Thank you all for this amazing discussion! Also, please check out my project LearnYu and consider supporting it or spreading the word.

My name is Judith Meyer. You may have heard my voice on GermanPod101, GreekPod101 or DutchPod101. I know German, English, French, Esperanto, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, Modern Greek, Indonesian, Swahili, Spanish, Dutch (roughly in order of skill) and I've also studied Arabic, Japanese and a bunch of other languages. Details about my languages.

Proof & video speaking 13 languages - video is unscripted and unedited; use the subtitles button at the bottom right.

Some stuff I've done:

  • Doing everything around GermanPod101 (500+ lessons), GreekPod101, DutchPod101, ArabicPod101 (in the background)

  • Developing curricula and training lessons writers for the official "Myngle Programs" language lessons on in 8 languages

  • Authoring several books on languages

  • Creating the prototype of a machine translator for Unikom (sorry can't talk much; NDA), a translation tool for social game company Wooga, grammar systems for various projects...

  • Lobbying for language rights at conferences organized by the EU and UNESCO

  • Organizing the Polyglot Gathering, a 4-day conference attended by 215 language geeks who each speak 6 languages on average

  • For the past year, I have been working on a machine intelligence-based Chinese course.

I'm happy to answer questions about language-learning and any of my work.

Comments: 1687 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

merkur528 karma

What's is your opinion on the skill level you need to acquire in a language to consider "I know this language"? I speak 6 languages, each with a different level of skill, and I am always wondering whether it's ridiculous to consider that "I speak this language" if you don't at least have a quite good command of it. Where do you put the barrier?

Sprachprofi521 karma

It's a tough question. It seems that every polyglot has their own criteria. Due to the possibility of promising too much, some people, like Richard Simcott, generally refuse to count their languages at all. But I think it's better to give a number that not everyone will agree on rather than not giving a number at all. Richard recently revealed he studied more than 30 languages.

I'm most excited to use my languages for reading - I love to get a detailed insider's perspective about problems others haven't even heard of, such as reading the Dutch book "Witboi" about the current attitude to colonialism in the Dutch islands in South America. So for me, I will say "I know this language" if I can read this kind of book without the need to consult a dictionary on every page, or alternatively (since some languages are much harder to read than speak, and vice versa) if I have used a language for a conversation of at least 30 minutes without switching languages.

This means I'm beyond the need to translate in my head (that's why I don't count Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan etc.), beyond textbooks, beyond the need for native speakers to simplify what they say/write for me. This is the point I usually try to reach through intensive study and below which I don't let them drop, but further improvement depends on how often I can / want to use the language and what for.

HomoFerox_HomoFaber215 karma

As a polyglot and someone who has to deal with these issues, I'd say that if you have a C1 level under the Common European Framework you can confidently say you know the language.

Naturally, your passive skills (reading, listening) could be much higher than your active skills (writing, speaking), which is common. I can easily read Portuguese at a C2 level (proficiency). I constantly have to parse Portuguese contracts and bidding term sheets, etc. I can't speak it at all. Zero. I personally wouldn't say "I know Portuguese" because one of the indicators is non-existent. However, I would say that I "can easily read Portuguese".

Sprachprofi42 karma

I guess we disagree. If you can read Portuguese at C2 level, how can you say "I don't know Portuguese"? That's misinformation. Also, does that mean that nobody can ever say they know Latin?

thehndx193 karma

How can you keep up with so many languages? I'm fluent in Spanish and English, I'm trying to learn German but I find it difficult and usually end up forgetting most of the words anyways.

Do you have any tips you could offer for learning a new language?

Keep up the good work, thirteen languages is really impressive!

Sprachprofi252 karma

It's true that maintaining so many languages is a challenge, and I don't succeed particularly well. The easiest is to maintain reading ability: as a freelancer, whenever there's a lull in my day, I can pick up a book in whatever language or surf to a foreign news website, and voilà that's valuable language practice time. It's much harder to do that with speaking practice, unless you have the money to have a native speaker at your beck and call whenever you have some minutes...

Basically, you have to find ways to integrate languages in your days. It's easiest when living abroad, but I found that I could manage by reading, taking online university classes in foreign languages (thanks Coursera!), watching TEDx or TV series in foreign languages (thanks Youtube!), and generally relying on the internet a lot.

Do you have any tips you could offer for learning a new language?

