My name is Maureen (also known as Máirín in Irish) and I was born in Scotland with Lithuanian heritage on my mother’s side and Irish on my father’s side. My grandparents and ancestors further back spoke Gaelic and Lithuanian as their first languages and arrived in Scotland in the 19th century and early 20th century. I was brought up only speaking English though. Unlike a lot of language enthusiasts, I had virtually no exposure to foreign languages as a child. It was only at age 18+ that I started to take them seriously.
Languages have always been very important to me since I was at school. Unfortunately the UK state education system is not good for teaching foreign languages. I obtained a grade A in my French GCSE when leaving school at age 16 but would not have been able to hold a conversation with a native speaker – we were all taught phrases parrot fashion!
My languages have enabled me to work within the Finance Industry in Europe with many business trips to Italy and Spain over the years. This then led me onto studying professional accountancy qualifications so now I have the equivalent of two degrees, one in languages & one in accountancy. Languages are my passion though and I spend a lot of my free time either using them or studying them.
I also enjoy travelling very much. This blog will be updated with my travel logs as well as my language experiences. To me, the two go hand in hand. My other interests are cats (I have two who live with me) and I also love reading books, particularly crime fiction from Scandinavia.
I speak my best 8 languages on a regular basis (this also includes English) and these 8 are either advanced or intermediate level. I also study other languages as a hobby usually for an upcoming trip to the country. I am actively studying Chinese, Slovak and Russian. I wish I could maintain all the languages I study on a permanent basis but it’s not possible unfortunately.
My languages are as follows:
My ten regular languages:
1. English : Native (also Scots!). Click here to see my video reading a Scots poem.
2. Spanish: From age 16 and then onto university I studied Spanish and then went straight into employment using it. I began a career in European Finance and my first job was at a well-known international company and mainly dealing with the Spanish office.I maintain my Spanish with a native speaker once a week on Skype. Spanish is one of my most fluent languages.
3. Italian: From age 18 I studied Italian as a minor subject at university so it was never at the level of my Spanish back then. However after several years I got a job in large pharmaceutical company within their Finance Department and I was travelling to Italy very often. After a few months of speaking Italian all day, every day, my Italian then became stronger than my Spanish and I still maintain my fluency and it is my favourite language. I love Italy as well and still travel there whenever I can for holidays. I maintain my Italian with a native speaker once a week on Skype. Italian is one of my most fluent languages.
4. Portuguese: I started a short course for 2 hours per week at the university and so my level was intermediate after that. This was only a short course so did not form part of my university degree. A few years later I needed it for work so I attended an A-Level (B2) class in Manchester and was also able to practise with native speakers from work. I bought some Brazilian CDs and films on DVDs and tried to copy their accent. Now when I speak Portuguese, people think I’ve spent time in Brazil because of my accent. I maintain my Portuguese with a native Brazilian on Skype once per week and I still think I’m at B2 level.
5. Catalan: I started learning Catalan for a language challenge and my Spanish helped me reach intermediate level quite quickly. I’m hoping to reach advanced level fairly soon.
6. French: I started French at high school and went up to GCSE level but it was taught very badly. I wasn’t able to hold a conversation after learning French at school. In 2016 I started learning French again with Skype lessons and I reached B1 level within a year and I am continuing to B2 level.
7. Sicilian: I completed a 90 Day Challenge to learn Sicilian and made a 15 minute video with a native speaker. I reached intermediate level fairly quickly because my knowledge of Italian helped me progress quickly. I am maintaining my studies and lessons in Sicilian because I intend to go back to Sicily and I am very interested in minority languages.
8. Norwegian: I was very lucky to find a short course in my home town many years ago which started me off with Norwegian. Norway is one of my favourite places and have been there several times. I then obtained a basic level qualification from a college in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. It was such fun to go to Orkney on holiday and then go to sit my Norwegian exam! Since then I have had private tuition over Skype and I am around B1 level which is perfectly adequate for travelling around a country. The Norwegians are known for being very good at English, but every time I visit Norway I always speak in Norwegian to them.
9. Mandarin Chinese: I had a stopover in China during my Australia/New Zealand trip in 2016 so I thought it would be interesting to learn some basic Chinese before my trip. After that, I did a 90 day language challenge in Mandarin and I was the winner and I won a flight to China!
10. Slovak: I learned Slovak firstly for a 6 week challenge before the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava. At the Gathering, I was then able to give a short presentation about Scotland in Slovak. I then carried on to do a 90 day challenge which ended with a 15 minute conversation video with a native speaker. It is my only Slavic language and helps me understand some other Slavic languages so I would like to progress with it.
Hobby Languages & Short-Term Language Challenges:
Russian: I have recently started skype lessons in Russian to prepare for my trip to Russia next year. Despite having a reputation as being a difficult language for English speakers, I’m glad to see there are lots of resources and skype tutors. Russian is likely to be my last in-depth language that I study for a while. After that, I am planning to keep improving and maintaining my best ten languages.
Greek: Several years ago, I did a one year course for 2 hours per week to learn “Holiday Greek” which was good but a slow pace as it was aimed at members of the public, most of whom had never studied a language before. It is quite difficult to find resources in Greek beyond B1 level. In 2015, I started lessons again on Skype and I participated in the 90 Day Add1Challenge to boost my Greek learning in the beginning. I’m now around A2/B1 level (lower intermediate). Click here for the latest video I made in Greek with a native speaker.
German: To participate in a 3 month language challenge, I started learning German which is a language I will always want to progress further due to my own travels and the importance for business. I reached A2 level after the challenge. I am currently working with the B1 textbook.
Egyptian Arabic: I started learning Syrian Arabic in 2011 and thought it might be fun and a challenge to learn a non-European language with a different writing system. I did an online course with Dalarna University in Sweden for 2 semesters until they cancelled the course. In early 2017, I started a 90 day challenge to learn Egyptian Arabic. After the 90 days, I had to record a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. It has been my most difficult challenge so far due to lack of resources. I didn’t find it too difficult to change from the Syrian dialect to Egyptian, but then I was only basic level when I started my skype lessons in Egyptian Arabic anyway. You can see my Day 90 video here.
Dutch: I first started learning Dutch by having informal lessons with a native speaker from my previous job. I found it very easy to pick up and my Norwegian knowledge helped me. I was very lucky to have been able to find Dutch lessons in my local area for a while although they don’t run anymore. I will pick up Dutch again on Italki once my German is more solid so that I am not studying them both at the same time.
Lithuanian: My grandfather spoke Lithuanian but the language wasn’t passed down any further. I have made a few trips to Lithuania and I taught myself some of basics of the language beforehand and I was able to use it while I was there. It is a language I want to learn to a decent level some day as it is part of my heritage. Due to being banned for so many years, the language hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years and the similarities with Greek grammar are interesting. I am only at basic level and I made a video here.
Irish: Due to a trip to the Gaeltacht in Ireland, I had some lessons for a few months in Irish and my basic knowledge of Scottish Gaelic helped me with this. I was able to have a conversation using Irish and Scottish Gaelic with a native Irish speaker on Inis oirr island (Aran Islands).
Scottish Gaelic: Finally I have started learning another important language which forms part of my heritage. My ancestors spoke Irish Gaelic and my great-grandfather taught it to adults in Scotland. However, it wasn’t passed down to me. I did a distance learning course at the college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. I also went there for an intensive Gaelic weekend. This is a gap in the market for Gaelic teachers on Skype.
Neapolitan: After learning Sicilian, I found another Italian tutor who also spoke Neopolitan (Napulitano) so I asked her to teach me it for a 90 day challenge. At the end I made a video showing a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. You can watch that video by clicking here.
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