How to gain authentic travel experiences

Came across this interesting article on stuff.co.nz today, entitled “Authentic? Tourists, you’re kidding yourselves”

Mexico

It’s beautiful in Oaxaca City. The Mexican town so easily charms you with its colonial architecture, its paved streets and brightly coloured buildings.

I’d been having a ball there, drinking in the bars, hanging out in the town square by the church, wandering the narrow streets, drinking in the flavour of the place. I’d never felt threatened or unsafe. I’d actually been wondering what all the fuss was about.

Gang warfare? Drugs and guns? Not in my Mexico. Definitely not in peaceful Oaxaca.

So it was kind of a shock when I found out about the shootings. I’d been chatting to a local woman, talking about the happenings in the town, when she mentioned the two teenage boys who’d been shot and killed – basically executed – in the town square a few nights ago.

When we’re in a foreign country, most of the time we have no clue what’s happening just outside. It’s in the interests of the host nation to keep it this way for the sake of their

That’s the thing about travel: you’re in a bubble. You can convince yourself that you’re getting the authentic experiences, that you’re mixing with the locals and taking in the culture and learning about a society, but if you’re only doing the normal tourist thing, coming in for a week or two and checking out the sights, then you know nothing.

A bit harsh, but that’s exactly what happens with people who endure the long flight from Auckland to Santiago, only to spend days lazing by the pool at the Ritz Carlton.

You’re barely scraping the surface. You’re floating along in the ideal world, sampling great food and chatting to friendly people and experiencing the absolute best that a country has to offer.

Nothing wrong with all that of course. However, if you wish to really enhance your travel experience, especially when you’re going to a non-English speaking country, I suggest you learn a bit of the local language. You don’t need to be able to talk politics in the local lingo, but being able to say hi and order a beer goes a long way towards building relationships. In turn this increases the likelihood of you finding a local friend who will take you further down the rabbit hole.

For those of you fortunate enough to escape the NZ winter, enjoy yourselves and hope you enjoy some “authentic travel experiences”.

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7 Language Learning Myths Holding Us Back

Found an interesting article on Forbes debunking the myths of language learning holding us back in the social, economic and political marketplace. Although the writer is American, it’s still relevant in a Kiwi context. Essentially the author provides a great response to the commonly held belief: Why learn a foreign language, if everyone else is learning English?

Myth 1: Everybody already speaks English (or they’re learning it).

Yes, about one quarter of the world population speaks English to some degree. What about the remaining 5.4 billion people sharing our planet?

Myth 2: Spanish, French and German are the most spoken languages in the world (besides English, of course).

At last count, about 77 percent of American college students in language courses were studying Spanish, French or German. Those languages and English are spoken natively by less than 13 percent of the global population. To put that into context, Javanese and Bengali claim more native speakers than German and French, but they are scarcely studied by American students.  If we exclusively learn European languages, we will continue to leave billions of people out of the global conversation.

Myth 3: China speaks Chinese. India speaks Hindi. America speaks English.

You may rush to learn Mandarin Chinese because you will be working in China, only to find that you should have studied Cantonese. You may find yourself in a region of Paraguay where Guaraní is more helpful than Spanish, or in an Indian state where Tamil is spoken more widely than Hindi.

Our world is not two-dimensional—state lines do not determine cultural practices or mediums of communication. As language learners, we need to do our research on which communities we are hoping to connect with, and what we can do to best facilitate exchange.

Myth 4: It is impossible to learn a language after my sixteenth birthday.

Yes, learning a language becomes less natural as we grow older, but it is absolutely possible regardless of age. In fact, most language software is built with adult or college-aged learners in mind. It is never too late.
Myth 5: It is too expensive to learn anything other than Spanish.

Resources are more available in some languages than in others. More universities offer Italian than Vietnamese— that is the reality. Even so there are so many affordable or free resources online. Many libraries, for example, partner with Mango Languages, thereby offering seventy different languages to patrons for free! A few Google searches may uncover the wealth of opportunities to learn languages online or in-person near you.

