Reflecting On The Most Popular Blog Posts Of 2012

Best blog posts of 2012

G’day from freezing Korea! :)

I hope you all had an awesome Christmas and are now enjoying your break (if you have one that is).

You know, thinking about the fact that the New Year is only a few days away now, I just realised that The Mezzofanti Guild™ – this little project of mine – recently passed its one year birthday.

What started as a simple hobby writing about one’s passion has gradually turned into an established brand and created some amazing connections and friendships that I never would have made otherwise.

It’s been a joy sharing my knowledge and experience with you, and I’ve learned so much hearing from your stories, challenges and triumphs as well.

Thanks for all your support and encouragement as it really means the world to me.

This blog’s been in an alpha stage over the last 12 months as I’ve been ‘testing the waters’ to see what interests and benefits people the most. I now have a much clearer picture and intend to take this work in a more unique direction in 2013.

I hope you’ll continue to visit and share your thoughts here throughout the coming year (make sure to connect with me on Facebook too if you haven’t already).

Today I’m going to share a few of the most popular posts I’ve written this year in case you missed any of them.

If there are any blog posts or articles that have influenced you positively in 2012, make sure to share them with us in the comment section below. :)


You Don’t Need To Study Grammar To Learn To Speak A Foreign Language

I received my first ever hate mail after writing this.

This is one of those raw nerve topics of language learning discussion and there are some people out there who will slay their own grandmother to stubbornly argue in defence of grammar study.

Whatever helps them sleep at night.

The truth is that memorizing conjugations and declensions is going to do very little to improve your conversation skills – if anything it’ll prevent you from making much progress at all.

In this post I introduced a natural alternative that is grounded in research and experience, not to mention more enjoyable.


Why Disliking Learning Languages Is Not A Good Thing

I wrote this in response to a comment made elsewhere regarding language learning only being a “means to an end” – that end being an exchange with another human being.

There’s nothing wrong with that end goal itself but what motivated me to write that was the idea that you can somehow maintain motivation to succeed with a foreign language even if you dislike or have no interest in the learning process.

I don’t believe you can.

Enjoyment is a key factor in success no matter what you’re doing.

People who experience that enjoyment and passion are far more likely to end up with the results they want than the people who think of it all as a mundane chore.


12 Lessons Learned Proposing To An Egyptian Girl Who Only Spoke Arabic

I had to muster up some serious emotional energy to write this.

I lived in Egypt several times as an immersion learner and that country was my first overseas experience as a teenager. Arabic has become a part of my identity in a way that no other language has or probably ever will.

My experience almost marrying an Egyptian girl solely through the medium of Arabic had a huge impact on this.

Here I outlined some of the cultural and language lessons I learned through the whole experience.


How To Install Learning With Texts On Your Own Computer

This needed to be written.

LWT is an outstanding piece of software similar to LingQ but it’s completely free and most importantly, it can be installed locally on your own computer.

The problem is the installation instructions are frankly too technical for a lot of people so I put together a simple yet detailed post on how to download and set it up on your own system so you can take full advantage of it as an assisted reader.

If you haven’t tried it yet then I recommend you give it a go.


The One Thing You Can’t Bullshit In Foreign Language Learning

Listening comprehension.

The Internet is full of people who claim to speak x number of languages at exaggerated levels, and who often self-assess themselves according to the CEFR scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) to sound impressive.

There’s only one thing that astounds and amazes me when I hear of someone who produces a few YouTube videos speaking a bunch of languages that he or she apparently learned in just a few weeks or months:

Peoples’ (and the media’s) gullibility.

There’s a lot of this sort of stuff on the Internet and all it does is discourage people from learning because they think it’s real, and then start feeling disheartened and inadequate.

The post I wrote here (drawing on my experience with the Australian Defence Force linguist testing) is about what I truly believe to be the most difficult language skill to acquire and one that genuinely takes a long time and a lot of hard work.

There are no shortcuts for mastering this skill and it can’t be faked.


Arabic And Hebrew: Why Semitic Languages Are Not Difficult

Despite what people say!

So many people treat Arabic like the boogeyman of foreign languages as if it’s exceedingly difficult for English speakers to learn.

I outlined some reasons why I believe this is complete nonsense and that both languages are quite simple in many ways.

If you’re considering learning a Semitic language like Arabic or Hebrew then check it out!


The Uncomfortable Truth: Social Risk-Takers Are Better Language Learners

This could be what’s holding you back!

In this post, I drew attention to the fact that the most successful language learners are people who aren’t afraid to go that extra step in their social interactions.

