Decision Vision Episode 143: Should I Learn Another Language? – An Interview with Lýdia Machová, Language Mentoring
Lýdia Machová of Language Mentoring says that you don’t have to be a genius to learn multiple languages. You only need to be motivated and use the right tools. On this edition of Decision Vision, Lýdia and host Mike Blake discussed the ease of learning a language in the internet age, methods that work and don’t work, what it really takes to succeed at learning a language, and much more. Decision Vision is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Language Mentoring is Lýdia’s way of guiding anyone on their language learning journey – whether starting from scratch as a beginner or trying to achieve fluency in a language that’s got rusty. The main pillars of Lýdia’s philosophy are having fun (enjoying the process), having intensive contact with the language, using effective methods, and building a sustainable system in one’s learning. The methods range from watching TV shows and listening to podcasts through learning vocabulary using the Goldlist method to learn vocabulary, to talking to oneself in order to practice speaking. Lýdia has already helped more than 10 thousand people learn more than 30 languages.
Lýdia Machová, Ph.D., Language Mentoring
Lýdia is a polyglot from Slovakia who has learned 9 languages on her own, without ever living abroad. In 2016, she turned her language passion into a business and founded Language Mentoring – her own way of helping people learn any language by themselves, using natural and fun methods known by polyglots. Formerly, Lýdia worked as a professional conference interpreter and interpreted several high Slovak politicians as well as international speakers such as Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy. She also organised the world’s largest event for polyglots and language lovers called Polyglot Gathering. Her TED talk has received more than 12 million views within the first 2.5 years of being online.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the Decision Vision podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
Decision Vision is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the Decision Vision podcast.
Connect with Brady Ware & Company:
Intro: [00:00:02] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware and Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:22] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you the listener clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision-making on a different topic from the business owner’s or executive’s perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:43] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware and Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. My practice specializes in providing fact-based strategic and risk management advice to clients that are buying, selling, or growing the value of companies and intellectual property. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta and also Slovakia for social distancing protocols, probably the ultimate in social distancing.
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Mike Blake: [00:01:44] So, today’s topic is, Should I learn a second language? And, I’m just going to get out in front of this and I will freely admit that this is something of a self-indulgent topic.
Mike Blake: [00:01:55] Language learning has been a hobby of mine for a very long time. I grew up in an environment where I was very fortunate to have exposure and training in foreign languages that frankly most people did not in the United States and it’s been a passion of mine.
Mike Blake: [00:02:13] And so, one of the benefits of the internet, believe it or not, there still are benefits of social media was, there’s been no better time to be somebody who likes languages. There’s so much material out there now. You can learn so much about language learning. You can learn so much about a particular language and you can engage with languages to an extent that’s simply when I was growing up many centuries ago was simply not – was not available.
Mike Blake: [00:02:43] But I do think that that the discussion of learning a second language does have applicability in business. I can tell you that in my own dealings with others who weren’t perhaps as comfortable in English as I am and speaking in other languages that it delights somebody when you make an effort to make their life easier and communicate with them, especially if it’s a language they don’t expect somebody like me to speak. But that may be a podcast for a different time.
Mike Blake: [00:03:16] According to the data that I found, 20% to 30% of Americans can converse in more than one language. I imagine most of those are immigrants. I imagine if you’re actually born here, I bet that statistic is much lower, but it’s compared with 50% to 60% of Europeans and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that in most European countries, you take a two-hour car drive and you’ve crossed three borders.
Mike Blake: [00:03:38] Bilingual workers in the United States are 5% to 20% more than their single-language counterparts, and bilingualism is associated with brain and mental health benefits as well, including the delay of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as fighting anxiety and depression. The most popular second languages in the United States are Spanish, German, and French, the usual suspects.
Mike Blake: [00:04:03] And so, I am so delighted to have joining us today, you know, really one of the neatest, I would say, language thinkers. We’re going to talk about why I put it that way in a minute. I discovered her on a TED Talk that I think about a million people or two million people have probably watched. So, that’s pretty darn good marketing, but also other YouTube videos that she’s done and not just about languages themselves, but the process of learning a language. And I think that that’s so important because learning a language is a challenge, but I think it’s often assigned a greater challenge than it necessarily needs to be.
Mike Blake: [00:04:45] So, joining us today from Slovakia is Dr. Lydia Machova of Language Mentoring. Lydia is a polyglot from Slovakia who has learned nine languages on her own without ever having lived abroad, which is hard to believe. Her English is just outstanding, better than mine.
Mike Blake: [00:05:02] In 2016, she turned her language passion into a business and founded Language Mentoring, her own way of helping people learn any language by themselves using natural and fun methods known by polyglots. Formerly, Lydia worked as a professional conference interpreter and interpreted several high Slovak politicians as well as international speakers such as Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy.
Mike Blake: [00:05:26] She also organized the world’s largest event for polyglots and language-lovers called Polyglot Gathering. And that’s on my bucket list to get over to Europe and do at some point.
Mike Blake: [00:05:34] Her TED Talk has received more than 12 million views, excuse me, I underestimated it by a factor of 10, within the first two-and-a-half years of being online.
Mike Blake: [00:05:44] Language mentoring is Lydia’s way of guiding anyone on their language learning journey whether starting from scratch as a beginner or trying to achieve fluency in a language that’s got rusty. The main pillars of Lydia’s philosophy are having fun, having intensive contact with the language using effective methods, and building a sustainable system in one’s learning.
Mike Blake: [00:06:04] The methods range from watching TV shows and listening to podcasts through learning vocabulary using the gold list method to learn vocabulary to talking to oneself in order to practice speaking. Lydia has already helped more than 10,000 people learn more than 30 languages.
