What Would Be Your Personal Adoptive Language?

kidsHave you heard of Amin Maalouf? If you haven’t studied Arabic or the Arab world and know this author, well done you! If you don’t, this article is for you.

I haven’t read anything by him in a while now, but I though I’d give you a brief idea of what I like about this writer who, through his books and essays, made me see life differently and think outside the box.

Amin Maalouf is a Labanese author, sociologist and journalist born in 1949 in Beyrouth, who fled his country in 1975 to go to France and escape the war. Since then, he has written a wide range of books, from fiction to non-fiction and essays, and the topic found in a large part of his work is identity, as well as the differences between what we would traditionally call the Western and the Arab civilisations. I would personally describe him as a sort of “bridge builder” between these two worlds, a person who raises awareness about the current issues mankind is facing but who also believes in its future. His most famous book is In the Name of Identity and I would recommend it to any person willing to understand the gaps between modern civilisations.

The purpose of this post is not to draw a portrait of this author, though, but rather speak about a concept he put forward a couple of years ago and which hasn’t really been taken seriously enough in my opinion.

In 2007, Amin Maalouf was appointed by the European Commission to advise on the role of multiculturalisme within Europe. Through the research he and his team performed, he developped a new concept which he named “Personal Adoptive Language” (PAL).

A Personal Adoptive Language can be defined as the second language a citizen would learn because he has particular affinities with it (culture, religion…). The learning process of this language should be intense enough so the learner reaches a very high level of fluency, and this language should be different from their language of international communication (in most cases English).

In other words, a German speaker would choose Croatian as a PAL and English would come in the third place as there is a high chance it would be the language of international communication of this person.

This mindset is incredible and also vital. Let me explain myself. First, it would encourage people to speak at least 3 languages fluently (or very fluently), thus broadening their minds and giving them a better understanding of cultural differences and how to overcome these barriers. Secondly, it is probably one of the only ways to avoid that some languages and dialects progressively disappear, since little by little, all these languages would be spoken by a portion of the population of each country.

Two years ago, I had the chance to attend a conference in Brussels during which Amin Maalouf explained the concept of Personal Adoptive Language in detail – he even signed one of my books :-). For some reason, his speech really appealed to me and I promised myself that I would work hard on my Arabic so it progressively becomes my PAL, English being my language of international communication. So far, I still feel like my Arabic comes in third place but I haven’t given up – I know one day this will happen!

If you wish to read Amin Maalouf’s full report about Personal Adoptive Language, click here!

Bye for now,



7 Tips To Help You Pick Up A New Language Quickly

With over 6,000 languages and dialects spoken on earth today, it can be tricky to pick the right one to study. If you’re a language aficionado like me, you probably want to study several of them and your list increases over the time – you meet new people or go to new places, and this makes you want to pick up a new language.

Now, you know that if you want to speak it, write it and read it at an advanced level (and not just “get by”), you will have to decide which one(s) you really want to focus on. And as it takes around 2 to 3 years to reach a high level of fluency in a language, unless you’re rich and can afford spending your entire life studying on a full-time basis, you will probably have to choose one or several languages over the others.

7 Tips To Help You Pick Up A New Language Quickly

1. Choose a language you like. Before taking any other factor into account, make sure you pick a language you actually like. And by “like”, I mean every aspect of the language, whether it is the way it sounds, how grammar works, the culture of the people who speak it, the countries where it is spoken. Don’t pick up a language if you think it sounds aweful or if you feel you will never be able to connect and get along with the people who speak it.

2. Make friends with the people who speak the language. It doesn’t matter if you make friends with native speakers or with people who are learning the language. But it’s important to build a network of people who are close to that language. Not only will you be able to share things you have in commun and spend some good time together, but you’ll also have the opportunity to help each other whenever you don’t understand certain aspects of the language. What’s more, it’s usually more fun to attend classes with a friend rather than studying a language alone. If your friends are natives, why not spending some time with their family and friends every now and then to discover their culture?
3. Don’t be too “hungry”. If you want to study a language properly, don’t learn more thant 2 to 3 at the same time. Learning a language implies immersing yourself in that language environment. How can you do this if you are studying a bit of everything? You’ll probably end up getting by in all those languages, but will you reach a high level of fluency? Not sure, but it all depends of what you want out. However, there is a difference between starting 2 languages from or starting 1 languge and taking classes to maintain your level in the other 3 you already know ( being already fluent in a languge generally requires less concentration).

