Maureen is a Scottish who love learning languages. She used that passion to find a job and now, in addition to using these languages to work, she also uses them to travel. You can find her in her blog Mo’s Language Learning Journey.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Scotland in a monolingual household and I started learning languages at high school. My first language was French from age eleven but by the time I finished school at age sixteen, I could barely speak a word even though I passed my exam! Languages were taught very badly in my school with overcrowded classes, but I still enjoyed language lessons. I went to college and studied Spanish which was better because the class only had six people in it. From there, I progressed to university and there I studied Spanish and, to a lesser extent, Italian. Following university, my languages enabled me to gain employment in an international company within their Finance Department and I travelled regularly to their offices in Italy and Spain. Years later, my career within the Finance Industry progressed and I passed my professional accountancy qualifications. I would never have worked in Finance if I had not studied languages.
- What languages do you speak and at what level?
I’m a native English speaker and I was also brought up speaking Scots dialect. My main foreign languages are Spanish, Italian and Portuguese which I speak to an advanced level. At intermediate level, I speak Catalan, French, Norwegian, Greek and German. I have basic knowledge of Arabic, Lithuanian and Scottish Gaelic and I have just started taking lessons in Mandarin Chinese.
- How do you choose the languages that you learn? I’m especially curious about why you chose to learn Portuguese.
I originally chose Spanish because I had the opportunity to study it before university with a good teacher in small group so it made sense to continue with it. I then chose Italian because I thought most people were studying French and German at the time but there were just as many jobs for Spanish and Italian speakers. I was right about that and it meant the jobs I was applying for had less applicants than the French and German ones. In my first job, I was encouraged to learn Portuguese because we had an office in Portugal and so I started attending a class once a week after work. I continued with Portuguese because I reached B2 level and it was useful for the type of work I was doing and for travel, including travelling to Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa. Nowadays my priorities are different and I tend to study languages depending on where I am travelling to.
- Do you think that having a foreign heritage influenced your passion for languages?
Not at first because when I started learning languages I did not know that my great-great-great grandfather had been a polyglot in the mid-19th century, I also didn’t know that my great-grandfather spoke Gaelic and that my other great-grandfather spoke Lithuanian. This information was only given to me by elderly relatives after they realised how much I was interested in languages. Of course, now that I know that, I’m keen on learning Gaelic and Lithuanian to a good level when I have time.
- How often do you use each language?
I can’t use all my languages in my daily work so I have to find other ways. I tend to focus on Skype conversations at least once every two weeks for each language. For the intermediate languages, I also still have to study at least a couple of times per week for around 30 minutes each time.
- Which materials and methods do you use?
For the languages that are already at advanced level, I just maintain them by having conversations on Skype once every two weeks or so and I sometimes listen to or read the news in those languages. For the intermediate languages, I use textbooks with listening files and I practise writing on a site called Lang-8 where a native speaker corrects the texts. I usually need two or three 30 minute private study sessions each week for the intermediate languages to make sure they are still improving and I have a Skype lesson once a week or fortnight, depending on the difficulty of the language. The only very basic level language I am learning at the moment is Chinese. I have one lesson every 10 days and three self-study sessions per week. I work on the new vocabulary the tutor has given me and we revise it in the following session before moving on. I find my tutors on Italki.
- What are your plans for 2016?
I am really enjoying Chinese because it is so different and it helps that I have found an excellent tutor. I am going on a short trip to China in January but I am keen on continuing lessons after my trip. I will also be focusing more on my intermediate languages in 2016. My Catalan is currently B1 level but I’d like it to be B2 by the summer. I’m progressing quite well with Catalan because it’s so similar to some of my more advanced languages.
- Share any thoughts/tips you’d like with the readers.
I would say if you are planning on learning more than one language at once, try and choose languages from different language families and then you are less likely to confuse them. Try and speak as soon as possible and if you use sites like Italki, you can find language partners if you aren’t able to pay for a tutor. If you are able to pay for a tutor, try and find one that specialises in beginners (this is usually stated in their profile). Find varied materials based on what you are interested in. For example, I love travelling so I enjoy reading travel websites in other languages. Some methods suit some people and not others so it’s best to try and use methods you know work for you. Some people prefer using flashcards or textbooks, other people prefer listening to the language and learning that way. Personally, I feel that I need to actually write words down and see them in a book rather than just listening to them. Using sites such as Lang-8 are great for improving your writing skills and it’s free. Give yourself at least 3 self-study sessions per week of around 30-45 minutes each. Little and often works much better than one big session on just one day per week.