How to learn a language the OLD way

Updated: Aug 10, 2019


A message from Danielle, our Founder:


I began googling, "how to learn Chinese" and "how to speak Arabic" I or "how to learn a language" in the 6th grade. I was wildly unprepared to teach myself not one, but two foreign languages. After a few months of practice, I became defeated, and those skills quickly faded into oblivion. I re-commenced my language studies at Princeton in 2012. After several trips to the Middle East, working in Jordan and Palestine, I felt like even though I knew Arabic, I didn't know Arabic.


My education brought me around the world to realize I had only scratched the surface of such a rich and historic language. After graduation, my grasp of Arabic slipped through my fingers.


Fast forward to now: As a career firefighter, our crew enters homes with citizens speaking Vietnamese, Nepalese, Russian, Arabic, Swahili, Spanish, Urdu, Chinese, French, Tagalog, Farsi, signing ASL, Chuukese, and so many more in a city of 400,000. I thought, what can we do to utilize this knowledge base?


I’ve exhausted my fair share of language apps and tutors, but my biggest hiccup to speaking a new language was maintaining my language skills. Who do I talk to? Where do I find them? Do I have to buy a roundtrip plane ticket to Amman every time I want to speak Arabic? Will they judge my accent? Will they judge my grammar? Do I hire a tutor? How long can I afford to pay $40/hour for a language tutor?


For me, the problem wasn't the amount of resources, it was the type. I like popping the hood on my car to see what's wrong. I like experimenting in the kitchen. I like real-world experiences where I can use the full spectrum of my senses. There isn't anything inherently wrong with using language apps or virtual tutors, but it didn't feel like I was learning a new language.


A lot of today's apps are geared toward learning a language "in your own home," "from your couch" or "to avoid sounding silly."Here's the thing, my app, tutor, classroom, and textbook learning NEVER prepared me for my first Arabic conversation with Tarek, my Palestinian taxi driver. In fact, all of my top dollar language learning came from chats with Tarek, Arabic coffee with my host sister Aya, and Iftars with Ali, the boutique hotel owner.


My point is, as much as you'd like to save yourself from embarrassment, embarrassing moments are teaching moments. Saying "Can you repeat that?" until you're blue in the face is a part of the learning process. Trust me, your AI language app isn't going to tell you the word you're pronouncing is eerily similar to a word that would make sailors' blush. It's those moments that give you the novelties of language learning. That's when you feel like you're learning a language.


Polly Languages was designed to bring communities together. We create safe, engaging environments for native speakers and language learners to meet, chat, eat, drink, and make memories. Because that's how you remember a language.


Although Polly Languages is partially a selfish way for me to keep up with my language skills and connect to my community, in reality, it’s the platform I wish I had several years ago. It takes the headache out of language learning and puts you exactly where you need to be to learn a new language-- in front of the people who speak it.

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