Interview with language enthusiast and vlogger, Gareth Popkins.

Jan 7, 2017 3:33:00 PM / by Melanie Moore

Gareth Popkins Blog-1.pngIf you’re familiar with the kind of content we post on the Mango Languages blog, you’ll know that we love language and culture. Whenever we get to highlight someone in the world who is also enthusiastic about languages, we are thrilled to do so. We sat down (virtually) with language enthusiast and vlogger, Gareth Popkins about how he fell in love with language.

Chance encounter.

We had the chance to first meet Gareth Popkins at the Polyglot Conference in NYC. He was vlogging during the Conference and asked many of the attendees to share the languages they spoke and to say “The Big Apple” in their target language(s). You can check out his video here.

Gareth was raised in a monolingual household but had exposure to the Welsh language through his family’s heritage. His father would often speak of the tales that Gareth’s grandfather (a native Welsh speaker) would tell about fantastical creatures. He was enthralled at a young age with this seemingly mysterious culture and language. Later in life, he would go on to continue learning the language as a hobby.

In elementary school, he was required to learn French, which he learned up until age 16. From age 16 on, he decided to take up German. However, in both languages he felt that he was not able to effectively communicate. The classes were not as intensive as they could have been. With so many students in a class, it can be difficult for a teacher to devote time to each student. Gareth said that he didn’t feel that he was effectively taught English grammar in school, which made it difficult to grasp the complexities found in German grammar. However, after learning more languages, Gareth said that he has become better at grammar in general. This makes sense because it is proven that learning another language helps you to better understand your native language.

With many who study languages in school, they may feel that they are not good enough or can’t effectively learn a language. Fortunately, this would not be the last chance for Gareth to encounter language learning.

University life.

At university, Gareth decided to study European History and had aspirations to become a historian. During this time, his enthusiasm for language began to shine through. He had to take a French exam in order to get into Oxford, which forced Gareth to revitalize his French studies.

When Gareth graduated from university, he became very interested in Russia. It was an exciting time to learn Russian — the Iron Curtain had been torn and Russia was opening up for the first time. In order to prepare for the PhD in Russian History that he was pursuing, Gareth decided to take a year off to practice his Russian.

During this year off of university, Gareth also decided to reconnect with his roots by enrolling in an intensive Welsh course. He definitely revitalized his love for language!

Although his relationship with languages was not always as strong as it is now, Gareth said, “I had always been fascinated with the idea of communicating through different sounds. It’s a great thrill and a bit of a mystery, too.”

Getting started.

Gareth recommends that when you start out in a language, you should begin with a program that will start with the basics in an easy-to-digest format. “You need some sort of resource that will hold your hand throughout the learning process. I’d always want resources with audio in order to get used to hearing the language.” In terms of his language-learning routine, he usually meets with an online tutor for 30 minutes, depending on his schedule. For example, Mango Live is a new service that can be used for one-on-one language study in a few of our popular languages.

Languages leading the way.

Now, Gareth spends his time working and learning languages (we’re sure he does other things, too). In recent updates, he learned Indonesian and Basque. To become proficient in Basque, he took an intensive course at a barnetegia, or residential course in Basque Country.

There are several languages that Gareth has learned over the years. For example, at one time he started learning Finnish, Hungarian, and Italian. Gareth expressed interest in continuing to add to his list of languages. “Chinese is on my list. My sister and her husband live out there and speak Mandarin fluently.” He also explained that he has some languages on hold for long periods, especially while he was attending law school in his 30s. “It’s always been about juggling languages — they’ve never been my main focus.”

With this in mind, Gareth has some advice for the busy language learners out there. It’s mainly about practice.” Gareth says, “I tend to plan in three-month chunks. I focus on one language and the others would be in maintenance mode. I’m working full-time so I have other priorities.” Gareth suggests that you can build language learning into your life and find the time to do so.

He also advises studying regularly at least three times a week and to set achievable goals. “I want to be fluent in Dutch” is something that is hard to measure, due to the amount of work it takes to reach fluency and it depends on one’s definition of the word, fluency. “I want to be able to read a comic in Dutch,” is much more measurable and the steps to achieve this goal are a bit more concrete. Most important of all, try tying these tasks into things that you enjoy. 

Want to try fitting language learning into your life? Click the link below to find out if your library has free access to over 70 languages. Plus, check out our specialty courses to keep you learning things unique to your target language’s culture. Happy learning!


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Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Melanie Moore

Written by Melanie Moore

Melanie speaks German, Lithuanian, and Japanese and has dabbled in several others. She is an aspiring polyglot and enjoys sharing her passions for language learning and music with anyone she meets.

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