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Sep 14, 2020

Ahmad is sharing his language learning story with us!

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Podcasts mentioned in this show:

Football Daily podcast:

Luke's English podcast:

Interview with Luke on my fluent podcast:

Tik Tok trailer to the interview on my fluent podcast:

Zdenek's English podcast


Thank you very much, mr. Daniel. My name is Ahmed Djago and I live in Senegal. Senegal is a country of a 16 million habitats in West Africa. And when it comes to learning a language, a second language or a third language, for me is, I mean, I have a very interesting story because when I tell somebody that I live in a country where the official language is not English and I've never attended an English school or an English institution and yet speak English the way I am speaking it this day it might amaze him, you know,

You have a flawless accent it seems to me,

Thank you, but thank you very much , the story is quite interesting for me because Senegal is a country where the official language is French because it has been colonized by the French. But here in Africa, when we say official language, mostly we don't mean that the official language is the language that is spoken by the vast majority or the whole population of the country. French is the official language but we have other national language, which is the language that is named Wolof. And that is actually the the most widely spoken language here, I can say something like 95% of the country's population is speak the same language but only those people who went to school for studying French, all those people who live in an area where the French speakers are to be found are actually able to speak French.

But for me, when I was about 14 years old, my father took me to Gambia. Gambia is our neighboring country. I went there merely (synonym `= only, purely, solely, simply) for learning Arabic. So I went there to learn Arabic but Gambia and Senegal are quite similar. They have lots in common. For example, our national languages are the same and I've been able to survive while there, but they have one different thing. And it is Gambia's official language is English. So, the people that go to school for learning English but their national language is still the same as our country, which is Wolof but I was surrounding (surrounded?) by some of my friends, some boys who were going to school to learn English and they were having some conversation around me in English, even though English was not the language that they were speaking in their daily lives, but I've been, I mean, I became fascinated with the way they use language sometimes around me. And I asked one boy, one of my friends there to teach me how to read English because before you can teach yourself. You have to, somebody has to guide you to do the basics. Something like being able to read the language first before you go for yourself. By the time I was learning Arabic, but this boy, this particular way helped me to teach me the English alphabet until I became able to read English myself.

And that was it. I was still speaking up some expression, some words in English, something like breakfast, brother, sister, school, things like that. Basic things.

I spent the next four years there in Gambia. Then I returned, I came back to my home country, which is Senegal to continue learning Arabic in Arabic schools in Senegal, around the year 2013. I have this desire to continue learning English because I realized that English is the most widely spoken language in the world.

It is the most popular language in the world. And just by being able to speak it, it will open, you know, lots of opportunities for you. And then by that time, I was able to use Arabic and English dictionary properly. I have been quite almost fluent in Arabic. And then I stumbled upon one day, one application in the form of, I mean, it was, I think the audio book but it was made, it was built up in a form of application.

I downloaded it from Apple store. And then I download the on English and Arabic dictionary, this particular application or the audio book, as you might call it's actually built in several sections. That was the beginner section, intermediate and advanced section, but in the form of stories, For example, they will pick up a small story something like breakfast, and a write a text, a very short text about it.

So when I downloaded this application, I thought, wait a minute. Now I can teach myself English without needing any teacher or going to school. So I found a notebook and began writing those stories in my notebook. One story a day. This is how I did it. I will pick a story.

You wrote it down the whole story you've made kind of a dictation out of it. You'd listen to it. And then you wrote it down.

I will open the application and write down the story in my notebook and then download the voice file and listened to it several times until I became convinced that I can read it myself without listening to the voice. And then I would use the dictionary, Arabic English dictionary to translate the new word for me and write down the meaning in Arabic beside the words.

And then by the time I was in Arabic school, but I have some free times during the day I I would use those free times to learn these stories. Learn. repeating them for the rest of the day until you know, this is the way I use to gain so many vocabularies for the next, let's say five years.