Mike Blake: [00:06:20] Dr. Lydia Machova, welcome to the program.
Lydia Machova: [00:06:23] Thank you, Mike. I’m very happy to be here.
Mike Blake: [00:06:28] You know, there are lots of people who teach languages out there, but quite frankly, I don’t know anybody that has branded themselves as a language mentor. So, tell our audience, tell me what is language mentoring and how is that different from a language teacher?
Lydia Machova: [00:06:45] Right. So, it’s a term that I introduced. When I started in 2016, I was looking for someone doing what I considered to be different from language teaching, helping people to learn languages, and no one was doing it at that time. So, I said, “Okay, I’m going to call myself a language mentor.”
Lydia Machova: [00:07:00] And basically, the biggest difference is that I don’t teach anyone a language. I am not a teacher, so I never cover any grammar points with anyone. I don’t test anyone vocabulary. That’s very different from what I do because I teach people languages, which I don’t even speak, so to say.
Lydia Machova: [00:07:20] I help people learn any language by themselves. I always put a lot of stress on this themselves. No one can ever teach you a language, give it to you on a platter. You need to spend some time with it. And, I help people find the best methods and the best system to do it in a way which is enjoyable.
Mike Blake: [00:07:37] So, and I’m going to approach this conversation from an American perspective because that’s who I am and that’s who most of our audience is, I think. And, you know, I can tell you that among Americans who are not people who study languages a lot, they view people like us who are multilingual, especially those of us who are self-taught as opposed to having lived in a place where you learn five or six languages because that’s the country you live in, like India or something, they think we’re geniuses. Are you a genius or people like us geniuses because we’ve learned a couple of extra languages?
Lydia Machova: [00:08:14] Definitely not. I do not believe in that. Not any special talent or anything like that. We have a special knack. We like something that most people don’t. I’ve always considered myself as someone who simply loves learning languages, and that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time with them. But just like that, I could fancy gardening or computers or anything like that, and I would spend more time with it and I would have results in that area, right?
Mike Blake: [00:08:42] Yeah. Doesn’t it come to at the end of the day? And, I know you emphasize fun in your approach to language learning. At the end of the day, doesn’t a lot of it have to simply do with if you like doing something, you’re more likely to devote more time with it, be more focused, as opposed to viewing it as a job or a chore, or you’re forcing yourself to have to do it, and you don’t like it, and therefore it’s just not going to be as effective.
Lydia Machova: [00:09:08] Yeah. Exactly. And I believe this is a really, really strong factor. And, actually, that also answers the question why most people fail in language learning. Because when you look at the process that they have tried to learn the language, it’s usually not much fun, is it?
Lydia Machova: [00:09:22] I mean, when we look at the school methods, I know I didn’t enjoy learning languages at school using the traditional methods. But I have seen people now, as in my job as a language mentor, where this can really change. Because if you show someone a different approach to language learning, which can be fun for that person, suddenly they say, “Oh, why, why hasn’t anyone told me this? For 15 years, I’ve been trying, struggling to learn a language. I never enjoyed it, so I never had any results with it. Now that it’s fun, it actually works.” So, yes, I think this actually applies generally to anything, not just language learning.
Mike Blake: [00:09:59] And, I think and I’m curious as to your opinion, but I think maybe that desire might be a little more important for foreign language learning or, yeah, learning, which you can use that term, than in many other fields of study because when learning a foreign language, failure is a constant companion. Right? Mistakes are a constant companion. And, many of the mistakes are public, right?
Mike Blake: [00:10:28] If I mess up, if I make a mistake in a math problem, nobody knows except for me and my teacher. If I make a mistake in a language and I’ve made plenty of them that I wish I could have back, it’s out there and it’s public and it’s socially embarrassing. And, the human mind is hardwired to avoid those things, right?
Mike Blake: [00:10:49] So, doesn’t that mean that there has to be kind of an extra incentive or an extra way to make it fun to make it worth that vulnerability, to make it worth that the failure that is a necessary part of the learning?
Lydia Machova: [00:11:05] That’s a very interesting take, and I agree. It is more embarrassing for people to make a mistake when learning French than learning this and learning math.
Lydia Machova: [00:11:16] But I’m thinking this – I think this really has to do with one’s approach to making mistakes in general, in learning anything. And, I believe this is a problem that the school system again has taught us. Making mistakes is bad because the teacher is there to test you. And if you fail the test, if you make a mistake, then you will get a lower grade, right? And, that means that you are, let’s say, in inverted commas, but they are worth less or something. That’s what the students get, right, the feeling from it.
Lydia Machova: [00:11:46] So, obviously, they want to not do that because they don’t want to get bad grades and feel inferior in a way. And, I believe this has to change in the mindset of anyone trying to learn a language. And, just as you said, you need to embrace the fact that making mistakes, that is really what you want to do. Make as many mistakes as you can because that’s how you improve, right? If you don’t practice, you will not make any mistakes, but you will not learn.
Lydia Machova: [00:12:12] So, language learning really is a skill. It’s a skill that needs to be trained. And, just like any other skill, whether it’s playing the piano or doing any sports or anything, when you start working with it, when you start doing it, you will definitely make many mistakes. But that’s how you learn and you get better at it.
Mike Blake: [00:12:31] So, let’s dive in to, I think, what may be the most important question from a business perspective, and that is why learn a foreign language and in particular recognizing that. I happen to be fortunate. I was born in a country where my native language is one that is effectively the global trade language, right? Someday it might be Mandarin, but for now, it’s English. And so, a question that will come up here is, well, isn’t everybody that matters going to speak English and they’re going to speak it well enough so why do I need to devote my time to this? What’s the answer to that?
