How I learn foreign languages

[For a complete script, scroll down to the end of the post]

Hi, I’m Olly.

Nice to meet you!

As you can probably tell from the video cover, I’m from the UK. 🙂

They say that Brits are rubbish at language learning. Perhaps it’s because we live on an island and have no need for any other language. Perhaps it’s because wherever we go in the world, chances are most people speak English.

However, I’ve managed to learn 7 languages.

That’s 8, if you include English.

So how did I do it?

Well…

If you’ve ever caught yourself using any of these things as excuses for not learning a new language… I sympathise.

It can be tempting to believe that the world conspires against you sometimes, and that learning a new language just isn’t possible for you. 

But the fact of the matter is that successful language learners struggle with all these things too – just take a look!

My secret to success is rather dull, I’m afraid.

As I explain in the video, this is how I’ve been able to learn so many languages:

So, hopefully you can see that learning a new language – or even learning 8 – is not rocket science.

Time, hard work and persistence are 99% of the battle.

On I Will Teach You A Language, my goal is to help you become fluent in a new language, not with theory, but with real strategies and techniques that actually work.

If you’d like to join me, then I invite you to watch this short video which will show you the most important thing about becoming fluent in any language

 

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Video script

Jan: Behind me you can see the pyramids, so that means that we are in Egypt, in Cairo. And today we will have another interview with a very interesting personality, so keep watching. Olly Richards has lived and worked in Paris, Tokyo, Doha and recently moved to Cairo. Olly speaks 8 languages and today he will share with us his secrets for learning a foreign language successfully…wherever you live.

Olly: I mean the life on the street and all the energy from the people and just the kind of chaos and commotion is the most exciting part of being here. The people are amazing, everyone is really friendly, they really appreciate foreigners. They really like that foreigners come to Egypt and live here.

Jan: You speak French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian, well English is your native language. Arabic, am I missing a language?

Olly: Cantonese

Jan: Cantoneseand now you are learning Arabic.

Olly: Egyptian Arabic, yeah.

Jan: That must be very easy for you to learn all these languages since you lived in all those places right?

Olly: I mean these days, when I approach learning a language, the kind of things that I do are not dependent on actually living in the country at all. And I think it’s… it can be tempting to think that it’s a huge advantage to live in the country but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jan: Olly learned Spanish and Portuguese back in London, and Cantonese while he was living in Qatar – in the Middle East. Thanks to technology, people can learn a language anywhere these days. The most important thing is that you actually DO something. You can learn vocab from flashcards and books, improve your speaking skills online with a native speaker, or practice with the taxi drivers if you happen to be in the country of your target language.

Olly: The number one thing I have learned is I know what works for me now. So that brings confidence in the learning process. What does it mean to learn a language, and what is means is doing something that works for you over long enough a period of time that you can actually start to see success.

So it’s not so much that lots of different techniques don’t work, I am sure they do work in different ways, but the number once priority is to actually those 1, 2, 3 things, that work for you, and that you keep up over the long term. What I do is, I go directly to what I want to be going and what I know works for me, which is just regular speaking.

I am not a big fan of taking language classes, I find them slow, inefficient. Usually my idea of what I want to learn is very different to what the teacher wants to teach me. I don’t get along with them very well. So I like to be self-directed and the most efficient way for me to be self-directed, without access to a textbook, is to just be speaking with people, with what you might call tutors or informal tutors.

Jan: Lately Olly has been learning Egyptian Arabic and he has a couple of informal tutors with who he practices. He has these kind of sessions 3 or 4 times per week. ‘’I will teach you a language’’ is the name of Olly’s blog. On the site he helps people to learn languages by giving clear, actionable advice and strategies that actually work for real people. I also asked him, what he thinks is the biggest struggle for people that learn a foreign language.

Olly: It’s the fact that people struggle to have certainty over what they should be doing.

Jan: They don’t know what to do?

Olly: If you would really simplify, they don’t know what to do. Because, there is a lot of advice out there, if you follow that advice, well.. Following advice is all very well, but until you actually have experience of successfully learning a language, you don’t know what works for you.

You need to take an approach of some kind and just do it. Not for a day, not for a week, but for over time, for a couple of months. Do it consistently and then just notice what’s working. And then, as you do that you learn about yourself and about how you learn, and that enables you to make more informed decisions and learn better as you go on.

