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How do you become a polyglot?

This week we are really blessed to have an exclusive interview with a man who speaks at least twelve languages, Dimitrios Polychronopoulos. I hope it inspires your own language learning journey.


Could you tell us about your language learning journey?

When I was growing up, I dreamed of travelling the world and learning languages to speak to the people I would meet in the different countries I would visit. My first languages were English and Greek. I’m a Greek citizen and I grew up in the United States.

While I’m grateful for the lessons in the evening at the Greek Orthodox Church, where I learned to read and write in Greek, my ability with Greek wasn’t very strong when I was growing up. This is a common problem in many parts of the United States where children often lack peers with whom to speak their heritage language on a daily basis.

One solution to this was offered by Eithe Gallagher who presented at the Polyglot Conference in Thessaloniki in October 2016, and makes a case of promoting home languages in the classroom and I hope that soon we will see this kind of activity spreading to schools worldwide.

As a teenager, I was offered a choice of French, German or Spanish. For the university I wanted to attend, a foreign language in high school was required. Some people told me to protest that rule and say it shouldn’t be necessary in my case because of Greek. Because I was interested in language and culture anyway, I went ahead and enrolled in French courses without really thinking why I should choose this language and not one of the the other two.

The year after I started French, my parents took me to French Polynesia. People spoke fast when I tried to ask questions in my broken French. Despite my mom insisting I switch to English when speaking with the locals, I persisted with French to see how we could manage to communicate.

When two exchange students from France showed up at my high school the next year, they became my best friends and we learned a lot from each other. My French improved so much that I was able to be the first person from my high school to pass the Advanced Placement exam for university French credit. They invited me to France and I eventually earned a scholarship to study in Angers, France.

As I was finishing high school, also I started with my fourth language: Italian. Russian came next when I was 20 and I spent three months on a people-to-people exchange in the Soviet Union.

My sixth language was Spanish, which I added the next year after I was in the Soviet Union. It was amazing to read about the collapse of the Soviet Union in Spanish while visiting Costa Rica.

After university, I started to study Mandarin Chinese and began work in Taiwan as an English instructor.

So in my early 20’s I was up to seven languages to various degrees of competency. From my experience, Russian and Chinese are the most difficult languages I’ve ever studied. I can still converse in both languages and use LingQ and ReadLang as two methods of continuing to practice and improve on them. My Russian is rather basic though and I’m always making mistakes. Russian is difficult in terms of grammar and learning the rich vocabulary, but the alphabet was rather easy to pick up because I already knew the Greek alphabet.

My Chinese is modest, shall we say. It is difficult to learn the idiomatic expressions and the writing system. The first week of study, I also focused only on the tones. Unlike most learners of Chinese, I began simultaneously with the reading and writing. While learning daily conversation, I was also studying the Chinese radicals. After I finished my lesson book and cassettes from Audio Forum, which brought me to a basic conversational level after four months, I began to use children’s school books and learned the Mandarin Phonetic Alphabet to help read texts alongside the complex characters that five-year olds and then six-year olds and then seven-year olds would read at school.

From Taiwan, I moved to the Philippines where I completed a Master of International Studies. The time I spent living in Taiwan and the Philippines, over a span of five years, allowed me to easily enjoy visits to other parts of East Asia and I had the opportunity to explore a lot of the region.

In Manila, I had the chance to practice several of my languages while living at the university. I also began to study Tagalog and then Bahasa Indonesia. Fortunately there was a student from Greece there. My Greek was out of practice, but she helped me get it up to scratch. I also enrolled in advanced Spanish conversation and tried Portuguese for the first time but withdrew because the pace was too slow and boring. There were individuals who knew French and people from Mainland China and Taiwan, so I had lots of opportunities to use these languages, too.

After completing my studies in the Philippines, I moved to Greece and enjoyed my work there as a tour director. When I was on tour, I would also lead groups to Turkey as a part of their two-week journey to the region, so I began to study Turkish as well. In Turkish, I never reached the point of understanding the TV news or reading a newspaper, but I could communicate at the rudimentary level of taking taxis, handling issues with the tour driver and with the hospitality staff.

As for Greek, to reach a level of Greek more like people who grew up in Greece, I enrolled in courses at the Greek American Union in Athens and was placed in advanced classes with foreigners who had been living in Greece for a long time. It was also wonderful to live close to my family in Athens and I really enjoyed the time there.

A few years later, I moved to the Peloponnese and also began to take on tour assignments to Italy. The amounts of work in Italy allowed my Italian to improve a lot. Later I also began assignments to Spain and Costa Rica, which helped boost my Spanish.

One of the activities I enjoyed in the Peloponnese was kite surfing. One of my instructors was Brazilian and invited me to kite in Praia do Laranjal in southern Brazil. So I spent a couple of our winters in Brazil, which are their summers. I had ‘Teach Yourself Portuguese’ audio lessons and although I arrived and spoke Spanish to most people, I was able to switch to what they call Portuñol and eventually to Portuguese with a few Spanish word in it.

The year before I started hanging out in Brazil, I had been in Montevideo at La Herradura Language School. Ever since the day I began to study Spanish in 1991, every time I was in a Spanish environment, my Italian would disappear. Likewise, whenever I was in an Italian environment, my Spanish would disappear. Finally in 2008 I became capable of shifting between Italian and Spanish without much interference between languages. Then I moved to Spain and my Spanish continued to improve and I have fortunately been able to maintain my Italian.

In 2012 I started to study German in Hamburg with colon.de , and then later started to study Dutch on my own and then Norwegian up to A2 level in Oslo with language power and then continued Norwegian on my own after that.

