least English, French, and Arabic.
So they would speak French to us. There was French and my mother is Japanese so my mother tongue is literally Japanese. It’s the first language I’ve ever spoken. Um, and, uh, yeah, so it’s mainly the two languages. And after that at school, we started English, German and Spanish. Um, and, uh, and after that, uh, graduating from university, actually at the French university, I started a bachelor’s degree in international affairs. And I was, uh, I was lucky enough to go to Korea, South Korea, uh, to be an exchange student there. So Korean was also a language i, uh, a language that I studied in, uh, at the time.
Elle: Okay. I’d say that’s multiple languages. I think most people, I just spoke one, so yeah. That’s, that’s very cool. So, so, uh, so the French and the Japanese, and then at school, um, English, German, Spanish, have you gone on to study, uh, more languages after that as well?
And sorry, the korean.
Bong: Yeah, there’s Korean. And then by myself, uh, well I have a lot of friends from all around the world. And so, uh, I have friends, uh, in Italy. I have friends in, uh, Brazil, so, uh, it’s not too far from French and Spanish. So I decided to start learning for, uh, my, uh, my trip, uh, like for, for eventual travels there.
Uh, and also Chinese ’cause uh, apparently I have a few Chinese people watching my channel. So I might, you know, maybe develop that a little more, Chinese and, uh, Arabic of course, for my family. So again, it’s very difficult because it’s easier for them to speak English or French, but then I’m trying to, uh… and Arabic, you have MSA, which is the Modern Standard Arabic, but then you also have dialects, and I’m focused on the Lebanese one and also Russian, but that’s just for fun. I like reading different alphabets. So I started Russian and, and Greek, but mostly to be able to read and not necessarily to be fluent in the language.
Elle: I see, okay. So that’s a big motivation for you then the different, um, scripts? Bong: Yeah.
It’s yeah, it’s fun. And then, you know, if you meet people who can actually read them, you can kind of, uh, you know, write secret messages to each other. I think this is fun.
Elle: So then how many languages, I know this is a tricky question, would you say that, you know? Cause I, as you said, some you can read some but not, not so much speak. Um, what would you say if I were to ask you how many languages do you know? What would your response be?
Bong: So I would say, I would say that, yeah, it’s a tricky question because even Japanese, I haven’t studied in Japanese, so it’s not a language I’d be, you know, maybe I might not be able to professionally work, uh, in a Japanese environment, but, uh, I usually say that I’m fluent in French, English and Japanese, and, uh, I can survive in a Spanish, German and, uh, and speaking countries and Korean as well. And after that, like the languages I know. So I know the, the basic in, uh, in Russian, Arabic, uh, and Chinses.
Elle: Okay, so it’s safe to say languages are your thing. You enjoy it. Okay. So you are a teacher also as well as a YouTuber, which we’ll go into, we’ll talk about your channel in a bit. You teach French and Japanese. Tell us about your teaching style. Do you have a teaching style?
Bong: Well, I’m not a teacher anymore. I used to teach actually, I’m not a teacher cause I haven’t studied that at university. I’m not qualified to be called a teacher. Elle: Right.
Bong: So I would, yeah, I would use more tutor just to be politically correct. Say I’m a tutor, a mentor. Absolutely. And actually I would have been more like a coach because, um, my, I see myself as a motivator more than an actual, um, teacher. I’m not the one who brings the knowledge. I’m more the one who motivates you to, well, I… who used to do that, motivates you to, uh, um, “okay it’s time to learn”. Uh, “have you done your homework? Show me.” Uh, more that approach than actually a teaching. Okay. We say that, that way we do things this way. Uh, though I do play a… I play a persona. I play characters on my YouTube channel, a French teacher, a Japanese one.
Uh, but I, I think there’s more, um, performance oriented than actual teaching. So people can learn through that, but it’s really, I’m not you, you wouldn’t be able to become fluent thanks to my content. It’s more like, uh, entertaining and even someone who doesn’t necessarily want to, uh, learn English, French or Japanese could learn a few words or expressions just for the general knowledge. Uh, so that’s more my approach than being a teacher or tutor or, so I used to do that before it’s now, um, I have a full-time job working in communication and marketing. I have my YouTube channel, but I do not teach anymore. Uh, the following question was, uh, how do I, so there’s teaching and there’s learning. So my methods, uh, would be, uh, so, you know, when we think about a, uh, Uh, a language learner.