European languages will be conquered if you just spend enough time on them. You cannot go very wrong. So the best method is the one that you will gladly do every day and the best materials are the ones that you look forward to using.

If you have a lot of problems with discipline, like me, I advocate a specialized blitz:

  1. Have a very limited goal, e. g. just being able to understand foreign news sites.

  2. Work only on things that will help with that. If the goal is reading foreign news, that means that you should NOT work on self introductions or any kind of speaking, you should not learn the words e. g. for animals or personal grooming, only learn words that you could see coming up in news articles. [Bliubliu]( or dictionary browser plugins can help you.

  3. Spend as much time as possible on this until you have reached your specialized goal. Relax afterwards and enjoy your new knowledge. If you study intensely enough, you don't have to keep up motivation for long.

FrMatthewLC16 karma

Have a very limited goal, e. g. just being able to understand foreign news sites.

Work only on things that will help with that. If the goal is reading foreign news, that means that you should NOT work on self introductions or any kind of speaking, you should not learn the words e. g. for animals or personal grooming, only learn words that you could see coming up in news articles. Bliubliu or dictionary browser plugins can help you.

Spend as much time as possible on this until you have reached your specialized goal. Relax afterwards and enjoy your new knowledge. If you study intensely enough, you don't have to keep up motivation for long.

How does this work if you're going from 0 to X?

For example, I'm starting Grad studies and want to write my Thesis on an author who wrote in French (I currently know Spanish, Italian, and Latin so this shouldn't be impossible). Anyways, the best I can find for the basics - duolingo or Rosetta Stone - all cover a lot of vocab that is of no use to me. On the other hand, picking up the author and a dictionary isn't possible yet (but I presume that will be my method later).

Sprachprofi68 karma

Rosetta Stone won't help. Duolingo doesn't allow you to determine what you want to learn. Get a course like Teach Yourself or Colloquial so that you're the master of your own learning and can skip everything that's irrelevant. Or better yet, "French for Reading". That's the straight line from A to B. Also, [Bliubliu]( is your friend, and it's free.

grammascookies150 karma

Since you speak 12 languages, what language do you think and dream in?

Sprachprofi150 karma

I have an abstract-thinking brain. I don't see pictures and I don't think in words either, so no language, just concepts. I only notice that I was in a certain language mode by the mistakes that I make when I try to speak another language.

I have had a handful of dreams that I recall involving language. Usually the language I had studied the most that day.

Apocellipse131 karma

Are you saying you don't have an inner monologue?

Sprachprofi23 karma

Not sure? I don't know how other people experience this, after all. I don't perceive any words in my brain. I can be deeply immersed in thoughts, sometimes to the point of not noticing when people talk to me, but those thoughts are just abstract ideas, not words or pictures. I sometimes think single words to myself if my thoughts are going fast in all directions and I want to focus them, but it's the exception for me to do that. Language is way too slow to be used in thinking.

Apocellipse5 karma

Fascinating! Thanks for the reply! Have you discussed your way of thinking with other Polyglots and if so, have you been able to draw conclusions about any consistencies among you? You make me want to change how I think, if that's even possible.

Sprachprofi9 karma

I haven't. The best person to talk about that would be Eryk Walczak, whom I met at the Polyglot Gathering. He is a Phd researcher in polyglot brains. See his presentation at the conference.

Maybe_its_Dylan125 karma

Do you have a favorite word? It can be in any language, but preferably English

Sprachprofi450 karma

My favorite word across all languages is "homarano". This is Esperanto and it's a compound word: the root "homo" means "human" (as in Latin "homo sapiens"). The suffix -ar is for a group, so mankind. The suffix -ano is for a member of a group, so the nearest translation would be "a member of mankind". I think it's a neat way to see humans.

My favorite French word is "soleil" (sun), just for the sound of it.

My favorite English word is "defenestrate" (to throw someone out the window) - it's amazing that there's a word for this!

Tai1579 karma

I've wanted to learn Esperanto for a while, but I find it's hard to stick with after a few weeks because unlike Mandarin, I never get the chance to use it. Any advice? With whom do you speak Esperanto?

Sprachprofi95 karma

There's a vibrant Esperanto community online. If you indicate Esperanto as a language you speak/like in your Facebook profile and join the Esperanto groups, you'll get hundreds of new friends within days. There are also groups dedicated to helping newbies or organize Skype language practice. Youtube is pretty good for finding Esperanto music and videos. Here's a playlist I made with comparatively easy Esperanto talk videos. Also check out the master list of Esperanto resources.

