Passion for languages is not something you can easily read on someone’s face. Mauro is a student of electronic engineering who, like many of us, likes reading and hanging out with friends. He’d like to travel, but says it’s a bit too expensive for him at the moment… does it sound familiar?
Mauro describes himself as someone who likes discovering new information and is always ready for challenges. It can therefore be unsurprising that after already having learned four languages he decided to take up Japanese. Even though he says that he doesn’t like to be the centre of attention, today we are putting him in the spotlight.
You mentioned you speak a few languages, Mauro. Can you describe you language learning experience?
My native language is Portuguese. I was raised in São Tomé and Príncipe where I had a mentor who spoke English. I spent the afternoons at her house— she taught me a few English words. I also played games and watched cartoons and so, just like that, I started speaking Portuguese and English. When I was 12 my family moved to Comoros and then Djibouti, both French speaking countries. It was very difficult at first, but very soon French became almost like my first language.
At the school I was attending in Comoros and Djibouti I had Spanish classes—over the 6 years we spent there I also learned Spanish. Ever since I moved to the UK, I speak English.
I am not sure anymore which language is my first. I’ve grown up in English and Portuguese, I got some French influence and learned Spanish. You could say I’m a mix of these languages.
Wow, your life story is written in quite a few languages! What is your emotional connection with them?
When you learn a new language, you also embrace the emotions it contains, which in turn influence the way of conveying spoken messages. Speaking Portuguese I use different expressions that I would in Spanish or English. Knowing another language gives you an insight into how people think.
Thinking in another language opens your eyes.
When I speak Portuguese I feel like I’m home, back to my origins—I feel like all my childhood is back. When I speak English I feel a bit... sophisticated. It’s a funny language. When I started speaking it I thought it was really funky. Now that I’m fluent, I can really feel that it’s an international language—I can speak it to anyone and be easily understood.
French brings me to my teenage years. I spoke French daily between ages 12 and 18. Now, when I speak it to someone my age, I find it easy to incorporate a lot of language jokes, which is something I can’t do effortlessly in other languages. French offers a lot of different ways to express oneself. Spanish, I have to admit, is my least mastered language—I learned it through French. During the 6 years of Spanish classes in high school I also had Spanish friends and teachers who I closely knew. My Spanish progressed really fast, but the personality associated with this language has never been well-developed, as I’ve never been in an environment where I was forced to use it on a daily basis. In order to get my Spanish up to speed I think I’d have to travel to a Spanish speaking country.
How do you keep in touch with all these languages and don't forget them?
English is not a problem as English is spoken everywhere. French I’d be quite upset to lose and I actively try keep in touch with it by speaking to friends. I have no problem with the accent or pronunciation, but the one thing I know I lost is orthography. There are certain words I knew how to write correctly and now I have to stop and think for a while.
I still use Portuguese to talk to my mother and sister. I can easily read and speak it, but again the problem is with the writing. Spanish as I said is my weakest language, but I know I could easily get it back if I started studying again. I feel I would still feel comfortable using it if I went to a Spanish speaking country.
What’s the best way to keep in touch with foreign languages if you know a few of them?
I’d say watching movies in their original languages and keeping in touch with friends who speak them. Books are always helpful and of course travelling to foreign countries. My father went to high school in Russia and has spent five years in the country. When he tries to speak Russian now it doesn’t sound natural, but if he went to Russia I’m sure it would come back to him in two weeks. When you already know a language, even if you start forgetting it, it come will back after a few weeks of immersing yourself in the language environment.
I think speaking a foreign language is like a riding a bicycle—you never forget it.
These are really optimistic words to hear! You mentioned writing is your main problem. Is there any specific way in which you try to practice it or is it not your point of focus?
Right now I’m not entirely sure how important it is. I would of course like to completely master all the languages I know, but at the moment I have to focus on English—I can’t keep in touch with everything. I think what’s most important is to be able to speak to people and understand them. If writing becomes necessary in the future, I’m fairly sure it’ll come back to me. It’s just a matter of making a conscious decision to focus on it.
After already learning all these languages to such an advanced level what prompted you to pick up Japanese?
To be honest I never planned to study yet another language. But, you know, when you start learning it’s really fun. It gives you a much deeper insight into the way others are thinking and enables you to connect with the message people are trying to convey.
My interest in Japanese started when I was ten years old and saw my first anime. Then I started listening to music and I thought learning Japanese would help me stop reading the subtitles. I decided to pick it up last year, but I stopped after only learning a few words. This year Joey [from the YouTube channel, the An1meMan—MK] mentioned LinguaLift and I thought I would try to get a bit more serious about studying. I’d like to visit Japan one day so it’d be better to learn the language and not have to rely on others for translation.
Do you use anime as tool for learning?
I tried a few times to watch anime not using the subtitles. I understand 70% of the words, based on which I can understand the gist of the conversations. Sometimes however, it’s hard to make sense of the whole sentence as the characters speak too fast and often use words I still don’t know.
Anime is a good way to learn, but it’s definitely not enough to rely on that.
When watching anime you can hear the words used in context. It can however confuse you, because that context is also a very specific. For example, the word itsuka. I often heard it in anime as a term meaning "sometime" or "someday". Using LinguaLift I found out that, if pronounced slightly differently, it also means "five days" or "the fifth day of the month". All in all anime is a good way to learn, but it can easily confuse you if you limit yourself to it. As for other tools I use, I listen to a lot of music and of course study on LinguaLift.
After Joey encouraged you to try out the platform what convinced you to subscribe?
Last year I tried learning Japanese with Duolingo, but I dropped half way. I decided that this time I wanted to take my learning seriously. After two weeks of trial with LinguaLift I was hooked and decided to check how much more I could learn if I continued.
I really enjoy the first way LinguaLift teaches the kana—I found it a really interesting way of learning. The section devoted to vocabulary is also very well built.
I also have my personal tutor, but I haven’t really spoken to them a lot—maybe I just didn’t have any serious troubles yet! I’m a type who tries to figure things out myself. As a subscribed student I get the Weekly Digests with extra cultural knowledge, so we sometimes talk about these with my tutor. Otherwise I simply go through the chapters trying to memorise and understand them before moving further. The topics are really well-explained so I rarely have issues. In order to learn you simply have to get into the habit of doing the classes.
How have you developed the learning habit?
I use Lumosity, a site with little brain challenges, and after that I access LinguaLift. I use Lumosity as a trigger. Other than that I try to spend at least 5 minutes revising what I learned—usually at night, right before bed.
You study science, do you feel it helps you with learning Japanese?
Science offers a pretty logical way of approaching problems, a way which perhaps you could employ for language learning. A scientific approach helps to make balanced decisions about what and how to learn. It also enables me to see logical connections between what I've learned and what I already knew. I have to admit that I always thought this way, so even if I wasn’t studying engineering, I’d approach my learning the same way.
What do you think are the features of character that make a person into a good language learner?
You definitely have to be dedicated—without that you’re not going to get anywhere. Patient because learning is like sports or gym—it will take you a long time before you start noticing progress. You must have love for the language—if you’re not interested, then regardless of all your motivational goals you’ll just drop out. Also, accept that you’re going to make mistakes, because that’s a part of the learning process—treat them as as an opportunity to improve. The last, fifth one is… have fun! That makes the final results much better!
Hear that, learners? Dedication, patience, love, acceptance and fun—five ingredients of effective learning straight from your fellow student, Mauro.