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The Beckett Journal – How Braeden Managed to Learn 8 Languages

Podcast 02 / The Guy Who Speaks 8 Languages

Hi everyone, this second episode is about Braeden a guy I met a year ago in a small town in Revelstoke, Canada and he has some really interesting stories to share. He’s someone that I got a lot iteration from because he speaks a lot of languages

(David) How many languages you speak? Eight?

(Braeden) Yeah, seven or eight.

(David) That’s pretty cool. So, tell us a little about yourself. Why you like language learning? What got you into it?

(Braeden) I’ve always been interested in languages. I guess it started in high school when I was learning French.  I just realized that I had a real knack for languages. Certain things came easily to me. My high school didn’t offer German classes or Japanese classes. I was interested in those, but I had to start learning them on my own.

(David) What kind of languages do you speak? 

(BRAEDEN) German, Japanese, French, American sign language, a bit of Spanish and some Chinese.

(DAVID)That’s amazing. Tell us a bit about why you started learning? Especially  the Asian languages, like Japanese and Chinese?

(BRAEDEN) Well, I feel that growing up in BC we had a real strong presence of Asian culture.  Lots of people come here from China and Japan and bring the culture with them. Growing up we were surrounded by Japanese and Chinese culture, especially for us boys and the TV, anime. It’s surprising how much of our culture came from overseas.

(DAVID) Well I just moved here, and I have made the same experience. You know, there’s a lot of Asian cultures, a lot of Asian restaurants, which is simply great. Tell us a bit about your learning process. How did you learn? How did you start learning those languages on your own? Did you go to university for that or did you pick up a dictionary? What was your approach?

(BRAEDEN) Well, I guess it was in grade 11 or 12. I just started using the PC to look up languages. Searching for the alphabet in Japanese, some basic words and then I just started scribbling. I completely started from zero.

(DAVID) So, obviously you started from zero and  did you find that hard to begin with? What was your mindset behind that? Cause I think it translates into a lot of other things like people who start their own businesses or going to the gym. It’s always hard in the beginning, isn’t it?

(BRAEDEN) Yeah! I think it’s really important to have a goal in mind. Something you can work towards. It’s not possible to just learn an entire language overnight. You need to have steppingstones along the way.

(DAVID) And what are those stepping stones?

(Braeden) Well for me, it depended on the language. Like for German, my sort of original goal was to speak to my German friend and he helped me along with that. With Japanese my original goal was to be able to watch anime without reading subtitles. So, I sort of gradually, stopped looking at subtitles as much. Just watched more shows and tried to identify some things I heard over and over. well that’s pretty much it.

(David) I know you also lived in I think it was Japan, China and u also lived in Germany. Tell me about that story about China. I can remember when you told me that funny story before.
How did you pick a city that you wanted to live in? I, I thought that’s so, such a good idea.

(BRAEDEN) Well yeah, it’s worked out pretty well for me so far. When I go traveling overseas, I try to pick a town where people don’t speak English very well. That sort of puts me right in the thick of it. In the midst of the local language.

(DAVID) I love that so much. I think that’s such a good mindset to have. And that’s uncomfortable, right? Like it’s very easy to go to a place where they speak very good English, right? It’s very easy to do that and not get out of your comfort zone. Which is actually why I’m mostly doing this podcast.  Its literally the same sort of mindset behind it. Like it’s very easy for me to stay in my comfort zone and do my freelance translation stuff. For me to grow, I need to step into things that I’m not very comfortable with. This means putting myself out there using social media for my business. I talk about that a lot. Go out there and ask other people what they are doing. I think it’s the same with language learning and it’s the same with going to the gym. Whatever people want to get into, in the beginning its going to be really hard. For example, this is my second podcast now and I already have a challenge with the guy that did the first episode with. We are going to do another podcast in 90 days and I asked him to do certain things and he asked me, well I sort of asked myself, to learn French because he’s a French Canadian. So the next podcast in 90 days will be in French and English. I find that pretty cool! Perhaps tell us about the city in China that you  picked and how small it actually was compared to Canada or even Europe.