We usually have in mind, someone who is sitting at a desk, surrounded by books and who spends, uh, who spends hours studying, uh, I’m not really like that. I’m more of a field guy. And the way I learn languages is really being, um, traveling or, uh, through the internet and meeting people and, and speaking and trying to, uh, uh, how to say that?
Really, you know, um…
On the field and, and, uh, and having no choice, but to ask, how would you say that? Or, uh, so, so I’m that person don’t get me wrong. I’m not, I’m not saying that I don’t like reading books, but it’s not the way I learn languages. And, uh, so yeah, traveling was mainly the way that I learned languages. And again, as you said, as we said, uh, I, um, I started learning English, Spanish and German when I was in high school, back in France, but it’s really when I traveled, uh, in those countries that, uh, my, my level skyrocketed. So yeah, so, so when I’m by myself and I can speak to someone. For example, I usually use the shadowing technique, which is to watch content, TV show podcast or a movie, and just repeat after the person learning by heart, everything that’s being said. Uh, so yeah.
Elle: Great. I find that really effective too, the shadowing technique. It’s kind of exhausting I find. Maybe I’m too low a level. Yeah.
It’s effective for sure. I like what you said there about a coach, as opposed to a teacher.
I feel like that’s what most people… you think you need a teacher to give you all the technical details of the language, but I think most of us actually do need a coach because it’s such a long, you know, struggle a lot of the time learning a language. You need, even just someone saying, you know, you are doing well still, keep going.
Elle: Yeah, for sure. Uh, but you don’t, you’re not doing that anymore. You’re busy, you’re busy. You are running your YouTube channel and you have a full-time job. Um, so tell us about your YouTube channel.
Bong: So that’s the thing. So I said, I’m not really a teacher, uh, but I see myself more as a performer. And at the beginning, when I started my channel in 2015, it was more a portfolio, uh, to showcase my, uh, my acting skills.
Uh, because back then I wanted to explore that, um, you know, theatrical, uh, projects, improv or anything that’s related to audio visual, the playing characters. Yeah.
So that’s also my way of learning languages, you know, playing, cause we don’t have the same behavior when we speak a different language because it’s very cultural. It’s not just the linguistic, it’s also, you know, the body language, how you express yourself, uh, through, uh, your voice, the pitch. Uh, that’s funny also sometimes people, uh, see me switch from speaking French to answering the phone to my mom and, and, um, and speaking in Japanese and they say you have a completely different voice. So yeah, one thing I hated, uh, while watching TV shows or movies is when, uh, actors or actresses were chosen and they were supposed to play someone from a country, but clearly you could tell that they didn’t speak the language from the country. And, uh, and I do respect the work. You know, that the actors, they, uh, do their best and they’re, uh, followed by a coach. But sometimes, uh, actually many times, uh, especially in American productions, I felt. Come on, you know, if it’s a small country like Tuvalu or a, I think Tuvalu is a small country, right? Elle: Yeah.
Bong: It’s very difficult to find someone who speaks Tuvaluan, but, uh, French or Japanese, and then come on it’s not that hard, you know? In Hollywood you have a lot of Japanese speaking people, French speaking people.
So why would you choose someone to pretend who speaks French and for an American audience? That’s fine. But, uh, as a French speaker, I’m like, nah, So I decided to include that as part of my portfolio and, uh, and show that I could speak different languages and that will be my strength as an actor. Uh, but then also, you know, play comedy with that.
And then after that on YouTube, there’s a guy called, called Jake Wardle, also known as, uh, Truseneye92. And he made that video, uh, of him performing 67 different accents in English. And it was very motivated by that. I’m like, wow, that’s impressive. And he’s the best when it comes to that. Uh, but I thought that’s never been done in Japanese, so why not give it a try? So I did, there’s actually an actor, his name is, uh, Tamuri, Tamuri-san, he, uh, he’s good at, at accents, but he doesn’t speak the languages, but he’s just good at, uh, playing the stereotypical person from a country. And so she got very famous for that. Uh, but for me it was more like the linguistic.
How can you really exaggerate, um, the accent because their letters or their, uh, pronunciations that, for example french people are not able to say in English or in different languages. So I decided to do that in Japanese. And it was my first viral video. It was in 2017 and a lot of people like the video showed it and, uh, it was like, okay, well I have my niche now.
So it’s going to be comedy, uh, languages, accents. And I did the same with French, which was, which was also very successful. And so there is a thing for accents, uh, because if you think about it, we might speak the same language on paper, but if two people are not able to understand each other, then for me it’s the same definition of speaking two different languages. Like French from France, French from Quebec in Canada or Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Puerto Rico.