I am lucky in that I can speak Esperanto with interesting people locally - Berlin has 6 Esperanto clubs and even more people who are not organized in clubs - and I regularly travel to Esperanto events. Any 7-day Esperanto event with "Junulara" in its title is a transformative experience; I heard them compared to Burning Man.

csolisr6 karma

On the topic of Esperanto, what is your opinion on other auxlangs such as Ido or Interlingua? Are you willing to learn them whenever you find someone to speak them with, or are you a strict Esperantist?

Sprachprofi8 karma

I sometimes communicate with Ido speakers in Esperanto ;-) They are mutually intellegible, or at least in the Esperanto>Ido direction.

There are not enough people learning those other auxlangs and they all speak Esperanto as well. Really, 99% of the conlang world speaks Esperanto and the remaining 1% are spread between all the other languages including Klingon, Sindarin and so on.

HeadOfSlytherin63 karma

What is your opinion on learning "fictional" languages like Klingon and Elvish?

Sprachprofi82 karma

I wouldn't, but who am I to judge what other people do for fun?! Especially when they're learning languages. If I don't criticize people for sitting in front of the TV all day, I really shouldn't criticize them for following their passion and learning a language.

t0panka48 karma

Did you look into Slovak language? It being said that this one is hardest to learn from all of them. I'm from Slovakia so just want to know your opinion on this .)

Sprachprofi84 karma

Haven't looked into it. I haven't studied any Slavic languages so far. Slavic languages fall in-between for me: they are not as familiar as Western European languages and they are not as exotic and exciting as Asian or African languages. So I never felt particularly drawn to them. I will eventually learn Russian and/or Polish though because they are so useful.

bozobozo47 karma

What is your favorite dinosaur?

Also, how do you say dinosaur in your multitude of languages?

Sprachprofi58 karma

I always liked the pterodactylus.

"dinosaur" is not a particularly interesting word to translate, most languages call it something similar.

EN: dinosaur DE: Dinosaurier FR: dinosaure EO: dinosaŭro IT: dinosauro ES: dinosaurio NL: dinosaurus ZH: 恐龙 EL: δεινόσαυρος IND: dinosaurus Swahili: dinosauri AR: ديناصور

bunglejerry42 karma

I saw Tim Doner giving a TEDx speech where he decried the, well, 'freakshow' side of his quasi-celebrity, where interviewers would more or less just ask him to do 'language tricks'. It's obviously a waste of a talent to reduce multilingualism to such showmanship, but it also seems like there's a bit of showboating among polyglots, an obsession about the number of languages spoken as opposed to the quality of the person's linguistic ability or, indeed, the value it might offer someone.

Tell me - what is that value? If someone asked you, "should I push myself beyond, say, four languages", what would your advice be? How is your life improved by speaking 12 and not just 11? Will your life be improved if you learn a 13th?

polymulti37 karma

While I'm not Sprachprofi, I have some knowledge of more than a dozen languages (and speak 4 fluently). Learning more languages is always helpful: if you travel, it doesn't matter if you speak 20 languages if none of them are spoken there. If you want to read literature in the original language, you need to learn that language, no matter how many or how few you speak. If you want to bring a smile to someone's face, speaking to them in their language often does it; they don't care if you speak 2 languages or 50. If you want the fun of exploring a new grammar, it doesn't matter how many you already know.

Within polyglot circles, I hear a lot more discussion about quality of knowledge and the value of enthusiasm, as opposed to sheer numbers of languages. The latter just tends to be easier to summarize, and catch external attention more often, I'd say.

Languages have an almost infinite number of purposes, and a wide range of abilities are useful in a wide range of circumstances. Only you can answer the question of how many it makes sense for you to know, and to what level - and your answer will not apply to everyone else.

Sprachprofi48 karma

Agree. And yes, number doesn't come up much in polyglot circles. Lists of languages yes ;-) Speaking 6 Romance languages isn't the same as speaking 6 non-European languages.

Tim Doner hates doing language tricks because he got famous with that video where he speaks 23 languages, but that was just practicing stuff he had read. According to his interview with the Economist (find it on Youtube), he's "only" comfortable in 4-5 languages and there are 2-3-4 more that he's serious about (no idea which ones). When we met in Berlin,he did demonstrate good levels of Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese, German and French, which is certainly very impressive in someone his age. That being said, the media expect a live repeat performance of that video, which is unrealistic.

