Thinking about learning a new language, but not sure which one to choose?

It’s a decision that can have a huge impact on your life: where you go on holiday, the friends you make, maybe even which country you live in and who you marry!

While chatting to Natalie about this guest post on choosing which language to learn, I thought back to how I chose my first language, Italian.

Actually, I didn’t really choose Italian, Italian chose me.

It was 2007 and I was a fresher at university. I was supposed to get up early to sign up for Spanish class, but I’d partied a little too hard the night before. I woke up late, peeled my face off the pillow, threw on some clothes and ran to the languages fair. But by the time I got there, the Spanish class was already full.

I looked around at the other languages:


Too difficult.


Too cold.


Why not?

Fast forward 11 years and I’m living in Milan with my fiancé Matteo, working as an online Italian teacher.

I got lucky. Italian was the perfect choice because:

– I loved learning about the culture: art, history – and food of course!
– The Italian way of life fit in well with my personality
– It was a good first language to learn: challenging but not impossible.

If you’re asking yourself “which language should I learn?” and you have a little more time to think it over than I did on that sweaty, hungover morning, there are several factors that can help you decide.

Natalie will tell you all about them in this week’s guest post.

Read on to get Natalie’s tips on choosing which language to learn, plus a fun quiz that just might point you in the right direction (interestingly enough, when I did the quiz, I got Italian!)

Over to Natalie.

Which language should I learn?

Learning a new language is a joy!

Whether you’re learning a new language for fun or travel, it can be difficult to choose which one to start with, though.

You may love Italian culture and food and therefore want to learn Italian. Paris may be your number one travel destination, making French a reputable choice. On the other hand, you may want a challenge so Japanese or Korean would be a good fit.

How can I decide which language to learn?

With so many choices and so many beautiful languages in this world, how do you choose just one?

To be honest, it is a process – but a fun one!

Choosing a language requires inward reflection. Ask yourself:

  • What are my goals and interests?
  • How much time can I commit to studying?
  • What am I drawn to?
  • Why am I learning a new language?

Romance tongues such as Spanish, French, and Italian are popular among English speakers because they are Latin based and have similarities to English. In fact, about one-third of English vocabulary comes from French, making it a great choice. That being said, French can be a tad difficult due to complicated word-endings and vowel sounds.


Which language should I learn?

Spanish is a phonetic language, making it simpler to learn since the spelling rules are always the same. It is also the second most spoken language in the world, giving you a plethora of learning resources such as tutors, books, and apps.



Which language should I learn?Like Spanish, Italian is a phonetic language, meaning a word is pronounced exactly how it is written. It has a sing-song rhythm, making it fun and interesting to speak. It’s not as widely spoken as other languages, but with the beauty and culture of Italy, you don’t need to go anywhere else anyway!


Which language should I learn?Surprisingly, Korean isn’t as hard as you may think. While it’s true that grammar is sometimes complex, its 24-letter alphabet is entirely phonetic, so if you can read a word you can pronounce it correctly. The alphabet was actually developed with the goal of being easy to learn. Brush up on Korean culture (i.e. politeness/respect) and practice with one of the 80 million people who speak Korean and you’ll be in business.


Which language should I learn?The Japanese language will give you a challenge, but one that can be met with flying colors. It has three different writing systems, but many consider it easier to speak than Chinese as the sound system is simpler. For practice, check out Manga and Anime programs, which are growing in popularity and availability.  If you choose to visit this diverse country, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use your language skills, unlike other countries where most locals speak English.

Quiz: Which language should I learn?

These are just a few of the many languages awaiting you. Whether you want to learn Japanese for the challenge, Spanish for your career or you fell in love with an Italian, you’re sure to enjoy the language learning journey. If you still can’t decide which language to learn check out the quiz from TakeLessons to help you narrow down your choice. Bonne chance!

What do you think?

Which language did you get on the quiz? Do you think it’s the right language for you?

Or, if you’re already learning a language, how did you choose it?

Which language should I learn?

Whenever I asked myself this question in the past, I only considered widely-spoken languages like Spanish or Mandarin.

This is because I’d always assumed that widely-spoken languages lead to better travel options and more opportunities to practice with natives.

So when I came across Fran, who’s learning Sicilian, I followed her progress with admiration and curiosity.

