My name is Lydia Machova, I am 27 years old and I am a professional conference interpreter and language mentor. I speak 7 languages fluently (besides Slovak and Czech) and I have learnt all of them without living abroad.

Over the course of 16 years learning 8 non-native foreign languages, I devised a system on how anybody can learn a language to a level where they feel confident and don't have to think much. Learning a language doesn't have to be a complicated, lengthy process, and it definitely doesn't have to be unpleasant. Quite the opposite, you can learn languages in a very enjoyable and relaxed way.

Me as a polyglot

The languages I can speak:

English

C2

German

C1 - C2

Polish

C1 - C2

Spanish

C1

French

B2

Esperanto

B2

Russian

B2

Slovak Sign Language

A2

Language levels (for those who know the European Framework of Reference for Languages) are informative only – according to my judgement. For me, the most important thing is that I can speak all of these learned languages (with the exception of the Slovak Sign Language) in everyday communication - I can easily speak with native Germans or Poles, read any book written in Esperanto, watch any Spanish movie without subtitles, etc.

In the case of English, German, Polish, Spanish and Esperanto, I have a good command of grammar and spelling, and I can use these languages for written communication without any problems.  But I always put the greatest emphasis on speaking – after all, this is why we learn languages, right? 🙂

How did I learn all these languages

I started to learn English as my first foreign language in grammar school in Partizánske, Slovakia, when I was 11.  After the first year, I realised that I enjoyed English and I started to participate in English language competitions. I prepared for them by myself – I studied grammar, read books and magazines and I was helping an American teacher with teaching at primary schools so that I could be frequently exposed to the only native speaker around Partizánske.

I started to learn German as my second foreign language when I was 15 years old. Besides learning it at school, I also attended a German course at a language school.

However, I studied mostly at home – reading books to improve my grammar and vocabulary. But the greatest progress was achieved by watching German TV on a regular basis. Later, I studied German and English at the Comenius University.

With Ed from the US we used to spend the whole afternoons with school children

I started to learn Spanish in the second year of my university studies. I read through the entire self-study book of Spanish for beginners, and intuitively employed several methods used by many polyglots, e.g. the back-translation technique. I also spent a lot of time with Spanish-speaking Erasmus students in Bratislava.

Me with Erasmus students from Spain

In the fourth year at the Slovak university, I embarked upon learning Polish. On the 1st of August 2010, I began to learn from a Czech self-study book and in October of that year, I attended classes with students who had already studied Polish for one year. Exactly twelve months later, on the 1st of August 2011, at the Summer School of Polish Language in Cieszyn, I was rated at the highest level according to my entrance exam. Later, I spent two semesters studying in Poland.

People from all over the world study Polish at the Summer School of Polish Language in Cieszyn.

Two years later, at the beginning of my PhD studies, I was enchanted by the French language. Studying from a book again, I included auditory learning methods. The breakthrough came during my two-week trip across France. Thanks to Couchsurfing (website for travellers), I stayed only with French people.

My own ‘study stay’ in France, where I found a lot of friends

Simultaneously with learning French, out of interest, I signed up for a Slovak Sign Language course at a local cultural centre for the deaf. I completed four semesters (two years) of courses, and at the end I was able to sign quite fluently. Unfortunately, I do not practice this language skill any more.

Sign language is the only language you cannot learn without a teacher

Thanks to my friends, I found out about the Esperanto language. I was immediately intrigued by its simplicity. After learning from a Teach Yourself book for only a month (approximately 15 minutes a day), I signed up for the Esperanto Summer School in Nitra. After one week, I couldn't believe that I could speak Esperanto fluently. Nowadays, I am also active in organising Esperanto events.

9 players, 9 countries, one common language - Esperanto (at the World Esperanto Congress in Lille)

Russian is my latest language to date. I started in September 2015 and I am trying different methods, which I switch after a couple of months, so that I keep myself entertained. It is my first language that I learn without any ‘self-study books’ and almost without studying any grammar. At the end of the first year, I spent two weeks in Moscow and St Petersburg only to find out that I could use the language very fluently and freely. Now, I can read books, watch Russian videos and talk to native speakers without any greater effort. That's because I've spent an intensive year of learning by myself.

Me as an interpreter

As an interpreter, especially in English, I worked my way up to a very high level of language proficiency.  Besides English, I also studied German and had opportunities to interpret in Polish and Spanish as well.

Interpreter for the First Lady of Slovakia

One of the most interesting events I worked at as an interpreter, was the summit of five presidents – Slovak, Czech, Polish, Hungarian and Ukrainian – in 2013. I was an official interpreter for the first lady, Mrs. Gasparovicova. I accompanied her for two days on an official program and interpreted for her from English and Polish.

It was fascinating and enjoyable to fly in the special government aircraft from Bratislava to Polish Beskids and then from Beskids to Krakow in a helicopter. Also to be in a special convoy in Krakow, surrounded by police cars and especially to see and hear the high-level political meetings.