Rdunklee40 karma

Can you say fuck you in all 12 languages for us?

Sprachprofi82 karma

This list is your friend.

hacktheplanet1237 karma

Any chance you'd be willing to help make content for Duolingo? It's a free language learning app that's really quite effective. I've been waiting for them add Japanese to their list of languages for ages now, but have yet to see anything.

Sprachprofi62 karma

I have worked as a curriculum designer, language course developer and even a trainer of language course developers for several years. I also have a degree and experience in Computational Linguistics. I think it's very exciting what Duolingo is doing, so when I first saw the site, years ago, I immediately wrote them asking to join the team. Unfortunately they declined my application.

When I received an e-mail from them asking to moderate the creation of their Esperanto course, I felt that it would be unethical to do this kind of work for them for free when I have made their competitors pay. It would be kind of like saying I hate my former employers so much that I'll volunteer my scarce free time just to help another company beat them. Duolingo is not a non-profit. You're the product.

Since I was so excited about this new dimension in language-learning, I created LearnYu, which is similar to Duolingo but improving on it. It's only available for learning Chinese. Chinese requires a very different code base than European languages, mostly because of the characters. Japanese does, too. So I doubt that Duolingo will have Japanese soon. It requires more than just content creators; it requires significant changes in the programming.

johnnynoname1231 karma

How many times have you caught someone saying bad things about you in a foreign language they think you don't understand?

Sprachprofi31 karma

Never. However, I was once caught commenting on an Italian guy's looks in German and the guy understood. (I was 17 and going on a language exchange with some female classmates.)

lotophage7728 karma

I have a few questions:

1) At what point do you say you can speak a language (e.g. I know a few words of German and can put a simple sentence together, but I wouldn't say I truly speak it)

2) When you are speaking in a particular language, are you also thinking in it, or do you think in your first language then conciously translate it to your target language?

Sprachprofi38 karma

1) See here

2) I rarely perceive my thoughts to be in any particular language, they are abstract until I speak. Translating what you want to say into a target language is the initial stage of language learning. It wears off quickly, but in stages: it's possible that "Hello! How are you?" conversation will come off your lips automatically without translation very soon after you start learning, but you still translate when discussing the news. For the vast majority of listed languages I never translate anymore.

Zanza0027 karma

Hi, Italian here.

To this day I have problems with Accident e Incident. No matter how much I pay attention, I always have 50/50 chance to use the wrong word, sometimes with a funny outcome, sometimes not so much.

Do you have some words that you have hard times to use correctly?

Sprachprofi27 karma

In English: cake and pie

In Spanish: por and para

APheasantPlucker9 karma


Sprachprofi6 karma


Infinite_Derp25 karma

With such a range of linguistic experience, have you found any particular methods for language-learning superior to others?

Does having an understanding of so many languages aid in deciphering languages totally foreign to you (IE. Without any common roots)?

Sprachprofi41 karma

The best method depends on your abilities and your goals. I actually vary methods a lot depending on what I want to achieve. See the summary of my Polyglot Gathering talk on this (half way down the page).

I am the kind of person who cannot learn just from audio. My mind just switches off if I don't have any text in front of me - yes it's ironic I worked in podcasts. So my preferred language courses must have both text and audio. I think Rosetta Stone is a waste of money. Pimsleur may work for some but not me, because of what I said. I often use Teach Yourself, Colloquial, Assimil, Duolingo.

Does having an understanding of so many languages aid in deciphering languages totally foreign to you (IE. Without any common roots)?

I can spot more roots among more languages, e. g. see links between Arabic, Indonesian and Swahili. That advantage disappears if you specify I have to decipher a language with no common roots. I still have the advantage of being more prepared for strange grammar. However, the biggest advantage would be to be familiar with the kind of text, so that you can guess what it will say and which words should come up. For that, you don't have to know many languages at all.

idontbelieveanyofyou10 karma

I'm curious if you could expand on why Rosetta Stone is a waste of money. It is popular software and perhaps more people will have this same question. I have been using their program for a few months, and while I can see some shortcomings (a lot of what I would consider unnecessary vocabulary as well as a terribly specific grading system for writing exercises) I certainly know more German that I did a few months ago. Mostly I'm wondering what the major problems are so that I know what I should be doing to supplement the program. Vielen Dank! See how good I am now?