Okay. That means you were very focused on particular stories. It says, right? So you just stick to one story until you could learn it by heart ?

yes, the stories are not that long. You know, it is built in a way that's usually 10 to 11 lines.



For example, let me give you an example, a breakfast. He will write a about breakfast about 10 lines, just 10 lines, for example. I am Ahmad. I will wake up early in the morning. I take my breakfast. My breakfast is made out of bread and things and these and these and that I will write down that story, short story and learn it by heart. And the next day I will take the next story.

Yeah, that sounds great to me.

So so this is the most effective way of gaining new vocabularies, because you will learn the vocabulary in context. There, you will have the grammatical construction, and the words are being used in sentences. And you will learn how to use them yourself. If you need them in the future.

Yeah, I think today the danger lies in being overwhelmed by the vast resources out there. So that it seems to me that we can't stick to one resource, you know, you want to consume more and more and more, and maybe that's dangerous because we can't remember things we just want to consume.

it makes it hard in a way to just stick with one book, for example, and to learn it by heart.

Yes. But the learners should be very careful about being bugged down with lots of research, lots of resources, lots of materials. When it comes to learning a language, because today the internet is making the things, you know, it is a huge field. If you are not being careful enough you might get yourself in a difficult situation.

You have to focus. You have to choose wisely. What do you believe that it's going to take you to the next level and stick to it! So, somebody might wonder how can you become able to speak the language by just writing stories and things like that because that is just input just by me, but by making just input one cannot become able to use the language by speaking or by writing, you know? By that time, my pronunciation by the way was not good at all. So, there was videos that was produced by BBC six minutes English. And I was downloading those videos which teaches the English Letters that people should learn when they want to pronounce English properly.

And I think is, is about 44 letters, isn't it?

Yeah, I think I, I know this show they also had, or have a podcast which is still going on. I think.

Yes. This is the videos that are downloaded too polish and to brush up my pronunciation pads (`?) and I was writing them down as well in a notebook, something like a "schwa" sound, things like that, by the way, I prefer British English. And that's why I focused on those videos until I became satisfied with the way I pronounced words in English.

By that time I was also listening to some podcasts as well. I discovered a guy an English teacher who lives in the UK by the name of Luke I discovered this particular podcast around the year 2014. Yes. And I was listening to it. Yeah. Like a mad person, every single time.

Yeah, he's really great luke Thompson and I have conducted an interview with him about two or three years ago. So he was also on my fluent podcast. Maybe you noticed.

Yeah, I noticed I listened to the episodes in which he featured on. I listened to, Zdenek Lukas also, who is actually another guy who's producing very, very interesting topic, by the way, I am a big fan of Zdenek. am listening to his podcasts, especially if he's livestreaming these days.

It is quite interesting. These are the guys. That I was listening dearly listening every single time. And by listening to them, I see the progress in my listening ability.

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I am also a fan of Zdenek's English podcast of course his live shows are just amazing.

Yeah, they are amazing.

And did you listen to other podcasts as well? Can you recommend other podcasts?

Yes, I am a big football fan and I listened to some football podcasts football related podcasts, like the football daily from the BBC Firefly and six Oh six also that this might be not the cup of tea of some listeners out there, because there are so many people who don't like football at all, but this is the thing that interested me and when you're listening to something that you love, you're more likely to gain, you know, to reap the rewards by the way, to gain a lot from it.

So something that is enjoyable. I'm listening to lots of podcasts. I'm listening to, some news podcasts but these two are my prime podcasts, my prime ones, Luke's English podcast. And it's Zdenek and of course your podcast, which I discovered during the lockdown.

Thank you

I love the way you pronounce words and it is quite clear and your vocab man podcast, it is actually very amazing.

Thank you very much. It's really kind of you . Have you ever considered or contemplated to make your own podcast maybe because you have a lot of knowledge you could share it to other learners as well.