Sicilian is a minority language spoken on the island of Sicily and in some areas in the south of Italy. Although a close relative of Italian, linguists consider Sicilian to be language in its own right, because Italian speakers need a translator to understand Sicilian and vice-versa.

Why did Fran choose a minority language like Sicilian, instead of Italian? And given that so few people are learning Sicilian, how did she cope without the usual language learning tools like textbooks, audio courses, apps, and websites?

Fran’s story shows how learning an endangered language like Sicilian can enrich your travel experience by giving you a unique way to connect with the community. She also found that learning a minority language can actually increase your opportunities to speak with natives and that having fewer resources is sometimes a good thing!

Keep reading to learn:

  • Why you should consider learning an endangered or minority language.
  • How to learn a language without a textbook.

Over to Fran.

Learning Sicilian: Fran’s story

It’s Thursday morning at the local market in Trapani and there’s a very stern-looking Sicilian lady standing in front of me.

It’s one of those bustling markets where you have to squeeze through the crowds to get to the next stall and you can barely hear a word over the stallholders shouting to attract customers. I’d just bought some tablecloths which had caused some confusion between the vendors, and I was trying to explain the situation in Sicilian.

“C’è l’haiu, grazii” (I have it thanks).

As soon as I opened my mouth, her face changed from a frown to a soft smile:

“Siciliano,” she said.

Why I decided to learn an endangered language

I decided to learn Sicilian recently for family reasons, but I wish I’d thought of it years ago.

I was born in Australia to a Sicilian father and an Australian mother. My mother learned to speak Italian (which was really a mixture of Sicilian, Italian and Calabrese she learned from her sister-in-laws) so they spoke mostly Italian/Sicilian together, but when it came to us kids, they always spoke English.

Dad would say “you liva in tisa country you spreaka da English.” So we didn’t learn Sicilian or Italian.

Just before I turned 50, my husband and I decided to visit the birthplace of my father, Salaparuta, a small town which was devastated by an earthquake back in ’68. So I thought I’d better learn some Italian first. I bought a couple of online programs, hired every teaching program from the library and found an online tutor to practice with. But when we visited my family in Sicily, I was too scared to speak. Luckily, my two cousins spoke a little English.

Over the years, we returned a few times and although my Italian improved, I still couldn’t communicate very well with my Sicilian relatives.

Last year, I went with my sisters who couldn’t speak a word of Italian, so I did all the talking for us. My sisters were impressed with how well I managed to communicate with Italians speakers, which helped them pinpoint my problem with my Sicilian relatives: they understood what I was saying in Italian, but I didn’t understand what they were saying in Sicilian! So they asked me if I’d ever considered learning Sicilian.

It was a light bulb moment. My sisters were right! No amount of Italian would help me to understand my Sicilian speaking family.

So I started learning Sicilian. It’s been challenging (I’ll talk more about this in a moment) but truly worth the effort.

I returned to Sicily several times and although my Italian improved, I still couldn’t communicate very well with my Sicilian relatives. So I decided to learn Sicilian instead!

Recently, my husband and I returned to Sicily and this time I was determined to communicate in Sicilian.

It paid off!

Although I’m learning the Catanese dialect and my family live in the Trapani region on the other side of the island, we communicated well. For the first time, I understood. My relatives were so pleased to hear me speak their language and encouraged me to keep learning Sicilian.

Learning Sicilian: the advantages of learning an endangered language

Encouraged by people’s positive reactions to my attempts to speak Sicilian, wherever I went I’d say something, anything in Sicilian. Sometimes people would try to correct me, thinking that I’d just mispronounced Italian. But when I explained that I was learning Sicilian, they stared in disbelief, then smiled with approval. Most people couldn’t believe that a foreigner would actually want to learn it!

As we visited different towns around the island, my husband let me do the talking: the Sicilian people seemed friendlier, more accommodating and really appreciated me taking the time to learn their beloved language.

If you learn a popular language like Spanish, French or German, it can be difficult to find opportunities to speak with natives. They often speak English better than you speak their language, so they reply in English and don’t give you the chance to practice.

But with minority and endangered languages, your attempts to speak are often met with surprise and delight. Sicilians are proud of their language, and it saddens them that it’s fading away. The people I met were so pleased to find a foreigner learning Sicilian that they went out of their way to help me practice speaking it.

