Oct. 18, 2021

Introducing Abundate with Hedvig Sandbu | Ep. #1

In the first episode, Hedvig shares why she started a podcast and a bit of her own language learning experiences.

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In the first episode, Hedvig shares why she started a podcast and a bit of her own language learning experiences.


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Hello everyone, I’m Hedvig Sandbu, and welcome to the very first episode of the Abundate podcast, where we explore the breadth of possibilities and opportunities for language learning, helping you to find a sense of language learning abundance - whatever that means to you. I am so grateful and excited to have you with me, and for this first episode I’d like to share with you a little bit about my background, what’s inspired me to create a podcast, and what you can expect over the coming months.

I am a language coach and a Neurolanguage Coach, and I’ll explain a little bit more about what that means in a future episode, but my work involves helping people to improve their language skills and communication skills more generally, in English and in Norwegian, as well as improve their own awareness of how they learn best - what’s known as meta-learning. As someone who has been both a language learner and a language teacher and coach, one thing I know for sure is that teaching or coaching languages is a lot easier than learning them. What I mean by that is that just because someone has “taught” you a language does not mean that you’ve learnt it or that you’ll know how to speak it, to express whatever you need to express, to do what you need to do in that language. And though there are so many different resources and ways of learning out there, in all kinds of different formats, whether it is apps, courses, books, teaching or language exchange platforms, you name it - so many resources, and a lot of people will swear by some method that’s supposed to help you learn a language in a month or whatever, the reality is, and what I’ve experienced with my language coaching clients as well, is that it takes a lot more than language skills to learn another language. It also takes more than simply being a good student. I say that based on my own experience, because I had French in school for 3 years, I got pretty much all A’s because most of the exercises were about grammar and logic and some bits of vocabulary and that was something that I picked up without too much effort. And then there was some horrifying speaking exam at the end of the year, and then what? After 3 years of study, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that my family actually spent several summer holidays in France while I was growing up, and I really enjoyed French and I enjoyed speaking French, and I’d even say I identified as a language learner, a language enthusiast, but I still couldn’t say much more than “Could I please have a baguette” or “Where’s the toilet?” I couldn’t just have an actual normal conversation with a French speaker.  Any French speaker I’d meet, I’d find they were speaking too fast for me to understand them, I could only watch French films with subtitles, and though I did once try reading a book, I gave up after 5 pages of excruciatingly slow progress. Now, why is that? Why, after 3 years, could I not have a normal conversation in French?

I’m going to attempt to answer my own question. Well, I was a good student. That meant I had essentially been conditioned to do what was easy and what had a low failure rate. Grammar exercises. Learning new vocabulary. When these things come in small enough chunks, and I was lucky enough that I had great teachers who helped me understand this new material, well, it was easy for me, but what I didn’t learn in school was how to fail and make mistakes and to see those failures and mistakes as progress. In other words, being a good student had also made me a perfectionist, someone who would speak only after constructing the perfect sentence in my head. And if you’ve ever been in that situation, you’ll know that is exhausting, it definitely makes you speak a lot less, if you ever even manage to say anything at all, because if there’s a group of people speaking, and somebody says something, and you want to respond, and then you take a minute or two to formulate whatever you want to say, well by that point the conversation’s probably moved on, and then you’re stuck being quiet.

Okay, so my point here is that it takes more than being a good student. And it takes more than simply having the ability to produce sentences. So what does it take? First of all, what is “it” anyway? What is the end goal? If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this episode, and actually from this whole podcast, is that language learning is different for everyone. The answers to why you’re learning a language, what language you’re learning, what you want to be able to do with the language, and how and when you learn and practise your language skills - the answers to all of these questions are different for everyone, and there really is no one right way to learn. There also is no one right or wrong reason for learning a language, and there’s even no right or wrong language. In the second episode you’ll hear from Elise Cutts who, when she started learning German in the US, was asked “Why are you learning German and not Spanish?” because in the US her peers had this expectation that German wasn’t going to be useful to her because there are many more Spanish speakers around - and you’ll learn just how useful she’s found German to be, in ways that she didn’t expect. In episode 3 I’m speaking to Ches Pierre-Paul, who learnt Haitian Creole as a way to connect with their Haitian heritage, and you’ll hear about their unique and very mindful approach to learning this language and making it their own. My aim in all of these conversations is to help you explore the myriads of ways of learning a foreign language that there are to choose from. And to find what works for you.

