If you’re addicted to social media, you may be in luck. Our latest guest on the Mango Languages podcast suggests that you can use it to your advantage in your language-learning efforts.
Lindsay Dow is a polyglot from Milton Keynes, UK, who blogs, teaches, and makes videos about languages. We were able to talk with her recently about her experiences with teaching and learning languages. She told us a bit about how she utilizes technology (including a plethora of social media platforms) to accomplish this.
Lindsay got her start teaching after she had volunteered as an English teacher in Costa Rica. She discovered that she really enjoyed it, especially the planning process, and decided to keep volunteering. Then, she began doing one-on-one teaching at students’ homes and eventually moved this service online as well. In addition to teaching, she also writes a blog and runs a YouTube channel about language learning. Her videos range from travel vlogs to bite-sized introductions to different languages.
As both a learner and teacher of languages herself, she was able to provide great insight into the minds of both. In her experience as a language teacher, she always strives to make it fun. Although textbooks are great tools for learning, many of her students are also taking a language class at school. Therefore, she will use various online resources such as Youtube videos to help her students with their lessons. “For me, it’s very important to make it entertaining, to make it fun, to keep it interesting." She creates a lot of her own material, because she wanted to be able to differentiate herself. For example, she had her students look at a French company’s website and then Lindsay and her student would write roleplay emails to one another to book a service based on a real-life company.
She also tailors her lessons depending on which language she is teaching and if she knows the student’s learning style. She mainly creates resources that cater to each student. For example, one of her students is learning Spanish and loves Doctor Who, so she has been using Doctor Who clips in Spanish to complement the lessons.
What makes Lindsay’s style interesting is that she truly utilizes social media through her language teaching, learning, and business. Lindsay says, "You often see things like, How to Avoid Spending Too Much Time On Social Media. I say, 'No! Embrace it!' [...] If we're gonna be scrolling through Facebook, we may as well make that time useful, right?" She is a big advocate of social media and how it can be used for language learning and teaching. For example, she suggests following brands and celebrities that post in your target language. “The Facebook post setting is so familiar to us — you’ll immediately get practice in your language without having to think too much about it.”
Much of the social media landscape is authentic material, so it can be a bit intimidating, especially as a beginner. In this case, “It’s about changing your mindset from ‘I have to understand every word or else I’m a failure’ to ‘Hey, I know that word,’ and accepting where you are now. It’s actually quite useful if it’s authentic and difficult in the beginning. It can be something that you can go back to in order to gauge your progress.” Using something like a book, movie, etc. as a benchmark, you will be able to clearly see improvement every time you go back to it. Of course, you need to make sure that the topic is something that you enjoy. For example, if you dislike golf, reading an article or magazine about golf will most likely not keep your interest.
As mentioned earlier, Lindsay is not only a teacher but also a student. When she was eight years old, she took French in primary school “because they provided croissants at the end of term.” A year later, she was interested in learning Spanish. However, the teachers said that she had to continue with French for another year to prove that she could learn a language. The next year she began her Spanish studies. French and Spanish are currently Lindsay’s best second languages. She has also studied German, Portuguese, Mandarin, Dutch, Japanese, and Italian. She actually experimented with learning Mandarin and Italian at the same time. Because they are both quite different from one another, she thought that it would be an achievable undertaking. Although she was successful, she gained proficiency in each at a much slower pace than if they had been learned on their own.
Lindsay’s latest challenge has been to learn Korean, along with her blogger friend, Shannon, who runs Eurolinguiste, a travel and language blog. She shared that one of the ways she has been learning the language has been by listening to episodes of a K-drama. Although at the beginning she did not understand much of what was being said, she is now at episode 23 and can understand all of the ways that they say Hello and Thank-you. “From that first episode to now, it’s been so beneficial because I’ve enjoyed it and I can see myself progressing [...] The journey is just so valuable.” In essence, if you’re doing something that you like, it can be easy to learn the language and you can really see yourself improve.
We asked Lindsay what she believes it truly means to be fluent. “I feel like fluency is put upon this pedestal of almost impossible-to-achieve-ness.” For example, Lindsay is fluent in English, but if she were to talk with someone from the U.S., there could possibly be a few misunderstandings between British and American English. Another topic to consider is that there can be different levels of fluency. For instance, Lindsay suggested that, “Say I work in Marketing and have ten German clients that I talk with on the phone confidently. However, if someone were to ask me about what was on TV, I might not be able to respond with as much confidence.” This flows into the idea of achieving polyglot status as well. Lindsay feels that the meaning of polyglot has changed in recent years. “The general online space of people sharing their skills has opened up this meaning even more. There was no clear definition of how many languages you needed to speak.” Now, however, you can get instant practice with a native speaker of your target language and it has become extremely easy to reach people from all different kinds of life experiences.
With this being said however, the sentiment of monolingualism still seems to be quite high, especially in English-speaking countries such as the U.K. and the U.S.A. For example, Lindsay had a conversation with a native English speaker and she was explaining to him about what she does for a living. He replied, “Well, we only need one language though, don’t we?” It was definitely a shock for this lingophile, especially because she had just told this individual that she works with languages! Lindsay told us what she would tell those who share similar sentiments: "If people can speak two languages: instant advantage. Yet, there's many people in the U.K. that think, ‘If one of those languages is English, then I'm fine’.” Unfortunately, you just can’t change people’s minds sometimes, it’s a hard battle to fight. There needs to be the image of “Look, this is not easy, but it’s easy to get started. Just ‘Hello’, Thank you,' and a smile will make such a difference.” Lindsay hopes to be able to make a difference by promoting the benefits of language learning.
In terms of her pronunciation practice, Lindsay says that she does her best to imitate speakers, but she’s “never spent massive amounts of time on pronunciation.” Of course, there are languages where you do need almost near-native pronunciation, such as Chinese, because the tones are a huge part of creating meaning. Some people say that our accents are part of our personality, so it’s not necessary to have a perfect accent.
We spoke with Lindsay remotely for the interview, but we were actually able to meet Lindsay (in real life!) this month at the Berlin Polyglot Gathering. She made a series of videos about the Gathering both this year and last year, if you’re interested in what happens at these types of events.
If you’re interested in learning more about Lindsay Dow, be sure to check out her blog at lindsaydoeslanguages.com and listen to the full podcast below!
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Happy Language Learning!