Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast – the weekly English show where we speak about everything under the sun. The major goal of this show is to help you improve your English and of course learn something new. My name’s Katya, I’m your host. And today with me…
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So, Maria, Benjamin, I haven’t seen you for such a long time. How’s it been? What have you been up to?
Been enjoying the rain, enjoying the, yeah, the cold rain before the hot summer comes.
Doesn’t it feel like Britain?
It does feel like a lot like Britain.
Just close your ideas, ignore the dust or whatever, Russian being spoken around.
And only three or four more days of cold showers at home.
Aw. Masha, what about you? What have you been up to?
Well, working as usual, yeah. I don’t know, nothing special. I think I have come through my allergic period, so and now it’s over almost and yeah, I’m happy about it.
Is that hay fever you suffer from?
Yeah, yeah. I’m allergic to birch trees.
Oh and we have plenty of those.
Yeah, like a Russian person to allergic to genuine Russian thing.
Can you drink birch tree juice? Березовый сок? Can you drink that?
I just don’t drink it because I don’t like it and…
It tastes so good, I tried it for the first time…
I mean, you can taste it, can’t you, Katya?
Well I have tasted it like several times.
I mean… Actually a couple of weeks ago my mom and my sister, they got like a whole, like 2 liter jar full of it. They’re like do you want some? I’m like I’m not really a fan of it. Oh if I had known that you are a fan of it Benjamin, I would have brought it all to you.
Oh I love it, yeah. First I thought it was really strange because I tried horse milk previously, like a month ago. And I thought that was gonna be something strange like horse milk, but it turned out to be really nice.
Birch milk. But not as strange as horse milk.
Well, Benjamin’s adventures in Russia.
Alright. And I just a week ago finished, well, not finished, but the semester finally finished at the university where I’m teaching and to those who do not know, I teach Russian at a university in the US. I mean at an American University cause now I’m in Russia.
And while I was teaching and while I was going through all of that struggling with Russian by my students, I realized that it would make a cool episode of the podcast, to talk about languages, to talk about Ben’s experience with Russian. Cause I, you know, I see my students suffering and I was wondering whether you have gone through the same thing, so. Why don’t…
And here we are, yes, to talk about languages. So and I think the first question that I wanna ask you is what languages do you actually speak?
Well it depends what you mean by speak. This has always been a huge debate between people who like languages.
When I teach my students and they are like when am I going to start speaking language? I’m like from the very first lesson, you are speaking! IF you say Hello and My name is in a language, it’s like you speak it.
So then I probably speak three apart from Russian which is my mother tongue. So German, French and English. I mean I’m able to say Hello, ask about a person’s name, maybe order something in a restaurant, like, well. In French and in German. But of course I’m not able to study at university there.
I’m an English teacher, so English is English.
Did you do German at school?
I did French at school and I did German at university. Like 5 years of French at school and 3 years of German at university. Which is my, like, second language, so my major is English.
Well when you say speak, obviously we have… This is a huge debate so obviously we have debate about fluency.
Okay, let me rephrase the question then. What is your situation with languages? And what level maybe, what can you do in certain languages?
So I have a solid knowledge of a few languages. It’s a hobby of mine, learning languages. So I was born in Brazil and when I, yeah, when I grew up there I had a really good knowledge of Portuguese. And then I moved to the UK. In the UK French is taught at school.
Yeah most schools teach French or Spanish. So I learned a lot of French and then I started learning Italian and…
And you majored in Italian and Russian.
Yeah, Italian and Russian. And also at school I did a bit of Mandarin. So I don’t speak, I can’t say I speak… Like I can hold a very very very basic conversation in Chinese, but yeah. And then I also started learning a bit of Spanish and my favorite language, other than Russian, is Dutch.
So you can hold a conversation in Dutch?
Yeah, I mean, like basic conversation. I can’t speak…
Masha, I think we can stand up and leave, you know.
Yes, we could. But who’s going to ask question to our polyglot?
Well you speak German, so that is somewhat related to Dutch.
Like, I don’t… Well, let’s maybe use this CEFR measurements, like A1, A2, B1. Because I guess most of our listeners more of less understand these terms, yes. And as for my German, I guess I’m A2. And as for my French, I guess I’m A1. So I don’t know if that counts as I can….
Yeah, exactly. Most of my languages are within like the A2 kind of bracket.
Yeah, but not Italian and Russian.
Well, Russian I could definitely more than get by in Russian. But it’s still work in progress. And…
You know, I think no matter how long you’ve been learning any foreign language, it’s always a work in progress.
Yeah, you never… I mean, your English is impeccable, it really is. But yeah, it takes years if not decades.
I mean, look, I have been learning English for the last 13-14 years, 13 maybe let’s say. And I still every single day there words I do not know, concepts I do not know how to explain. All the time! Like, I don’t think that will ever end.
Yeah, it’ll never stop, yeah.
Yeah. Okay, so you have Italian, Russian on a really good level that you can…
Yeah, it’s like it’s in the B area, in the B area. So yeah. And then all the other languages. Portuguese I’d say is in the B area as well because I grew up with that. But the problem is is my Italian and my French kinda messed up my Portuguese. Because all the Roman languages are somewhat connected and yeah.
Which language came first let’s say, French or Italian?
Okay. But after Portuguese, was it French or was it Italian?
It was French. Cause yeah, they taught that from a very young age in England.
So did that help you to learn Italian? Cause French and Italian, they have similarities.
Yes. Somewhat. So for instance in French you have a verb manger which is to eat, and in Italian you have mangiare. So yeah, they have many similarities, yeah.
And what about Portuguese and Spanish?
Portuguese and Spanish are very close. It’s easier to learn Spanish f you speak Portuguese than it is for Spanish people to learn Portuguese. It’s kinda like Russians trying to learn Polish and Polish people trying to learn Russian. So it’s easier for Polish people to learn Russian than it is either way.
