Guest Post – Learning a Language Through Immersion by Lucia Leite of Lingholic

This week, I am publishing a guest post written by Lucia Leite of about learning a language through immersion. I have done this myself over the years, mainly when I was learning Italian. I was sent to Milan for work and my Italian was still quite basic at that time. After about 3 months of working all day, every day with Italian people and watching Italian TV in the evening as well as using my ‘Da Capo’ book for help with grammar, my Italian had become as fluent as my Spanish which was what I wanted.

Taking the Plunge: Learning a Language Through Immersion

Do you look back on grade school language classes and wish you would have paid attention more? Youre not alone. With an increasingly international focus on business and in other professional arenas, knowledge of two or more languages can present serious benefits. The job market of today is a competitive one, and you want to make yourself stand out. Textbook companies, online learning portals, and even phone apps have become ever popular in encouraging people to pick up a new language, no matter the level. Still, despite all of the formal language acquisition methods to parler français, sprechen sie deutsch or hablar en español, theres no parallel to full language immersion in order to master even the toughest of languages.

Nothing quite beats workbook homework like sipping wine across from the Trevi Fountain, learning to dance flamenco in the hills of Granada, or navigating the subway routes in Tokyo. The truth is, living or vacationing in a place void of your mother tongue will require stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to new lengths in order to understand and be understood. The benefits go on and on. Here are a few to keep in mind to help you get the ball rolling on your next big language adventure.

Learn in Ways You Never Thought You Would.

Have you ever thought of binge watching your favorite television show or streaming new music as homework? In fact, these are some of the best ways you can learn a new language. Maybe you dont have the time or resources to book your travels around the world just yet, but listening to music or watching programs in your target language can be hugely beneficial. If youre not totally confident in your skills yet, utilize subtitles (also in the target language) or take pauses in between to do some translation. Again, dont make total comprehension your first goal. Even for advanced speakers, training your ear to pick up on a new accent always takes some time. But with context clues, youll be on your way to understanding faster than you thought possible.

Your Language Comprehension Will Skyrocket.

Throwing yourself into the deep end with language learning is not always comfortable, but its sure to be rewarding. From daily activities like ordering a morning coffee, catching the bus, or shopping for clothes will force you to interact using new vocabulary and phrases. When youre first learning, its easy to be shy or feel embarrassed about making a mistake. But the more you focus on conveying and understanding main ideas rather than every small detail, the better apt youll be to excel. Language is like any skill that takes practice, and with a friendly demeanor, most locals are happy to help you along.

Accents Will Develop Naturally.

If youre used to practicing a new language via textbook material or online, its possible youve been spoiled with listening activities latent with slow speaking and standardized accents. When it comes to languages spoken all around the world, its only natural that regional dialects and accents  develop. Getting to know a new accent is a great way to feel more a part of local culture. At first it may be difficult if youre straining with the breezy relaxed accent of Andalucia or the blunt choppiness of speakers from Manhattan, but dont let yourself get discouraged.

You’ll Test Out Slang with the Locals.

Beyond simply tonal differences, youre sure to pick up on colloquial phrases as well.This can be anything from simple regional greetings and goodbyes or other situational phrases that will give you a deeper insight into the culture. Its another way to make language fun and new. Find local friends or set up a language exchange to perfect your skills and practice your slang and idioms. Locals will appreciate the effort youre making to talk just as a native speaker would.

You’ll Gain Appreciation for a New Culture.

Most importantly, learning a new language means access to a part of the world, group of people, and way of life that you may never have experienced had you not taken the time to give it a shot.

Learning a language in an immersive environment full of little victories and huge leaps forward will give you the confidence to try all sorts of new skill sets, language related or not, to go out and conquer. Its a leap of faith you wont regret.

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Language Challenge Winner & Language Plans for the next 6-12 months

Last month I was declared the winner of a Language Challenge where I learned Mandarin in 90 days (you can read all about that on this post ) , I will be taking my prize trip to Beijing in November this year. That means I have 3 months to work on improving my Chinese before I go.

As well as working on Chinese, I would like to spend a few months studying more German. Resources are plentiful and I’m a low B1 level at the moment and I’d like to improve to eventually reach B2 level. You can read more about what each level means by clicking here.

Once I have been to China in November, I will be continuing with my Chinese studies because it’s a language I really enjoy learning. However, I will be able to slow down my study pace after my trip, but I will continue with skype lessons every 10 days or so.


