Fluent In 8 Months? How this busy professional finds time for languages.


When I first connected with Clara online, she didn’t really speak much German. She could say some words but I could see she had a strong desire to learn and was determined. Now, she is almost native level.

The reason why Clara’s story is so important is because, like many of us, she is a busy professional. She is a nurse who resides between two countries, is pursuing a master’s degree program run by two universities while completing an internship AND is considering a PhD program thereafter. Here’s a look at how she finds time to pursue foreign language studies.
BGLL: Hey Clara, thanks for taking some time out of your schedule and allowing me to feature you on my site. 

Clara: No, thank you for featuring me on your blog and allowing me to share my passion for languages. I really am happy that there is a space online celebrating and promoting language learning in the black community, thank you for your work!

BGLL: Tell us a little more about yourself.

Clara: My name is Clara, I am British-Nigerian. I currently live between Brussels and Vienna, but starting in November, I’ll be living between Prague and Vienna. I am a nurse and I have a Bachelor’s from King’s College London. I am a second year Master’s student of Public Health at the University of Vienna/Medical University of Vienna (the programme is run jointly by both universities and the degree will be awarded by both too). I am hoping to do my PhD afterwards. My current job title is intern/research assistant and I am doing my 4-month internship at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, working in the International health policy unit, on a health system strengthening research project. I love the job because it is challenging and so different from everything I have done so far. I am learning so much, and it is helping me decide what area I want to focus my PhD on. I also have a blog which has been on hiatus since the last 2 years. It seems my nomadic lifestyle is incompatible with writing regularly and maintaining a blog!

BGLL: Wow, that’s so exciting and ambitious. I’ve also read your blog, you are very well travelled. I especially loved your three-part blog series on your experience in BangladeshHow many languages do you know? Which one is your native language?

Clara: This is always a complicated question for me, because technically my native language is Ondo (which I don’t speak), and Yoruba, the Nigerian language of the city where I grew up. I am fluent in Yoruba and, unlike many Nigerians, can read it too. However, my true first language and the one in which I am most comfortable is English. I also speak French and German, as well as passable Italian. I am learning Spanish and Dutch but still at the very beginning of the process.

BGLL: How did you learn French and German?

Clara: I learnt French for pragmatic reasons. I had a midlife crisis at the grand old age of 27, ran off to Paris and soon discovered that to integrate professionally i.e. work as a nurse, I would need to speak the language. I learnt it mostly by watching everything on TV and hanging out with the children I was working with as an au pair.

German, I learnt for fun and love (for my boyfriend’s mum). Once I met her, I realized that we’d get along very well, and I wanted to be able to have deeper conversations with her. I was living in Brussels at the time, so this was much harder than French, but I learnt by, again, watching TV, having weekly conversation exchanges, going through a grammar book and talking to my MIL on the phone. Well I learnt German on my own within 8 months, passed the TestDaF with a result that gave me access to a Master’s level course and have managed to follow all my classes and pass my exams (so far!). I guess you could say I accomplished something there.

Learning Italian has been a bit haphazard. I do it on and off through Duolingo, grammar books, TV/radio, reading and interacting/communicating with Italian speakers.

Dutch is mostly through Erasmus+ OLS, the language platform provided by the EU for Erasmus participants.

BGLL: Which of your foreign languages are your favorite and why?

Clara: Italian! I just love the way it sounds! It is unfortunately, apart from Dutch/Spanish, still my weakest language.

BGLL: Which tips you can offer to busy professionals and academics who are trying to learn languages?

Clara: First, you must be disciplined. Try to do a little bit every day, even if it’s just 5 minutes of Duolingo. Second, watch TV/listen to the radio, and have regular conversation exchange sessions. You will learn a lot of useful informal expressions this way. Lastly, book yourself in for a language exam as soon as you start learning, it will motivate you! I hate failing and hate wasting money even more, so this was one of my biggest motivations for working hard.

BGLL: How can we keep up with you on social media?

Clara: You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter, I am relatively active on both platforms. IG/Twitter:@ClaraOlu

CONVERSATION

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