quarta-feira, 10 de fevereiro de 2010

Interview - Benny Lewis - The Irish Polyglot

Would you like to learn a language in just 3 months? Then check the hints that Benny Lewis, the Irish Polyglot who loves Brazil, has for you. He can speak English, Spanish, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Irish Gaelic and Esperanto fluently, plus Czech, Thai, Catalan and German in various degrees of comprehension. His secret? Read and find it out!

Tell us something about your education and experience.
Benny -
I studied electronic engineering in University College Dublin and since I graduated (in 2003) I've had a huge range of jobs, such as a youth hostel receptionist, shopkeeper, photographer, office worker, Mathematics teacher, English teacher and, of course, engineer. Each job was for a temporary contract in a foreign country, so that I could continue travelling when the contract terminated. After keeping this up for 6 years, I decided that I needed to do something more professional, and apply my studies. But I felt that I could also use the languages that I had picked up along the way, so I looked into becoming a freelance translator! That has been my main means of support for the last 2 years. However, I've also sold videos about my travels and I am looking into making money through my currently popular blog; I am looking into the possibility of writing an e-book on how to become fluent in languages quickly based on my own research.

How did you have the idea to create the sites irishpolyglot.com and fluentin3months.com? What's the main difference between them?
Benny - The irishpolyglot.com site was my first one, and it was nothing more than a means of separating videos I made about my travels into different languages. The videos were the main purpose of the site, but I coded the php so it would redirect the visitor just to their browser's default language and show them videos in that language (if available). It was a great means of me being able to practise my languages and keeping my friends speaking those languages up to date on my travels. Some videos got quite popular, but not enough to make it a big site.
Then 7 months ago, I decided to try my luck at blogging, and shared my experiments in language learning. Every 2-3 months I try a new one. The response from this has been amazing; both for the story and for the tips I share along the way. I've recently passed 1000 subscribers and I constantly get a huge amount of comments and questions. I do all updates myself; I've had to learn some coding and rules of web design, but I feel it has all paid off. All I ever need to do now is write the post and submit it, although I still have a few design tweaks in mind. There is a "treat me to an orange juice" link on the site that some generous readers have used, but it's far from a big earner. I am going to use the site to market an e-book, as I continue to provide free advice. Hopefully this will make it possible to start earning money and invest more time into blogging rather than translations.

What was the first foreign language you learned?
Benny - The first foreign language that I really learned was Spanish. I had studied German and Irish in school, but this did not give me much to work on. Everything I've learned since has been in the country and in pure practise.

How can you learn a language in 3 months? How many hours do you study a day and how do you study?
Benny - My "method" basically involves moving to the country, refusing to speak English as soon as possible, maintaining a positive attitude, applying study short-cuts and practising as often as possible. I live through the language and this changes my motivation to try to speak it as soon as possible. I do not follow any particular course, although I usually have one or two good grammar and/or vocabulary books that I base most of my studies on, the rest of the time being for just speaking. Travelling to the country is important for me, because otherwise the language becomes nothing more than a theoretical academic subject that "someone somewhere" might speak, but that doesn't feel immediately relevant to me. Travelling is an important aspect of my language learning missions.

Do you always study on your own? What personal characteristics are necessary to learn a language as fast as you do?
Benny - Determination
is important, but a positive attitude is by far the most crucial aspect. There will be lots of challenges and it's essential to continue despite these, and to be proud of your achievements. My love for the language is fuelled more by a love for the people and culture that speak it. To learn a language as quickly as me, it's important to be as devoted as possible. As I said before, I avoid speaking English, so all of my friends must speak the local language and this changes everything. If a Brazilian wanted to do something similar, they would have to travel and avoid other Brazilians (which is harder than it sounds). As I've said on the blog, it changes your motivations from "I want to speak the language" to "I need to speak the language".

You wrote in an article that you love Brazil and Portuguese language. What are your favorite words in Portuguese and how did you first know about our country and language?
Benny - "Saudades" is by far the word I like the most. It's famously untranslatable, (approximated by a longing, missing feeling) but I only feel like I've "gotten" it from living in Brazil as long as I did and understanding the culture itself. I feel saudades for Brazil all the time and I am aware of it when meeting Brazilians abroad. I also find Brazilian renderings of English words to be quite funny; Internet, hiphop, rock, rap etc. My first time really living abroad (after brief visits to USA) was in Spain and I got to know a lot of Brazilians through the engineers and architectures exchange programme; I even lived with a few. They helped me with my Spanish at the time, but I got to know the nicest people on the planet and dreamed about Brazil for several years until I decided to go there and discover it for myself. I was surprised to see that pretty much everyone is as amazing as the Brazilians I had met abroad! The article I wrote about Brazil conveys just a small part of my love for the people. The rest of the world could learn a lot from Brazil.

What are your favorite places here in Brasil and in your country?
Benny -
Rio was an amazing experience, but some of my favourite places are actually not so well known (even among Brazilians!) I spent a week in Votuporanga, deep in São Paulo state, shortly after arriving. I was probably the first gringo a lot of them had ever met, and I feel like I got to see a unique side of Brazil that most other foreigners don't. Otherwise I had the best time in Floripa for 2 months, and especially liked the northeast - Natal, Recife, Salvador da Bahia. There are so many beautiful places in Brazil that I have unforgettable memories in and I've barely even scratched the surface! In Ireland, my favourite place is Glencolmkille - a village in Donegal that still speaks Irish. The countryside is amazing and the strength of the culture and history there can be felt by everyone visiting.

What are the main things in common and the main differences between Brazilians and Irish people?
Benny - I really feel at home in Brazil - in both countries you can go up to a stranger and strike a conversation as if they were an old friend. This is lost in most of the west, which is fearful of strangers. Both cultures share a love for parties, drinking and enjoying life despite difficulties (Ireland has an old history of poverty, but of living life despite that, which I think a lot of modern Brazil could relate to). Otherwise the commonalities would greater outnumber any dissimilarities, as both countries have a similar cultural and religious background, despite a very different overall history. The differences are that as a Latin culture, Brazil has much warmer people. In Ireland we are not so affectionate, or give hugs or kisses etc. This is something I always miss a lot when home, as I'm personally very affectionate!

A final message for students who hate studying English (or other languages) and just take a course because they have to for professional reasons (or because their parents told them so):
Benny -
Remember that English (or French etc.) is not a subject that exists in your books for studying. It's a language that hundreds of millions of people (not just natives) all across the globe use every day to party, to meet the girl/boy of their dreams, to express love and to do all the normal day-to-day things that you do too. Remember that English can help you travel the world, open doors to making new friends and change your life; not just your career. I didn't like studying languages in school, and now that I see how important they are in the real world I wish I had achieved more in school. For you, there is still time :-)