As we visited different towns around the island, my husband let me do the talking: the Sicilian people seemed friendlier, more accommodating and really appreciated me taking the time to learn their beloved language.

The challenges of learning Sicilian

That said, learning an endangered language like Sicilian can pose a few problems.

The main one is a HUGE lack of resources. The Sicilian language is a spoken language, so there aren’t many books or documents to learn from.

There are a couple of online dictionaries and textbooks, but I’ve learned that most teachers do not accept these books. This is because each region of Sicily has its own dialect, and within these regions, family groups can have their own “version” of that dialect. When a family moves, say to an English speaking country, they take their spoken dialect with them and pass it on to the next couple of generations, which is a great way to keep the language alive. Years later a well-meaning family member decides to share his beloved language and publishes a textbook. Unfortunately, the dialect that it teaches is now out of touch with modern Sicilian.

So, no recommended textbooks, no podcasts and at the time, no teaching videos on YouTube. But after ten months of learning, I’m quite happy not to have all the language learning choices that are out there. I don’t get distracted exploring all that’s on offer, and I’ve been able to stay focused, which has helped me progress faster.

How I learn Sicilian: a step-by-step guide to learning an endangered language

1. Find a teacher or tutor

With most minority languages, you can’t just go to your local language school and sign up for a course, so you’ll need to explore other ways to find a teacher.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the area where the language is spoken, you could get in touch with language schools to see if they have members of staff who speak the language and would be willing to teach you. I emailed a language school at Trapani in Sicily and asked if any teacher there would be interested in teaching me Sicilian and the manager himself was more than happy to do this for me. If you can’t go to the country, you could call/email the school and ask if they’d be willing to do the lessons via Skype.

Alternatively, you might be able to find a tutor via the online teaching platform italki, as they are gradually building up a community of teachers who speak minority languages.

If all else fails, try looking for universities who conduct research on your language of choice, as the professors will probably have native speaker contacts who could help you find a teacher or community of speakers (thanks to Donovan Nagel from The Mezzofanti Guild for this tip).

2. Be prepared

With no textbook, you or your teacher will need to prepare for each lesson. I prepared word lists, sentences and dialogues for my lessons each week that we would discuss and correct. But then I found an Italian teacher on italki who is Sicilian and loves to teach the Sicilian language. She prepares her own structured lessons each week and on occasion, I still like to prepare something for us to work on together.

3. Record your lessons

If you do lessons via Skype, record them and make sure your teacher is typing as much information as possible in the message section. Most computers have a record function but I use the memo app on my phone. After the lesson, you can print out the Skype messages/notes (which I usually copy and paste into word).

If you’re doing face-to-face lessons, you could ask your teacher if you can record the lesson on your phone and work together on some detailed written notes that you can take away with you after the lesson.

4. Review what you learned

These notes now become your study sheet. Get colorful. Highlight words and phrases you want to remember. Circle things that you can’t remember or need more clarification on. Can you make a sentence or two from this week’s study? Note down other questions you would like to ask? This prepares you for your next lesson. I also rewrite previous dialogues to help consolidate words and grammar.

5. Make word lists

Make lists of new words. I have a book I like to write them in and then import them into apps such as Quizlet and Memrise.

6. Focus on listening skills

Listen to your study session a few times. Do 10 or 20-minute sessions over a few days. Listen to the grammar and follow along with your notes to hear pronunciation and explanations. If you’re anything like me, you might notice some questions you misunderstood, mistakes and parts where you could have responded better. This is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes. If anything is unclear, make a note to ask your teacher for clarification in the next lesson.

Also, try to find TV series, movies or songs in your target language. For Sicilian, YouTube has folk songs with the lyrics to sing along to (in private of course!) and I like the series Inspector Montalbano, although it’s spoken mainly in Italian, I get quite excited when I hear the extras speaking Sicilian.

7: Make your own materials

Now you’re in contact with the community of speakers, why not take advantage of this to create your own materials? I asked my teacher to help me prepare interview questions and she agreed to be interviewed. Then I contacted another Sicilian friend who also agreed to be interviewed. I put them on YouTube for easy access, originally as a private status but I later published them as I thought others learning Sicilian might benefit from these too. It was a lot of fun and I plan to do more in future.