Well, actually, maybe I'm not sure at the moment, because by the way, I'm a teacher right now. I teach Arabic in our government elementary schools here in Senegal. And, we only have three months a year, three months over summer occasions every single year. But the school activities are quite hectic.

That's why I'm not sure, but I, you know, you make me feel that maybe I will follow you on your footsteps one day because you know, inspire me a lot. You may you make me feel like, yeah, it is possible for me as well, because yeah absolutely inspired by you.

Maybe one day

my English.


So you were listening to a lot of podcasts and then your journey went on, I guess.

Yes, it's going on at the moment. I consider myself as a beginner and I'm talking to you now but I have a problem here. Until I listened to one episode of your podcast recently about the guy who was from Quora on who lives in India. I forgot the name of him. because until recently I.

I was this mad vocabulary hungry man. Somebody who writing down every single word vocabulary that he come across. But then I realized that I have so many passive vocabularies in my bank. As I'm talking to you there, I have some notebooks that I used to write down some vocabularies. And I barely use those vocabularies because they are so passive. You know, when I listened to that guy, he made me relaxed and sit down once again, because he was saying about when you have about 5,000 to 10,000 vocabulary in your bank, you have to focus on how to use them rather than getting related thing, some new vocabulary that you don't need it.

So a wise man, and I,


real with you because it's the same here that I used to learn a lot of as you mentioned, passive vocabulary, which I wouldn't never use . just for the pleasure of learning but. Yeah, I should also focus more on the vocabulary I want to use.


Yeah, this is a thing. Again, the language is actually a vast, vast thing. A very huge, gigantic thing that. There are some areas that you can master and talk about fluently, and they have some specific vocabulary that you are going to need when you want to talk about them. But there are some areas where you will have no knowledge about, for example, I cannot talk about doctors related, vocabularies, hospitals, things like that, medical English, I mean,

so, this is my opinion about learning second language or third language. First of all, you know, you have to love the language. You have to love the language that you're learning. You have to have the passion and the determination and you have to dedicate, you have to find a time to do it because without love and but the determination of learning the language, nobody can teach you. No, even if you have the most skilled teachers, they still cannot feed you, spoonfeed you the language unless you have the determination to learn it. I have this determination to learn the language to this level. That's why I am here today. There are some people around me here who have the opportunity and they've already mastered the first language that they can use to learn a second language, but maybe they don't have the determination they didn't find a way of, I mean, to do it because they don't love it.

listened to some people talking about find Enjoyable way of learning the language. I mean, let's not lull ourselves into a false sense of security. We have to realize that when you're learning a language, you have to put some extreme effort. If you want to reach your goal, you don't have to just do some little things at day unexpecting to reap the rewards.

I mean, For me, you have to put a lot of work,

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And

this is what I believe.

Yeah, and I think it is crucial to be consistent. Consistency is key. And I think even if you'll learn, let's say 20 minutes a day, if you can keep up with this for a very long period of time, then you will reach your goal. One day, well, maybe


every three years, but you have to be determined yes.

To just go your journey and make your things.

That consistency that you said? When I, when I was learning the language throughout the last five years, some friends of mine, you know, sometimes tease me, you know, about me carrying this notebook everywhere I go and reading, they will use it. Tell me to tell me that I'm. You are a mad person. What are you doing here?

This, this is not our official language wasting your time. And they considered me as somebody who's doing absolutely nothing, but, you know, they don't see. I mean, I don't see either way is seeing things then.

Yeah, because while it's your passion, see that. And I find this is just great. you are serious about this and that's why you carry your notebook with you. And it's similar here in Switzerland because. English is not the, it's not one of the official languages here. We we have Italian, we have French, we have German and retro romantic, but English is not one of the official languages.

So, but for me, that's not important because it's just a passion of mine and I like to learn English. Yeah.

Yes. Yes. This is a case as well. So in Switzerland you have so many languages as well.

Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Okay. And yeah. In Senegal we have about six Oh seven languages, but those languages are not popular the most popular one, as I told you his Walof and then a French you on there is a language that is called, Polar? French is the official language I chose the different way.

