I have a dream of becoming a polyglot. A person who speak many languages. After going from zero to basic fluent in Portuguese by studying at home, it is now clear to me that learning to speak a new language opens up many more opportunities than you initially may think. You learn about culture and it becomes so much easier to make social connection or even to get help. You will be surprised how much the locals want to help you, if you show some effort in learning their language. Learning a new language also means new job opportunities, new friends, better (and cheaper) experiences, less hassle in general, and less chance of someone taking advantage of you. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money on learning languages with private lessons or classroom teaching. I actually don’t even think it is the fastest or most effective way to learn. There are so many free or cheap options online that you can pick and choose from and match it to your level.
What languages are the most useful to learn in general?
I did an investigation to try to narrow down the most valuable languages to learn. I looked at what languages might be an great advantage in doing international business. What the languages are widespread, maybe even on all continents. I also looked in my own backyard. What languages will bring me the most value?
English, French, and Spanish for example are spoken on ALL continents which makes them very useful to learn. After a bit of searching, I ended up with this top ten list of most widely spoken and also most useful languages for international business.
Personal low-hanging language fruits
Some low-hanging language fruit for me personally are German, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Arabic.
As I had several years of German in school I understand 90% of what I read and hear. I struggle highly to speak it today, as I have not used it for many years. But I should be able to get my ability to speak back fairly quickly.
Spanish would be easier to get started with as the language is very similar to Portuguese. I am already very basic fluent in Portuguese. On the other hand, because they are similar, there is the danger of mixing the two up.
Norwegian and Swedish are similar to Danish. Working 20 years for a Swedish company and participating in meetings where Swedish was spoken often of course makes a big difference. I understand all three languages but I don’t speak them. However, I am sure how much value it would add to actually learn, as both Swedes and Norwegians are pretty good at English.
I did a half year course in Eastern Arabic 18 years back, but only got to around 80 words and learning the alphabet. I could actually read Arabic children books out loud in the end, but I did not understand anything I was reading. I just knew how to pronounce the letters. As the area where I like in Copenhagen has many people speaking Arabic, I have many options to practice with real people.
As I absolutely love Thailand and would like to spend more time there in the future, that would be a useful language for me to learn as well.
What languages have I eventually decided to run with?
I tested a lot of the above languages to see which ones motivated me the most to learn mixed with the low-hanging fruits and what could provide the most value for me personally. In the first four months I included some Arabic, Polish and Russian in my language stack. However, I decided that it was better to cut out few languages and put more time on the remaining ones to get progress faster. These are the languages I am currently learning.
Thai, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and French.
If I don’t get proper progress on all of them over the next four months, or it becomes too complicated to learn three new alphabets at the same time, I may decide to cut out Chinese and Japanese as well. But for now, the above on my agenda. The most important thing is consistency and making measurable progress on all of them.
What tools do I use in my daily language training?
The Pimsleur Method – my main resource for getting started!
I started learned Brazilian Portuguese from scratch with The Pimsleur Method. I now use it as the main resource for learning all the languages in my stack. The Pimsleur Method is a collection of audio lessons, with up to five levels. Each level will teach you about 500 words. I like learning using audio lessons as I don’t have to sit in front of a computer or interact with an app while taking a lesson. That means you can do other simple tasks while learning. It could be during a commute to and from work, cooking, doing the laundry, washing the dishes, exercising, or taking a walk. This is important because it enables you to incorporate the lessons into your daily routine, without having to set time aside specifically just for learning. The “I don’t have time in my busy schedule” does not become an obstacle for learning. I am sure everybody has at least ½ hour of commute per day or tasks that are more or less “robotic” like the ones listed above. Another thing I like about The Pimsleur Method is that you start by having conversations right from the first session. The whole structure of the method is built around conversations. I spend 1 – 1½ hours practicing languages with Pimsleur audio lessons each day. You can actually try a lesson for free. But why not try a free 7-day trial. However, if you like free stuff like me, you could also go to the library. I got most of my Pimsleur lessons at the public library. I am pretty sure you could get lucky there too!
Anyone at least attempting to learn a new language will know about Duolingo. It is an interactive app with small lessons and they claim you can learn a language by practicing 15 minutes a day. I believe this is true if you are able to keep it consistent. The biggest downside is the vast amount of commercials on the free version. That can become annoying if you (like me) are too cheap to pay for the full version. At some point, I may give in and pay up, as it actually is a very good tool for learning and it is constantly improving. Duolingo recently introduced stories and audio lessons where you don’t have to interact with the app constantly, except with your voice. This is a big improvement. If you want to try it out you can just use the free version like me. If you want to try out their premium version 7-day for free, you can do it using this affiliate link. Then you will also give me 7 days for free and give me a chance to boost my learning curve.
If you are learning a language, Hellotalk is a wonderful and motivating language partner app. It is basically an advanced messenger app, where you find people to learn with. If you get bored of just taking language lessons, this is a great app. How about practicing your french skills with some real native-speaking French people your own age, who actually live in Paris? If you decide to visit Paris on a vacation, you even have a chance to meet up with someone from the app and you may even become friends. I have met up with several Brazilians I met on Hellotalk. I have exchanged recipes for favorite dishes, jokes, funny stories, and stories about Danish culture and everyday life with language partners on the app. You get the same back from the good and dedicated language partners and there are plenty to choose from. Hellotalk helps with your grammar, can translate, turn audio into text, and much more. Below is a video explaining the functionality and how the app works. It is truly awesome! Try it out!
Semantica Portuguese (only Brazilian Portuguese)
The most amazing and entertaining resource I used when I started learning Brazilian Portuguese was Semantica Portuguese. I finished everything in record time, even though there is a lot of video content. It is basically like binging Netflix and learning a language at the same time. I wrote a full separate article about it, including 350+ free videos for you to learn. If you are reading this and know of a similar website or app that offers a similar way of learning the languages with video lessons in a playful and entertaining way like this, please comment on this article. I would be super excited to test it out and review it!
Are you also eager to learn languages and have come across some amazing and motivational resources for learning, I will be very grateful if you would share them with me? I would love to try them out!
09-05-2021 - Progress update
It is always good to measure progress. It keeps up motivation. Once in a while, I will update the below statistics and add more, as I start to use new tools. For Portuguese I am currently just speaking and writing with my network in Brazil to improve, while looking up words I don’t understand. I will not include these statistics at this time.