Sprachprofi17 karma

The part of communication that can be adequately expressed in pictures is tiny. For example, you see a person with a book, are you learning the word "to read" or "to study" or "to think hard"? Or: what is the picture for "What do you think about French literature?"

Grammar instruction is also poor to non-existent. The only part of their software I really like is the pronunciation tool that allows you to determine how close you are to a native speaker's pronunciation.

Don't use Rosetta Stone unless you LOVE using it. Use a different course if you want to make progress.

duckmurderer23 karma

Can you put them all together in a sentence that is grammatically correct in every language included?

Sprachprofi83 karma

我لاthink, bahwa ni possible decir, dass μια kalimat korektas, quando er zijn words in verschiedenen 语言。

= I don't think that it's possible to say that a sentence is correct when there are words in different languages in it.


Which language do you think is the most beautiful?

Sprachprofi42 karma

Can't make a holistic judgement on that.
By sound: Canadian French
In spoken form in general: Indonesian
In written form: Chinese

Astrokiwi23 karma

By sound: Canadian French

I recently moved to Québec and I've been trying to learn French. A lot of people are snobby and say it's "not real French", but I actually love all the weird little things it's got going on. I particularly like how "peut-être" turns into "peut-aaiiitre", and how people say "pis" for "et puis" all the time.

I'm actually struggling to learn the language because I work on a computer all day and don't get to speak to French-speakers very often! Do you have any recommendations on how I can get fluent with the language in that sort of environment? I've been here for a year and I still feel like I can only understand the most basic things...

Sprachprofi13 karma

Start a language lunch, either at your company or even with other freelancers via Say that the lunch will be 100% French. If people like to use you for English practice, offer an English Lunch on another day.

underdabridge17 karma

Hard to articulate this but:

Language is the building blocks of reasoning, the existence of different words in one language vs another (example: Shadenfreude) as well as the shady borders around the meanings of the same words in different languages, will inevitably result in differing reasoning around the world.

Can you give some examples of how different languages think differently?

Sprachprofi31 karma

Schadenfreude exists in every culture; it's just the word that's missing (well, not missing any longer). Kind of like the French l'esprit de l'escalier, which is when you think of a good comeback right after the discussion is over and you've left. Exists everywhere, but only the French (to my knowledge) have a word for it.

I believe that the human experience is basically the same around the world, but the ways of expression can differ a lot, both because of vocabulary/grammar and culture. One of the most interesting articles I've read recently is this one on the names of colours - clearly we can (most of us) see the same colour spectrum, but the way that languages group it can be very different.

Megaross16 karma

Do you ever think "Fuck, I know way too many languages"

Or are you heading for number 13, one of those in for a penny in for a pound type of deals?

Sprachprofi17 karma

Well, there is really no profession that needs more than 4 languages or so. So the rest is "just for fun". I learn a new language when it fascinates me. I cannot not learn it. Also, when I travel abroad, I generally want to know the language of the country - even if it's a small language like Lithuanian. And yes, learning ca. 200 words of Lithuanian before my trip saved me more than 200 EUR. see story

Right now I'm mostly improving my current languages. Later this year I might start on Swedish.

emotionaltrash15 karma

How about Portuguese? ☺

Sprachprofi24 karma

I'm having a lot of trouble keeping Spanish and Italian apart. Once I have improved on both, I shall definitely study Portuguese. My boyfriend has been wanting to drag me to Brazil for a long time.

quixotic_unicorn15 karma

Hi Judith,

I'm currently learning German through Duolingo, GermanPod101, and (thank you!) and it's going okay. I believe my problem to full apprehension is conversation and I abhor it.

I'm fairly fluent in Spanish (6 years throughout middle school and HS) and currently replaying Pokemon Y in Spanish to sharpen up my conversational vocabulary and grammar. Unfortunetely, I've never actually had the oppurtunity to immerse myself through studying abroad/travelling so I feel like I would not be an effective speaker in a Spanish-speaking country.

Do you think that level of immersion is necessary for full apprehension and understanding of a language? What are some ways you immerse yourself?

I can't recall if it was GermanPod101 or another German language learning podcast but they reviewed the cultural effects on the language and how it differs. I like to look at langauge with a more logical and mathematical approach, so learning about those cultural nuances helps me understand the root of a language's grammatical structure and etymology.

Lastly, do you think that there is a general negative attitude in the US towards non-English languages?