So some people, by the way, I was, I belong to so many WhatsApp groups that I join every now and then to practice my English. Some people used to ask me why, how can you speak English while living in a French speaking country?

But my use by my usual and my most frequent answer is, you know, this is my passion and I want to learn several languages. It's not just French. And Wolof by the way, I learned Arabic to the fluency level and I learned English. Maybe I'm not that good in English. I'm learning French as well. And my mother tongue language.

Uh, so these four languages are acutally the lanugages I'm working on at the moment.

So you mentioned what's up groups before, and I'm wondering, how did you find this groups and do your, recommend it as a method to improve in our target languages?

Yes, I would definitely recommend WhatsApp groups for those English learners to join and practice their languages. It is one of the things that I used to practice. Especially my speaking part around the year 2016 a friend of mine introduced me to his other friend who was administrating an English group and I think the guy lives in Afghanistan. And I joined the group and I was this very passionate learner. And I was joining every single day. And I was sending about nearly a hundred messages a day. And I will speak about nearly everything and then I became familiar with lots of English. I mean, the guys keep passing my numbers to some other groups and until I become widely known among English groups and this is very, very interesting because by joining these WhatsApp English clubs, you can practice at any time you want, because maybe I don't have appropriate time to schedule some lessons on Italki because I don't know. I can schedule a speaking session and then missed it. That's why I I'm very careful about maybe about that maybe in my summer vacations, but when I'm in the school year when I'm going to school, I only use WhatsApp, English groups to practice my English because I can use them anytime in the morning and evening and the nights.

Okay. I see. But are there people who are correcting you or is it just that you get your practice with WhatsApp or how can I imagine this? Or is it topic related or can you just talk about anything? I didn't understand it works. I mean, it's just a bunch of people who want to practice together?

Yeah. Yeah, it is how it works, sometimes there are some topic related groups. I mean, some groups that are providing topics every single day. So every member on the. Have their say about the given topic to answer the questions, but there was always some expert in English. Some people who are very good at English, some futures by the way, sometimes correct us and you know, make things up for us basically. Because when you, when you begin speaking practice, you're speaking, but you don't have the time to think because they're speaking, writing are quite different. I didn't even think correctly before you pin it down. But when you're speaking, you don't have the time to maybe think, Oh, you going to make so many mistakes.

And those people will use to correct mistakes. And sometimes we will give some grammatical topics and people would discuss it.



So, there are very skilled persons on the WhatsApp group it's like everyone is helping each other out in a way and together people can improve. It's great.

Everyone will help each other. There was always some different levels in WhatsApp, some intermediate learners, some advanced learners and the beginning learners and will help each other. For example, if I am an intermediate learner and I see some people, I listened to message of one of my friends or one of the groups member, and he made a mistake, I will send another message,

I will send the message to this particular person and correct his mistakes and telling him how to say and how to say it correctly. Things like that. This is how we used to do it though. you have to listen to your own voice message and correct yourself if it's possible.

If you cannot correct yourself, you will ask some of the admins or. Some people out there to listen to your audio and to give you some feedbacks.

Okay. I understand. Yeah. In my opinion, recording yourself and listening to it. It's really a great way to improve yourself because. If you have reached a certain level of English, you can analyze, you will be able to analyze your own speech up to a certain point, and can become even better by repeating the process, I guess.

Yes, this is the part of recording yourself. Although it is not always enjoyable to listen to your own voice. Sometimes I listen to my voice and feel unhappy about the way I speak. And yes it is. I also used to, I forget to tell you this. I used to record myself on my cell phone. I scheduled , three or four months ago.

No, six months ago that I'm going to record myself talking. In English for about 10 minutes a day and then listen to it. And I was doing it for about two months, allthough I feel guilty now because enough, but if I continue doing this particular activity I'll be, you know, it is, it is crucial. It is very, very good.