(BRAEDEN) So the city I was living in in China was called Huizhou which means the moving waters. It was pretty nice. It was sort of on the Southern South Eastern coast near Hong Kong, but on the China side.  The people there talked about it like it was a small town, but there was 5 million people living in that city.

(DAVID) 5 million? That was considered a small town?

(BRAEDEN) Oh, absolutely. People would drive one hour to go work in Hong Kong or Shenzhen.

(DAVID) Tell us about your early experience there. So, you already spoke some Chinese, or were you new to Chinese? How was that?

(Braeden) Um, China was sort of an experiment for me because I went in there not knowing very much. I was hoping that um, knowing Japanese as well as I did, that perhaps it would transfer over. I did however learn the hard lesson that Chinese is a pretty unique. it’s not like any other language. It was a little tough in the beginning, but the thing in my advantage was the school I was working at. Everyone, there was a fresh graduate from university. A bunch of 24, 25 year olds that had just done English degrees. So I was able to get by with English for a little bit at the beginning. But being thrown into it like that, really made me learn the language.

(DAVID) Yeah, I think that’s such a good mindset. That’s the best thing to do, right? And that applies for everything people start. It is also what I’m doing. I think its pretty fun as well – like discomfort is fun. Super fun. Especially with language as well, this awkward moment where you do not understand each other, but you still like each other.

(BRAEDEN) Absolutely. I like that as well.

(DAVID) I know a lot of my buddies will be listening to this, I hope, and they are German. Tell us about your experience in Germany. Where did you live and how’d that go?

(BRAEDEN) Germany was great. The reason I went over there was because I got a teacher job from a recommendation from a friend. The school paid for my flight and housing to get there and to live there and I had a really good support system. The principal, the school and all the teachers helped me settle into my place. They helped me to find a local homestay family.

(DAVID) That’s cool. You stayed at a family’s place, like someone’s house?

(BRAEDEN) Yeah. I felt very welcomed the entire time. Germany is just a really nice place, you know? Great food and lots to see.

(DAVID) I’m glad you think. I mean, I think that too, but sometimes I feel like a lot of people go to Europe and then they go to Italy and Spain to just spend time on the beach. I think there’s so much more, you know? Also, a lot of people especially in North America learn Spanish which does make a lot of sense because of the proximity to central and South America. Did you speak German before you went or did you learn on the go?

(BRAEDEN) I learned one year of German in university. It was pretty basic. I could do full sentence construction, but you know, I was still a little shaky on the grammar part. The nice thing about German is that it actually is pretty close to English.

(DAVID) Exactly. It’s funny that we’re having this conversation cause I’m trying to get my girlfriend to learn German. Instead of me pushing her to do it, I’m sort of trying to be a good example. Which is why I’m also doing this podcast. I was just talking to the French-Canadian guy who I did the podcast with and now that’s pushing me to learn French more cause I already have the basics down. It’s a very nice place to start. Also my mom’s Italian and the fact that I haven’t even made that commitment to actually know how to speaking Italian fluently is pathetic. Its just embarrassing, you know? I think I’m good at languages but I have nothing to back it up with. I think that’s the cool thing about you. Cause there are so many people in North America and the U K they never get to learn another language cause it’s just not a big thing here. It’s a cultural thing I’d say. It’s not in the education system to learn a second language. I was surprised by Canada cause from my experience people here should really learn French in school.

(BRAEDEN) It’s interesting the way we have language classes here in high school. Everyone must learn French up until you are in year 10 but a lot of people walk away with a salty taste in their mouth. They get forced to learn French and then it just kills all their passion for it.