Lydia Machova: [00:13:13] Well, yes, you are lucky. If you were born speaking English and that is currently the lingua franca, the international language let’s say, yes, you are lucky, and it’s probably you are not that motivated to learn other languages. And, I think that’s okay for someone who doesn’t come in contact with people from other cultures.
Lydia Machova: [00:13:32] If you’re living in your little town and you don’t interact with people online or live and you plan to stay all your life in that English-speaking country, then, yeah, it’s okay. I don’t think anyone, everyone needs to learn a language at all costs.
Lydia Machova: [00:13:46] But if you do interact with other cultures, then just like you said, it makes a huge difference if you show even a tiny bit of interest in the other person’s culture, which definitely has to do with the language itself. So, even if you learn some basics of the language, you can actually go to great lengths with that.
Lydia Machova: [00:14:07] But personally, I’m a promoter of learning a language to fluency. So, not just basics of many different languages to impress many people in a two-minute conversation but what I try to do is to learn a language to a comfortable fluency level where I can really use it. I can read any book, talk to anyone, watch any movie. And that gives me immense possibilities in my life. But I understand that if someone is stuck in a little town, in an English-speaking country, then that’s a different scenario.
Mike Blake: [00:14:36] So, an interesting trend that I have noticed is, during the pandemic, and I don’t know if this is a cause or they’re simply a coincidence, but more people seem to have an interest in learning foreign languages now, which I find ironic because the opportunity to travel was closed, making it less likely that you would encounter somebody where a foreign language would be useful. Yet, many people, I think, who never would have considered trying to take on the challenge of learning a second language have chosen to do so during the pandemic. And, I’m curious, A, have you noticed something similar? And if so, do you have any kind of ideas as to why that might be?
Lydia Machova: [00:15:27] Yes. I have noticed that. We have noticed a greater interest in our courses. And, I think it’s not because people would want to use the language right away when speaking to foreigners, but maybe because they realize they know on some level that in order to speak a new language, you need to give it more time, right? And it seems like a never-ending process, and you never have time for it because you are so busy doing your everyday life. And so, when COVID came, people started to think, “Well, how could I use this time? I’m at home. I could do something useful.” There were so many videos out there, right? People calling to others, “Okay, do something with your life, learn some new skills.” And, I think for many people, the language has been probably on the backburner for some time and they have wanted to learn it, but they never had the time, right?
Mike Blake: [00:16:07] Right.
Lydia Machova: [00:16:17] I think this is the natural way of looking at it. So, now that people have time, they wanted to spend it with language learning, which I think is cool.
Mike Blake: [00:16:27] An observation, excuse me, that’s often made is that children learn languages much more easily. And, there’s a perception that one can be too old to learn a foreign language that if you’re at my old age of 51 years old, I’m too old to learn a new language. Is that true? Is there something to that or there’s a significant benefit to being younger, even very young, and does it create a big obstacle if you’re older?
Lydia Machova: [00:16:58] It’s definitely not true that someone is too old to learn a language. But it’s a very convenient excuse, right, for people who have tried a little and they found, “Oh, this is quite difficult. Maybe I’m too old. Okay, I will keep telling everyone I’m too old to do that and I don’t have to explain myself why I don’t speak other languages.” Right?
Lydia Machova: [00:17:15] I know for sure that this is not right because this is not true because I have met people at the polyglot events that you’ve mentioned at the beginning, someone who has started to learn languages in their 60s and I had a conversation with them, with him, in at least six or seven languages and he was very good at it. He was fluent and he was, when I met him, he was 72 or 73, and he just got so excited about language learning. He couldn’t stop learning new languages, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:17:43] And then, I asked him, “Well, why start so late? Why in the 60s? Why didn’t you do it earlier?” And he said, “Well, I didn’t know about the amazing possibilities and they weren’t there when I was younger.” Just again, as you mentioned.
Lydia Machova: [00:17:43] So, this only proves to me that it is possible if the person is really interested in doing it and spending time with the language obviously. It doesn’t come within a week or a weekend. Language learning takes its time. But if you dedicate the time to it, then you can achieve the results at any age.
Lydia Machova: [00:18:11] At the same time, I have to say that obviously children are more able or they learn quicker. But it’s not just languages, it’s anything, right? This is a natural thing. This is how our brains work. They are like sponges when they are very, very young, and then it gets a little bit more difficult. But there is definitely not an age after which you wouldn’t be able to learn a language at all.
Mike Blake: [00:18:36] Now, you touched on something, and I want to move into this now because I think it’s really important. And, that is, one of the things the internet and, I believe, social media has done is that it’s made it possible to have an outlet for a language in a way that was not possible when I was learning, when I was studying languages at first in the 1980s. Right? You know, there might be five-year-old magazines in the library and some old tapes or even records, Pimsleur came out on records initially, and a foreign language bookstore or something. But nothing in the order of today, whereas one of the languages I’m learning now is Swedish and I can walk out and I can use it today. I can engage on social media. I can listen to podcasts. I can watch anything that I want. And, you know, talk about that, you know, does the fact that we have the opportunity to engage in foreign languages does that lead to a greater interest and even a greater benefit of learning a new language?
Lydia Machova: [00:19:46] I think so, yeah. I mean, I was born in ’89, so I cannot say how it was in the ’80s or ’70s learning a language, but I think it would be very difficult. I cannot imagine how I would do it, even how I would go about doing it and learning a new language. But I also think that if people didn’t have so many opportunities to travel and to interact with other people, then obviously the motivation was a lot lower.
