The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #20 March / April 2016
In Others's Words
In Others' Words
Siskia Lagomarsino
by Erik Zidowecki
March / April 2016 | 

In this month's interview, we talked with Siskia Lagomarsino, the mind behind the blog The Polyglotist. She talked about being raised bilingually, her approach to language teaching, who inspires her, and more.

How did your blog, The Polyglotist, get started? Is there a particular message or goal with it?

 

The Polyglotist was originally conceived as a way to document my Italian learning project, as well as the comings and goings of the language community. Back then I was an active member of the How-To-Learn-Any-Language (aka HTLAL) language forums, and the online community struck me as an interesting world, with events happening all the time, new cool products and techniques to try, and missions to learn languages I’d never heard of in my life. I’d also been reading language blogs for several weeks and they all seemed like an entertaining way to pledge commitment to actually sitting down and learning, going to said events and trying out said techniques.

The Polyglotist’s main goal, besides being sort of a hub for mainstream language journalism, is to teach its readers "how to learn to learn a language", as is the logo’s tagline. This kind of meta-information, the self-tailoring of one’s own language routine, accompanies the natural language learning technique I advocate. That’s why I make it a point not to write rigid, point-by-point tutorials on this language or that technique—I prefer giving advice that people can adapt on their own.

Do you find writing a blog to be satisfying for you, in terms of helping others, or do you feel there is now too much competition in the blogsphere?

My first intention for The Polyglotist is helping others through the spreading of well-filtered, true-and-tried information; while I do keep an eye on my site’s numbers, getting a gazillion visitors a month and being the top ranked site in my category has never and will never be my goal. (I should add that a secondary, more individual intention for the site is my own enjoyment—the moment learning languages and writing the blog stops being fun is the moment I’ll shut the project down.)

Are there any blogs, websites, podcasts, video channels, etc., that you like to follow or have inspired you in your own work?

Although what I’m following really depends on the language I’m learning at the moment, three companies whose media and social channels I follow almost religiously are those of Italki, which I’m sure needs no presentation, Innovative Language (owners of the LanguagePod101 franchise) and Transparent Language. Blog-wise, I keep an alert eye on the Digital Language Collective’s twitter account (because it makes it so much easier to follow other members’ work!).

On a personal level, three other bloggers have inspired me greatly: Richard Benton, of Loving Language fame; Lindsay Dow, of Lindsay Does Languages; and lastly, Khady Ndoye, of La Polyglotte. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all three of them at one point or another, and they’ve all left a mark and inspired new ideas, both in regards to language and blogging.

A lot of language people promote specific, schedule based methods of learning, but you advocate what you call "natural language learning". Can you explain what that is, and how it is different from a structure based learning method?

With pleasure!

Natural language learning is a measured approximation to how we acquire our first language as children. While past adulthood our brains are not as plastic as they were when we were children, it does not mean they have turned into a rock. If we’ve treated the brain well, it should still be quite receptive.

Rather than being a hard method of learning a language, natural language learning is a "soft" method that advocates the same disorderly manner in which we acquired our first language, as opposed to the graded approach used in most schools and some methods. This means doing things such as:

  • "Parroting" sentences, even if one doesn’t quite grasp them yet, in order to fine tune one’s ear and mouth

  • Reading above one’s level in the Target Language for disorderly acquisition of vocabulary

  • As an extension of the above, trying to acquire vocabulary in context (which makes it easier to remember than as isolated units)

  • Speaking early on without fear of mistakes (I believe a young brain’s natural way of dealing with self-correction has a lot to do with children being less inhibited in the way an adult is)

...among other tips. Most of all, I believe daily exposure is of the essence, although this doesn’t mean I believe one has to live in the target language’s country in order to be exposed (I learnt Japanese, my third language, by artificial immersion, six years before I ever step foot in Japan). I believe there are certain "rigid" study habits that go very well with natural language learning, such as using spaced repetition software and sticking to a particular moment of the day when creating a learning routine. However, I believe that in language learning flexibility and self-management are powerful tools, and I’m surprised to see very few methods advocate them.

What got you interested in languages and more specifically, helping others with them?

Oh boy, that’s a long story. One thing you should know about me is that I was raised "accidentally bilingual". Although my parents are both Latin American, they speak English as fluently as they speak Spanish, and they always spoke in both languages to me, with no order or logic to how or what we spoke at home. This meant that growing up, English and Spanish were part of the same huge language for me, to the point where up to relatively recently, I had trouble finishing sentences in one language or the other (in college, a classmate once called me "the most tragic case of code-switching he’d ever witnessed").

Maybe because of my propensity to switch codes, I was always extremely curious about languages. My ears perk up when I hear a foreign language being spoken in the proximity. Helping others with languages, however, was something I only discovered after I started teaching Japanese, when I was 23 or 24 years. After a disastrous first semester teaching, I realized I had to study more about the science of teaching. I became more involved with my students, analyzing their fortes and weaknesses, doing small tweaks to the course and material to make it easier for them to digest and use in practical settings. Figuring out new ways to help them became something fun and challenging for me. I guess it eventually translated into what I do at The Polyglotist.

Were any members of your family or friends as you were growing up interested in languages as well?

My mother, most of all. She’s a translator, as well as trilingual (besides Spanish and English, she speaks Italian), and during her childhood she had the same curiosity and passion for languages I now have, which means she has notions of French and Russian. Genetics much?

What would you like to see The Polyglotist become in the future?

I’m not great with future projections; in all honesty, I enjoy taking the project day by day, which means I never plan anything for The Polyglotist more than a few months in the future. Right now, I’m planning the launch of a series of books, and I’d like to re-start producing language videos later this year.

However, I can say I’d be more than happy if I manage to shape The Polyglotist into an information hub for committed language learners.

Where else can we find your work online, like guest articles, books, or products?

By this point I’m sure more than a bunch of guest articles penned by me must be floating around the internet, but the ones I feel most proud are these ones: the first one I ever wrote in French, for Johanna Wagman’s Le Blog Des Langues Étrangeres (http://leslanguesetrangeres.com/comment-apprendre-le-japonais-sans-perdre-la-tete/) and the one I wrote for Benny Lewis about my year learning Nahuatl (http://www.fluentin3months.com/nahultl/). Besides the blog, I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram and Youtube.



You can find Siskia at The Polyglotist (thepolyglotist.com)


 
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In Others's Words - Siskia Lagomarsino
Writer: Erik Zidowecki

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.

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