a blog for language learners

Welcome to my Blog- the Notes of a Language Learning Addict

A warm welcome to the Olyglot language learning website. You’re reading the inaugural post of my brand new language learning blog. I have much to say on the subject, as I’m an active, you might even say obsessive, language learner. The general plan is to post once a week on a different language topic, expounding my personal views and offering experience-based insights, reviews of software/tools, unique methodology, immersion ideas, and more. I have an epic post planned to kick things off. So, my friends… VAMOS (or however you say it in your native tongue, second, third…)

First, a quick note on my language journey. My name is Oliver and I live in Brooklyn, New York. I make experimental rock music, teach piano, write novels (so far without any commercial success) and I was, up to about 8 months ago, a language-learning dunce. A moron, dimwit, a bozo… I plugged and plugged and plugged away at Spanish. I read old textbooks, dictionaries. Made flash cards. Watched movies. I went to Costa Rica a dozen times, made lifelong Costa Rican friends and still never cracked the code (though I probably should have tried to learn a little more and drink a little less on the beach).

Oliver picDuolingo changed my life. I downloaded the phone app in January of 2014, but really started hammering away at their miracle software when I discovered the fully functioning website and promptly added French, Portuguese, Italian and German (languages I thought were too hard to really dig into) I owe a lot of my L.L. passion to how useful Duolingo was (and still is). Needless to say–I am a huge proponent of their enterprise and would recommend any language student make it their “home base,” then continue to utilize the thorough lessons as a way of reaffirming core words and connecting to the Duo community for motivation and insights/grammar tips from native speakers. My addiction to the site got me in the swing of things, and then I started seeking out native content and wading through the most up-to-date learning devices free on the Internet. All this work boiled into a stew of motivation and…(gasp) actual progress. Now I can understand almost everything I hear in Spanish. No magic trick involved, just the diligent use of a wide range of (free) tools.

Disclaimer: I will be focusing on Spanish as the main language for examples of content/methodology as it is my second language, as well as the most widely available second language available to learn via the English language across the spectrum of the internet. Other languages under consideration will be French, Portuguese, Italian, German and Swedish (with small mention to Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Turkish — basically the langs that Duolingo currently offers.) Sorry if yours didn’t make the list. I intend to learn them all; the problem is free time :-/ I also need to note this right off the bat– I AM NOT AFFILIATED WITH ANY OF THE WEBSITES OR COMPANIES I MENTION OR “PROMOTE” ON THIS BLOG.

IMG_1902Okay, phew–now that that’s out of the way…

A few random tips! (Future posts will concentrate on a single topic, but this post is a grab bag of sorts, with practical advice for all language learners.)

* Keep the Native Language Content on (NCO)! Keep it playing. Podcast done? Put on another. Movie over? Find another and keep the audio up loud enough to hear while you do chores. The only secret lies in motivation–you need to become a foreign language starving body. The sound of the language in play is your food and you need to eat–a lot. Find TV, radio, sports and other media to keep your ear soaked in the native music. The incessant use of NCOs is the most important thing I can stress, because it’s so easy. The only way you’re doing it wrong is if you’re not keeping the content on. You can bet you’ll be hearing much more on this in the weeks to come.

* Install a word storing toolbar (such as the very good Lingua.ly)!! With Lingua.ly you can simply double click on a word and a little box pops up with a definition and someone speaking the audio. Even better it will save these words and you can use it Memrise style (have I mentioned Memrise yet? It’s a hugely effective site, second only to Duo. Reactive, repetitive, fun flashcards.) The toolbar method is so much quicker than google translate or dare I mention a dusty old bound dictionary. My hope is someone makes a very advanced and comprehensive version of this toolbar idea as soon as possible. For now, get in on what Lingua is doing. (edit- here’s the link to get the toolbar lingua.ly toolbar

* Install a dictionary app on your phone!!! I use the Vida Lingua apps for my iPhone because there is good free version for each of the big Euro languages I’m studying. They work, look the same and–the best part–come with a quiz function that helps you learn vocab. I love Duolingo, but I won’t use it on the subway. I need a quick vocab builder that has a simple interface, and I was pleasantly be surprised how effective Vida’s 1 out of 4 style definition game will help you’re vocab grow if you use it every day on your commute. Having this simple phone dictionary as your primary reference is great for reading real (bound) books, because, let’s be honest, everyone always has their phone next to them. You can even speak the English word into the device with good results for quick translations. Get a Vida Lingua dictionary free ASAP.

* Load up on podcasts: Educational podcasts (both the pseudo-classroom and easy conversation styles) are great because they’re geared toward helping you learn bit by bit, without overwhelming. Perhaps these programs aren’t as useful as live TV, which features visual cues, gestures, and mouth movements. But they’re much more portable! The only downside is listening to the filler, but when you find a good podcast (and there are several in almost any language you can think of) you’ll want to make them an essential part of your routine. (langpod101, perhaps the most consistent podcast company around offers about 50 lessons on their sites and iTunes at varying levels) iTunes is great, still probably the best resource for the medium (though going to company sites can offer benefits including vocab lists, flashcards and more). Soon these educational podcasts will lose their luster and content straight from the source is a better choice. When searching iTunes (a good podcast home base), search for the language in its native name. i.e. don’t just search for Swedish, but Svenska. Search for ‘francais’ instead of French. etc. Perhaps finding beginner specific content will be a struggle. But those with a foothold in the language will enjoy quality native programming that cultures the ear from the moment you press play. A great first option: the free ten or so minute “News in Slow” Spanish (European and Latin American version), French, and Italian–easy to find on iTunes.

IMG_1359Language learning as an art-form is really easy to master (the tools are just so plentiful and refined. Not to mention game-like and fun!). But on the other hand, it’s really effing hard too (for reasons you might not expect!). I hope to cover topics that might not be getting in the conversation, such as connecting via tinder and other sites with social stigma (dating, harassment) as well as being addicted to becoming a polyglot and how the motivations for such “addictions” can be detrimental in the long run. If you have ideas for relevant blog topics, or have anything else you’d like to say, I encourage you to post a comment in the box below.

I’ll end this inaugural episode with one last crumb of insight. A hallmark of truly speaking a language is being able and willing to chime in: Not firing off rich, organic statements. Not holding your own for minutes on end, reacting with precision. But rather listening, often in a group–waiting, then reacting. Waiting another moment or two, then trying something out. Going with and idea, then retreating to the safety of the group. As you wait, you’ll be able to mutter along with the others, throw out space-filling slang and of course, with open ears, learn more than with a hundred hours on the apps. In my opinion this is one of the most under-taught and digested concepts. PangbukWe should be preparing people for these breakthrough moments. So here’s one idea how: Learn tons of small talk–memorize the most basic words. Thing. You. It. Question words. “to go” “to have” “to be able to” — Drill these with fury. Use Memrise–make your own course. Google slang from some place you love. Add some of these terms to your list. You’re on your way.

Thanks for joining me on this language learning freefall.


  1. Skellie

    Hey man. I can’t seem to find that Lingua dictionary toolbar you mention. I went to the Lingua.ly website and signed up, and I see how you can double-click words on there to get translations, but I don’t see anything about a toolbar.

    Any help? Sounds cool!

  2. Ollieeddie

    They appear to have canned lingua.ly — another option for a similar technology is Readlang.com I’m sure someone will step up and fill the void soon.

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