Yeah, cause if you’re Russian and you’re trying to learn Polish, it’s gonna be oh god, it’s nightmare, it’s really difficult. Yeah. Oh wow.
No but I have friends who had to learn Polish because they wanted to have this, I think it’s called like Polska Karta. So when you had let’s say great-grandparents who were Polish and they ended up in Russia, you can actually get this karta or whatever it’s called in English.
Does Polish belong to the Slavic group of languages?
I mean, that’s so strange. Because when I was preparing for the podcast and I googles like the most difficult languages to learn, yeah, of course it depends on who you are, a Russian person or an English-speaking person. But Polish was the language in the most lists.
There are a lot of similarities, for instance, the Polish word for lake is jezioro and in Russian ozero.
Yeah but I’m surprised why it is so difficult, because it should be similar to Russian.
I think it’s because of their case system and also the pronunciation. They have a lot of sounds that are difficult to pronounce one after another, cause they have a lot of these ш, щ, ч sounds. And the spelling as well, that also adds to the list of reasons why. Wow.
What about you by the way?
Well, of course I peak Russian.
So do you know any Yakutian, the Yakutian dialect. Not dialect, language.
Oh god, I know only some words and it was really fun to teach some Russians the word for goodbye cause you know, they ask like what’s the Yakutian for goodbye? And you say көрсүөххэ диэри. They’re like forget about it. But yeah, I know English. I can hold a conversation in Spanish.
But you know, some basic conversation. And I remember when I first came to the very first class I had in Spanish and my teacher asked me so do you know anything and I said well, I know how to say Hi, My name is, I’m from and I would like to get some wine please. She’s like you’re ready to go wherever…
So yeah. So let’s say when I was in the US and somebody started speaking to me in Spanish in an uber for example, I could hold a simple conversation. Cause they thought like oh, Katarina, that’s not…
That’s like a Latin American name and I said well, among other things, yes. But it’s also an Eastern European name, so yeah, that’s actually… I mean, I used to learn German, I used to be able to speak German at a like B1 level.
Yes. And I was obsessed with Germany, I had been dreaming about moving to Germany, you know, sleeping and dreaming about going to Berlin and I Knew all the lands of Germany, you know.
But then when I was entering the university, I was not admitted to the English-German group, but to English only group. So and off it went, my dream to go to Germany and move.
What’s your favorite German dialect? Do you like Swiss German? Do you like Southern…
We are not so much into that.
Yeah. So they have different…
Do you have a favorite English accent?
It have to be an Australian accent.
They have a very funny accent, I love them.
Have you noticed how recently there’s been some kind of a popularity maybe for the Northern accent?
00:12:52 B: Well yeah, of course there are so many different Northern accents as well. Yeah. I’m not even gonna try.
I was watching the Peaky Blinders, god, I was just sitting like oh god, I love the way, you know, they sound.
Yeah the Brummie, the Birmingham accent. Yeah.
I used to be able to differentiate those, cause when I was at university we had 400 hours of phonetics. So and we were taught how to, you know, tell all those accent apart, you know, the Liverpool, Birmingham. Well of course Scottish, Welsh and whatnot. And I used to be able to do that, but then, you know, the moment I graduated, it kinda…
Yeah, it’s actually quite hard for non-native English speakers to differentiate between…
I’ve never been able to differentiate and I still am not. I could, probably, like distinguish, well, an American guy and a British guy, but that’s it. No nuances, no details. Just maybe because I was taught, you know, what is called proper British.
RP, received pronunciation.
I used to love, you know, when people… When I was in the US, when I was in other countries and people asked me where are you from, I usually asked them where do you think I’m from? Oh and then the fun began, cause they were like well, you’re definitely not an American because of the accent.
So you are not, probably not British either. So and then they will limit it to some countries. They were like definitely Europe, but not Spain. Okay, you have blue eyes. Eastern Europe? You know, it was mostly because of the eyes and the name then. Cause they asked what’s your name? I said Katerina.
They’re like oh, okay, then Eastern Europe, that sounds like an Eastern-European name. But I still cherish the moment when I was in London in a pub and I started talking to a woman and she was an English teacher working somewhere in London. And I said yeah, I currently teach, you know, substitute a professor at a university.
She’s like what, that one? And she, you know, pointed at a university across the road. I’m like oh god, no, in Russia. She’s like you’re not a Londoner? I’m like this is the best moment in my life and I’m going to remember it forever. And then I went to the US and my British accent went down the hill, so. Not anymore.
I was said a couple of times when I speak English I sound French. I don’t know.
Well I mean, when people learn English, I love to encourage people to retain their accents, provided that they speak English with a, yeah, that they speak proper English, correct English with proper annotation. But it’s really cool when you retain your accent. I love hearing French people for instance speak English, it’s so cool.
You know, I actually agree with you. Cause I think Masha you have had students too who said I want to change my pronunciation, I want to sound, you know, differently. Because they think that if they have a bit of an accent that would be, you know, horrible, they would be looked down at.
And I always give an example of professors whom I had a chance to meet, professors from Columbia University, Yale, Harvard. And let’s say there is an amazing professor form Yale. She has a very thick Russian accent. Does it make her less honorable? Respected? No.
Absolutely. And if anything, it’s really cool and people respect it even more hearing that you have an accent and that you learned the language on such a high level.
I mean, I don’t want to pretend being anyone else. I mean, I am Russian and I will be, no matter which country I live in. And I mean, I’m not ashamed of it and I’m not going to be. So why should I hide it? And if I’m comprehensible, then…
Yeah, exactly, as long as you’re understood, that’s the most important thing.
And speaking of, you know, learning languages. Have you noticed, well, Ben you have not been teaching English for that long.