I can only think of handful of times where people were genuinely interested that I was learning a new language on my own. More often then not, people will reply that it's a waste of time. I'm not sure if I'm just coming off as a pretentious a-hole or I'm speaking with too many jerks, but people almost feel threatened by it.

I don't want to learn languages to stick it in other peoples' faces. I want to know more languages so I can learn more about the world without the barrier of language in my way. That, and how much you can learn about a culture based on their language and dialect. Linguistics is fascinating as hell.

Sprachprofi9 karma

Glad you're enjoying GermanPod101! I stopped working there two years ago, but my content is still available and I like hearing that people enjoy it.

I also haven't spent much time abroad. The longest was 6 weeks in China. I even lived in a small town without access to foreign native speakers (well, except Turkish and Balkans languages) for most of my life.

I know that online immersion works, because that's how I learned English. I spent hours every day on English forums and on voice chat programs. It was the most interesting thing to do in my little town ;-)

I think you can learn a European language to B2 level before you really need to immerse yourself in the culture (through books, TV, music, movies, voice chat, local foreign friends...) For non-European languages, A2 is probably the limit, because they express things quite differently and you need the exposure.

Lastly, do you think that there is a general negative attitude in the US towards non-English languages?

People haven't told me it's a waste of time, but I also haven't spent much time in the US (7-8 visits of a few weeks each). I do get the impression that people don't care. I guess if they did care, and admitted that English isn't enough, it would upset their image of self; they might suddenly feel inadequate compared to their Mexican gardener or the like.

Dinilysia13 karma

I've read somewhere that people tend to change personalities when suddenly switching languages. How you experience something similar like this?

Sprachprofi32 karma

I don't think "suddenly" is the key. Many languages, when mastered, will change your personality a bit, just based on the culture that you're exposed to.

In English, I'm more outgoing, more joking, more boasting.
In Chinese, I'm more quiet, more modest.
In German, I'm more direct, frank, serious.

You have to be, otherwise people will think there's something wrong with you.

MindlessSponge12 karma

Very impressive. At what age did you start to learn additional languages?

Sprachprofi25 karma

My first foreign language was English, which I learned at school starting from when I was 10. The first language I learned outside of school, self-taught, was Esperanto, when I was 14.

LilyoftheRally9 karma

What motivated you to learn Esperanto?

Sprachprofi24 karma

I just read that it was really easy and would help me learn other languages. I didn't need a particularly good reason then.

MonsteraDeliciosa11 karma

Obviously there is an amazingly strong language center in your brain, which is awesome! Is there an area that you feel is underdeveloped? As in, I have the ability to memorize like nobody's business, but also have the ability to get lost in my own neighborhood, and may not recognize places I have been to in the past. Do you feel like you have a gap in another skill set?

Sprachprofi26 karma

I'm not good at memorization. I never managed to memorize poems at school. I do memorize vocabulary pretty well by now. What I still can't do is associate names & faces. I often have to ask people a second or third time to tell me their name, or hope they won't notice.

Shuawuzheer10 karma

Do you ever get them mixed up? Have you ever, mid conversation, accidentally completely switched languages?

Sprachprofi17 karma

I mix up Spanish and Italian most. One time recently I was at an Italian Lunch with Richard Simcott, Professor Arguelles and a few others and I accidentally continued in Spanish. It wasn't a problem; they understood.

livbishop9 karma

Which was the easiest language to learn?

Sprachprofi7 karma

Esperanto. My progress was so quick that it became motivation in itself. For all other languages, I still needed to motivate myself to study.

meltedsnake9 karma

Aspiring polyglot here. I speak english and itslian fluently, along with conversational japanese and dutch. what are some tips to better my language learning/retention?

Sprachprofi12 karma

Think of why you're learning those languages. Then use them for that. Your level will automatically adapt to your needs, both in the good sense and the bad. Examples:

  • If you cling to using textbooks for everything, your language will not improve beyond textbook level.

  • If you start watching an anime series (and have some basics already), you will soon be able to understand more and more.

  • If you're fluent in a language now and then only ever use it for reading, never conversation, you will lose your conversational fluency.

I wrote a lot about how to learn languages on my blog and on Quora.

manach08 karma

My native language is Spanish but I'm fluent in English as well (Like a lot of Hispanics in the US lol). I've always wanted to learn another language like Portuguese or Italian. Any advise on what language could be the easiest one for me to learn and what's the best way to learn such language? Thanks

LethalMutiny8 karma

Since you know so many languages, which one do you often hear in your head when trying to think of something?

