English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #33: How to Work and Thrive in Japan the Chad Zimmerman Way

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Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me Elle. If you would like to study this podcast episode as a lesson, an English lesson, I’ve created one for you on LingQ using the transcript and the audio. The lesson link is in the description. LingQ is a fantastic tool for studying content of interest in your target language.

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I’m currently in a French 90-Day Challenge, which means I am going to hit targets set by LingQ in French over 90 days. And my goal is to, by the end of those 90 days have read my first novel in French. Check out the challenges on the challenge page and join me. Doesn’t have to be in French. There are lots and lots of languages you can do a challenge in. And if you’re listening on Google, Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, please give us a review, like share or follow. Really really appreciated. Today I am joined by another wonderful guest. He is a YouTuber. He creates content around learning Japanese. He’s also a Japanese translator and an author. Today I am joined by Chad Zimmerman. Chad, welcome.

Chad: Welcome. Hi, uh, you are talking me up a lot. I have a lot to live up to just by the intro.

Elle: Yeah.

I mean, it’s impressive. It’s impressive. Just take it in.

Chad: I, look, I will act in my official capacity, which is YouTube because I technically make my income from that everything else… although I guess in years past I was paying my rent with it, but with COVID I’m stuck back here in the states, so I can’t do everything I was doing full time, but I definitely, I can, I can accept YouTuber and hobbyist language enthusiast.

Elle: Okay.

Hobbyist language and tips like that. Whereabouts in the states are you joining us from today?

Chad: So I’m in Denver, Colorado, the beautiful Rocky mountains. This is where I’m normally from. And I would be in Japan right now, except for obvious reasons. I’m a little bit shipwrecked over here. So yeah.

Elle: Pesky pandemic. Um, when were you last, when were you in Japan?

Chad: So I weirdly enough. So I was in Japan, I left to come back here for the holidays.

So I left like early December of 2019. Right.

When it was getting hairy and but, mind you, I went through China. So I was in China for a couple of days on a late layover in December of 2019. I come home and then by like January, February, they’re like, oh, China’s popping off. I’m just like, wow, that’s sketchy.

And then all of a sudden everything shuts down and the world’s closed and I’m like, wow, that is, talk about just like Indiana Jonesing, the hat under the door.

Elle: Yeah, exactly. At the last minute. And so you’re stuck, not stuck in Colorado. Colorado is a beautiful place.

Chad: Yeah.

I love it here. I just, uh, most of my work is in Japan nowadays.

That’s like where I make all my money. It’s where all my friends pretty much, since I was 18, are. Um, so it’s, it’s kinda sad, but it’s kind of good too. Cause you know, you get to see the family, you get to be in America for a while and forget why you love it here.

Elle: Exactly. Yeah.

You get to spend that quality time that you… it’s like a bonus quality time with family, right?

Usually living abroad. Yeah.

Chad: My mom had a hard time when I was gone.

Elle: Oh, I bet. I bet. Yeah.

Did you say you left when you were 18?

Chad: Yeah.

So my first time I was over there, I don’t remember if I was 18 or if I just turned 19, it was that… because my, my birthday’s in January and I left that month, but I don’t remember which exactly when it was, but I pretty much, I was, I solved the trap of college.

I was like, if I go to a college, I’m going to get $50,000 in debt. And I have friends that by the way, uh, even now they went to school for Japanese. They have degrees in Japanese and they’re waiting tables. And I was like, I don’t want to be 50K in debt and wait tables. So seeing the trap, I sold everything I owned that wasn’t stuck to the ground, bought a one-way ticket and went over there, went to a language school to start, so.

Elle: Okay.

And did you know any Japanese before you went?

Chad: Almost none. Yeah, I was, I was a bit ballsy back then.

Elle: So you went over, you’re 18, you go over, you start learning Japanese. And how long ago was that now?

Chad: Oh, well, oh man. Longer than I want to admit. So my, my first trip, when I first went over there, um, it was to try and figure out this, like, how do I go to school over there?

So that trip was only like a month, maybe two. Uh, I was staying, I was living in a closet at a church for free because I had nowhere to stay. I had no money.

Elle: How did that happen?

Chad: I mean, so I’m a Christian, but I just, I found churches that were in Japan. There’s not a lot of them. And I just wrote them and found one that spoke English and the people were very sweet.

Uh, but they were like, yeah, if you want. Come on over, we have this, they said guestroom, and then you show up and it’s an actual closet. And I was like, Hey, you know, I’m not on the street. Cause I, I did not have a plan to sleep anywhere. Cause I spent all my money on my flight. Right.

So I was over there figuring stuff out.

And when I was there, I learned about language schools and I learned about, I’d… I met some people that were in translation and interpreting as a career, and they didn’t, either didn’t have college degrees or they just got certificates. One of them, that’s how I found out about the JLPT, which was a huge theme of my channel till I passed the N2 a couple of years ago.

Elle: Congratulations.

Chad: Thank you. That took way longer than I thought.

Uh, and then…

Elle: I was just speaking just recently to, another, uh, YouTubeer, uh, I dunno if you know Denny Mintsaev.

Chad: I don’t think I do.

Elle: He created, he’s a YouTuber and also he’s Russian and he creates, uh, YouTube videos about learning Japanese, anyway, he’s trying for his N1 and also same thing…

Chad: I gotta to talk to him. I’m going to Russia this winter.

Elle: Oh

Chad: I had no idea he existed.

Elle: I will connect you. Yeah.

He’s… there we go. Perfect. Yes.

But yeah, the JLPT super, super difficult. I’ve heard from any, anyone who’s taking it, taken it, so. Sorry, carry on.

Chad: But yeah, so I just learned about that path and then again, it was like, I was faced with this thing where I tried to get into back home before I left I was thinking about community colleges. And I got, no, I applied for FAFSA, which is my country’s like, here’s free money to go to school. I got nothing and I was a pretty good student and I had good grades and, uh, you know, self-supporting at that point. So I was just shocked me that I couldn’t get anything.

And so it was like, oh, I can go into all this debt for something I didn’t know if I even wanted. Or I could just live the thing I wanted to do. I could find a way to do that. And so to this day I just found a way. So after that trip, I came home and I told my parents, you got one year left with me. I am, I am cabooting over to there and I’m going to go to school.

And I was one of the first student, I was in the first group, the first class of students when Genki turned into an actual recognized language school with the state. So they could issue student visas.

Elle: Right.

Chad: So I was at Genki JACS um, but I was also… Genki JACS is fine, but the truth was, and for anyone that’s considering going to language schools, here’s some great advice for you, a lot of rich Europeans use that to go to Japan for basically a vacation. So what happens is you go to school and you’re serious. You’re like, I want to learn this language. I’m going to get fluent. This will, I’m doing this with my life. I want this. And you’re in a class full of people that could not be bothered less.

And so they advertise it as like, oh, you know, the class is all in Japanese and the teachers will only speak to you in Japanese. And these students, like the minute the bell rings, they switch to English. All of them from Germany, from Denmark, uh, from Russia, they just, they don’t speak in Japanese. And then they all hang out only with each other outside of class time.

So like nobody’s actually interacting with Japanese people. And that’s when I was like, yeah, this school is not going to get me fluent. I need to get me fluent. And so that’s when I like I rejected my native language except for YouTube videos. And I just head first in and I met people I’m still great friends with, um, two of them helped me start my business.

One of them I’m helping them start an exporting business from Japan. A couple of them are like really great friends of mine. One of them is a pro skater. One of them’s, uh, getting into real estate in Japan. So now he wants to break into America’s market. So he, you know, goes through me. But that all that started because I was like, I don’t even know how to hold a conversation, but I need to learn this language.

So I think I’ve told this story before. I don’t think you’ve ever heard it. Um, the way I made the friends that are like my best friends to this day, I was walking through Fukuoka right by Canal City, which is this big mall by a canal. And there’s all these skateboarders that always hang out. And I just saw them and they looked like they were sweating like crazy.

They were so hot and it was just miserable. This is like Japanese in July, Japan in July. So, oh, it’s horrible. It’s like, I refuse, I will stay inside and I saw them and I was like, this is my chance. They’re roughly my age. They look friendly, but I don’t know how to talk to them cause I, I was very rudimentary.

So I went to a convenience store, right by there I bought $20, it was one of my last $20 cause I was a broke student. I sold everything I had to go there. And bought alcohol and water and drinks from the convenience store. And I brought it over to them and I was just like here.

Elle: Good plan. Did it work?

Chad: They talked to me till one in the morning, all day took me, they took me out to dinner.

They took me to the beach and we all, we did the sabiki fishing, which catches these little mackerels about this big. They skewered them and we grilled them on the beach. Like they started a fire and we had a bonfire at night and then they gave me their Line, which is like Facebook. And they were like, Do you want to come do this again tomorrow?

And I did that every day for six months. And that’s what got me really proficient when I was like at my peak, peak of Japanese.

Elle: Wow.

Chad: The school did really nothing. It was slowing me down if anything.

Elle: You took it into your own hands, literally.

Chad: Yeah.

Elle: Amazing.

Chad: Anyone that goes, this is the same thing with working out, right.

Language is the exact same process. If you go, I need someone to go to the gym with me, you’re never going to go because you’ll find someone to go with you and then they’ll stop. And then what motivates you?

Elle: Yeah

Chad: You need to be pushing yourself. You need to be your biggest motivator. And I found that just going this school was literally like imprisoning me almost.

Cause I didn’t want to go. They were too slow, but I had to go a certain amount of courses. Otherwise I’d forfeit my visa.

Elle: Uh oh.

Chad: And so it was this really nasty situation at that point. It’s nothing against Genki, they’re super nice people, but they know their audience. They’re playing to, you know, wealthy Europeans that essentially want a long holiday.

And that’s cool. But I wanted to be fluent really bad. I wanted to talk to these people that are like my best friends and like not struggle.

Elle: And really connect.

Chad: Yeah.

Yeah, definitely. I’m sure anyone that’s learned a language knows how surface level a language partner is when you’re not really deep in the language, but once you’re deep in the language, uh, some of my best friends to this day, it’s not even Japanese people.

They’re just people I helped with the language. Uh, the girl who… I have a book, but the girl who draws this book, I’m helping her with her… she’s Russian, so TOEIC the English fluency test.

Elle: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Chad: I think, um, yeah, one of the best people ever, and we are so close, but it’s, it’s that connection you want with a deep level of language learning and you only get that if you have a really deep level of language learning.

Elle: Right.

All right. And at what point then did you become a translator? Obviously you’ve passed the, the JLPT N2.

Chad: Yeah.

Elle: Which is the second kind of highest…

Chad: There’s five levels.

Elle: Yes.

Chad: And, and two’s the second highest, I guess.

Elle: Right.

Chad: I don’t know if people are listening to this and they’re not familiar with Japanese.

You could try and use the, uh, what’s it European framework. It doesn’t fit very well, but it’s kind of like a B2/C1. It doesn’t fit super well, but somewhere in there. Right.

Uh, but I was translating. And so this is one of the remarkable things that I found out. I know so many people that have like degrees in Japanese, like masters degrees in Japanese, and they can’t get a translating job because they’re Japanese sucks. Like if you can walk into an interview and confidently talk to the person and show them, you know what you’re talking about and like, it’s just not a problem. Why wouldn’t they hire you? In fact, they could technically, they could pay you less because you don’t have the paper next to your name that says Chad Zimmerman, PHD.

You know, all the other nice things. So they don’t have to pay you as well as someone with a degree. So they’re actually inclined to give you translation jobs. If you don’t have a degree, if you’re good, so the N2 doesn’t make you good. I know a lot of people that have an N2 that are pretty mediocre and that’s not being, it’s not being mean.

It’s saying that you can study for the test and not study Japanese.

Elle: Yeah.

Chad: They’re different things really. My thing was for the longest time I studied Japanese pretty well, but I never studied test taking ever. So I was like, I know all this stuff on the test, but I just, I, I can’t, I always run out of time.

Um, I don’t always understand why they’re phrasing the test or a question a certain way. And so I knew I had the a…I mean, passing on an N2 is 50%. It’s really not that good.

Elle: But tough test though, right?

Chad: It is but still 50% is like on a test that’s like, wow. So the thing that I learned, and this is part of the reason I do textbook reviews was again, it’s a big difference between just learning the language and being able to express that language on a test.

I mean, you’re an English speaker. There’s a big difference between being in a class and understanding the topic that’s being taught, whatever it is, it could be history or language could be Spanish and being able to replicate that on a monolingual test of that thing. Like there’s lots of people who can understand the topic or explain it, but they fail tests. Happens all the time. There’s a reason, even at my old high school, they separated English as a second language students, even if they were fluent in English from the normal, like you were native born in America, this is your first language because there there’s a difference between someone that has… like they’re born and raised in the language and they understand from the very beginning how tests are taken in that language, how the books are supposed to be read in that language, um, how to interact in the class with that language, how to interact with the material and someone that although learned it to a proficient level was never exposed to tests or reading assignments or worksheets or whatever.

There’s just a… and it’s not, it’s not a bad thing. It’s just reality. It’s the same thing with me in Japanese. Right? I was not born in Japan. There’s a lot about Japanese I don’t know. And it’s not just words or grammar. It’s like culturally, there’s like a way that they handle tests and test taking. Um, the way that information is presented is different.

And you can get to a point where you’re exposed enough to the language. A lot of people do this with crazy immersion that you can almost replicate that native thing. And that’s awesome. Uh, but I was not there. So I kept failing and then I found these textbooks that are…they, they’re not really teaching the language, they’re just helping you articulate what you already know into a test format. And that’s what helped me pass was being like, oh, so there’s actually a method to this that I didn’t understand.

Elle: Right.

Like being let in on something. Yeah, for sure. So you mentioned that you do a book reviews, textbook, or Japanese language resource reviews on your channel. Um, what is some of the better books that you’ve come across in these reviews that you’ve been doing?

Chad: Oh, okay. I mean, I could talk about, I don’t know if there’s good. They’re standard. Right? There’s, there’s more, um, normalized methods of learning. So a lot of these books I’ve held, I’ve reviewed like over 30 so far.

So I don’t know if I’m the most, like, I have the most reviews of Japanese resources on YouTube, but I’m probably up there.

Elle: That’s a lot. Yeah.

Chad: So after holding all of them, most of them are exactly what their categories… like it’s, you know, you have an absolute beginner book or maybe the beginner split into several books, intermediate books, and then I count it as other, I don’t think advanced textbooks really exist in honesty.


Um, so I would say the bit, the biggest bonus with going with standardized books, these are books that are widely available. The ones that people most often use, that the reason you’d want to do that is there’s more of a commute. To help support you if you don’t understand something rather than going and, mind you I’m a third-party author, but rather than necessarily relying on a third-party author, because you might be working through this week’s review.

So the one I’m putting out on Wednesday is Japanese The Manga Way. It’s like teaching you Japanese grammar through Manga, which is a really cool book. And I, I have a lot of really positive thoughts about it, but if you’re relying on that book as your primary, imagine coming across an issue and you don’t know how to articulate what the issue is

because what you’re saying is, oh, this book explains it this way. So let’s say they refer to like ko, so, a, do words. So kore, sore, are, dore uh, koko asoko, right? Like the ko, so, a, do words, they call it that. But there’s actually a word for that. Like what those words are, there’s a grammatical word, or maybe you’re a part of a book that says, uh,so like “i” adjectives are, what was it…

I think. I’m tired. I never actually learned the actual grammatical terms for those cause in Genki, which is the textbook I started with, they didn’t teach you “here’s what mean in Japanese”. I just learned what an “i” adjective was or “na” objective. Right? I think it’s… I think. I’ll let the commenters shred me if that’s wrong.

It probably is. Uh, but imagine if you came from a background where you were talking about the Japanese term, cause that’s the book you used and people are like, what’s that? And you don’t know how to articulate this as an “i” or a “na” adjective. Right? And so there’s a safety going with the mainline books. And so what I like to show people is I compare them to the mainline books.

So if you want to know if you’re a new beginner and you’re like, I don’t know at all where to start the mainline beginner books, like the ones that are bread and butter, most communities use them are Genki both one and book two, Mina Nihongo both one and two. Um, I would say those honestly make up 80% of the market.

Elle: And Japanese for Busy People.

Chad: That’s uh, that’s, that’s a big one, but that’s not… the numbers, you can even look on Amazon. They’re not selling anything close to what those other two books sell.

Elle: Oh, interesting. I always thought they were… I used them. So maybe I was biased.

Chad: Well, they, they used to be really big. I have a couple versions of theirs on my shelf. I really should have done this in my study.

I have like a giant wall of Japanese resources. Um, but they’re just, that’s the thing is there’s also by the way, current. So that’s right now, like you’re listening to this, but let’s say in five years, you’re listening to this and you go, oh, maybe Genki is still the thing there very well might be a new thing coming out.

In fact, Tobira, which is a really, that one exploded in the intermediate books. Uh, they’re putting out a beginner series because they didn’t have one. And that one, from what I hear is really pulling punches with Genki and doing the things that people want from Genki, but it’s not in there. So that very well might take over.

But I’m saying for safety sake, if you’re too, excuse me, I coughed, for safety sake, if you would like to go over, you want to learn the language, but you want to be a part of a broad community to help you. If you have questions, the mainline books are those two and then it, however, Uh, pretty much intermediate is like Tobira still Mina No Nihongo cause they go farther.

Uh, and then what was that other one? Uh, Genki has an intermediate book that’s pretty popular now. It’s not, Genki, it’s a whoever prints Genki. An Intermediate Approach to Integrate… or An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. That’s a very long English name. That is, so those are like the intermediate books.

And honestly, after those, it’s like now you’re picking hairs. I tried to go into. ..It’s like, what is it advanced or late intermediate or advanced textbooks? Um, I mean, you’re at a certain point where you hit that and it’s just like, you could just use native materials, like a dictionary, a grammar dic… like a regular dictionary on your phone, a grammar dictionary.

Um, I have several of those on my channel I’ve reviewed. And then just turn on Netflix with Japanese subtitles or read any Manga and you’ll be fine. Like you you’ll have plenty of exposure to be able to figure out the language at that point.

Elle: Okay.

Tell us about your book because I know you’ve written a few, but the Japanese resource book that you’ve written, learn Kanji with Yokai.

Chad: Yeah.

Elle: Is so Cool. Tell us about it.

Chad: So that, that was really fun. I should have talked about more of my translation work, cause that also led into me guiding and doing translation with my own business. But I’ll give you guys a gist of this. I translated for a long time on my own. I worked, I was translating originally.

I was on those sites that were like, we help you find translation work. And I was always translating like instruction manuals for like Ikea furniture. That’s one of the, that’s one of the ones I remember doing. It was all these little dumb projects and it never, it paid, but it wasn’t like amazing. And so I was like, I’m going to do this stuff on my own.

And so I started building up, uh, contacts in Fukuoka where I’m at with different universities. There’s a women’s university I worked a lot with, um, and I started doing a lot of translations for robotics companies, uh, for textbooks. For, uh, like I did a lot of translating of teaching materials for teaching English and Japanese at these universities.

And that was my kind of big entrance into it on top of Ikea furniture, I guess. But again, they, they didn’t ask for a degree. I didn’t have my N2 at the time. I was just like, I could walk in and talk to them and go, do you need help? And, and that was enough for them. That was well, yeah. I mean, potentially if you can speak, who cares.

The… once that was done, uh, this was mind you now I have an exporting business I run in Japan. I have a tour guiding business I run in Japan. I do, I still run both of those to this day. Um, I got a hold of a group of people that are, uh, both they’re artists, they’re musicians and illustrators and stuff in Russia, learning English through the illustrator of the book.

Her name is Svetlana. We met on a language exchange web. And so we just got together the four of us and I essentially, uh, I remember, so me and her, cause we were working on English stuff with her. We were reading, uh, I think I want to say his name. Right? Cause I don’t speak Russian that great. Afanasiev. He’s the, he’s like the brothers…

well, he’s like the brothers Grimm of Russia. He, he was a, was it ethnographer? He basically collected children’s stories from Russia back in like the late 1800s. Oh, okay. And so what was awesome was I worked with this team. They had access to the original scans of his work, the stuff from the 1800s and they’re native Russians.

And I’ve worked with teams in translation. So I kind of managed a team where I’d go, here’s our deadlines. Here’s our timelines. Here’s your guys’s jobs. Cause they haven’t, you know, they know the languages, but they’ve never done the actual task of translation. And so they would translate, you know, parts of the text.

People would start illustrating it cause there’s lots of really cool illustrations on the books and they would send it to me. I would edit the English and they, I would essentially help them learn English while we were doing this cool project. I would send it back. They would look at my English, make sure what I was saying was…

’cause, you know, sometimes they might phrase something and I go, well, here’s how you actually say that. And then they go, oh, that’s not what I was trying to say. And then we have to call and work that out, right? That’s kind of, the work of a translator is, um, there’s a spectrum. So there’s like a word-for-word translation and a thought-for-thought translation.

Elle: Okay.

Chad: And so in that space, And see, I didn’t even go to school to be a translator I just figured this stuff out, but a word for word translation is like the actual word on the page, the equivalent to that word in English, like sheep, sheep, cow, cow. Right? The problem is sometimes that does not like, if you say just the words and put it in English, it makes no bloody sense.

So it’s kind of like in English, I think there’s this old term. I think you’re British or something like that, I can hear from your accent.

Elle: Yeah.


Chad: There’s something like, he’s just sitting with his thumb in his ear and it’s like, it means you’re kind of being lazy.

Elle: Okay.

Chad: I think

Elle: Don’t think I’ve heard that one.

Chad: Or like, what about, about kicking your heels?

Like you’re just sitting there like not working. Right.

So if I were to actually put that in Russian or vice versa, you might be like, “kicking your heels”? With the…

Elle: right.

Chad: Right? Cause you literally have the word to kick your heels and then they’re like, and what it means is you being lazy, like, go, go do something.

Uh, and so what would happen is I would understand they’re kicking the heels in this metaphor and I would change it. And then we go, no, no, no, no. This is supposed to mean that the person is lazy and I go, oh, so now we need this and then I can translate it over more for thought-for-thought. Cause we’re trying, the goal is always word for word, but when it word for word doesn’t work, you move for changing the words in order to convey the actual meaning, the author intended.

Elle: Right.

Chad: And you know, these are just skills you learn when you translate. So anyways, we finished the book. It’s awesome. I have it over here. I don’t have all of them, but I have this one. So if you’re into Russian, you can check this out. This is the actual book that we translated ourselves with our, with our lovely team.

Uh, and it, you can buy it on Amazon with the rest of my stuff, but this was super fun. This was like one of the funnest things I’ve done and especially working, uh, with them. I just, I don’t know. It made me realize I really like doing this for myself. And so me and Svetlana, who was the illustrator, she made the cover of this, which is like super …

Elle: Amazing.

Chad: She’s. Yeah, she’s really good. She’s very good. She’s, she’s an architect normally. So she, even in her career, she does like artistry stuff. Uh, and so we, after that project was done, we were like, ah, breathe out. You want to make another one?. Yeah, let’s do it. And this time we decided to do it with my expertise, which was Japanese.

And that’s how we did this guy, which is learn Kanji with Yokai. And so she illustrated it. I did all the Japanese inside. I have a cool, I have a hands-on review, so I’m not going to go over it here. But, uh, this book was like my baby, and this showed me that man, I’m really passionate about helping people.

And I think that’s, what’s different about me and my approach to all this is there’s lots of really great YouTube channels to teach you Japanese. You know, you want pitch accent, go to Dogan. You want to like crazy immerse yourself and get really good, really fast? Go to Matt versus Japan. Those are my buddies.

Like they’re, they’re great folks. Um, I’m not trying to teach you Japanese. I’m trying to help you learn, um, as best as I can. Yeah.

So that could be motivation that could be helping you pick the right resource that could be helping with like a very particular problem. Uh, I’m not a teacher of Japanese.

That’s just not what I do. I teach people or at least help them acquire language. That’s what I like to do. I like helping. So I teach helping, which is a weird statement, but that’s what I did with this book. It helps teach you Japanese in a fun way, in a creative way. Um, and it’s something that hopefully will make a lot more of these books, not just with Yokai, but with anything, like learn Kanji with geography or some other things.

I really love doing it, but that’s how these…

Elle: That’s a very cool idea. Yeah.

I, I, I’m very impressed by it. I have to say. Yeah.

Chad: So she she’s wonderful, by the way she sends her best, I told her I’d be coming on here. Um, but yeah, that’s…

Elle: She’s is she based in Russia?

Chad: Yeah.

So she’s, she’s in Moscow. Uh, she’s a 3d visualization or something like that or training to be, but she was an architect forever.

So she’s just unbelievably talented in art and in languages, she’s like really good at English. And so the two of us kind of work well together. And so we just kind of go, let’s put out a book in six weeks and then Learn Kanji with Yokai happened.

Elle: Boom. You did it. Well I’ll pop the link to the book in the description so people can check it out of course. And also I’ll pop a link to your channel, Chad Zimmerman, uh, tell us, all of us who are gonna race over and subscribe what you have in store. What’s the plan for the channel?

Chad: Yeah.

So the channel is going to keep up with that theme I think of helping you learn. I’m not teaching Japanese, but I’m helping you.

And farther than that, like way beyond even the language. Um, I realized that I figured out something that a lot of people really want, which is how can I make a life out of this Japanese? How can I go to Japan and do all this stuff? Maybe you guys saw the trap that I saw of like, yeah, let’s just get really into debt and then have no jobs afterwards.

That’s a great idea. Um, and so for people that want to make Japanese a part of the, um, or any language, but I focus on Japanese cause that’s my main language. I know a little bit of Russian just from working with these teams, but not enough, not enough to do very much.

Is that your next language? Do you think

Elle: that you’ll focus on Russian?

Chad: Maybe. I have no idea. I think so. Cause I already, so I had to know, this is a sidetrack, but I had to know Greek and Hebrew because I’m in a master’s program right now and they require, you know, that cause you have to be able to read like ancient texts for my course. And so I already know, like biblical, Greek and Hebrew, uh, that’s not hard.

There’s only 2000 words really in both languages. Like it’s not, it’s not extensive. It’s, whatever’s in the book and the book doesn’t have that many words. Uh, but I think Russian might be just cause I don’t know. I like Russian. It’s just, I don’t think I’d make a channel out of it very much. Um, I, I would like my channel to be more universal, like about linguistics and, and about doing what I’m doing. Like how can you become a translator? Um, how can you, like, I run a guiding business. How can I start my own business? I run, I wish I could show you it’s off screen. I have a wall of probably 2000 Manga volumes just right here. I’m an exporter of these. I export them from Japan to here and I sell them.

I have used denim jeans from America that I sell in Japan for a lot of money. So that’s on this side. I have my Japanese, my Japanese fly rod company. I export Japanese tenkara rods over there. I’m looking at them. So I found a way without everyone says you meet, oh, just get the degree and then go teach English over there and be miserable.

Yeah, because everyone knows how horrible that job is. Everyone likes to say, it’s fine. And we all know it’s not a fun job.

Elle: I did it. You know it had it’s ups and downs. For sure.

Chad: You see how you answered that to me, that tells me what you don’t actually want to say. I think most people do that as a cop-out because they go, I want to live in that country and this is my way to do it.