But Masha, have you ever been asked by students like oh, but you know, I’ve seen the ad which says I will, you know, I will learn English within three months, four months, you know, to being fluent. So what do you think about that?
It’s not that I really have had such students who truly believed in this, can I say this word, bullshit here?
But yeah, there is a lot of this rubbish on the Internet. It has been for a while and maybe now it’s not that much of it, but still you can find it. But I think that people tend to stop believing it now. Because people start to realize that you need to put your efforts into studying and into mastering a language. Whatever language it is.
So yeah, it’s impossible, you know, to just learn it within a couple of months.
And you know, when my students are really my students, I mean when it has been some time, not like the first class, I can say that, guys, if you ever meet anyone who says that they will teach you any language in like a month or so, just run away, cause they are frauds, they are like, they are cheating on you. It doesn’t mean then that I want you, guys, to have me as your teacher forever. No. But please, pick up and, well, think.
Yeah, learning a language is a long marathon. And it’s not something that… Of course you can learn the basics in three months. Of course you can learn how to sustain a very basic conversation, but fluency – absolutely no way.
And it’s not a bad thing that it’s like a life-lasting process. I mean, it’s a good thing, I love it. I love studying and I love the process of, like, of constant development. It’s not something that is discouraging.
Yeah. You know, sometimes my students ask me like, when will I be able to, you know, masterfully use the articles and never have to think about them? And I said, sorry, never.
If we speak about articles – absolutely never.
Cause this is the topic I’ve just had with several of my students and they’re like when, when is this going to happen? I said look, no. That’s not going to happen, just accept it.
Yeah, articles and prepositions are very, yeah, very difficult for non-native English speakers. It’s a problem I frequently see with students, but it’s not the end of the world. As long as you can communicate effectively.
Especially for us who speak Russian language, which is, which belongs to the Slavic languages. In the Slavic languages we don’t have articles at all. That’s why.
We have. But we, hm, we were immersed into them from the very early age.
Well technically English does have a genitive case, technically. So apostrophe S, it’s kind of like…
Yeah, if you go deep into the linguistic science.
So and what can be the common struggles then of learning a language? Well of course with English it’s articles, it’s the first struggle that comes to mind. But in general?
Well, feeling like you’re embarrassed. The reason why many people find it difficult to speak is because they think they will make an idiot out of themselves.
Oh yeah, been there, done that.
Especially if you ask adults. Because children are used to studying and they are used to, like, constant learning. But adults, they feel ashamed of speaking and they are like, well, I’m a respected specialist in my sphere. And when I come to an English class, like…
Suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore.
Yeah, I’m into some, like, valley. Like I was on top of the mountain in my sphere, but now I’m somewhere in down deep.
Okay. What other struggles can there be?
Remembering vocab essentially, vocab retention really is an issue. Especially if the language you learn is completely unrelated to your mother tongue. So I’ve never studied Korean but I can imagine it’s completely different.
You’ve studied Chinese and Russian.
Well they are not related, Chinese and Korean. In some ways.
I mean in a way that it’s still different from English.
Or from Portuguese. Because of the characters and everything. Or Russian – totally different alphabet.
Yeah Russian takes a long time because with Italian, you can kind of, I mean not always, but you can kinda guess what a word’s going to be. Whereas with Russia, you can’t really do that.
What have been your struggles with Russian?
With Russian, I’m trying to think, I mean, of course, there’s a lot of struggles. Not so much the pronunciation, even though sometimes that is an issue. So for instance the word взгляд.
Lots of consonants together.
Yeah, the consonants take a while. The biggest issue would have to be prepositions to be honest sometimes.
Yeah prepositions can be quite a challenge.
I thought you’d say cases.
Cases are actually not too difficult cause they have an order. Also remembering the genitive plural of Russian, yeah, Russian nouns can be really difficult.
Although, yeah. If you separate all the words into groups that becomes way easier. Like, you know, nominative singular ends with a vowel, you’re like oh, just drop the vowel.
In the process of learning Russian you just have to accept things are just the way they are. You just have to accept it.
Just accept, suffer and memorize.
Yeah, exactly. After you get over the cases, the rest is actually not too, I mean, it’s not easy, but it’s not too difficult. Sometimes the endings are difficult. But Russian’s a very logical language which is probably why… I mean this is a deep philosophical argument, but probably why Russia produces so many chess players, so many mathematicians.
That’s an interesting point.
That’s a very logical language.
I wouldn’t say so to be honest.
Well we have rules, but we also have lots of exceptions.
There are exception, but I think in English more so.
That’s why this rule that you mentioned, I think it can be applied to English as well. Like, don’t’ ask why, just ask how and remember how it works. Don’t ask why. Don’t go into that depth.
Oh may I share the story of struggling with learning Russian?
So I was now in the spring teaching the second semester of Russian. So and in the first, and I still remember, it happens every year. When students start learning Russian, they ask, and they asked me multiple times. Katya, what’s the Russian for to go?
And every time I said you’re not ready for it yet, you’re not ready for it yet. At the end of the first semester they learn that there are four different verbs: идти, ходить, ехать, ездить. They are like oh Jesus, okay.
After a month of, you know, really hard going through all the exercises, they say okay, we are now cool, we know Russian verbs of motions. We know that they are multidirectional, unidirectional.
We are cool, there are four of them. And, you know, they also conjugate horribly. Then they start their second semester of Russian and they find out that there are also prefixes, like поехал, уехал, заехал. And that’s when they go crazy.
Yeah, the prefixes are really… I mean it is logical.
There are just so many of them. And then sometimes you would think like okay, let’s say we just had a lesson like two weeks ago with my Russian learners and I was showing them videos and I was asking them what is going on in the video.
And then you would think okay, I know that the prefix is added to the verb, then we conjugate the verb the way we usually do. Now, the verb ездить, if we’re talking about it or he, we would say он ездит.
