A different language is a different vision of life. Speaking any foreign language apart from your own is undoubtedly worth the effort that we put into the learning process. Lýdia Machová, an interpreter, a doctoral student at the Department of British and American Studies and one of the presenters at the ELTForum in Bratislava, is one of these lucky people whose mere existence proves that it is possible to learn not just one, but a few foreign languages at the same time. If you stay focused and practise a lot, your eyes finally open up to see the things unseen before. Therefore, let not the limits of our own language limit our whole world.
Perspectives (P): Lýdia, can you please share with us the story behind your teaching career? How come that a graduate of Translation and Interpreting Studies has been working as a teacher?
Lýdia Machová (LM): I started teaching English as soon as I realized I was a bit better at it than my classmates :) At first, I gave private tuition to just a few pupils from my school, then when I was 16, I took up a job at a company in Partizánske and taught a group of 6 adult beginners. That was quite a challenge, but it is usually great challenges that enable us to grow the most. Later, during my studies, I gained some experience teaching the Callan method and right now I teach university students within my PhD studies – not only practical English but also interpreting. I have always loved teaching because it involves people, and working with people is never dull.
P: Have you always wanted to become an interpreter? What do you like most about this stressful profession? And what does interpreting personally epitomize for you?
LM: Yes, interpreting has always been a job I wanted to land and I’m enjoying it to the full. What I love most about it is the fact that it always keeps you humble – your working languages will never be good enough, there’s always so much room for improvement. I know that there will never be a peak in my career when I could tell myself – that’s it, you are now a fully-fledged professional interpreter. And if I should ever come to think so, the next interpreting assignment might easily prove me wrong. That’s what makes me keep improving my English (and other languages) all the time.
Interpreting is a really nice profession. It enables you to get to unusual places, listen to interesting speeches, take part in meetings behind closed doors and meet people from all walks of life. It is demanding, stressful and exhausting and definitely not for anyone, but for me it is definitely worth the effort and it can be very fulfilling at times.
P: How do you keep improving your own English? Do you have any secret potion for this common problem that teachers have to face?
LM: Yes, and I gave a dose of that secret potion to all those who were present at my presentation at ELT Forum :) The secret lies, firstly, in wanting to improve, secondly, in knowing how to go about doing it, and thirdly, in doing it on a regular basis. As for the know-how, I've shared it in my presentations on language learning (which will be held also this academic year at our faculty and elsewhere) and as for the will and regularity – well, everyone must find that drive in themselves, (un)fortunately.
Right now, I’m concentrating on specialized vocabulary related to Slovakia using the Slovak Spectator newspaper, on collocations and idioms (there is no better source than self-study books such as the In Use Cambridge series or Oxford Word Skills for advanced students) and I make sure I practise speaking English a lot, too. Also, a friend of mine and I are preparing for the CPE exam together in order to improve our English. I use several different methods for my other languages, but most of them are mentioned in the hand-out from the ELT conference.
P: What do you like most about learning foreign languages? How many languages have you been learning and how many of them have you mastered?
LM: Foreign languages are my greatest hobby – and they turn out to be such a useful one! I am currently actively working on my English, German, French, Slovak (specific vocabulary for interpreting such as IT, environment, legal terminology etc.) and the Slovak Sign Language (which is the only language I’m not learning on my own – guess why :) ) while keeping up my Spanish and Polish. I have mastered each of them on a different level, but I’m usually satisfied when I reach approximately the B1-B2 level in order to be able to read virtually anything in that language, use it fluently with native speakers and have intelligent discussions. What I love about foreign languages is that you put some effort into it at a certain time, but then you get to draw the numerous advantages for the rest of your life (providing, of course, you keep the languages up a bit). Languages open up so many doors. For instance, I’ve recently started to get to know the world of the Deaf through the sign language, and it’s a really interesting experience for me.
P: How do you personally learn languages? What do you think is the easiest way to learn a language? Or is there?
LM: I will probably disappoint some people when I say – no, there is no easy way. People often tell me I must be incredibly talented for languages. They think I just hear a list of 50 random words and I can use them actively from then on, using correct grammar. Of course not. No one’s brain works like that (mine, for sure, does not :) ). It requires a lot of conscious work, discipline, drill and practice, but it always pays off in the end.
I am more of a traditional language learner – I always take a book for autodidacts and I go through every single exercise. Shortly after the beginnings, I make sure to expose myself to the language as much as possible – read and listen a lot, try to have simple conversations with native speakers and learn a lot of vocabulary. And then – the wonderful breaking point comes when I understand the grammar, know the core vocabulary, grasp what native speakers are saying and can express myself. It is an amazing feeling, and if you can stick to learning up to that point, you will succeed and later find it easier to build on that.
P: What do you like doing in your free time?
LM: Will it come as a surprise if I say I like learning foreign languages? :D Truth is, I really love my work, my studies and my foreign languages. I do spend a lot of time working on them, but it is a genuine pleasure and even relaxation for me and I wouldn’t do it if it were just work and no enjoyment. I also have lots of friends to hang out with and I make sure I always have enough time for them. And sometimes, to let my hair down, I do something really crazy, like jump off the LaFranconi bridge on a rope swing :)
Lýdia Machová is a graduate of Translation and Interpreting Studies and currently a PhD student at the Faculty of Arts at Comenius University in Bratislava while also working as a freelance interpreter. She has eight years of experience in teaching English to adults, secondary school students and currently university students. Most of all, she is an enthusiastic life-long autodidact.