This has nothing to do with extroversion either – it’s about facing the fear of making mistakes.

We all struggle with this but it can be overcome.


Pursuing The Irish Language – One Blokes Journey From Australia To Ireland

This was the highlight of my year.

After spending 8 months intensively learning the Irish language (Gaeilge) by myself at home in Australia, isolated from native speakers and with limited resources at my disposal, I made a bold last-minute decision to travel to the other side of the planet so I could use the language with native speakers.

It was an amazing experience and I got more out of it then I could have possibly hoped for.

I spent time hanging out with some incredible people and ultimately walked away with fluency in Irish that attracted attention from several newspapers and radio stations in Australia and Ireland.

And it was only the start.

In 2013 I aim to drive my Irish up to higher level and sit a TEG (CEFR) exam, as well as revisiting the Gaeltacht for more practice.


Learning Less Popular and Minority Languages When Resources Are Hard To Find

I wrote this as a guest post for The Everyday Language Learner blog a while back.

This is where my heart is.

There’s an overwhelming abundance of material online for popular ‘mainstream’ languages (Romance languages, German, Russian, Mandarin, etc.) – so much so that the problem for most people is deciding which resources to use.

Meanwhile, thousands of languages around the world are quickly vanishing along with the culture and traditions that are attached to them which should shame all of us.

More needs to be done.

Here I outlined a few very practical ideas for people who are struggling to find resources to learn languages like this.


That’s it! I hope you have an awesome New Year celebration and enjoy time with friends and family (don’t drink too much :)).


What are your language/travel goals for 2013?

Now’s a good time for you to start thinking about what you hope to achieve with your target language/s in the new year.

Share your goals in the comment section below! :)


This was written by .

Do you use StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest or Digg? A quick upvotelikepin or diggwill make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

Learning Korean To Fluency – My 3 Month Progress Update

Learning The Korean Language

안녕하세요! :)

This week marks three months that I’ve been living and working in South Korea determined to become fluent in the Korean language.

As I’m now one quarter of the way through my time here, it’s time for an update.

I arrived in this country having no prior knowledge of Korean apart from ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, and I admit that before I came here I knew absolutely nothing about Korean culture, cuisine or geography.

It was a part of Asia that I was totally ignorant of.

Never in my life did I consider coming here to learn this language but I have to say that I’m really glad I did.

It’s been a very steep learning curve but one that I’ve really enjoyed up to this point.

Today I’m going to share a short summary with you on some of the things I’ve learned so far (positive and negative), as well as a short video update for those of you who are interested in tracking my progress.

You’ll see that I’m still painfully slow and have a long way to go but compared to my progress 2 months ago (see this video) you can see a noticeable improvement.


How I’ve tackled Korean over the last 3 months

I’m working in South Korea as an English teacher which comes with its own serious advantages and disadvantages for me as a language learner.

It’s not the best job situation for me as I definitely don’t regard it as a long term career path but it’s really the best option for anyone wanting to spend an extended period of time in Korea.

Obviously being in a job where you’re required to only speak English is not the most ideal situation to be in.

The good thing about it however is that it puts me in a position where I’m always surrounded by native speakers at work – both teachers and students who are almost always speaking Korean to each other (outside of class that is).

There’s an atmosphere of Korean which means that there’s always the possibility of passive acquisition and an important stream of repetitive input.

Throughout the day I’m able to ask my co-workers and students how to say certain things, and seek clarification on meaning and pronunciation. Even though each English lesson I teach is 50 minutes and any use of Korean is not allowed during class time, there’s always a spare minute or two where I can let the kids teach me a new word or expression in Korean.

I walk away from nearly every lesson learning something new in Korean – even if it’s just a single word.

My ear is constantly tuned in to listening to the exchanges between my students.

They’ve been my best source of banmal (반말) – casual/informal speech – which is great as most of my study material tends to focus on the more formal ways of saying things.


Focus on natural dialogues – never grammar!

I haven’t studied Korean grammar.

Now, I’m sure that experienced learners of Korean will be quick to highlight all the grammatical mistakes that I’ve made in the video below.

As I’ve said before, you don’t need to study grammar to learn to speak a foreign language and these rough, early stages where the language is painfully slow and full of mistakes will gradually begin to even themselves out over the next few months.

If I had spent the last 3 months with my head stuck in a grammar book, I would have ended up with little more than a mechanical knowledge of Korean.

In many areas I’ve already noticed myself naturally correcting mistakes through plenty of exposure to native dialogues and also having my production being error-corrected by native speaker friends.

