Language Learning Journey

Language Learning & Travel Blog

About Me

DSCN2054My name is Maureen (also known as Máirín in Irish). My blog is about two of my main passions in life, learning languages and travelling.

Languages have always been very important to me since I was at school. Unfortunately the UK state education system is not good for teaching foreign languages. I obtained a grade A in my French A2 level qualification when leaving school at age 16 but would not have been able to hold a conversation with a native speaker – we were all taught phrases parrot fashion! I then started French again by learning on Skype as an adult and reached a good level learning that way.

My best languages enabled me to work within the Finance Industry in Europe with many business trips to Italy and Spain over the years. This then led me onto studying professional accountancy qualifications so now I have the equivalent of two degrees, one in languages & one in accountancy. Languages are my passion though and I spend a lot of my free time either using them or studying them.

I also enjoy travelling very much and have visited almost 50 countries, some of them multiple times. This blog will be updated with some of my travel stories as well as my language experiences. To me, the two go hand in hand. My other interests are cats and I also love reading books, particularly crime fiction from Scandinavia.

I speak my best 8 languages on a regular basis (this also includes English) and these 8 are either advanced or intermediate level. I also study other languages as a hobby usually for an upcoming trip to the country. I tend to actively study one or two lower level languages as well as maintaining my better languages. I wish I could maintain all the languages I have ever studied on a permanent basis but it’s not possible unfortunately.

My languages are as follows:

My regular languages:

1. English : Native (also Scots!). Click here to see my video reading a Scots poem.

2. Spanish: From age 16 and then onto university I studied Spanish and then went straight into employment using it. I began a career in European Finance and my first job was at a well-known international company and mainly dealing with the Spanish office.I maintain my Spanish with a native speaker once a week on Skype. Spanish is one of my most fluent languages.

3. Italian: From age 18 I studied Italian as a minor subject at university so it was never at the level of my Spanish back then. However after several years I got a job in large pharmaceutical company within their Finance Department and I was travelling to Italy very often. After a few months of speaking Italian all day, every day, my Italian then became stronger than my Spanish and I still maintain my fluency and it is my favourite language. I love Italy as well and still travel there whenever I can for holidays. I maintain my Italian with a native speaker once a week on Skype. Italian is one of my most fluent languages.

4. Portuguese: I started a short course for 2 hours per week at the university and so my level was intermediate after that.  This was only a short course so did not form part of my university degree. A few years later I needed it for work so I attended an A-Level (B2) class in Manchester and was also able to practise with native speakers from work. I bought some Brazilian CDs and films on DVDs and tried to copy their accent. I’ve had tutors from both Portugal and Brazil. I maintain my Portuguese with a native Brazilian on Skype once per week and I still think I’m at B2 level.

5. Catalan: I started learning Catalan for a language challenge and my Spanish helped me reach intermediate level quite quickly. My level is pretty advanced now and I have regular skype lessons and tend to discuss articles from newspapers with my tutors.

6. French: I started French at high school and went up to GCSE level (A2 apparently), but it was taught very badly and I certainly wasn’t able to hold a conversation after learning French at school for five years! Many years later, I started learning French again with Skype lessons and I reached B1 level within the first year of learning on Skype. My level is now B2 and I’d like to continue to improve my French so that it reaches the level of my Italian and Spanish.

7. German: I started learning German which is a language I will always want to progress further due to my own travels and the importance for business. I am currently working with the B1 textbook and have increased my exposure to German over the last 6 months as I want to reach B2 level.

8. Afrikaans: My newest language and so far I’ve made good progress! I’m now able to discuss lots of different topics in Afrikaans. I’m learning with a teacher on Italki.

Short-Term Language Challenges & Hobby Languages:

Special Project: Learning 11 New Languages in the Italki Diversity Language Challenge. I had a one hour skype lesson in each of these languages and then made a video speaking them after I revised the material from my lessons : Azeri, Fuzhounese, Welsh, Lithuanian, Latvian, Faroese, Urdu, Blackfoot, Georgian, Yoruba and Croatian. You can watch my 11 languages video here.

Greek: Several years ago, I did a one year course for 2 hours per week to learn “Holiday Greek” which was good but a slow pace as it was aimed at members of the public, most of whom had never studied a language before. I participated in a 90 Day language challenge twice to boost my Greek learning in the beginning. I’m now around A2/B1 level (lower intermediate).  Click here for the video I made in Greek with a native speaker. I’m glad to say that resources for Greek above B1 level are now quite good compared to a few years ago so I’m taking weekly lessons again in order to reach a good level.