And what I want to say is there is a way to, to build your life that way. And I want to help people. There’s another way. There’s another way. And it’s your way. You don’t have to… Even for me, I haven’t had a boss, like an actual boss since I was 18. I’ve worked for myself and I’m almost 30. I’m doing well.

I’m almost 30.

Elle: It’s okay.

Chad: But…

Elle: Your thirties are the best.

Chad: Ah, okay. So I’ve, I’ve been self-employed I found a way and I just want to help other people, cause I have gotten so much joy and benefit and fun. I’ve met my best friends. Um, I have made things I never thought would be made. My life is completely changed because of Japan and Japanese.

And I didn’t do it the way that everyone else told me I had to. And so that’s what I want my channel to be is. So if you guys are interested, hopefully after this, if you find me at all charming, uh, you can go check out my channel. I’m Chad Zimmerman on YouTube uh, and I put out a video every single week. And it’s either about Japanese or Japan.

Obviously the Japan side is a little slow right now, cause I’m not allowed in. So those videos are, those videos will come. But when I’m allowed back in, you’ll get a lot of content about living in Japan, working in Japan. What it’s like, how I did it, uh, as well as all the other countries I did. I just got back from Georgia, put out a 40 minute video there.

I’m going to go to Russia this winter, obviously. So. Lots of really cool, interesting language things that I never thought I would get to do all because of Japanese. So if that sounds cool, maybe check me out.

Elle: Fantastic. Yeah.

And I’ll pop, like I said, I’ll pop the, uh, the link to your channel in the description, along with your book.

Um, listen, Chad, this was such a great chat. Thank you so much for joining us and, um, yeah. And enjoy the rest of your evening. No, you’re in you’re an hour ahead. So enjoy the rest of your day.

Chad: I’m right next to you. So thank you so much for having me. This was really, really fun.

Elle: It was great. Thank you, Chad.

Bye bye.

Chad: Bye

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #32: Improve Your English Pronunciation with Lisa From Accurate English

Want to study this episode as a lesson on LingQ? Give it a try!

Lisa of Accurate English has some actionable tips for anyone hoping to improve their English pronunciation. Don’t forget to check out the Accurate English YouTube channel for more!

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 have created it for you on LingQ. The lesson link is in the description. With LingQ you can follow the transcript and audio, so read along as you listen. You can slow it down, speed it up. You translate words and phrases you don’t know. You can then do vocabulary activities with those words and phrases. So an excellent way to study a language. If you feel like challenging yourself also, why not start a LingQ language challenge. I’ve also put the challenges page link in the description so go check that out to see if your language is there. We have many, many languages. I just started a language challenge in French, it’s called the 90-Day Challenge. So I am dedicated to intense french study for 90 days. And my goal is to read a French novel for the first time. So I’m going to read a Stephen King novel in French.

So by the end of the 90 days, I will have leveled up my French skills and also finished a novel in French for the first time, so pretty cool. If you’re watching or listening on YouTube, Spotify, Google, or Apple podcasts, SoundCloud and you would like to give us a review, a like a, share, a follow we would greatly appreciate that.

This week I am joined by a very interesting guest. Her name is Lisa Mojsin. She is an accent reduction specialist and founder of Accurate English, which is a training center in LA. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us.

Lisa: My pleasure Elle. Great to be here.

Elle: And so you’re joining us from LA right now. How, how are things in sunny LA or is it sunny?

Lisa: It’s very sunny. It’s usually sunny. And that, that’s one of my favorite things about living in Los Angeles. The sunshine is important to me. It makes me happy.

Elle: Yeah. That must be nice waking up most days and knowing that it’s going to be just a lovely day.

Lisa: I, I never take it for granted. I still appreciate it.

Elle: So, Lisa, as I mentioned, you are an accent reduction specialist. For anyone listening and a lot of our listeners are studying English and hoping to improve their pronunciation and accent, what is an accent reduction specialist, and what kind of techniques do you use to help English learners with their accent?

Lisa: Well, an accent reduction specialist does, uh, one of two things. Um, I either help people reduce their strong accent and very often it’s for professional reasons.

There’s something about the way people speak that’s holding them back professionally. And then they usually come to me because there’s some kind of crisis, they’re not getting the promotion they want, or someone complained to them I don’t understand this person. And it’s, it’s an emergency in a sense.

So when people come to me, they know that in order to get ahead in their careers, they have to speak clearly. And they have to be understood every time they speak. Um, or they, they want, um, they want to go after their dream job, but they don’t even dare go for the job interview because they’re so… that the moment they start speaking, when people hear their heavy accent, they’re not going to get the job.

So that’s one type of student that I see. And of course, because I’m in Los Angeles, I work with people in Hollywood, people who are born in another country, but they’re actors, they’re living in Los Angeles and they need to compete. Uh, acting, acting in LA is already extremely competitive. When you go on an audition, there are so many people that want that one job.

And so if you have an accent, then you might not get the job because of that. So people who already are maybe quite advanced, who already have a very good accent, uh, but all it takes is making one mistake during your audition. You might have a script where there’s a word you didn’t pronounce correctly and suddenly the director or the casting director might say, you know what?

I don’t think we’re going to hire this person for this role. They have a strong accent and no, they do not have a strong accent they just mispronounced one or two words, but it’s perceived as a strong accent. If you need to sound a hundred percent like a native speaker. So those are the other types of people that I’ve spent my career working with.

And as far as, uh, what techniques I use, it really depends on the individual. Um, I would say my number, the number one thing that I do is I find out, uh, the psychological aspects to why they came to see me because so often they already have so many blocks and so many insecurities about the way they speak.

And that’s already going to interfere in how well they speak and, um, how much progress they make. A lot of times they hate the sound of their voice. Well, we’re going to have to record your voice and that’s part of your homework. You’re going to have to regularly record your voice. A lot of them say, I’ve had people say, you know what, I’m not doing that homework because I refuse to listen to myself.

I really don’t like the way I sound. And so I try to make them feel better about their image, uh, anything related to the way they speak, uh, their accent, their voice. So the number one thing I do is I tell them, you sound a lot better than you think you do. And I’m telling them the truth, because like I said, when they come to me, usually there’s some kind of crisis, some kind of emergency, and they’ve probably created that crisis and made it even bigger than it is.

They’re sometimes traumatized. So I want them to relax and to have it be a fun experience because when you make it fun, when you say I can do this, this is going to be interesting. We’re going to work on interesting scripts and different topics that are not so boring and not. So, um, just by the book, um, they get excited about it.

And then I feel like I’ve broken that barrier and now I can reach them because there’s nothing worse than somebody who is so terrified and they don’t think they’ll ever make any progress. Then I feel like the lessons won’t even be very effective. So that’s the starting point.

Elle: And are there any, uh, you’ve been doing this, you, you founded accurate English, I believe 20 years ago, 20 or a little more than 20 years ago?

Lisa: Yes.

Elle: So you’ve had lots of students come through. Are there any, um, standout success stories that you recall specifically, and are there any things that you think those students did, that others didn’t that that made them successful?

Lisa: Definitely. Uh, as I said before, the attitude is extremely important. My favorite types of students to work with, because that’s when I see the most success, is people who have, who have had success in other areas of their life.

Let me give you an example. I worked with a young man who was an actor and he had, I could tell when he came in that he was very focused. He was, uh, just, uh, there was something confident and driven and focused at the same time. And through the course of getting to know him, I found out he had a black belt in martial arts, and I said to myself, aha, okay, this person knows how to work hard.

I don’t know enough about martial arts, but I know it’s hard to get a black belt. And I knew it took a lot of discipline. And so he had that discipline. And that, that drive and the success story was that, um, he came back, he had a few lessons with me and then he came back maybe six months later, later he said he just wanted to get a review to see how he was doing.

And I, there was zero accent. He sounded totally American. And I said, what did you do? He said, well, I just did what you told me. And so what I had told him, uh, these mistakes that you’re making in order to fix them, you need to speak with yourself daily, talk to yourself. And so that’s a, he said, Lisa, every time I woke up, I would just talk to myself in English for an hour or for two hours.

Um, and that did it. But he, he, you know, you speak to yourself, but you’re thinking about how you’re speaking. So if you’re making a particular vowel mistake or constant mistake, you’re paying attention when those sounds. And you’re making an effort to pronounce that well, and it worked, it worked. So I love that.

I love that.

He just said, well, you know, of course this is going to be hard, but I’m going to do it every single day. And that’s, I love that. And a couple of other success stories, I would say the ones that really inspire me is I had a couple of ladies separately from different countries. They were both in their seventies who made great progress.

And so when I get somebody who says, oh, I’m 25 or I’m 30, is it too late? Listen, I’ve had people in their seventies who made very good progress. And also these two women were, um, just, uh, successful, driven, uh, and inspirational their, their whole life was, they learned how to learn. They learned how to overcome challenges.

And when you have that mindset, you can do a lot and age really doesn’t matter. And I suppose my final story is, um, it’s always nice to see actors when I turn on the TV and suddenly there’s a commercial and I worked with someone on that commercial. That’s fun, you know, that’s, that’s always exciting. It’s like, oh wow! We did it.

Elle: I bet .You’re seeing your work in action. You know?

Lisa: I know, I memorized the whole commercial myself site, the whole ad. So I’m saying it with them because we went over it so many times and that’s, that’s always really fun just because in LA you get these types of people to work with and it makes your job fun.

Elle: I bet I actually was when I was looking through your channel, I was especially interested, I am a huge movie TV fan, and I watched the one video, sorry, I forget his name now, but, um, the actor who was in The OA, I recognized him from The OA

Lisa: Oh yes, Ego Mikitas.

Elle: Because that’s an excellent show. And I was like, wow, that’s so cool. It must be very cool to work with…

Lisa: it is an I, I also like film and I, and I, and so part of my job is also, I try to keep up with what’s happening in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, because so often they say, you know, I have an audition with such and such director. And so I like to keep up, so I know who these people are and what my students are going through and what they’re experiencing. Yeah.


Elle: Do you bumped into… this isn’t so much a language and accent reduction question, but do you bump into, do you see famous people all the time in LA? I feel like, people often say, you know, I live in LA and I, I see, you know, Leonardo DiCaprio walking down the street. Is that actually true as someone who’s lived in LA for a long time?

Lisa: Well over the yearsI mean, yeah. I mean, I’ve been in LA most of my life. Yeah, absolutely. I’ve seen lots of famous people, but, uh, I think depends. It depends on the neighborhood where you live or which if you go to certain restaurants, you’re much more likely to see them. But I would say, if you’re coming to LA as a tourist, hoping to see a famous person, chances are very strong that you will not owe this person.

That’s just, you know, it’s not that common, but in the course of just living here, yeah, you do, you do. I’m trying to think of who I, I mean, obviously lots of them, lots of them, you know, Tom, Tom cruise, uh…

Elle: whoa. That’s like the biggest…

Lisa: I don’t know if your, your viewers know who this is, but she was very famous in my mother’s generation. Sophia Loran.

Elle: Oh yeah.

Lisa: I was standing next to her in a bookstore and I said to myself, you know, She looks really familiar. Does she go to my gym? Suddenly? Somebody said, oh, miss Lauren. And I said, that kind of stuff will happen. Or I’m just like, okay, I know this person.

Elle: Wow. She’s an icon. That’s amazing.

Lisa: That does happen. Sometimes in the most, I was in some really weird, kind of like tiny little hole in the wall restaurant and I saw somebody that I had recently seen on TV. And it’s something you think, wait a minute, aren’t you supposed to be in this glamorous place? So, no, they’re not necessarily at the glamorous places.

They’re just at the market, for example.

Elle: Yeah. They’re just regular people, I guess, until they get so much money they don’t have to even go out, leave their mansion compounds, who knows? Yeah.

So Lisa, Accurate English, um, is your, uh, your training center, but also, uh, the YouTube channel that you run is called Accurate English and it is just packed full of amazing videos, super helpful for anyone who is wanting to reduce their accent, improve their English pronunciation. What would you tell someone who’s a new subscriber to your channel? Where would you tell them to go? Where should they start?

Lisa: Gosh, you know, there are so many videos there at this point, um, I think if they’re specifically focused on reducing their accent, I do have a playlist where I talk about different sounds, but I would say any one of my videos, depending on, even if I’m in, or sometimes I’m talking about grammar, I’m still integrating, uh, pronunciation in it. Um, because every, the reason I call my company, when I started it, I decided to call it Accurate English, English.

And now my channel is called accurate English because I believe, um, I’d like to, it’s important for me to focus on all aspects of English. So it’s not just about pronunciation. I really believe that all of the different things go together. So for example, if you’re working on your accent, chances are that you’re also want to improve your vocabulary.

Chances are you feel like you don’t quite have the expressions that native speakers do. Uh, so if I’m teaching maybe the most or some of the recent videos have been interviewing native speakers and analyzing not only their accent, but the expressions they’re using. So if you just watch one of my videos, you will be getting an accent reduction less.

Almost certainly.

Elle: Right. So, Lisa, is there anything that someone listening to this episode could do tomorrow or even straight after listening to improve their pronunciation, their English pronunciation?

Lisa: Yes.

I would say the number one thing you should do is listen to the melody of the language. English is about stress and reduction, stress and reduction.

That’s such an important component of pronunciation and accent. Uh, we stress the key words. So stress means longer vowels, louder and higher in pitch. So if you’re going to say a sentence “I need to talk to you”. If your language is pretty flat and each word gets equal stress, it might be difficult to understand your sentence, but we’re going to ask ourselves, what is the key word I want to talk to you?

The keyboard is talk. So talk has a really big vowel. It’s “ah” so we’re going to say it like this. “I want to talk to you. I want to talk to you.” So when you open your mouth on the stressed part of the sentence, it makes your accent better. It makes your speech much clearer. Uh, and, uh, it sounds natural.

Uh, but if you stress every word “I want to talk to you”, it’s not going to sound right either. So do Americans… ask yourself, do Americans speak quickly or slowly? Both. They mumble, they speak really quickly on the unstressed parts of the sentence, but the, they emphasize and they slow down on the key words.

So “I want to talk to you”. And then the same thing, ask yourself the same question related to individual words. Usually there’s one vowel inside that word that needs to be stressed. So if we say, um, fantastic, three syllables. So the second syllable is going to be stressed. So we open our mouth really big. Fantastic.

So open your mouth more, prolong the vowels on the stressed parts of the words and the stress words in the sentences. So that’s fantastic. Open your mouth. That’s fantastic. Otherwise, you’re going to…that’s fantastic. If you’re not moving your mouth, your accent is going to be difficult to understand.

Elle: Excellent.

Lisa: Listen to the, listen to, uh, the stress, listen to the melody and remember, yes, native speakers do slow down on keywords and I speak quickly with everything else.

Elle: Wonderful. Okay guys, anyone listening who wants to improve the accent pronunciation these are some things you can do as soon as you, as soon as you finish listening.

Thank you, Lisa. Um, so Lisa, you aren’t just an accent reduction specialist, you are also a polyglot. What languages do you speak?

Lisa: Well, I majored in French and German in college. I was absolutely passionate about, uh, studying languages. And then I taught myself Spanish and I’m always learning other things, other languages, trying to, trying to figure out how they work. These days I don’t have so much time to, um, to really devote to mastering any languages. But, um, what of my, one of the things that I really like to do is to learn about how other languages work to to be able to help my students. For example, when I work with Russian students and I work with their pronunciation, there’s a mistake that they tend to make.

That makes me curious, well, wait a minute. How does Russian work? Because everyone’s doing that. So then I do research in Russian pronunciation and that helps me, uh, to better prepare myself and to better explain to them what they’re doing and what they need to do. So that’s something that I’m really fascinated about.

And I’ve done that with Japanese as well. For example, Japanese has like sa se su so, but then they don’t say, see, they say shi, shi, they change that S to an S H when there’s an I that follows. Well, that explains a lot because Japanese people frequently say make Mec-shi-co instead of Mexico. And it’s because they don’t have a C they change everything to shi.

Or instead of saying situation, they say shi-tuation. And that kind of stuff really fascinates me. But, um, I, uh, used to be a French teacher. That’s how I started. Yeah.

I taught French in high school for a short amount of time. And later I got a master’s degree in English and that led to changing my career and teaching English.

But French is my first love. And I taught English in Germany when I was in my twenties. And that was exciting too. And that’s when I got a chance to improve the German that I had studied in college.

Elle: Amazing. So languages really are and have been your life?

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah.

I love languages, but my favorite thing is teaching English.

Elle: So you speak these other languages, uh, did that influence the way that you help people with the English?

Lisa: Absolutely. Very much. So I always remember my favorite teachers when I was studying different languages and people who’ve inspired me. You don’t become a good teacher without having good role models in the past. There are so many different techniques that teachers use. I remember there was one professor in Germany. When I lived in Germany, I was in a city called Konstanz in the south of Germany, near the Swiss border. And I took German classes at the university. There was a teacher whose method was amazing. She was so experimental in the way that she taught German.

And she did so many interesting exercises and she brought in real life, and we read the newspaper in German, and then we had to memorize all the vocabulary of the newspaper article and we had to pronounce things correctly. And, uh, I do that a lot. I bring in different things like, like newspapers, we read them and we, the goal, the goal is to sound like a native speaker, not only in your pronunciation, but using the advanced vocabulary that you’re learning from the newspapers.

I think the most important part of it is that I know that it’s really challenging to learn another language and to change your accent. It’s really hard work. But I also know that if you’re passionate about, if you have to find something that really excites you about it, and when I was a teenager, I really wanted to go to Paris.

I watched some French movies and I fell in love with French and I, I just romanticized it and that motivated me. It made me work hard. And then when I was 19, well, I went to Paris when I was 16 and then I went again when I was 19. And I had a teacher at UCLA and I think this is the story that really is my favorite one.

I had a teacher at UCLA who taught us French phonetics and French pronunciation for the whole semester. And she would give us dictations and we needed to write French sentences, just using the phonetic symbols. That class was super difficult, but it changed my life. After that class finished, it was summer vacation and I went to Paris and I remember going to a boutique, a store. And the lady said, which part of France are you from? And I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’m not from France, I’m from the United States. That was the greatest compliment you could possibly give me because I really, really wanted to speak French with a good French accent. And it was because of that teacher who taught us French phonetics, who taught us how to hear the subtle difference between the vowel sounds of French and the nasal consonant sounds. And I didn’t know that before. And so then when I started teaching English at Santa Monica College, and I had students from, a lot of students from all over the world who had studied English for many years, But when they spoke, people couldn’t understand them.

I thought, why is no one teaching them pronunciation? Why is no one teaching them accent reduction? Like, like Madame Brichant. That was her name, Madame Brichant. Uh, Madame Brichant changed my life and I don’t think I would be doing this job if it weren’t for her. And she was teaching French at UCLA. Long time ago.

Elle: Wow, what a compliment, eh? Where in France are you from? I bet you would just like…

Lisa: Oh, and I know that my students want that same thing. You know, the actors in Los Angeles who are from other countries, they want that same. They want it. They want to hear “you sound like you might be from Texas”, “you might be from New York” instead of, oh, you know, typical thing is that my students tell me, you know, Lisa, I just said, hello and somebody said, “where are you from?” Or I said one sentence and they said, “oh, you’re Russian, aren’t you?” And there’s nothing wrong with having an accent. There’s nothing wrong with that. But after a while, it gets tiring. Every time you open your mouth, if you live in the United States and you have a foreign accent, you go to the store. “Oh, what a charming accent.” That gets annoying. I had a student who is an architect from France and she said, I want to talk about my designs and my architecture plans to my clients, but they say, “oh, you know, I love your accent. And by the way, I was in Paris. Five years ago. And I went to this place…” and it gets tiring.

It’s gets really tiring. So even if they don’t necessarily eliminate their accent, if they reduce it and neutralize it so that people don’t necessarily always know, oh, you’re from India or you’re from Italy or you’re from wherever that makes them feel better. That’s, it’s just, and it’s exciting when I can help them achieve those goals. If that’s what their goal is.

Elle: Right. Excellent.

Um, so Lisa, anyone who is listening and is going to subscribe to your YouTube channel, Accurate English, uh, after this, what can they expect from your channel uh, moving forward, what’s in store?

Lisa: A lot of exciting things I want to do with the channel. Um, I love interviewing native speakers in Los Angeles, and I particularly try to find people from different professions because my students, the viewers are potentially in these professions. And when the people that I interview use the vocabulary and different expressions, idioms related to those professions, it helps not only with their accent because I teach them how to pronounce those things. But also it’s so important to keep expanding your knowledge of vocabulary, terminology, all sorts of everyday idioms that people in that job might be using.

So I have a lot of people that I’m planning to interview. In addition, I’m focusing more on grammar and writing a grammar course. And, uh, I love teaching grammar. I, uh, really, really am passionate about teaching grammar. And I think that’s sometimes overlooked. We emphasize too much just, uh, how people sound with their accent and maybe increasing vocabulary, but you have to have this strong foundation.

You have to know that when you’re saying a sentence, you’re saying it correctly. And that’s how I learned the languages that I speak. I started with grammar and I like feeling confident that when I say a sentence in French, it will be grammatically correct. Well, maybe these days it might not be because I don’t use it so much, but I remember at one time, you know, we had so many advanced grammar courses and tests that when you know why you’re saying something and why you’re using this particular verb tense, whatever it is a certain construction, you feel a lot more confident and you can communicate professionally. You can write email. And so I want to take my channel more into that direction. Correctness of speech, not just accent, but also all aspects. That’s why the channel is called Accurate English. I believe the goal should be aiming to make everything accurate, your grammar, your pronunciation of vocabulary usage and so on.

Elle: Fantastic. Well, I will pop the link to your channel in the description. And Lisa, thank you so, so much for this chat full of packed, full of really useful info, especially for our, um, English learners. Yeah.

Thank you so much and enjoy the rest of your evening in LA.

Lisa: You too in Vancouver.

Elle: Thank you. Bye-bye.

Lisa: Thank you so much. Thank you. That was fun. Bye-bye.

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #31: Polyglot Professional Soccer Player Will John Talk

Study this episode and any others from the LingQ English Podcast on LingQ! Check it out.

Will John is a professional soccer player who is currently closing in on his ninth language! In this episode of the English LingQ Podcast Elle chats with Will about his career, how he learned all those languages and the exciting new channel he has created to help other language learners.

Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me Elle. If you are studying English, remember that you can study this podcast episode as a lesson on LingQ. I’ve added the transcript and the audio and created a lesson just for you. You can find the link to it in the description. If you have never used LingQ before, it’s an excellent way to study a language. You can study from anything you’re interested in. So take an Italian blog post or a Russian news article, Japanese movie, whatever it is, you can create a lesson with it on LingQ, work through the words and phrases that you don’t know, creating your own personal database.

It’s a fantastic way to learn from content you’re actually interested in and make a breakthrough in your target language. Speaking of making a breakthrough, if you would like to challenge yourself, we have a challenges page on LingQ in many different languages. So I’ve also popped the link to that page in the description. I’m actually starting a French 90-Day Challenge this September.

So I will be challenging myself to reach targets each day. And actually my goal is to read a novel in French for the first time over the 90 days. So join me if you want to level up in your target language, doesn’t have to be French, can be whichever language you’re studying. If you’re listening on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, wherever, please show us some love. Give us a like, or share a follow. We really, really appreciate it. This week I am joined by someone a little different. You guys are used to me interviewing YouTubers and this week’s guest is a YouTuber, but he’s also a professional soccer player. THis week I am joined by professional soccer player, YouTuber and polyglot Will John. Will, thank you so much for joining us.

Will: Thank you. It’s always good to be back and talk about languages. So I’m excited.

Elle: Great. And whereabouts in the world are you joining us from today?

Will: I am in Croatia. So I’m in Zagreb, Croatia, obviously originally from the U S but I play football over here and in Zagreb.

Elle: Excellent. Okay. And it’s your evening in Zagreb?

Will: It is evening. It is 7.15 In the evening. It is a nice chill afternoon.

Elle: Lovely. THat’s a part of the world I really need to get to, Croatia. One day. Um, so you’re playing soccer there?

Will: Yeah.

You keep calling it soccer and with that accent, it just doesn’t sound right.

Elle: I’m trying. I know I was going to say in the beginning, soccer or football and I have the impulse to say football, but, uh, yes, yeah of course.

Will: No, I played, I played outside of the US you know, I played, I played in the MLS and, uh, I grew up playing soccer in the US but uh, since then playing outside of Europe, I’ve gotten used to calling it football.

And in my house, my dad is from Nigeria and we would call it football. You float in between. It’s not a big deal, but yeah it’s football for all these years.

Elle: Okay. Oh, so you say football yourself? Okay. So I’m going to say football from now on. It feels right. I feel strange saying soccer. Um, so good based in Croatia now for the next little while?

Will: Yeah.

So at least yeah the season is just starting. Seasons in Europe, most of them start in August and they’ll end in May or June. So we’ll have a break there in the winter and because of COVID, you know, I have not been back to the US. This Is the longest I’ve been outside of the US. Normally in between my seasons I will, um, I will go back, uh, at least for a little bit, but it’s been almost two years. I think it will be two years.

Elle: Oh

Will: You know? Uh…

Elle: Wow

Will: Yeah, one of those things. So I’m enjoying it. I feel very comfortable outside, you know, as a professional football or you spend a few times, I’ve spent a large part of my career in Scandinavia.

Uh, large chunk in Serbia and in Croatia. This is my second stint in, in, in Zagreb. So I know this place very well. I speak the language and, you know, it’s, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Elle: Amazing. So it’s just taking you all over the world at this soccer playing career. That’s very cool.

Will: I think, I think in, uh, Steve and I probably talked about this in the last, uh, I think I’ve been to 60 countries? I think so, but I need to make a count and it’s all because of soccer. If that, I think there’s only maybe three countries that were not, three or four, that and were not soccer related.

Elle: Wow. You need to get one of those maps or you scratch off the foil scratch off countries. You’ve been to, put a pin in there.

Will: Yeah.


I’ll get to them all eventually.

Elle: Yeah. Yeah.

Um, so let’s talk about soccer before we kind of move into the languages. Um, when did you know that you, I’m, I’m assuming it’s from a really young age, you realized you wanted to pursue soccer as a professional career.

Will: That is a question I get a lot and as a footballer, most, most guys don’t have a moment I’ve noticed, but I have very specific, I have a very specific story. Number one, my father was a professional footballer himself. So it was always part of, it was always part of my upbringing, but I never considered it. Uh, I had almost a, uh, uh, an insane, an epiphany one day when I don’t, and I don’t remember to this date, I don’t know why I wasn’t in school, but I wasn’t. I dunno if I was pretending to be sick because I wanted to watch the game or what the deal was. But, uh, someone scored a goal in the Champions League Final. This is in the year 2000 Real Madrid was Valencia, 1-0. I can remember everything about it.

I just happened to be, you know, at home it was, I shouldn’t have been. And, uh, this guy scored a header, Fernando Morientes scored a header and went off on this crazy celebration. I mean, he ran from the goal like 70 yards back to his bench to celebrate with his team. And I had the chills the entire time. And I’ve talked about this, I’ve told this story on, on one of our podcasts, um, that we have.

