Taipei school offers foreign languages on the go

Would it be a surprise to hear that you can learn exotic languages like Catalan and Persian in Taipei?

Thanks to the power of the Internet and Michael Campbell's Taipei-based Glossika Language Training, language learners can now pick up dozens of new tongues through spaced repetition training here, there, or in any corner of the world.

"Now the electronic book format is mature and we can use distributors worldwide that use that product as well.

People can buy PDFs from us or from bookstores," Campbell, who says he is comfortable conversing in over a dozen languages, told CNA over the phone.

The Glossika programme consists of e-books filled with sample sentences in the target language and audio recordings of natural sentences along with a translation - just listen, read, and perhaps most importantly, repeat in a set regimen to see results.

It eschews the traditional focus on grammar and vocabulary to instead offer only full sentences over and over again, an approach that the team behind the project says gives an extra leg up when it comes to pronunciation and syntax while reinforcing grammar and vocabulary.

Campbell said he learned early on that formal grammar rules alone do not bring about fluency with his first Latin teacher.

"He was drilling in Latin declensions and conjugations, and that was probably my first exposure to foreign languages in the classroom.

But outside of the classroom it was completely foreign and an incomprehensible mess. You don't really remember the things you don't understand."

As a result, Glossika courses focus on "things that we do in our daily lives, part of the human expression/human experience."

While different cultures have different customs, "going out with friends and meeting and dancing, I think this happens in all cultures," Campbell said.

One of the more unique aspects is of course the location of their offices in Taipei, not exactly a part of the world you would expect to come across speakers of Persian or Uzbek to provide audio recordings.

"Uzbekistan is a country with millions of people; out of those millions it is possible to find people.

The issue isn't trying to find the people - that's possible by talking to people in your network and then finding people," Campbell said.

"It's harder to find the people who can do the indigenous languages," he said, referring to the Austronesian Formosan languages, many of which only have a handful of native speakers still alive.

"We're relying on major languages like the sales from English and Chinese and other languages to offset our budgets (for producing content for smaller languages) ... I really want to create this awareness and some good tools for acquiring different languages," he said.

Glossika has expanded greatly in the four years since it launched its initial English materials for Taiwanese learners, and in the future, Campbell hopes to keep expanding into the education sector by working with companies connected to governments and higher education, particularly in regions of Africa and India.

"Beyond language itself, we're able to expand this into other areas like history and science and math. In the long run Glossika is going to become a publisher of learning materials."

As for people who dismiss learning languages as too difficult or uninteresting, Campbell has some advice for them, too.

"For the average person, foreign languages besides English are quite mysterious," he said, noting that many "have this fear of foreign languages."

"It takes a lot of effort and many years, but if someone has already gone through those steps" to learn one language, after that, he said, it gets much easier.

Campbell encouraged those interested in learning more than just a second language as the process gets easier after the first try.

"They've already had that experience once, and they know what the key is. They may find that fluency comes a lot easier with a second or third language than with a first foreign language."