The struggles of an introverted language learner

Today I have been getting back into the language learning saddle after as break to focus on other projects and I came across as a most excellent fellow called Donovan who is very introverted like myself but isn’t afraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger and likes to travel to far flung places to learn languages fluently.

His blog is called Mezzofanti Guild (after a famous 18th c polyglot) and it details his journey towards proficiency in Irish, Russian, Arabic and Korean. These are very hard languages to learn and I admire him for the dedication, time and effort that it requires to go to the lengths that he does to study these to the degree that he does.

Now I’m not personally interested in learning Irish, Arabic or Korean but I do know people that have learnt/are learning those languages so it can be done even if your a mono-lingual English speaker.

Russian is a language I dabble in when I have time but it’s not a priority for me. Same could be said for Spanish. These are interesting (and I’m a very curious, inquisitive person) and it would help me with travel, socialising and my other hobby Eurovision but my main focus is on Greek. Not the biblical or ancient kind but the modern kind. This is so that I can strike up a conversation with a native and actually gain friendships out there (Lefkas) but due to the fact that a) I can’t drive and b) I couldn’t afford a mobile out there that’s never really going to happen as I so very rarely interact with people my own age.

I love words as I may have mentioned a few times before but the spoken word is a bit of a mystery to me as you can interpret the same phrases in so many different ways depending on how they are said. This presents quite a problem for a person learning Greek as there are many word pairs that I have come across that change their meaning depending on how they are pronounced. For a person with issues with their speech, this is quite a nightmare. Some examples are the word for safety and fuse, amusement and theme park, when and never, the most common swear word and straits of Malacca in Indonesia. There are countless more that could be listed as while English has about 1 million words as we steal from a myriad array of languages, Greek tends to be the originator so only has about 650,000 in comparison. This density is useful as you could possibly obtain fluency quicker but also increases the errors you could make as well and for socially anxious types like myself, this is never going to be a good idea.

It’s commonly put about that it’s easiest to learn a language through speech as that’s how we learn our first and while this is true it’s not very helpful if your shy, introverted, or just a person that doesn’t like talking. This is a daily struggle for myself having to get out into the wider world and converse with strangers. I most recently tried with a bunch of computer scientists which was doomed to failure almost from the outset because of the inherent qualities of being a girl meaning I’m was persona no gratis.


This is a crucial aspect to language learning and I may have touched upon this in the past. This is why when you immerse yourself in a language its much easier to pick it up then if you are only reading it for example. This is why my Greek has come on leaps and bounds recently as well as writing lots of inane sentences online that I wouldn’t dream of writing in English due to their simplistic nature. Listening helps you pick up on the stresses in words and can help you detect where the person comes from as all regions have accents. Even no accent can possibly be classified. This however presents a problem if I want to learn other languages at the same time as I need to create immersion environments for them all but they might come into conflict and make my brain explode. I don’t fancy having that happen to me. So how do I work around this? Multi lingual people? A friend in each language? A place that speaks various languages as standard? As you can probably figure out I haven’t a clue how to resolve this as yet.

Going back to basics with Greek

Sometimes there is nothing like reading a proper old-school book (Collins Greek phrase book from 1977) to cement certain knowledge into your head that you know because you’ve seen it lots but you haven’t quite grasped it in its entirety. So far I have understood the Lefkas road sign (it wishes you a good voyage instead of welcoming you as your leaving), the reason why I can never say toothpick (οδοντογλυφιδα) correctly, why Bravo and only this is always said to congratulate me on speaking Greek correctly and the ever presence of οριστε (oriste) to mean a variety of things depending on the inflections used.

I know words are used to communicate but with the same phrase meaning so many different things, ποτε (pote) for instance, meaning both when and never depending on where you place the accent, it’s extremely difficult for me to differentiate between them yet alone reproduce them in speech or writing. Yes, I can deal with παρακαλω (parakalo) being please, your welcome but also a person in a shop getting your attention or even you getting theirs. Using it as excuse me too is pushing the boundaries but then there is also γειο σου (yia sou) which literally means your health but is a catch-all for hello, goodbye and goodness knows what else and is why I’m getting rather perplexed with the Greek language as these are just the most basic of phrases. Extend this to the 4 different ways to say my name is με λενε … (me lene …), Ποιο είναι το όνομα σου? (poio einai to onoma sou) etc and you get the picture as to why Greek is such a different language to learn as I haven’t even started on how are you? or anything more complex than an introductory phrase. As you can see I’m not even taking into account the gender changing the ends of words, the form in front of them, whether its single or plural, the formality that is required to be used here or sentence organization which can be rather flexible at the best of times. This is enough to drive any logically minded person like myself insane!

Others may look at that and think well that’s easy there are fewer words for me to remember but its the way you say them to infer the various meanings that gets to me the most and how are you to decipher this in text without the different stresses you can reproduce when talking?

Completed book projects

As you may know, April is Autism awareness month and since I have Aspergers Syndrome I wrote a book about our preferred forms of communication. Aspergers and preferred methods of communication

Also my most recent Autistic interest has been learning Modern Greek and I have learnt it sufficiently to write a small ebook about it. How I learnt Greek – An English Introvert’s guide

I published them at the same time as there both related to language and speaking and one helped the other etc.