Language Update: January 2020

I love learning languages. Beginning to learn a new language feels so awkward at first, getting used to new ways of pronouncing letters and words, abusing grammar, using the wrong word, but it’s worth it for that moment when I hear someone say something in another language and realise I understood what they said.

In the past I have learned French, German and Russian, but I have been fairly passive about increasing my fluency. This year I want to make more of an effort to improve my confidence in each of these languages. To keep myself accountable, I will post quarterly updates to see how much I’ve progressed from the beginning of 2020 to the end.

Why learn a language?

The more I travel, the more I realise how important it is to know even just a few phrases in the local language. We often take for granted that we’ll be able to find someone who speaks English in the country we’re visiting, and are so lucky that English seems to be the main language of tourism. If someone came to Australia without much English, I think it would be difficult to find someone on the street to interpret for them (though Google Translate and other apps have definitely addressed this gap!).

My Language Background

I used to have the crazy idea of being able to speak six languages fluently by the age of thirty, because I had read somewhere that Queen Elizabeth I had that ability. I tried! I had studied German in school, got in to French after I started travelling, and then tried to take on Italian and Russian at the same time. The Russian faded away as soon as the course ended; a few key phrases of Italian have stuck with me, but not enough to have a conversation. I gave up on the idea of speaking six languages fluently.

Now I only learn the languages that I have some interest in: German for my heritage, French because I love to visit France, and I am now adding Russian back in to the mix because I see being able to read words written in Cyrillic as a challenge.

Where am I with my languages: January 2020


I’ve been learning German since I was ten, and these days keep up with it through the Duolingo app.

I need to keep increasing my vocabulary, though. To do that, I need to consume more information in German. I need to look out for films, travel blogs, YouTube channels and other things that I would watch anyway, and then watch them in German, just to keep it up. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!


I feel like I still have a long way to go before I’m happy with the level of my French. I can read it, and listen to it (as long as the person is speaking slowly), and have a fairly good idea of what is happening. But if I’m asked to say something in return, my brain doesn’t offer up the French words fast enough. And worse, sometimes it feels like I’m translating words from English into German and then finally in to French. Does anyone else have this problem?

That is my goal for this year – to be able to have a ten minute conversation in French. There are various Meetup groups in my town for beginner to intermediate French speakers – I need to get myself organised and signed up for one of them.


My language goal for 2019 was to start learning Russian. I had completed a ‘Russian for travel’ course after visiting Russia in 2012, thinking that one day I would return and explore more. However, after watching my polyglot tour leader strike up conversations with Croatians and Bosnians by speaking in Russian, I realised it was more far-reaching than I thought and was motivated to take it on again.

The most difficult thing about it is remembering the sounds for the Cyrillic alphabet. After a year of practicing (only on Duolingo so far), there are still some letters whose pronounciation I’m not exactly sure of.

This year I want to be able to have a simple conversation in Russian. The basics: how to introduce myself, and talk about my interests.

What are your language goals for 2020?