And, uh, it was then that I just knew I’m supposed to do this. That was what I knew I was supposed to do. What I’m doing now and that’s pretty early. I think I was 15. Uh, yeah. And so that’s basically the moment that I knew. And then I left college early, um, which is hilariously another one of my funny stories on the podcast, because I know exactly where I was sitting.

And I know the moment where I said, I’m not going back to class. And, uh, just a few months I went pro so that’s my story.

Elle: The Eureka moment. Um, so you were 15 and how is your, uh, your goal celebration now? Do you ha… do you do something wild and crazy because of that? Or are you more subdued?

Will: Oh, no, I’m I’m, I guess I’m somewhat in between, you know, it’s… the funny thing, when you score goals, I’ve played in all sorts of different clubs on all different parts of the world. Play, uh, you play at clubs where there’s, you know, 40 to 50,000 people.

And then I’ve played at clubs where there’s not a lot of fans at all. Like I say not a lot, just a few thousand, right? Or you have big stadiums, but empty crowds and stuff like that. Uh, and so, um, your celebration, it’s a lot of adrenaline. It’s really hard to explain. Strikers, and I’m not a true striker, they’re adrenaline junkies, but scoring goals is like being an adrenaline junkie. You want that feeling over and over again, and the higher the stakes, the better, you know, the better, it feels the, if it’s the last second of the game, you start chasing that stuff. And, um, when you start to have success with it, it just is, you know, so yeah, to, to, to answer your question, my celebrations depend on the moment.

Uh, but, uh, they’re not that subdued. I tend to have fun. I might do something dancing, you know…

Elle: Nice! No back flips or anything?

Will: Funny you should mention backflips. Two years ago, I decided that I would learn how to do a back flip. And it wasn’t because it wasn’t because for a celebration, everybody then was like, you got to do that as your celebration, you know, like, that’s your new celebrate?

I’m like, no, I just wanted to do a back flip. Uh, and, um, so yeah, I just went to a gym, uh, sorry I went to the place where the gymnast, uh, like, uh, I don’t know what you would call that gymnastic setup. And they’re like all these little, little girls and, uh, you know, honestly, mainly, mainly little girls, but they have an open gym where adults come in.

And so before that, the little girls are in there and they’re doing like triple axe flip, back flip flying through the air. You have no idea how they’re doing it. They have no fear and I’m like, okay, can I do this back flip? Like, I’m just like barely trying to do it, like a little kid. So yeah. Anyway, that’s what’s up.

Elle: And did you, can you do a back flip?

Will: I can, I can I, can I learned it in an hour. It’s not that hard. It’s getting over your fear. Like everything is the, is the thing.

Elle: Okay. Yeah.

I was going to say, you learned it in an hour? I remember trying, I kind of have done a back flip in high school and it did not take me an hour and I was terrified. So I think you’re definitely right. You need to just switch off, if you can, the fear that you’re going to break your neck, because it really feels like you’re going to break your neck. As soon as someone, they come away, you know they’re holding your back. And then as soon as they’re not holding your back anymore, it’s like, ah, am I going to die?

Will: Yeah.

Elle: Yeah. Okay. So you mentioned there that, you said you’re not a true striker. I don’t know football, soccer, whatever you want to call it at all, I have to admit. So what position do you, do you play?

Will: I’m uh, I’m an attacking midfielder, uh, or what would be considered more, a second striker. So, uh, for those of, of the people who don’t really aren’t into soccer, uh Ibrahimović is, uh, if you know who that is, Zlatan Ibrahimović generally a fairly famous person or all right, we’ll go with, uh, Lionel Messi, uh, who you, hopefully have heard of.

Elle: Yes. I know Messi. I know who Messi is. Yes.

Will: Messi’s not a true striker. He’s a guy that plays a little underneath. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s really technical. He’s really good with his feet. That’s my style and position. I’m also left-footed. I like to run a little bit behind where we try to cause problems without being the main guy.

Those big number nine, uh, striker guys, they get a lot of the attention from the big defenders. I try to avoid those big tackles with those guys.

Elle: Okay. Okay. That sounds wise. Does that mean you get less chance to score then or how does that work?

Will: It means I have to be more creative. I’m more involved in the buildup of the play.

It means, it doesn’t mean that I won’t get a whole lot of chances to score. You do. Um, but it’s generally the guy who’s your, generally, we call that number nine, he’s the striker. That guy’s always at the near the goal. He’s, that’s your job, just score goals. You know, it’s my, my job to provide and you know, to score.

Elle: I see. Okay. So let’s talk a little about the languages then. So as I mentioned in your intro there. Um, maybe I didn’t. You speak, you know eight languages? And you mentioned before we started recording that you’re closing in on your ninth language. So, um, first off, what are those languages? And I’m interested to know if you kind of moved into, as you moved around the world, did you collect these languages?

Were there extras? So yeah, first off what languages do you know?

Will: Okay. So I’ll, I’ll, I’ll the easiest way for me to do this as chronologically, uh, because I always forget when I try and tell people. Um, my, my mom thought it would be a great idea for me to learn Spanish when I was very, very young. Um, so I did not watch English, um, cartoons when I would come back from school and she also got me, she placed me into a Spanish like tutor, uh, class for some few kids after school. So, uh, Spanish was pretty heavy when I was little and I didn’t even realize I could speak it, but by the time I was 13, 14, my comprehension was excellent. Um, and, uh, I took a liking to languages then came, uh, Italian and French. Both of those languages were collected without going to the countries. I had not… my Italian is great and I have four or five days in Italy. So for those people out there that think they have to go there to learn, it’s nonsense, you have more than enough resources. Now, back then I had to go to the college library and find a TV that had RAI uh, their, their news, uh, thing to listen to Italian. So, uh, that’s Spanish, French, Italian, those are, those are those then German, which I’ve been to quite a bit.

I learned alone, uh, Croatian that’s from here, Danish, because I played there, uh, in Denmark, uh, Russian, because I played in Baku, Azerbaijan, and decided to learn Russian. Um, and, uh, did I still forget one after all? Uh, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Danish, Croatian, Russian, English. And right now closing in on number nine will be Swedish because I spent most of my time during the pandemic in Sweden.

Uh, so, yeah.


Elle: Swedish. I’ve heard tha,. I kind of dabbled a bit with Swedish too, but I heard it’s generally easy to learn coming from an English background. How are you finding it?

Will: Uh, after having learned Danish, which is pretty interesting. I moved to Sweden and started when I was there. Just for fun.

I would speak Danish to people. They were not having it. They make so much fun of Danish. The pronunciation is very different. I mean, they make fun of each other a whole lot, but my vocab was, was great. And if you’re an English speaker and you’re wanting to learn a Scandinavian language, Swedish is pretty, pretty easy.

Elle: Okay, excellent. Uh, did you with the languages, did you decide, you know, in your teens or as a kid that you wanted to be someone who spoke lots of languages or did it just kind of happen as you moved around in your career?

Will: Uh, I can, I can say pretty comfortabl this was by design. Uh, but I guess you could also say not, right?

I didn’t, I didn’t forcethat moment on me, on myself when I was 15, uh, that kind of put this, put these, the wheels in motion. Uh, but when I was 16, I read, uh, The Count of Monte Cristo. Uh, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that book, uh, but it’s about a guy who more or less goes through some challenges uh, to become the hero of the story.

He has to overcome learning languages, understanding all sorts of math and physics, and being able to travel the world and doing all that stuff. And I really, it had a very large impact on my, on my youth, my youthful mind, uh, at 16. And so I thought this is what I want. I want to be able to learn 10 languages.

I said that I wanted 10 and I was 16 then. Uh, and so we are 20 years from that now, and I’m at nine. So I underestimated my ability. Um, I think I’ll, I’ll be able to go past that. I, I have the desire to, but, uh, no, it was very much by design. I, the methods for getting it done, that was chaotic, you know, uh, trying to figure out how to learn a language, uh, and what the best way is for you yourself, you know, specifically or…

that’s that, that was the challenge.

Elle: Right. And what kind of methods have you landed on then? Do you, have you honed the methods that you use and that you’re now using for Swedish?

Will: Yeah.

Um, which is… funny enough that, that’s what we’re going to be getting into in our new YouTube channel, which is Goluremi languages.

Uh, because going through that was, it was like I said, very tough. And so now, yeah, it’s a combination of a lot of things that you guys do. Uh, because comprehension is, is, is, um, incredibly useful. And one of the cool things about LingQ is finding, um, finding information, I guess you could say that’s comprehensible at a level that you are, uh, and that’s also interesting, but at your level, when you’re a beginner in a language is so important and so hard, because it’s really hard.

Okay. If you’re going to learn English, there’s a lot of resources, admittedly Spanish. Yes.

But for many of the other, other languages you need to find something that you can read that’s comprehensible that you can listen to, that you can understand immediately, you know, the natural approach and learning things from, uh, I believe his name is Stephen Krashen, uh, is, is who came up with, with that understanding that that is important.

And TPRS, uh, for the people that, you know, teaching proficiency through storytelling, right? Uh, through reading and storytelling.

Elle: Yep.

Will: Those were huge boosts. Uh, I definitely, when I started German, I made the mistake of going the grammar route at first thinking, they said the grammar is tough in German and you got to understand it.

And I said, okay, I’ll understand it. Let me go and try and dive in… disaster for the first, you know, couple of weeks. You almost want to, you want to give up, throw the books out the window. So. It’s very simple. Yeah.

Now I start off with very, very basic, I find the most basic of basic things to listen, to, uh, and speak.

And I enjoy writing, uh, as well. So when I write all my notes are hardly in English. Um, so yeah, I break down and I will break down a whole lot more of my, my method over there on Goluremi Languages.

Elle: Yeah, let’s talk about the channel. So you have two channels. So the Will John channel is all about soccer skills. So you teach soccer skills and now this new channel Goluremi is going to be focused on language learning?

Will: Yeah.


So what, uh, everybody who’s checking us out can see what we do is kind of a fun level up thing that a lot of polyglots are doing as well. So I will just go into the street and just start randomly talking to people and it’s a whole lot of fun. So the first video out, you can just see me in the Mall of Scandinavia, actually in Sweden, just finding random people to talk to in different languages and all the craziness that that happens with with that and surprising foreigners, uh, you know, with that it’s, which is fun over here in this part of the world is there’s not a whole lot of black people that speak Russian or, uh, Croatian in these Eastern European languages.

So it’s always funny for them. But, um, yeah, we have more than that channel. So, I mean, the company has, we have a podcast channel as well, which is called the 11th Commandment and, uh, we have all sorts of guests on and that’s where Steve, uh, actually was, was on as well. So, so yeah, we’re, we’re busy.

Elle: So what can people who will go and subscribe to your language learning channel and the podcast, what can they expect for the next little while? What type, what kind of content?

Will: Okay. So yeah, we are going to do a whole lot more of obviously the level ups and doing a whole lot of surprise, but the idea will be to, and you’ll see this in the channel intro, which is, uh, the, the video that’s up there, there right now.

Um, the idea will be to give people a simple avenue into learning how the best polyglots have, what they, you know, what they’re doing because that’s one of the things that I fight and combat against in, on our soccer channel is that, of course, now that anybody can just make a video, you probably want to make sure you’re getting, at least from some people who can show. You wouldn’t go to, don’t come to me to learn Chinese because I don’t speak Chinese. You really don’t want to listen to me about that. I won’t teach Chinese. I promise you, uh, and, uh, so in that it’s, it’s our hope that we can have people like Steve on, um, and that we will do a lot of these and I’ll actually want to display, um, a lot.

So we will have subtitles for everything of course, but I will, it’s always fun to see conversations, uh, in tons of different languages, always with English subtitles, and hopefully as we grow our community, um, we’ll have plenty of other, other subtitles for people, but, uh, we’ll have top five videos on best way to learn Spanish, the best way to learn X Y and Z language. And we’ll do some of those interviews just in, in those languages. And we’ll bring on different people like that in order to do that. And on the podcast channel, we, we bring on some of those interesting people. I just got off now with a guy who was a former mercenary because of what’s going on in Afghanistan.

We thought it would be cool to have somebody on to speak about what’s going on in the world and stuff like that. We’ve had, you know, all, all sorts of people from, you know, obviously we have footballers on somebody like Steve, a former Canadian diplomat is also cool, cool to have on, uh, yeah. They come from all walks of life.

The idea is just to learn from people who are doing really, really cool things and, uh, talk to them about their stories and just hear interesting things.

Elle: Fantastic. Well, it sounds amazing, super interesting. And I especially love the, the whole, you know, approaching people and speaking to them in their, in their language, those types of videos.

Will: Always fun

Elle: Yeah. A lot of fun. Yeah.

Listen Will, thank you so, so much for joining me today. It was a great chat and, um, yeah, I’ll pop the links to your two channels and to the podcast that you mentioned, uh, today in the description. So everyone go check them out for sure. Uh, yeah. Thank you so much for joining us and have a great rest of your evening in Croatia, in Zagreb.

Will: I will. Thanks a lot. I will throw one more thing out there. All of the clips for languages are also on Tik ToK, so that’s just Goluremi, yes. They’re all, the Goluremi Languages and all that stuff. It’s all on Tik TOK as well if you’re just, if you’re a bite-size social media type person who can only pay attention for 30 seconds, Tik Tok’s your friend.

Elle: Yeah. All you Tik Tok teens out there. I feel like I’m too old for the whole Tik Tok thing. I don’t, I can’t. Okay. Cheers Will, thank you so much. Bye.

Will: See ya.

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #30: Learning Japanese, Taking the JLPT & Rubik’s Cube with Deni Mintsaev

Want to study this episode as a lesson on LingQ? Give it a try!

Deni Mintsaev creates videos about learning Japanese, his travels in Japan and… Rubik’s cube! Elle chats with Deni in this episode of the LingQ Podcast about his methods, the content he’s enjoying and taking the infamously difficult JLPT.

Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me, Elle. English learners, don’t forget you can study this episode and all past episodes as a lesson on LingQ, the lesson link is in the description always. If you’re studying any language, in fact, you can use LingQ to study from content you’re interested in: podcast episodes, blog posts, TV shows, news, whatever. Make a lesson with it on LingQ and study from content of interest. And don’t forget to give us a share, a follow, a like or a review on whatever podcast platform you are listening on. We really appreciate it. This week I am joined by a guest all the way from Russia. He is a YouTuber. He creates videos about learning Japanese currently it’s his language. And also something language learning well, unrelated to language learning, which we will get to so stay tuned. This week I am joined by Deni Mintsaev. Deni. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Deni: Hello. Thank you for having me.

And so, uh, joining us from, uh, Russia, as I mentioned, uh, how are things in Russia these days and whereabouts in Russia are you joining us from?

I am currently in Moscow. I’m just here for the summer break. I am studying abroad in the United Kingdom. Uh, but, uh, I, right now I’m back in Moscow. I just finished my exchange year in Japan. Uh, and yeah, it’s not too bad here. Uh, so yeah.

Elle: So… good. Excellent. And did you grow up in Moscow?

Deni: Yes. Yes. Uh, so I lived here for pretty much all my life. Uh, I mostly just stayed abroad for study. Uh, I’m now going into my fourth year, um, which will be now, uh, back in the UK. Elle: Oh, in the UK. Excellent. And so you just left, uh, Japan, right? You were just, you were just a few months in Japan.

Deni: My third year was an exchange year, uh, which I spent in Japan, uh, well, to be precise, it was a little over eight months.

Um, and, uh, yeah, now I’m going into my fourth year, which will be back in the UK. Elle: Excellent. And so, as I mentioned, uh, at the beginning in your intro, you are studying Japanese, you’re really hardcore studying Japanese, um, and creating lots of videos about your journey and help, helpful the videos for other people studying Japanese. So, firstly, what got you into Japanese and why did you decide to study Japanese?

Deni: Well originally, uh, I got some kind of idea to maybe try and learn it through just watching stuff in Japanese, which was at the time mostly just anime. Uh, and I thought it would be interesting to watch it in the original, uh, version, uh, without any subtitles, uh, just like I do anything in English or anything in my native language.

Uh, so that’s where I got the initial idea. And then once I actually started learning Japanese and talking to some Japanese people online, I grew more and more attached and more and more, became more and more interested in the culture and the kind of everything surrounding Japan. And it kind of just spiraled out of there.

Elle: I see. It is fascinating culture. Right. So how many years has it been now that you’ve been studying the language? Deni: It’s now been five and a half years, a bit more than five and a half years even. Um, and yeah, it’s been quite the journey. Uh, most of the time I spent, uh, doing self study. Uh, it is my major in university, but that’s mostly just because I needed to pick some degree. And that was what I decided to go with, but I’ve still continued to mostly study, um, in my own time with my own uh, method. Um, so yeah.

Elle: Excellent. And so tell us about, you say your own, your own method. What, uh, what is your method, how you going about studying Japanese, the self study part?

Deni: Well, uh, I’m kind of now in the stage where you just need to watch a lot in Japanese. Listen, read, just consume as much as possible. Uh, and I can, I’m pretty much good to go with that. The only exception is the writing, obviously Kanji, you can’t learn passively. You have to sit down and actively study the different characters. And, uh, right now I’m sitting at a bit over 1700. I’ve not really done much a study recently. Uh, but yeah, overall, uh, I’m able to converse with relative ease. Uh, um, I can talk about, uh, all sorts of topics and I don’t really have much difficulty with that. Um, well listening is a bit more tricky, uh, as well as reading because there, uh, you never know what kind of stuff you can encounter. And it very, very much depends on the material, uh, you’re consuming. Uh, I would still say that stuff like anime or TV shows are not very easy for me. Uh, but I can watch YouTube videos and understand them quite well. I would say.

Elle: Excellent. Wow. That’s a great stage to be at where you’re kind of able to enjoy the language, enjoy content in the language. What, uh, what kinds of content are you watching right now for anyone listening who is maybe at a similar level in Japanese? Um, can you suggest any YouTube channels or you said anime, shows, movies.

Deni: Yeah, well, uh, lately I’ve been watching a little bit more anime again. Uh, I’m watching Attack on Titan right now. Uh, and I’ve also, uh, spent a lot of time watching YouTube. I quite like watching, uh, like video game let’s play videos. And, uh, there are certain games that are popular in Japan.

So I like to watch some of those channels. Uh, there’s a very, uh, interesting channel. For me, I, I really, I find it very enjoyable, uh, on YouTube called Nichijō-gumi and, um, yeah, it’s like a, uh, a group of friends, uh, who all play, uh, like video games. And I don’t know, they have, they have a very good like energy and a good chemistry with each other. So it’s quite fun to watch. Uh, well, yeah, that’s mostly it. And then as for reading, uh, I’m trying to read. But more like the light novel type of thing. Um, because I’ve mostly read manga, which I still do. Um, but now I’m, I’m still going through my first, a proper book in Japanese. And, uh, it’s taking a while, but I’ve not been very, very intensively reading it. Uh, but it’s not too bad if, uh, um, if I can use a dictionary, it’s not really too bad. Elle: Ok. And what’s the book? Deni: Oh, uh, it’s um, A Windup Bird Chronicle, uh, by Haruki Murakami. Elle: Yeah, I’ve read that in English. I wish I could read that in Japanese, but yeah, I read that. I, I really, I really liked that book. He’s such a great author. Deni: I’ve read the most books, uh, from Murakami, uh, out of the different books I’ve read. Um, but only in English and Russian, never in Japanese.

Elle: Great. Right. Well, good luck with it. At least you have, Murakami has, is still writing too. And he has, uh, he has lots of books so, you can get through all of those in Japanese maybe, that’s a challenge. Um, so Deni you, uh, studying or have studied in the past for the JLPT.

Deni: Yeah.

Elle: Tell us, tell us what is the JLPT and, um, how have your experiences been with taking it?

Deni: Well, I have taken it a good number of times at this point. I think I’ve taken the N3 once, I failed that one, uh, I’ve taken the N2 three times and finally passed it on the third attempt. And I just recently took the N!. Uh, but I don’t have the results yet. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was very difficult though.

I there’s pretty much no chance that I passed it but I just kind of did it for fun to try and see what it’s like. Uh, yeah.

Elle: I think that’s wise. Yeah.

Just to get an idea, you know, go in with no expectation of actually passing maybe. And like you say, you think you maybe didn’t, um, but getting an idea of what it’s all about, and then you try again. I’ve heard it’s, for anyone listening who doesn’t know first off what the JLPT is, it’s the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. And it, I believe there are five levels, right? N5, N4, N3, N2 and N1, N1 being the final one, the most difficult. And I’ve heard that it’s extremely difficult. So, um, yeah. And you can, there you go you can confirm, so, wow. Okay. So you’ve tried the N1. And when will you get your results? Do you know?

Deni: I should get them sometime this month. Um, but I checked a few days ago and, uh, I didn’t have my results yet. Um, I did do a little better than I expected though.

Cause I went in completely expecting that I would just really, you know, just the worst possible result. But the first, the first section was exactly as I expected. Uh, however, the, the reading and listening was not quite as bad. It was still pretty difficult, but I at least did better than I expected. Uh, so at least there’s that. Elle: Well, you never know, you never know, fingers crossed. So I’m assuming then there’s a listening, a writing, a reading and a speaking aspect? Deni: So there are three sections, um, for the first two are done together. Uh, you’ll have to just kind of manage your time and it’s up to you, uh, to spend as much time as you want on each of the sections. I think the first one is, uh, vocabulary and grammar. And the second one is where you have a text and you read it and then you answer a question. Um, and then the listening is done separately, uh, where they play a CD for you, for the big like room of, um, students. And you just answer questions. Uh, some of the questions you don’t even see the answers written down, they also say out loud the different ones. Um, pretty much the whole test is multiple choice, by the way, I should have mentioned that there. Yeah.

So it’s, uh, not the best test to actually show one’s ability. Uh, but I guess it, it does show it in some way, but it shows, uh, from what I can tell from what I’ve heard, it shows a lot more how well someone prepared for the exam, uh, versus how well you speak perhaps. Elle: Hmm, that seems like most tests for language learning, right? How well are you, how, how well can you prepare for a test? How well can you understand a test as opposed to yeah actually conversing in a language or knowing the language?

Deni: Well, there is one that I can think of that I thought was pretty well done, uh, which was pretty well made, which was the IELTS exam for English.

Um, and that one had, it’s a very different format. There are some things that are multiple choice, a lot of them, um, like there’s a big section where it’s writing and you just write like an essay or something like that. Yeah.

And, uh, there is also a section where you speak to an actual person. Uh, so it’s, uh, it’s a fair bit better. I would say.

Uh, I’ve taken now one without doing any preparation and got um, 8.0, out of nine. Uh, so it has a weird grading system. Um, and, uh, yeah, nine is the max. Uh, but you know, like they say for a lot of, uh, tests, uh, even a native speaker is not going to get the nine out of nine without, you know, putting in hours and hours, uh, preparing for the test.

Uh, but I got 8.0 overall, um, without doing pretty much any prep.

Elle: Fantastic. Okay. That, that, that makes way more sense, actually speaking to someone face to face and so they can assess your language ability that way. So. Okay. So Deni, tell us about your time in Japan. Like I mentioned, you just left a little while back.

Deni: Yeah, just a month ago.

Elle: Okay. Uh, so. Did you experience any culture shock? Oh, was this the, was this your first time in Japan? First off?

Deni: It was actually my second time. Uh, first time I went there in 2017, uh, for one week. uh, for one week.

Elle: Okay. So this is your first time staying for an extended period.

Deni: Yeah, it’s actually, that was my longest consecutive time spent in another country because, uh, due to the pandemic, I couldn’t even come back for like a break for a holiday. Uh, so I had to stay there until the end of my year.

Elle: Ah, okay. So you hadn’t intended on staying for the full, like the time you had wanted to come back, but then COVID. Deni: Yeah.

When I was studying in the UK, I would always come back for the holidays, uh, to see my family. Um, but I, that was, that was not an option in Japan.

If I came back, then I would have not gone back again. So to continue my second semester.

Elle: Right. And now of course, this question is, maybe you would have answered differently if it weren’t a pandemic, but, uh, what would some of the things that surprised you about Japan? And did you experience any culture shock while you were there?

Deni: I wouldn’t really say so. Uh, I think I’ve already experienced culture shock remotely from because, um, even like throughout my years, learning Japanese before I went there, um, I had a lot of experience communicating with Japanese people and I’d already kind of had, uh, some, a couple of moments of culture shock. Uh, so that was not really as big of an issue.

I did have, um, the situation which I’ve had in the past. Where sometimes when somebody doesn’t really want to talk to you, they can’t really say, or even give you a hint. They’ll just ghost you. Uh, obviously that’s not everybody. Uh, but some people like that in Japan, unfortunately, because it’s a very closed down country. Uh, people, even among Japanese people themselves, they seem to be quite closed down. Quite an unfortunate situation. So I made a friend there, uh, during my stay, but one day they just stopped replying for some reason, uh, that’ll just remain a mystery. I’ve had that experience in the past. So I wasn’t much of a culture shock, but it was still kind of a bummer overall. Um, it was obviously not as, as good of an experience as I was hoping for before the pandemic started. Uh, but I did at least managed to, um, sneak in a few, uh, trips here and there. Uh, when we had like the, you know, the, a better periods, uh, in terms of the cases COVID cases, um, there were, I had a trip to Oita, uh, on the Kyushu island.

Uh, I had a trip to Okinawa. Uh, I had, uh, like a smaller trip, uh, to neighboring, uh, Kanagawa, whoa, sorry, Kanagawa was where I was living. Um, in Shizuoka Prefecture. Uh, I actually went on a few hikes and one of them was in Shizuoka Prefecture where, uh, me and my friends, uh, from the UK were studying, uh, on the same course as me, uh, we climbed the, Mount Aichi

I think it was called. Okay. Oh, uh, oh actually, that’s not what it was called Ashitaka I think it was the name of the mountain. Um, and from Mount Ashitaka you get the perfect view of Mount Fuji. Uh, and that was a very nice experience. Um, it was 1,504 meters above sea level at the peak. Uh, that’s high that’s high up. Elle: Did you get the whole. Kind of altitude, not altitude sickness, but the, you know, deep breathing.

Deni: Um, but me and my friend went to another hike where I did feel it. Uh, we, and we started a much lower there. Uh, it was, um, oh shoot I don’t think I’ll be able to remember that one. Uh, but there was another mountain, uh, on the, in the west of Tokyo prefecture where it’s very rural. Um, yeah. That mountain was 1,736 meters at the peak. And we started at 340 meters above seal. So that was a big difference, like altitude change, uh, and, um, at about a kilometer altitude change. So that was a 400 meters above sea level where me and my friend really started feeling it. Um, and at one point we even went through a cloud, uh, which was quite the experience.

Elle: I bet. Yeah.

I remember when I was in Japan, I, I climbed Mount Fuji with some friends and they had these, uh, we had these oxygen tank, not tanks, but like a little aerosol mini oxygen inhalers. And I thought, wow, we’re not gonna not going to need those. My friend actually really did need it. Um, he was feeling really dizzy and this was a very fit person too, way fitter than me.

