Stories of Men

Why should I learn a new language when I already speak English?

Why should I learn a new language when I already speak English?

When I was lucky enough to be able to go abroad as a teenager, I remember hanging around British ex-pat holiday resorts with my mates.

You know the ones…

Everyone around me would eat British staples such as egg and chips, Shepherd’s pie and Full English Breakfasts whilst watching ‘Only Fools and Horses’ on repeat and getting sunburnt. 

They would all share stories about their families at home and they’d always speak in English.

Nostalgia is kicking in right now. Anyway…

But what do you think particularly struck me about this image I’ve created in your mind?

Well, here we were apparently in a foreign country and no-one was even beginning to explore the local culture.

Instead, we’d brought our own culture to someone else’s backyard.

Crucially for me, as I look back…we didn’t speak or try to speak even a few words of the language.

While this caught my attention, I wasn’t moved to start learning a new language myself until I went on a trip to Colombia back in 2016 with a mate.

As a single guy in his late 20s, he was naturally on Tinder and when he was lucky enough to get a match, he’d tell the woman that she should bring a friend with her so she could do a double-date..

This was all a great idea but there was one problem…

Hardly any of the women we met spoke English and, of course, neither of us spoke any Spanish. We realised that we needed to sort this out.

So my mate and I started classes in a library in Bogota with a teacher who was advertising his services at our hostel. This teacher was eccentric to say the least but that’s a story for another time. Anyway, we both began to learn the basics and, as I slowly began to communicate in Spanish, a real love of the language was born.

You can imagine how excited I was when I could actually speak to the women on our double dates.

The line we both memorised and practised constantly was ‘tus ojos son muy bonitas’ which translates to ‘you have beautiful eyes’.

Yes, we only learnt cheesy lines to help us speak to women 🙂

But during these dates I realised that I got a rush from actually being understood in another language. The look of ‘yes, I understand you, Alex.’ Even if, overall, my Spanish was shite.

I’ve continued learning Spanish ever since and I’ve managed to get myself up to an intermediate level. So I’m still not fluent but much better than when I started. I get by.

My language learning journey has continued. A couple of years ago, I spent 10 weeks living with a family in Mexico and I became close friends with the 83-year-old woman who was the head of the family.

Just like those slightly younger women in Colombia, she didn’t speak any English, which meant that it was a fantastic opportunity to use and improve my Spanish.

I was also able to watch telenovelas with her (think soap operas but somehow even more over-the-top). As ridiculous as many of these episodes were, they allowed me to better understand the culture.

No longer was I just a tourist trapped in an ex-pat bubble, I was actually having a cultural experience.

To find out more about my trip to Mexico, including an incident that had a big impact on my life, listen to this episode.

My desire to learn more about Latin American culture has just grown and grown since then. 

As it happens, there’s currently a Colombian cleaner in the apartment complex I live in who also doesn’t speak a word of English.

We have daily conversations and I’ve learnt a lot from her about what it’s like to live as an immigrant in the UK.

She also brought me back a large bag of Colombian coffee when she recently came back from a visit there which was really nice of her…

If you want to find out more about what it’s like to live in a new country when you don’t speak the language, listen to Valerio’s story in this episode.

Some of you might be thinking that it’d be difficult to have a conversation with someone in a foreign language if they didn’t know any English. Well, actually, in some ways, it makes things much easier.

When I’ve tried to practise my Spanish with speakers who do know some English, we often get into what I call “language fights”.

I want to practise my Spanish and they see an opportunity to practise their English with a foreigner. My worst area is listening so it’s difficult to improve when people reply in English.

This happened when I was in Mexico near Cancun where the Spanish speaker I was talking to was clearly able to tell from my accent and pasty white Irish skin that I wasn’t exactly a native Mexican. So he immediately switched to speaking English while I was talking to him, and I continued speaking in Spanish trying to get some practice in.

It can be quite a weird and awkward experience when that happens. But I imagine (hope) it’ll happen less and less as my Spanish improves.

Of course, I’m always happy to help others with their English but it’s better when we apportion times to speak ALL in English and then afterwards ALL in Spanish. That creates a win-win rather than a tit-for-tat language scrap.

If you’ve read any of my articles before, then it won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve had a read into some of the benefits of language learning.

Tim Ferriss has some great articles on this especially this one:

As well as broadening your social and cultural experience, learning a new language opens up new neural pathways in the brain that can slow down cognitive decline and related conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

It’s also a great way to improve your CV in a time when the world is becoming more globally interconnected than ever. 

Let’s also remember, Spanish is still one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. And there are actually more native speakers of Spanish than there are of English!

But, yes, English is now pretty much a global language in so many areas of life; it’s also worth saying that most people who speak English these days are actually non-native speakers, a Japanese businessman communicating with a Brazilian receptionist will more than likely be speaking to each other in English. How the world is changing…

So, in reality, when you’re an English speaker it’s not so much a question of needing to learn another language, it’s more a case of desiring to. 

I’ve always wanted to and I think a lot of other native English-speakers want to as well. We just need that extra motivation.

Some of you might be put off by the challenge of learning a new language if you’ve never done it before. But learning Spanish, although not easy, is by no means an impossible challenge.

I’d describe it as like learning to play guitar. You have to do slightly different things with your body and fingers (read tongue and vocal cords) to get the sound you need but once you’ve covered the basics, you’re able to do a lot with a little.

The rest is repetition and practice.

I’m not quite Jimi Hendrix-level yet, but I keep trying to improve and I love the challenge that learning a language provides.

Personally, I wouldn’t change my language-learning experiences for anything.

Read this article for more on the benefits of life-long learning.What benefits would learning a new language have for you? Leave a comment below.

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

Experience in Industry: 3

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Favourite Food: Potatoes

Favourite Sport: Wild swimming

Favourite Show: Anything Marvel

Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights

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I’m the community manager at Stories of Men. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests. What I love most about working for Stories of men is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

Industry experience: 3 Years

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Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.

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I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Stories of Men podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years

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Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

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Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Stories of Men’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  

 

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: 15 YEARS

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Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.

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I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Stories of Men podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues regarding men that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: 10 YEARS

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Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

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I’m the Editor of Stories of men. I craft compelling narratives from the stories of our fantastic guests, editing their interviews and scripting the episodes. I’m a freelance journalist and audio producer from Northern Ireland, currently based in California. I cover social issues, health and gender – with reporting in The Guardian, Vice, NPR, Cosmopolitan and many others. My focus is shining a light on the communities and initiatives that improve people’s lives. I have a background in the nonprofit space, having worked in communications for a mental health charity, as well as an education start-up. I mentor young female writers and sit on the board of an NGO that empowers women in global supply chains. 
 
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Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

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Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

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I am the host of Stories of Men. I help to find men that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 
 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet men from all walks of life and many of these guys had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Stories of Men’ because I wanted to give these men a platform to share their stories with the world.

I love the detail that people go into and how people craft stories in different ways. My dream and vision for the future would be countless people messaging to tell us how a particular episode has changed their lives!

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Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.