Myth 6: Urdu won’t help me get a job. Turkish is useless. I will never find a place to use Vietnamese.

In a rapidly globalizing world, it is tough to make a resume stand out.  Sometimes “out-of-the-ordinary” is just what you need. Some federal departments, for example, are giving scholarships to students to learn Azerbaijani, Indonesian, Punjabi, and more. Furthermore, many of these underrepresented languages are spoken in major emerging markets. To do work in these up-and-coming economies, we might be better off learning Hungarian, Polish or Thai.

Myth 7: Language learning is unnecessary with modern translation technologies.

Think about the last time you misinterpreted sarcasm or could not connect a cultural reference. In her recently released book, Erin Meyer asserts that the English spoken in the United States is the lowest context language in the world, meaning it requires minimal cultural context in order to understand. In other parts of the world, communication is not as simple. Language instruction introduces us to the nuances of cultures, allowing us to build productive personal and professional relationships with people from unfamiliar cultures.

[Check out my article on language learning technologies for Kiwis].

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Using technology to enhance language learning

I’m often asked which are the best apps and websites one can use to learn a language quickly and conveniently. The landscape is rapidly changing, so this is my answer as at July 2014, keeping in mind my answers may change in a few months.

Duolingo – probably number 1 right now. incorporates gamification features, making it fun and addictive. Social media integration adds motivation.  Web-based, iOS and Android apps available.

Memrise – flashcard based. not as fun as Duolingo, but helpful in picking up vocabulary. Web-based, iOS and Android apps available.

Social-based language learning platforms like Livemocha, Fluentify, italki and various others.

Many of the apps on the Apple App Store or Android Marketplace are well-designed and useful for beginner language learners.

However, language learning is inherently a social exercise. Unless you’re learning a language purely as an academic exercise, surely the purpose is to communicate with others. Apps like Duolingo and Memrise are great, but in playing around with them, I quickly realise the most important, and best, part of language learning is missing: talking to real people.

Social-based learning platforms address this issue to some extent. But the quality of tutors are highly variable, and the nature of language exchange is such that everyone wants to speak the language they are learning.

Ultimately, all these technology applications are great, and some people do acquire a basic level of fluency by solely using these applications.

Sometimes people ask me if Euroasia has been affected by the advent of such technologies.

Yes and No.

Yes, because people have come to expect instant results. Often apps and websites promise the world, without having to put much work.  This creates unrealistic expectations.

No, because these applications give people a taste of the language and leaves them wanting more.

Euroasia has started offering  live online language classes, and will be introducing audio clips etc to supplement traditional classes. If you wish to join us for our language courses at our physical locations in Auckland and Wellington, our July intake starts next week.

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Amazing story of Tim Donner – hyperpolyglot

In the Anglo-Saxon world, it’s unusual to find people fluent in more than one language. It’s even more unusual to find people who can speak more than 2 or 3 languages. So there’s no way to describe Tim Donner except to say he’s incredibly talented. Tim is from New York, and started learning Hebrew at 13. He has since managed to learn 20+ languages. His secret to language language learning? Watch more TV shows in the language you’re learning.

If your 2014 resolution is to learn a new language, you may wish to consider our summer intensives (15 hours over 2 weeks – 4 weeknights plus a Saturday morning) starting on 21 Jan. Courses available in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian and Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. In Auckland and Wellington. Enrol now!

From the Economist:

Mr Doner hardly fits the profile (except for being a left-handed male). He has the will to sit and memorise verb tables, as one must do to come as far as he has. But he is a sociable and confident teen with a ready smile. He loves memorising pop lyrics and watching movies. He virtually inhabits the languages he speaks; as a colleague said on seeing his video, “he shrugs like a Frenchman and frowns like a Russian.” Most of all, it is obvious how much he enjoys speaking his languages with other people, not just learning them for the purpose of translation or reading (or boasting).