I think it just depends on your physiology or something, but, um, yeah, a lot of these people were just like sucking on these oxygen inhalers as they kind of trudged up in a, in a line up Mount Fuji, but that was an experience for sure. Um, so Deni, tell us about your channel, for everyone who’s going to rush into subscribe after listening. Your channel is, uh, named Deni Mintsaev and you, as I mentioned… it’s your name, you, uh, create content about your, um, language learning journey with Japanese. What can people expect moving forward for your channel when they subscribe?

Deni: Uh, I’ve actually never really thought about specifically making videos about Japanese. I just really make videos about whatever I’m interested in and if it’s Japanese at the time, then that’s what I’ll make a video about. Uh, I actually still, uh, want to make a video. Uh, where I made a video before I left, uh, where I spoke Japanese. And the idea was this was actually from a comment that somebody left, uh, suggesting this, that I record myself speaking Japanese before leaving, and then once I return, uh, I still need to the return video.

Uh, so that’ll be interesting. And, uh, I recently, um, Made a, a video, which I had a lot of fun making uh, about my adventures in Japan, uh, I would definitely recommend people to check out that one. Uh, I detail my different trips that I went on and show all sorts of photos. And, uh, yeah, I had a lot of fun making that one, so I hope you guys will see it and enjoy it.

Elle: Excellent. Give people that, that travel bug, which I know a lot of us have, who haven’t been able to travel for sure. So, obviously you’re all about the Japanese right now. Do you think you’ll move on to another language sometime soon? Or are you sticking with the Japanese for the foreseeable future?

Deni: Uh, I’m actually taking a little bit of a break. Uh, I I’ve done this many times in the past. Um, uh, so I’ll probably get back to Japanese very soon. I don’t think I’ll be switching to another language quite yet. But yeah, I’ll be getting back on the Japanese train and the thing I’m the most interested in right now is the writing. I just want to learn more and more Kanji so I can read more, uh, because I’ve kind of been enjoying reading more than, um, watching stuff lately. So, uh, when it comes to Japanese. So I think I’ll, uh, focus more on that. Um, as soon as I, you know, get the, get the kick to, uh, to learn from it. Uh, but yeah, I, I have a few different hobbies that I, uh, work on from time to time. Uh, so I might make videos about other things too.

Elle: Okay. Well, one of those hobbies is something you also create videos on, on this channel, and I want to ask you about it.

So your channel is about language learning, but also about Rubik’s cube which I find fascinating, this whole thing. I’ve never been able to complete one. So maybe that’s why, I haven’t really tried not mathematically minded at all. But, um, I wanted to ask you, do you think that, uh, your interest in kind of the strategy and the way your mind works around Rubik’s cube has helped you in any way learn languages? Deni: I, I would say that maybe it’s the opposite, that it’s the same kind of interest. Uh, just like subconscious interests that I have that has made me interested in both of those, uh, Rubik’s cubes aren’t really as much about maths as there are just about I guess, logic. Um, and there is also a lot of logic when it comes to languages.

Um, and yeah, because you know, there is a grammar rule. Uh, there are, uh, also in Japanese, you have the Kanji, uh, which there’s also some logic in how you write them, uh, and how you read them. Uh, there are all sorts of things that are about languages that are, um, kind of that make you think. Uh, and yeah, I, that’s something that kind of interests me a lot. Um, in the same way I find programming interesting. Kind of makes you think and yeah, just different things like that.

Elle: Great. There’s a great movie on Netflix. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it at, uh, and I don’t remember the name right now, of course, but it’s about the championships. It follows a bunch of the people who are training to be… I think there’s a championship in the states. Um, I’ll find the, the title. Deni: Are you talking about the Rubik’s cube championship? Oh, oh yeah, the Speed Cubers yeah.

Elle: Okay. I thought that was such a great film. It was, it wasn’t just, you know, it was so well done in that it wasn’t just about Rubik’s cube. It obviously followed these people and you got to know them and everything that they get out of being part of the Rubik’s cube community is just very, very sweet. Deni: Yeah.

I actually met a lot of those people and, uh, I thought, cause that was, um, most of the filming was in the, in Australia, at the world championship in 2019. And I went to that one and I played a lot.

Elle: Oh, no way! So you were there when they filmed that exact…

Deni: Yeah, was watching the, the filming crew, um, and, uh, I have a video that I made myself as well.

Elle: Oh, nice. Is that on your channel?

Deni: Yes. Uh, I think it’s just called like world championship in Australia or something like that. Uh, I uploaded it at the end of 2019.

Elle: Fantastic. And do you, are you in the movie? I know they show the audience a bit. Did you ever see yourself?

Deni: No.

Elle: You didn’t make the cut. Okay. Excellent. Well, listen, Deni, thank you so much. That was a really interesting chat. Uh, I will pop the link to your channel and the content you mentioned. And that movie that we just talked about too, in the description, uh, best of luck with taking the, the JLPT N1, uh, maybe you passed this this first time you took it, who knows, but if not best of luck.

Deni: I hope that I at least got like a 70 or something like that, although that’s out of 180, not out of a hundred, so it’s a low bar, but it’s a very, very difficult. Elle: Yes. Like I said, I’ve heard, I’ve heard, I know one person who living in Japan, who, who passed it quite recently and he was just over the moon, the amount of work that went in to him actually finally getting it. So, um, but yeah, best of luck. And, uh, yeah thank you so much for joining us Deni and, uh, yeah have a great rest of your week.

Deni: Thank you for having me too.

Elle: Bye-bye.

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #29: Polyglot Olly Richards Chats about his Story Learning Method, YouTube channel and a Near-Death Experience!

Want to study this episode as a lesson on LingQ? Give it a try!

Olly Richards discovered the power of learning a language through stories the hard way… a near-death experience! In this episode Elle chats with Olly about his language learning journey, how he developed his story learning method and the awesome and creative videos he is creating for his YouTube channel.

Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me Elle. Remember, if you are studying English, you can study this podcast episode as a lesson on LingQ, the audio and the transcript. I’ve created it for you and the lesson link is in the description. In fact, on LingQ you can find a full course, so every episode of this podcast is there for you to study as an English lesson.

LingQ is a game changer tool for language learning. You can create a lesson from any content you find online. Perhaps you want to start reading your news in Spanish in the morning, or watching movies in Japanese, you can make a lesson with it on LingQ and start enjoying content in your target language. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please feel free to give us a review on Apple, follow us on Spotify or SoundCloud, subscribe on Google Podcasts. Whatever showing love is on the platform that you’re listing on. It is greatly appreciated. This week’s guest joins me from across the pond in the UK. He is a teacher, language learner, YouTuber and author. Today I am joined by Olly Richards.

Olly, thank you for joining us.

Olly: The pleasure’s all mine. Thanks so much.

Elle: Excellent. And so how are things in the UK right now?

Olly: From what perspective?

Elle: Uh, yours and I guess, you know, why not talk about COVID? Why not? If you want to.

Olly: Well, I mean, I’ll give you the quick version. COVID’s, uh, actually on the way out. I think we’re, most people here are mostly vaccinated for the most part.

Um, I think we did slightly better than, um, than, uh, than other places. Things are Opening up. So like, yeah, it’s the end in sight here after a  pretty abysmal year or so. And then personally, things are great. I’m doing what I do. I’m writing books, I’m making courses, making loads of YouTube videos.

YouTube is kind of my pet project at the moment. So, uh, so yeah, I’m enjoying, enjoying life.

Elle: Excellent. Yeah, and I have to say, I did notice that you’ve been making a lot of YouTube videos lately, it’s great, on your channel: Olly Richards, which I will add a link to of course. So Olly, as I mentioned, you are a language learner and you know, is it eight languages I think I saw online, or has that changed?

Olly: Yeah, I tend to, I tend to say 8. It’s my least favorite question because as time goes on, you know, you forget some languages and other ones go up, but yeah, I I’ve definitely, I’ve definitely learned, uh, 8 languages to a good level. Those would be, uh, after English obviously French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Cantonese, Arabic, and then smatterings of a few others like German and Thai.

But, um, yeah, it’s all kind of, it’s a massive sort of smorgasbord of stuff. Um, all kind of in flux at any one time.

Elle: Right.

Excellent. And, uh, now I have to ask you, uh, I love asking… you are a polyglot, you speak all these languages, so I love asking polyglots who come on, what sparked their passion, what motivated them to start this language learning journey.

And I’ve had all kinds of interesting answers, but I’ve never had near death experience. So tell us about that.

Olly: Yeah.

So the near-death experience, well I’m going to get to that, cause that, that was actually how, that’s what sparked my interest in stories and teaching through stories. It wasn’t how I got interested in languages in the first place.

Like, so I grew up, I grew up like your classic monolingual, English guy and no contact with languages at all. I mean, I did French classes at school, but that’s about it. Um, but when I was 19 years old, I, I was living in London and I got a job in a cafe where I was just, uh, I came across, uh, people, everyone working in that cafe – and it was, it was Caffe Nero in Seven Dials for anyone who  knows London,it’s  still there to this day, I sometimes pop in. Uh, everyone who was working there with me was from it was from different countries. So there were Italians and Swedes and I kind of got talking to these people and I was just like blown away by how interesting their, their backgrounds were.

I was kinda thinking of what do you, what are you doing in the, in London? And then I realized that these people were all, not only speaking their own languages, but they were speaking English and, uh, and often each other’s languages too. So I just found it all very, very interesting, and that kind of just sparked this interest in learning languages.

So I started learning French. And then, uh, shortly after that, my girlfriend decided to break up with me, sent me into a tailspin. I ran away to Paris. So I lived in Paris for six months and kind of learned French there. And then it was just, you know, flood gates were open after that. Um, but the, the near death experience you referred to was a few years later, I was trying to learn Spanish and not doing very well.

And, uh, I was traveling through Argentina when I was in this tiny village, up in the mountains, on the border of Argentina and Bolivia, um, called Iruya. And, um, and it was very, very high up high altitude. And I woke up in the middle of the night, one night, uh, in this hostel and I couldn’t breathe. And I thought, well, maybe, maybe it’s just something to do with the Malbec I’d been drinking that night. So I… but it didn’t get any better. And I still couldn’t, I still couldn’t breathe. So I ran outside of the balcony, like starting to panic thinking, what am I going to do? And it got worse and worse and I literally could not get any oxygen.

And so I was kind of, sort of sitting there on the end of this balcony heaving thinking, this is, you know, this is the end. And then luckily of course the breath did eventually come back after a few minutes. Um, but I was too scared to go back to bed at that point. So all I could do is sort of sit down.

So I’m just sotr of sitting down on this balcony, looking out over the, this, this kind of this huge valley. And, uh, all I had with me was this Spanish book that I bought from some secondhand shop or something a few weeks earlier. And of course never touched, but I was too scared to go back to bed. We didn’t have iPhones back in the day.

So I just picked up this book and started reading and it was kind of, it was really hard work cause my Spanish wasn’t very good, but I kind of kept, plowed through as I must have sat up for two or three hours reading this book. And, um, didn’t think I’d understood all that much, but was was just about following the plot, which is something key that we might come back to later.

Anyway, the next day I woke up happy to be alive. And I was walking down the street in this, in this village, um, and I found all these words popping into my head. I was like, it was these random Spanish words, like… which means the Bishop. Um, and then I thought, well, that’s weird. Cause normally I, you know, I don’t remember learning these words.

And then, you know, normally I have to try really hard to remember words, but these words are somehow stuck. And then I realized it was because I’d sat up for hours last night, reading this book, and I’d certain words had been, had come up in the story over and over again. Um, and so it, that kind of was one of those kinds of Eureka moments.

And then, so I kept on reading the book and then eventually went back to see my friends in Buenos Aires where I’d been staying before. And all of a sudden I realized I was so much better at speaking. I could speak in more complete sentences cause I had all this vocabulary. Now I can understand a lot more of what people were saying.

So it just sparked this big interest in, in stories. And so from there on, I kind of went… this was many years later, but like, I started to try to develop a way of teaching languages using stories, because it was so powerful for me. And, uh, and loads of people like stories after all. So that was, yeah. That’s how, how that happened.

Elle: Wow. My goodness. So did you ever, um, Not to focus on it, just for a second to come back to what happened to you. Did you ever find out what that was?

Olly: I think it was, I think it was just, I think it was just altitude, you know, that’s, that’s what happens when, when you’re, when you’re so high up. I mean, it was right up on top of a mountain in the Andes.

Uh, so I guess that’s what it was. I mean, maybe I was drugged or something. If I was, then they didn’t do a very good job of stealing my stuff.

Elle: No, the plot  thickens though  near-death experience or attempted murder? Um, so previous to that, what kind of methods uh… so that’s when, as you said, there’s the kind of focus on stories began. Previously what kind of methods had you used to study languages?

Olly: What I used was all I knew, which was what I’d done at school. So when I was at school, uh, you know, it was a very traditional learning. It was, um, you know, repeat after me, grammar, conjugation tables, uh, memorizing lists of words. That’s all I knew as far as I was concerned, that was, you know, that’s how they taught us at school.

It must be the best way to learn, right? So, so, um, that’s all I did every time I, I had started a new language. Uh, I would just kind of go down to the European book shop in Soho, um, w where it was at the time in London. And, uh, I would, I just, I just thought, I’d see whatever, whatever textbook I liked the look of and buy it and just work through it and then, you know, make my own paper flashcards and things like that.

Uh, you know, it’s, um, it’s, it’s a very, very traditional way of doing things. And, you know, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve sort of learned since that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing it that way. In fact, lots of people do have quite a lot of success, but it’s what comes afterwards that, that matters. You know, I actually think more and more that the method itself is just a way to get started.

The journey from kind of competence to actual fluency is it’s down to something a lot more kind of fundamental, I think. But yeah.

Elle: So was Spanish the first language then that you would say you became, as you say, very competent competent or fluent in?

Olly: No, I’d say it was probably, it was probably French. Um, but I was living in Paris, so it was kind of, it was, I had that advantage.

What changed was that when I, when I left France and I went back to the UK, I kept learning languages. Right.

But I had to figure out how to keep learning languages while not being immersed in the country, which after all is most people’s situation. Right?

Elle: Yeah.

Olly: So really for most language learners, um, you know, it’s not that living in the, in the country is necessarily a panacea because there are plenty of people who go to live abroad and don’t learn the language to any good degree. Uh, but for the, for the ambitious, dedicated learner, living abroad is a huge advantage because you just have access to the language all the time. But for most people, you know, the challenges, how do I learn a language as a busy adult living at home, you know, by myself? Well, maybe with the help of a teacher a little bit, but that that’s the challenge that most people face and that’s, that’s who I also try to, to help with the stuff that, that, that I do.

I’m very focused on the practical side of life.

Elle: So you run the website, I will teach you a language.

Olly: That’s right, soon to become soon as it becomes storylearning.com. Depending on when people are watching this, we’re actually, we’re actually… cause because the method that I now teach using stories, I call story learning, um, and so we’re actually changing the name of everything over to story learning.com. Uh, but that, that may or may not have happened by the time this goes live. So, but anyone watching this well into the future. Will uh, will yeah. Story learning.com sould be where it’s at.

Elle: Storylearning.com. Okay.

Excellent. Yeah.

So we’ll talk about the story learning method in a moment. I just want to mention your short stories series, because two of the past guests I’ve had on this podcast have mentioned them. So I always ask, uh, you know, what would you recommend, uh content-wise and I’ve had two people now say Olly Richards’ short stories, readers, which are available online have, were really helpful for me.

So I believe, for cantonese and for Spanish. Yes. Cause that’s right. They’re offered in Spanish and Cantonese, right?

Olly: No, not, not, not exactly. Not exactly. Not Cantonese, but we do have Spanish and we have, we have about 20 languages at this point of which Spanish is one. Yeah.

Elle: Wow. Okay.

Excellent. I’ll uh, I’ll put the link in the description for those, but so they came before you developed this kind of story learning method, or I guess they were…

Olly: Yeah, and so the way, so the way, the way it happened was that I, um, so I’ve been searching for these ways because I found myself learning through stories. Right.

And, um, the way that I was learning was up, I was just getting, getting books and reading those books and.

And that’s fine once you get to a certain level, but it’s not much comfort for people who are kind of just getting started or who are kind of at a lower level because reading novels is pretty tough and you’ve either got to be already be at a good level, or you’ve got to be extraordinarily persistent, um, uh, in order to kind of make your way through and all.

So what, so my first where I went first was to think, okay, well, I want to write stories that you can, that can be useful for them. Um, and you know, graded readers are hardly a new concept, but, but graded readers have always been traditionally extremely dull and boring and, you know, there are often kind of, you know, it would be a translation of like Sherlock Holmes or Jane Austen or whatever, which is fine, but it’s not my cup of tea.

So I wanted something more, more fresh and modern and fun. Right.

So, so I started writing short stories, um, in originally in Spanish and then after that in many other languages. Uh, and, and, and I kind of really went down this rabbit hole of figuring out here what exactly do learners want in, um, in the books like this? Uh, because I think a lot, it’s probably, it’s probably to look at these books and think, oh, well, he just wrote a few stories, but actually I did a huge amount of research into everything from like how long should the average sentence be?

Uh, what genres of stories should we have? Um, what’s the ideal chapter length? I mean, I I’ve, I went deep on this stuff. Um, yeah. Uh, and so that’s why I think these books have become so popular because it is exactly what people need when they are at a, kind of A2, upper beginner level to start reading. So they came first and then, but that’s still not a method for beginners.

So I started to think like, well, I’ve got these, I’ve written these books and they’re, they’re super popular. I want to do something that, I want to create something so that complete beginners in a language can learn using stories too. So it took me a couple of years to figure it out, but then eventually I, I, I kind of created my story learning method, which is, which is specific specifically for beginners.

So if you want to learn Japanese or Spanish or French or whatever, um, I would start to create these courses whereby um, so that you’d have these courses that were based entirely on stories, but you add onto that tuition and, um, and activities and things like that, that they get you, um, actually kind of processing the language and learning. Um, and so that, yeah, that came after, because it wasn’t obvious to me how to do it. Well, I could have, I could have thrown something, I could have thrown something together at any point, but I really wanted to do it well. Um, I’ve got a long, a long background in teaching. Um, so I kind of, I was quite, you know, insistent on, um, on doing that the right way.

Elle: Excellent. And what’s what did you used to teach before?

Olly: Well, when I was a lot younger, I taught music for a few years. Um, I used to teach piano and guitar cause I have a background in music. Um, I have a degree in, I have a degree in jazz piano, which not many people know.

Elle: That’s very cool.

Olly: And I used to, I used to play professionally. That’s like what I did for the longest time. Um, and then I came to a kind of crossroads in my life and I decided to go and teach English so I moved to Japan, taught English in Japan for a few years. And then did my, you know, certificates, diplomas. I did a master’s degree in applied linguistics, you know, I’ve really kind of… whatever, when I, when I do new things, I tend to kind of go, go at it quite hard.

So I went down the full on teaching routes. I almost went and did a PhD and all that, but I didn’t do that in the end. Um, but yeah, so I’ve got quite extensive experience as a, uh, as a TEFL teacher and teacher trainer and kind of academic ish.

Elle: Wow. And do you, are you by any chance left handed?

Olly: Yeah

Elle: No way. Okay.

So the last podcast episode with, I don’t know if you know Nate of Nate’s adventures, YouTube channel, he mentioned your, uh, your readers. Uh, he said that apparently people who have musical talent or are able to play, uh, instruments multiple or just one, and are left-handed are apparently more likely to, uh, be good language learners, whatever that means.

Or be maybe interested in language learning, but there you go. So you point his point. I’m going to ask every guest moving forward.

Olly: Yeah, I mean, yeah, it’s, it’s, I, I’m not aware of any kind of research that shows that. I mean, the difficulty is that, I mean I’ve got, it’s often people ask me like Ddoes a musical background give you, help you have a better accent? Or does it help you or does it help you with languages? And my, my feeling on that is yes, it has helped me in certain ways. It does with my accent in other languages, I think tends to be, tends to be quite good, better than, I mean, there’s plenty of things in my languages that are not good, but accent is, accent, I I’m, I’m better. Yeah.

And also the thing of, um, I actually get the discipline of training yourself to get good at something that was once hard.

Elle: Right.

Olly: Which is what is what classical music in particular trains you to do. Um, but in general, the thing is that for every example of someone who has a background in music and he’s good at languages, you can find 10 examples of people who are just as good at languages with no musical background.

Elle: Yeah, like Steve I think for example.

Olly: Right. Um, yeah, Steve doesn’t strike me as a musician. He, maybe he is.

Elle: I don’t, I don’t think he plays anything. I could be wrong.

Olly: I could, I can imagine him sort of sitting in some izakaya in Japan seeing someone  kind of do some crooning or some, all Japanese songs or, but yeah. It’s, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t really know.

Um, I remember speaking to Stephen Krashen about this, about the musical question and, and, and he, and he, he replied quite similarly, like, you know, our, our intuition, like likes… based on intuition we’d like to think that there’s a connection, but it’s not born out in research as far as I’m aware.

Elle: Yeah, for sure. Yeah.

Um, so as you mentioned, you have your short stories, your reader short stories in whichever language, are available in 20 languages. I won’t ask to recite those.

Olly: Yeah aproximately.

Elle: That’s, that’s amazing. Um, what about your, so your story learning method, which is more focused on beginners, what languages are those available in?

Olly: Yeah, so this my story learning courses are basically, yeah, they are just your standard beginner courses, just like any kind of beginner textbook or, or, or whatever. Uh, and we have those in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, uh, Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Portuguese and Russian.

Elle: Wow. Okay.

Olly: Yeah.

Elle: Okay, you heard it here first. Um, so I want to talk, as you mentioned about your YouTube channel, you’ve been making a lot more videos on your channel, Olly Richards. Um, how’s that going? And what do you have any kind of projects in the works? How’s the channel going?

Olly: Yeah.

So the channel’s going great. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks for asking and anyone who’s listening and watching go subscribe to the channel on YouTube because I’m putting out some very, like I’m trying to, I’m trying to, I’m having a lot of fun with the channel. So for example, recently I published a video on how Mormon missionaries learn languages, which has done super well.

And I also find like videos of celebrities speaking, speaking languages, and, and kind of talk about how, about how they are, how they do it and give some kind of commentary and things and things like that. So everyone go subscribe to, to that. Or you can just search Olly Richards on YouTube and drop me a comment and say hi, cause I love to get those comments.

Um, but most of all, it’s, it’s a way for me to just kind of, I guess it sounds corny, but it’s a way for me to express myself really, because I I’ve always been a content creator. I started my website and this whole business started off as a blog. Back in 2013. I just, you know, I heard, I heard, I read, I heard about this guy, Benny Lewis and how he was blog blogging.

And, um, so I thought, well, I could, I could do that. So I started a blog and then that all developed into, you know, everything that’s happened since has kind of developed from that. But my first passion around this was always, um, blogging. Cause I just, I’ve got a long background in languages, language learning, teaching, and I wanted to create stuff.


I wanted to blog about my experiences and um, and so… that I did that I did for years and years, but, but one of the trends that’s happened, you know, on, on online in recent years is the video has become so much more, um, important, you know? And, and so I’ve been, yeah. I’ve decided I decided to get, to make a go of my, of my, of my YouTube channel.

So I can, I’ve learned how to do YouTube. I’ve been uploading videos on and off about seven years, but I just never, it was always like a way to make my blog more interesting by making a quick video of me speaking Cantonese or whatever. Um, but I recently, I sort of decided to, you know, quote unquote, “do YouTube” or “learn YouTube”.

So I, um, I, I took it quite seriously. I recruited a team who helps me, uh, with the channel or kind of a production team and, um, have been making or experimenting with all these different videos. And, and I just love to have ideas. I have like a million ideas a minute. I’ve always been that way. And so I, YouTube is kind of a very cool way to just have an idea and be able to put it out there.

So, like, for example, I remember watching the US presidential elections last year. Yeah.

Uh, and thinking to myself well that’s interesting, because I’ve watched these, these debates that they had. And, and it’s complete cliche now that you’ll get, you’ll get someone who’s like speaking to the audience in English and then they’ll turn to the camera and speak in Spanish.

I thought, well, that’s kind of weird. I know why they’re doing it, right? But it’s also quite cool. Wouldn’t it be fun to make a video with like, talking about the Spanish that they use. And, and so I just made this video on, on US presidential, analyzing us presidential candidates. I found some clips of them speaking Spanish.

And then just talked about it. And that for me is just so fun to do. And so I use YouTube as a way to just, just, just kind of get my thoughts and ideas out there. And, um, and fortunately it seems to be really resonating with people.

Elle: So are you actively learning a language right now or are you in  that polygto maintain mode?

Olly: Yeah.

Well, what I’m actually doing right now is I’ve, I’ve gone back to learning Kanji. So Japanese or Chinese characters in Japanese, it’s like been a bit, a bit, a bit, a bit of a love-hate relationship with, for me for four years. But I haven’t, I have to say in the last few years in particular, I haven’t been all that active with language learning, um, as much as before. And I often think about why that is. I’m very influenced by my surroundings, right? So I’ve often traveled a lot and, um, you know, my ideal… well, my ideal scenario for learning a new language is either when I’m, when I’ve got a community of people around me. For example, when I lived in London, I had a bunch of Brazilian friends, learnt Portuguese, or else when I travel or go to the country.

So when I went to Japan, learnt Japanese, um, and, but then kind of right now, I’m in a stage of life where I’m quite like, um, I’m quite chilled really. Um, I live in like in, in, in a little village, in the middle of the countryside in England, I hardly ever hear foreign languages. Uh, so I don’t kind of have this big, or I haven’t had this, this, this real urge to be studying for, for a while, but it, but it kind of comes back in fits and starts. So recently I’ve kind of decided, right, it’s time to properly learn to learn, to, to, to read and write Japanese, like… like I said, that kind of big unfinished project.

And so I’ve got, I’m working on that currently, so I’m, um, I could tell you how I’m going about it, if you like, but given that I haven’t had that much success in the past, I’m not, not sure it’s particularly useful information. Um, but yeah. Um, but I do maintain languages a fair bit. I mean, I always regularly speak Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Cantonese, French from time to time.

Um, um, but yeah, it always kind of changes. I I’m, I’m always very I’m full of admiration for people who are, who dedicated lots of time every day to actively maintaining languages, even, even without a, um, a particular reason do so. Cause I’m, I’m just not like that. I I’m, I’ve always been someone very much kind of led by my surroundings.

Um, so, so yeah, but I suspect when the world starts to open up again properly and, um, and, and, and more traveling is to be done. I suspect I might, I might pick up the bug again quite quick.

Elle: And how about your kind of entertainment time then? Do you find you watch movies, TV shows, read books, blog posts in the different languages, you know, or do you kind of just gravitate towards maybe English or the langauges you know best?

Olly: It’s the same answer, right? I don’t do stuff for the sake of the languages, right? I know this is probably a quite, it’s probably quite an uncommon answer among the, the guests you have here. Cause I know a lot of people are just incredibly dedicated to the way that they kind of structure their time to practice different languages.

See, for me, it’s never, it’s never been in about the language as such. It’s always been about what I can do with that language. So I’m, it’s not that I’m particularly interested in learning Japanese it’s that I want to be able to communicate with my Japanese friends and talk to them in Japanese. It’s not that I necessarily love the act of learning Portuguese, it’s because I love to go and hang out with, with Brazilians in Brazil.

