What I've Learned About Language Learning In One Year

Looking back on this year, I've learned quite a lot. And that's the point of this project, after all, isn't it? Setting out to learn a new language fluently in one year may not make me the most aggressive language learner, or the biggest, coolest polyglot on the block, but it is quite clearly a commitment to learn a lot in one year.

Since this is a language blog, I'll start by talking about language. Certainly, it can be said that I learned Italian. I learned to understand Italian, to speak Italian, and even to think Italian.

In fact, I've learned to love Italian. This language has an indescribable beauty that can really only be understood when you learn the language. When you understand the musical syllables coming into your ears, and when you feel the Italian attitude actually start to twist the shape of your mouth as you speak.

But I didn't only learn Italian. I also learned a lot of Lithuanian. And I plan to continue to learn more. Not only because it connects me to my roots, but also because it's a fascinating language — the oldest living language in all of Europe — and it pleases my ear.

I've also learned more than I ever needed to know about constructed languages, and especially one in particular. I've discovered that a language can be a religion, a stepping stone, a tool, or even a statistic for those to whom "being a polyglot" is a life goal.

And with regard to such people, I've learned that the number of people in this world who are willing to invest time into learning something they'll never use is almost as high as the number of people who actually would use it, but will never invest the time in learning.

This being the end of my first year as a blogger, I've also learned about more than just languages. I've learned that blogging is harder than it looks, and doing it regularly takes more time and energy than most people realize. A lot of blogs come and go, and very few last for even one year.

Reaching this point didn't just happen for me without an incredible investment of time and energy. In fact, I can tell you without a doubt that I've spent far more hours working on this blog than I've spent working on my Italian. But the reward has been equally great, or perhaps even greater.

Simply having this blog has profoundly changed my life. Even at the end of my first year, I still can't believe that there are actually people who are interested in what I say. And not just interested, some of you actually think it's... (gulp).... good. That's truly humbling.

I recently completed travels to all 48 of the continental United States, and during those travels, it has been my honor and privelege to meet with several of you, my readers. And doing so has made this a much more personal experience for me. I'm not just writing nice words to a group of names and icons on my computer, I'm giving advice to friends, people with whom I've shared a dinner, a beer, a coffee, a train ride, and even a kiss or two.

I've seen your SMS message after you realized that today's post was about you. I've walked a mile in your shoes... and danced in them, too. I've been to the museum with you, and ice skated with you. I've stood next to you under a giant Christmas tree, and in a dance studio, and on an aircraft carrier.

You've welcomed me to your cities. You've shared a beer with me on my birthday. You've shaken my hand at the restaurant, you've hugged me at the airport, and you've shown me that 50 endless nights talking for hours over Skype can never compare to one rainy night holding hands and talking face-to-face.

Happy holidays to all of you.


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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • Thanks Randy, and Happy Holiday season for you, too!I look forward on reading your blog next year and I wish you success in learning the next language! For a second there I thought it's going to be the one you mention in this blog post, but then I realized it's not what you meant. My gut feeling says you're going to go with one of the languages from your bucket list...

  • Happy holidays to you. I've enjoyed reading your posts the last few months.

  • Thanks Rick. We should meet up some time, both being Chicagoans and all.

  • If you're on the mailing list, you'll find out before everyone else! :)

  • Done! ;-)

  • Congratulations, that's quite the accomplishment."[Lithuanian is] the oldest living language in all of Europe"You keep saying this, but I think the sentence is somewhat ambiguous and could be clearer. Here's why. All living Indo-European languages (including Lithuanian, including Italian, including English) date back to Proto-Indo-European, about 5,000 years ago. So they're all the same age. I can see saying that Latin is older than Spanish, since it was spoken earlier than Spanish was. And I can see saying Lithuanian is older than Esperanto, or some other constructed language, since the non-constructed language has existed for more time than the constructed one, in every case I'm aware of. But saying Lithuanian is older than, e.g., German, is not readily apparent as true: they're both 5000 years old.*What would be more accurate, and I imagine this is how you intend "oldest," would be saying "Lithuanian is the most conservative of the surviving Indo-European languages," which certainly seems to be true, in that it retains seven cases, and some of the synthetic verb system of Proto-Indo-European.***Actually, they're both probably much, much older: 5000 years is just as far as we can date them.**But, as for "all of Europe," for all I know, Basque could be even more conservative when compared with proto-Basque, or Hungarian even more conservative when compared to Proto-Uralic. I'm not sure if anyone's compared conservatism across language families before.

  • For an interesting take on "oldest language," see this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wik...which has alternatively been identified as Hebrew, Proto-Indo-European, and none of the above.

  • Fortunately, I'm not concerned with strict accuracy on such matters. Whether or not Basque or Sumerian are somehow technically older or technically more unchanged over a longer period of time is basically meaningless.I'll let other people argue over whether or not some other language is older or more conservative, along with their arguments over what's a language and what's a dialect, or which language is easiest or hardest. I frankly just don't care.The fact is, you can stand in Vilnius and hear exactly what the world sounded like over 1000 years ago. That's pretty damn cool.