What else is he good at? He gets good grades in maths, but finds it frustrating, and struggles with physics and chemistry. He loves history, a big motivator in his language-learning. His father was once a professional pianist, and the young Mr Doner says that after a few years of lessons, he could “sight-read and accurately play pieces in one go”, though he is out of practice now. He can also quickly learn things by ear. This is perhaps the most intriguing clue to his ability—not just a “systemising” brain, but one highly adept at processing and producing in a given compositional system (musical or linguistic) on the fly, plus a world-beating auditory ability.

What’s next for a 17-year-old hyperpolyglot? He still has a year of high school, and then university, where he plans to study linguistics. He has already taken an interest in language science alongside all of the languages themselves. In an e-mail to me, he recommended Mark Baker’s “The Atoms of Language”, a fairly difficult work of Chomskyan theory (though written for lay readers). In our video, he mentions skipping over easy languages like Spanish, instead choosing new languages like Ojibwe, because they pose novel challenges like agglutination or ergativity.

And after college? Everyone, naturally, asks him if he will be a spy, which he laughs off. In any case, he is by now too well-known to disappear into the shadows. Diplomacy interests him, though. And America’s foreign service would be lucky to have him.

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“No time” is just an excuse

One of the skills most valued by native English speakers is the ability to speak a foreign language. Some may console themselves in the knowledge (or assumption) that “everyone” speaks English. Some would give it a try at some stage. Most who wish to learn a language do not get started or fail to persevere. The most common reason cited is “no time”.

This is particularly true of young professionals today, who lead very busy lives. Whilst it’s not my place to be telling clients how they should spend their time, I would like to point out some brutal truths. It’s not true that some people are particularly “gifted” and hence able to speak multiple languages. I grew up in Malaysia where almost everyone is at least bilingual, with many people being trilingual or quad-lingual. Including primary school dropouts. If you want something bad enough, you will do what it takes. Despite all the websites and CDs promising instant results, the truth is learning a language takes time and effort. But then so does everything worth having.

I recall reading somewhere that the average Kiwi spends over 10 hours a week watching TV.
Even half that amount of time invested weekly in language learning will bear rich fruits. After a few months you would develop greater confidence and more importantly, know whether language learning is the thing for you. There’s no loss. At the very least you will be able to greet people you meet in their native language. Anyone who has done this will understand how good it feels to be able to do so.

Instead of playing games and watching TV, spend the time going through materials covered in class. Download apps, watch youtube videos, listen to podcasts. Don’t come up with excuses. The only person you’re cheating is yourself. Much as I like our high-achieving teachers to be miracle workers, the truth is at most they contribute 20% towards your language learning goals. You make up the other 80%.

With some willpower, accountability, a systematic approach and some old fashioned hard work, anyone can achieve basic competence in a foreign language.

p/s: Check out Euroasia’s upcoming language courses

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Three Ways Multilingualism Opens Doors In An Interconnected World

In the past, meeting a person who spoke more than one language was a rarity; before the advent of modern transportation and communication technology, contact with other nations was limited, so knowing more than your native tongue was not, for most people, a necessity.

However, today we live in a very different world. Cell phones, the Internet, and air travel have significantly increased our connectedness to people in other countries, and as the world becomes more globalized, those connections will continue to intensify.

Much has been made about the benefits of being multilingual on the scale of the individual; after all, people who know more than one language have been shown to have greater mental agility, better job prospects, and a sharper understanding of the world around them. But increasing multilingualism around the world also confers distinct advantages on our macro-level, global society.

Take a look at the following ways that greater multilingualism provides opportunities for increased understanding between (seemingly) disparate groups:

More Clear and Open Communication Between Governments

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most national governments have recognized the importance of remaining in close contact with those of other countries around the world. Forging good relationships with other nations is a key to maintaining international stability, which is, of course, to our mutual benefit.

Multilingualism among world leaders allows governments to communicate clearly and openly with one another, and serves to break down barriers where they may exist. For example, it’s hard to forget President Kennedy’s powerful “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (“I Am a Berliner”) speech, delivered in West Germany1963; he gave large portions of the address in German, thereby conveying his camaraderie with the citizens of the divided nation. Despite his famous mistake, in which he accidentally referred to himself as a jelly doughnut, the speech went far in establishing a relationship between the U.S. and West Germany.