If two people from these countries, uh, speak, they might not be able to understand everything. And sometimes it’s even, you know, just half of the conversation. So it’s enough to say, okay, it’s different languages. Um, so yeah, from then on, I had a new audience that was more focused on language learning.
Uh, and I went along with it. So, so yeah, that’s where I’m at now… Elle: So are you still, I know you mentioned earlier, your full-time job is not in any well it’s marketing and communications. So do you still now pursue the kind of acting performing outside of YouTube? Do you go to auditions?
Well, auditions less because it’s a bit more difficult with my full-time job, but I have an agent for, uh, um, you know, to appear as an extra in movies. So that’s a bit more cash on the side, and then it’s also, uh, you earn credits and, uh, so you, you couldn’t really call yourself an actor when you’re doing just extra work, but it’s fun you on a, on a set. And it’s nice to see all the cameras, all the actors. We have a, there are a lot of, uh, big productions at the same in Vancouver, but in Montreal we have a lot of American productions coming here because it’s cheaper. Elle: Right.
Bong: So there was a movie actually. Um, Fatherhood with Kevin Hart. Uh, and I was, uh, I appeared two seconds in there and a lot of people were like, oh wait, I saw you in that.
Elle: Oh no way, people could actually see it was you? That’s great. That’s great. Bong: Yeah.
So, so it’s fun. Of course. I’d like a bit more, uh, if I can, but it’s a very difficult, uh, an unstable environment. So for now I have my job, I have my YouTube channel, so it’s perfect right now. So yeah, not asking for more.
Elle: Okay. How about the, uh, the French speaking, uh, movie and TV industry there, is there a lot of call for…
Bong: Right, so that’s, that’s a bit tricky here because, um, they have a different accent, uh, which I could fake it, but it’s, it’s not authentic. And, uh, and I think they’re looking for local people, so. So, yeah, on the paper, I I’m allowed to work here. Um, and they, they also enjoy, enjoy, they, uh, they’re trying to, to, uh, you know, uh, promote also diversity cause I, I fall into that category as well, but, um, to be honest, no, every time I have additions for, uh, uh, for French speaking content, uh, yeah, it doesn’t work because, because of my accent. Elle: Uh, that’s so… dang! Cause you speak French and you’re in this French speaking movie and TV industry city. Must be annoying, but at least, like you say, more American production companies are in Montreal.
Cause it’s cheaper to film there. So you get those opportunities.
Bong: And they’re more flexible with the English. Actually you can have a British accent, then you can have an American accent. You have a Canadian accent. They’ve been more flexible with auditions and things like that. But to be honest, uh, the work I do is mostly for, uh, ads or uh, yeah. Extra or yeah, things like that. Not too serious at the moment, but we’ll see. Maybe I’ll be contacted by an agent soon and it’s going to change, but for now I’m happy with that with YouTube and my current job. Elle: Excellent. So Bong, tell us about, uh, the languages that you are currently learning. Are you actively studying any languages?
Bong: Yes. Um, actively again, it’s very relative, but, uh, there was supposed to be in 2000 and in 2020 there was supposed to be the polyglot conference, uh, in Mexico. So I started, uh, so I know Spanish from before, but, uh, I decided to, to be a bit more intense in my learning, uh, but it was postponed, uh, it was postponed on 2020 in 2020, 2021.
Uh, is it going to happen next year in 2022? I don’t know, but yeah, um, um, I’m focused on Spanish right now, also Italian and Brazilian Portuguese, um, because of, uh, of trips, um, uh, planning. Uh, Korean, I put that on the side. German as well, unfortunately. Um, and sometimes I have language learning apps, uh, and I’m learning also Russian, but it’s slowly, it’s really slowly step-by-step so. Elle: Just four languages, no big deal.
Bong: But again, you know, it’s like maybe 15 minutes, 15 minutes every day, each language, sometimes Spanish a little bit more, but it’s not too intense. Elle: Okay. And so I know you before you mentioned, uh, being in the country, a country where the language is spoken was a big motivator for you. You just throw yourself in, but of course you, you are unable to do that right now. So what kinds of, um, methods do you use, you say 15 minutes a day, what are you generally doing in a day for each language?
Bong: Right. So, um, actually, you know what, Japanese is also one of them because I don’t really have a lot of opportunities to speak Japanese. So I’m kind of losing my mother tongue. So I do have a partner, a Japanese girl, and you know, the conversation is very, uh, natural, but still sometimes I forget words and it’s good to remind me. Or sometimes, you know, very technical terms, especially for during the pandemic. There are a lot of words that I forgot, for example, the vaccine, um, um, quarantine, you know, these kind of words that have forgotten Japanese.