(DAVID)  Right. And then it is sort of like I can’t do this. The conclusion then being I can’t learn any language. Which is quite sad because there’s a lot of value in learning languages. Like for me , as you know,  I have a Canadian girlfriend and I wouldn’t be able to have that relationship at the level that I do if my English wasn’t this good. I know my dad’s English and all but I also made a commitment to read and be really good at it. You know what I mean? People would have or would be able to have great relationships, whether it’s friendships or romantic relationships with people from abroad if they understood each other better. So just really like want to encourage people to learn languages. Its effort of course but anything that’s great takes effort, right? But I find it really important. Its just such a great tool to have in your life to be able to just switch to another language. Especially for people that enjoy traveling, which it’s almost everybody. Right? It’s so cool if you’re able to talk to people from the country. I was in Costa Rica earlier last year. I was embarrassed by the fact that I can’t speak Spanish and that you just expect them to speak English. That was sort of the turning point where I’m like, I really have to think about this whole thing again. Especially with my mom who speaks five languages and my dad speaks three. Also I meet someone like you who’s like, this Canadian guy who speaks eight languages.
What’s your take on the value of learning language? Not only in term of travelling but more in professional life. Let’s say you wanted to leave Canada for experience or a Girlfriend abroad. You could easily make the move because you speak the language, right?

(BRAEDEN) Yeah, I’ve sort of learned that once you have a university degree and one or two year of experience you can literally go anywhere and do anything.

(DAVID) That’s so cool. I love that. There’s one thing that I’m just fascinated by you is the fact that you learned American sign language. I remember us having dinner one night here in Vancouver and youre talking about the value of that and what it meant to you. Could you just repeat that for everyone who is listening and explain why that it was so important for you and how it added so much value to you life?

(BRAEDEN) Sign language is really important to me. It’s a language of course but its just so different. When you are learning it, you’re restructuring the way you communicate. There are so many non-verbal markers in sign language. Things to do with your eyebrows, your tongue or other parts of your body language like shifting your weight or turning your head from someone else’s perspective. It’s a very spatial language which I believe makes your brain better. It improves the way you process information.

(DAVID) I remember when we hung out you were saying that you were good at remembering directions because you were memorizing everything in sign language.  You always knew where to go.

(BRAEDEN) One thing we learned in our university classes was how to give directions. It could be something as complex as walk 40 miles, turn left, go down a hallway, go upstairs and all that crazy stuff. But in sign languages there’s a way to communicate that. When you see it, even if you don’t speak sign language, it just feels intuitive.

(DAVID) How do you practice and keep it up?

(BRAEDEN) Well, one thing that’s good to do is to make some vocabulary lists. There are some online dictionaries where you can look up different signs and they show you how to move your hands. There are some really good resources for that.

(DAVID) Could you please show them to me so I can put them in the description of this podcast?

(BRAEDEN) One really good one is asldictionary.com  and another is handspeak.com

(DAVID) What kind of resources do you use for other languages?

(BRAEDEN) DICT is really good for German but honestly, I can’t say I use websites too much for Japanese or German. For me it was mostly learning in classroom or learning while I was there.

(DAVID) You live in Victoria which is a town on the west coast. How do your meet people to keep up with your languages? Cause if you speak eight maintenance becomes difficult, doesn’t it?

(BRAEDEN) Oh, absolutely! There are a couple of things you can do. Victoria is great because we have a big university here. So, I can join things like the Japanese club, or the German club here called Stammtisch. There we meet up, drink beer and speak in German. My other friends all got an interest in Japanese culture and anime. So, sometimes we do a movie night which keeps me on my toes.

(DAVID) I think that’s a cool way. Also, one of the best ways to keep up is to just follow the things you are interested in. For me football and entrepreneurship are big so I’m starting to watch and read things in Italian and French now. I think that’s a really good way to learn new words and expressions and simultaneously things I am into. Which is perfect, right?

(BRAEDEN) I think watching football would be an excellent way to learn a language.

(DAVID) There is another thing I found fascinating about you. You obviously traveled quite a bit but I remember you telling me that you’ve been to North Korea. Tell us a bit about that trip.

(BRAEDEN) Well, I went to South Korea first and I was just really impressed by their culture. Its like Canada but 50 years into the future.  I felt like they had some social events that we didn’t have. Great infrastructure and South Korean people have that some sort of politeness that Canadians do. They had a kind of friendly, welcoming, and warm vibe.  A really technologically advances society, people using their phones for pretty much everything.

