Answering Language Learning Questions

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. I’m going to follow up with another video. I received a comment from a Miss Soule, who is a Canadian who is studying Korean and other languages from what I can gather from looking at her YouTube channel and who has lived in the U.S. She sent me a list of questions which she wants to me to answer in a video and I’m going to do that. I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but I checked out her channel and she seemed like a very interesting person.

If you go to her YouTube channel, which I’ll put in the explanation, you’ll see that she did one on discrimination. Now, Miss Soule (I don’t know what her real name is) is black and she had an experience. First of all, she experienced some racial discrimination from Koreans in response to one of her videos and then she had an experience in Kentucky where she went to a party and was met with a certain degree of hostility and that this hostility eventually melted, at least insofar as some of the people were concerned.

She talks a little bit about discrimination and she has a very open mind on this subject, which I found very enlightened. As she points out, racial discrimination is not the preserve of any race and the scenario that she describes at this party where she a lone black person amongst a bunch of somewhat hostile white people could easily have been reproduced if she were the lone white person in a party where there were all black people or Asians or Protestant-Irish, Catholic-Irish, you name it. The propensity for human beings to develop irrational dislikes of people who support different soccer teams or whatever has been with us for a long time. It’s not about to go away and it’s no one special preserve.

Because of that video, which I found very interesting and I recommend, I am going to answer her questions. Now I have to go find those questions and I will continue. All right, the first question is—

What do you consider to be your native language?


What was your first language-learning experience?

In my case, it’s a little complicated because I was born in Sweden and at the age of five my family moved to Canada. So I learned my first language, English, other than the language that I was born with, but I have no recollection of doing so. I arrived in Canada at the age of five and all I can remember is speaking English with my friends. Soon I had forgotten Swedish and everything happened in English, but the first language that I deliberately learned I guess would be French, which I had at school and didn’t speak. Then I went to university and had a very stimulating professor of French civilization who turned me on to French and, as a consequence, turned me on to language learning.

What languages have you studied and why did you start them?

Well, the next language was Chinese. I was sent to Hong Kong to learn Mandarin by the Canadian Government. I was a Canadian Government Trade Commissioner, Canada was about to recognize the People’s Republic of China, so I went there and learned Chinese. Thereafter, I went to Japan and lived there and learned Japanese, essentially, on my own while living there. Thereafter, there’s a whole number of languages that I went after. I think I’ve detailed that elsewhere, but it adds up to 12 and I’m working on my 13th which is Korean. In the last five years, I’ve learned Cantonese, Russian, Czech and Portuguese and, if I get the Korean down, it will be five since the age of 55, the last 12 years.

How does your personality affect how you learn languages?

I think if you’re serious and motivated and interested in different peoples, different cultures, and different histories. At least I am and that is a large part of my motivation for learning languages. I think personality wise I’m not afraid to speak and make mistakes and I think that helps me. I’m confident that I can learn these languages, so that helps me.

Listening Comprehension: An Important Language Skill

Next question—

Do you prefer learning languages in a class or individually?

Not even close. I don’t like going to class. I only learn individually.

What are your favorite language-learning materials?

Well, when we start I use beginner stuff, but as soon as possible I try to get into things that interest me, which is very often history, politics, things of that nature, and then somewhat later literature.

How much time do you spend actively learning per day?

I would think about an hour a day and, if I get motivated, on a weekend it can become two or three hours.

Next question—

What are your short-term and long-term language learning goals?

My short-term goal is to develop enough knowledge of Korean, largely through my passive listening and reading and some talking, so that in six months from now I can go to Korea, spend a couple of weeks and really convert that passive knowledge into something approaching fluency in Korean.

A longer-term goal is I want to find the time to get back at the languages that I have already learned, including the most recent ones, Russian, Czech, Portuguese and so forth, and even some of my old favorites like Chinese and Japanese and improve in all of them. The way I improve is listening and reading and, of course, using LingQ to increase my vocabulary.

What is your favorite language?

I guess my favorite language is very often the one that I just left. Like right now it’s very difficult for me to leave Czech and do Korean. When I was starting into Czech, I found it very difficult to leave Russian to get into Korean. So I tend to get very much committed to the language that I’m learning.

What is the next language you want to learn?

I don’t know. The more languages I learn, the more difficult it is to find the time to enjoy them all, but I guess Arabic would be high on the list, Arabic, Turkish, because I know so little about the Middle East and Central Asia and that area.

What advice can you give new language learners?

Enjoy. Enjoy the process so that you put in enough time. That would be one, do things that you enjoy doing. Second of all, be independent. Therefore, seek out content, lessons and material that is of interest to you and, when you are learning, learn to notice what’s happening in the language. Seek things out in the language, not only words, but patterns. You have to take the initiative to discover the language.

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