8. Speak as much as possible

Get creative and find as many opportunities to practice speaking Sicilian as you can. Remember, you don’t always need native speakers to practice speaking! Try reading your written dialogues aloud or talking to yourself when you’re alone in the house.

What do you think?

Are you learning (or considering learning) Sicilian or another minority language? Which tip do you think is the most useful? Can you add any more advice? Leave a comment and let us know!

The best way to learn a language is to go to the country.

How many times have you heard that?

There are lots of smart reasons to think this. When you try learning a language in your hometown, lots of things work against you:

  • Going to classes after work is expensive and a pain in the behind.
  • You can try working without a teacher, but you don’t know if you’re focusing on the right things.
  • It’s hard to motivate yourself because you don’t need it in your everyday life.

If you lived in the country, you’d need the language to survive, so you’d pick it up naturally. You’d hear it all day long and those words would finally stick. And you’d meet tons of people to practise with.

It seems logical.

But when I decided to learn Chinese, I couldn’t use any of these excuses.

Moving to China wasn’t an option: I had a great job, friends and family that I didn’t want to leave behind. And, I’d already spent a few months in China, without speaking Chinese.

A few bits of chicken in hot water

Summer 2013. My boyfriend Matteo and I are sipping Tsingtao beer by Houhai lake, waiting for our food to arrive. Pointing at pictures on the menu, we’d ordered some noodles with fresh vegetables, chillies and one little adjustment – chicken instead of beef. It was only when the waiter brought over two bowls of water with floating chicken pieces that we realised something had gotten seriously lost in translation.

In China, I survived by pointing at stuff. I’d get on a bus, shove my Lonely Planet under the driver’s nose and pray he’d take me where I needed to go.

During my travels, I met lots of expats who’d been living like this for years.

You can learn a language in your pjs

A couple of years later, I still really wanted to learn Mandarin.

I decided not to let the fact I was living in London stop me – I already knew that being in China wouldn’t necessarily make learning Mandarin any easier.

I also knew that language classes didn’t work for me. I’d tried before: if I wasn’t falling asleep or doodling, I was wondering what to buy for dinner on the way home.

So I started learning Mandarin from my living room. Mostly in my pyjamas.

I squeezed study time in here and there between work, friends and family. Day by day, almost imperceptibly, I learned a little more and a little more, until I could have conversation in Chinese. Here I’m chatting to my tutor Jane (turn subs on to see what we’re talking about). 

My Chinese still needs a lot of work, but I’m thrilled that I can now chat to native speakers. And I know if I keep going, it’ll get easier and easier.

Through trial and error, I’ve learned a lot about what to do (and what not to do) when learning a language at home. Here are 11 steps that really helped me in my quest to learn Mandarin on my sofa. I hope you find them useful!

11 ways to learn Chinese without leaving the house

1. Practise with native speakers

If you want to be able to chat to native speakers, you have to practise chatting to native speakers.

This sounds obvious, but most of us don’t do it and it slows us down. We put it off because we feel nervous about speaking and we want to prepare as much as possible before taking the plunge.

But in my experience, the stuff you learn from textbooks and audio doesn’t truly stick until you start trying to use it in conversation. There’s the catch 22: you want to learn more stuff before you start speaking, but you can’t learn it properly until you start speaking.

My suggestion: start before you feel ready. As soon as you’ve learned some essential phrases, get out there and start practising with native speakers. Especially if you feel like you’re not ready yet.

My favourite way to find native speakers is via italki. For $5 – $10, you can book one-on-one conversation lessons with native speakers, known as community tutors. They’re friendly, supportive and used to working with beginners.

Yes, even you.

Lots of people worry about being slower, or worse than other beginners, but I promise you you’re not! Everyone is slow at the beginning, it’s called being a beginner 🙂

If you’re really strapped for cash, you can use the language partner page to find a language partner who is learning your language and set up a language exchange on Skype. 

Practising with native speakers was the important thing I did by a mile: I never would have learned to chat in Mandarin if it wasn’t for my online tutors. If you only do one thing on this list, find yourself some native speakers to practise with. I know it feels scary, but you’ll be so glad you did. 

2. Ear flooding

This one may sound like a weird sinus problem, but it’s actually a powerful technique to improve language skills at home (or anywhere for that matter). Flood your ears with as much of your target language as possible, wherever you are. Download audio tracks to your smartphone and listen in the car, on the train, while washing the dishes or cleaning the bath.

