During the last meeting in the Speakers’ Corner series, Aneta Swatek, our leading polyglot and Content Designer at Pixers, told us about learning foreign languages and their practical use in demanding situations such as interpreting.

Our speaker can vouch for her words, as she knows 5 languages (!) well enough to, among other things, translate books from Swedish into Polish. Her passion for words made her share her experiences with us, so that we are not afraid to open our mouths whenever someone asks us for directions in a foreign yet known language. She pointed to the universal problem of the lack of self-confidence caused by erroneous beliefs, misunderstandings, or even superstitions. Among the factors that make us feel embarrassed she listed the psychological aspect, which affects pronunciation and looking for correct words, which impede our fluency of speaking.

We are learning foreign languages at Pixers

A good dictionary is the key!

A positive approach above all

Sometimes a language we would like to learn seems difficult, even impossible to learn. But it is only our imagination playing tricks on us! In such situations, we create negative visions in our heads, but, According to Aneta, we can easily change this. How? We have to remember about the basic function of language, i.e. everyday communication. Every day, people from other countries use languages that are foreign for us for this purpose, so if we can do it, we can do it too. As Aneta said: “There is no real reason for this tool to be unavailable for us.”
Surely, we have to master some language mechanisms, which may seem difficult at the beginning, but over time, and with appropriate attitude to learning, we will be able to excel at it.

Get rid of your complexes

We are often afraid that our pronunciation will give away the fact that we are speaking a foreign language. Our accent reveals that we are Poles, Germans, or Americans speaking Polish, Spanish or French. Should we worry about it? Not at all. An awkward accent is natural and cute. We can deal with it by accepting this fact, because, as Aneta said, each language has characteristic vowels, and when speaking a foreign language, we naturally use “our” vowels instead of the more difficult foreign ones.

Pixers on pronunciation and accenting

The Cardinal Vowel Diagram.


Linguistic Sudoku

Pronunciation is important, but in order to speak, we need to have something to say. Sometimes we lose the thread and fluency due to our inability to find a correct word, and not because we don’t know enough words. Many uncomfortable and stressful situations are due to the fact that we treat language (in particular a foreign one) as an undefined, fluid form without clear and intuitive rules. Thus, according to Aneta, we should consider rethinking and changing our attitude towards the language, because it is an exact field of study, with grammatical rules and algorithms, which make constructing sentences similar to constructing a house from building blocks. In this puzzle, the grammatical rules of a given language are the framework and contents of subsequent blocks, as in the so-called Galton-Watson process:

At Pixers about foreign language learning

Simplified Galton – Watson branching process.

With an instruction, we will be able to construct sentences quicker, more proficiently and flawlessly.

An accent on practicing

Thanks to Aneta, we have learned some tricks that will help us combat our weaknesses and commitment to our native language. The exercise she recommended has three steps. First of them consists of listening to a given expression. The second requires an attempt to imitate it, i.e. imagining ourselves pronouncing it. It allows our brain to prepare our vocal organs, so that we are able to say the phrase aloud correctly. In consequent, in the third step, which consists of saying the expression aloud, it should sound clearly and correctly. Practice makes perfect, and we can practice this exercise on our own, e.g. when watching a film or a series in a given language.

Learning – time to start

At the end of her presentation, Aneta told us how to use these recommendations in practice. Implementing them will prevent our excessively ambitious goals from discouraging us at the very beginning. We should have a realistic learning plan we will be able to implement. According to Aneta, even 10 minutes a day spent on familiarizing ourselves with spoken language — in podcasts and the radio — and written language — by even reading short articles in a given language will do. This will allow us to avoid a situation where negative associations with a given language, based on guilt feelings, lack of organization, exhaustion, or stress, discourage us from learning, and our brain will associate language learning with something pleasant and useful.

Knowing our weaknesses and their origins, we can learn effectively. Why are we so sure about it? Please remember that our speaker is a real linguist and mastered all 5 languages following these rules. After her presentation, we all felt more motivated to gain new skills actively.
What are your proven methods of learning foreign languages?