YouTuber Aaron Fingtam on Learning Languages & Why Esperanto is Awesome!
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Elle: Hi everyone and welcome to the Lingq podcast with me Elle. This week I am joined by YouTube polyglot Aaron Fingtam. He runs the channel Fingtam Languages, Aaron. How’s it going?
Aaron: Good. How are you?
Elle: I’m great. Thank you. I’m great. Thank you so much for joining us from Thailand is where you are right now. Correct? How long have they been in Thailand?
Aaron: Um, well, I came originally in 2019, um, and I was here for about a year. Uh, but then I rushed back to the United States, um, when the COVID pandemic started. Um, and then I was back home for like seven, eight, nine months, something like that. Uh, but then my wife and I came back to Thailand, uh, this December.
So we’ve been here for what, four months or so. So kind of on and off a little bit over a year.
Elle: And is it as beautiful as the pictures and videos? I really want to go it’s it’s on top of my list.
Aaron: Yeah. Some parts of Thailand are really, really beautiful. Um, I live right in the middle of the city and I don’t know, I’m not a city person, so, um, but yeah, when we go on a little excursion out of the city, yeah, it’s great. I love it.
Elle: Excellent. I think I had got to get there. I will, after all this COVID stuff is over. Definitely.
Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. Hopefully it comes to an end soon.
Elle: Yeah. Yeah. Fingers crossed. Well, yeah, we’re getting there. Um, so I was looking over your channel and on your about page and there’s a list of the languages that you know, so I read that you speak English, of course, Spanish, French, Esperanto, which I will ask you about, uh, in a little bit.
Elle: Thai, which must be… obviously you’re in the perfect place to be studying Thai and practicing your Thai. And right now you’re learning Greek as well, or are you just, you mainly focusing on the Thai right now?
Aaron: Um, I probably haven’t updated that since last summer. Yeah, so right now I’m actively learning Thai. Uh, last summer, I didn’t think I was going to be coming back to Thailand. So I was like, this is the perfect time for me to start learning Greek, which I’ve always wanted to learn.
Um, uh, that one’s on hold for now. I’m I’m active learning, learning Thai.
Elle: Fair enough. Okay. And so you like many of us, uh, when you were in school, you had a language, you were studying Spanish, you left high school without being able to speak it like most people, but then you, you discovered how to learn languages.
So, um, tell us what, what you mean by that. What, what method did you, um, did you find that worked for you, works for you?
Aaron: Well, I found that there’s actually a number of ways to go about learning languages. Um, I… so in 2015, I moved to El Salvador and I started learning Spanish. And then I started doing a lot of research on the best practices for learning foreign languages.
And I found Steve, I found Benny Lewis, Luca, you know, all of the, the really big YouTube polyglots and I started watching them. And a lot of them have different approaches to language learning, you know, Benny says, speak from day one and speak as much as possible. And then Steve says, read as much as possible.
You know, I mean, that’s an oversimplification of a lot of their viewpoints, but, uh, anyways, you know, everyone and then, uh, Stephen Krashen says, uh, just to take in as much input as you can, right? And so I started applying all of these methods and I really, what I found is that the only method that doesn’t work for me is the one
that everyone tries to do at least in the United States, which is go to class, do your homework, read the textbook, study grammar, you know, do your workbook exercises and prepare yourself for the test, but that doesn’t necessarily prepare you to actually hold a conversation in your target language. Um, so yeah, so I started, uh, trying to throw myself into as many conversations with people as, as early as possible, even knowing I was going to make tons of mistakes.
And just learning to let go of that and not care about it. And I also started trying to immerse myself in as much comprehensible input as I could. Um, and you know, I did a little bit of intensive reading and extensive reading. I did a lot of watching, uh, movies in Spanish. Um, you know, you can buy a pirate in DVD and all Salvador for like $1.
And so I did a lot of, a lot of illegal watching of movies in Spanish. Um, and one of the really big things I did was I would just, uh, speak Spanish to anyone that would listen to me speak Spanish. I, you know, there were some Americans and a lot of people that speak English in El Salvador. Um, but I would try to avoid them or if I couldn’t avoid, uh, someone who speaks English, I would do my best to stay in Spanish with them the whole time, even though it was much more difficult. And you know, most of my friends were understanding of that because they knew that I wanted to learn Spanish. So I eventually, I became fluent very quickly after six years of failed studies in school.
Elle: And then, and so how long, um, when you say very quickly, how long did you think it was roughly, that intense study period?
Aaron: Um, I showed up in El Salvador in January of 2000, uh… 15. And I really was not even able to have basic conversations because I was so focused in my mind of, uh, trying to conjugate verbs correctly and all of that stuff. Um, within a month I was able to have basic conversations with my friends and, um, with, uh, and then by June of that year or so, you know, five, six months later, um, I was translating for public speakers onstage, you know? Yeah.
Elle: That’s amazing. Wow. That is, that is very impressive. Um, then after the Spanish, is it French that you learned next?
Aaron: Uh, so I sort of start learning Esperanto that same year while I was in El Salvador. Um, the Duolingo course for Esperanto came out in May or June of that year and then I immediately started learning.
