Getting to know you

united-kingdomHello everyone! I wanted to do something a little bit different this month, and try and get to know you all a little better! Instead of doing a bog-standard post introducing myself, I took to Curious Cat to see if there was anything you guys were wondering about me… and boy, did you guys deliver! So without any further ado, let’s get started! So, the first anonymous question I received was ‘What is it about languages that you like so much?’. Blimey, I suppose all the easy questions were already taken! I don’t even know where to start. Well, I’m very interested in the written word – so learning to write and read in a foreign language has always been a priority for me. I did my degree in English Literature, so learning to read in my second language was a huge step for me… and thanks to the Polyglot NaNoWriMo challenge, learning to write in my second language was an even bigger step. But I think one of the things that’s been a constant with my language learning is that I’m fascinated by etymology. That’s probably why all of the languages I speak are related in some way – Danish, Norwegian and Swedish form a continuum, and my month-long foray into Icelandic only served to cement that.

The way languages change and evolve has always been a passion of mine, which I suppose leads well into the next question: ‘Did you get into languages as a schoolkid, or did it happen later on for you? I ask that since your main ones seem like very ‘unschooly’ languages in the UK!’ Well… I went to a Catholic school, and they had quite an interesting attitude to language. In second year, everyone would start studying French until the end of third year. If you were good at French, you would start German in third year and continue that until the end of the year. If you were bad at French, you would start Spanish instead. All while studying Latin alongside. Then, going into fourth and fifth year, you picked at least one language to do for GCSE – because I was utterly pants at both French and German (I was at least good enough at French to not end up in the Spanish class, which, while being filled with the people who didn’t want to pay attention in French wasn’t all that successful in teaching anybody Spanish either), I decided to do Latin! And thus began two of the most terrifying years of my school career – I can’t even hear the word ‘Virgil’ without breaking out in a cold sweat. Luckily it doesn’t come up much. But I do think that learning Latin gave me a grounding in grammar that has served me well in later years. It’s also why I’m interested in Romance languages, because of my whole thing about etymology and language evolution, although I prefer to admire them from a safe distance… I’m still haunted by being so incredibly crap at French when I was twelve. I didn’t even really realise I was interested in languages at all until I was eighteen and starting university, and ended up sharing a flat with half the population of Kristiansand… but that’s a story for another time!

Now, on to the next question! ‘C2 in three languages or A1 in fifty?’ Well, anybody who’s been following me for a while might think they know the answer to this one… but they’d actually be wrong. Despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, I would much rather be proficient in a few languages than know bits of lots of languages. I’m just prone to dabbling. I think my biggest problem is that I’m looking for something that just… clicks the right way. Like Swedish did for me. But I think I’m starting to realise that I’m not being realistic; learning a language is a lot of effort, and forcing myself to put that effort in instead of falling at the first hurdle has been a perennial problem with me. So… I am hoping to be better, but I can’t make any promises. That being said, I’m on a 24-day streak with Spanish on Duolingo right now… maybe the winds of change are blowing my way?

Someone asked ‘What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the online language learning community?’ and someone else asked ‘What do you think of the whole ‘celeb polyglot’ circuit?’, which I thought were quite similar so I thought I’d answer them both in one go. Now, this is something of a hot-button issue at the moment… First, the positives. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have met a lot of very supportive and friendly people since I came to Twitter and Instagram, and I appreciate every single one of you. The whole celebrity polyglot thing… doesn’t really bother me in the main. It’s when they start trying to flog wonder courses that will have you fluent in Korean by the end of the month that I start to struggle. Scripted videos annoy me a little too… people make mistakes. Language learners are supposed to make mistakes, that’s how they learn! Portraying yourself as having perfect grammar naturally when you’ve actually agonised over a script just isn’t fair, and it perpetuates unrealistic standards that other learners then feel responsible to live up to. I think the community would benefit greatly if everybody was just a bit more open and honest about their abilities. And that’s my two pennies’ worth.

Another two questions that I thought I’d answer in one go, because my answers are similar. Someone asked: ‘Do you travel a lot (under normal circumstances, of course!). Where is the first place you’ll be booking tickets to post-Covid?’ and someone else asked ‘Have you ever attended any of the big polyglot events in person?’. I do love to travel! Some years I don’t do it much (like this one), and other years I’m hardly ever home. I think my record was five European capitals in a year… though I’d like to be able to travel more cheaply and more often, honestly. I’ve never attended any of the big language learning events, no, but I think the first place I can see myself going is to the Polyglot Gathering in Poland next year (by which time, hopefully, all of this will be a distant memory). Honestly, it would be amazing to meet some of you there, if anyone else was thinking about going! We could co-commiserate over the horrors of Polish grammar over a cup of kawa.

And now, to finish off with something a bit lighter: ‘When you’re not studying languages, what do you like to do in your spare time?’. Gosh, where to begin. Well, I do the same amount of laying around watching Netflix as the next guy (if not slightly more, eep!), especially right now. But I also enjoy playing games (mostly Pokémon I have to admit, I’m just a big kid)… I’m trying to read more, too. I used to read voraciously, and then my degree kind of killed it for me… I’m slowly getting back into it, though I think I’ll even struggle to reach my target of 15 books this year – even during lockdown! In normal circumstances I’d be going out for meals with friends and trying to go to the cinema as much as I can… but as most of my closest friends here are of Scandinavian extraction, I can technically count our meals out as language practice. (Kidding, obviously!)

And that’s it! I hope that’s enlightened you, but if you find that this post has asked more questions than it answered, I’ll keep Curious Cat open and try and check it regularly-ish! So you can send any follow-ups through there, or as always, feel free to reach out on Twitter or Instagram (I’m @sprakskatan on both). Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next month! Same time, same place!

– J.


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