4. Choose languages from different “language families”. In order to avoid being confused when you write or speak, avoid starting learning 2 languages which belong to the same family, for instance Spanish and Italian. This might create a lot of confusion when you speak or write them, and it is very likely that you end up mixing both languages. However, this “mixing up” thing can also happen with two languages that have very distinct rooth but that you don’t fully master. I remember I used to mix Arabic and Spanish back when I wasn’t really fluent in either of the language.

5. Pick the hardest language. If you’re about to start a degree in languages or have to choose a language for a course and you hesitate between two, pick the hardest. When starting my degree in translation, I could only choose 2 languages. To me, it went without saying that English should be one of them as it is the international language spoken and studied by most people in the world (not sure I would think the same way if I had to do this all over again). As for the second one, I couldn’t make up my mind between Arabic and Spanish. I thought: Spanish is certainly not easy if you want to master it, but it is undoubtedly easier than Arabic an I am practically sure I won’t fail, whereas I don’t know anything about Arabic and who knows, studying Arabic translation might just be too complicated? But if I don’t study Arabic at university now, I know myself, I will never study it in the future, or at least not enough to reach the level I want to reach. Simply because I wouldn’t have the self-discipline to study as hard after having already obtained a degree or in the evening. Whereas I knew that as a French speaker, I could easily pick up Spanish later on in my life through intensive courses or evening classes. And I know for sure I won’t give up Arabic at uni that easily if I pay such a high amount of money every year and my future depends on it.

6. Use every opportunity to practise the language. How long do you spend communiting every day? One hour? Two hours? Maybe more? Now, what do you do when you’re commuting? Do you read or do you listen to Justin Bieber? Think about how fast you could improve your language if instead of looking through the window, you were reading a book in that language… Now you may say trains or tubes are packed in the morning and you can barely breathe or move so how on earth could you read a book which, in addition to requiring more concentration from you, will be likely to fall on the floor everytime someone pushes you. I won’t disagree with that, but why don’t you listen to podcasts or stories instead?
7. Stop finding lame excuses. Learning a language is not easy and requires not only passion but also commitment. We’ve all found excuses to avoid studying the language we like or maintining our level in the one we already know: I’m tired, my job doesn’t allow me to do anything else, there is no course near my home, I can’t afford it, I play tennis 3 times a week and don’t have the time nor the energy to study on top of all my activities. Learning a language can be both free and combined to other activities, so stop finding excuses and get started now :-)

Tip To Boost Your Language Memory

Flash card lovers and freaky list makers, this post is for you!

Back when I was studying translation, one of my favourite ways to learn new vocab was to create word lists. And when I came across Mnemosyne, I quickly became addicted.

Mnemosyne is a flash card programme which enables you to create vocab lists and assists you in the memorising process. It comes as an empty database which you feed at your own pace while testing you on what you have encoded.

So basically the software allows you to test yourself based on what you have entered, and then rate your level of knowledge of the words or expressions you have encoded.

The rating goes from 0 to 5 (0 if you don’t remember the meaning of the word  and 5 if  you have fully assimiliated it), and the repetition frequence varies according to the rating. So the lower the rating, the more the flash card will reappear.

Flash cards can appear from front-to-back, back-to-front or both, which means that you can study words from English into French and French into English without having to encode the exact same information several times

What I really like about this software is that it also shows you statistics such as the number of cards added, the schedule and the retention score, which makes it easier to hit your personal target.

Another great thing is that it is currently being translated into more than 25 languages by volunteers from all over the world (including me) to make it more accessible.

Here is a list of pros and cons:

  • it’s free and takes 2 minutes to download
  • it’s interactive and it works just like a game
  • do it just 5 minutes every night and you will see your vocab knowledge improve significantly
  • it works on Windows, Mac and Linux


  • Currently the programme is in English only, but should be available in other languages soon.
  • I wish the website provided more info about the author of the software (Peter Bienstman), how he came up with this great idea and how he developped it.

Bye for now,