Now I live in Norway where I completed an MBA recently and last year I worked on a tour a few times from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and on to Finland. I’ve dabbled with all four of these languages as well, using material such as Teach Yourself, LingQ and Routledge.

In May of 2016 at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin I introduced my new language website yozzi.com, which aims to become the lang-8 (lang-8.com) for advanced language learners where people submit texts and receive corrections. The point is for people to practice writing entire articles in their target languages, not just sentences and paragraphs which is what lang-8 offers.

In June 2016, I became the congress coordinator for the Society of Intercultural Education Training and Research Europa (SIETAR Europa) sietareu.org for the congress in Dublin in late May 2017. Currently I’m dabbling with Irish.

Now that I’ve fulfilled my dream of travelling the world and learning languages, I’d like to use my languages in new ways, such as encouraging people to improve their writing skills as Yozzi aims to do, and in building intercultural understanding and awareness and to encourage language-learning.


Do you think learning languages is important and why?

Learning languages is a great way to build empathy. When a person has experienced the humility of trying to speak a different language and not being understood, of having a thick accent, bad grammar and limited vocabulary, it can make people who are otherwise in comfortable positions think about the struggle immigrants go through when they move to a new country in hope of improving their lives. Language learning also helps with educational opportunities as one can study in universities in different languages and also with career opportunities.

Do you have any new Language Learning challenges on the horizon?

My biggest focus is to reach an advanced level of Dutch and Norwegian. When there is a sense of urgency, I will likely bring one of the languages I’ve dabbled in up to a higher level. Motivation is the key when it comes to language learning. When motivation isn’t there, it’s hard to push beyond the A1 material. Another thing I have experienced is that if I reach an A2 level in a language but then don’t use it for a long time, the language drifts into a fog and that’s what has happened with Tagalog and Turkish. My main focus is with my twelve strongest languages and if circumstances arise to bring another language up to an intermediate level, then I will likely do so with an intense three-month language challenge, which I find very effective, such as with Brian Kwong’s Add One Challenge.

If you’d like to stay in contact with Dimitris check out these links
to Yozzi on:

twitter @LanguageYozzi
Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/yozzilanguage/

If you’d like to share your language learning journey on our blog we’d love to hear from you.

Do you want to study languages?

new_building_music1Are you looking for a place to study African and Oriental languages?

 

I first came across  the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the Language Show. I was amazed by the number of languages they offer both for undergraduates, postgraduates and distance learners.

Here are the languages offered:

Afrikaans

Amharic

Somali

Swahili

Tigrinya

Twi-Fante

Yoruba

Zulu

Chinese, inc. Cantonese

Mongolian

Tibetan

Uzbek

Japanese

Korean

Arabic

Hebrew (Modern)

Kurdish

Pashto

Persian

Turkish

Bengali

Gujarati

Hindi

Nepali

Panjabi

Sanskrit

Sinhala

Tamil

Urdu

Burmese

Indonesian

Khmer

Malay

Thai

Vietnamese

Tagalog

French

Portuguese

Russian

Spanish

 

For someone who loves languages, this is a veritable smorgasbord. An unparalleled range of non-European languages, all of which may be studied without prior knowledge. Additionally, the school was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2009 for the excellence, breadth and depth of its language teaching.

As well as the language study on campus, many courses offer the chance to spend a year abroad studying your chosen language intensively in a partner institution. Many students also undertake a time abroad through the Erasmus scheme.

I would say that language cannot be studied without understanding the culture it is embedded in and these cultures. The faculty is actually language and culture so offers both.

If you want to study topics concerned with the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, SOAS offer the largest concentration of specialist staff of any university in the world (More than three hundred). Though there is a high emphasis in languages, the research conducted and published by the academic staff of the Faculty focuses on a wider range of topics.  The languages, literatures, and cultures (both classical and popular) of Asia and Africa.

As you may expect with an institution who offer so many languages, all students at SOAS have the option to study a language alongside their degree and, supports the short (twenty hour) language courses run by the specialist Language Centre.

 

SOAS Precinct

SOAS Precinct

 

Student life at SOAS

The intake is pretty multicultural too. SOAS has more than five thousand students from 133 countries on campus, and just over fifty per cent of them are from outside the UK. SOAS is an exceptionally cosmopolitan and diverse place to study. There are many mature students so all ages should feel welcome.

Resources

The SOAS Library has been recently refurbished and now had as more than 1.5 million items and extensive electronic resources for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Their specialist resources attract scholars from all around the world.

 

SOAS Library Images,View from levels A and D

SOAS Library Images,View from levels A and D

 

If you are not able to study on campus, join the 3,600 students worldwide in taking an online or distance learning course with SOAS.

As this is a centre of excellence, the Language Centre caters to the needs of non-degree students and governmental and non-governmental organisations. It has a huge array of courses, including year-long diploma programmes, weekly evening classes in about forty different African and Asian languages as well as French, Portuguese and Spanish and tailored intensive one-to-one courses.

 

Teacher training

SOAS also offer a recognised post-graduate qualification (Certificate and Diploma) in teaching Arabic or Chinese as a Foreign Language to help you gain a head-start in your teaching career.

 

Anyway, don’t just take my word for it find out for yourself .

The undergraduate open day is 22nd October. More open days are available for postgraduate and students abroad.

 

In this article I’ve only referred to the languages and culture faculty but they also offer courses in the faculty of arts and humanities as well as Law and Social science.

 

Disclaimer this blog has been written to promote knowledge of SOAS. These are however my own thoughts and opinions