Lydia Machova: [00:20:12] And, I’m speaking of someone coming from Slovakia. We were a communist country at that time. You could not travel anywhere. The borders were closed, right? You could go to Russia or Ukraine, and that was it. So, no one really was motivated to learn English or some other Western languages.
Lydia Machova: [00:20:29] So, yeah, I think this is very natural. But I also look at it from the point of view of the process of the methods, how to learn a language. I think if someone just had one book available at the library with some tapes that go with it, that must have been really boring. I personally hate this type of learning because you listen to a short recording. It’s usually very artificial. It’s nothing, nowhere close to real-life conversations.
Lydia Machova: [00:20:59] And if you compare it to today, we have, I mean, just YouTube is the immense source of materials for any language. I mean, I used YouTube to help me learn Swahili, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:21:10] Any language that all you can have any content you like. It can be about a topic you’re genuinely interested in, and you don’t only listen to it because you’re supposed to practice, you’re listening right now, but because you actually want to learn about this interesting topic and you can see how much you understand. And it’s such a fascinating process when you are interested in the topic, right, and you listen to a recording, you’re still just a beginner, you only get a few words. But then you keep on listening and working on your language, improving your vocabulary, getting to know the grammar, and in a few months, you can actually start understanding whole pieces of the video. It’s such an amazing, fascinating process that I think people who were learning in the ’80s, ’70s just couldn’t get.
Mike Blake: [00:21:57] So, you mentioned that you learn Swahili and, of course, you know, nine languages. Somebody listening to this podcast may now be intrigued about learning a second language. How would you go about deciding which one to pick? I mean, there’s so many of them. How do you decide which one to learn?
Lydia Machova: [00:22:23] I would definitely say you need to have a solid reason for learning that language. Because if you pick a language randomly, like, “I think it would be cool to speak whatever,” right? Then you will have to put a lot of effort into something which doesn’t really enrich you in any way, right? You need to know why you want to learn that language or where you will practice it, how you will interact. As you said, you can use Swedish on social media.
Lydia Machova: [00:22:49] It can be just a hobby of yours, so you don’t need to necessarily have something to do with Sweden or the language that you want to learn. But you need to find it interesting to actually use the language in practice because otherwise why bother? Why learn the language at all?
Lydia Machova: [00:23:06] So, I personally had a reason to learn all of my languages, and some of the reasons, most of the reasons, were traveling. For example, I really wanted to do the Trans-Siberian Express, from Moscow to Mongolia. And, I said if I do this, I only want to communicate in Russian the whole time. I want to have a full experience, not be a tourist, smiling politely and hoping someone speaks English, right? I wanted to have genuine conversations with the locals. So, I spend two years learning Russian. And then, I took the trip and it was the most amazing trip in my life.
Lydia Machova: [00:23:39] So, yeah, definitely have a reason to learn a language. So, if someone is listening to this and thinking, “Hmm, I might learn a language just because.” I would actually say think twice or think how would that language enrich you? And if you have a strong reason, I believe you can get it to fluency. If not, if it’s just like I can give it three minutes a day, well, that will not work. You will not learn a language with three minutes a day.
Mike Blake: [00:24:06] So, yeah, I’ve never done the Trans-Siberian railroad, but I lived over there for a number of years. That’s another bucket list thing. That has to be an amazing experience, but anyway.
Lydia Machova: [00:24:22] It is.
Mike Blake: [00:24:22] So, you talk about fluency – actually, there’s one other question I want to ask before I get into that, and that is, you know, in business there may be something of a conflict in terms of which language to study. There may be a language that you want to study because it will help you in business. But that may not necessarily be a language that you’re interested in because you have an interest in the culture or interested in other things that are connected with the language.
Mike Blake: [00:24:49] So, I’m curious, have you mentored people that maybe kind of felt like they had to learn a language for business, but their heart really wasn’t in it? Maybe, there’s another one that wasn’t as useful immediately, but that was really – you know, maybe they had to learn Spanish, but they wanted to learn Finnish or something, right. Have you encountered that? And if so, how does that work? Are there people that can sort of overcome the feeling like they have to learn a language for business or does it have to be more organic to really be successful?
Lydia Machova: [00:25:26] Yes. So, my answer in that question, I have obviously met a lot of people. This is actually quite a common problem. “I feel I should improve my German because I have learned it at school and it’s useful and, you know, I want to put it on my CV, but actually, you know, my heart calls me towards Italian or something.” In that case, I tell those people to go where their heart calls them because you cannot really trick your mind.
Lydia Machova: [00:25:54] If you are not genuinely interested in learning that language, you can do whatever you want. You can have the most effective methods, but your brain is just not interested, right? I believe learning is a very natural process, and our brain wants to learn stuff that it finds interesting and useful for life.
Lydia Machova: [00:26:12] So, if you feel you should and maybe, you know, like kids at school, my parents want me to learn the language and it will be useful to me one day but I have no idea how right now, then it just doesn’t work, and you will not really pick up any of that language.
Lydia Machova: [00:26:27] So, that’s one way to put it. I would say start with the language that you really want to learn because then you can see what an amazing progress you can make in a much shorter time, and I believe that you will get so interested in the process of learning the language that you can then easily apply it to learning other languages that you will need later on in life. Right?
Mike Blake: [00:26:47] Right.