My Maori books from New Zealand

I have a trip to New Zealand in February and I would like to learn some Maori because I am interested in the language and culture. I managed to get some Maori coursebooks delivered from New Zealand and there is a Maori TV Channel which has hundreds of video lessons. On the way home from New Zealand, I will be stopping in Singapore and Batam, Indonesia for a couple of days so I think some basic Indonesian could be useful to learn.

Next summer, I am going on holiday to Croatia. Croatian is a language I have wanted to learn for quite some time. One reason is that I would like to learn a Slavic language to a good level as knowledge of one Slavic language can eventually help me learn others in the future. There are plenty of tutors on Italki and enough resources for me to reach a good level.


My Cornish book

Another hobby language I am considering is Cornish. Cornish is one of the Celtic languages that (arguably) became extinct around the late 1700s. However, it has been revived and there are now around 500 speakers. I’m interested in doing a distance course after my Gaelic course finishes in February and there is a Cornish study weekend in Cornwall in April which I’d like to attend. I have never visited Cornwall, but it’s one of the most beautiful parts of England. The Cornish Distance Course is currently very cheap (£20 per level including tutor support), but I don’t think this reasonable price will last as the government has withdrawn funding. If you are interested, details are on this website .

Between October and December I will be doing a new 90 day Add1Challenge to learn Sicilian. This is a “hobby language” and should be easy for me because I know Italian already.

I have also decided to revive my basic Arabic. I did two semesters of Syrian Arabic at Dalarna University around 4 years ago and then they did not run any more courses. Since then I have been a it stuck for resources and tutors. However, I started looking into Egyptian Arabic because I have some Egyptian films on DVD and I didn’t think it would be too much effort to start focusing on the Egyptian dialect. There are more resources and tutors for Egyptian rather than Syrian Arabic. I have now found a great tutor on Verbling and I plan to have regular lessons with her.

This year, I did a 24 hour Wolof challenge in conjunction with the North American Polyglot Conference. I hope to learn some more Wolof sometime next year and this was my first time learning an African language. I actually only had about 2-3 hours to learn it during the Linguathon weekend and then I made this video in Wolof with English subtitles.

I will also be maintaining my better languages just by having Skype conversations. Due to lack of free time, I can only really commit to intensively studying two basic level languages at the same time and one or two others at a slower pace. The ones that I study intensively depend on my current level and necessity for that language at that time.  Sadly, I can’t do everything I want. The best routine for me is maintaining my higher level languages that I don’t need to actively study anymore by having Skype conversations with native speakers and then choosing the most essential ones from my lower level languages to work on over a period of a few months at a time. My best languages which I use regularly are Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, French and Norwegian.


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Montreal & the Polyglot Symposium

In English and then Catalan:

Last week I was in Montreal for the first North American Polyglot Symposium. This was my first visit to Canada and the multicultural city of Montreal was a great choice for the event.


The old part of Montreal

The city is full of old, beautiful buildings and I had plenty of opportunities to practise my French. French is not one of my best languages so I have had lots of Skype lessons since January to improve my level.

The event lasted for two days at Concordia University and we also had social events in the evenings. On the first day, we opened the event with a presentation about the Origins of Language with Simon Ager. We also had a presentation by Canadian hyperpolyglot Steve Kaufmann about being a silent polyglot. After attending a few more presentations in the afternoon by well-known polyglots such as Jimmy Mello and Olly Richards, we met at the end of the day to go to Mount Royal. It was a difficult walk up to Mount Royal in the heat but at the top we had fantastic views over the city. We thought going down would be easy, but it started to rain! Our next stop was a Spanish tapas bar for a meal and language exchange.


My Presentation about Scottish Gaelic

The second day consisted of a presentation by Benny Lewis and a Wolof Workshop by Khady Ndoye, as well as other interesting presentations about using social media for language learning by Lindsay Dow and raising multilingual children by Tetsu Yung. I did my own presentation in the afternoon about Scottish Gaelic. I explained about the history of the language, the decline and revival and then we did a short lesson on some basic phrases. The last presentation of the day was about Papiamentu, a language spoken in the Caribbean which was very interesting.


Polyglot Picnic

After the presentations, we went to Parc La Fontaine for a Polyglot Picnic. The weather was warm and dry and the atmosphere was fantastic. I enjoyed being among like-minded people. It was sad when the event ended.

My last day in Montreal was spent walking around the city, visiting Notre Dame Cathedral and the old town area. I also visited Michel Fortin languages book shop and bought some books on Occitan, Wolof and Indonesian.

The North American Polyglot Symposium will now be a yearly event in a different city in North America. Hopefully I can attend again and meet more of these fantastic and interesting people.