Yeah. that's why I don't like that much attending classes. let's say if you have one class or one lesson a week. That's just not enough. And on top of that, if there are, let's say 20 pupils attending and then maybe you get three minutes of speaking time of speaking practice, then that's just not enough.

and that's why I like the idea to record yourself or to attend in this WhatsApp groups. That you mentioned before. I think it's, it's crucial to maintain, make like , a ritual or yeah. To set up your daily practice.

Yes I did understand, you know, this is the problem of the traditional way of teaching the language at school, because you will attend the school for several years, without being able to construct correct sentence in the language that you're learning.

People are going to school to have. A paper. Uh, and then I achieved my bachelor degree and this and that. But when you ask them to write or to speak about the language in which they have that degree, they are going to struggle to do. For example, I can give you an example. I can give you an example here in my country.

Some students went to the university in Senegal out when they have a bachelor degree, will go to the university and some of them will go to the English department. And some people here have their master's degree in English, but when I speak to them, I mean, I feel like these people are actually beginners. They cannot speak English at all. It amazes me.

because they just know the theoretical way or the theory behind it but they didn't put it into practice I guess or


That is

correct. When they listen to you speaking, they can spot their mistakes and the good and the bad things about the way you speak, but when they themselves, trying to speak, they have, I mean, they will struggle to make a correct sentence. And is why I love self studying because when a particular person decide to study a language by himself or herself, It means that he had the passion, because it is your own decision.

you take your own decision to learn the language. And primarily it means that you love what you're doing. That's why you take it independently by in your own hands. So in, in that particular case, you're going, you're definitely going to see some progress.

Yeah, I agree with you and you will have the responsibility if you don't be consistent then you really need to keep moving.

That is consistently. If you, if you are determined enough, you'll go into how to be consistent in my opinion, because you will love what you're doing. And you're going to definitely unless you give up in the early stages, because at the beginning it might be very tough and you might see no progress at all in those particular common.

So many people have given up learning because, Maybe it is not pleasant. It is not enjoyable for them but sometimes I think you need to have some inspiration. Some people who inspire you to continue. That's why listening to podcasts are very, very, very good. Because in listening to podcasts you're going to find someone who inspires you.

Particularly when you are living in a country where the language that you're learning is in, I mean, it's not spoken there. You will not come and seeing people around you speaking the language. So you need to be inspired every now and then. So listening to some podcasts and linking up with people like mr. Daniel, is, is that going to, we'll be inspired and want to do more.

Yeah, absolutely. And it's kind of funny because I mean I got my inspiration by other podcasters as well. For example, maybe, you know him, Kris Broholm, who also have a podcast called actual fluency. And while he me a lot and he was a reason why I started out with my podcast.

And it goes on one inspires another person and then me, I inspire someone else and it's like a living thing it's so beautiful. I don't make any money out of this. this is my hobby. I just like it. But when I hear messages this that I inspire other people that makes it worth for me. you can't pay money to give the same fealing because I just want to help other people. it's, it's a great thing. And I absolutely recommend to everyone to start their own podcast or maybe to be creative in another way it must not be podcasting.

They may be other things that are also good and creative in a way.

Yeah, it's a, that's very kind of you I'm amazed about how far you've gone to help people, you know, giving people a helping hand always makes you feel happy. yeah. I know Chris. I listened to actual fluency by the way. I think he's a polyglot, isn't it?






And we live in,

denmark. Yes. And Chris invites lots of polyglots and language enthusiasts and he talks about different aspects related to language learning. Yes, I do. Listen. I do listen to him every now and then. Yeah. I mean, Chris is a great man as well.

Yeah. And actually with everyone that I had an interview or a conversation, it was just so great to make this connection and in a way to learn about different people from different countries. And I think that language learning connects people in a way. And even if we don't know the person in flesh but in a way we are like connected and the it's just a great, it's so beautiful.

yeah. It is the thing. The thing that makes the world a small city, people will connecting together even though they are living in a far away places they know if they feel they live. So I know for example, I'm talking with you. I live in Senegal in a farm in West Africa, and this is the magic of language.

