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Language Learning Expert Provides Tips And Tricks
André Liss, a gifted hyperglot, knows some ten languages all told. He can speak English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, Hebrew, Indonesian and Thai. A hyperglot is one who masters or becomes fluent in many different languages. He has helped many foreign language learners getting to ‘Actual Fluency’. In addition, he has done workshops on Software Localization, which is the processes of internationalizing computer software.
What motivated you to learn not just Latin-based but also non-Latin based languages?
Often learning closely-related languages gives you a leg up in terms of common vocabulary and structure. I grew up with English at home and had French from a very young age. So in high school, starting out with Spanish and German was probably prescient. I subsequently added Italian and Dutch, which are also Romance and Germanic respectively. When I first went to Brazil at 18, that sort of consolidated the Latin side of things.
However, I would add a third element to your question, as it refers to non-European languages. After university, I had eight languages under my belt, although mostly in an academic sense. Keenly aware that my mix was strongly Eurocentric, I chose to go to Indonesia to begin to correct the imbalance. Since then, I've added another two non-European languages to the roster.
Returning to the potential boost of learning languages within a given family, there is a downside. You have the challenge of keeping closely-related languages separate. For Spanish and Portuguese, I spent a summer living in a house where both were spoken. Using the two constantly in the same setting was what ultimately set the record straight for me, so to speak. I would nevertheless say that one still has to keep vigilant, since when dealing with two very similar languages, there is always the temptation, conscious or otherwise, to rely too heavily on the one you know better and to communicate in the one you know less almost by analogy. There's extra learning and practice to do to meet that challenge.
Do you feel the environment you grew up in as a child made you grasp learning languages faster?
Absolutely not. Quite the opposite actually. North America is very Anglocentric. Nobody quite grasped what I was doing and why.
Is a diverse environment an important factor for a person to learn a language faster?
I wouldn't say diverse, but you do need opportunities to use the language and consolidate what you study academically. As a teenager, I would find a native speaker and invite him or her out for coffee, just for the chance to practice some conversation. People were surprisingly willing to help. Also remember that these were the days before the internet, so for reading material, I would haunt the reference library for newspapers, magazines, course material, and what not.
What are the quickest ways to learn a language faster?
Go to a country (or city) where it is spoken, and exclude, in as much as possible, people who speak your native language. It is sort of a cold-turkey or trial-by-fire approach. It is certainly painful, but it works like a charm every time.
Is it possible to learn a language all by yourself or is it necessary to have classes?
I think it depends on the individual and the target language. Personally, I have found that self study can get you going, but I eventually need some academic grounding. Using the language for practical purposes is always the best way; that doesn't necessarily need to occur in-country.
How has learning so many languages helped you in your career?
Sort of. It is certainly an intriguing calling card to help you get a foot in the door. It has tended to benefit me more in countries where language learning for its own sake is valued. That said, I only ever had one job where I really leveraged the languages to provide my employer with serious added value.
What are the easiest ways to learn a language without spending too much money?
Today a lot of people use the language exchange or tandem method, whereby you find a speaker of your desired target language, in exchange for extending that person's knowledge of a language you know well. There are plenty of internet resources for this, and sessions can be held in person or over Skype.
What do you think is a general stereotype of a person who is a hyperpolyglot?
I reckon we are a pretty diverse bunch.