This is me on the CTV news report.

We were also on TV! You can also watch a video report about the Symposium by Canadian TV Channel CTV by clicking here.

To watch the videos of all the presentations, please click here NAPS YouTube Channel .

UPDATE: The event for next year in Montreal has been renamed as Montreal Language Festival to appeal to all language lovers and not just polyglots!

En català:

La setmana passada vaig estar a Montreal pel North American Polyglot Symposium.  Aquesta era la meva primera visita a Canada i, com que Montreal és una ciutat multicultural, l’elecció d’aquest lloc per celebrar-hi l’esdeveniment va ser molt encertada. La ciutat és plena de vells i bells edificis i vaig tenir moltes oportunitats de practicar el meu francès. El francès no és un dels idiomes que més domino, i per això vaig rebre moltes classes per Skype sis mesos abans del Symposium per millorar el meu nivell.


View from Mount Royal

L’esdeveniment va durar dos dies a la Universitat de Concordia i vam assistir a activitats socials durant la tarda. El primer dia vam obrir l’esdeveniment amb una presentació sobre els orígens de la llengua amb Simon Ager. Vam escoltar una presentació del superpoliglot canadenc, Steve Kaufmann, sobre com ser un poliglot silenciós.

Després d’assistir a algunes presentacions durant la tarda amb poliglots com Jimmy Mello i Olly Richards, ens vam trobar al final del dia per anar a Mount Royal. Va ser una passejada dura a Mount Royal perquè hi feia calor, però al cim vam gaudir d’unes vistes fantàstiques de la ciutat. Pensàvem que baixar seria fàcil, però es va posar a ploure! La nostra propera parada era un bar espanyol de tapes per menjar i fer un intercanvi d’idiomes.

P1050802 v2

St Joseph’s Oratory

El segon dia va consistir en una presentació amb Benny Lewis i un taller de wòlof amb Khady Ndoye, així com altres presentacions sobre com usar les xarxes socials per a l’aprenentatge d’idiomes amb Lindsay Dow i com criar nens multilingües amb Tetsu Yung. Vaig fer la meva pròpia presentació durant la tarda sobre el gaèlic a Escòcia. Vaig parlar de la història, el declivi i el renaixement de l’idioma i després vam fer una breu lliçó en gaèlic. L’última presentació del dia era sobre el Papiamentu, un idioma del Carib, i va ser molt interessant. Després de les presentacions, vam anar al Parc La Fontaine per fer un pícnic amb els poligots. El temps era càlid i sec, i l’ambient era fantàstic. Em va agradar estar entre altres poliglots. Va ser trist quan l’esdeveniment es va acabar.


Notre Dame Cathedral, Montreal

Vaig passar el meu últim dia visitant la ciutat i especialment la seva part antiga. Vaig anar a la catedral de Notre Dame i a una botiga amb molts llibres d’idiomes estrangers. Vaig comprar alguns llibres en occità, indonesi i wolof. El ‘North American Polyglot Symposium’ será un esdeveniment anual a partir d’ara i se celebrarà cada any en una ciutat diferent d’Amèrica del Nord. Si tinc sort podré assistir-hi de nou i trobar-hi més persones interessants.

També, es pot veure un resumen vídeo mostrat per la televisió canadenca  fent clic aquí.


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Polyglot Gathering, Berlin 2016

I have just returned from a fantastic Polyglot Gathering held for the third time in Berlin, Germany. The Programme was jam-packed with four days of presentations, introductory language lessons and social activities.

The venue was the same as the last two years at A&O Hostel near the Hauptbahnhof. The Gathering was in several rooms on the top floor and people then had the opportunity to stay in the hostel for the duration of the Gathering or at another hotel nearby.

I missed the first day of the Gathering but I was there for the final three days. There were usually 3 talks going on at the same time in three different rooms so sometimes it was difficult to choose which one to attend! If you missed one you really wanted to see then you can view it afterwards on YouTube as all talks were recorded.

One of my main areas of interest is minority languages. I tend to go to all presentations on this subject. This year, my favourite presentations were about minority languages. The first one was about the indigenous language spoken by the Musqueam people in Canada presented by Brian Loo. IMG_5643This photo shows the various dialects that exist in that region. There are very few native speakers left, around a dozen or so, although there are more people learning it with support from the local university. The language has some sounds known as ‘ejectives’ which, to my untrained ear, sound a bit like clicks. To view some online lessons and listen to what the language sounds like click here.