I had reached a sufficient level in Spanish that I felt I could start adding in another language slowly. The goal was to start implementing it slowly, but Esperanto was so fun that I couldn’t help myself. I just kinda threw myself in, um.
Elle: Go ahead.
And then French, I started learning that the year after that, 2016.
Elle: So it was Spanish, Esperanto, French was the order. Picking up on the Esperanto. So I, I honestly don’t know anything about Esperanto. So I looked online and Wikipedia tells me it is a constructed international auxiliary language. Of course I knew, I knew something about it, but, um, I didn’t know that definition actually. I knew it was a kind of a created language, so to speak. So tell us, for any listeners who don’t know what it means, what does that even, what does that mean? A constructed international auxiliary language. Um, what appeals to you about, uh, Esperanto. Why, why did you decide to let it?
Aaron: Yeah. Good question. Um, you know, I get asked that all the time, why would you learn a language that no one speaks? That’s what people ask me. And of course it’s not true. Um, so Esperanto is a constructed language. That means someone just invented it. He, this guy, his name was, uh, Zamenhof and he was a doctor. He was a linguist and a polyglot. And back in the 1800s, he just invented Esperanto.
He made up a dictionary, he made up grammar rules. He started writing books in this language. He translated it and, uh, translated the Bible and some other books into this language. Um, and it, it, his original goal with this was that it would become a universal language that anyone can speak as their second language, but it’s the first language of no country. And that way, uh, when you have international deals and, and, um, uh, diplomacy and things like that, no one country is, has the advantage, right? Like at his time, I suppose French would have been the international language. And, and now you would probably say it’s English, which means that if you come from an English speaking country, your native language is English, you’re at a huge advantage because you don’t have to dedicate any resources to learning that language. Um, and, and, um, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re at, um, there’s a much lower chance of mistranslations miscommunication. Um, you don’t have to invest any money into, um, uh, translation of international documents cause they’re always just going to be in your language. Well, he, he wanted to sort of even the playing field, By creating a language that’s very easy for everyone to learn. And it is very easy. Some people say learning Esperanto is like 20 times easier, or it’ll take you like one 20th of the time to learn a lot of these other natural languages.
So very quickly, a lot of people started speaking this language with the goal of promoting it as, as the international language. And, you know, I, I believe the United, uh, Nations or the League of Nations and, and, uh, European Union. I think there’s even been, there’s been proposals to adopt it as, um, they’re like working language, and I don’t think any of them have ever really gone anywhere, but, um, there’s still people today who are still promoting that, uh, Esperanto as the, you know, the, the equalizing language, I suppose.
Um, yeah. I just made that term up. I don’t think…
Elle: that works though. I, I didn’t even think about what you said there about how coming from an English-speaking country, you do kind of have an advantage kind of in the world political or whatever stage. So equalizing is the right word, I think. Yeah. So, um, how many people… speak? Oh, sorry. Carry on. Carry on.
Good. Well, I was, I was about to answer your question. Um, It’s actually very difficult to measure how many people have learned Esperanto. You know, it’s not like you can just measure the population of Poland and say that we have this many native speakers of Polish.
Um, the myths are about 2 million people. I believe. Uh, if you look at Wikipedia and it’s maybe one to 2000 native speakers of Esperanto, um, Again, I don’t know how easy it is for them to calculate that or, or how they go about calculating that because Esperanto speakers are spread throughout the entire world.
And if you have someone who just used Duolingo to learn Esperanto for a year, and… also Esperanto is the only language I know of where you can come become basically fluent using only Duolingo, which was a feat that I previously thought impossible. Um, But, you know, there’s, that person would just go uncounted. Um…
So, so I don’t know exactly how many there are, but there are a lots of, I have many friends, um, friends who I know in person and also lots of friends online, who I speak only Esperanto with, you know, and it would be strange for us to speak English to each other.
Elle: So, you say it’s…
Aaron: Sorry, we’re speaking over each other a little bit. I have attended a lot of in-person conferences and events and meetups and stuff. Um, there’s, there’s a very strong Esperanto culture of people who, uh, just love the language, but also they love the community. And so we get together a lot. We meet, there’s a lot of parties and fun, just fun events that are hosted entirely in Esperanto.
And it’s a very tight knit community. You know, if you find out someone else speaks Esperanto instantly, you’re great friends.
Elle: Um, you say it’s easy to learn. How, how long? I mean, I know it’s very difficult to say, how many hours do you put in a day? Um, how many languages do you know already? Do you have a good method in place? But how long would it take, would you say the average person to, to become fluent in Esperanto?
Aaron: Uh, so when I started learning, I basically threw myself very, very deeply into the Duolingo tree. And fo…, I was able to have basic text conversations on online Esperanto groups, like chat rooms within a week. And, um, in fact, if you, if you Google like “learned Esperanto in two days”, um, or “learned Esperanto in three days”, There are videos of Chuck Smith, who is… he, he created the Duolingo Esperanto course. And within, within two days of releasing the course, uh, he started, I guess, contacting people who had already finished the course. Man, you have to be really dedicated to finish a Duolingo course in two days or three days. Um, but within two or three days, he, he contacted people and he said, have you ever learned Esperanto before?