Adult language learning has a number of benefits, many of which are still being studied and neuroscience is a very fast-moving field at the moment, but the latest research shows that adult language learning improves working memory, creativity, problem solving, and even improves language aptitude in your first language. It has been linked with greater wellbeing and confidence and also helps prevent dementia and Alzheimers as you age.

Why am I sharing all this? Because my goal with this podcast is to motivate and encourage you to practise language learning and to make it your own. Whether you are someone who feels like it’s too late for you to learn another language, whether you feel like you’ll never be good enough, or you’ve tried but lost the motivation or you feel there simply isn’t enough time. Or maybe you already consider yourself a language learner, but, like me, you need that little bit of a boost, pep talk, or a reminder that you can do this.

Now for a little bit about my background. I like to describe my home as somewhere in the middle of the North Sea - ever since my family moved from Norway to the UK when I was 11, I’ve sort of had 1 foot in either country. And I tend to say that I got 2 languages for free - Norwegian and English, even though, let me just say, I’ve worked a lot on both of my main languages and I’m still learning new expressions in both. Whenever I go back to Norway, the language and the culture seems to have evolved a little and there’s always something new to wrap my head around.

I am far from a language expert, nor am I a learning expert. But I am getting better at being a beginner. When it comes to language learning, I’m an opportunist - I used to travel quite a lot, and whenever I did, I would make a conscious decision to spend some time in the month before visiting a new place, learning a few phrases so that I could say at least a few words to the locals. I went to Hungary in 2019, which was my last pre-covid travel adventure, and I’d picked up just enough phrases to be able to say please and thank you and “Could I please have...”. And you wouldn’t believe how people’s eyes lit up, they could tell I wasn’t Hungarian of course, and that I had put in that little bit of effort to learn a few phrases, and I know I would not have had the same connection with the locals if I hadn’t learnt a little bit of their beautiful language. As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to someone in a language they understand, that goes to their head. If you talk to them in their language, that goes to their heart”. I'm curious, has you ever experienced something like that? I'd love to hear about it. If you go to podcast.abundate.org you can leave a comment on this episode or even leave a voicemail which may get featured in a future episode. I'd also love to know what challenges you're having in your language learning. Like you I am also here to learn and I would really appreciate your contribution.

I believe that learning a language is the biggest compliment you can give to the people who speak it. And when I talk about the magic of language learning, that’s what I mean.

We’re almost ready to wrap up our first episode, but before I go I’m going to introduce a segment which will be in each episode at least for the first few months of the podcast, and that is including a powerful question or something to reflect on about your learning. I am trained in Neurolanguage Coaching, and in coaching we are taught that your answers are within you - so my job as a coach is to ask the right questions to bring out those answers in you, the language learner. I know that questions can have a huge impact on learning, progress, on creating and strengthening neural connections, and also on mindset shifts needed to make that progress happen. I have to include a little disclaimer and say that questions are much more powerful when they are highly personalised, so please bear that in mind when I ask questions to you that these are not all going to be relevant to you personally. So I encourage you to consider their relevance to you and to where you are with your learning.

For this first episode I’d like you to reflect on your own expectations and assumptions that you make with language learning and with learning more generally. What does it take for you to learn a new skill or a new piece of information? Do you consider yourself a good learner or a bad learner? Remember that there really is no such thing as a good or bad learner, but we often have this inner narrative about how we see ourselves. In other words, do you know how you learn best? If there is something you consider yourself an expert in - it could be anything, a hobby, a professional skill or ability, emotional intelligence, or something else - that can be a good place to start: What do you think helped you to learn it, and why?

Finally, and speaking of learning, I’m new to podcasting, and I'm also here to learn, so I would love to hear from you, my listeners. Where are you in your language learning? What do you find difficult, or easy? I’d love to hear what you think, and you can go to podcast.abundate.org and leave a voice message.

I'm Hedvig Sandbu, and this is Abundate. Welcome to my podcast!