One of my other favourite presentations was about Manx Gaelic by Simon Ager. The language died out in the Isle of Man in the 1970s when the last native speaker died. However, he did make some recordings and there are now 1800 speakers. IMG_5593Luckily, there is now at least one school in the Isle of Man that teaches all subjects in Manx. Looking at some of the phrases, I could see a lot of similarities with Scottish Gaelic. When I have more free time, I would like to investigate further into this language and I am only a half hour flight away from the Isle of Man.

Speaking of Celtic languages, we also had an introductory lesson in Welsh with Gareth Popkins and Simon Ager. I was able to recognise some words from my Scottish Gaelic but not too many because Welsh belongs to another branch of the Celtic languages, along with Cornish and Breton. IMG_5610 Initially, Welsh appeared difficult because I couldn’t associate the majority of it with other languages I know well, but I thought that when I started Scottish Gaelic too. Once we started the lesson and we started practising dialogues in pairs, I started to make more sense of the words on the screen. It’s definitely a language I would like to study at some point. There are many resources for Welsh and around half a million native speakers.

IMG_5618Another one of my favourite talks was about African languages by Khady Ndoye. This was the first time we were able to have a talk about African languages at the Gathering. She focused on Wolof and taught us a lot of expressions and we were able to have dialogues in pairs. She also provided us with excellent resources available online if we wanted to learn more.

One of the last presentations I attended was about Luxembourgish. The language to me looked very similar to Dutch and German and it was interesting to hear that the children are taught four different languages at school!

There were so many other presentations available and you can view the programme here.

The Gathering is a great opportunity to practise your languages. I was able to speak ALL the languages I had studied, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Norwegian, German, Greek, Gaelic, Catalan and Chinese. On the last day I decided to have lunch with a group of Chinese learners. We all got together and made a video speaking a little bit of Chinese each. We are all learners at different stages and we are from 10 different countries! Perhaps we can make another video next year to show how we’ve all progressed with our Chinese studies!

If you could not attend the Gathering, you can still watch all the videos of the talks on this YouTube channel once they have been uploaded. The videos from Lindsay Does Languages provide a great snapshot of various activities at the Gathering.


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Learning Mandarin Chinese in 90 Days

This month, I finished my latest language challenge to learn enough Mandarin in 90 days to be able to hold a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. I have done these 90 day language challenges before. This time was different because I had never studied an Asian language before and I had never studied a tonal language before. I saw that other people had achieved this through 90 day challenges and I decided to attempt it but was unsure if I could achieve the final goal.

One of my main motivations was that I had a stopover visit to China on the way back from New Zealand to the UK and this was near the start of my challenge. You can read about my short trip to China on this blog post.


At the kindergarten in China

I was on a guided tour with a group and on the tour we stopped at a kindergarten so I felt more confident practising my very basic Chinese with the children rather than with adults at that time!

I found an Italki tutor called Amy who gave great lessons and worked very well for me. I had about 20 lessons during the challenge. I focused more on speaking and not so much on the characters because I needed to make sure I could manage that 15 minute conversation after 90 days.

I didn’t actually use that many resources during the challenge as I felt the work from my tutor was enough for me, although I did use the BBC Talk Chinese book too, especially before my trip to China as the book is aimed at gaining basic knowledge in the language for the purpose of visiting the country as a tourist. This was my video at the start of the challenge.

The Challenge also provided the participants with mini challenges throughout, such as building sentences each day on a spreadsheet for 2 weeks, working in teams to gain the most points and another one for speaking time. We also had a fun optional challenge to make a funny video doing something in our new language. I made a video with my cat, Mario, about Chinese animal words. Mario responds to the Chinese word for cat “mao” so I made a video to show this. 

I was surprised at how easy the grammar is in Mandarin. The most difficult aspect for me is learning the characters. I recommend the Collins Easy learning Chinese Characters book as it explains some interesting stories associated with the characters. Another book I read during my challenge was Collins Chinese Language & Culture. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in the Chinese language or history.

During the last 3 weeks of the challenge, my confidence was starting to build and when I attended the Language Show Live in Glasgow, I felt confident enough to approach Chinese people and start talking to them. I also kept going to my local Chinese restaurant and the staff there now always speak to me in Chinese and they have taught me new food vocabulary.

This is my final 90 Day video in Chinese with English subtitles 

I still need to keep practising the tones but they’re not as difficult as I thought they would be. It’s just a case of continuing to practise as much as you can.

My plans for Chinese are to carry on and keep it as one of my regular languages. It has now become one of my favourite languages.