Extensive listening boosts your speaking skills as the more you hear common words, phrases and sentence structures, the more they sink in, and the more naturally they come to you when speaking.

3. Find the right level

Listening to an indecipherable stream of words isn’t helpful: it’s frustrating and you don’t learn much as you can’t follow what they’re saying. Similarly, with reading, if you have to stop every two minutes to look up a word or grammar point, you’re going to get fed up very quickly. 

Research shows that a great way to learn a language is by reading and listening to things which are slightly above your current level, so you can get the overall meaning, but you meet some new words and phrases. Start with materials aimed at language learners like textbook conversations, simplified audiobooks and slow-read materials, then gradually increase the complexity as your level improves.

For Chinese, I started listening to conversations in my assimil textbook, then moved onto the Chinese Breeze series and intermediate level videos on FluentU. I still struggle to understand things made for native speakers, but I know if I keep gradually increasing the difficulty of my listening materials, I’ll get there.

4. Don’t obsess over grammar

Tons of people learn to speak a second language without ever studying grammar rules – maybe not perfectly, but enough to have good conversations with native speakers.

No one has ever learned to speak a language by studying just grammar.

I’ve got nothing against grammar per se (unless you’re memorising lists of irregular verbs in alphabetical order, then maybe I do) but the standard approach of learning grammar rules first and using the language later is flawed. That’s why most people leave school with no language skills.

As soon as you’ve got a few basics down, start learning by doing: speaking, reading, listening and writing. Then learn bits of grammar as you go along.

5. Stop comparing yourself with native speakers

The phrase “like a native” pops up everywhere in the language learning industry. The result: we spend most of the time comparing ourselves to native speakers and feeling like poop every time we see the big gap.

This is an insane way of looking at things, and here’s why: native speakers are surrounded by their language for an average of 16 hours a day. That means a 25-year-old native speaker has been exposed to his or her language for around 146000 hours.

It’s estimated that language learners can get to an advanced level in around 1000 hours. Advanced learners can do amazing things in their second language like debating politics, working in specialist jobs and chatting to close friends without noticing a language barrier. But most still sound quite different to native speakers, and that’s OK.

Instead of comparing yourself to natives, compare yourself to the level you were at when you started. When you stop focusing on the difference between yourself and native speakers, you can enjoy the ride more. You spend less time worrying about your shortcomings and more time feeling good about the progress you’ve made.

6. Learn the right things

Without a teacher, it’s difficult to know if you’re focusing on the right stuff.

But here’s the thing: teachers don’t know what’s best for you.

The only person who knows what you really need to study is you. Only you know what you talk about on a daily basis: your job, your family, your hobbies, the questions you like to ask people, whether you like using lots of slang and swear words, or whether you prefer to be a bit more formal.

Think about what you normally talk about and the kinds of things you need/would like to say in your target language, and focus on learning that stuff. This way, you’ll learn words and phrases that will help you speak quicker, rather than wasting time learning “what’s in your suitcase” and other not-so-useful classroom topics.

The next questions is: where can you learn to talk about things that are personal to you? There are two ways:

  1. Ask native speakers. As you try to communicate, you’ll naturally start speaking about your life, so you’ll learn how to talk about things which are important to you.
  2. Listen to and read about subjects you like – photography, football, dance, politics – in your target language. You’ll naturally pick up some useful vocabulary that you can use to talk about your interests.

7. Revive dead time 

One of the biggest challenges when learning a language at home is finding the time to fit it all in.

To get more study time in, I use language learning apps on my phone to fill dead time, like waiting in line at the supermarket or if my train gets delayed.

You’d be surprised how much it all adds up!

My favourite is my flashcard app, which I use to review vocabulary. Another great app for these times is duolingo.

8. Be consistent

You can do all the right things, but if you don’t do them consistently, you’ll never learn that language. That said, knowing that you have to be consistent and actually being consistent are two very different things!

Though I’ve struggled with this a lot in the past (and still do today!) I’ve found a method that works pretty well for me. The “don’t break the chain” method involves deciding how long you want to study each day (make sure it’s realistic!) and putting a cross on the calendar for each day you achieve it.

Once you get a streak of crosses, you’re more motivated to keep going because you don’t want to break that chain!

