Interview of the Week: Steve Kaufmann

What are your personal top three tricks and tips when learning languages?
1. Do not rely on a teacher. Decide that you are going to discover the language on your own. Language learning is like a walk through an unknown forest. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open and notice what is happening in the language.

2. Focus on listening and reading and building up a vocabulary of words and phrases. Do not try to speak right away, as this is unnecessarily stressful. You have little to say and people are not interested in hearing you stumble around in their language.

3. You will know when you are finally ready to speak. From that point on, just speak and do not worry about mistakes. Do not ask for or expect corrections. You will forget most of them right away. You have to watch for your own gaps, and search for the right patterns when you listen and read.

What is your favorite word of all times and why?
Конечно, which is Russian for “of course”. Whichever language I am learning, I enjoy saying the words of positive affirmation. It inspires me, and gives me something to practice the sounds of the language with. Bien sûr, por supuesto, もちろん、当然,ja visst, certo, and so forth. These are great words to repeat to oneself. I must say that right now the sound of конечно is my favourite, and I love saying it with relish and panache.

What was the funniest situation with a linguistic misunderstanding you ever encountered?
At an early stage in my Cantonese learning, I was at a dinner with a group of people. I wanted to show off, and tried to order 12 spring rolls. The only problem is that I ordered 12 “chun doi” instead of 12 “chun gun”. “Chun gun” are spring rolls but the words I used, “chun doi”, literally translated as spring bags, is Cantonese slang for “penis”. There was a brief silence followed by laughter. We did get the spring rolls though.

In your opinion, what is the sexiest accent and what is the reason for it?
To me it is not languages that can be sexy, but rather women. Any woman’s voice speaking a language elegantly, intelligently, and confidently about a subject that she knows well, is sexy to me. If that language is a foreign language, and one that I understand, this is doubly sexy.

Which language teaching product / service / method / gadget … has impressed you the most and why?
It has to be the MP3 player, which then expanded into the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and now iPad phenomenon. The ability to easily access all kinds of language content, both audio and text, and to manage it, and carry it with you wherever you go, is simply revolutionizing language learning. You can have a language lab, media library and walking language course in your pocket. There is lots more to come. We ain’t seen anything yet.

About the author :
Steve Kaufmann is a former Canadian diplomat, graduate of Sciences Po in Paris, who has had his own company in the international trade of forest products for over 20 years. Steve is the founder and CEO of LingQ.com an online language learning system and Web 2.0 community. Steve speaks eleven languages, having recently learned Russian at LingQ. Steve maintains a blog on language learning, and has written a book on language learning called The Linguist, A Language Learning Odyssey. Follow Steve on [email protected]

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