Logical, right? But why is it, and we had a verb, and they said проездит. Ah, I understand why you would think that, but it’s absolutely none of that. So why is it проезжает? No logic.
Well, and the same situation is with when Russian learners start to study English, but it’s about prepositions.
In Russian it’s prefixes, but in English it’s prepositions. For example, “the favorite” verb is get.
Yeah, there are so many different…
Yeah. Depending on a preposition, it can be anything. And the first meaning they get is get получать. But then they understand that there are multiple meanings.
00:26:20 K: Yeah. I have a student who’s now at a pre-intermediate level, and we got into all these phrasal verbs and she’s like I hate them, I hate them with all my heart. I’m like, but no, but think about it. You can express so many ideas with their help. So but.
Well I know that at the bookstore Капитал I just bought a book of 100 phrasal verbs in English. Obviously, it’s in Russian, but it’s a good book. So if anyone wants to buy that book, go to Капитал.
And do they have like exercises?
Just a list. Just a list.
It’s a good book, it’s a good book. It’s really short, so it’s only a 100 phrasal verbs, but yeah.
So and one of the common struggles, no matter the language, as Ben has mentioned, is the language barrier. So, what would you advise to people who have this language barrier? How can they, well, slash we, overcome it?
No, I mean when you learn a language, let’s say, with a teacher, and you’re okay with speaking with your teacher, cause you know them. But you are terrified of speaking to a=somebody else, especially a native speaker.
Well I had it. And, like, I totally had it. Like, when I was at school I was good at English and it was a gymnasium with like deep knowledge of English and a bit of French. And then I went to this university, the faculty of foreign languages and then you, you know, learn the linguistic science and phonetics and grammar, oh my god.
Grammar, yes! Theoretical grammar, practical grammar. Theoretical phonetics, practical phonetics. Stylistics.
I hated theoretical grammar.
The history of the language. Everything. But I was afraid of speaking with, for example, once we had guests from Germany. Even not from England, they were from Germany. And I was afraid of speaking with them because of this language barrier.
Yeah I guess it can be very intimidating, for instance, when I started learning Russian, I came to Russia for the first time. Well obviously Russia’s renowned for its serious faces. When you go to a supermarket and they say something like карта наша есть? Have you got our… And you don’t know what they are saying and they have a serous face.
You’re afraid to smile at them, you know. Just.
Which is quite funny. In France too they are very serious as well. But yeah.
To be honest I still don’t know how to overcome this language barrier, cause every time I have an opportunity to speak Spanish and I remember during our classes we had a guest, Mario.
And he would come and say something in Spanish and we would just look at him, nod and say Hola! And that’s it. And I was terrified of speaking cause I thought what if I make, you know, an idiot out of myself and Mario will think I’m an idiot? I don’t know.
It’s just something you have to accept, you will sound like an idiot. And that’s something you just have to… It’s part of… It’s like jumping out of plane I guess.
You know what I’ve noticed though? If you talk to adults and say, I mean, you speak in their native language and you say if I make a mistake, could you please correct me? And they would say oh, you speak, you know, you speak so nice.
There was, you know, that mistake maybe. But actually they won’t even correct you. Even if you speak to a child they’re be like, you say something and they’re like you made such a dumb mistake. They will laugh at you, they’re cruel! Like, all the time! Seriously, kids don’t have borders like that and boundaries like that.
Yeah I was trying to explain what a doll is to a student of mine who was I think 8 years old. And he just wasn’t understanding. Doll, doll, doll. And I was pointing at a doll. I said кукол and I couldn’t pronounce it right. And he was laughing so much. Actually it wasn’t doll, it was a puppet theater, so кукольный театра. And it was кукольный театр or something. He was laughing so much at me.
Yeah, kids absolutely do that.
But it probably means that these kids are not going to have this language barrier. Because nowadays kids are not afraid of speaking a foreign language because the boundaries are open and we are more, like, we go global.
I would say that in general kids are not afraid of, you know, making mistakes. And that’s what we have to learn from them.
Yeah. Well, because when I was a school girl and we were studying English, it was somehow not real. It was some English form a book. And I couldn’t fully realize that people really speak it. Well I knew it, but I couldn’t embrace this.
Yeah it was distant. And I didn’t think of going to a country, like, to practice it and well, we didn’t have native-speaking teachers or even visitors. So it was somehow artificial. Now it’s a different story.
Yeah, now we have so many resources to learn.
Yeah, because of pop culture, because of the internet. Now I guess we have less language barrier.
I’ll just… Yeah, a long time ago I read a Dostoevsky translation in English. And it was written by this lady in English who is Constance Garnett. This was back in the early 20th century I guess. And I just have no idea how she would’ve even … learning Russian.
It’s just so difficult with… I mean I don’t know how she would’ve found any kind of resources to learn Russian, let alone travel to Russia. And she translated all these long Dostoevsky books and, yeah.
I have a question. So do you think it’s possible actually to achieve fluency or, you know, a relatively good level of a language without visiting the country of your target language?
No. I think… Well maybe you can, as long as you are like immersed in a language. So for instance if you are surrounded by people who speak the language, then yes, you can. Yes you can, but you have to be surrounded by people. On a constant basis. Or you have to have constant access to materials. If you don’t..
If you don’t, then it’s gonna be an almost impossible task.
Maria, what do you think?
Well, I think that somehow managed to because for, well, due to several reasons I wasn’t able to go to the US or to the Great Britain. I was going to last year, but what you know what happened. And so I was going to… I was about to have a three week course in methodology, but yeah.
Well, but even at that point, like last year, I was able to realize that it won’t help me to master my English like in terms of grammar or vocabulary or something, but just to… I wanted to be closer to the culture. Because language, every language is very closely connected to the culture of a country, that’s what I wanted…
When you were learning English, how much, like, access to materials did you have? So how much did you surround yourself with the English language?