9. Chill out for a bit (but stay in the game)

We all have those days where we don’t feel like doing anything. I often can’t be bothered to study for days, sometimes weeks in a row. This is dangerous because if you stop completely, it’s really hard to get back into the habit.

For these times, I have a few relaxing activities that may not be the most productive use of my time, but that keep me in my routine. For example, I know watching TV is not an ideal way to learn if the level is too high and I can’t make out what they’re saying (especially if I use English subtitles) but sometimes I do this during my study time so that I can have a rest and stay in the game at the same time.

10. Fall in love with the culture

When I feel my motivation dipping, it’s often because I’m getting so bogged down with studying that I start to forget the reason I want to learn in the first place: to connect with Chinese people and their culture.

When this happens, I spend a little time browsing articles or watching videos about China. This is enough to bring my motivation back and get me all excited about speaking Chinese again.

11. Join a community

Another tricky part of learning a language by yourself is staying motivated when you’ve got no one to answer to and share your struggles with. You make excuses to yourself and slack off one day… then the next day… then the next until you’ve completely forgotten about your language learning plans (together with that gym membership).

Community is a powerful thing: tons of studies show that teaming up with others helps you achieve your goals. Two language communities that made a huge difference for me were:

  1. The #Add1Challenge: The #Add1Challenge is a 3 month language challenge for people who are serious about learning a language from home. Everyone starts together on day 0, with the same goal of having a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker on day 90. I joined in December and made tons more progress than when I was studying alone. If you want quick results, this one’s for you.
  2. Clear the list: Studies show that writing your goals down, sharing them with others and giving updates is one of the best ways to get things done. Clear the List, run by Lindsay from Lindsay does languages and co. helps you do exactly that. Language bloggers come together once a month to share their language goals and report back on how they got on in the previous month. Since I joined this challenge, my language learning has become a lot more structured, and I’ve (digitally) met loads of fab, like-minded people to share my struggles and wins with. 

What do you think?

Are you learning a language from home? Which step do you think is most useful? Can you add any more tips that will help other readers who are studying from home?


The longest I’ve ever stayed awake is 52 hours.

It was 2010 and I was writing my university dissertation at the very last minute. I sat in the 24 hour library for 2 and a half days, fuelling myself with Red Bull and chocolate raisins. When I got home and looked in the mirror, my face had turned a weird yellow colour.

Just last year, I stayed up for 30 hours before handing in my Masters dissertation.

Let’s just say time management is not my forte.

Fortunately, procrastination has never caused me any major problems (I always manage to pull things off at the last minute) but it makes everything more difficult than it needs to be.

And that’s exactly what happened with my language learning projects in October. Overall, I pulled it off. I hit most of my targets and I’m pleased with how much I learned.

But my procrastination really got in the way. I knew I should be doing something, but I ended up fiddling with my phone, going on Facebook, getting lost in a wikipedia web, staring out the window with my finger up my nose etc. etc. You know how it is.

To hit my targets I had to cram lots in over the weekend. I felt like I was constantly “catching up” which was stressful. And stress makes things more difficult to learn and remember. 

If I can just break my procrastination habits, I’ll have more time, feel more relaxed and things will start falling into place.

War on procrastination

In November I’m declaring war on procrastination. I’ve got three weapons:

1. Tomato time

I’m going to use the pomodoro technique, which involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, working intensively, then taking a 5 minute break. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian, named after the kitchen timer that the inventor used to time his work intervals. It’s based on the idea that everyone can study for 25 minutes. It doesn’t feel overwhelming so it’s easy to get started.

2. Make a schedule

In October I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I didn’t plan when I was going to do it. In hindsight, this was probably the main problem as it gave me too much freedom to faff about. This month I’m going to make a daily study timetable and… actually stick to it!

3. Remove distractions

I broke the cardinal rule of studying as I often had my phone next to me while I was working. This month, I’m going to make a point of removing all distractions so I can really focus during my 25-minute stints.

As well as nixing procrastination, there’s one more way I’d like to improve my learning this month:

Use it or lose it!

In October I spent lots of time absorbing the language through listening and reading, and not enough time using it in speaking and writing. I’m a big believer in learning by doing, but my schedule isn’t reflecting this at the moment. In November, I’m going to focus more on using what I learn. I’ll do this in 3 ways:

1. Mini talks

I’m going to make listening and reading more productive by adding mini 2 minute talking sessions. When I’m listening or reading something, I’ll write down key words. Then I’ll use these keywords to speak aloud for a couple of minutes about what I just read/heard.