  • That would be cool, no doubt, but I doubt it's true. Just because Lithuanian's conserved some Proto-IE features doesn't mean it hasn't changed. I imagine it sounds the same as 1000 years ago in the same way modern English sounds like Old English--not very. Have you listened to Beowulf? (Here's a kicker though--we know with amazing accuracy how Latin was pronounced 2000 years ago--so if you go to Rome and speak Latin, people will indeed here a language just as it sounded 2 millenia prior).For example, only 400 years ago, Old Lithuanian, unlike modern, had 1. nasal vowels; 2. a healthy dual number with corresponding conjugations; 3. three additional cases; 4. two more adjective classes; 5. freer word order; 6. and an optative mood with its own endings. 600 years before that? Who knows!"Whether or not Basque or Sumerian are somehow technically older or technically more unchanged over a longer period of time is basically meaningless."Well, it's meaningless if you're vague about what you mean by "old" or whatever. That's why I was trying to increase the specificity--because I assumed when you said "the language is old" you were trying to communicate a meaningful idea, not something "basically meaningless."And it's hard to see how "unchanged" is a meaningless concept. Take Lithuanian itself: the word for "son" is "sūnùs." Now compare that to its Proto-Indo-European ancestor: "*suHnú-" Now compare that to Armenian "ustr"I'd say it's pretty easy to see that one word has changed more than the other.

  • Apologies--I put the reply in the wrong spot.

  • What I mean by "meaningless" is that the resolution of this issue will have no bearing on the usefulness of Lithuanian as a modern language, nor on my interest in learning it.This is a blog about learning to speak languages, fluently. It's not a blog about history or pedantry.

  • Congrats on your first year in blogging and your achievements in the Italian language. I'm looking forward to seeing where you take this blog in 2011. Merry Xmas

  • Awww, that was actually sweet :PI've been messing with blogs for years now, and actually making yourself sit down and write when you don't feel like it and doing that consistently is the key to success and it's also the reason most blogs fail: most people don't have the self-discipline to do that.Merry Christmas!!Cheers,
    Andrew

  • Thanks!

  • My December has been almost constant travel, and you'll remember from my travel announcement that my intention was to meet people along the way. One of the first people I met with was Karol Gajda, author of RidiculouslyExtraordinary.com, and he told me if he had it all to do over again, he'd have started from day one with making those human connections more important than any other aspect of blogging. Three weeks later, after thousands of miles and meeting several people, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree.There is no greater reward that I have received than that of the relationships I've made as a result of this blog. No matter how much you think you're ready for it or think you know what to expect, it's completely overwhelming and life-changing.And yes, I've messed with blogs off and on for several years, and I've even put in the time to write consistently, but before this one, I had never done the work of *providing value* on a regular basis. I think that's the most important thing: I'm not just writing a blog, and not just writing it consistently, but I'm actually spending a lot of attention and effort on making that *valuable* to people. And I'm finding that there's a lot of really awesome karma involved in that kind of proposition. :)Thanks, and happy holidays!

  • Yup! I didn't mention providing value, but that's just as important as consistency, coincidentally I just made a comment today to Benny telling him the reason his blog was so popular was because of all the immense value he constantly provided.

  • Indeed.

  • Randy,
    Just came by for the first time. Great blog. Inspiring and gives me a lot of inspiration as I get my blog off the ground and continue to work on Turkish. Not sure I am interested in pursuing polyglotism, Spanish and Turkish seem enough for now. Anyway. Keep up the great work and I'll be back.

  • Hi Randy! Well done on what you've achieved this year. I wish I did the same but I ruined it by giving the silent period thing on lingq a go. It really destroyed my accent and the way I could string together sentences! Oh well, we learn from our mistakes! Next year my main goal is to be able to watch films in French, Spanish and Italian (my area is very rural and there are no speakers I regularly get in touch with). I may even give German ago! ¡Feliz Navidad y bueno año!**is that right?Edit: great top by the way! I need to get myself one =D I think I've seen the website.

  • Pursuing "polyglotism" is actually something I discourage, so in that respect I think we agree. I think a person should learn a language for the purpose of communication. Any time you're doing it for the purpose of "being a polyglot", I fear you have some flawed priorities. :)Anyway, don't go away. Stick around for a coulple of weeks. I have a feeling you'll take a liking to the blog.

  • I don't personally think there's anything wrong with a silent period, so long as it's definitely a period, with the conscious limitation on its length.About French, Spanish, Italian... they're all very similar — I hope that you're not studying them all at the same time, because without regular speaking use you'll run the risk of merging all three into one part of your brain.PS. I think you mean año nuevo.

  • Aha! Thanks. I learnt a lot of vocabulary with it but stuck at it too long (3 months). I was actually planning to learn them by getting one to a level, then getting the other just above or below, doing the same with the third and then going back to the first etc. Most of my learning will be done off YouTube, so I can have fun whilst doing so. LingQ kind of left a bad taste in my mouth and some of the people on there (admittedly only one or two) were really rude. It's a shame because others were really nice.James

  • 2019's language is Turkish like I hoped and suspected... this proves it :).

  • You had a great year, dude. Congrats on both Italian and the blog. I'll be around for next year...

  • Thank you!

  • This is not meant as an attack against you, and please understand that I welcome your input on the topics of any post. I hope you'll take this without offense...Religion has no place here. Any mention of religion is an invitation to lost of disagreement, and such discussions almost never stay friendly. Therefore, such discussion is not welcome, and will be removed.

  • Thank you for your blog! I may not comment on it much, but I do truly enjoy your posts.

  • Congrats on a great 2010, and I look forward to reading more of your language adventures in 2011.

  • Thanks! I'm really excited about the twist in 2011, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out!

  • Thank you!

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