Interview of the Week: The Irish Polyglot

What are your personal top three tricks and tips when learning languages?
1. Avoid speaking English entirely if you are in the country with that language. By far the most important decision you can make and what changed my whole approach to learning languages quickly. Harder than it sounds and something most English speakers never do.
2. Have a positive attitude. It’s easy to focus on all of the hard points of a language and that will get you down. Be optimistic and focus on how easy it is (the many cognates you already know, memory techniques etc.) This will speed things up dramatically and make it a more enjoyable experience.
3. Look at the language as a means of communication rather than a list of grammar rules. Speak it from the very start and focus on the speaking aspect and learn grammar only to tidy up what you are doing, rather than using it as the rules of how the language works. The language really works to communicate thoughts so use it for that!

What is your favorite word of all times and why?
Saudades – this word describes Brazil so well for me. It’s the feeling of longing that I have for my favourite country whenever I’m not there, and it’s even stronger in Brazilians I meet living away from home. Translations of the word aren’t great and I only really “got it” by living in Brazil and understanding how they think. I think it’s a beautiful word!

What was the funniest situation with a linguistic misunderstanding you ever encountered?
Just after arriving in Brazil my first time with very little Portuguese, my passport was stamped and handed back to me I wanted to say Obrigado (Thank you). Instead I mixed up vocabulary and said Brigadeiro (somewhat similar word, but actually a Brazilian chocolate treat). The guy looked at me really weird and wondered if I actually knew where I was… but he laughed it off after I corrected myself.

In your opinion, what is the sexiest accent and what is the reason for it?
Brazilian Portuguese. The culture is sexy, the sound is alluring, the music is hypnotic and the people are beautiful. And yes, I have a thing for Brazilian girls.

Which language teaching product / service / method / gadget … has impressed you the most and why?
It’s not actually a “language teaching product”, but it has been what has most helped me with learning languages; Couchsurfing ( I’ve hosted natives in my home from all around the world who have helped me start learning and maintain a level in their language, for free. If you can’t host, you go to meetings in your city and talk to international people happy to help you learn their language. Finally, of course, if you are travelling you can stay with a native for free instead of in a hotel/hostel. This is great exposure and the best “service” I’ve found by far.

About the author:
Benny Lewis (27) is an Irish polyglot and has been travelling the world for over 7 years to learn languages. He is originally an electronic engineer and is now a freelance translator and active blogger. He writes about his unconventional ways to learn languages quickly as he applies them to many languages in his travels, at Follow him on twitter @irishpolyglot.

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