(DAVID) That’s cool isn’t it? I find that cool about Canada as well because I think Germany is a bit backwards in this regard.

(BRAEDEN) So yeah, I did get a chance to go to North Korea which was really trippy. The funny thing is the citizens from a lot of countries are not allowed to go there for example South Korean or Chinese. What about Americans? I think they are allowed. There were some Americans on my tour bus. I had to do the tour through a Chinese company. I flew to the the line between South and North Korea. From there I got on a Chinese tour bus. They had these blackout windows and drove around in circles for a bit. They don’t want you to know where exactly you are

(DAVID) What about your cell phone? Did you have your phone on you?

(BRAEDEN) They take away your cellphone and your camera. The guide sort of explains that your life is kind of in your own hands. Like there is no waiver. You will have to act on your best behavior and hope that nothing bad happens.

(DAVID) I’m assuming you told your parents, right?

(BRAEDEN) I told my mum after. I just sent her pictures of me crawling through the invasion tunnels.

(DAVID) How did you get those pictures?

(BRAEDEN) We were allowed to have our cameras on some part of the trip. But for the most part just when we were driving around the countryside. When you are on this tour its sort of scripted. They will bring you to a certain place and they want you to take pictures of certain things but not others. For example, the North Korean have the worlds largest flag on their side of the border and they love for you to take pictures of it. 

(DAVID) That’s interesting. How did you like the food and how did you spend the days over there? What did you do?

(BRAEDEN) I was there for just two days total but then again we had a kind of scripted lunch. We would go to a certain restaurant and they just showered us with tons of food. It doesn’t really feel genuine. Its doesn’t feel like you are seeing North Korea but more like you are on a sort of tour.

(David) Did they let you go to see the locals or did you speak to any of them?

(BRAEDEN) No! In fact, I didn’t see more than like to or three locals on the entire trip.

(DAVID) I think that would definitely be interesting to try and have a conversation with them but I don’t know how the language would work because they definitely don’t speak English do they?

(Braeden) No, I don’t think

DAVID) Thanks so much for sharing that. That was very interesting. There are a few other questions that I have which I would love you to talk about. Why do you believe people should learn a language? What’s the value of it and what’s your encouraging statement for them?

(BRAEDEN) I think the most important thing when your learning language is to have a goal in mind. SO whether its watching anime without subtitles or listening to a football game – you have to have a reason for doing it. I think the number one mistake is if you just try to learn Spanish or Russian for no specific reason. This way you will have no motivating force to keep you going.

(DAVID) I agree with that. That’s a good point. How do people start? Lets say I’m an English guy that wants to learn Spanish because I like travelling to Mexico or Spain. How should people start with that? Cause I find it very interesting. When you do research its like most languages 300 words make up 60% of the conversations that we have. And then I think 3000 is 80% or 90%. So, the way I look at my French now is to be fluent in terms of those 3000 words, you know what I mean? So if I can use those 3000 words in different sentences and with different grammar styles that seems very tangible, right? Especially with the rise of the internet and social media its very valuable to learn another language and just replicate what you did in one language. Would you agree? If you start your own blog or your own business and you have to talk to people every language counts. That is my take on encouraging people to learn languages. I think you’ve been a great source of inspiration for me.  The way I want to run this podcast is that I want to challenge people to do things in the next 90 days and I do the same. I know that you want to get into translation so I would say that in the next 90 days I want you to get one client for Japanese to English. I will show you what pages and where else to look for them and I will make sure that we have an infrastructure in place. My website will have a Japanese translation section and I will ensure you get work on a regular basis.  How does that sound? So, in 90 days we will have another conversation and talk about how this went. How I managed to get new clients and how your first translation went. This way we hold ourselves accountable which is always good.

(BRAEDEN) That sounds like a great challenge.

(DAVID) Lets talk again on April 12th and see how things went. Thank you so much for being on this show. You are one of the first people that I have interviewed. I am very grateful for that. I really enjoyed this conversation as I always do when I talk to you. Hope we can both live up to what we just said.

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