Sprachprofi25 karma

The one that I used most recently, so usually English. German is my native language, but I spend a lot more time speaking/reading/writing English these days.

Ah_Q6 karma

Approximately how many characters do you know in Chinese? Do you have any videos of you speaking Chinese?

Sprachprofi4 karma

I studied 3500. I may have forgotten some, but I'm also learning more because I'm currently taking a Modern Chinese Fiction class using "中国现代文学史" as source.

I don't make many videos. Apart from the multilanguage one above, there's this all-Chinese one from 2012 and this one where I present a poem .

iwazaruu6 karma

How often do you brag about it?

Sprachprofi5 karma

Rarely I hope; I do not bring up languages I speak unless it's relevant to the conversation.

404-shame-not-found5 karma

To you, what aspect makes a language hardest to learn/master, - spelling, the writing script, or grammar logic?

I always find it fascinating that some people can learn so many languages not just 2.

On a side note, how do you organize the words in your head and keep track of everything? Seems to me, I'd end up saying a sentence and be throwing in random foreign words because that's what my brain grabbed first. lol!

Sprachprofi5 karma

I spend the most time on vocabulary. Mastering the script takes only a few hours if it's an alphabet - I developed a method for that - and I don't care to spend much time memorizing grammar, just relying on picking it all up somewhere. So vocabulary is the key. I can recommend Anki, it's the best vocabulary software out there and it's open-source. Alternatively, Memrise isn't bad and it has more eye candy.

Splike5 karma

Have you ever tried picking up a programming language? Any similarities in the learning process?

Sprachprofi8 karma

I know 7 programming languages and have a MA in Computational Linguistics. The learning process is very different, since programming languages shouldn't require active vocabulary memorization - if the function names have no similarity to their meaning, the language is doing something wrong.

LilyoftheRally5 karma

Are you familiar with Daniel Tammet? What is your opinion on his claim to have learned conversational Icelandic in seven days?

Sprachprofi4 karma

Yes, I have seen the interview. I would love to give him a run for his money. Having a language teacher next to me full-time for 7 days, and already knowing German/English/Dutch, it should be doable.

He's not an autistic savant by the way, but he did win several medals as memory champion.

Theopaulson5 karma

How fast can you learn a new language? How long does it take you before you can begin speaking passably in the language or reading with a decent fluency?

I had a college pal that is a polyglot. When I met him around 20 he was fluent in Spanish, English, German, and French. Truly passable for native in German and French (was raised in Latin america with American parents so was bi-lingual from birth).

What amazed me most was watching him learn Arabic and Dutch (at the same time). We were in the netherlands and a few days in he starts speaking Dutch with no prior study or understanding. he just picked it up listening to the verbage and grammar around him.

THEN he picked up an arabic newspaper, figured out the grammar, alphabet, and verbs and began reading in arabic within a few days. Fuck that!

I was so blown away. This was pre youtube, pre smart phones, shoot pre cell phone for most. I was blown away. Last I heard he added a few languages but I lost track of him. Craziness.

Sprachprofi6 karma

It depends entirely on what kind of related languages you already know. I was able to read Dutch novels after about 30 hours of study and Spanish novels after 10 hours, but that's because I knew German and Italian already. I would not do that with Arabic.

rb26104 karma

How much of your time a day/week/month do you have to put into learning and maintaining so many languages?

I tried learning Japanese and spent a few hours a week in my lunch breaks and traveling doing flash cards and stuff and made pretty slow progress (eventually gave up, but I'm looking to start again by doing a course at university as I think I needed more structure). I can't imagine how much time it'd take to become fluent with 12 languages!

Sprachprofi5 karma

I generally spend 2 hours / day on average when I'm not traveling. I recommend starting with an easier language, at least to get your bearings and figure out what methods work for you.

rlisboa4 karma

That's very impressive. As a fellow polyglot (3), my hat is off to you! Which language was the hardest one to learn?

Sprachprofi15 karma

Chinese. I started 10 years ago and I'm still learning. The characters were a major obstacle - I wasted several years until I found a method that works for me - but even after that, there is just so much vocabulary and so much cultural knowledge you have to acquire if you want to get really good.

If you want to just be conversational on a tourist level and skip the characters entirely, Chinese is probably one of the easier languages out there, easier than French.

kapits1 karma

Have you ever tried to learn Polish?

Sprachprofi4 karma

Not yet.