And they said, no, I just started with Duolingo two, three days ago. And they have an entire conversation entirely in Esperanto. Now that that’s rare, but I’ve also have, I do have friends who, um, uh, well, I should say a few years ago I went to this Esperanto… it was like, essentially Esperanto summer school.
It was a 10-day intensive Esperanto summer course, they call it and there’s people of all levels. You know, people who are very fluent in Esperanto and also beginners. And I made friends and I, and you know, your first question to everyone is how long have you been speaking Esperanto? And a lot of them said I’ve been speaking for only four months using only Duolingo and it’s amazing how fluent, you know, everyone has a different definition of fluent, but perfectly able to hold entire conversations after four months of using Duolingo with, uh, to learn Esperanto.
Elle: That must be such a boost in terms of, uh, just being a language learner. You know, you, you have this language and you can learn it fairly easily and quickly.
Um, I’m sure it must give people then that confidence, you know, that they can move on to, to master, so to speak, um, become conversational in other languages. So that’s something that’s great. I think about, about that.
Aaron: Absolutely. Yeah.
That’s also a lot of, that’s the reason why a lot of people promote the language.
Actually, that’s originally why I started learning Esperanto. I knew I wanted to learn other languages quickly. And I was like, well, if I can learn a language in a month, that seems like it’s a great stepping stone to help me learn, how to learn future languages and it, and it has been.
Elle: Um, so talk to us about Thai, a very different language to the ones that you know. So French, Spanish, Esperanto, and you did a bit of the Greek. Um, how are you finding it? Um, how, what, what are you using to kind of study? How’s it going in general?
Aaron: Um, I have found Thai to be more, my progress is slower than it has been for any of my other languages. Okay. Um, granted English, French, Esperanto, Spanish, all have a lot of similarities, a lot of cognates of many, very similar grammatical features. Um, so Thai is the first one that’s really separate from all the rest of them. And it’s definitely slower. It’s also a much less commonly studied language, so it’s hard for me to find resources, uh, dedicated to people who are learning Thai. There’s some out there. Um, uh, I it’s been, I’ve been studying for gosh, almost two years now. And I would say I’m a solid B level. I can hold basic conversations. You know, um, every week I have a lesson about half an hour to an hour long with my tutor and we speak entirely in Thai. I make it a point to never speak English, basically never, I would say 99% Thai. Um, and, and I can do it, you know, it’s not too painful.
As long as we’re talking about, uh, subjects that I’m familiar with. Um, so I, I do, uh, uh, conversation practice is very important for me. Um, speaking, um, uh, as well as comprehensible input. So I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix in Thai, um, and I’ve been reading graphic novels as well. I’m not quite at the point where I can understand, uh, you know, I, I bought a whole bunch of books and Thai and they’re just, they’re, they’re very…yeah, very complicated. Uh, it’s a very difficult writing system to master and I can’t follow along with that yet, but I find that if I’m reading a comic book, manga or a graphic novel or something like that, I can follow along with the pictures and, and, you know, that’s enough of a help that I can also read the title language as I read through.
So I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.
Elle: Excellent. And so any recommendations, you said Netflix shows? Um, I mean, I don’t know if everyone listening than could get the shows that you mention, they could search them, but are there any, or, uh, books, graphic novels, as you mentioned, or I could, you can tell me, I can kind of put, I’ll put a note in the description to you if you mentioned any, but yeah. Any stand out ones that you enjoy?
Aaron: Um, yeah, the one that I, the one that I started off reading is called Cookie Run. And it’s a story about a gingerbread man. Um, but it’s for it’s for like older children, you know, young, young teenagers, older children. Um, and I found that to be the most appropriate for my level.
Um, it was like interesting enough, cause you know, it’s a story and it’s kind of funny, to hold my attention. Um, And, and it was, uh, easy enough cause it’s for older children, uh, that I could follow along and there’s ton of books in the series. So I’ve read several of them now. And then later I moved on to a more interesting, like, uh, young adults, uh, oriented graphic novels and stuff like that.
Elle: Excellent. Well, best of luck with your Thai. Um, are there any, I know 2021 is a strange year, do you have any plans, language learning related or what’s in store for Fingtam languages, your, um, YouTube channel?
Aaron: Well, um, you know, I’m going just keep chugging along with my YouTube channel right now. Uh, I don’t plan on any, uh, any new languages anytime soon.
I do want to achieve a really high level in, um, in Thai. I’ve been basically every day, I forgot to mention this, every day I’ve been watching this YouTube channel called comprehensible Thai, which didn’t exist when I started learning. But, um, fortunately I just found that a few months ago and, uh, that’s been really helpful, but yeah.
Anyways, I’m, uh, uh, yeah, I’m just going to be doing more of the same for the next, at least next year or so until I move back to America and then we’ll see what, uh, where I go linguistically from there.
Elle: Excellent. Sounds good. Well, we can follow your journey. I’ll pop the link to your channel in the description and yeah, best of luck with the Thai and thank you so much for joining us, Aaron.
Aaron: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.
Elle: Thank you. Bye bye.