You know, it was a long trip. It was a long journey.
Obviously, because you’re fluent in English. You never…
And this fluency, which now I obtained maybe came at… Maybe it’s strange but it came not at university, it came after I graduated from University because I knew a lot of stuff after graduation. And well, we had good teachers, good professors.
Nothing to complain about, but this huge language barrier and this, you know, inner inconvenience and like being afraid of speaking – it passed only maybe when I started to work here in Novosibirsk, when I moved from my native town here to Novosibirsk and well…
Maybe even when I started to work at BigAppleSchool because here we are, surrounded by lots of native speaking teachers. I mean it really helped me to overcome the language barrier, because I just stopped being afraid of making mistakes, I just didn’t have time.
Yeah, to worry about that.
No time to worry about mistakes!
Yes, I needed to react, I needed to respond, I needed to help someone and well, because I also work as a methodologist, so I needed to help teachers from let’s say Great Britain, from the US to adapt here in Russia and, well, I didn’t have time to worry about my mistakes. Which I obviously still make, but I’m alright, okay, almost alright with it of course.
You know, when you Ben said like oh it’s impossible, at first my reaction was like well, well, we’ll see about that. But then you said unless you are constantly, you know, surrounded and exposed to different materials and language. Cause I have examples of lots of English teachers in Russia.
Like for example when I was at university, I didn’t’ have a chance to go to any country until I was in my last year. Or in my fourth year actually. But then and until then I still managed to reach a certain level and I was speaking.
Maybe I did have a little bit of a language barrier, but still, I was able to speak with more or less good low. Which means that it is possible. But then when my students ask me, you know, how can we achieve the same level that you have. And I say look, we have a little bit of a different background. Cause for 5 years of my life I spent 10-12 hours a day.
Yes, dedication. It’s all down to dedication, motivation.
Exactly. If that had been two hours a day, probably I wouldn’t have been, you know, where I was after graduation. But it was 10 hours. Because just like Masha said, we had all this phonetics, grammar, practice of oral and written speech, translation. All of that. And everything was in English, so.
Whether we wanted or not.
Because both of you are essentially, almost native.
But in order to learn a language at that level we have to be dedicated like both of you were.
I don’t consider myself as like a native.
Well I know that I’m C1+ because I have my certificate. But I don’t know like how above this level I am now because I haven’t been formally assessed yet.
Well yeah, I mean the most important thing is you have to be completely dedicated. You have to put a lot of hours. It’s not something that you can just buy a be fluent in English in 3 months course. It’s not gonna happen.
Yeah, it’s not that you can buy this course on Instagram that they advertise. Like 20 hours and you will understand all the grammar.
Oh yeah, I’ve seen that. 20 hours? That’s a long time cause I’ve recently seen 3 hours and grammar explained.
Yeah yeah yeah or 3 hours and we will show you how to pretend to be a native speaker.
How to pretend. Oh lovely.
Yeah but it’s funny that you said that you did English at university, cause I studied Russian at university. I didn’t really… I left the university not really speaking that much Russian. And I worked in a hotel for, I think, just under 2 years and most of my colleagues there they were from Latvia and Lithuania and they all spoke together in Russian. I learned so much mor Russian working at the hotel than I did at university.
Yeah, it’s reasonable yeah.
And it’s quite embarrassing, cause I left the university not knowing the word from, like, утюг or халат. All these…
Oh I mean, look, that’s… These things, so are the only things that you get to learn when you actually start living, I believe. Because let’s say… Maybe Masha will agree, but I’ve had so many students with Advanced level who said pf, we know so many things, like basically everything.
I’m like okay, so what’s the English for ложечка для обуви, and they’re like… And then I asked some more things, and they are like okay, we get a point.
Yeah, but t the same time, yes, sorry for interrupting, if I’m interrupting, when you are advanced, when you are fluent let’s say, when you are fluent, you are able to express yourself even without knowing this exact term.
That’s the thing. So if your communication didn’t fail, it means that you succeeded and it means that your level is…
Yeah but my point is about Ben saying that he didn’t know these words. And the thing is that we usually do not even learn these words at school or, you know, at language courses because there’s no need to. We learn about other things.
And then you start really using these words only when you need them. And you need them when you move or, let’s say, you are in a country. Cause when I was in Britain I had to explain somehow that, let’s say, I don’t need the keys, I’m gonna call…
And then, you know, my mind went blank, cause I didn’t know the English for домофон. And I had to explain myself, you know, and that’s how I learned, forever I think, words like intercom, oh and I keep mixing the stress in this one, even though I know the word. Colander?
Colander. See, did that again.
Because it’s not a frequent word.
Exactly. I still, you know… I would have memorized them if I wasn’t in a situation when I had to explain this.
Yeah so that was one of my first words that I learned when I came here, so I got off the plane, I bought all these pelmeni and I didn’t know what to do with the pelmeni.
Oh Ben and his love for pelmeni, a love story.
So I learned the word was сито для макарон.
Yeah, сито is sieve, it’s for flour, for sugar. But you would need a more horrible word which is дуршлаг.
Дуршлаг, oh that’s a new word for me.
I think it comes from German.
It does sound like German. Oh yeah a lot of German words have influenced Russian like the word ландшафт. Yeah. Many words, yeah.
And what do you think are some of the most difficult languages in the world?
Hungarian, Korean, Japanese. Yeah, Mongolian.
Mongolian? I didn’t even think of Mongolian as a language in general, I’m sorry.
To all the fellow Mongolians listening.
I would say like almost all Scandinavian, maybe all Scandinavian languages like Danish, Swedish, Norwegian.
Icelandic is said to be extremely difficult as well.