It’s good to know because there’s a kind of vocabulary I would, I use, uh, on a daily basis when I speak Japanese, because that’s what’s happening right now. Um, so, so the ideal situation for me is to have a language partner, a language buddy. Uh, I do have that for Spanish. I do have that for Japanese. Uh, my level in, um, Portuguese and Italian is not there yet, so I still need to learn a bit more by myself.
Uh, but, um, so yeah, I try to call, usually I say, okay, wait 15 minutes. And it’s an exchange. So we call for 30 minutes and then it’s 15 minutes of. So my Japanese, uh, partner, she wants to learn French. So we speak 15 minutes in Japanese, 15 minutes in French, uh, for, uh, Spanish. It’s the same. She’s from Columbia. And we speak half an hour of not half an hour, 15 minutes in Spanish and 50 minutes in English, but it’s always a bit longer than that. Uh, but yeah, if you can find a language buddy, of course at the beginning, when you don’t even know the grammar or any, you know, structure, it’s very different. Uh, but, uh, I guess it’s pretty easy to get to the plateau. And then after that start speaking, um, so that’s what it looks like. I’m trying to call maybe twice, three times a week for Japanese and Spanish. So during the evening after work, uh, one day would be Japanese and one day it would be, um, uh, Colombian Spanish. And during the weekend I would have a break, you know, intense language learning.
Uh, and apart from that during the day when I have a uh, during my lunch break, just have an app and play on it for about 15 minutes again. And I think, uh, it’s, I don’t know if it’s working pretty well for me, but, uh, it’s better than nothing. And by the end of the day, I’m looking back and I’m like, yeah, I learned something today. You know?
Elle: Exactly, right? You think once you’re in it, you can’t see how much you’re progressing, but yeah, you are always for sure. Excellent. Well, um, tell us a bit about your channel then. What can anyone who will go from this interview and subscribe to your channel expect from the channel moving forward?
Bong: Yes. So that’s also a very tricky question because, um, as you know, I read of course, a lot of articles about how to grow your channel, how to have more subscribers, but the problem is that, uh, and everybody says that, although the experts, they say, if you want to strive, you need to find your niche. My niche is the language and culture.
But you have to stick to it. And usually when you study a language, then it’s supposed to be one language. Actually, it’s not true. I have a lot of friends who, who their channel is about learning any language, but, uh, but to be more successful, I should ideally just stick to one language. Okay, I’m going to teach French iand it’s the only thing we’ll be doing and maybe have another channel for just Japanese. Uh, but for me, it’s really like, no, I don’t really follow that rule. I’m just doing whatever. Uh, so you’ll find videos of me singing. You’ll find videos of me, uh, again with playing different accents, um, you know, impressions and things like that. You’ll see me teach, uh, playing characters to teach Japanese, French. Uh, I’ll invite people also that’s something I’m very, um, uh, I like doing, because it changes, uh, you know, just speaking to a camera, editing can feel pretty lonely. So sometimes I have guests. So it’s a bit more enjoyable for me too. Uh, and, um, yeah, I would learn a new language.
I did that with Romanian. I did that with, uh, uh, Arabic. I did that with a couple of languages and also accents as well. So yeah, it’s very difficult to say what type of content I make, but, uh, Um, I’m trying to be as entertaining as possible. So yeah, again as a performer, I think if I had to describe my channel, uh, in one word that would be, uh, entertainment.
To be entertained. Uh, and yes. Yeah, if you, if you, uh, I hope that’s my hope that if you watch my video, one of my videos, at least be able to learn one thing. Uh, and, and if I can, I can put a smile on your face, then that’s also what I’m aiming for, but if not, then that’s fine. Elle: Excellent. I like that. It’s authentic. It’s self-expression, you know, people are… people like that, you know, it’s real. Excellent. Okay. Well, thank you so, so much for joining me today, it’s been a great chat. Uh, I will pop the link to your channel, and I know you’re active all around Instagram and, uh, TikTok I think as well. Okay. So I’ll pop those links in the description and yes thank you so much. And enjoy the rest of your day, I guess what are we? You’re in the afternoon now in Montreal, right? Around 2.30.
Well, there we go. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon and evening and yeah thank you so much for joining us.
Bong: Thank you so much.
Elle: Thanks bye-bye.