I met Adam in our first year of college at the University of Illinois. Our love for languages and anything entrepreneurial has helped us stay in touch. He recently started a website called Language Base Camp and I’ve had the privilege of contributing on it several times. I thought it’d be a great idea to interview him and see what he’s all about. Here goes…

Viviana: Hi Adam, super happy to have this conversation. Could you start off by introducing yourself and explaining what Language Base Camp is? 

Adam: Right now I am working full time with a consulting business in Chicago, so I have a job that does not involve language-learning, but it has always been a passion of mine. I started Language Base Camp about six months ago, with the idea in mind that most of the language-learning I’ve done after college has been on my own through self-study and figuring that out. It came out of my experience with Portuguese and Spanish; Spanish I learned almost entirely in a classroom setting in high school and college, while Portuguese I learned almost entirely in a conversational setting. I learned Portuguese much more quickly and conversationally.  Granted, I had a basis in Spanish so that was helpful, but I fell in love with the process of self-directed language-learning and faced a lot of the challenges that other people faced.

The idea behind LBC is to provide resources, guidance, and direction (and really, just a lot of encouragement) to people who are doing self-directed language learning—whether it’s finding a tutor on their own online or looking up resources. Just helping people navigate the huge web of stuff that’s out there and do it in a way that is cheap and accessible. The vision behind LBC is to make language-learning more accessible to people who don’t have access to expensive software or to expensive or difficult-to-attend classroom settings.

Viviana: Where do you see LBC going in the next year?

Adam: I’d love to see greater engagement on the part of people who are experts in particular languages so that in a year or two years, we could be building a larger body of specific content for specific languages. I’d like to see it grow into a crash-course guidebook for languages. It wouldn’t be a grammar book, it would be, “Hey, here are the peculiarities of learning Spanish as an English speaker and here’s what you should focus on first.” The specific languages we offer would depend on the specific contributors that would rally around the site, but that’s the goal: to have specific resources for different languages.

Viviana: So, you clearly love languages. Why do you think they’re important?

Adam: I’ve seen my life enriched by languages; not just my opportunities at work, but also just through friendships. Many of my close friends are people who don’t actually speak my native language. There is something really special about having friendships across cultures that just makes you a better human. I’m not sure if you can really learn how to navigate between cultures unless you are learning another language.

A lot of people just don’t believe that learning a language is possible, but I founded LBC as stance against that. Yes, it is possible, and hopefully we can help people experience the deep benefits of cross-cultural communication.

 Viviana: You’ve thrown around the term “self-learning” quite a bit. Could you explain what exactly that is?

Adam: When I use a tutor, I often times bring the curriculum that I want to cover, but it is not my primary vehicle for learning. It is place where I can confirm or ask questions about what I encounter during my own language-learning throughout the week.. I bring questions and the things that I want to discuss. It can be helpful to have a tutor build a plan for you, but I say “self-directed language-learning” when you are the one deciding what you learn next, and what pace you’re moving at, which is really where the big advantage comes in over a software or classroom setting. Self-directed language-learning requires a much more active role from the learner. You are learning, you are not being taught. You are deciding the things you want to discuss. Tutoring sessions still provide a very important role, but they are still being directed by me, the learner.

Viviana: What would a typical week of language-learning look like for you?

Adam: When I was learning Portuguese, it involved learning, writing, journaling, and conversations throughout the week. As I read an article I jotted down words that were really useful for me to know. The focus in my self-learning is the things that are immediately and practical to use.

In a typical week, I’d try to break it into one or two study sessions (ideally, a little bit every day), but that involved reading an article, writing down vocabulary that’s important, and trying to take whatever I’ve read and make a short list of words and phrases that I want to use two or three times in the space of a conversation, which I would then have in a separate session.

So, it’s like a three-day thing. Day 1 is content: reading, listening, absorbing… and writing down what I want to stick. Day 2 is conversation day, where I have a conversation with someone, and the goal is to take that list and put a tally mark next to the words I want to use. Day 3 is tutoring session, where I cover deeper grammar, structure, or more specific questions. The cycle is absorb, use, and confirm.

Viviana: So that worked in Portuguese where you already had some conversational ability. But what about French? Do you have a conversation partner already?

Adam: I don’t, but that’s the next thing that I need to do. With French, I started with phonetics, because you just have to learn how to say things to be able to read them. Then I got a frequency list; this allows me to get to the point of having painfully slow conversations, but conversations nonetheless.

Viviana: What would you tell someone who doesn’t think it’s possible for them to learn a language?

Adam: I think there are usually three parts to the struggle.

  • The learning goal is VERY vague. I’d say, “You don’t have to learn a language. Just set small goal to have a conversation.”
  • They find it quite difficult to remember. My response? “Lower your expectations.” You are going to be like a two-year-old AND you’ve spent less time than a two-year-old listening to the language you want to learn. You will always be discouraged if you compare yourself to your native language. Accept it, be awkward, and embrace it.
  • They want to learn it quickly. No, you WILL learn a language if you stick with it. If you stick with it, you will see progress. That’s okay. Processes take what they take and then you will see the benefit.

Viviana: Awesome, that’s great advice. How can someone get involved with LBC or learn more?

Adam: As a learner, there is plenty of space on social media. You can find us on Facebook or Twitter. Share stories, posts, or resources. You can get directly in touch with that way or through the website.

If you are coming from the “post-learning” side… and you want to share what you HAVE learned, PLEASE get in touch. There is a “Be a Guide” tab on the website. That sends me a direct email. Please, share your learning experience and you can help others. We are looking for more people. Use that form! Last week, someone wrote about international friendships. You don’t need to be a pro, just be a couple of steps down the path to share.