2. Recycling days

Every 3 days, I’ll do a session dedicated to recycling the language I’ve been learning over the previous 2 days. In these sessions I’ll use the language I’ve been studying by making videos, writing stories and giving example sentences. I’m also going to use them to write conversation questions, so I can re-use new words and grammar points in conversations with my language tutors.

3. Translate

I’m going to try the translation method which involves taking a short dialogue and translating it into your native language, then back again into the language you’re learning. This method helps you zoom in on the differences between your native language and the language you’re learning. It also helps you build sentences and gives you instant feedback so you can spot common mistakes and iron them out.

Language goals for November

At the moment I’m learning 5 languages. Each month, I have a sprint language which I focus on intensively and 4 marathon languages, which I study in a more relaxed fashion. In the sprint language, I immerse myself in the language as much as possible through daily activities like watching TV, reading and listening to the radio. My sprint language for November is Italian.


I spent October studying for my advanced (C2) Italian exam, but I’ve just run into a big problema! The only exam session is on a Thursday, which I can’t do as I’m a teacher and I can’t take holidays during term time. The next one isn’t until June 2017, so I’ve decided to lay off the exam preparation stuff for a while and come back to it in April/May time.

On the plus side, I’ll have more time to focus on things I’ve been meaning to do for ages in Italian.

There are 2 main areas I’d like to work on:
1. Culture
2. Grammar

Culture goals

I live in Milan, and many of my friends are Italian, so I’m already immersed in Italian culture to some extent. But I know I can do more. The more I learn about Italian culture, the more I can integrate into the country I live in. And feeling close to a culture does wonders for your language skills. So this month, I want to dive even further into Italian culture. Here’s the plan:


I’ll watch one classic Italian film per week. This month’s films are Gomorrah, Il Divo, La Grande Bellezza and Amici Miei.


In my downtime, I’m going to get through the first two series of the Italian sitcom, Boris.

News and current affairs

In October I set myself the goal of watching 8 e mezzo, a current affairs programme which discusses the political situation in Italy. I used to love this programme, but forcing myself to watch it everyday has turned it into a bit of a yawn fest. So this month, I’m going to take it down to 2 episodes per week. I’m also going to start watching Report, an investigative journalism series which features interviews with people from all over Italy. This will be particularly good for finding out about different regions and hearing a variety of accents. Finally, I’m going to carry on watching the news every day.


I’ve just finished my book Gomorrah, so in November I’m aiming to read my next one, Cairo Calling by Claudia Galal.

My next Italian book
My next Italian book


My playlists this month are going to be filled with classic Italian artists like Fabrizio de André, Rino Gaetano, Paolo Conte and some newer ones like il triangolo, dente and i Cani.

Grammar goals

I’d like to revisit some bits and pieces of Italian grammar, so I’m going to work through 1 chapter a day of my grammar book. I’ll also have a recycling day every 3 days so I can apply what I’ve learned in new contexts.

On days when I manage to fit 2 hours in (which certainly won’t be everyday!) my timetable will look something like this:

Culture (1hr): TV: news/8 e mezzo/Report/Boris + mini talk
Grammar (1hr): 25 minutes translation method + 25 minutes from grammar book

I’ll read and watch films during my downtime in the evenings and at weekends.

German and Chinese

These two languages are my newest so I’m still building up grammar and vocabulary. In October I set myself the goal to do 1 chapter per day of my textbook (except weekends) and learn 40 new words per week. I also planned to do 2 lessons per week on italki to practice my speaking. I didn’t always stick to the plan perfectly, but I did manage it most of the time. I feel like I’m making good, steady progress, so I’m going to keep riding this wave. By Christmas I want to:

1. Finish my textbooks
2. Learn at least 1000 words in German (currently 878)
3. Learn at least 800 words in Chinese (currently on 550)

Learning Chinese
My Chinese textbook

I’ll be starting a new job in November, which means I’ll no longer have time to do 2 lessons each week. I’m going to try to squeeze one per week in so I don’t get out of the habit of speaking.