I just love being there. So like, so when I don’t have that immediate environment, it’s not something that I just really seek out. Um, so it’s difficult. I do think about this sometimes. I mean, I, I will watch movies in Japanese and Portuguese and stuff. Well, whatever, um, but, but again, like I say, it’s just not something that I, I try and force.

I think one kinf of relevant question here is what it means to maintain a language. Because I think for me, the languages I’ve learned fall into kind of two categories, the languages I’ve learned and I, and I’m still pretty good at, and then the languages that I’ve learned and I’ve kind of let them fall away.

And I very much believe that once you’ve learned the language to a strong level, which I normally, uh, pinned down at about a B2 level, B2 or higher. You never lose that language. Right?

So for example, my French is probably not great right now. But I still understand everything. And given 15 minutes of practice, I can get it back to a good level, even though I haven’t really spoken to for 20 years when I, when I was last in France, but that’s, but that’s quite common among, among people who, who have got languages to that kind of level are going to B2 or, or, or above level.

And so when I think about the languages that I’ve, that I’ve had at that level or I’ve got to that level still, I, I’m not worried about losing them because I know that the day that I need them, I’ll get it, I can get them back very quickly. So for that reason, I just choose not to spend my time in some arbitrary maintenance mode.

Um, but rather I just, I just do what I want to do in my life. And, you know, if languages are part of that, great. If not, no worries. Um, I know I’ll come back to them later, so yeah, I’m very, I’m very much, um, I’m very kind of Laissez-faire with that, that, that, that kind if thing. It’s not very practical, not very practical, practical help for people, but that’s the truth.

Elle: But that’s like, you know yourself, right? You’re not going to force it because, and also if you do force it, if you’re like, Hey, I’m going to spend X amount of time each day on these different languages and you’re not necessarily enjoying it, you’re just doing it as a chore, is it really that helpful? You know, maybe.

Olly: I think it can be helpful. I mean, if  you’re spending a lot of time, if you’re spending regular time, picking up a language, it will have an effect.

For sure. For me, it’s more a case of, I won’t enjoy it if I’m forcing it. I, you know, I, I, I’m always, I’ve always been very busy. I’ve always worked hard and I have, I have a lot of things I like to do. Um, you know, I spend a lot of time, you know, walking, cycling, for example, seeing family. Uh, so I don’t, I don’t feel like I have time to do something that I don’t really want to do and, you know, maintaining languages that, that maintaining languages where, where there’s no particular outcome there, it kind of fits into that category.

Elle: Right.

I See.

Olly: Sorry.

Elle: No, don’t apologize. Um, so for everyone who’s listening and watching, who’s going to rush to Olly Richards, your YouTube channel, what can they expect from your channel moving forward for the rest of the year and beyond?

Olly: A lot of fun language stuff is what you can expect. You’re not going to find videos of me saying, you know, here, here is my six month uh, Korean progress or anything. It’s, it’s I used to do that, but I don’t do that anymore.

I, what I try to do is I try to think what will people enjoy, what will people find interesting? Um, so I’m working on a video right now, for example, about the defense language Institute. So the green Berets in the US, what methods they use to train their special forces to learn languages faster.

Um, I’m working on, uh, on, on some videos about, um, about different, about different languages, obviously. Bit of a statement of the obvious. I’m working on, I’m working on a video right now about how we create our book. So like when we’ve got these, you’ve got these books in different languages, or how do we create a Brazilian Portuguese book and that, or how do we make a Korean book? Making A video describing all of that. We’ve got, um, you know, videos of like celebrities speaking Japanese and things like that. And I’m having a great time, uh, at their expense. So yeah, a lot of, a lot of stuff where I’m trying to sort of,but this isn’t, this isn’t frivolous. I’m trying, I always try to sort of talk about different language topics, and then tie it back into what you can take away from it.

So if I’m, if I’m making a reaction video to Colin Firth speaking Italian, I’m not sure. Well, he speaks great Italian by the way. Yeah.

And you can, if you want to see an example of that um…

Elle: I do, because that just makes him more attractive. I’ll check that out right after.

Olly: But what I’ll try and do is I’ll kind of I’ll I’ll, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll try to like analyze it and then tie it back to what you can take away from that.


So, so actually I try to make it informative and educational as well as, as well as fun. So yeah go now, go subscribe. Like I say, um, if you’re listening to this and leave me a comment on my video, say that you came from the, from the LingQ podcast and, uh, I will, uh, I’ll look out for those because I love getting, I love, uh, I love getting comments from people.

I love hearing from people that come from different places.

Elle: Excellent. Well, I will of course pop the link in the description to your YouTube channel Olly Richards. Also, I will teach you a language.com. Actually no, it will be storylearning.com moving forward. So I’ll just say story learning. I’ll change the link when it, the website changes in the description and also a link to your excellent readers, which polyglots are raving about on this podcast as well.

So, um, listen, Olly, thank you so, so much, it’s been a great chat. I wish you the best of luck with the story learning method and with your YouTube channel and, um, yeah, thank you so much for joining us today.

Olly: All right. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Elle: Cheers. Bye-bye.

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #28: Learn Spanish with Nate of Nate’s Adventures

Want to study this episode as a lesson on LingQ? Give it a try!

Nate’s Adventures is a fun channel and a wealth of knowledge for anyone studying Spanish. In this episode of the LingQ podcast Elle chats with Nate about where his love for Spanish started, his preference for grammar (whaaaat?) and what he hopes his next adventures will be.

Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcastwith me, Elle. Are you learning English? If so, I have made this podcast episode into an English lesson just for you. Actually you can find all past podcast episodes as English lessons on LingQ, there’s a full course there. I’ll always add the link to the lesson in the description.

If you’ve  never used LingQ before, it’s an excellent way to learn a language. You learn from content you love, that means you choose the content: podcast episodes, YouTube videos, news articles, music lyrics, whatever you’re into. You can create a lesson on LingQ and work your way through it translating words and phrases you don’t know, adding them to your own personal database. If you enjoy this podcast, please give us a like subscribe, follow share, and if you are listening on Apple Podcasts, feel free to leave a review. That way we can get in front of more listeners and help them learn English too.

I am joined this week by another wonderful guest. I’m joined by Nate of the YouTube channel Nate’s Adventurous. He is a language coach and also YouTuber. Nate, thanks for joining us. How are you?

Nate: Very good. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to chat with you today.

Elle: Excellent. Me too. Uh, whereabouts are you joining us from today?

Nate: I am joining you from Los Angeles, California.

Elle: Oh, very, very cool. And how are you guys doing down there in terms of the heat? Are you, were you in that whole heat dome?

Nate: Yeah, it was pretty hot. Um, it’s, it’s still definitely very hot, but not as bad as it was, um, a week ago or so, but yeah.

Elle: Excellent. I guess down there you’re more prepared. Is it mostly air conditioned?

Nate: It is. Yeah, it is. Yeah.

Elle: Good, good. That’s great. That’s much needed in a 40 degree hell hole heat wave that we just had here, so, okay. Good to hear. Um, so Nate, you run the channel Nate’s Adventurous as I mentioned. You focus on Spanish and your story is one thing that jumped out to me when I was reading your bio, you’re a little different from the YouTubers I’ve had on before in that you actually learned a language in high school.

Nate: Right. That’s correct. That is correct.

Elle: Wow, so like you’re in the minority. I would say most people in general and also the YouTubers that I have on are like, no, it didn’t work for me in high school then I went on to find my own methods. So how is it that you learned Spanish in high school?

Nate: Sure. Yeah.


Good question. Very common question. So, you know, it’s funny actually, because like you said, I am definitely in the minority. Um, to be honest, I mean, I can’t speak for everyone here, but I feel like it’s kind of one of those things where, you know, when most of us are in high school, we’re not necessarily interested in actually learning the language when we’re in school, it’s typically I need to meet a requirement or I just need to pass my classes or whatever, so I can go to college kind of thing. So sometimes I feel that, you know, because when people are in high school and they’re like, oh, I just want to pass a class. And that’s it. Um, but also for me, I just, I loved it. You know, I, when I started taking classes, I was like, oh man, this is amazing. I love this. And so I just enjoyed it. And then, because I enjoyed it. I paid attention and then I learned.

Elle: Excellent. It’s as simple as that. Did you have a, did you have a particularly good teacher would you say, or what was it more like you say your, your interest was sparked by the language?

Nate: Definitely a mix of both. Um, you know, I had, I had great teachers throughout high school. Uh, the majority of them were Mexican. Um, just because, you know, LA is very close to Mexico. Um, but yeah, it was definitely a mix of both, um, me taking an interest to it.

And also my good teachers. Also, it’s funny because I don’t know if this applies to me, who knows, but I’m also, I’ve read that, um, a lot of the times, if you’re left-handed, uh, or you play an instrument or something else that can help you learn a language easier. And for me, I’ve grown up playing instruments and I’m left-handed.

So who knows? Maybe I have a little edge.

Elle: Interesting. I haven’t heard that before. Huh. Now I need to ask people when they come on if they’re left-handed or play an instrument just to do my own research. And, um, what, uh, what musical instruments do you play out of interest?

Nate: Guitar, piano, a little ukulele, but mainly the guitar.

Elle: Okay.

Nate: Yeah.

Elle: I wonder if people, people listening can comment if they, mostly they are language learners, because they’re listening for that reason, if they play an instrument. Okay.

Um, so tell us about your channel Nate’s Adventures. Obviously the focus is on learning Spanish.

It’s a super fun channel from perusing it  myself. I’m not learning Spanish, but I enjoyed especially the video where were you surprised the online teacher with your Spanish. You were fumbling along and then burst out with this perfect Spanish.

Nate: Sure. So I actually started my YouTube channel when I was in high school. I was 17 and I was like, man, it’d be really cool to be, do this YouTube thing. You know? So Nate’s Adventures was born. And at first my channel was just me going around, doing fun stuff, going camping, and going rock climbing. And then one day, this was maybe just over a year ago, I was like, you know, let’s speak Spanish. You know, I feel like making videos about it would be a good way to practice. And I thought to myself, you know, I want to share the language with people and I want to share with people just how cool it is to know another language, whether that’s Spanish or another language.

Um, And yeah, so I wanted to make kind of silly videos. I wanted to make like entertaining videos kind of funny videos, as opposed to the typical like, Hey, like, this is how you learn the predicate tense or here’s the subjunctive mood. Like things like that. You know, the reality is, is less people are going to find that to be interesting or entertaining.

Right. It’s not as fun. So I started making these silly videos, you know, surprising teachers with funny Spanish or, you know, going out and trying different food or hanging out with my friends, speaking Spanish, um, things like that. And then the channel started doing pretty well. Um, especially like the silly teacher videos and videos like that.

Elle: People love that . These are hard times, especially now. Um, so your website, Spanishwithnate.com, you offer Spanish, uh, coaching. What kind of methods would you say you use in your spanish coaching?

Nate: Definitely. Okay.

So good question. Um, I’ve never been asked this before, so this is a good question.

Um, well it depends, it really depends on what the student needs and what their goals are, because I don’t want to teach someone grammar if they just want to go, you know, on a trip to Mexico for a week or two, you know, then we’re going to focus on, you know, simple phrases and things like that, that they can, can have down.

Um, but typically I actually really like teaching grammar. I feel like a lot of times people think that grammar is this horrible thing. Maybe it’s just the word grammar. People are like, ah, that’s scary. Um, but I’ve never understood how you could learn a languageto an intermediate or advanced level without learning some grammar.

Um, you know, I always say you, you know, when you’re learning Spanish, First off, you got to learn the present tense, the preterite tense in the imperfect tense. And then like the informal future is important, but like, if you can get those down, not extremely difficult tenses, you have a, you know, a good amount of the main grammar that’s used.

It’s kind of like the 80/20 rule, you know, learn 20%, most important stuff then you have 80% of the language, right. Um, and then from grammar that comes along with, you know, doing flashcards through, you know, whether it’s Quizzlet or Amki, um, are two great softwares for, for learning vocabulary. And then it’s reinforcing the things you’re learning in a classroom or in a book, or a course, whatever, reinforcing that by going out and speaking with, with native speakers, whether that’s in person or via, you know, an online app like like Tandem or Hello Talk, um, That’s kind of it, really using the language, uh, you know, that’s kinda the best way.

Elle: Okay.

Again, you’re an outlier in that you enjoy grammar. You mentioned in the bio on the website that, um, learning, learning Spanish has changed your life. I mean, of course in that you have this now coaching business and YouTube channel, successful, 50,000 subscribers. Congratulations.

Um, so in what ways has learning Spanish changed your life?

Nate: Yeah, absolutely.

So, yeah, like you said, definitely the business side of it. I would have never expected that. So it’s pretty incredible. And really, yeah, that I can, you know, survive and make some money doing what I love. That’s amazing. Um, Yeah, to be honest with you I cannot imagine my life, what my life would be right now, if I had never learned Spanish, um, because seriously it is such an integral part of my life that like every day something going on in my life is relating to Spanish, especially in these past few years, um, with creating these videos and everything.

Um, but I mean, just the opportunities that it gives you, um, you know, to be able to like travel to Mexico or Spain or wherever, and just chat with the locals, have these deep connections with people. Um, one of the most meaningful things for me and this never gets old for me is meeting a stranger, Spanish as their first language, and, you know, they can speak some English, you chat with them a little bit in English, then you say, oh, you speak Spanish. You speak to them in Spanish. And they just do a 180. They’re a whole new person. That is one of the coolest things to me. Like I always say this in any interview that people do with me.

It’s like, I love the quote by Nelson Mandela, if you speak to a man in a second language, you’re speaking to his mind but if you speak to a man and his first language, you’re speaking to his heart. And it’s cheesy, but it’s so true. It’s like connecting with people on a deep level is like one of the most meaningful, satisfying things i, I feel like I’ve, I’ve find in my life. Um, so yeah, just the relationships I’ve been able to build and the places I’ve been able to travel to. Um, the workout now that I get for my brain in Spanish.

Elle: Yeah, no doubt. Yeah.

You’re, you’re obviously an advanced, um, speaker of Spanish so maybe you just, you just have advanced content in mind when asked this question, but I wonder if you have any book, podcast, movie suggestions for anyone listening, who is interested in studying Spanish or just is looking for a great movie?

Nate: Sure, absolutely. Yeah.


Actually, um, uh, Olly Richards, uh, I’m sure you’re familiar with him. He has some great books in Spanish. Just go “Olly Richards, you know, books in Spanish” whatever. He’s got those good short stories. Um, I just watched this movie called Tell Me When, um, it’s on Netflix. Um, it’s, it’s a beautiful movie it’s set in in Mexico City.

That’s really cool. I love Coco. Coco is my favorite movie in Spanish so…. Go see Coco in Spanish. Please go watch it cause it’s awesome. Um, but yeah, those are my recommendations.

Elle: Okay.

So would you… your life is obviously revolves around knowing Spanish and, um, coaching it. Are you thinking about another language anytime soon? Or are you just all about the Spanish?

Nate: Sure. Well, for me, when it comes to language learning me personally, I don’t want to know a little of a lot of languages. I want to know a few languages at a pretty high level. So obviously I’m already there with Spanish currently, I’m working on Mandarin Chinese. Um, and I’ve been doing okay, much slower process now that I’m kind of in the adult world so to say, you know, I can’t, it’s harder to go to, you know, Spanish or Chinese class, you know, 45 minutes every single day. Um, you know, with everything that’s going on in my life. But, um, Yeah, that is, that is the current language I’m working on right now.

Elle: And will you be using any of the methods, I know it’s, it’s difficult to say because you actually basically became conversational in Spanish, in high school, which was how long ago?

Nate: So I started when I was 14, which is seven years old. Yeah.

Elle: Seven years ago. Okay.

So will you be using any of those same things kind of methods to study Mandarin or is it a whole different thing now?

Nate: Sure. Great question. Um, yeah, you know, me personally, I actually love the classroom setting, um, when it comes to learning a language, uh, being in person with the, with the teacher, because something that I found that helped me a lot when I was learning Spanish was asking a lot of questions.

So, you know, if you’re not sure about something you’re still confused just being able to ask questions constantly is so valuable. Um, but yeah, still I think grammar is so important. I think understanding that is really important. It’s, it’s kind of a mixture. It’s kind of like this base where it’s like build your base off of grammar, then move on to learn new vocabulary and then reinforce the grammar, the vocabulary via speaking with people, listening to audio, you know, watching movies, immersing yourself in the language.

Elle: Okay.

Cool. And will you start making videos about your Mandarin learning journey?

Nate: I don’t know. You know, I’m not at any level close enough to where I think I could. Um, it might be interesting, like you said, do a little journey thing, but I think honestly, um, my channel has kind of become um, primarily Spanish focused and a lot of my viewers come from Latin America and Spain.

Um, so I think my channel will stay primarily Spanish focused. And actually I have, I have an idea where I might create a new channel where I teach people, um, where I’m actually teaching Spanish. Cause right now, You know, entertaining videos, conversations, things like that. I might make another channel and do both, um, you know, Hey, you know, let’s say we’re going to learn 25 great travel phrases from Mexico, or, you know, whatever.

Elle: Right. Okay.

Excellent. In terms of, uh, the channel Nate’s Adventures then you have had some great guests on, um, Steve Kaufmann LingQ co-founder of course. Um, are there any other guests in the works or are there any, is there anyone you would like on?

Nate: Good question. I think it’d be interesting to talk to EIenna. Um, he seems like, yeah, he seems like a really nice guy.

I met him once at this like online language conference. It was awesome. Um, and we got to chat a little bit, but, um, I’ve never really gotten to have like a full in depth conversation with him, but yeah, Ford Quarterman. He’s a pretty good, cool guy. Like watching his videos. Um, he he’s like a gringo guy. He travels around in Mexico.

Makes fun videos. Um, be cool to talk to him. Yeah.

I mean, there’s so many interesting people. I love speaking with people kind of in this space. Cause you know, everyone’s got their unique stories and, and uh, I think it’s cool because in the language learning community, there’s, there’s just like a very strong connection and everyone’s very worldly and it has many cool stories to share.

So yeah.

Elle: Yeah. And it’s such a growing community too, and I’ve spoken about this before, in other episodes, but it blows me away. Every week, every month, it seems to be a new channel popping up. I love it. It used to be that they were very few, um, kind of YouTubers or, you know, known people for the language learning niche community.

So, yeah. That’s very cool.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely.

Elle: And how about for the rest of the year and moving forward for your channel do you have any plans for kind of projects, different videos?

Nate: Definitely. Yeah.

So with regards to my YouTube channel, um, my goal is, so I have one year of college left or uni. I don’t know if that’s what you say in Canada.

Elle: Yeah. I guess… no college I’m from the UK so we say uni. In Canada yeah they say, I guess they say college.



Nate: college or whatever. I’ve got one year left. So my goal is finish school. And then once I’m done, um, if I’m making enough money to be able to just go travel around, I’d love to go to Mexico for a bit, um, and just make fun videos there.

Um, other parts of Latin America. I’ve been to Spain, but who knows? I might go back. Um, I really, I think the, what would be awesome for Nate’s Adventures is to turn it into, um, less of like surprising teachers with perfect Spanish, things like that. Because to be honest, those videos do great.,They get lots of views and they entertain the fun to make.

But a lot of times I feel like a one trick pony and I just get bored of them. So to have like a combination of those kinds of videos with like these fun travel videos, like, Hey, we’re in Mexico City and we’re trying out these really cheap tacos versus real expensive ones, things like that would be super fun.

Elle: Sounds fun. It sounds super fun. And what are you studying in college? Actually, I didn’t ask you.

Nate: I am studying marketing. Yeah.

Elle: Okay.

Well, I mean, so far you’re doing really well with the channel, maybe using those expertise that you’re learning along the way,

um, Nate. Fantastic interview. Thank you for your tips and advice. I want to ask you one last question actually, what would you say to anyone who is thinking about starting a journey, a Spanish language learning journey, and maybe needs confidence or advice?

Nate: Sure, absolutely. Well, just get started. I always say, like I said, you know, I don’t mean to come back to the grammar, but just get yourself like a simple grammar textbook.

You can just go on Amazon, you know, you know, Spanish grammar textbook for beginners, whatever, just so you can get started. And my other piece of advice, it’s cheesy, it’s general, whatever is just enjoy yourself because at the end of the day, Yes, learning Spanish is a journey. It’s a process. Sometimes it’s gonna be harder than others, but at the end of the day, you’re learning the language to do something fun.

Right? You want to enjoy it. You don’t want to hate the process because learning Spanish is not this thing where you can learn it in a month and, you know, speak this beautiful Spanish. Like it takes time. That’s the reality, it’s with anything, you know, it takes time and it takes hard work. Um, but you need to have fun during the journey, because I always tell people, people are like, wow, your Spanish is so good. I’m like, thank you. But I’m still learning. I’m still getting better. It’s kind of, it’s important to have that mindset, you know, immerse yourself, love the language, have fun, um, and be consistent.

Elle: I like that one. I need to take that advice in my language I think for sure.

Well, great advice, Nate. Thank you so much. Best of luck in your final year of college and best of luck moving forward with Spanishwithnate.com and Nate’s Adventures. I’ll pop the links to both of those in the description. And yeah, thank you so much for joining us, Nate. It’s been a great chat.

Nate: Perfect. Yeah.

Thank you, Elle I appreciate all your questions.

Elle: Excellent. Bye-bye.

Nate: Adios

English 2.0 Podcast #27: Polyglot Steve Kaufmann On His Latest Language Learning Challenge

Want to study this episode as a lesson on LingQ? Give it a try!

Steve Kaufmann speaks 20 languages and recently challenged himself to 90 days of consistent study in Persian and Arabic on LingQ. In this video he talks about his progress 30 days in, the difficulties he has faced and the content he has been enjoying.

Elle: Hi everyone and welcome to the link podcast with me, Elle. If you would like to study the transcript to this podcast episode and all past podcast episodes as an English lesson, you can do so on LingQ. I will always pop the link to the lesson in the description.

LingQ is an excellent way to study English. You translate words and phrases you don’t know, adding them to your own personal database and learn from content you love. And remember to like, share, follow, subscribe, whatever showing love means on the platform that you are listening on.

This week I am joined by the man, the legend LingQ co-founder and YouTube polyglot Steve Kaufman. Steve, how are you?

Steve: I’m fine Elle, how are you?

Elle: I’m good. Thank you. I’m good now that we are in 25 degree heat, as opposed to 41 degree heat that we just previously had.

Steve: Yes, we’ve had… that was extraordinary. Extraordinary how hot it was. Yeah.

Um, yeah. And, and, uh, just as an aside, of course, some people may know that the town of Lytton in the interior set a record of 49, almost 50 degrees of heat centigrade, whatever that is in Fahrenheit, 120 plus, uh, and then the whole town had to evacuate and the town basically was burned to the ground because they had this enormous forest fire. And then they showed pictures of, there’s so much heat over the interior of the province that is creating these massive and multiple lightning strikes, which of course creates more forest fires, which creates more heat. It’s just a horrendous  situation.

Elle: Scary for the season ahead.

Steve: You know, I was, I, uh, I had to, I had a few chores to do, so I went to, had to go to get some insurance at the insurance office. One of the two ladies there spoke Farsi. So I was able to practice my Farsi. Then I went to the liquor store to buy some wine and the checkout lady there spoke Farsi. So I was able to speak Farsi with her. Then I went to the supermarket and then the checkout lady there spoke Farsi.

So I spoke Farsi again, just in, it’s amazing. It’s amazing. And, and I’m reminded of that, uh, there was a gentleman standing behind me in line and we started chatting and we were chatting about, you know, we don’t need to wear the masks anymore, and some people feel more comfortable wearing masks and that’s fine too.

And, and, uh, he was from Lillooet, which is  very near Lytton. And I said, how are things up there? You know, cause they’re right in the, I call it the eye of the storm. And he said, he said he has a small business, 20 employees. He was basically, they were all waiting to see if they would also be evacuated and they could see the fire.

But the fires didn’t come their way. And apparently there was a heavy rain storm and that seems to have dampened things a little bit. Uh, but it was interesting. He’s originally from, uh, North Vancouver and we had a long chat. He’d moved up there and he runs a bakery. And so I said, you know, my wife likes making sourdough bread.

And so we talked about baking and stuff like that. So I was very… but here’s a guy he’s from he’s right on the front lines of the whole heat wave fire, forest fires situation.

Elle: It’s really scary. I live,  so I’m in North Van I can see the mountains from my street and they’re scorched, they’re brown. A lot of the trees have been scorched. And so, yeah.

Steve: Oh, I hadn’t seen that. So nearby us then.

Elle: Yeah, Grouse Mountain, up that way. Um, my husband’s lived here his whole life, on this street, and he said he’s never seen that before. So it’s kind of scary for the wildfire season.

Steve: I mean, if we get a forest fire here in Vancouver, there is no shortage of vegetation. I mean, there’s so many trees everywhere.

Elle: Yeah, it’s a scary thought for sure.

Steve: I mean, there always used to be forest fires. The, the difference is there’s a lot more people living in the forest, but the forest always used to burn regularly. It’s scary.

Elle: It is. Um, so I wanted to ask you about your challenge, um…

Steve: right.

Elle: Uh, anyone who isn’t aware, steve started a 90-Day Challenge 30 days ago now, right? So you’re a third of the way through. Anyone who doesn’t…

Steve: only 30 days? I was hoping I was further along than that.

Elle: Is it dragging, or is it tough to meet your targets?

Steve: Uh, you know, not all of our decisions are good ones.

Elle: It’s intense, right? A 90-Day Challenge is intense. For anyone who doesn’t know, a 90-Day Challenge is 90 days of consistent study every day on LingQ, uh, hitting your targets. So reading, listening, Creating LingQs, which are words and phrases that you don’t know that you’ve translate and saved to your database. You’ve also, you’re also in a Streak with Steve Challenge, which is meeting your daily LingQs target, and which keeps you in a streak for, for 90 days.

That’s an intense one, also. So you’re being sufficiently challenged right now on LingQ. How’s it going?

Steve: Um, well, I saw that Streak with Steve didn’t fully understand what it entailed, but I thought that what I would try to do is force myself to study both Farsi and Arabic. So I’ll do two languages and set myself lower goals, like only create 13 LingQs. In other words, look up and save 13 new words initially in each language. And I think I kept that up for a while, but that’s too difficult to do. Uh, I, I find myself wanting to spend at least one week on one language and then one week on the other language, um, I find it’s a bit confusing to do two languages like that.

Uh, I’m committed to doing it. Uh, otherwise I think I would just go back to saying work on one for three months, really get into it, then work on the other because I find that I don’t slip that much. I can go back and do my mini stories again and it’ll come back to me, right? So I find that it’s a little bit confusing now to be in one in the other back to the first one, again, not, not an ideal situation, but this depends.

Some people do that. Some people study three languages at the same time and they’re happy doing it. I think I’m, um, I prefer to stay focused on one at a time. That’s kind of my conclusion, but I’m committed to doing this. So I’m gonna.

