TPOL The Polyglot: How To Learn Multiple Languages

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你好, مرحبا, Здравствуйте, hola, or simply hello.

Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, and English are languages that I am currently studying with varying levels of proficiency. I started out with Pablo Pimsleur Audio Courses and have moved on to one-on-one Skype sessions. Here is my progress with each language:

English

I think I speak English good and write it good but, Clifford Barnabus, the virtual version of my 8th grade English teacher, might disagree.

Mandarin 

Since 2010, I’ve been trying to become fluent in Mandarin. It started when I lived in Shanghai for my MBA exchange and came home embarrassed because I could not even say beer in Chinese. From there I had the bright idea to try to learn Mandarin in three months and take the oral proficiency test, a prerequisite for graduating. To no one’s surprise, I came up short and had to take it again four months later. Since then I’ve been off and on with my Mandarin studies. Fed up with the lack of progress from studying on my own, I hired a Skype tutor and am scheduled to take the HSK Level IV exam in March 2017. There are six levels in total and I’ll consider it a life achievement if I can get by level IV and subsequently pass five and six.

Spanish 

In high school and college I took Spanish and lived in Monterrey, Mexico, also part of my MBA. While I’m able to get by, mas o menos style, I realized how deficient my Spanish was when I tried to talk about the election when I was in Colombia last September. Determined to reach fluency, I hired a Skype tutor to assist.

Russian 

TPOL readers will know that one of my favorite things to do while traveling is bargaining. (see Bargaining Abroad, I Lost The Battle and TPOL’s Guide to Bargaining Abroad) It’s basically impossible and boring to do without knowing the local language. Before heading to Russia as part of my Quest Around The Globe, I began learning Russian over Skype. Obsessed with the business possibilities that may come from mastering this language, I am still enrolled in the course.

Arabic 

When my parents came from Iraq, their goal was to make sure that my sisters and I assimilated into the American culture. As a result, we never learned to speak or read Arabic. All I could do was understand Arabic, including the profanities my mother would unleash on me if I didn’t get perfect marks in school. Traveling to the Middle East, I was, once again, embarrassed that I could not communicate. Many locals were actually insulted that I could not communicate in my parents’ native tongue.

Why So Many Languages? 

First and foremost, traveling is more fun and the experiences are more authentic when I can communicate with the locals. Having some grasp of language is a great way to learn about unique ventures while simultaneously avoiding tourist traps. Second, I’m a businessman and the languages on this list are those used by the dominating global powers. (One could argue that Japanese and Portuguese should be on the list but I do not think they are as critical.) Finally, I enjoy the challenge of learning languages and believe that exercising the brain now will prevent early onset dementia.

How Much Does It Cost? 

The lessons are very affordable, ranging from $4 to $10 an hour.

How Often Do You Have Class? 

I study each language twice a week for one hour.

What Website Do You Use? 

For Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian, I use Preply. Here is my affiliate link for that site. 

For Arabic, I use Madinah Arabic. I get a free lesson if you do the following:

  • Tell your friend (or family member) to go to www.madinaharabic.net
  • Ask your friend to book a Free Trial Lesson.
  • Ask your friend to enter in your email address in the referral email box when registering.

If you would like the names of my tutors, feel free to email me. (alexander at thepointsoflife.com)

Overall 

Google Translate and other apps may help you find your way around the globe but much like the misdirection of Google Maps, there is no substitute for relying on your own abilities.

再见,وداعا , пока, adios, TPOL out.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. during my rtw bike ride, i stopped for three weeks in guatemala (prices in mexico twice as high) to learn spanish. ridiculously, i had taken 7 years of latin in high school and college. yes, yes, i was going to be a lawyer or doctor. wtf?!

    for $100 per week, i scored 5 hours per weekday of one-on-one tutoring, a private bedroom in a latino family’s house, 21 meals a week, 2 school field trips per week, 2 tea breaks per day, and a partridge in a pear tree.

    and from guatemala to tierra del fuego, staying in the andes and all spanish speaking countries, i could not be an imbecile. or at least not as much of one.

    also, i’ll take the bait. good is an adjective young man. well is, well, an adverb. or perhaps a noun, if we’re talking deep places to find water. also…it’s just cliffordbarnabus. without further ado :

    “I think I speak English ~~good~~ and write it ~~good~~ but, Clifford Barnabus, the virtual version of my 8th grade English teacher, might disagree.”

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