Learning German with italki
Online German classes

Finally, I’m going to include mini talks and recycling days to practice using what I learn.


In October, I set myself the delightfully lazy goal of watching 20 minutes of French reality TV per day. This is going well as hearing spontaneous speech is really helping my listening skills. I’m going to keep this up in November.

Learning French with reality TV
Learning French with reality TV

Although I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my lazy French approach, I’m starting to feel like I should revisit a little French grammar. So I was pleased last week when I came across a fantastic idea from Alex over at laptop and flipflops who gives himself a mini language goal each week. I’m going to steal this idea and learn one little grammar point per week. On Friday I’ll have a recycling day where I practice using what I’ve learned so far.


In October I listened to the delightfully funny Gritty Spanish, a set of mini dialogues for adults where the characters do naughty things like go to strip clubs and rob ice-cream trucks.

Gritty Spanish
Gritty Spanish

This month I’d like to use the dialogues in a more active way. Each day I’m going to one of the following:
1. Dictation: listen to the dialogue in slow mode and write down what I hear in Spanish.
2. Translation method: translate the dialogue into English then back into Spanish.
3. Mini talk: give a quick spoken summary about the dialogue.

I’m also going to take the new words and add them to my Spanish flashcards.

My Spanish flashcards
My Spanish flashcards

Finally, I’ll keep uploading one Spanish video per week on our Spanish-English Facebook group, vidiomas.

It looks like November is going to be a very busy language learning month, I’m excited! I’ll be back next month to let you know how it went.

How about you?

What are your language goals? How are they going? Share them in the comments below!

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

There’s an old Italian proverb that goes moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi. Roughly translated, it means “choose wives and oxen from your own town.” Today, it’s used to suggest that you’re better off with a partner who comes from the same country as you.

More people are living and working aboard than ever before. As a result, lots of people are proving the old Italian saying wrong and entering into happy relationships with partners of different nationalities.

For many, this means a relationship where both partners have different native languages. Like me and my partner Matteo: my native language is English, his is Italian.

I get asked tons of questions about what it’s like being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak the same first language as me. So in honour of V-day, I’m sharing the answers to three of the most commonly asked questions:

1. You must be completely fluent in Italian by now, right?

Finding a boyfriend or girlfriend from a foreign country is often singled out as the easiest way to learn a language. But this kind of relationship is a bit like moving abroad: it provides a good opportunity to boost your language skills, but it doesn’t guarantee success on its own.

Firstly, it depends on which language you speak together. If your partner is fluent in your native language, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of using that language all the time, particularly if that’s the language you used when you first met.

And even if you speak together in your partner’s native language, your other half may not be the best person to help you perfect your language skills once you get past a certain level. It’s well documented that people who spend a lot of time together develop similar speech styles: if your significant other communicates with you in their native tongue, they’re likely to simplify their speech to some extent.

Even though we communicate in Italian most of the time, my relationship with Matteo doesn’t stretch my Italian skills as much as you might imagine. He doesn’t dumb things down on purpose; he’s just subconsciously adapted his communication style to match mine. And I find myself doing the same thing when we speak English.

2. Do you get each other’s humour?

Yes and no.

We have lots of laughs together and in many ways we share a similar sense of humour. But the language barrier means that sometimes we need to explain jokes to each other, particularly if they involve cultural references or wordplay. Some people might find that tedious, but we love sharing English and Italian humour with one another, and getting a laugh (or groaning at the dad joke) when the penny drops.

3. Is it hard to get along with each other’s friends and family?

Luckily most of our friends and family are open-minded, loving and patient: everyone gets on well, even if they don’t speak the same language. In my experience, cultural awareness trumps language skills when mixing with family and friends: people are more understanding of language mistakes than they are of cultural faux pas.

It’s surprising how easy it is to form bonds with people with non-linguistic communication like smiling, helping and sharing. When Matteo first met my family, he didn’t speak any English, but it didn’t seem to matter that much. My dad took him out to play golf anyway and they had a fun day together. When Matteo did things around the house, my mum was really pleased to see that I had met a nice, helpful bloke. For us, when meeting friends and family, actions really did speak louder than words.

Of course, if our mums meet, they won’t be able to talk to each other all much. But that might not be such a bad thing after all!

What do you think?

Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who speaks a different native language? What did you find challenging? What did you find rewarding?