UPDATE: I won this challenge and I won a flight to China for November!! Now I am working on Chinese a lot in preparation for my trip!!!



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Language Show Live, Glasgow

Last month I attended the Language Show Live in Glasgow, Scotland. This event is normally held in London every October but this was the first year it was held in Scotland.

The two days were very enjoyable. IMG_4647The first day included the “Gaelic and Scots Language Festival” where I attended presentations about how Gaelic is being revived through schools, nurseries and various children’s clubs as well as adult classes in the community. It was really interesting to see the summer activities available to children such as sports, music and drama clubs where they also practise their Gaelic.

The Scots dialects are now being taught in schools and there are now many children’s books available in both Gaelic and Scots dialects. A lot of adult fiction has also been translated into Gaelic, including books by famous Scottish authors such as Ian Rankin. This  
Gaelic Book Shop has a large selection of these books. 

IMG_5310There were many stands selling language books at the show too. I bought this children’s book in Gaelic which comes with an audio file.

Many other languages were represented at the show. There were taster classes in various languages such as Gaelic, Norwegian, Italian, Polish, German, French, Italian, Russian and Arabic. I attended the Polish one and they made Polish pronunciation seem easier than I thought!

IMG_4683There was a careers section and a TEFL section with seminars throughout the two days. The Piazza hosted some great entertainment from some talented artists. I particularly enjoyed the Chinese songs and dances and I was able to practise some of my basic Mandarin at the Confucius Institute Stand. Mandarin is a key language for schools in Scotland and is now being taught in over 200 schools.

IMG_4643I am currently learning Gaelic on a distance course with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig who are based in the Isle of Skye. They had a Stand at the Language Show and I was able to speak to them about how to progress with my Gaelic studies. I was very happy to hear they offer a full degree course in Gaelic and it’s available by distance learning and taught via video conferencing.


After the show, I spent the evening in Glasgow eating dinner at the Russian Cafe and then I went to watch a play in Gaelic at the Tron Theatre . The play had a screen behind the actors with subtitles in English. There were lots of native Gaelic speakers at the theatre too.

Overall, a very enjoyable weekend and I hope to attend again next year.



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My Language Plans for 2016

During 2016, I will be spending a lot of time studying Chinese, Scottish Gaelic and a little bit of Irish as well as maintaining my better languages . I had a few Chinese lessons before my short trip to China in January but I liked Chinese so much that I decided to continue with my studies and I am currently doing a 90 Day Language Challenge for Chinese until April this year. After that, I expect to carry on with my regular Italki tutor.

With regards to Gaelic, I did a course last year with a college in the Isle of Skye, Scotland. It was a distance learning course with one telephone tutorial per week. I passed the exam and I have now registered for the next level.


The Gaelic speaking Isle of Harris, Scotland

I will be attending a Gaelic immersion course in the Isle of Skye in May and I will also have some time to travel around the island and get some speaking practice.

It’s possible when my challenge for Chinese finishes in April that I won’t be doing more than one other challenge this year because my Gaelic course will take up a lot of time until June so my priority will be with that until then. In the last couple of years I have done various language challenges to learn German, Greek, Gaelic and Catalan and then I have wanted to continue my studies in those languages which then fills a lot of my free time.

My best languages are English (native), then Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Catalan. For all of these (apart from English of course) I have skype sessions at least once every 2 weeks just for conversation practice and to maintain my level. I therefore don’t need to spend much time actually studying these languages as they are now in “maintenance mode”. My intermediate languages that I really want to improve are German, Norwegian and French so I do need to keep studying these but I have skype sessions focusing on speaking. I expect the French to be the first of those to reach “maintenance mode”. Then my basic languages Gaelic, Chinese and Irish will require the most study time and one lesson per week.

I’m at my maximum with how many languages I can keep up for now and so I won’t be able to learn any new languages this year. Next year hopefully my French will be in “maintenance mode” and I can start improving another  language I already know at basic level (Lithuanian, Dutch or Arabic).

MaureenGaelicIn order to maintain the 9 languages I already speak to intermediate or advanced level and keep up with learning Gaelic, Chinese and Irish, it may mean in future some languages I will only learn shortly before a trip to the country , but then in the future just revive it as and when needed so that I do not have to keep studying it every week. Unfortunately I don’t have as much time as I would like to keep up more languages on a regular and permanent basis.

I have a study schedule between lessons for my intermediate and basic languages and I tend to study each language for 30 mins at a time, usually in three study slots throughout the day.


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