Elle: Had you ever previously studied two languages like this? You hadn’t done two languages in a challenge before, I know that, but…

Steve: No, I went, I once went at three and I was more ambitious and maybe I was just more, um, had more energy then or something. I was trying to do a hundred LingQs a day in three languages: Arabic Farsi, and Turkish. But when you’re starting up in a language, it’s so easy to create LingQs because every lesson has a whole bunch of unknown words in it.

But now in those languages, I’ve, I’ve been at it so long that I have a lot of yellow sort of saved LingQs. Words that I have looked up, but I don’t yet know. So, you know, if you just want to crank up the number of new LingQs, you just go into new material. And if the page is full of blue, unknown words, you have very quickly reached your goal.

But now even if I bring in new material in Farsi or Arabic, there aren’t that many blue words, but it doesn’t mean that I know the yellow words. I don’t know them very often. I haven’t seen them often enough to, to know. Uh, I do have the sense that certainly I understand a lot better than I did before.

And, um, so in order to create those 13 LingQs a day, I have to go out and get new material every day, which again, it’s easier in Farsi because Sahra who’s our  collaborator in Iran is constantly creating good content for me, uh, Iranian filmmakers or Iranian food or Iranian history. So that part of it is easy.

The Arabic is a little more difficult. But I’ve even started branching off into Egyptian Arabic and, and, uh, you know, because, because the Arabic world is so different. So if I had a Ted Talk in Levantine Arabic, then I want to try to understand that and look up the words there. Uh, my tutor is from Cairo and we’ve been going through some Egyptian, Arabic texts.

And so I’m just playing around. Like, I’m not, I’m not going to write a test in any of this stuff. So I’m just doing, I’m sort of exploring and enjoying. And, um, the challenge is not, you know, it’s not what motivates me. What motivates me is my interest in what I’m listening to and reading. But I know that for many people, these challenges, uh, become a major motivator.

People don’t have much time and they need that extra, basically a nudge to make sure they do something every day. And it’s so important to do something every day. So I think it’s a good idea to, to have these challenges, but I’m kind of not living up to my commitments.

Elle: Okay.

Well thank you for being so honest. That’s great. Um, are you speaking, you are speaking in the languages too, as part of the challenge or just as part of your weekly study for Persian and Arabic?

Steve: Yeah.

I’ve uh, so I’ll have say maybe three sessions in Farsi with Sahra and then three sessions with Mohammed in Egyptian. I really enjoy my time with both of them because they’re very nice.

They just keep me going. I don’t have to worry about what we’re going to talk about. I think we have a good rapport. So it’s just like sitting down with a friend and, uh, speaking. So, and then I get a report back with my mistakes and the recording. And so the whole thing works very well, but three a week is enough because I have to fit this in with all of the other things that I, commitments that I might have, you know?

Elle: Right. And so the what, so then Sahra, and is it Mohammed? Your, um…

Steve: Mohammed, yeah. Mohammed in Cairo and I Sahra she’s in Northern Iran.

Elle: Okay.

And so they prepare, do they give you reading or talk to you about things they know that you’ve read?

Steve: No, no, no, no. If I want to, then I can, but normally we just show up. They’re not prepared. I’m not prepared. Um, because we’re venturing into Egyptian Arabic, so with Mohammed, we did some reading of the mini stories in Egyptian Arabic. Uh, I found also in our library at LingQ a series of, uh, interviews with people in Egypt, in Arabic.

And because these are not scripted, they’re sort of more natural, you know, you know, people using the equivalent of, “you know”, “like”, “I mean”, you know? So you got a lot of this sort of filler words stuff. So it’s very conversational, sort of Egyptian Arabic. And I’m reading through this with Mohammed and typically we’ll have maybe even half of the time will be spent reading, and then half of the time speaking, I think my Farsi is better than my Arabic. Now it used to be the other way around and that’s because, uh, Farsi is just so much easier.

Elle: Okay.

Steve: So much easier. Yeah.

And it doesn’t have this complication of different forms of… I mean, there may be different forms of Farsi, but basically there’s two forms of Farsi.

There’s a more formal form, which is, which has sort of the written form. And then the form that people use to speak, not very different, essentially the same words, some different endings, some slightly different vowels is not a big deal. So, whereas with, with Arabic, you know, Egypt, uh, Gulf Arabic, uh, Lebanese, Arabic, Moroccan, Arabic, they’re all there.

Elle: What do you, what… so you mentioned that you were out today and you spoke to three people in Farsi. How, how are you received when you start chatting to them?

Steve: Uh, you know, the, the different sort of national groups react differently. Like if you were to generalize, the Farsi speakers are so pleased when they hear you speak Farsi and they’re so encouraging and accommodating. And it’s funny, I was out swimming in the ocean the other night, and there was a couple swimming and they started had some kind of, I don’t know, small boat or inflatable boat, and they were both in the water and splashing around. And there were a couple in their fifties or early sixties. And, uh, I heard them speaking Farsi.

So I spoke to them in Farsi. Now you can imagine their surprise, they’re swimming here in West Van and all of a sudden, some guy, some old geezer speaks to them and, uh, and, uh, so they reply. You’re speaking. Are you, are you speaking Farsi? Yeah, guess what, I’m speaking Farsi. So we had a bit of a chat, uh, but generally, I mean the, the one, the one lady at the supermarket I’ve spoken to her before.

She’s always very nice. She speaks to me in Farsi. Sometimes the inclination is for them to come back in uh, you know, to prove like, well, you know, I’ve been in Canada for 10 years, so I speak English very well, you know, so they need to demonstrate that, you know, but this lady at the supermarket, she’s always very nice.

Oh, I haven’t seen you in awhile. How are you? And we went back and forth in Farsi. Yeah.

Be careful because there’s a lineup at the checkout, you know, I can’t just sit, stand there and talk to her while people are waiting to pay for their groceries. But, um, yeah if I see someone see their name hear in their accent, I know you’re not supposed to do this, but if I figured that they’re Farsi speakers, I say, do you speak Farsi?

And then normally react very well.

Elle: I don’t know that you’re not supposed to do that. I don’t think that’s…

Steve: Well there’s this whole idea, like, especially like, so the, the people who seem to be the most sensitive sometimes are people who are Asian. So if a person looks Asian, In fact, you can’t assume that they speak an Asian language.

Elle: Right. I see.

Steve: In other words, if you have someone who has a Polish name like in Canada, now we have people from all over, right? So you can find Italian names, Polish names, German names, Dutch names, whatever. You can assume that they speak that language. Like my name is Kaufmann. People come up “Ah Steve Kaufman ya…”.

That’s not on. So, and the Asians are particularly, or some of them are a little sensitive, but you know, like I’m Canadian, you know, just because I look Asian, you kind of assume that I can speak English. Right. So you have to be very careful. So you got to pick, you know, you got to sense if this person, you know, you can’t sort of imply that they can’t speak English.

So I, I normally will say, uh, You know, you’re not even like according to the real die-hards, you’re not even supposed to have any curiosity about where this person is originally from. Even though they look non-Caucasian like that’s a no, no. Okay.

Uh, people have no difficulty asking me if I’m German, just by looking at my name and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

I’m not German, but they can ask me because they’re curious. Oh, you got… It’s like, so, so I just have to be a little bit aware of that. So I typically say, do you speak an Asian language? It’s still a little bit dicey because just because of location, why should I have to speak an Asian language? And I agree with that.

I agree with that.

Like a person has been here for three, four generations, no more likely to speak an Asian language than somebody who has someone who has, um, you know, Polish name is expected to speak Polish or who has a Dutch name is expected to speak Dutch. So I agree with them, but I nevertheless enjoy speaking these languages.

And most of them react quite pleasantly. I haven’t had any negative interactions, but it sometimes becomes an issue. You know, the sort of politically correct people say you shouldn’t. So yeah.

Elle: So, uh, setting out 30 days ago on these challenges, 90-Day Challenge in Arabic and in Persian, did you have any goals, anything you would you wanted to have achieved by the end, in terms of not necessarily, you know, known words or hours of listening, but, uh, content that you would then be able to approach maybe movies or something?

Steve: Well, yeah, I find that my goals have changed. When I started out, I said, I want to be able to understand like a large part of my diet content has been these political partners, which typically I, uh, you know, I extract the MP3 file, convert that to text on an automatic transcription website, bring it into link, uh, and, uh, study it.

So I said, I want to get to where I can really understand these podcasts. But I found that my motivation to do that has declined because they’re kind of boring after a while. It’s always the same, the different groups and Yemen fighting each other there and Libya or whatever. I just get tired of it all.

So, uh, with Arabic, I’ve decided no, I’d rather get to where I can understand Egyptian movies. So then I said, well, then I better learn more Egyptian Arabic because I don’t understand them very well. And there are Egyptian movies and series on Netflix. So I decided with Arabic, I want to start moving more into the spoken Arabic. Uh, with the, um, with the Farsi…

um, I had been basically following the diet that Sahra fed me. So it was the history of Iran. It was food of Iran. It was minority peoples in Iran, all this stuff, which I found very interesting. So that was great. And all of a sudden she sends me these descriptions of famous Iranian, um, film directors, uh, more than a few of them have won international acclaim even in the last 10 years or so.

Uh, Oscar’s uh, awards at the Cannes uh, film festival, Berlin film festival and so forth. So she sends these through and the way she does, she talks about a certain film director, and then she has these circling questions about that same film director. And then she sends me a link to that movie or a movie by that director, uh, on YouTube.

Uh, so I’m able to watch it. So all of that, it has been very interesting. I tried to extract the MP3 file and transcribe it, but, you know, uh, audio from, um, from a movie is a bit disappointing as language learning content, because there’s so many, you know, your car noise, the doors slamming, birds chirping. It’s not dense language.

So I don’t do that. I just, whatever she sends me, I read it and I try to learn it, learn about the movie, the film, a director, and then I watch the movie a while and I’ve enjoyed that. So in a way, I’ve moved more in the direction of enjoying movies, uh, in both, uh, Arabic heavy to Egyptian, Arabic, and, uh, in Farsi.

And trying to talk to three times a week with both Mohammed and, uh, Sahra.

Elle: Excellent. And you watched a movie, is it Asmaa? You recently  mentioned n one of yourivideos.

Steve: Asmaa, that was the Egyptian movie. It was very interesting movie, actually, Egyptian movie. Uh, it it’s, it’s sort of a, it’s about the stigma of AIDS in Egypt, uh, about, uh, uh, and I would say even the Iranian movies, this whole honor that the men seem to feel, uh, you know, basically, and, and an important component of their honor is being able to tell women what to do. So these are themes that come up in those movies.

Elle: Okay.

I’ll have to, I’m always looking for movie recommendations. So if you say that’s good I’ll check that out.

Steve: Uh, yeah, it’s, I’m trying to hear the Arabic. I mean, it is to get a bit of a, of a, of an insight into, uh, Egyptian society. I, I recommend it. Yeah, Asmaa, definitely.

Elle: Okay.

Steve: And, uh, the same with Iranian movies, um, The Separation, it was quite an interesting, quite an interesting movie. Very interesting. And it won some awards, it’s an Iranian movie.

Elle: Is that, I think I’ve seen that one. Is it about the mother who. She had children, they don’t know who she is. She’s… she was…

Steve: No

Elle: Okay, I’m thinking of something else.

Steve: It’s about, um, a couple in Iran and they have a daughter and, uh, they were preparing to leave Iran, to immigrate. And the wife was very keen on doing that, but then the husband decided he wouldn’t go because his father now has Alzheimer’s and can’t look after himself.

And so then she wants to divorce and then it gets very complicated. So I can’t, I won’t get into the whole plot, but it’s quite good. And it’s apparently quite a psychological study on, um, Iranians. And the one thing that comes through when you watch Iranian movies, and there’s another one called Ellie as well, is that while there’s this sub-sense of the sort of, um, you know, male, call it male dominant, uh, you know, uh, you know, honor.

And yet, at least on the surface, the Iranians, they live very much like we do, you know, they’re very modern, European, North American. We have this image that they’re all wandering around the women shrouded in black and very backward and stuff. And no, it’s not. I mean, there’s, there’s social differences in Iran, uh, like everywhere, but maybe more marked over there.

And, uh, but the, there is a middle-class that lives, you know, like Europeans. So, and that comes through in these movies.

Elle: The Separation. Okay.

I’ll check that out too. I was thinking of a completely different movie. Okay.

Um, so Steve, you have, you have a mere 60 days left  in your 90-Day Challenge. I wish you the best of luck and, um, yeah, I think it’s, it’s amazing to me, you’re speaking three times a week.

So I’m… so you alternate then I assume you spend one week on Arabic one week on Persian?

Steve: One week on each. Yeah.

But you have to be flexible. Um, Mohammed told me that and he was gonna be without his internet for a week or so. So then I went two weeks on, on Farsi and now he’s back, uh, up and running again.

So I was spending more time with him. I don’t follow my, to be honest, I don’t follow my streak that closely. It’s just that I feel a commitment. I feel that I have an obligation to, to work on those languages, which is no big deal. Cause I enjoy doing it. Uh, but I, I made this commitment to do both. At the end of my 90 days, I’m going to do just Farsi because Farsi is the biggest opportunity here in Vancouver to use the language.

Although, you know, uh, internationally of course there are far more, uh, Arabic speakers than Farsi speakers.

Elle: That’s good to… it must. It’s nice though I’m sure, to be able to speak to people, as you say, at the supermarket and wherever you are.

Steve: Yeah.

Elle: Well, anyone who’s interested in joining a challenge, I will pop the link in the description to the 90-Day Challenge the Streak with Steve as well.

Thank you so much for joining me, Steve. It’s been great, as always.

Steve: I should say too, Elle, I’ve watched your interviews with your various guests. I think they are excellent. Absolutely excellent. Very interesting. And of course, not only are they interesting, but I think they’re an opportunity for people to work on their English because they’re all lessons at LingQ.

Elle: They are.

Steve: And you normally have guests on there who speak very clearly. You speak clearly. So I think they’re excellent. Uh, interesting and excellent learning methods. Uh, have a sort of an intermediate, uh, less, they’re not overly difficult. So I think it meets a need a real need.

Elle: Well thank you so much. And as you mentioned, I will always pop the link to the transcript of this video as a lesson in the description.

And there’s a full course of all past interviews and episodes there for anyone who’s learning English. So, uh, thank you so much, Steve. I, like I said, best of luck with your challenges.

Steve: Thank you. Bye.

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #26: Learn Mandarin Like Mischa Wilmers: Graded Readers, News in Chinese, Novels and LingQ!

Want to study this episode as a lesson on LingQ? Give it a try!

Learn Mandarin Like Mischa Wilmers: Graded Readers, News in Chinese, Novels and LingQ!

Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me Elle. Remember all you English learners you can study this podcast episode as a lesson on LingQ. I will always pop the lesson link in the description. Using LingQ you can work through the transcript, translating the words and phrases that you don’t know to add to your own personal database.

And remember to like share, follow, subscribe, whatever showing love means on the platform that you are listening on.

This week, I am joined by another wonderful guest Misha Wilmers is a language learner, blog and LingQ user. Welcome Mischa, thank you so much for joining us.

Mischa: Thanks very much for having me on.

Elle: And whereabouts are you joining us from on this fine Monday?

Mischa: So I’m in Manchester at the moment, uh, Manchester in the UK. Elle: Excellent. In the kind of north, I guess. Yeah.

Don’t, you’d call Manchester north, right? Northern England.

Mischa: Northwest. Yeah.


Elle: Okay.

And how’s life in Manchester these days? Mischa: It’s good. Um, at the moment I’m on a staycation kind of thing, not going abroad this year.

So I never thought I’d say that about going on holiday to Manchester. I actually work in Leeds, which is about an hour away from here, but, um, yeah. Um, generally things are good. The weather is for Manchester standards, um, reasonably good. Okay.

So not too bad.

Elle: Excellent. That’s a great word, actually, “staycation.” vacationing at home.

I think a lot of people around the world will be doing that this summer. So yeah, hopefully, hopefully the weather stays nice for you. Uh, so Misha, as I mentioned, you are a language learner and a blogger. You run a blog called I’m learning mandarin.com. So as we can guess, you’re currently studying Mandarin Chinese. So what, uh, first off, what made you decide to land on Mandarin? Why, why Mandarin Chinese?

Mischa: So I guess the initial reason was basically the, I had moved to a new city, so I moved from Manchester where I’m from about five years ago to Leeds. And when I first moved to Leeds, I was looking for things to do. Um, I was looking to meet new people, didn’t know anyone in the new city. And so I saw that the university that I was working for, um, they were advertising cheap Mandarin classes at the Confucius Institute that operates on campus. And so I decided to just take advantage of them.

I had a basic interest in languages from before, um, because I grew up bilingual, I’m half Spanish. So I grew up bilingual in English and Spanish. And at school I’d also done French, but I always felt like, um, I always really enjoyed doing French, but I felt like, without doing much work I had a kind of natural advantage over other people just from knowing Spanish with the similarities between French and Spanish. So when I was thinking about activities to take up in the new city I’d moved to language learning seemed like an obvious choice given my previous interest.

But I wanted to like set a new kind of challenge to see whether I could cope with the language is different as Mandarin rather than something like another romance language, like French or Italian or something like that.

Elle: And how did you find those classes and how many… was it like a course of classes or you just went to the odd one and then we were all on your own studying?

Mischa: So initially, um, it was a course of, a beginner course of eight classes and that kind of got me going, that kind of kept me inspired.

Um, I really enjoyed that course, it was a one and a half hour classes in the evenings after work once a week. Um, so really not enough to, to learn very much Chinese at all, but enough to inspire me to want to keep going basically. I then complete, I completed a couple of other courses after that, um, which were similar, but a slightly higher level each one, but, um, all of them quite basic stuff again.

So I completed about three or four courses overall.

Um, after that, I’ve just been mainly self studying, using LingQ, and other tools like that. Yeah.

Elle: Excellent. So yeah, self study. What does that involve for you then? What, uh, what kind of methods? What kind of, I guess let’s talk about methods first and then maybe talk about LingQ little bit. Mischa: Yeah. I mean, when it comes to methods like I split my kind of Chinese learning experiences intitwo parts because I’ve been on it for about four years now.

Um, um, the first two years, my methods were basically, I didn’t have any methods because I was trying to figure out like, how, how do you learn Chinese? I had absolutely no idea how to learn a language like Chinese, as I say, like completely different challenge to learning something like French when you know Spanish.

Um, so I kind of spent a lot of that two years trying to figure out different, download any apps I could, figure out different ways. Things like Duolingo are like the first obvious things that you come across, they have the best like marketing.

Obviously they have the most money to spend. So, um, I came, so, so basically the first two years I had no idea what I was doing.

I would like go to my classes, leave my classes and then try and get some, um, language exchange partners, and there’s quite a lot of Chinese people on campus. So there was no shortage of people to speak to. So I’d just leave my class and try and practice with Chinese people. But after two years, I kind of felt like I need to try something different.

This isn’t really working.

And that’s when I came across, um, Steve Kaufmann’s YouTube videos, um, and he was talking about, cause he has one on learning Chinese, um, and it, he discussed how, um, the most important things for him were kind of listening and reading. And that was the first time that like I came across what seems like quite an obvious point, but I didn’t realize at the time, which was that input is the most important thing when learning language.

So all the, all the kind of stuff I’ve been doing at the beginning stage of like trying to use basic words and phrases I’d learned in class and practiced them over and over again with language exchange partners, but not really having any idea what they were saying back to me. Steve Kaufmann’s videos kind of helped me to see that, like there was maybe another approach. And since my previous approach wasn’t really working, I felt, um, I thought might as well give this a go.

And, um, so from then, um, I used a lot of, uh, graded readers, um, at the beginning because, and I blog about this as well, because particularly in Chinese at the beginning the characters are a huge barrier to being able to read even a very basic level.

So I found something that was really useful that I hadn’t quite, I hadn’t discovered the mini stories on LingQ, which if I went back now, I might do. But, um, at the beginning stage, before I started using LingQ, my main input was from graded readers.

So there’s Mandarin companion graded readers I found really useful. Um, um, yeah, so they’re basically just short books, short stories. They’re not like high literature or anything like that, but they’re entertaining enough. Um, they’re more entertaining than like your average textbook kind of thing. So I started doing a lot of reading and then listening to the, um, to the CD of the audio, the audio of the books as well.

Elle: Okay.

Mischa: So, so mainly like, um, my methods since then have been embracing this mass immersion approach.

Mass input approach, but without, obviously, without being in the country. So, um, so from, from the UK.

Elle: Excellent. Excellent. And so how, so you said the graded readers, you, you, when you first discovered Steve and then LingQ you were into the graded readers. Were?You…

was that tough. I mean, were you studying the characters, I guess, as you read, were you, were you reading the same story multiple times?

Mischa: Yeah, so, I mean, by the time I got to, by the time I started reading graded redesigned, maybe memorized, committed to memory about 500, uh, characters through using flashcards, uh, using Pleco and things like that.

Um, and that helped. So I was already able to read a bit like, but I’d just been reading short dialogues in textbooks. So then when I first started reading graded readers that are graded at different levels. So the first level, the beginner level is like, um, set at like maybe 500 words or 500 characters.

So, um, so I started reading them about two years ago. And when I first started they were like really challenging for me. I was reading above my level I think at the beginning. Maybe I was reading, like I start with the 500 characters one, but they’re not necessarily the characters that you have that you’ve committed to memory. So there’ll be lots of unknown characters.

So it was a bit of a slog, but I just… like, because I’d never read a whole book before, when I finished my first kind of graded read a book, it was just like a sense of achievement. And also you’re exposed to all the grammar patterns over and over again. So it was my first sense of like, after kind of reading a few of them, I started to get real sense of like the, the real benefits of mass immersion compared to what I was previously doing.

Elle: Right.

Kind of got the ball rolling.

What, uh, what did you move on to after graded readers? What kind of content?

Mischa: So after graded readers, then that’s pretty much when I discovered and started using LingQ more. So I mentioned, I discovered Steve Kaufmann’s videos, but I didn’t immediately make the transition to LingQ. That was a bit later. Um, so after graded readers, I decided I got to a point where a lot of people get to with graded readers where you’ve read like the highest level of graded readers, which is maybe like set at 1,500 characters or something like that.

But that’s not quite enough to, um, read newspapers or novels. So there’s, uh, there’s kind of a, a small gap there, a bit of a gap that you have to bridge somehow. So I wanted to make a concerted effort to start tackling native content. Um, that’s where I discovered LingQ. And, um, the rest is history, as they say.

I mean, since then, LingQ has basically been my main tool for learning. I import lots of stuff into it and that kind of thing. Initially, I was working a lot on native dialogues.

Um, so there’s, um, Wolf and Wawa. I don’t know if anyone’s heard of that, um, on LingQ, there’s a really good podcast, which is two Chinese friends discussing, uh, natural, more or less natural speed. I think they’re designing it for learners, but it’s, it’s, um, they’re using like everyday Chinese, um, and. It’s kind of, because it’s like a transcript of daily conversation, a lot of the words and phrases they’re using a very common, um, so that’s kind of the first kind of more or less native content that I started tackling.

And then from there I started moving on to radio transcripts of SBS, um, SBS, which is, um, the Australia’s like Mandarin channel, which has like, uh, short broadcasts on lots of different topics and radio phone ins where Chinese people living in Australia phone in to chat about everything that’s going on in terms of politics and other things. So, so yeah, basically from that, um, so that, that’s what I was doing at first with LingQ.

And then after that I started doing more novels and, um, and things like that, which, um, which I’m still doing now. Elle: Excellent. And to go back to something you said about newspapers there, so you said 1000 to 500 characters isn’t enough to read like a regular, um, newspaper article in Mandarin? Mischa: Yeah, I’d say that’s right. I mean, the thing is there’s, there’s different… people put different figures on the number of characters that you need in order to be literate in terms of reading a newspaper and there’s no set number.

Um, but I think to be comfortable, I would probably put it above 1,500.

I don’t know what I put it at specifically, but maybe more like 2000 to 3000. Um, at 3000 probably you start feeling fairly comfortable, but there’d still be characters that come up in the news that you don’t know. But, um, but yeah, I’d say I’d put it around more like that, but certainly after the graded readers, um, which was set at something like one between 1000, 1,500, I still found reading the news very, very challenging.

Elle: So how many… so many characters, how many characters would you, do you think you have committed to memory at this point four years in, right?

Mischa: Yeah. Um, it’s very difficult to say, actually, but I recently did um, there’s a website you can go on, which is, I forget the name of the website, but it, it asks you a series of, it’s like you take a quiz and it basically tells you the vocabulary level that you’re at. But it doesn’t tell you like specifically how many characters in terms of vocabulary level.

It put me at 11,000 words, LingQ puts me at 15,000, but I think that’s inflated. Uh, Steve, Steve has talked about how it gets inflated for various reasons for Chinese, but, um, 11,000 probably for wording in terms of characters, maybe 3000, but that’s just a guess. Elle: Um, how about writing? Are you into the writing out of characters?

Mischa: So initially I was, um, um, when I first started out, I did spend quite a lot of time writing them out by hand.

Eventually I had to make a choice because I have a full-time job. I have other commitments. So it’s kind of a, um, a choice about what you’re going to commit your time to. And I just didn’t have enough time if I wanted to commit all the time that I have to reading and listening, like using LingQ and other tools. Yeah.

Um, I just didn’t have enough time to basically on top of that, like write them out by hand.

So I got to about, I think 500, which I’ve probably forgotten a lot of them by now, but I found that without writing them out by hand, you can still quite, I wouldn’t say I don’t want to say easily, but there’s, there’s no problem committing them to memory in terms of visual memory. So you don’t need to learn to write them out by hand in order to recognize them visually. Elle: Right.

Mischa: So, so yeah, I got, um, I got about 500 eventually, but then I decided to just focus purely on listening and reading.

And I think at some point in the future, I may go back particularly because I’m told if I want to pass a proficiency test in the future, uh, which is not a priority for me, but it may be something I want to do in the future that the new system they’re talking about, which hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the new system may involve uh, writing by hand component. Whereas at the moment they allow you to take the proficiency tests by writing Chinese using a computer, but in the future, maybe they may make you write it out by hand.

So I, so anyway, I may, I may go back to it in future.

Elle: Okay.

That’s interesting that they would as it, add it, sorry, to the test, as opposed to it being there and them taking it away with our modern world, but okay. Mischa: They, um, initially, I mean, there’s always been a writing component. Elle: Right.

Mischa: But what they’d done in the past last few years is they’d introduced us some test centers, HSK test centers. They started allowing people to, um, take the test using a computer.

And like, as you say, that makes perfect sense because the, I mean, that’s how everyone writes nowadays. Uh, if you can communicate using a computer, then there’s really no problem in terms of communicating. But I think, um, the new system hasn’t been confirmed, but if they do end up bringing back the writing component, I suspect it’s because there’s, um, a case to be made about preserving the, the art of writing by hand and that kind of thing, and preserving the tradition of that. Elle: That makes sense. That makes sense.

I mean, the characters are so beautiful and I know you’re not writing them out like a calligrapher would, but it’s an art, for sure I can see that. Mischa: Absolutely.

Elle: So what does, and I know days are different, you know, some days you work, weekends maybe you don’t, but what does a day of a Mandarin study look like for you?