Lydia Machova: [00:26:48] But also, so if someone has a situation where they really need to learn that language, it would really help them and they cannot quite get interested in that, I would say work on making it interesting for you. And, I can use my own example. Speaking of German, that was my second language. So, my first language was English when I was 11, and then we added another language when I was 15, German, at school. And I just hated it for the first two years. I thought it was the most boring language in the world. I didn’t like the sound of it. It was too complicated. I just didn’t like it. I got good grades, right? I could learn those words and learn some grammar, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Lydia Machova: [00:27:28] And then, I realized that I wanted to become an interpreter and I will need two languages for that. And, now I’ve already spent two years learning German, so German should be probably the other one. So, I was thinking, how can I make this more fun? How can I make it more interesting? And that’s when I actually started developing the methods that I now teach people. And, for example, with German, I started to watch German TV massively, half an hour every single day, and I didn’t understand almost anything at the beginning. But I got into it, and then I started watching some sitcoms that were repeated on TV and that got me interested. And, it was just fascinating for me to see how I fell in love with the language just simply by spending time with it, by using materials which I found interesting, by being hooked to the content, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:28:20] So, you can change your attitude to the language to sum this up. But I think that you cannot really force yourself to learn a language that you are not interested in and you do not find any joy learning the language.
Mike Blake: [00:28:36] I have my own sort of language abandonment story, and I’ll probably come back to it at some point as a matter of personal pride. But for a while, I was learning Dutch, and for whatever reason, Dutch and my mind just did not click. Everything was such a struggle. And I think it’s because Dutch is so close to English that I couldn’t get my mind off of applying English to Dutch. And, you know, I never got the word order right. And, I can explain to the grammar, I could never get the word order right. And, at the end of the day, I wasn’t so interested in Dutch culture. I didn’t have so much interest in doing the business in the Netherlands, especially because that’s one of those countries where everybody really does speak English quite well, so, and they’re happy to do so, that I just could not sustain the motivation.
Lydia Machova: [00:29:30] Yeah. I totally understand that. And, actually, again, you are not the only one. I have so many friends who told me that they found it extremely difficult to practice their Dutch in the Netherlands because everybody replies in English and the Dutch find it a nice gesture like, “Oh, I see you’re a foreigner, so I’m going to switch to a language which you are comfortable with.” But then my friends, polyglots, wanted to practice the language, right? They came to the country to practice and they felt really heartbroken. It’s like, “Oh, is my Dutch so bad that you switch to English?” But that’s because it’s so natural for them to switch to English, right?
Mike Blake: [00:30:05] Yeah. The Scandinavians are the same way. I probably learn Swedish more by not actually going to Sweden because if I’m engaging on social media, it’s just there’s no incentive for them to switch the language, right? But if I try to speak Swedish in Sweden, they’ll look at me and they’ll say, “Well, you’re kind of cute, but let’s not do this.” Right?
Lydia Machova: [00:30:26] Sorry. That just proves the point that you don’t need to travel to that country to learn it. And as you said in your case, maybe you even shouldn’t, because that can be counterproductive, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:30:40] With the internet and with the immense possibilities we have today, you can create that country in your mind, right? You can put on podcasts and YouTube videos, and you can have people speaking in that language to you in your ears all day long. So, yeah, you really don’t need to travel to another country to learn the language.
Mike Blake: [00:31:01] So, you mentioned a term that I want to explore with you because I think, to me, it’s a very sensitive term, almost an explosive term in learning a language, and that is the term fluent or fluency.
Mike Blake: [00:31:21] I learned years ago or I decided years ago I was never going to tell somebody I was fluent in a language because somebody will always come along that knows it better than I do. And, it served no useful purpose for me. And so, I tend to use the term I’m comfortable in a language or I can generally speak it without a translator unless it’s something that, you know – if I were representing the United States in a nuclear arms discussion with Russia, I would have a translator regardless. It’s too important to miss that, right? Even though there’s nothing I couldn’t do in that language if I wanted to.
Mike Blake: [00:32:03] But, but fluency, you know, the first question I receive if it comes up that I’ve learned a language – fluent – are you fluent? How fluent are you? I’m not even sure you can say how fluent are you where it’s sort of how pregnant are you.
Mike Blake: [00:32:20] So, I’d like you to comment on how you see the word fluency. What does it mean to you and do you sort of have the same – do you have a similar experience with the word that it can be almost a dangerous word in learning languages, the term fluency?
Lydia Machova: [00:32:38] That’s a very good question, and I really love this metaphor about how pregnant are you. Actually, I think we can explain this using this metaphor because with language fluency, just like you said, there is – we kind of tend to think about it that there is this highest level of speaking that language. And if you are not there yet, you shouldn’t call yourself fluent, right? You shouldn’t tell other people that you know this language already.
Mike Blake: [00:33:04] Right.
Lydia Machova: [00:33:05] But this is just like with a pregnant woman. Is a woman pregnant when she’s one hour before giving birth? Probably not, right? You see her with a belly, so you will say that she’s pregnant even earlier. But in the first three months or four, she doesn’t really show, so, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:33:22] This is really quite similar to learning a language. So, when the belly starts showing, coming back to this metaphor, that’s when you are gaining fluency. And, I believe there is a certain level when you are really comfortable using that language, although you are still making mistakes and this is perfectly fine. Fluency doesn’t mean that you don’t make any mistakes, that you know every word and you understand everything.
Lydia Machova: [00:33:52] For me personally, this is my definition of it. It means that you can easily have a conversation with a native speaker of that language, and it is not unpleasant or painful for the other person to have this conversation with you. Because a native speaker can have a conversation with a beginner and be very patient, right? But they need to be very careful about how to express themselves and what words to use, and then this learner will ask them, “Well, can you please repeat it? Can you say it in a simpler way?” This is not a very natural and nice conversation to have, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:34:24] So, I personally try to achieve the level where I can have a nice fluent conversation and I can read stuff in that language, which was meant for native speakers. So, not some simplified text, but normal textbooks, usually nonfiction, that is understandable to native speakers. If I can understand it, if I can read the book and it’s not painful for me, it’s actually enjoyable, that’s how I know that “Okay, I got to this. I got to this level and I can now use the language in practice.” Right?