I believe Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian are all distantly related. And Icelandic somewhere somehow has some kind of relation to it. Another very difficult language is Basque, have you…
Yeah yeah yeah, because as far as I know it has no connection to any other European language at all, that’s why…
Where is it spoken? Is it…
France and Spain. There’s a region called Basque country.
Yeah. It used to be in Basque country.
Interesting. Yeah. So compared to that…
Arabic is very difficult, yeah.
I really want to learn Arabic at some point to be honest. I find it beautiful.
It sounds very satisfying, yeah.
At the same time I know the struggle, cause let’s say if you learn Arabic, you have to make a choice what Arabic are you learning? Cause Arabic in Morocco and Arabic in Tunisia are different.
I think the same about Chinese, right? Like, Mandarin Chinese or somewhere else.
Yeah, many different dialects, yeah.
So, which is why Benjamin you are lucky that Russian has no dialects, it’s just Russian.
It is great. Except for the Caucasus, like they have a difference in the Caucasus, sometimes they say я ховорю.
And it’s separate sounds I would say, but it’s not a completely different…
Maybe North of Russia, they tend to pronounce this O sound more clearly.
Yeah there’s only some small things.
Yeah, but other than that.
I saw that there is a word in Novosibirsk for what is it? It’s like a filer. Мульти…
I had to learn this word when I moved here.
Somebody told me about this.
Yeah, but other than that, it’s all the same language which is fantastic I believe. You know I sometimes envy people who are from places where their language is nearly the same as other languages. Cause let’s say I have a friend and she speaks five languages. She was born in Azerbaijan, which means that she speaks Azerbaijan. At the same time…
Turkish, exactly. So and then she moved to Novosibirsk, which is Russian. And she studied at the faculty of foreign languages, which means she now speaks fluently English and French. I always envied her.
And then, you know, Azerbaijan, Turkish, Tatar, cause it’s the same, Yakutian. From the same family. I remember when I went to Kazan and we were comparing the languages and we were counting form one to ten. Nearly the same. So, yeah. I believe the same in Azerbaijan and Turkish.
Yeah, it’s the same if you live in the Czech Republic or Czechia now and Slovakian is almost exactly the same. As is like Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian.
Oh it’s like there’s joke, you know, like how do you know so many languages? Oh, I’m from the Southern Slavic country, it’s like learn 1 get 5 for free.
So, yeah. And you know, when people learn the language, like, people differ in the way that they perceive information. So and we know that there are people who are more of auditory people, there are more of visual learners, there are more of kinesthetic learners. So what kind of a learner are you? How is it easier for you to perceive information?
I’m quite a kinesthetic visual learner.
The same for me. Well, I don’t know which type of learner I am, but as a person I am a kinesthetic person, so I need to touch things.
Of course there’s no way that you are just… people are just one.
We are often a mixture of everything.
But also I found that I remember words when I’m embarrassed by not knowing a word.
Oh I think it’s just me with a colander and, you know, intercom, forever.
You’re gonna remember that forever because of the brain neuron which is linked into fear.
Yeah like oh, I was embarrassed when I didn’t know… The same way I remember the word moving, cause when I was at university, you know, I was sent a song by a friend of mine who’s an Australian. And I said oh I like this song, it’s so moving.
He’s like are we talking about the same song right now? I’m like well, you know, it really makes me wanna move. He’s like oh honey, that’s not what moving means.
You know, students even didn’t believe me a couple of times that the word moving means what it means. And in one book we have two words, dramatic and moving. And they keep confusing them and they really checked in a dictionary because they didn’t believe me.
Well I’m gonna remember this word forever because of the embarrassment that I felt. So, since you’re both kinesthetic versus visual learners, how do you use that? I mean in what way is it easier for you to remember words maybe? Or constructions when you learn a language?
I still use this old school method of making lists and putting these papers somewhere in my house. Computer screen, fridge, inside the fridge, on the toilet.
Yeah the post-it notes, that’s a great way. Some people just learn through crazy repetition. I had a student who couldn’t say the word fire extinguisher and he was struggling a little bit with retaining the vocab. He remembered this word because I said огнетушитель, огнетушитель, and I said it 20 times. And he just kept on repeating fire extinguisher. Now he always remembers this word, so.
I think I would be annoyed by doing this, by hearing the same, again and again.
In my mind maybe it wouldn’t stuck. What I need, I need to write things down, so I need to use my motor skills. Yeah, that’s how I was learning things at school for example when we needed to learn a poem by heart, I needed to write it down.
I’m more of a visual, which means sometimes you know, it’s annoying, but sometimes I don’t remember the word itself or the phrase itself, but I remember where I saw it.
You know, the place in my notebook or something. I’m like no, I don’t need the place, I need the word itself. Brain, what’re you doing?
00:48:03 B: So do you think anyone can be a 100% auditory or 100% visual?
No, no, I don’t think so.
It’s always a mix. There are people who are more of auditory learners, so they usually, you know, that’s, they listen to a podcast, they listen to different audios, they remember things. How? I mean…
But of course then they’ll still need to see the word to know how it’s written or something, yeah. Okay. And in the world of, you know, these hundreds and thousands of different languages, do you think that there’s ever going to be a universal language? A universal lingua franca? Is English that?
Well, not within the next 100 years. Definitely not within the next 100 years.
Well if we speak about this term, lingua franca, I guess it’s more about like some universal language for business, for communication, for understanding, but it doesn’t mean that other languages are going to disappear. Just a global communicational…
Yeah, one universal language for everyone to…
I think English still is. Has been for some time and still is.
So and do you know anything about Esperanto?
Cause there were attempts to create… Well it was created, an artificial language.
I think by Polish scientist or maybe I’m wrong.
Yeah I think perhaps you are correct. It was developed for the European Union or I think back in the day it was called the European Community. And I think it was developed in order to foster harmony between the European Nations and yeah, it was a fail language. But I think only about 1000 people speak it natively.