This is the only thing that can do it is a language that. That is the only thing that help being able to connect together and understand each other and share our knowledge and our feelings. You know, I mean, nothing is like that. Nothing is actually bigger than that for me.

So textbooks are, or take a great part in your language learning. And can you recommend specific books or would you rather say that every learner is different has to choose a different book? Or I don't know if you can share something about that.

Yeah, it's a text book is a, actually the thing that helped me to get here today but two people are different, you know, some people might be, I mean, might prefer to go another way. Some people. learn language in a different way, but for me, I can only recommend what I've gone through and what I, what I knew.

I learned it via textbooks and by the way, everybody can download this particular application. It's called English speaking and listening English and speaking and listening. And it is actually. Built in six sections, I think.

And there are some basic topics that everybody can write down and read just to make your input quite impressive.

It will help you to gain so many vocabulary words at the beginning. And then if you've already have a first language like English or another language that you can use

to translate the unknown words. I am not recommending people to just reading it once or twice and then leave it there. You'll have to put, you have to give it a time and effort.

Write them down in a notebook. Yeah. And study them, review them several times. And by doing this, you'll see a progress fast, very, very fast. So, why I prefer this textbook way of learning a language, because as I told you, at the beginning, you will gain the vocabularies. Construction of the sentences and the grammatical way of saying things and writing things. I mean, it is a complete package for me. That's why I recommend it rather than, you know, learning a language by acquiring some vocabularies, some lonely vocabularies. I mean, that is not the purpose of learning language.

If you're learning a language by just learning just one vocabulary, go on, you know, see things like that. Maybe you will struggle to use them later.



So I'm not recommending anybody, just one particular textbook. You can find any textbook that you can find in a topic that interests you. For example, if you're a football fan, try to find a basic textbook that speaks or talks about football. If you're a drama or musician person, find something related to that field, that particular aspect.

And Read it put some efforts on it. you will see how fast will go.

what do you think? About watching series or movies to improve in your target language.

Yeah. I believe this is also a very interesting thing. When it comes to learning language, I think it can help, but for me, it's not my cup of tea. Maybe I don't have time to do it, but I don't deny that it is very, very interesting and it can help you to improve you're listening ability but you know, for me, when it comes to listening, I prefer podcasts. Because , it is sort of all, you can do it while you can listening to podcasts while doing some other things.


while running , it is something very convenient when it comes to listening. By watching movies, you only have to sit down and being focused on the television or the internet, to do it.

But when you are somebody like me who moves around, you know, very often I prefer podcasts. Yeah. But if somebody actually prefer watching movies, series and documentaries for practicing the English, if that particular thing interests them, I would recommend them to do that because doing something that you love. It's crucial when it comes to learning language.

Absolutely. I agree with that a hundred percent, so, okay. I think I wanna thank you very much for your time and your story. I don't know. Maybe you have a question or something you want to add.

Okay, well I just want to thank you. You know, you are the first person who gave me this opportunity to express myself. I've never conducted a, conducted an interview before, by the way. , I, have very interesting story when it comes to learning language and I wanted to get it out of my system to help out, to help others, people like me who want to learn second language you are the person who give me the opportunity to make it happen.

And I, I thank you. I'm thinking you deeply in my heart and I wish you all the best.

And I have to thank you. Thank you very much for tuning in, on my fluent podcast and also the vocab man. And I mean, without you, it not be possible, or I would not see any reason to record these podcasts, you know, so I am really thankful for that. And for all of your knowledge, Which you shared with us, and maybe we can catch up, on another day.

Yeah, it's very kind of you. It's my pleasure. I'm very happy. And I'm looking forward to do that in the future.


Hey, thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Have a nice day.


Thank you. Bye. Okay.


Scott Holmes

Senegal Flag