It’s important for officials to be able to convey their wants and needs as directly and accurately as possible, especially in a tense situation. Multilingualism allows this, and it helps create a more tangible bond between leaders who are looking for common ground.

Easier Business Dealings and Negotiations

It’s true that the world is becoming more interconnected overall, but more specifically, business has reached international heights more rapidly than most other spheres. For the first time in world history, it’s fast and easy to conduct business transactions between distant nations, and multilingualism is the key making those deals happen.

Although it’s true that English is often the lingua franca, and thus the dominant language when it comes to business deals and negotiations, as countries in the developing world become bigger players in the world economy, multilingualism will be critical in high-stakes negotiations. This is because the nuanced nature of the back-and-forth involved in a business deal requires more than just a basic understanding of one another. Multilingualism among business professionals will allow both parties to convey their interests clearly and maintain a good working relationship. This is why major companies such as Apple, BMW, and Coca-Cola are actively recruiting leaders with the ability to speak more than one language.

Deeper Understanding of Other Cultures

It goes without saying that being multilingual will allow international travelers to interact with other cultures much more easily. For example, having an intimate understanding of Italian will make your trip to Rome a much more satisfying experience.

But the need for cultural sensitivity runs much deeper than a one-week summer vacation; as the expectation that we all become good citizens of the world increases, it’s critical to understand the ins and outs of other societies in more than just a superficial way. Increasing multilingualism provides us with the ability to understand the complexities other cultures in a genuine way. Language is complicated, and word choice means a lot in explanation and descriptions – multilingualism means that none of these fine distinctions will pass us by.

Multilingualism has the power to transform our world – consider learning a language to be a part of the movement!

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This blog article was contributed by Sara Collins, writer for NerdWallet, a site that helps users stay informed about the best ways to save money on travel.

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Meet Heather Warne – Japanese language student at Euroasia

You may have seen Heather Warne in the Mitre 10 ad currently running on TV.  Or at one of the many theatre productions she has been part of over the past few years.  A long-term client of Euroasia, she progressed from the Japanese Level 1 course in 2010 to the Japanese Advanced class with Takako. We talk to Heather about her wide range of interests in food/acting/singing/learning.

heather warneWhat do you do professionally?

I work for a charity called the Leprosy Mission – we do overseas aid and development work with people affected by leprosy. I'm also an audio-book narrator with the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind.

What's your favourite food?

Ooh, so many options! I really love variety and trying new combinations and foods from different cultures, but a few old favourites are pizza… chocolate mousse… teppanyaki prawns with Yum Yum sauce…

What do you do when you aren't working?

I like basically any singing opportunities I can get my hands on – musical theatre, recording projects, jamming with bands. I also act, which is sometimes work and sometimes not! And of course enjoy both these things as a spectator, at concerts, theatre and movies. I probably also spend far too much time on computers.

How did you get involved in acting?

Acting is something I've done since I was a kid and been very interested in since college, so I then went on and did a degree in it at Unitec. Singing too – been singing since I was about 5, but a show I did a couple of years ago introduced me to a group of cool singers and I've since then had more training and got further involved in music, and really enjoying all the different avenues of it. I know a few songs in Japanese – it's a fun language to sing in.

What has surprised you most about learning Japanese?

How many verb forms there are… and the number of different words you use to count things!

What's the best thing to happen since you started getting into Japanese language and culture?

I suppose as far as the language, it was pretty awesome when I was watching some old Japanese movies I hadn't seen in a while and found that I wasn't always needing the subtitles. I haven't been to Japan yet – I'm sure that will be the highlight once I have!

Do people recognise you in the streets? What do they say when they do?

Haha, no I'm definitely not at that point yet! Occasionally I'll meet someone who's seen me performing on a stage before we've actually met – but never in really anonymous situations like on the street.

What's your dream job?