Some people speak it natively? Esperanto?
Well yes, some people learned it to a native standard. It’s like a 1000 people.
Wow. I did not know that.
It’s fascinating how some languages can be artificially constructed if not revived. So if you look at Welsh in the UK, that language was essentially a dead language and it was artificially revived by the UK government.
Or Latin, yeah. Well Latin is, yeah…
I mean it had been dead for a while and then… I don’t think that people speak it, but doctors still use it, at medical university. And some other spheres of science.
I watched a Youtube video of this guy who was speaking almost fluent Latin which is really quite funny.
Which also brings the question why?
I mean why we learn languages? True.
People can learn Klingon for example.
That is also true. Also true. I know that there are people who, yeah, who do learn languages from different universes, like Klingon, Dothraki from the Game of Thrones.
I don’t know that one. I never watched Game of Thrones.
I’m sorry, I’m still, you know, processing this information.
I didn’t know that they have languages of their own.
George Martin actually created several languages while he was creating Westeros, the world of Westeros. Dothraki being one of them. Not limited to it only, but there are other languages as well.
Well I never saw a film Avatar but apparently a language was created for that film.
It came out so long ago I don’t even remember. Wow.
Yeah I never watched it cause… It didn’t appeal to me.
You know, I recently came across a picture which was like if you are from Eastern European country, you would definitely understand it. And there was a text and I was like what language is it? Cause I do understand it.
And apparently somebody created an artificial language that would be understandable to all the Slavic language speakers, so be that Czech or Polish. Cause it has elements of all of them. And you know, you look at a word and it looks familiar, you know it’s not from Russian, but it looks familiar and you do understand it. I’m like what kind of magic is that? How do I understand it?
Word order, parts of speech.
Yeah. Have you ever heard about the book, I think it’s called Lingo, lingo, lingo?
If you ever have time, it’s a fascinating reading cause it’s a non-fiction book about reading. If you want to know why Esperanto failed to be a universal language or what is common between Armenian language and a platypus. Have I intrigued you?
Oh I’m not gonna tell you, read the book!
So yeah, it’s a really fun book about lots of different languages. I think it discussed 63 different languages and different aspects.
If we touch this question, why Esperanto failed to be a global language, I think it’s also because it has no connection to any culture, to any nation at all.
That is true, that is true.
So then do we need the universal artificial language then? Cause language…
Just a lingua franca that, well, it should be an existing language but it’s easier when people understand each other but of course teaching English as a lingua franca is a bit different because we focus on communication rather than on strict grammar rules here.
Well I guess yeah, taking a language that already exists and slightly modifying it. So if you look at the Soviet union and Russian, obviously Russian was slightly modified throughout the Soviet union. I mean, the Russian alphabet changed drastically since… I believe if you look at Ukrainian…
Not drastically, but if you look at Ukrainian, they still use the Is. I believe that was used in Russian.
I believe we just got rid of one or two letters.
Not drastically. It was… Yeah they were changing.
You’re being a little bit dramatic here.
Yeah we have only 33, yeah.
But yeah, I mean cause then artificial language will have nothing to offer except for just a means of communication. Whereas very often we learn language because of the culture of the country or countries.
Yeah. For example why people want to learn Italian? Because maybe they love or appreciate opera and theatre and maybe the language of love for them. The same maybe for French, like, it sounds so beautiful.
Same for Russian actually. I have had a certain number of students who started learning Russian cause they fell in love with literature. Again, I remember mentioning the example of a student of mine who was majoring in biochemistry which is, you know, horrible enough. I mean, hard enough, cause it’s double major, it’s biochemistry.
And then she had some spare time, you know. And you have to take subjects that re not related to your major so you, you know, broaden your horizons. So and she decided to take Russian literature with one of our professors. She fell in love with literature, she fell in love with Russian. After that, she took up an intensive course, some other courses.
Now she has a double major in biochemistry and a minor in Russian. I mean who would’ve thought! So yeah, and that’s amazing. Are there any languages that you want to learn? I mean, Benjamin definitely wants to learn all of them apparently. Being a polyglot.
Yeah, I’m trying to think. The number one language to learn. It would have to be… I mean, Korean is fascinating, I’d like to learn Korean. But that’s not an easy language.
Yeah. I mean to be honest, I’m happy learning Russian right now, it’s…
Well that’s why you’re here. That’s why I always speak to you in Russian only or trying to. Maria, what about you? Is there a language you would like to learn?
I would like to come back to learning French or German because just I don’t want all the effort, okay, not much of an effort but still some effort, I don’t want it to be in vain. Maybe Spanish. Well, I’m considering European languages mainly because I’m not sure I will succeed in let’s say Asian languages.
Well Spanish is actually more widespread than some of other European languages.
Yeah, sure, it is. I guess it’s number two, like English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. They are like the big three.
Arabic is in the top three as well, yeah. I want to learn Spanish more. Because you know, I have been learning it for like so many years on and off, you know, it’s been more than 6 years now. I started, I gave up, I started, I stopped. I had two semesters of Spanish at an American university, then I again did nothing.
I just want to finally reach a proper level of let’s say B2-C1 cause I’m not giving up an idea that one day I might end up in Argentina and live there. So and if I do, I will need Spanish. Even though Argentinian pronunciation is a little bit different, you know.
So what attracts you to Argentina? Is it the beef? Is it the weather? Wine?
Among other things. Not the weather, I don’t like hot weather. But I’ll tell you about that after the podcast to save a little bit of an intrigue, you know. But in general Argentina is a very friendly country, so yeah. And I still, you know, want to learn a little bit of Arabic at some point. I don’t know, I love the way it sounds.
It is a very… Yeah the sounds are satisfying.