Mike Blake: [00:34:57] Right. So, in Europe, of course, as you know, but our listeners may not, there’s a testing system to determine your level of facility with a language A1, A2, et cetera. I forgot what it’s called, but I know it goes all the way up to C2 as my understanding. In your mind, what is your experience with that system, and how valid is it as a measurement of your command of a particular language?
Lydia Machova: [00:35:27] All right. I believe it’s quite unfortunate, actually. It’s called the European Framework of Reference for Language Learning, and it’s very heavily used in here, in Europe. So if you ask someone in the street, they will tell you, “Oh, my French is B1 and I’ve got a certificate of B2.”
Lydia Machova: [00:35:47] But again, it’s unfortunate because it kind of gives you the idea that what you want to achieve is the highest level, the C2. That’s when you can say that you can stop learning the language and you don’t need to work on it anymore, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:36:01] So, just to clarify, there are six levels. A1, A2. This is beginners, just basics in the language. Then, we have B1 and B2. This is intermediate. And then, we have C1 and C2. But what most people don’t really know is that C1 and C2 levels are for people who want to use the language professionally. That’s for translators, interpreters, language teachers. You do not need to be a C-level speaker in order to use the language comfortably.
Mike Blake: [00:36:27] Okay.
Lydia Machova: [00:36:28] So, getting back to the metaphor, sorry, these [inaudible] fluency level, that’s what I would call a B2. And, I have a nicer metaphor, maybe to explain this. Have you seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks?
Mike Blake: [00:36:44] I’m familiar with it. Yes.
Lydia Machova: [00:36:45] Okay. So, he gets stuck on an island, right? And, I hope I don’t make any spoilers here, but he tries to get away from the island and he fails several times. He builds a little raft and he cannot get across the last wave because the waves further away from the island are bigger and bigger and they always kind of drag him back, right? So, he stays there for a long time.
Lydia Machova: [00:37:08] I believe this is very similar to language learning because you are trying to overcome those waves and they are very small at the beginning. That’s when you are learning your first words and everything seems easy because, you know, you learn hi and thank you and everything else. But then the waves start to get bigger. So, the more advanced you are in the language, the more difficult problems arrive. And, for you to get to a comfortable fluency level, you need to overcome that last wave so that you get away from the island and you are not dragged back towards it with the waves.
Lydia Machova: [00:37:40] And for me, this level is the B2 level. It doesn’t mean that you cannot get any further. You can always go deeper and have a better, more professional understanding of the language. But if you get to B2, you are above that, beyond that last wave, and that means that you can stop rowing. You don’t need to work on the language. You don’t need to keep learning and go to language schools and pay teachers. You are already there. You will not get dragged back towards the island to zero knowledge, to complete beginner. And, the only thing you need to do is to brush it up when you need to activate it.
Lydia Machova: [00:38:15] So, you can afford not to use the language even for several years. And then, when the occasion comes, you will say, “Okay, give me a weekend or a week or maybe a month, you know, and I will get back into the language and I’m back on that fluent level.” This, I believe, is something that most people don’t know and that’s why they try to either get to C2 or they think that they don’t speak the language yet. But this is just like with the pregnant woman, right? You are pregnant even when you are not one hour before giving birth.
Mike Blake: [00:38:47] I like that. I like that way of analogy. It takes me back to my Russian experience. I had the very good fortune to start learning Russian in high school, believe it or not, and then through college. But then I got a job in, sorry, I studied in Moscow, and then I got a job in Minsk. And, the first three months that I was there, I realized that my school Russian was not going to be enough. And in a place like Minsk, nobody spoke English whatsoever. I either spoke or starved. And, I remember for the first three months I was in bed by 7 o’clock because I was so exhausted from learning the language and the flying because I was translating it. I didn’t have the brain pathways that I was speaking it as a language. I was translating in real-time all the time.
Mike Blake: [00:39:36] And then, there is one day where I crossed that wave and I don’t know exactly when the day was, but there did come a time when I realized I was now thinking in that language. That was now – that time was a third language, and it was no longer that kind of effort. But I never thought of it that in that metaphor. So, I may borrow that.
Lydia Machova: [00:40:01] Please do. Yeah. I think it explains it well because you don’t need to achieve the highest point of a mountain or something, right? But you get to that level. And, I’m sure that it was a great feeling for you when you woke up that day and you realized, “Wow, I can speak Russian.” It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?
Mike Blake: [00:40:19] It was actually a great day when I realized I got home from work and I didn’t want to go to bed right away. That was the big thing.
Mike Blake: [00:40:19] So, it’s interesting. So, your definition of fluency then I think is very important because I think there’s a belief that if you don’t achieve sort of your level of fluency where you’re a professional linguist, you’re a professional translator, that therefore that you fail. But in point of fact, and again, this gets into – again, you know what your definition of fluent comfort level, whatever, you can still get a lot done in a language without achieving that level, right?
Mike Blake: [00:41:10] I think the statistic I saw was that if you learn 2000 words in a target language, you can engage in 80% of what you need to engage with, and then if it’s ten thousand words or it’s about 95%, which isn’t that much if you pick the right words, right?
Mike Blake: [00:41:26] And, is that kind of what you teach your clients that it’s not about knowing every word because even native speakers make mistakes. You know, a lot of Russians don’t fully know all the grammar rules with all the connections and so forth. Is that what you teach them to sort of set their expectations at a realistic level?