(Source: prezydent.pl, Photo: Piotr Molęcki)
(Source: prezydent.pl. Photo: Wojciech Gradzinski)

Interpreter for Slovakia's former prime minister

As an interpreter, I had a chance to meet many other high-ranking politicians, whether during talks at the ministries, at the press conferences or conferences. One of them was our former prime minister, Iveta Radicova.

Interpreter for Tony Robbins

Businessmen surely know one of the most sought-after speakers in the world, Tony Robbins, whom I had the honour to interpret for during his two-day seminar in Poland.  It was demanding, but the view was priceless from the interpretation booth located above the crowd of 8000 people and above the stage with Tony.

The most overwhelming moment came at the end, when suddenly, one of Tony's four bodyguards appeared in the booth, followed by Tony himself.

He shook hands with each one of the interpreters and said thank you for bringing his words to the people who don't understand English.  People at his seminar cried, laughed, yelled, roared...believe me, the atmosphere was better than at any concert of the biggest rock stars. 🙂

This gesture made by such a well-known personality is the best reward possible. 

Interpreter for Peruvian shaman

One of my most unusual job experiences to date was the two weeks I spent in a camp of local shaman in the Amazon rainforest in the north of Peru. The shaman healed people with a jungle drug called ayahuasca. It stimulates the purgative process, usually in the form of several hours of vomiting accompanied by different hallucinations.

It was a new experience to sleep on the terrace of a simple house made up of a couple of wooden pieces. To spend two weeks in an environment with 98% humidity, take a bath in the Amazon River, taste grilled larvae and experience the life of local inhabitants was amazing. The most interesting part, however, was the night ceremonies. I participated in two of them and I even tried ayahuasca myself. Remarkable experiences 🙂

Interpretations of various kinds

Usually, as an interpreter, I don't get to go to many exotic places like this. My main workplace is Bratislava where I attend different conferences, meetings, talks, festivals, etc.

I interpreted at conferences about growing corn, about support of the LGBT community in the workplace, about the fight against human trafficking, about coaching, about fund-raising, and many, many others.

I participated at talks between ministers and ambassadors, at press conferences after signing important agreements, at business talks where big contracts were agreed upon.

The profession of interpreting is very exciting, but demanding too. I revealed a lot about this profession in my lecture at the Polyglot Gathering 2015 in Berlin. Using practical examples, I explained what makes a good interpreter and what crosses the interpreter's mind when they have to listen to the speaker and say it in a different language at the same time.

Lecture from Polyglot Gathering in Berlin

The Pleasures and Pains of Working as an Interpreter

Me as a language mentor

Language mentoring is my own approach to language teaching. Since I was 15 years old, I have taught English and German to hundreds of people - in private lessons, language schools, companies, elementary schools, at university...

After all these years, I have realised that you cannot teach somebody a language. You can only learn a language by yourself.  A good teacher can help you, but nobody can ever get the language into your head on your behalf.

That's why I started to look for methods to help people learn languages by themselves. 

It all started with language learning lectures...

In 2013, I started to give periodical lectures on language learning. The first lectures were aimed at students of Comenius University. Later, I started to give tips and advice on language learning to my friends, travelers, English teachers, etc. I have given lectures not only in Slovak but also in English and Polish.

At the Comenius University, the lectures became an annual event due to their success. The number of people interested has been increasing yearly. 

When lectures are not enough

During my PhD studies at Comenius University, I taught not only simultaneous interpreting but also the course in advanced English. Gradually, I tried to integrate the elements of language mentoring into my lectures. The reactions from the students were very positive.

So in the last year, I extended my experiment to 100 students from the translation and interpreting courses. I asked them to try to improve their language skills on their own, outside of classes, in a way which they would enjoy.

The results were overwhelming: 

0%
of the students liked this kind of learning by themselves.

On average, students spent

0 hours
learning English over a two-month period, although our classes took only 45 minutes each week (6 hours together) - all of that despite being fully engaged in other study tasks.
0%
of the students claimed that as early as two months in, their English improved.

Experiment with 100 students and 13 languages

That's why I decided to move the experiment forward. In spring 2016, I carried out an intensive language mentoring program at the Faculty of Arts, Comenius University, for the students of translation and interpreting. Again, almost 100 students from all study years were involved. They were improving their skills in 13 different languages, 8 of which I don't speak (Croatian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Swedish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Portuguese). We were meeting once a week and everyone had their own individual plan based on what exactly they wanted to improve. Everyone was learning at home by themselves, and we supported each other (I myself was learning Russian together with the students).

The results of the experiment were incredible. The students were telling me after several weeks how much their language level had risen since we started: they understood much more, were able to express themselves more freely and they became almost addicted to learning and improving their language skills. 