There’s just something about it. And I have a friend, she’s from Tunisia and she’s a blogger. So she posts a lot of things, but she only posts things in Arabic, so she speaks Arabic. And I just turn the sound on, I’m like oh, I love the way it sounds. I have no idea what you’re saying, but I love the way it sounds.
The writing, the script is really cool.
I would find it extremely hard to learn I think, the writing. And especially, you know, given that it’s from right to left and not form left to right. But, you know, that’s the…
Yeah, the attraction of it. Okay. And speaking of, you know, teachers. So there is this constant debate I think as to what is better - to have a native speaker as a teacher or a non-native speaker as a teacher. So what do you think?
I think you need both to be honest. You need to be motivated to get to a certain level and the best way to do this is to have a non-native teacher show you the way. And then of course you get like Advanced speaking practice with a native teacher.
So if you for instance, so when I was learning Russian… Well I still am learning Russian, but I came across some English speakers who spoke Russian to a really high level and I thought I wanna be like this person. Like this person I would speak to that level, that’s so cool. So you need a mixture of both.
Maria, what do you think?
I would agree. For example when I was a kid, I think that we should have had some native speaking teachers just to check that the language we were studying is the correct.
Is still used and is still…
But I would agree. I think that at the beginning, when you just start, you know, your language journey, it’s always better to have a non-native speaker just cause somebody… You know, it’s important to have somebody who would be able to explain things to you in your language.
You know, all the nuances maybe, or, you know, occasionally translate a thing or two. And then you also, cause you know, if you know that this person speaks your native language and then has mastered your target language, that means they know the struggle you are going to go through.
And then the higher the level, the better it is to have a native speaker as a teacher. Cause then, you know, you just need the practice, the speaking practice, to know something that non-natives might not know for example. So yeah.
And I think, you know, when I’m speaking about my Spanish, I think I want to have a native speaker as a teacher, but definitely not now. Maybe later. Cause when I was in an American university, we still had an intermediary language of English when there was something that wasn’t clear or something that needed explaining. So yeah.
See, you definitely do need a mixture of a two.
Yeah, yeah, that would be the best combination. Well, you know, if it comes to English, we have both here at BigAppleSchool, both natives and non-natives. You know. Alright and my last question to you would be so what do we have to keep in mind when choosing a teacher? So native, non-native, okay.
Well it depends what level you’re at in the language learning process as well. So it completely depends on that. If you’re really advanced, I would say yeah, get someone who’s either at a C2 level or at a native level. But when you’re learning basic grammar, it doesn’t really matter too much if it’s a native or non-native speaker.
But what are other criteria you might have?
You need to trust this person.
To trust this person? Okay.
Yes. You need to trust the method that he or she is using and you need to be able to follow the rules that the teacher established for you. Because it’s not like you come and say I want you to teach me by this book. I mean, then you may be…
Although there is a method like that though.
I mean isn’t there a method in learning languages when a student defines the materials? And the student chooses what materials you are going to use. And the teacher obliges…
Well I don’t know, probably. But maybe it’s not like… It doesn’t maybe go this way, but there is like of course the process should be student-oriented and student-centered approach. Not like the teacher is the center, no, it’s not what I’m talking about, I mean… But if you come to a professional, you need to trust this professional.
Okay. So and if I asked you to give one piece of advice to our listeners regarding languages, what would that be?
Immerse yourself as much as you can in the language. Obviously it’s great to come to the school and you do need to speak to a teacher or yeah, or to a native speaker to learn a language. But you’re really only gonna learn the language if you’re dedicated and you completely immerse yourself in a language.
Yeah I will absolutely support this idea. So like try to use as much content as you can in the language that you are currently studying. I mean, because twice or three times a week is obviously not to enough to master. I mean, it’s good, it’s efficient, but it’s not enough. And you need to surround yourself by this language. And also, one more thing, just relax. Because studying is fun, it absolutely is.
Yeah, make it a pleasant experience. Especially now when we have so many ways to, you know, immerse in a language. We have Youtube, we have podcasts. For example there’s a great podcast, it’s called BigAppleSchool podcast, you know.
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, you know, great tool. But anyway, Youtube, podcasts, books, post-it notes. Speaking to random people on let’s say different platforms. Songs. You name it!
Yeah. And the progress will inevitably come. It will!
Maybe, you know, you won’t be noticing it first. But it will be there.
Yeah listening to music definitely works. So for instance.
Yeah I use Михаил Круг to help me with my Russian. He’s great.
Do you mean, his Russian is great?
Alright. So how much have you learnt from him?
What kind of vocabulary have you learnt?
Well I was looking всё косы мои, всё бантики, прядь золотых волос. So бантики is little bows.
Прядь золотых волос is a lock of golden hair. And yeah, косы… Yeah, locks of hair.
I hope that you are using this vocabulary already.
Do you often have a chance to use that?
No. But it’s just, it’s funny. Yeah. It’s a great way to learn a language.
Yeah whatever makes you happy. Not only you, Ben, but you as humans.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well thank you so much for this conversation, it was a pleasure to talk about languages. And to find out that Ben is a polyglot and now I feel bad about not knowing anything. Alright. Well that was the BigAppleSchool podcast and today we discussed languages.
What struggles we can have while learning a language, what are the most difficult languages in the world and so on. Thank you for listening and remember, if you struggle to understand to understand our conversation, you are always welcome to our website which is BigAppleSchool.com/podcast where you can find full scripts of each episode.
So you can read them while listening. Great. So thus you can use both auditory way and the visual way, fantastic. And if you want to get more content which will help you learn English, you can follow us on the social media such as Instagram, Vk, Youtube, Telegram and so on.
We are literally everywhere. Just search our name which is again BigAppleSchool. So that was Katya and my guests for today were…
Stay tuned and we’ll see you around.
Well, for instance, what, are you talking about if you go to a hotel and the person doesn’t speak your, the receptionist doesn’t speak your native language? Is that what you mean?