Lydia Machova: [00:41:52] Yes, yes. And, I think that many people don’t even know that there is, as you say, an attainable level that will not take you ages. We are used to, at least in Europe, we are used to learning languages all our lives, and most of the people I meet here, they will say, “Lady, I’m just – I’ve been learning English for 15 years. I still cannot speak it. What does that tell me? It tells me I’m obviously not talented. It tells me I obviously cannot learn a language because I’ve been trying for 15 years.”
Lydia Machova: [00:42:24] But then when we dig a little deeper, we realize that, well, what were the methods? How did you enjoy that process? How much time did you really spend? Because if someone goes to a lesson once a week and there are 10 people in the classroom and then they spend one lesson reading and then on one learning grammar, and then they speak every fifth lesson and they say two sentences. Well, no wonder you don’t speak the language because you haven’t practiced the skill of speaking, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:42:47] So, this is one problem that people feel that they have been learning the language forever and they still don’t have the results, but also they don’t realize that the result is actually usually very near at their stage. If they’ve been – if they’ve spent some time with the language for 15 years, then they can actually achieve amazing progress within half a year or a year if they give it maybe half an hour, an hour tops, a day, they can actually get to that fluent level and stop learning. You don’t need to keep on learning forever, so it actually saves you time, right? Rather than, if you decide to give it a little bit of your time, one hour one lesson a week for 15 years, and you feel you will never ever get there. It’s a huge difference. So, yeah, people don’t usually know about this comfortable fluency.
Mike Blake: [00:43:36] I’m really glad you brought that up because I think that point is so smart. Because when you look at it, if we tried to learn any skill, it could be computers, it could be making shoes, if the only exposure we had to it was one hour of lecture a week and hands-on experience of five minutes a week, you’d never make very good shoes. You’d never be very good with computers either. So, there’s no reason that should be different with a language.
Mike Blake: [00:44:06] And, I want to kind of pause on this a little bit because, and you’ve mentioned this before that people say they’re too busy to learn languages. I suspect you and I agree. It’s not that you’re too busy. It’s, A, you don’t know how – you don’t really understand what time it takes. And, B, you’re just choosing to do something else with your time, which is fine, right? But unless you tell me you never watch television, you never surf social media, you have time to learn a language. You’re just deciding those other things are more important.
Lydia Machova: [00:44:35] Exactly.
Mike Blake: [00:44:36] But, you know, and there’s a common, I think, misconception and I think you agree, but please tell me if you don’t, that the only way that you can – sorry, I was going to say the bad word, that you can learn a language well is through immersion that you have to live in that country or you have to be in a U.S. Military Monterey school, which is really good, or a three-month – live in a farm for three months where they only speak Egyptian or something. But that’s not really true, is it?
Lydia Machova: [00:45:10] No, definitely not. And, I believe it’s so comfortable for people to think of language learning in this way because it is easy, right? It’s like, “Hey, here’s my money. Come and teach me or bring me to your course where you will give me exactly the right material I need to have every day and walk me through your process. And after three months, I speak the language.” Right?
Lydia Machova: [00:45:34] I think that people like to approach it in this way. You need to travel because they want to maybe get rid of the responsibility for learning, right? And, obviously, it helps. I mean, if you can immerse yourself in the language by going and living in the country or being around the native speakers of that language, that’s awesome. Use it, use those opportunities. But you don’t have to in order to learn the language.
Lydia Machova: [00:45:59] And, I know so many people and actually, I’m an example of that too, that you don’t have to do it because you, as I said, you can create that environment, that language environment in your headphones, on your computer. You can look out for those opportunities to talk to people with today’s international world. Even for me living in Slovakia, it’s very easy to find native speakers speaking French or Spanish or Polish here in Bratislava, right. So, however you decide to approach this, make sure you find the right opportunities to practice the language and you can absolutely do it if you take the responsibility for doing this by yourself, right?
Mike Blake: [00:46:42] What in your mind is the most common mistake people make when setting out to learn a language?
Lydia Machova: [00:46:50] Well, it boils down to this responsibility again. They look for external resources that will feed them the language, spoon-feed them, right. They want a ready-made solution, a shortcut, something that will not cost them any energy, any time. They are willing to pay money but just do it quick, right, preferably in my sleep. And people just –
Mike Blake: [00:47:16] I was going to ask you about that. I take it you’re not a big fan of these programs that say they’ll teach you a language while you sleep.
Lydia Machova: [00:47:25] Well, I won’t say that they don’t work, but I haven’t found one that works yet. If someone comes and convinces me that this work, I’m very happy. I believe that technology has still to bring us a lot of inventions, amazing inventions, which will probably change even language learning.
Lydia Machova: [00:47:42] But so far, nothing like that has ever worked. I haven’t met a single person who would say I learned a language effortlessly. It doesn’t work because it’s a skill. You need to learn so many new words and you need to have listened to so many recordings, right, and need to have had so many conversations that it just doesn’t work. It does take time.
Lydia Machova: [00:48:01] So, most people realize this and they want the shortcut. And, usually, they look for the easiest solutions. So, they download an app, right? There are many very popular apps and they just want to give it this five minutes a day and they expect that this is how to learn a language, but it’s just not enough. It cannot work like that.
Lydia Machova: [00:48:20] So, I believe this is the biggest problem, taking responsibility for the learning and approaching language learning as a skill that requires some time.
Mike Blake: [00:48:29] We’re talking with Dr. Lydia Machova of Language Mentoring, and the topic is, Should I learn a second language?
