Have you ever wondered how your teachers have learned the skills they are teaching? Dinko, at the times when he is not vigorously studying on LinguaLift, teaches English as a second language. Understanding how people absorb language knowledge gives him interesting insights on how to study better. In this interview he shares his experience, we chat about learning and the role of cartoons in developing a career path. Sounds interesting?
I remember we spoke over email before and you mentioned you had a passion for language learning. How many languages have you had experience with so far?
Well, my German is almost as good as my English. I have been learning it for 5-6 years, but not recently. I was in Germany a couple of times and used it actively which helped out with developing my skills as well. I tried learning Italian, but I stopped because it wasn’t really going that well. I know a bit of Spanish and Hungarian and would be interested in learning French too. You could say I know a little bit of a few languages.
For now however, my goal and focus is to learn the basics of Japanese.
I think you forgot to mention one foreign language on your list. English! Your mother tongue is Croatian, can you describe your journey of learning English?
I started when I was a kid. The times when I was not playing outside with my friends I was watching Cartoon Network. I picked up a lot of the language there and then continued more formally in primary and secondary school. After that I decided to turn it into a career and study to become an English teacher. I just finished university studies last year and a few months later got a job in a primary school.
So language learning became your career. You must have had a strong motivation to learn English, what were your goals in learning other languages you listed?
Ever since I was a kid I was somehow attracted to Germany. Later I found German cartoons to watch on cable TV and at some point I just started learning the language.
I have no problem picking up languages from listening. I think I’m more of an auditory learner than a visual one. In the beginning of my contact with a language I would always listen to it as much as I can. Doing that helps me a lot with understanding the correct pronunciation and intonation of the language.
For Italian, I didn’t really have a specific motivation—I just started it on a whim. It didn’t really progress very far.. I didn’t like my teacher’s method and as a result got discouraged from Italian and completely lost motivation for learning.
With Japanese the story started last year. I had a lot of free time on my final year at university and a friend of mine suggested I could try anime. Watching it became a habit and at the same time drew me to the language. I started learning and now that I think about it, I am convinced that knowing Japanse will give me wider employment prospects here in Croatia.
Do you have a preferred method of learning? For example, if I told you now that you had to learn Romanian, how would you approach it?
I think it’s crucial to always start with the basics and, before proceeding, make sure we get those right.
For me the second step is learning in and active way, by communication. It helps to use the language more efficiently and creatively. Interacting with native speakers enables you to quickly learn how to say things correctly; they can help correct your mistakes and advise what to focus on.
With time I would start working on different aspects of the language like writing and grammar. Neglecting these other fields of study might not bring good results—I would start adding them one after another, slowly working to combine all the elements of the language into a coherent whole.
How would you approach learning grammar?
The question of grammar depends on the complexity of the language. You have to work for months on the more complicated grammatical concepts, while others you can grasp in a span of few days. Of course, to be able to use the language, you need both grammar and vocabulary. In terms of learning, I would start with simple, basic grammatical concepts combining them with beginner’s vocabulary.
The next step would be to try to use this knowledge more actively—perhaps write a few sentences or a short text, find someone to correct it, then polish it out. Once I know I understand the concept, I’d move upwards with the difficulty. Of course you need a lot of time for that, but that’s the nature of learning—it’s a process.
Have you ever used any online methods for language learning?
For the languages I learned before I never used any online methods— only attended a foreign language school. For Japanese I initially used another service. When I explored all the features that LinguaLift includes I realised it will be more than enough for my needs.
How did you come across LinguaLift?
It was completely random, I was on Youtube and since I watch anime I followed a guy called the An1meMan. He was talking about learning Japanese and mentioned how the methods used by LinguaLift are well-suited to learning this language, which encouraged me to give it a go.
After my first lesson with LinguaLift I thought: Well this is convenient and neat! I might get used to this.
I like that LinguaLift has a vocabulary section with the review algorithm. I didn’t notice it at first, but after one of the team messages pointed it out, I went straight into vocab practice! I enjoy the different sections of the site and how the textbook is clearly separated into short chapters. I believe this structure draws you more into learning. Sometimes I would plan to do a specific amount of studying and then end up doing three times as much!
With LinguaLift I often I end up learning more than I plan to, which is a great thing.
When I was in the language school I wasn’t really interested in listening to the teacher. LinguaLift draws on your motivation and encourages you to actually do something.
With a self-learning platform, you can also set up your own pace and keep your own personal log of everything you do. I keep everything I learn in a few separate Word files which I have clearly categorised. It helps me keep track of my progress.
Do you talk to your tutor a lot?
I am still in the beginning and so far I didn’t see any major need to contact my tutor, Chikako-sensei. The minor issues I had, were easily resolvable just by googling. I was thinking about writing a short essay incorporating all the material I learned to get some feedback what to work on.
The availability of a tutor is definitely a bonus. You never know when something completely unclear to you might come up. It’s always a great comfort to have someone you can to contact at any time.
What are your main struggles as a learner?
Sometimes I find it hard to relate the grammar of the language I’m learning to my mother tongue. It’s can be hard to connect the dots. Similarly, it’s difficult to grasp the meanings of vocabulary items that don’t exist in Croatian.
Perhaps curiously, I often find it easier to learn Japanese via English than using Croatian. I compare the grammatical structures to those of English and translate the vocabulary into English too. Internalising the grammar is a matter of repeating and practising it over and over again— when I get stuck I’ll just contact Chikako-sensei.
Do you have any study routines?
Each day I try to at least read 10-20 phrases or sentences I have noted down in my study-log. Even if I don’t access the site, I always do some revision. Usually it’s in the evening, as I’m more of a night learner. I try to study new material a minimum of four times a week. These sessions would range from 10 to 30-40 minutes depending on whether I focus on vocabulary or grammar, and on how hard the grammar is.
You are a teacher yourself. Did your experience teaching English change your approach to learning in anyway?
I’m still fairly new to the profession and I haven’t had many opportunities to try new approaches. In my classes I usually try to incorporate methods I use as a self-learner. I use different approaches and teaching resources depending on the goals of the lesson. It’s always refreshing to mix things up a bit and it gives a lot of motivation to hear positive feedback from students.
There are some things that LinguaLift does that I think would be helpful for my students too.
For example, tables with words and audio examples of the usage of each of them. Preparing it as a teaching tool would of course demand more work, but I think it would be very beneficial for learners. Children seem to just soak things up—they often remember the words even if they only heard them once.
Concerning grammar, I would adopt the way grammar is explained on LinguaLift to bring these topics closer to my students. LinguaLift doesn’t use complex language to talk about theory and, from my personal experience, I find that the material in textbooks at school is sometimes really complicated. So much so that I find myself needing to rearrange the text or the theory and use simplified language to explain it to students.
What do you think are the most common mistakes people make when learning foreign languages?
Some people have a wrong approach to learning and don’t work enough on their own. When the task of studying gets pushed to the side it’s easy to forget how to learn. If you come back to studying only rarely, each time you need to input some effort to try to figure out your approach anew. If you work on your methods continuously and employ them actively, they become a habit. And when learning becomes natural, you can almost do it automatically.
I think these are all the questions I had! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Should I say something I usually say to my students? Do your homework!