Mischa: Yeah, it’s interesting because I don’t really see it as study anymore because, because it’s kind of transitioned to it phase where, um, a lot of things that I would previously have done in terms of leisure in English now I do in Chinese. So for example, I spend, um, most of the stuff I, if I’m reading for pleasure, like in terms of novels, um, I do that in Chinese now instead. So that’s kind of study time.

So the typical, if I were to like set out like a day, uh, just for studying Chinese, it would probably involve spending some time reading my novel. And then, um, listening to, uh, for listening, like I’m watching you, there’s a lot of like YouTube channels that I follow. Um, like talking about politics.

Um, there’s some cartoons that I quite like because they’re slightly, so, um, so sorry I say easier, but they’re still, I mean, um, yeah, so like there’s a cartoon called … uh and it’s, um, about, uh, a girl going about her daily life. It’s actually dubbed from Japanese, but that’s sort of what I use for like easier stuff is like cartoons like that. And then for harder stuff, like things like sitcoms and political channels where people talk about politics and stuff, a lot of stuff on YouTube basically. So I do that.

And then, um, one thing that in the past few months I’ve started doing a lot more of particularly during the lockdown and then coming out of lockdown was because I couldn’t meet up with Chinese friends, doing a lot more Zoom calls and that kind of thing. So I usually most days actually I’ll spend some time half an hour or an hour even calling or doing like a, a call with a Chinese friend and doing conversation exchange. Elle: Excellent. I like that. It doesn’t feel like study anymore.

What, at what point do you remember when it started to feel that way when it was less of, like you said, some things were slog, of course, the beginning period in any language is a slog, do you remember when you went “huh, I’m replacing english or Spanish or whatever, TV time, book, time with Chinese and it’s like it’s entertainment now? Mischa: Yeah, I think that, I don’t know if it was a single moment. I think it happened quite gradually and it was quite, um, a slog to get there.

I mean, the, the, um, first lockdown a year ago, um, I basically started like stepping up quite a lot.

So previous to that, because, uh, like, as I say, I was working, I still am working full-time. But with, with when there wasn’t locked down, there was less time in the day. So previous to that, I was maybe doing Chinese for like half an hour a day. And then when lockdown happened, I started taking it more seriously.

So then I started like spending several hours a day.

Um, and then gradually through doing that, I think I started to get more of a sense of like, that I could, I could do this for enjoyment and purely pleasure at the beginning during that lockdown, like I still felt it was a slog. I was trying to grapple with native materials on LingQ that were above my level, that I still found very challenging, both to read and to listen to, and actually like, um, something I’ve blogged about as well.

But like, because I was spending so much time and because sometimes I was using materials which didn’t interest me that much, I did feel sort of after three or four months when the first lockdown ended, I think in like June last year, um, I started feeling a bit burned out and I took it, I took quite a bit of time off Chinese at that point. And I think I actually took like probably three months, the whole summer off Chinese. I just couldn’t couldn’t face looking at any, um, Chinese at that time.

Um, when I got back to it, I think maybe that’s kind of a moment worth talking about, because although I’d been away from, from it for three to four months, I think within a week of getting back to it, I felt like I was at my previous level or slightly better than my previous level. So the three months off hadn’t done me any harm at all.

And I started to feel from then because I had some distance, um, when you’re actually like working really hard, I think a lot of the time you can’t really see the progress that you’re making, because I had that distance of a couple of months coming back to it and I started to feel, this is slightly easier. I’m starting to get more pleasure. I’m starting to like reading like novels and stuff like that. Isn’t so much of a slog anymore. Elle: Excellent. So there’s hope for anyone listening who is maybe in that situation Mischa mentioned before.

You can get to the point where it’s, it’s more fun and less of a slog for sure. Mischa: Um, absolutely. Yeah.

I mean, cause when you’re in that moment, like sometimes I think particularly if you’re a first time language learner, as I consider myself a first time language learner, because I don’t really count learning French at school or being bilingual in Spanish and English. So being a first time language learner, I think if you, um, I think that like it’s something that you can lose sight of.

Like it’s, you know, because you, you see people out there polyglots like Steve and others that have done it. So, you know, it’s possible to do, but you don’t, you haven’t yet internalized that because you’ve never done it. Is is very, it’s a very difficult thing to kind of internalize those it’s possible to do when you’re in that moment. And you don’t feel you’re making any progress. Elle: Yeah. For sure.

And you think too, okay, well, yeah, that person’s done it, but they have some special talent or skill that I clearly don’t have It’s so easy to convince yourself of that. Mischa: And I think on that point, like, because that’s definitely something I think, I I’ve thought in the past, well, they must just be talented. That kinda thing. Cause you see the end-product of them speaking fluently.

Um, I think the main talent is the ability to spend several hours like on end, like the way Steve describes spending eight hours when he learned Chinese in his twenties, spending eight hours a day concentrated, like just doing Chinese and like from a beginner level, I think there’s talent involved in, in that level of concentration. And, um, I personally like haven’t reached that level. Maybe in future I’ll be able to, but like, like, um, yeah, I I’m, if I can get like, um, a few hours in a couple of hours, then that’s okay.

A good day for me.

Elle: Yeah. Such discipline, right? You just have to be so persistent. Yeah, for sure. Has there been anything that’s surprised you on your, on your Mandarin learning journey so far? Mischa: Um, I think lots of things have surprised me. I think one, I think they’ve mostly being positive surprises because I mean the initial surprise of learning Mandarin I would say was slightly negative because I went into it very naively. And so I had no idea what learning Mandarin involved.

So the initial surprise was, oh, this is actually like quite hard.

This is like, not… this, this is the amount of work that this is going to require is like an order of magnitude above anything I’ve done before if I want to become like properly fluent in Mandarin. So I, as a completely naive language learner, that was my initial surprise. Once you get over that surprise…

and once I got over that surprise, the surprise, the surprises after that were all positive in the sense that after that initial surprise, you start to wonder, is this possible?

Am I ever going to be able to do this? Is learning characters possible? Particularly characters, I would say. Um, and, and the surprises that no, if you, if you stick at it, do it every day, um, spaced repetition, flashcards, they will stick. And particularly because one of my concerns was you hear a lot about some people are visual learners, some people are audio learners or whatever. And, um, in my case I’m definitely not a visual learner, in my opinion.

I don’t know if there’s any, if that’s meaningful or not like whether these categories are meaningful or not, but yeah. Um, never considered myself to be a visual learner or to like have a visual memory, anything like that. So I was concerned maybe that that would be an impediment to learning characters and yeah, the surprising thing, the positive surprise was that no, if you stick at it every day, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a visual learner or not like you will, they will stick, you’ll be able to pick up characters. So, so that was positive.

Elle: Excellent.

Um, so what does the future hold? As you say, four years, And you have your website I’m learning mandarin.com. Is the next year or two just Mandarin focussed? Do you, are you hoping to move on to another language?

Mischa: So I think for the time being, I’m definitely quite committed to Mandarin because I’ve reached a level, which for me personally is fairly gratifying. I mean, I’m able to have like long conversations about lots of different topics with my friends and that kind of thing.

Um, there are still things that I want to achieve in Mandarin personally, that I haven’t yet achieved. And particularly in terms of listening fluency, um, just general fluency as well. Being able to express myself. I don’t want to get to an, a native level. I’m not so sure interested in that. Like some people are, but, um, I do want to get to a slightly higher level of fluency than I am at the moment. Um, and just general improvement across, across the board in terms of listening and, and reading as well.

Um, because for example, in reading with characters, Um, I know enough that like reading novels on LingQ is generally very comfortable, but if, if they’re on paper, it’s a lot more difficult because you need to look up every word in the dictionary. And, um, although I may recognize 95%, that 5% is still very difficult to cope with on papers, not so much on LingQ.

So there are still those areas that I really want to improve. And in terms of, uh, blogging and that kind of thing, definitely want to continue blogging.

Um, my insights about my experience and I’m, I’m interested in maybe getting more into YouTube, this kind of stuff, which I’ve never done before, this is my first time. Maybe start like joining the ranks of the kind of YouTube exhibitionists who like speak different languages, which is another thing, um, I wouldn’t mind trying in the future, but so there’s a few things I’m interested in, but generally just, um, continuing, improving my Chinese and learning and blogging about the learning. Elle: Excellent. Sounds good.

I just wanna apologize if anyone can hear banging my adorable and very lively nephews are right above me. It’s kind of stomping. I don’t know if that’s going to carry through, but maybe. The joys of working from home. Um, excellent. I was going to say to you actually, yeah, you should start a YouTube channel.

Definitely. I mean, that’s where everyone’s at and you, I think it’d be great.

So, and you know, people love, you know, when you’re learning a language, you love to see, like you said that it can be done, you know, someone’s progress week by week or every other week whenever you post something. Um, yeah.

Mischa: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

I mean, those YouTube channels have really helped me. Um, particularly people like Steve Kaufmann, there’s also Luke Truman.

Yeah, but people like that, like you watch the videos and you, you can, if you’re a beginner, particularly you can see what’s possible, um, that they really can speak Chinese fluently that, um, they’ve done it in adulthood. So why can’t you? Um, and often like very insightful. So, so yeah, I’m open to contributing to that kind of thing. Elle: Perfect. Well, best of luck. We’ll be following along. I’ll pop the link to your website I’m learning mandarin.com.

I’ll also pop the link to the blog post that you wrote for the LingQ blog about learning Chinese on LingQ which is excellent. And yeah, any other. Uh, content that you mentioned, um, to, for anyone listening, watching, we’ll also be in the description. So, uh, Mischa, thank you so much. That was a really great chat and I wish you all the best luck with your blogging and maybe YouTubing in the future.

Mischa: Perfect. Thank you for having me on.

Elle: Cheers. Bye-bye.

Mischa: Thanks, bye.

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #25: @ニックちゃんねる (Nyk) Talks About His Music Career and Japanese Culture

Want to study this episode as a lesson on LingQ? Give it a try!

Nicholas Edwards is an American living the dream in Japan! Not only does Nyk speak amazing Japanese, he is a musician and actor and now he has an awesome YouTube channel. In this video Elle chats with Nyk about his career in the Japanese music industry, where his channel will go next and, um, cod sperm? Yum!

Elle: Hi everyone and welcome to the link podcast with me, Elle. Remember all you English learners you can study this episode and all past episodes as a lesson on LingQ. I will always pop the lesson link in the description. If you’ve never used LingQ before, it’s a great way to study a language. You can use content you’re interested in, just like this episode, you work through the transcript, saving words and phrases translating and saving to your database, and you can also work through vocabulary activities there also.

This week’s guest is someone a little different. He is a YouTuber but he is also a musician. This week I am joined by Nyk from the channel Niku Chan Neru. Nyk, how are you?

Nyk: Good. How are you? Thank you for having me.

Elle: Oh, thank you so much for joining us. I am good. I am doing well thank you. Um, you are joining us from Japan correct?

Nyk: Yes, I am joining from Tokyo, Japan today.

Elle: Tokyo. I miss Tokyo. I didn’t live there…

Nyk: Not the best at the moment.

Elle: I was, I was going to ask, so is it rainy season? Well, for many, a few reasons I’m sure. Is it rainy season right now in Japan, too?

Nyk: Rainy season is on its way. It’s currently just starting to get humid, which as someone from the Northwest of the mainland United States, that is not my favorite kind of weather.

Elle: No. Yeah, I remember that humidity well. You step outside your door and you’re just like drenched in sweat.

Nyk: Absolutely.

Elle: Yeah.

I don’t miss that. No. Um…

Nyk: Otherwise it’s going well.

Elle: Oh, good. Good. Okay. That’s good. Um, so Nyk, you are, as I mentioned, you’re a musician, also anyone who were to check out your channel and from the name could guess, and you’re living in Japan. Uh, you speak amazing Japanese. I am blown away by your Japanese, honestly.

Um, and so the first thing I want to ask you is how did you get the Japanese bug, so to speak? Uh, what sparked your passion for all things Japanese? And how did you go about learning Japanese?

Nyk: Um, well originally… I get asked this question a lot, but I, I, and I always feel bad because I don’t have a very, um, exciting origin story.

I actually didn’t have any specific interest in learning Japanese, per se, until I was faced with having to choose a second language elective when I entered high school and at my high school, they had French, German, Spanish, and Japanese as options for us. And as someone who at the time was not particularly interested in language, um, I figured out of those four  why not Japanese? Because it’s the most different from English. It’s a different writing system. It’s a completely, well, it’s the only one that’s not a European language of what was offered. So I just thought that it would be an interesting challenge. And at the time in, in middle school, as I’m choosing my electives for the coming year in high school, I was not a very good student.

And, um, I asked my home room teacher, I was like, I think I want to learn Japanese, doesn’t that sound fun? My homeroom teacher is like, you’re going to be a straight C student at best, and you’re going to choose the most difficult language. So I was like, well now I’m definitely going to choose the most difficult language since you’ve insulted my intelligence.

And that was the, uh, the origin story more or less. Um, and my, my passion for Japanese really kind of developed after I had been studying for a few months.

Elle: Okay. That’s interesting you say that. I just, uh, I just interviewed last week, a guy called Robin McPherson and he is a polyglot YouTuber and he basically has the same story, but with French, he started studying… sorry Spanish? Spanish, and the teacher was like, nope, you’re never going to be able to learn this language.

And yeah, it’s amazing the power of, you know, rejection or…

Nyk: negative reinforcement.

Elle: Yeah.

Nyk: So my, whenever I go back home, I meet that teacher and she’s always like, you’re welcome for changing your life. So we’re on very good terms.

Elle: So that’s great that you. Are glad you got to tell her. Robin told, uh, he emailed that teacher and she never responded.

Nyk: No, I definitely. I got, um, I got my, my “told you so!” In a good way, I guess kind of moment. So that was good.

Elle: Yeah.

That’s good. That’s positive. So how long have you been living in Japan now?

Nyk: I moved to Japan in 2010, so I was 17 at the time. Um, and it is now 2021. So it’s about to be 11 years coming up this summer. Um…

Elle: Wow.

Nyk: I started studying Japanese when I was 14. I’m currently 28. So it’s been exactly half of my life since I studied Japanese, um, over a third of my life since I’ve lived here. And since I was here since I was 17, it was all of my adult life. So, um, I’m pretty, pretty in it. I’m pretty committed to this life.

Elle: For sure. Wow 17 is so young to move to a completely different country. That must’ve been exciting and kind of terrifying, no?

Nyk: Um, interestingly where I grew up, sorry, my Roomba keeps making a sound and I’m not sure if I’m too close to it. Um, interestingly, I, uh, I… what was I talking about?

Elle: I would make the excuse for you that it’s early but it’s not that early for you is it?.

Nyk: It’s not early! It’s almost 11.30 at this point. And I’ve already been awake for quite a while now. Um, and so when I, when I, when I first moved to Japan, there was of course, a lot of culture shock in, in, I guess the traditional sense as well, but because I grew up, I grew up in, I guess you could say the suburbs to the more like country area of, um, the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

So I came from a state called Oregon, um, and kind of near a city called Portland, but I didn’t grow up in the city. I grew up more, um, at the very ends of the suburbs, more towards the country area. So, um, I always look back on coming to Japan at 17 and feeling like it was a really, really good, it was good timing in the sense that my life was going to change anyways, from going from a high school student to even if I had decided to go to a university somewhere, in a city or whatever. My life was going to be changing either way. So I kind of escaped having to be like really, really accosted by the cultural differences, because I was already so surprised by just the difference of living somewhere, where you had to like get in the car and drive like for many, many miles to find a convenience store to there’s literally a convenience store

across the street from my house right now. And now that I’ve lived in Tokyo for so long, even getting up out of my bed and walking to that convenience store is like the least… the most inconvenient thing in the world to me now. I would have walked like miles for a 7-Eleven when I lived in Oregon, but now I’m definitely, uh, have become, uh, a city man.

Elle: Nice. And so you, you were always in Tokyo from, from age 17 until now you’ve been in Tokyo?

Nyk: Yeah. I’ve always lived somewhere in the inner city of Tokyo for the last 11 years.

Elle: Okay. And how are, how earthquakes these days in that part of Japan or just Japan in general. I don’t miss those I tell you what.

Nyk: They are still… I’ve gotten so used to them. Earthquakes are a common occurrence. Obviously I was here for the big one in 2011, and there’s obviously been nothing like that since that time. But every once in a while, you’ll get jostled awake by like a decent, like five pointer. I forget how to count magnitude because they use a different system here. But um…

Elle: Right.

Nyk: …I don’t even have like earthquake level, uh, I guess like a three sometimes and Tokyo, which is enough to wake you up out of sleep or at least give you a really shaky dream. Um, so those are still present, but fortunately nothing in the last 10 years that comes close to, uh, that, the 2011 one.

Elle: Good. Good. Good. Um, so talk to us about your career in the music industry in Japan. Um, how, how was it getting into the industry? Do you find it also I wonder to, it’s different, of course you’re non non-Japanese. Um, I wonder if it’s maybe in some ways that makes it more difficult or in some ways. Do you, can you kind of use that because you are a little different?

Nyk: Yeah. Um, so I, my, I originally came to Japan completely with the intention of being a singer in Japan. So that was always my goal since high school. And, um, I came to Japan just passport in hand. I didn’t have a visa at the time and I just went with no scheduled appointment to a bunch of record labels and agencies and said, I want to sing.

I just put myself out there. And, um, eventually I was blessed with the opportunity to, uh, compete on a new television show that was on Nihon Terebi, which is the Japan TV… one of the main what do you, what do we call them in English? Basic cable networks. One of the ones that you can, everybody can, everybody can watch.

So on one of the basic TV networks, uh, and it was a, it was on everywhere in Japan. And I was very lucky to have, I won that show. Um, and that eventually, uh, led to the opportunity to release music on a major record label, which was… ended up being… so I was on the show for the first time in 2011, um, which was a year after I had came to Japan originally.

Um, and that year, the, towards the fall of that year was the year that I won. And then the following year, I did a lot of different things before I ended up releasing music, I did, um, movies. And I did, uh, like stage plays. Um, I of course did a lot of live performances. Um, I did like,  like runway shows.

I was all over the place. And then in 2013, I, yeah, in 2013. So the year after that, I took a year, yeah, to kind of, um, test out all the things that I was interested in, in entertainment. And then in 2013, with Warner Music Japan, I released my first I guess it was kind of like an EP, uh, through, with them.

And, uh, I’ve been releasing music ever since I’ve put out, I don’t even know how many albums, I think, five or six. Um, and, uh, you know, as far as the music industry being what it’s like specifically as someone who’s not Japanese. Just to be completely transparent, I think that it’s a hundred percent in my case, at least definitely a, I was able to use that as a plus in almost every way that you can.

Um, one of the main reasons being that because I spoke Japanese, um, I guess, well, uh, I always wrote my own songs since my debut EP, so, um, I at least spoke Japanese.

Elle: Wow, in Japanese?

Nyk: Yes.


So I at least wrote and spoke Japanese enough that Japanese people could appreciate that without it having to be about, you know, since it’s music, if you just hear it on the radio, you can’t tell, well, I mean, you can tell, cause I do, especially the way that I sing is just, I, I kept, I stuck with my roots a little bit, so I don’t sing exactly like in the way that people expect a Japanese person to, but, um, You know, the, the lyrics and the content, or at least to a level that a major record label was willing to release them in Japanese to Japanese people.

So, because my Japanese was at that level, I was able to kind of use the… japanese people don’t expect a person who’s not Japanese to be able to speak Japanese at that level. So I was able to use the kind of, um, I just can’t think of any of these words in English. I spend so much time speaking Japanese.

Uh, you guys say, I guess it’s kind of like, um, like the, the surprise quality, because people don’t expect it. It’s kind of, um, it’s comes off as interesting, I guess. Um, so I was able to use that definitely as, um, a plus for me. Uh, as far as maybe things that were more difficult for me as someone who’s not Japanese.

It would definitely Just be the, um, the assumption that I, I don’t know, I mean, basically when you’re in Japan, speaking Japanese and working with Japanese people, um, because Japanese people are so used to people who aren’t Japanese, not knowing about the culture, not knowing the language, you always kind of have to work with the assumption that people that you don’t know well, are going to assume that you don’t know what they’re saying or know, or even if you do know what they’re saying, you’re not going to understand what they really mean kind of thing. So, um, kind of being able to have, yeah, your opinion listened to is something that you would, one would probably struggle with as a non-Japanese person working in Japan.

But generally I would say that I wouldn’t be in the position I was, if I was not, uh, non Japanese. So I do like to make sure that I’m recognizing that I have been afforded a lot of privilege in that sense.

Elle: And you mentioned that people don’t expect, Japanese people don’t expect, as you said, non Japanese people to speak Japanese as well. Have you had any other, any standout moments, um, where, you know, people are speaking in Japanese and not expecting you to understand that have been kind of comical or satisfying for you in some way to turn around and be like, “Hey, I know what you’re saying.”

Nyk: It’s usually compliments, so I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody, um, I don’t think I’ve ever had, and most Japanese people wouldn’t, uh, even if they don’t think you’re gonna understand them, I don’t think they would… I mean, I dunno, I guess it would depend on what the situation was, but I don’t think they would generally like diss you right to your face, even if they don’t think you’re gonna understand them.

Um, but usually it would be something like, um, kind of comments on my appearance, or I guess my, my, uh, like singing or whatever it might be that they would normally, you wouldn’t compliment someone in Japan that aggressively to their face if they, if it was two Japanese people, but because they thought I wouldn’t understand, they just  were very blatantly kind, which I go ahead and count as a win in my book. Nothing that really made me uncomfortable. I don’t think. Um, but uh, definitely sometimes people thinking that I wasn’t gonna pick up what they were putting down.

Elle: And how about, uh, stand up moments, stand out sorry, moments in your music career so far. Are There are any that are especially memorable. Wonderful?

Nyk: Oh my goodness. I’ve been really blessed to have, I mean, a really great experience overall. I mean, there’s been plenty of. Sorry. I’m I don’t speak English very often.

So just to be completely transparent, I have a really terrible potty mouth because I only speak English when I’m talking to like friends from home or my family who I, well, I probably wouldn’t go Willy nilly on my mom swearing. My dad, for sure.

Elle: You can swear. You can swear This is for people learning English. Swear words are English.

Nyk: Perfect. I mean, I’ve, there’ve been, you know, really shitty moments, um, and situations that I would have of course loved to have not had to endure, but that’s really, I don’t think any of that has been specific to Japan. So I say that overall, my experience, um, working in music and entertainment in Japan has been great, especially because I’ve been able to kind of exercise a good amount of control over my career, which isn’t necessarily a luxury that’s afforded to, um, all especially people who aren’t Japanese and especially people who are, um, what in Japan they’d call idols.

Um, You know, like you gotta be skinny and can’t date anybody or whatever, it may be.

Elle: So strange.

Nyk: Yeah. Very, very unique culture there. And definitely as like a Western person, you know, I think that Western people, Western people being, you know, um, cultures that are, that are, or, uh, stem from anglo-Saxon cultures, um, like English speaking cultures, I think we tend to have a very strong sense of right and wrong and in a black and white kind of way.

And for me, a lot of those rules and those expectations at first really felt like I was like, well, I’m not gonna do that because that’s wrong. Like, why would I pretend that that’s okay. But you know, living in Japan for a long time, you realize that it’s not, you know, there’s a lot of gray areas and things like that.

And, um, even Japanese people, themselves, sometimes with rules like that, it’s not so much that they actually care if you’re, um, if you’re abiding by those rules or not so much as you’re supposed to do a really good job of pretending that you’re abiding by the rules, it’s like kind of the.

Elle: Saving face.

Nyk: Yeah, it’s the truth of that culture is that, you know, you have like idols who aren’t allowed to date, but what they’re really not allowed to do is have the public find out that they’re dating.

Elle: Be seen to not be dating.

Nyk: So, yeah, exactly. So, um, I mean, out moments in my career have been, of course in order would be, you know, winning the show was huge for me. Um, starring in a movie was very huge for me. Uh, I just recently, uh, to, I think it was two years ago now because of, um, coronavirus, it’s been a little longer than I would have hoped, but, um, uh, the year before last I released my first album where I have all the writing credits and all of the production credits.

Um, so I did…

Elle: congratulations.

Nyk: … everything from the, the artwork to the booklet, to the lyrics, to the music. Um, that was a really great one for me. Um, and of course, very recently, um, for whatever reason I, I started, I started my YouTube channel last year at the big getting of last year. Um, obviously at the very beginning of last year.

So not with the intent, like, well, if we’re all going to be at home, then I might as well YouTube. It just happened to be that timing when I started a YouTube channel, because I had produced my own album the year before. And I was really enjoying getting to kind of like, I guess, like flex my creative muscles and yeah as you may have already noticed. I like talking. So YouTube seemed like a good, good outlet for that. Um, and for whatever reason, Yeah, for whatever reason, there’s I put out, I put out a video that I’m in like a wrinkly shirt with like the worst roots, the worst roots in the world and my fake blonde hair.

And I was just like, I was just having fun. And for whatever reason, that video now has like 140 or I mean a million, 1 million 4,000 views or something.

Elle: Ooh.

Nyk: And I don’t know, I clearly wasn’t expecting it to do that well because I look disheveled as all, but, um, but people have been very kind, uh, to, you know, now find out about those who didn’t know about me on TV or through music, especially probably younger people because, um, I’m, I’ll, I’m gonna include myself, but we’re not big TV generation.

So, um, Uh, a new audience was, has been watching my content. So I’m very grateful for that. Those have been some, some really happy moments for me in my career.

Elle: Excellent. Well, I know you mentioned earlier, you said “I’m not sure how many even albums that I’ve done”, I read on your website, six mini albums and five full albums. Wow.

And that’s over, that’s over the span of….The 11, 11 years?

Nyk: 10 years, actually, it was because of my, I debuted in 2013. So that’s like basically almost an album a year, but I didn’t really say I was going to release an album last year, but you know, there was, I, I don’t, I didn’t want to, I mean, I don’t really, I guess it’s all in the past now, but, um, I made the whole album and then I ended up deciding that it just wasn’t the time to release it. And it wasn’t really the message that I wanted to be… not that it was about anything that is like rude, like in regards to this situation with the pandemic. Um, I just, it just wasn’t, my heart wasn’t in it anymore after, you know, experiencing, especially the first half of last year with all the really heavy lockdowns in Japan and whatnot.

And, um, unfortunately my heart just didn’t return to it. So I… whole new album. I, it might’ve been six, but it is going to remain five until I finish the new album that I’m working on.

Elle: Okay. And is that, and you’re working on the new album now? Cause I know you’re also in a play, which I went to ask you about.

Nyk: Yes.

Elle: What, what’s the play?

Nyk: The play is, uh, called Lazy Midnight. It’s about basically, um, Japanese people are real sticklers for not, uh, saying the actual name of the inspiration. So I’m just going to say there’s a, there’s a, there’s a, uh, a national television station that’s run by the government in Japan.

Uh, let everybody just remember what it’s called by themselves. And, uh, we kind of play on that and call our TV station and the play NKH. So it’s a story about like a group of people working on making a new television program for this completely fictional NKH station. And, um…

Elle: NKH. I love it.

