Lambert Linguist: Tips from a Speaker of 15 Languages (Part 1)

The most intriguing mystery is how to pronounce his last name.


Screenshot of YouTube video titled "Random language learning tip #1 | Ask for what is called for" URL:

Born in southeast Slovakia, Skultety was exposed to multiple languages from a young age. By the time he was 15, he had learned Slovakian, Hungarian, Czech, English, and German to a native level. (Although now, he says he has lost the fully native speech of his English and German after so many years.) For more information, read his blog, Forever A Student.

Vladimir Skultety speaks 15 languages.

He translates three for a living: English, Slovak, and Mandarin Chinese.

Eight of these languages (including the ones he translates) he has learned at a C1-C2 level, the highest grade for fluency according to the Common European Framework of Reference. He is almost (and may actually be) at the level of fluent adult natives in those languages. The remaining three he could have a decent conversation in.

In a YouTube video, he speaks all 15 (and four more he only knows a little about) in about 15 minutes. With such an extraordinary talent, I wanted to learn everything I could from him.

Fortunately, he has a series of videos that show some learning tips that he has picked up. I would like to present just two of the videos of the series.

I will link the original videos to their titles. I will also post the blurb he wrote at the bottom of each video. Lastly, my own commentary is added on after his piece. I believe they add clarification and my personal experience to his advice.

Random Language Learning Tip #1:

Ask For What [It’s] Called For


Skultety’s Blurb:

“Instead of asking ‘How to say ..?’ ask ‘What would you say in this situation?’.

Often the target language you’re learning or the culture behind it require you to say something slightly or very different than what you would say in your native language so asking ‘How do you say..?’ will often not get you the correct answer. Asking ‘What would you say in this situation’ instead will hopefully provide you with exactly what people of of the language you’re studying would say in this or that particular situation, making you sound more natural and easier to understand.”

My Commentary:

According to Vladimir, If you’re an English speaker and you’re learning another European language, generally you can ask How do you say this?

But he also said that you should definitely use this tip for other languages. This is especially true if you’re learning – let’s say – an Eastern Asian language. Asians, generally, use different words and cultural phrases than those of European descent.

As a Korean myself, I can say this is true for my language.

If you were to ask me How do you say “hello” in Korean?, I would answer with annyeongBut there’s an issue with me just giving that answer.

Annyeong is just an informal hiYou would never say this to an adult or anybody older than you.

Korean has an ingrained seniority system in its language (it’s also the same for Japanese), and it’s not as simple as adding sir and ma’m as you would in English. I change my entire manner of speaking when I’m addressing an adult. At the end of almost every sentence, I say yo. My verbs become longer and have different endings to them than when I say verbs in informal Korean.

In formal Korean when speaking to adults, I say annyeong haseyo (notice the yo at the end of that).

Also, in Korean, saying hello in person is distinct from saying it on the telephone.

As soon as I pick up a phone to answer a Korean, I say yuboseyo. It’s posed as a question and it’s almost like saying Hello!-Who’s-calling-me?-Will-you-please-answer-me? all at the same time. I would never say annyeong or annyeong haseyo (the standard forms of hi and hello) at the beginning of a call.

I believe for some European languages it’s similar, as in you don’t immediately say hello as soon as a call begins. I remember watching a YouTube video from Guatemala from a channel called “Aquel Tu Cuate” and watching somebody say bueno once he picked up the phone. For all the Spanish-clueless people, bueno is the equivalent of okay or good. It’s definitely not a way to say hello normally. (I asked a friend who had lived in Peru about this and she said she would never say bueno. Peruvians say alo, she said.)

So, customs that vary by language and country can’t be understood by a simple “How do you say this?”.

You may get it wrong.

Language is defined by situations and emotions, not words from other languages. So use this tip to grasp a fuller understanding.

Random Language Learning Tip #2:
Read Out Loud


Skultety’s Blurb:

Read out loud in your target language for at least 15 minutes every day in order to gain pronunciation ‘stability’.

When you speak any language, you engage muscles, which then through mechanics move your speech organs into different positions, producing the sounds you need. In foreign languages, there are many positions that you are not used to and on a very mechanical level, the production of these sounds is an obstacle. This results in a loss of stability in the language and a loss of pronunciation confidence.

When you read out loud regularly, you exercise your speech organ muscles, slowly learn how to automatize individual mechanical processes, gain pronunciation stability and confidence and remove the obstacle that pronunciation mechanics cause. This will leave you with more time to concentrate on other aspects of the language such as grammar, vocabulary acquisition, word order etc.

Think about working-out.

Lifting weights will not turn you into an NBA basketball player, but it could give you the strength to train to become one. It is the same with reading in your target language.

Although your speaking will not become perfect, reading out-loud will strengthen your mouth muscles and enable you to sustain conversations in the future.

However, before you begin, you must know one thing.

If you were to lift weights, you would need to learn to do so correctly. You would not put dumbbells on your feet or you would not try to bench press with your face.  While it could work, it would not be appropriate.

The same applies to languages. Don’t start reading if you’re just beginning, because you will not know how to pronounce anything. In my opinion, pronunciation is the foundation of spoken languages (and obviously, sign languages are based on something else).

When we read, we usually have a voice inside our heads. If that little voice has not learned how to properly pronounce, then every word it will attempt to speak afterwards could be wrong or inaccurate. Then, once you throw-out that little voice and try speaking with native speakers, they may not understand you.

So, learn pronunciation before you start reading (whether out-loud or in your head).

Quick side-note: notice how I did not say accent. There is a difference and there is an easy way to distinguish.

Correct pronunciation will allow foreigners to understand you while a perfect accent could trick others into thinking that you’re a native speaker.

Pronunciation is the cake while accent is the icing and sprinkles.

Okay, back to pronunciation:

How can you learn this, oh beginner? I learned pronunciation in Spanish-1 during freshman year of high school. But I don’t recommend taking a class. Because you don’t need it.

A decent YouTube video is all you need. A company called Innovative Language hosts YouTube Channels for many popular languages (which goes along with their LanguagePod101 series). Most of them have a video playlist that introduces beginners to how to pronounce the new language.

Now, these videos will not teach you everything. Some languages like Chinese have complex sounds that need to be studied into further. But surely, these videos give a more than decent introduction. Click on any of the following links.









Last Words


Skultety also has a blog called Forever A Student (a very meaningful title in my opinion). Go check it out and learn from the master!

I hope to be posting more about his video series, and maybe include the advice of other language senseis too.