And I was not the only one who noticed the difference. This is what one of the teachers at the Spanish Department said at the end of the mentoring program: 

 

Some of the students who took part in the language mentoring program had their final exams today, and I can tell you that we, the teachers, have really seen the difference. The students from the program achieved a huge improvement in their Spanish. My colleagues didn't understand how that was possible in just two months, but I knew it was because they had attended your program. I would gladly make ALL our students take part in it in the future, because it really works. Thank you, Lydia.

Doc. Mgr. Bohdan UlaĆĄin, PhD. Head of the Hispanic Studies section of the Department of Romance languages, Comenius University in Bratislava

I improved my English more in the last two months than in the last two years! Lots of activities which I am using even now are a great relaxation for me and that gives me even more motivation to do them. Given how much I enjoy these activities, I often spend much more time with them than I originally planned. Progress is clearly visible even after such a short time.

Magda GrossmanovĂĄ

This is exactly what we were missing at the university. I’ve always wanted to learn English, but I didn’t know how. This program gave my education a whole new perspective. I understand spoken English much better now, and I see a huge improvement in my vocabulary as well.

Miroslav Mrekaj

I feel a strong improvement in my speaking and comprehension. I am not afraid to communicate with native speakers, and I don’t use filler words. I can express myself more eloquently, quickly, and using the new vocabulary which I learnt from watching TV series and reading articles. The Anki app is my new best friend for life 🙂

NatĂĄlia Ć ebestovĂĄ

The mentoring program works amazingly well for me. I feel much better at German thanks to it, and I finally do things which I've always wanted to do but never found the time for. The lack of time is always the main problem -- we all have busy agendas but if you want, you can always find a few time slots for the language. It can all add up to as much as an hour a day. I think that anyone should try it who feels that they need to work on their language skills, but keeps putting it off for later when they "have more time" -- which is never. Now is the time to start. Your language mentoring showed me how.

KatarĂ­na VĂĄclavikovĂĄ

If you haven't tried it, you have no idea. I've managed to overcome my fear of speaking, I have gained lots of active vocabulary, and I finally use the language actively.

Nikoleta ZiliziovĂĄ

I can tell you honestly that your mentoring program is one of the best things that could have possibly happened to me. It works for me 100%. I think it must work for anyone who wants to move their language level up a few notches.

JĂșlia TauberovĂĄ

You are really the first person ever to finally give me an answer to my question: How to learn languages? So far, others have just given me small hints at how to do it, but you came with a whole system of amazing ideas. When I listened to your initial lecture, I was asking myself: How come I never came up with this by myself?

Erika SzabĂłovĂĄ

You've caused a revolution at the faculty! Using effective time-management methods that you recommended to us, I can now use lots of passive time, such as when taking a bus. The system that you've introduced -- first realizing what I need to improve and why, has brought real results and not just an "attempt" at improving my language skills.

PatrĂ­cia ProksovĂĄ

I think that your language learning system is very original, encouraging and motivating. The choice of resources and the methods which we truly enjoy is revolutionary and as a result, we are all more than willing to spend much more time with the language. I have nothing but praise for your language mentoring system. It's amazing that whenever I stumble upon a problem in my language learning, you already have a solution, or, more than likely, you won't even let me fall into the problem because you'll warn us about possible pitfalls in advance.

Veronika BĂĄthoryovĂĄ

I'm not exaggerating when I say I love the mentoring program. I love using the "dead time" of the day because I like things to be done effectively and practically. I listen to podcasts when travelling, running, cooking and when on the train, I even manage to knit. Besides listening, I like that we have our SMART goals, that you have it all thought through, that it is based on a logical system. It is awesome! And it works! Not just for learning languages, also for other activities such as doing sports or learning other things.

Monika RoncovĂĄ

It was fascinating to watch the students fall in love with their languages anew, and to learn English and other languages with such passion. Learning the language changed from a must to a hobby. But the best thing about it was how much the program helped them improve in their respective languages in just two months. This is what they said at the end:

     Me myself 🙂

When people find out that I can speak 9 languages self-taught (including my mother tongue Slovak and the closely related Czech language), they usually think that:

  • I have no other hobbies
  • I have no free time
  • I am not human.

Actually, it is all about good time management. 🙂 Currently, I study the Russian language approximately one hour a day, besides other activities. However, it's not that I sit and study for one hour every evening.  I incorporate language learning into my everyday life. With a little persistence, one can find a lot of time to practice a language. 

Besides languages I have other significant hobbies: travelling and dancing. In the last two years, I have travelled across Argentina, Chile, Peru, Cuba, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and many European countries. I travel mostly with Couchsurfing (staying as a guest at a host's home for free) so that I can get to know the locals and their lifestyle. Languages make this type of travelling the world much easier for me 🙂

Here are some of my "traveling scarf pictures" that I take everywhere I go. Each is from a different country.