Nyk: And, uh, it’s basically about like the directors and the producers and the assistant directors and the people kind of working to make that show a reality and kind of just the ups and downs of that. And then a bunch of different like surprise, uh, there’s like fantasy elements to it as well. Um, it’s the first stage play that I’ve done in almost exactly 10 years.

Cause I did my first stage play when I was nine 19. Um, and oh my God was that, not a bad experience, but it was a very difficult experience because that play and this current play I’m, um, the only foreign foreign person, the only non-Japanese person, non native Japanese person in the cast. Um, so I have to be extra careful to make sure that I’m not, I’m not, my Japanese is not giving away my, my foreignness because I’m just, my character’s name is Iwabuchi Kotaro so it’s just a Japanese name. So, um, I guess that’s the fantasy element.

Elle: So working on the play, working on your album. And how about your channel? What can everyone who’s going to rush and subscribe to your channel after listening, what can they expect moving forward from your channel?

Nyk: Um, interestingly, I originally wanted my YouTube channel to be a travel channel because I, my, one of my biggest passions after music and language is travel, which I mean, actually my biggest, my big passion is that I just love culture and in all forms, specifically art, um, and the way that, that influences kind of culture as a whole.

So a big part of that is traveling to see all these different places and the way that each place has kind of left its mark on society at large. And so I travel a lot within Japan because as a musician I tour, um, and so my original plan with YouTube was that I was going to take YouTube along with me on these tours.

And I usually, um, okay I was going to say forced to like I’m at gunpoint. My management forces me to go back to Tokyo, but my, I ended up being scheduled to do like, um, because of the way that Japan is shaped and the proximity of everything. I ended up going to a city doing a show, that night going to the next city, sleeping in a hotel, doing a show the next day, going to the next city.

So I don’t really get to like sit and, not sit, but, you know, stay and enjoy each particular place.

Elle: Appreciate where you are.

Nyk: Yeah. And with YouTube, I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to do the show, take a day in between to kind of experience the place, film and do stuff like that. Um, and then of course our now dear friend coronavirus has not made that possible. So, um, my YouTube channel kind of ended up being a, I guess, commentary sort of channel. And I mostly kind of sit and talk about, which is fine with me because those that’s interesting to me as well, but I talk about kind of the ways living in Japan has changed me as an American person or a Western person or a man or whatever.

Um, and then I kind of compare and contrast American and Japanese culture or Western and Japanese culture and, um, But, you know, I’m ready to get out on the road hopefully soon. Um, so that is definitely something that I think, I think everybody can look forward to on my YouTube channel is a lot more, um, hopefully taking people around Japan because I, I love to also, I guess this ties in with culture as well.

I love to eat and drink. I mean I’m alive. So I guess everybody who’s alive likes to eat and drink, but I mean, I like to try things that I haven’t tried before. I’m a very big, um, I’ll eat anything. Uh, so, and that is that it means something completely different when you’re in Japan than it does.

Elle: I was going to say you’re in the perfect country. I ate some really weird things when I was in Japan, I still can’t quite believe. It’s pretty out there. Some of the stuff . For sure.

Nyk: You just got to, I mean, what… in Japan once you, there’s a few specific ones that if you check off, it like doesn’t get much worse than that. So, I mean, um, I definitely like to, uh, experience food and, you know, Japan has a lot of its own different, um, alcoholic beverages as well, that I would never, that you would never run into in the states.

And those are, you know, each made individually in each place based off like what kind of, um, what kind of, uh, What’s the word I’m looking for? Uh, harvest. What kind of crops? Crops.

Elle: What’s grown locally.

Nyk: What kind of crops they have. Yes.


What’s grown locally.

So, um, I want to take more or hopefully have more opportunities to kind of introduce those, uh, differences between even just Japanese major cities and obviously not just major cities.

I have one video where I went to Niigata in, uh, on the, the, uh, the, well, in Japan, it’s called the Japan Sea that Japan seaside of, um, Japan. Uh, and so I have only one, which was the, during the time when they did the, uh, Go To campaign here in Japan, where it was like everybody travel and then… yeah, it, it backfired.

So we’re back where we started, but, uh, I did get, I did sneak one video in there. So a little taste of what I hope that I can, uh, bring more of in the coming year or, or as, you know, the situation gets.

Elle: Excellent. Well, it sounds so fun. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten so far in Japan, just out of interest? Can you choose one?

Nyk: Well, I mean, I think definitely the most shocking one and I don’t want to like offend anybody, I don’t want to have everybody clutching their pearls, but, um, the most, the one that’s just like the most shocking to say out loud in English is definitely the it’s called in Japanese.

It’s called shirako, which, it means “white child”. So it’s Cod um, I don’t know what this it’s it’s…

Elle: Is it testicles?

Nyk: No, it’s Cod sperm.

Elle: Oh, okay. I think, I think I’ve had that. Yeah.

Nyk: And that is a very not, I mean, Japanese people eat… that that’s not rare to find on a menu, so that’s not even one of like the, you have to go to like, Some like dark cove in Southern Japan to find it like, it’s definitely, it you’ll find it on like menus, especially in the winter.

Um, things like that. Probably uh little tiny full squids or stuff like that, I guess. So probably those are, and not only do I have, I tried those, but I like, like all of those. That’s where it gets dark.

Elle: And I liked it. Have you tried to cow tongue?

Nyk: Yes.

Elle: It’s my favorite.

Nyk: That’s very good. Yes.

And you know that it didn’t even cross my mind to say that because it’s so that’s like definitely you can find that anywhere that they sell meat in Japan.

I mean, usually they’re not feeding it to you as is. So there it’s, it just looks like a piece of meat by the time it arrives at your plate. But definitely when I had my dad come over, um, well my dad and my brother come over and as soon as I was like, well, we’ll get, we’ll get this, like this, uh, like fine meat and this like red meat and then the tongue and my dad’s like, the what?

Elle: Excuse me?

Nyk: You know, the tongue, like what? And, uh, probably older Western people aren’t as shocked by this, but, um, my generation is shocked even by like liver. So like, uh, just like a thick piece of liver. Um, apparently my grandma’s like, “we used to eat…” my grandma doesn’t have an accent I don’t know why I just…

Elle: In my day…

Nyk: Yeah. So…

Elle: It’s good for you apparently.

Nyk: They use to eat liver apparently, but my parents’ generation finds that to be just as offensive. Um, but those, the tongue and the liver are, are staples for sure.

Elle: It’s high in iron, I know, liver. I think  it’s disgustngi. I just, I can’t eat it. I just don’t like the taste, but yeah…

Nyk: It has a, a unique texture as well. So I understand why people would not be, you know, huge fans of the liver. Um, especially because Japanese people are all secretly eating it raw. If you weren’t aware.

Elle: Uh, I was not aware.

Nyk: Yeah, you’re not supposed to eat it raw because obviously, I mean, it’s not a super, um, common thing, but obviously it can be contaminated and it can make you sick.

But, um, Japanese people, Japanese servers will come up to you and be like with a plate of liver and they’ll be like, “make sure you cook it.” And everybody’s like, “oh, okay, we’re going to cook it.” And then just like, without even touching the, without even touching the grill, just kind of like pass it over and then straight  raw. It’s called nebasashi. And that’s definitely quite the delicacy. Yeah.

I mean, those ones are,,I have become so second nature to me. I forgot that they were even gross.

Elle: So you, I mean, you know, it’s gross to me cause it’s gross to me. I like to try different foods, but I can’t do liver, but um, so you, you eat that then? Do you eat it? You’ve eaten it raw? You will raw when you’re out?

Nyk: I prefer, I prefer it raw.

Elle: Wow.

Nyk: Cause when it’s, when it’s cooked  for a long time, it’s cooked is when it gets that really kind of like sandy texture. Um, and when it’s raw, I mean, there’s, there’s no way that I’m going to explain it, that it’s going to like, oh, that sounds better.

I mean, it’s awful if you don’t like that stuff, but, but, you know, I mean, I’ve, I’ve never been a picky eater and, but I had no idea. I was not, I was this not picky of an eater until I came to Japan.

Elle: Well, uh, we can certainly, I’ll look forward to watching you eat your way through Japan on your channel. That sounds like so much fun. And, um, yeah, I’ll pop the link to your channel and the description, of course. It’s such a fun channel. Great. For anyone listening, who is studying Japanese, just interested in Japanese culture also. Nyk, thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate it. It was a great chat.

Nyk: Thank you so much for having me.

English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #24: How Polyglot & Software Engineer @Robin MacPherson Learns Languages

Study this episode and any others from the LingQ English Podcast on LingQ! Check it out.

YouTuber Robin MacPherson is passionate about language learning, so much so that he has created his own language learning tool, Journaly. He also wrote a book titled How to Maintain Languages which help readers… you guessed it, maintain their languages! In this episode Robin shares how his love from languages started, the methods he uses and more.

Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me Elle. Remember if you’re studying English, you can study the transcript to this podcast episode as a lesson on LingQ. I will always pop the lesson link in the description. If you’ve never used LingQ before a LingQ lesson allows you to read through and lesten and also watch in this case to a piece of content in English, translating the words and phrases that you don’t know, saving them to your own personal database and then learning English from content you’re actually interested in. So check it out.

The lesson link, as I said, is in the description and you can also find all past episode lessons there also.

Today. I have another wonderful guest for you. He is a polyglot YouTuber, also designer, software engineer and a data scientist, no big deal. Um, Robin McPherson, how are you, Robin?

Robin: I’m doing very well. How are you today?

Elle: I’m great. I’m great. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us at the end of your day, because you are joining us from the UK, correct?

Robin: Yeah, that’s right.

Although it’s funny just a couple months ago, you and I would have been in the same time zone.

Elle: Right, because you were in San Francisco?

Robin: Right, exactly. Yeah.

Elle: Um, so whereabouts in the UK are you now?

Robin: So I am now in Bristol. Um, I guess we call the Southwest. Um, yeah. Yeah.

And you’re in Vancouver, right?

Elle: Yes. Yes.

Vancouver, originally though, and we talked about this before we started recording I’m from Cardiff, which is basically right next door to Bristol. Yeah.


Robin: Awesome.

Elle: Sunny, sunny Cardiff, sunny Bristol. So, uh, so Robin, as I mentioned, you are a, uh, YouTube… uh, polyglot YouTuber rather. Your channel is such a wealth of knowledge for anyone who is, um, actively learning a language, maintaining a language, interested in learning languages. So tell us what, uh, what languages have you studied?

Robin: Yeah, so I’ve studied, um, Spanish was the first one I did independently.

Um, then Japanese was the language that I really like fell in love with not just languages, but… well, not just Japanese, but the art and science of learning languages. After that was French. Um, I don’t remember the order after that, but then there’s, um, Portuguese, Italian, German, Swedish.

Um, now I did also learn Dutch, um, at one point, uh, to a reasonably high level, but I no longer speak Dutch. Um, and then Mandarin Chinese has been a language that I’ve been learning most recently for the last couple of years.

Elle: That was a really varied selection of languages. So Spanish was the first language you, you studied, you said?

Robin: I did French in school, but I was so terrible at learning languages, um, that my teacher said I would never speak a foreign language.

Um, so that prediction ended up not being true, thankfully. Um, but Spanish was the first one that I actually said, I want to learn a language. Uh, I was 16. It’s one of the only things in my life, I have no clue why I, you know, like so many I’ve done so many things like skateboarding or basketball where I can remember the moment like that I was inspired to do it by somebody else.

Elle: Right.

Robin: Spanish was the first thing.

I just, I have no idea, but I just called, my mom was like, mom, can you get me a… cause back then I had no clue. I’m like, can you buy me like a CD? Or a book? Uh, so she got me, you know, Fluent in Six Weeks. Um, the little book and a CD with some flashcards you could cut out.

That was where it all began.

Elle: Wow. And so to go back to what you said about that teacher, I think that is amazing. Have you… that was a French teacher. Have you spoken to that teacher since?

Robin: No, I did try to reach out, um, at one point after I got out of uni. Uh, but I didn’t hear back.

Um, so yeah, it’s a shame.

Elle: Yeah, yeah. Wow. I wonder if that spurred your interest to actually prove, him, her?

Robin: Her

Elle: That teacher wrong. To prove her wrong.

Robin: I’ve never had that. I think, um, I, it’s not really in my personality, but I will say after having sort of become so passionate about language learning and also most of all seeing the effects that had on my life. I mean, all the best things that have happened in my life, even things that are not to do with languages, like becoming a software engineer, for example, none of that would have been possible without at some point realizing that I could learn a language. That’s how it began.

And so I’ve often wondered how many people are just like I was, but they don’t ever, for whatever reason, their life doesn’t present that discovery that no, you actually can do this?

Uh, and that’s what made me, honestly, that’s been one of the most powerful driving forces in terms of me wanting to help people not just learn languages, but sort of, it sounds cheesy, but you know, believe in their ability to learn independently much beyond languages. I’ve just found that languages have been my best vehicle to making that positive impact.

But certainly my aspirations are that, you know, the work I do to help people learn languages, hopefully it then goes on to have a bigger impact in their lives as it did mine.

Elle: And so tell us about your methods then.

So you, the first language that you truly learned was Spanish, and I’m sure your methods have perhaps changed over the years, but what are the key aspects to the, your language learning method?

Robin: Um, I think that these days I would overall classify myself as sort of an input first learner. I don’t tend to speak until much later on. I’ve actually been documenting the process recently of finally starting to speak in Mandarin Chinese after two years. Um, so, um, you know, I almost think it’s gotten simpler over the years.

Um, you know, where the beginning stages, it really depends on what’s available, you know, uh, I find the beginning stages, uh, wherever it’s an app that I like, or a certain textbook, basically finding a good set of resources.

But basically the first phase of learning for me is about seeing as much of the language is like can.

Um, so it’s not about mastering anything. It’s, I just want to see all of it in terms of the key structures, the key grammar things like once I’ve seen at least a few times, like, okay, that’s how you do the past tense, or this is how you do that. Even if I forget it, I’ve seen it now. So it’s, it’s the, it’s the entire journey after that.


Is about actually, um, cultivating and sort of deepening my knowledge of all these things. So first phase is sort of finding a set of resources I like, so I can see everything.

Uh, and then after that is where it gets more interesting to me where I do a variety of things such as I like reading a lot.

So I do enjoy extensive reading. However, one thing that I find makes me a bit different than lots of people who certainly follow my stuff, I’m a big fan of more intensive reading as well. A lot of the methods that I use tend to be a little bit more intensive. Um, and I also say, I always say, I’m, I’m a depth first learner.

So I tend to use relatively few resources, but I tend to go very deep on them. Um, and, and then, so, and then that kind of honestly takes me all the way through my, my journey.

Um, and the reason why I say I’m sort of depth first is that, you know, programming, we have this, these two concepts depth first versus breadth first.


Elle: Okay.

Robin: So the approach of either going deep before you go wide or going wide before you go deep. And I find that by just having a few really good resources that I go really deep on, um, it actually makes maintaining languages, um, a lot easier for me. And it also makes it easier coming back to languages later because I have a much narrower set of things that I know really, really, really well.

And so maintaining a language or getting back to it becomes quite simple.

I just have these, these things I go back to, um, Yeah, I guess I could talk for hours about my different methods and stuff, but I would say I want to see everything. And then I want to combine things like extensive and intensive reading.

I want to combine sort of extensive listening with things like transcription. I do a lot of substitution, uh, manipulation drills. Um, and then the other thing that I think makes my learning style perhaps stand out online at least, is that I tend to develop my speaking skills without really talking to people in the beginning.

Um, yeah. And this is a style that developed mostly out of necessity where I just didn’t have people to talk to. Um, and I didn’t have the money to book a tutor or something.

So there are a number of languages where I actually became quite proficient at speaking and expressing myself without really talking to a human.

Um, and then I ended up finding out there were loads of people online who for one reason or another don’t have people to talk to. And it turns out people are quite fascinated by this idea that you could develop your speaking skills without actually speaking to people if you need to. So.

Elle: Interesting. Do you mean then that you kind of talk to yourself or you talk about what you’re doing in the day? I know that that’s a method.

Robin: Yeah, but there’s, I find there’s loads of stuff. And recently I’ve been developing a lot of my own methods.

Like there’s one that I love talking about, uh, what I call the podcast interview method, where, you know, it’s basically a method where I pretend I’m on a podcast like this, and I pretend that you’re going to ask me a question, but I basically take the exact same question every day of the week for a full week.

Um, and I, I do my best to give a different answer every time, same answer, but there’s no script. And what happens is that throughout the week I get better and better and better at answering that one question. So I start to get this immense depth. I develop my vocabulary. And then the last two days I’ve tried to give a completely new answer altogether as a way to get the spontaneity in there.

That’s just one example.

So I have all these different methods I do. Some of them like that one do involve actually speaking, but I do also find things like extensive reading will improve what’s called automatic processing. My ability to sort of formulate thoughts or parse language as it comes in. So yeah, lots of stuff.

But yeah, I find you can actually become quite comfortable speaking, if you need to, without having to talk to others.

Elle: Excellent. I really liked that idea. I might try that in French this week. So, so you, you take a question and then each day you answer it, they, you said the final two days you answered something completely different.

That’s great. Okay.

Robin: What I do is it’s like I’ll have, I’ll have like Google Translate or something of my favorite dictionary, something open. And then the first day I find the, wow, I’m lacking a lot of vocab, you know, if the question’s about design. It’s like, oh yeah. I don’t know how to say any of these words in French.

Um, but so the first day is more about like figuring some stuff out, but then the second day it’s like referencing it. I’ll have a list, right? Um, I may even go ask some people that I know people, but the point is that by the third, fourth and fifth day, you, it becomes less about, oh God, what are the words?

And it becomes more about, okay, now I’m actually just focusing on how to express myself. So it kind of isolates that problem, but as a by-product you learn all the words. Um, and then, like I said, the last two days you get that spontaneity that is much more lifelike where now it’s like, okay, how can I, you know, improvise on this subject?

Uh, and I find that you could either do that several weeks in a row with related questions. So you go deep on a topic or you could do different topics every week, and then you grow the amount of topics you can discuss.

Elle: I really like this. I am going to give this a try.

Robin: I’m glad you like it. I’ll send you a video.

Elle: Oh yeah. Excellent. Thank you. So it sounds like maybe your, um, your career as a software engineer really influences your language learning. Would you, would you say?

Robin: Certainly influenced how I view languages. Um, you know, I now view languages almost like systems. Um, and this came from building not just sort of software engineering, but in particular, working on software architecture where, yeah languages are kind of similar, you know, there, there are different… and I say similar in that there are these moving pieces that interact with each other, you know? And so for example, that’s how grammar works, right? It’s like, well, if we change this piece, maybe the, maybe we go from talking about one person to two people.

Well, that has an impact over here, perhaps, um, maybe a conjugation or a declension or something, right? And that, that perspective came from being a software engineer and it kind of simplified things, especially languages like German or Russian, where the grammar can be quite complex. It’s kind of cool to be like, it’s just a system.

You know? It’s like having cars where one car may have more moving pieces and more components to it. And another one… but they’re all still cars. And it’s just about understanding how this one is different than that one.

Elle: Excellent. And in terms of maintaining all the languages that you know, um, you literally wrote the book. So you wrote a book called How to Maintain Languages. And what was your inspiration for writing that book?

Robin: I think early on, I got very inspired by some of the, um, sort of, uh, pioneers of the polyglot um, Community, which I think now is really blossomed into more of a broad language learning community. Um, and with that, I did begin learning quite a few languages quite early.

And then I found that at a certain point, it was a mess, you know, where I have like one or two languages that were, that were really high levels. And then I had a whole bunch and it was very overwhelming just to even keep them at a basic level concurrently. I just thought I have to figure this out because I want to learn these languages.

Um, and those are almost exact same ones I know today except for Chinese.

Um, and so, yeah, I just thought I have to figure out a system that works for my life. Something that is sustainable, that will allow me to not only keep them at the same level, but over time deepen my knowledge of all of these languages.

And so the next couple of years was me trying to do that and it worked really well. And so, and then I realized this was a massive problem that I didn’t, I felt people weren’t discussing in enough depth. And so that’s when I decided to write the book.

Elle: Excellent. Now I know you can’t condense, you wrote a whole book, you can’t condense that into some soundbites, but, um, what are your key tips for maintaining languages?

Robin: I think there’s a few, I think, um, the biggest perhaps underlying realization that I had was that you don’t have to do everything all the time, right? I think a lot of people perhaps view language maintenance as like, you know, gotta do every language every day.

Uh, and I think realizing that there are many, many ways to do this, um, that are quite intricate and, and, but also quite simple, that’s really helpful. Uh, I think there are certain techniques. I have like one, like whole little language projects where once in a while I’ll take a language that I haven’t really been working on enough,

um, or as much as I want to, and I’ll say, you know what, for the next week or two weeks I’m going to do a project with that language, right? Um, and it could be like, I’m going to read a novel if it’s a really high level language, or it could be, I’m going to watch a single episode of this TV show, whatever it is.

And just having that, understanding that it’s okay to just pause, take one week or whatever, however long it takes to do a little project in this language. And in doing that, I can really boost, um, that level. I can… it’s amazing.

The long-term impact that has on keeping my languages fresh, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really take much away from whatever else I was doing.

And so that’s an example of a technique I have that I think long-term helps me enormously in keeping languages sharp and fresh, but also continuing to deepen them over time.

Elle: Great. Well, I’ll leave the, uh, the link to the book in the description. If anyone is interested, I think it’s such a great topic because there are so many books on, you know, learn this language. Learn it, learn it, get it in. But what about once you have a decent level, you do need to not lose it, which is such a shame, you know, it happens.

So, yeah, it’s a, it’s a great topic. Uh, another interesting, um, project that you’ve been working on lately I would love to hear about, this is exciting for anyone who’s learning a language, but especially anyone who’s learning a new language and enjoys writing.

So tell us about Journaly.

Robin: Yeah. So Journaly is a project that I’ve been working on for now three and a half years. Um, and it’s basically a foreign language writing platform. Now I’ve centered the concept around the idea of journaling because journaling is a habit based thing. Um, It’s something that I found through doing research and surveys, like loads of people want to journal even just for their own lives, right?

It’s such a helpful positive habit and it involves writing.

And I think that writing is the most underused tool for learning languages. Um, and I think it’s so powerful. So I wanted to build a tool that would hopefully from a design perspective, make it as easy as possible to write, right? Like, because I think a lot of people don’t write, because it’s it’s effortful, right?

It takes effort, right? So it was about how can I create a place where you can write, but also one of the things, this is why I love writing is the feedback element, right? It is the best way in my opinion, to get the most granular, amazing feedback, right?

When you’re speaking, it’s pretty hard for someone to stop you constantly and everything else, even if you record it, it’s like, it’s very difficult to package that feedback for you.

And then for you to digest it, writing is such a great way to do that. So with Journaly, basically you can come, you can write in any language you want. We support all languages. Um, if any languages are not there, you can just write to me and I’ll add it to the database immediately. Um, we have over a hundred languages already supported.

Um, you can get feedback from native or advanced speakers and I’ve built these tools where I, for example, you can highlight exactly a certain piece of text and then open a thread. And then have a discussion inside of that thread.

So your feedback ends up exactly where it belongs. It doesn’t just go to the bottom of the page and you scroll up and down again.

It’s like, how can it, how can we make it as easy as possible for you to both give feedback to somebody, but also collect it. And, and then the other aspect of Journaly is that we don’t just collect language data. We collect topic data. So what’s this post about? And so the long-term goal is to not be transactional.

It’s so that you can actually meet people on journally that have similar interests, not just similar languages, right?

So if you’re learning Japanese and you love gardening or plant, houseplants or interior design, wouldn’t it be great if you could find someone that’s a Japanese speaker, learning English, who’s journaling about plants and interior design so that you too could actually potentially have a long-term connection?

So it’s writing, it’s feedback, it’s… but it’s also about building community.

Elle: I love that aspect of it too. Yeah, that’s right. And so it’s live now when you said a hundred languages.

Robin: Yeah, I think we over a hundred languages now. Yeah.

It’s live right now. Um, yeah, it’s a journaly.com. It’s honestly, it’s, I’ve been blown away by the… it’s only been live for about five months now.

I’m still technically in beta, but we already have almost 10,000 posts. Um, and the biggest thing is that we have now about 130,000 comments have been posted on those eight to 10,000 posts. Um, which, which sounds insane, but it’s because somebody will say, “Hey, this should be this way. Not that way.” And then somebody will respond and say, “oh, could I do this.”

Somebody else will chip in. So you have these gorgeous threads. Um, so that’s been the biggest surprise is that people are willing to do it. And the biggest… I’ve gotten this feedback that it’s addictive, it’s addictive to realize five minutes of my day, just reading someone’s posts, leaving a few comments that just changed their life today.

You know, like that’s solid gold that they couldn’t otherwise get. And so some people just come on every day and just correct like 10 or 20 posts. Um, and that’s my other favorite thing about Journaly is realizing that yeah, I don’t need one Korean native speaker for every Korean learner. I just, I just need a few really enthusiastic, engaged native speakers that can then impact like thousands of learners.

So it’s really cool.

Elle: Wonderful. Yeah.

Very cool. I’ll again, put the link in the description for anyone who is interested in checking out Journaly. Okay.

So for the rest of the year, what can people expect who subscribe to your channel? And now I’m sure everyone listening will go straight to Robin and subscribe.

What can they expect from your channel for the rest of the year and beyond?

Robin: So I do a lot of things where I document myself doing things in real time. So the last two years I’ve been documenting learning Mandarin from zero, right? As an example, right now I’m documenting, developing, spoken fluency, but I also do things in all my other languages.

Um, so there’s a lot of things like watch me become able to understand authentic podcasts, right? And how, how do we do it? How do I adapt in the middle? Things like that? I do a lot of videos just explaining methods. Um, almost like tutorials, like here’s a method for doing this. I’m doing a lot more interviews now and collaborations, which are really fun.

Um, and then I’m also going to be doing more sort of short documentary stuff that I originally was my goal on YouTube. My oldest video is like a short documentary about my life in Japan. So I’m going to be having a lot more artistic pieces that incorporate more interesting filmmaking stuff that has been a deep passion of mine, but I couldn’t do much before with a full-time job and everything else.

Now, this is my job finally. So basically a pretty big variety…

Elle: Those pesky jobs getting in the way of all the fun.

Robin: Everything is in playlists. That’s one thing I try to do on my channel. So like anyone who’s interested, it’s a bit overwhelming.

Uh, I know a lot of people have a lot of videos, so I do try to put them in playlists.


I do a lot of series where it’s like, You know, here’s a series about extensive reading or here’s a series about X, Y, Z. So…

Elle: Fantastic. Well, as I said, I’ll pop the link to your channel and also to your book, How to Maintain Languages and to Journaly in the description. So everyone check those out and Robin, best of luck with all of your projects and your channel.

And thank you so so much for joining me today. It was a great, interesting chat.

Robin: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

It was really pleasant to talk to you and, uh, I look forward to seeing all of your future guests as well.

Elle: Excellent. Great. Thank you Robin.

Robin: Bye-bye.