Once I reach a comfortable level of basic fluency (which I hope to reach by the 6 month mark) I will indeed go over some grammar, particularly to help my literacy skills improve but for now I’m avoiding it and focusing on acquiring language chunks from natural dialogue.

I now do 3 lessons a week – one in person with a friend and two through italki.

My in-person lessons on Friday mornings are with a friend and we usually just spend an hour chatting about what we did on the weekend, plans, gossip, our love lives and so on. :)

She’s been an awesome help to my Korean.

I decided that it wasn’t going to be enough though and wanted some extra one-on-one attention so I jumped on italki and found another conversation partner who I chat with twice a week.

As you can imagine, this alone takes up a lot of my free time but you have to be prepared to make time (and sometimes financial) sacrifices if you want the results! :)

FYI my lessons through italki are not expensive. They work out to be about $9 an hour which I mentioned here.


A few good and bad points

It’s true that the more languages you learn (especially if they belong to different language families) the easier it gets learning new ones.

From what I’ve seen of Korean so far especially with regard to pronunciation, word order and politeness levels, I can understand why it would be quite challenging for someone who’s never learned a foreign language before to pick it up.

I’ve learned Georgian myself and I also studied Turkish for a while so agglutinative languages with S-O-V word order like Korean are familiar to me.

A lot of the vocabulary I remember from Mandarin Chinese has also been a big bonus as the Korean language is heavily influenced by it – a significant part of its vocabulary and number system are derived from Chinese.

Korean verbs in my opinion are simple in comparison to many other languages.

Most of the time it seems you don’t need to use subject pronouns to stipulate who is doing an action. So for example, bwa-yo (see) can mean I see, you see, he sees, etc. The subject is simply implied by politeness levels, intonation and context.

What I have found challenging and interesting at the same time is the response from Korean people to even slightly incorrect pronunciation – particularly with vowels.

If you don’t get your vowel pronunciation spot-on, people tend to be really confused.

Even though Korean is not a tonal language like Mandarin, I’ve found that there’s a lot less leeway here for inaccurate vowel pronunciation than many other languages (e.g. I was saying “I do” as ha-yo instead of hae-yo for a while which sounded pretty much the same to my ears but people just did not understand me at all).

I have heard similar remarks from other people too so I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this.

Phrasebook ‘romanized’ Korean isn’t going to cut it!

What it means for new Korean learners is that pronunciation is a really big deal and you should work hard on it early (you should be working hard on pronunciation in every language anyway).


So what’s ahead for Korean?

The bulk of my time so far has been focused on input.

Think of the words and expressions you accumulate as a water well in your mind that you draw from – if your well is dry and empty then you have nothing to say.

This is why spending a majority of the time speaking from the start is not an effective strategy.

You need lots and lots of input so you actually have something to say AND understand what other people are telling you.

However as I approach the 4 month mark I intend to gradually spend less time focusing on input and more time implementing/using what I already know.

All the acquired vocab and expressions will sit there as passive, useless knowledge in your mind until you get out there and activate it.

This is what I’ll be turning my attention to in the coming months.

I also have the following Korean-related goals for the rest of my time here:

  • Hire a car and travel along the coast of Korea to get some location and conversation footage for a video project I’m working on.
  • Spend some time on Jeju Island on a dialect discovery excursion to learn more about this endangered variety.
  • Meet someone from North Korea to learn more about their dialect.
  • Head up to Seoul and meet the guys from TTMIK.

Some of this will of course have to wait a few more months till I’m at a much stronger level in my Korean.

Here’s where my Korean was at 9 weeks ago if you haven’t seen it.


This was written by .

Do you use StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest or Digg? A quick upvotelikepin or diggwill make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

How Foreign Language Immersion Changes Your Perspective On The World

February 17, 2015 – 12:01 am

Egypt Arabic Language I’m deeply saddened by the horrific, senseless murder of 21 Coptic Egyptians in Libya this week. The very first time

Brutally Honest Review of ArabicPod101

February 12, 2015 – 5:00 pm

ArabicPod101 I always say that one of the biggest problems that Arabic learners face is the serious lack of decent material

Listen: Podcast Chat with John Fotheringham (Language Mastery)

January 31, 2015 – 3:34 pm

John Fotheringham Language Mastery No post today. Just a link to a podcast chat that I had with John Fotheringham of the Language Mastery

Australian English: Here’s Why It’s The Best Variety In The World

January 23, 2015 – 12:18 am

Australian English Happy Australia Day weekend! I’m currently home from the Middle East on a nice long break and since it’s Australia

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