Slovak: . I learned Slovak firstly for a 6 week challenge before the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava. At the Gathering, I was then able to give a short presentation about Scotland in Slovak. I then carried on to do a 90 day challenge which ended with a 15 minute conversation video with a native speaker. Click here to see my 90 day video in Slovak with a native speaker.  After the 90 day challenge, I continued learning more of the language.

Sicilian: I completed a 90 Day Challenge to learn Sicilian and made a 15 minute video with a native speaker. I reached intermediate level fairly quickly because my knowledge of Italian helped me progress quickly. I am maintaining my studies and lessons in Sicilian because I intend to go back to Sicily and I am very interested in minority languages. You can watch my video I made at the end of the 90 day challenge by clicking here. My tutor left Italki shortly after my challenge finished. I still try & maintain what I learned with friends, although there are still very few resources and no media or TV in Sicilian.

Neapolitan: After learning Sicilian, I found another Italian tutor who also spoke Neopolitan (Napulitano) so I asked her to teach me it for a 90 day challenge. At the end I made a video showing a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. You can watch that video by clicking here.  

Arabic (Egyptian/Syrian): I started learning  Syrian Arabic a few years ago and thought it might be fun and a challenge to learn a non-European language with a different writing system. I did an online course with Dalarna University in Sweden for 2 semesters until they cancelled the course. After a six year break, I did a 90 day challenge to learn Egyptian Arabic. After the 90 days, I had to record a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. It was my most difficult challenge due to lack of resources. I didn’t find it too difficult to change from the Syrian dialect to Egyptian, but then I was only basic level in Syrian when I started my skype lessons in Egyptian Arabic anyway. It was fabulous visiting Egypt after learning Egyptian Arabic for several months. You can read more about my Arabic journey and trip to Egypt here.

Chinese: I had a stopover in China during my first trip Australia/New Zealand  so I thought it would be interesting to learn some basic Chinese before that trip. After that, I decided to do a 90 day language challenge in Chinese and I was the winner and I won a flight to China! My aim is only for HSK3 and to maintain that.

Scottish Gaelic: Finally after years of waiting for more free time,  I started learning another important language which forms part of my heritage. My ancestors spoke Irish and my great-grandfather taught it to adults in Scotland. However, it wasn’t passed down to me. I did a distance learning course at the college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. I also went there for an intensive Gaelic weekend. I would like to be able to use Gaelic more regularly, but there is a lack of skype teachers. When I return to Scotland permanently, perhaps I will get more opportunities to use Gaelic and increase my level. You can see my video in Gaelic after starting to learn it on a 90 day challenge.

Welsh: I was living just one hour away from the Welsh border when I did my 90 Day Welsh challenge. I was able to access intensive Saturday courses once per month just over the border in Denbigh as well as having italki lessons. There are lots of resources for Welsh at all levels. I’d like to continue my Welsh studies although my teacher who worked on the challenge with me no longer teaches on italki, so we’ll see what happens. This post explains more about my Welsh challenge.

Norwegian: I was very lucky to find a short course in my home town many years ago which started me off with Norwegian. Norway is one of my favourite places and have been there several times. I then obtained a basic level qualification from a college in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. It was such fun to go to Orkney on holiday and then go to sit my Norwegian exam! Since then I have had some private tuition over Skype and I am around A2 level which is perfectly adequate for travelling around a country. The Norwegians are known for being very good at English, but every time I visit Norway I always speak in Norwegian to them.

Lithuanian: My grandfather spoke Lithuanian but the language wasn’t passed down any further. I have made a few trips to Lithuania and I taught myself some of basics of the language beforehand and I was able to use it while I was there. It is a language I want to learn to a decent level some day as it is part of my heritage. Due to being banned for so many years, the language hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years and the similarities with Greek grammar are interesting. I am only at basic level and I made a video here.

Russian: I took some skype lessons in Russian to prepare for my trip to Russia. Despite having a reputation as being a difficult language for English speakers, I was glad to see there were lots of resources and skype tutors. I intended only to learn the basics as this was only going to be a temporary project for my trip but I returned to my Russian studies before my Belarus trip and made some more progress. It’s a language I’d like to study in more depth at some point.


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