Singing, either on the West End or in the Tokyo jazz scene. Perhaps flitting between one and the other.

Heather with her Japanese class and Sensei Takako at the Euroasia Xmas party
Heather with her Japanese class and Takako-sensei at the Euroasia Xmas party (Dec 2011).

What's it like to be learning Japanese at Euroasia?

Really positive environment, great learning from a native speaker and everyone's there of their own accord so they're keen to have fun and also learn.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about learning Japanese?

Go for it! It's a fun language to learn – there are fiddly bits, but it's also not too hard to get your mouth around. As far as a tip, start learning kana (the writing) early – the sooner you know them, the sooner you can start practicing as you continue to learn

What's the difference between a Japanese and a Kiwi?

Hmmm… I haven't personally met a lot of Japanese people so I can't really speak from my own experience. The Japanese appear to be much more stylish, pop-culture-wise, much more outgoing. Also driven – whereas kiwis are often quite laid-back. Though if Takako-sensei is anything to go by, the Japanese must smile a lot!

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Meet Sean Shadbolt – Photographer and Chinese Language Learner

We recently interviewed Sean Shadbolt, who has been learning Chinese Mandarin at Euroasia for a number of years. Sean is in Elaine Wu's Advanced Chinese Class on Wednesday evenings.

Euroasia: What do you do professionally?

Sean: I am a commercial photographer. I shoot a lot of different things but mostly centered around food and lifestyle photography. Its always changing and while it has huge ups and downs as far as work and income are concerned, its always interesting with the people I meet and the experiences I have.

E: Tell me how you first got involved in photography.

S: I first got involved in photography when I managed to talk my way into a temporary job as a photographer for the Wellington city council in 1983. After that I worked as a trainee photographic technician at the tourism and publicity department for two years and after that two years of study at Wellington Polytechnic. In 1991 I started my own business.

E: What do you do when you aren't taking photos/working?

S: When I’m not planning for or doing photography I am either studying Chinese or working on my own or my friends houses. I would like to spend more time travelling but recently have been unable to but hope to go back to China within the next year.

I usually just tell people I am a photographer and not much more, technical details of what it is exactly I do can be dull and complicated, Most people’s experience of photography is wedding photography which I engage in occasionally. My family still isn’t really sure what exactly it is I do.

Euroasia client and commercial photographer Sean Shadbolt talks to us about his life journey
Euroasia client and commercial photographer Sean Shadbolt talks to us about his life journey

E: What has surprised you most about learning Chinese?

S: The thing that has surprised me the most about learning Chinese is how many Chinese speakers there are now in New Zealand. I hadn’t really noticed too much before I started although through my work I was quite aware of Chinese culture here. I also have some close friends who are either Chinese or have Chinese heritage. I also taught a number of Chinese students when I was a photography tutor.

E: What's the best thing to happen since you started mixing with Chinese people/learning Chinese?

S: I think the best thing to happen to me since I started learning Chinese is a much wider appreciation of the culture and heritage, also having a window into Chinese perspectives on life and values.

I also enjoy learning Chinese because it is a language that is spoken everyday in New Zealand, unlike the European languages I studied many years before. You can go into any Chinese restaurant or shop and get a little bit of practice.

E: What would you tell someone who is thinking about learning Chinese?

S: I would advise anyone thinking of learning Chinese to be prepared to do a lot of extra study and practice, especially at first, as progress can be very incremental, also to consider doing the HSK exams, that can really give a goal to focus on.

E: What's it like to be learning Chinese at Euroasia?

S: I enjoy the classes at Euroasia because of the after hours times. It is difficult to fit in any study during the day so it fits in with my schedules. I don’t miss too many classes. The classes are also very social and I enjoy catching up with the other students every week and also in our trips to Chinese restaurants.

E: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?

S: If I wasn’t doing photography I would probably do some kind of teaching. I taught photography for a long time and also did a CELTA and language teaching course a while ago at Unitec which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Thanks Sean for sharing your thoughts.

For more details about Sean, check out Sean's website.

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