Jan: So how can we summarize the advice. Spend time, DO something every day and see what works for you?

Olly: You should start a blog! I Will Teach You a Language 2.0!

Jan: 2.0, exactly! Ok, Olly how can people find you?

Olly: You can visit iwillteachyoualanguage.com and everything is there.

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  • gregorspv

    Nice post, I just want to point out that at about 5:11 in the video and also in the transcript you provided, “certainly” in written in place of “certainty”.

  • Nice interview and video, Olly! ¡El Cairo parece tan interesante!
    Thank you for sharing your experience. For me, one of the key things that you mention is to recognise that most frustrations in language learning can be solved only by the passing of time. Sometimes we just have to let our brains do their job. And I think that not being aware of this makes many language learners throw in the towel. We can achieve almost anything with persistence!

    • Thanks Jorge – you’re spot on. Time is vital all-round. Lots of frustrations come as a result of our brains just not being ready. I don’t learn languages particularly quickly, largely because I’m not a big studier, and I tend to just let time do the work for me. 🙂

  • Zine

    Hello Olly. 2 full-time jobs? Wow! What are those? Do they involve having to speak Egyptian Arabic (as you’re in Egypt and all)?

    • Hi Zine, I work in an English environment, but there are lots of Egyptian colleagues (who, of course, speak perfect English!). I’m finding that now there are quite a few people who speak to me in Arabic to help me practise, but this is only possible after reaching a certain level.

  • That’s very amazing!
    My native language is Arabic, and I’ve been studying English I was a child. I’m learning Japanese right now~

  • You are a tower of strength . I enjoyed learning from you . Great stuff ! Thanks !

  • Pam Ramirez

    Thank for all your help.. I do have a question. How do I keep my language learning progressing when I feel like I have hit a plateau?

  • Derek

    I tried using italki, but everyone on there does not seem to be interested in actually having a language exchange. I send out dozens of invites, and rarely ever get responses. If I do get responses, they usually stop responding after a few lines and don’t follow through with Skype chat plans. It’s really annoying. Any tips for how to find quality language partners on there? From my experiences, no one on there seems to actually be interested in learning English, even though they claim they are…

    • Hi Derek, this is a problem that exists not only on the internet, but in real life too. Most people simply aren’t serious. For this reason, my solution has always been to find an informal tutor who I pay to be available for me. It can be as little as $5/hr, and you save time by not having to speak English.

  • Michael

    Great article – shared with a few of my friends. Your focus on simplicity is refreshing and very applicable for quick and dirty learning. Sigue así!

    • Thanks Michael, I appreciate your support! I’m not smart enough to cope with anything other than “really damn simple” 🙂

      • Michael King

        No problem – and it’s not that

      • Michael

        Ya you are – you’re smart enough to realize that overcomplicating the system is the opposite of what one should do if the goal is quick and dirty (i.e., efficient).

  • Vusala

    Hi Olly. I have got questions to you. The fact is that I am in dilemma in arabic. I use hellotalk for arabic and there are people from different arabic countries. I know that every arabic country has its own accent, and official and unofficial arabic. For example, I asked them question ” How is the weather like today? ” Different versions appeared. The girl from Egypt told me different thing, the the girl from Morocco, or Jordan told me different thing. All of them argue that their spoken arabic is official one. I do not really know which one is right. To tell the truth, my head now is turning around now.

    5. How is the weather like today?

    كيف هوا الجو اليوم

    كيف حال الطقس اليوم ؟

    • Usually Arabic people will tell you that الفصحى (fus·ha) is the only true Arabic, and that dialects are not a proper language. You need to pick one dialect and stick with that – it’s simply too confusing to learn multiple dialects. Once you reach a high level in one, it will be easier to transfer across to another.

      Thins article should help:
      http://www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/how-to-learn-egyptian-arabic-in-cairo/

  • Interesting interview.

  • Vadim Voronovskiy

    On my opinion the best way to learn any language is to have constant speaking practice. In such case the best way is to find a tutor and native speakers. I can advise https://preply.com/en/warszawa/danish-tutors for searching native speaking tutors. All other methods you can use as aditional way to gain new knowledge and practice already completed material.