Mike Blake: [00:48:35] Just a few more questions because our time is nearly up. But I did want to – you just touched on something I want to ask you. What is your opinion of all these new apps that are out? The Duolingo, the Memrise, the beams of the world. Maybe, even Rosetta Stone gets lumped into that. How useful are they as a language learning tool?
Lydia Machova: [00:49:00] I believe they are useful, and I’m personally also a fan of them. But I take them as a nice, playful addition to my language learning because I believe it’s very difficult for an app like this to cover all of the language skills that you need to learn.
Lydia Machova: [00:49:19] So, if I only put words to pictures within the app or I only repeat some phrases, I’m not forced to really think about some words and say them to create content in the language. It cannot help me to learn to speak. There is no process in this app that can help me to speak because the only way to learn to speak a language is to practice speaking it, right.
Lydia Machova: [00:49:44] So, these people expect that just by being playful with the language and playing with the words, they will somehow magically learn to speak the language. I don’t get it how it should be even possible. I don’t expect this from the app because I know I’m not practicing that, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:50:01] So, I’m not opposed to the idea. I think they’re a great gateway to learning languages, and I like it when people get excited and they’re very addictive. Let’s face it. They are built to be addictive, right? And, I myself have been hooked on Duolingo and Memrise and all of these apps. But I’ve always realized that this is a very nice game, right, to be in contact with the language but I need to work on the language elsewhere, too, if I want to really speak it. If I just want to kind of dabble in it and learn a few phrases to use on my holiday, then they’re the perfect solution. Go for that. Use them and go on holiday and impress the native speakers, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:50:40] But if you want to actually use the language, learn it, know it. Be beyond that last wave. Be fluent in it. The apps will never be enough, at least not the ones that we have so far. I haven’t seen an app which would cover all that.
Mike Blake: [00:50:54] I think I agree with that. I’ve found Duoling – I tend to use Duolingo and Memrise, and to me, they’re a good start, but I quickly found that if I really – if I wanted to achieve the level of comfort that I wanted to achieve, I needed to have an actual textbook in front of me where I could see how the language is structured. And, I’ve also found a word frequency dictionary to be helpful, as well as flashcards. Of course, everything’s different for other people.
Mike Blake: [00:51:30] In your system, and I hope I’m not asking you to give away too much intellectual property, but when somebody sets out to learn a language and maybe they did start with Duolingo but they realize that Duolingo can only take them so far, what are other tools does a person need to have in order to be successful?
Lydia Machova: [00:51:50] Right. At the very beginning, I agree that a textbook is a must. I have known a lot of other courses. I tried learning some of my languages with them so that I can test different resources and different materials. But at some point, I agree that in order to really understand the language and start understanding the nuances and the differences and why does it work like this, you need to have certain textbook material, right?
Lydia Machova: [00:52:19] But afterwards, if you get over those first two stages, A1, A2, beginner stages, and you become a lower intermediate where you can already understand roughly what texts in the language are about or you watch a movie and you don’t understand everything but you get different phrases and you can kind of get by, that’s when it starts getting really interesting because that’s when you can use immense resources online and you can start using them according to the topics you enjoy.
Lydia Machova: [00:52:49] So, that’s when you can introduce podcasts and start reading books. You can start with simplified books or bilingual books. There are hundreds and thousands of them online available. And, you can pick materials that you are interested in and then spend time with them systematically so that you can acquire new vocabulary and understand more of the grammar and also gradually start speaking, practicing the output as well.
Mike Blake: [00:53:16] So, just a couple more questions before you go. I want – I’d like to talk about the word polyglot because, you know, at least in the English language, I can’t speak for other languages, but the term polyglot has almost a magical meaning, in a way probably too magical, if I’m honest about it. Is a polyglot somebody who, in your mind, is that somebody who speaks three languages or more? Is it five? Is it 12? Does the term really even matter?
Lydia Machova: [00:53:56] I wouldn’t say it does, and there is no official definition of the word. A polyglot is a person who speaks multiple languages. But in today’s world where there are so many people from different backgrounds and countries, it’s very natural for people to naturally go through life and pick up two or three languages, right? Your mom is Spanish and your father is American, and you spend a lot of time in France, so you end up speaking three languages.
Lydia Machova: [00:54:24] But I believe polyglot is really someone who enjoys the process of learning new languages and learns them also for pleasure. So, it’s not that you picked up the languages because you had an international life or your dad was a diplomat or something, but because you are truly interested in the language, right? So, I see polyglots more as people who take language learning as a hobby.
Mike Blake: [00:54:50] Okay. Yeah. I think that’s right. I like that definition, and maybe it’s no different than somebody who just learned as a musician, who learns different instruments. Right? Maybe, someone plays the guitar and the piano, and that’s just what they decided to do.
Mike Blake: [00:55:05] Lydia, this has been a fun conversation. I could talk to you for hours, but I know it’s Friday evening where you are. So, I want to be, of course, respectful of your time. There are probably questions we didn’t get to that a listener would like to know about, or maybe a question we didn’t go into as much detail on. If a listener wants to contact you to find out more about this topic or maybe take advantage of your expertise, can they do so? And, what’s the best way to do that?
Lydia Machova: [00:55:35] Yeah. I would be happy to. So, you can find me at languagementoring.com. And, we are on social media as well, Facebook, Instagram. You can watch some YouTube videos. I have some lectures and presentations in polyglot events, also findable on YouTube. So, yeah, language mentoring is the term.
Mike Blake: [00:55:59] That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Dr. Lydia Machova so much for sharing her expertise with us.
Mike Blake: [00:56:05] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next big business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us so that we can help them. If you’d like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblackeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Also, check out my new LinkedIn group, a group that doesn’t suck. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware and Company. And, this has been the Decision Vision podcast.