By Jonty Yamisha
Kris Broholm is the host of Actual Fluency and avid student of language-learning. While he’s not a polyglot or a language learner himself, he’s interviewed many leading authorities in the field because he’s passionate about the power of language learning. But it didn’t always use to be this way. Broholm’s path to becoming a renowned language-learning journalist started in a much darker place.
Broholm grew up in Denmark, where he experienced tragedy at a young age. His parents divorced when he was 14, fracturing the “ideal life” for him. As a result, he had to live in the aftermath of a broken home. But it didn’t end there. 2 years later, he unexpectedly lost his father during an epileptic seizure.
People would ask him how he was doing, and like most 16-years, he answered “fine.” Except, he really wasn’t. He had no idea how to express his feelings. So, he kept them buried.
The effect of all these horrible instances led him to isolate himself as he came to expect disappointment as the norm. He moved on to university, but not with a sense of purpose. Rather, it was just a place where people his age went to fill the time while receiving grants to study for free (something common in Denmark).
While in school he managed to “get by”. He showed up to class when it was necessary, did what was asked, and kept up with it. But in reality, he was merely going through the motions. Instead, he spent most of his free time eating junk food and playing video games until one day he realized that he had a problem.
Broholm found himself sitting down with a doctor who diagnosed him with depression. And while the diagnosis put a label on his feelings, he wasn’t any closer to moving past it. He tried medication, but the side-effects just made him worse. There was a sense of hopelessness inside, a question that he was trying to answer: “what to do with my life?”
Then he found the answer. One night while searching the internet, he stumbled on Benny Lewis’s site, “Fluent in 3 Months.” It one night, he stayed up and read all of his blogs. And that’s when something clicked in his mind. Not only did he find himself inspired to create a life similar to what Benny Lewis had, but he had also remembered that he loved learning languages.
The next day he felt he had a sense of purpose. He knew there was power in learning languages. Broholm was also very optimistic at first, thinking that “with languages, I could do anything!” And he wanted to open the doors to language-learning and figure out how to find those opportunities for himself.
But there was one problem, he would need to overcome a personal obstacle that could have derailed his plan to find purpose in language learning. Kris Broholm needed to stick with it.
Language-learning is no stranger to failed attempts, and Kris Broholm wanted to make sure he didn’t fall into that trap. As a self-admitted serial quitter, he needed a way to make sure that enthusiasm lasted. It’s easy to start something with zeal, after all, only for it to fade a few weeks or even a few days in. If you’ve ever set up New Year’s Resolutions, then you know what I’m talking about.
Broholm realized that if he was going to succeed in his quest to learn languages, he needed to go all in. Right from the start. Sure, he had found language-learning as a way to move him past his depression, but it was a skill that most people have a hard time following through. And to get past that, he decided he would need to hold himself accountable.
That’s when he had the idea to create a podcast.
At the time in 2014, there were pretty much no language-learning podcasts out there that didn’t teach a specific language. So, he decided that he would create one that focused on language-learning and that he’d stick with it. He believed that having his name and mission out there for the world to see would hold him accountable.
The name “Actual Fluency” didn’t start out with an idea behind it. It was simply a “word” + fluency. And yet, over time, he rationalized that the name described the level of fluency each individual wanted to achieve. It was also partially inspired by the fluency debate: some people think fluency is having smooth conversations (intermediate) and other people think it’s complete mastery (advanced).
The more podcasts Broholm did, the clearer his mission became. Actual Fluency was what he wanted for his audience, for them to actually achieve fluency in the languages they wanted to learn.
Broholm found himself fascinated by polyglots, people who spoke multiple languages. In Europe and in most of the world, it’s common to find bilingual people. Or, even people who speak 2.5 languages, their native language, another they can use well, and a third that they studied, but can’t really use. So, how was it that people could sit down and learn 5, 10, or even 20 languages?
That’s what he set off to find out.
In the beginning, the podcast focused on the fear factor around language learning. He would dive into the depths of what it meant to be a language learner. He would research what worked and what didn’t, how to stay motivated, how people learned, what leads some to success and others to failure. The goal was for Broholm to then share those ideas with his listeners.
But during his prep, he had an idea.
He was reading all the materials from top polyglots like Benny Lewis, Richard Simcott and Luca Lampariello, and Steve Kaufman when he began to question more and more how people managed to learn so many languages. There had to be a secret to their success after all? How were they able to master 10 languages while others struggled with a second?
Later on, he would learn that there was no “secret” to language learning. However, he did learn that there were many common strategies as well as unique tips you can use to help get the most out of your efforts. Even better, he realized that these people’s stories could inspire others to make their dreams of finally learning a foreign language learning come true.
It was with that goal that he set off to interview these people. And aiming high, he set a goal for his first guest to be Steve Kaufman. He felt that if his podcast was going to matter, he would need to have him on his show. Kaufman is well-known in the language-learning community, some even see him as the “godfather of language-learning.”
For a brand new podcast, it was a high schooler getting the chance to interview Tom Cruise for a student, according to Broholm. But Brolohm set his goals high and decided to email Kaufman.
He waited for a reply, but nothing came.
After a while, he sent out an email again. This time Kaufman replied, wondering if Broholm could do the interview immediately. Shocked, Broholm quickly prepped and jumped into an interview with him after only a few minutes of prep time.
It went well. From there, Broholm would continue to interview various polyglots on his show (leaning on his first Interview with Kaufman as a reference). He plugged away. With that momentum, Broholm continued and still continues his podcast to this day.
Now, several years later, Actual Fluency has over 165 episodes. It covers both the technical aspects of language learning such as strategies and stories about people’s language-learning journeys. He reaches out to the top minds in the language learning community to share their journeys with the world, hoping to inspire people to learn a foreign language.
Broholm sees a lot of similarities between fighting depression and learning a language. They both require effort to move past. They can both seem like overwhelming tasks to conquer. And they both feel like areas where some naturally succeed better than others. Yet, when you take the time to realize the truth behind the misconceptions and myths, you quickly realize that both are equally achievable. It just takes the right mindset and hard work.
He believes that if you take your feelings of depression and plug those holes with language learning goals, you can move past those feelings:
Broholm doesn’t consider himself a polyglot and is wary of the term. He feels that most either don’t understand what it means. Or worse, that the term comes off as embellishing in a way that pushes people away from trying to learn more languages. Instead, he focuses on the little accomplishments that language-learning brings.
For Broholm, it’s not about how fast you can learn a language or how good you are at it. It’s about growth, development, and giving yourself the motivation you need to succeed. He also feels that the joy of language learning starts at the beginning. That you can find happiness in being able to reach out to someone you couldn’t before and simply say, “hello.”
Language learning, Broholm argues, used to be depressing in itself. It used to be people hiding behind books or hidden away from the world. Now, that’s changed. There is a language learning community where people can come together and share their struggles and accomplishments with the world. And best of all, it takes the pressure off of learning a new language.
Nowadays, Broholm considers himself a language-learning journalist. He’s curious about people’s stories more than about becoming the next leading polyglot. And he cherishes the power of languages to meet new people that you wouldn’t or couldn’t if you only knew one language.
Below, you’ll find Kris Broholm’s contact information. Feel free to reach out to him if you feel like you have a language-learning story that you’d like to share.
Polyglot cruise: https://polyglotcruise.com/
Youtube: Actual Fluency
Kris invites you to check out “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari as he’s found the book great for understanding depression and anxiety.
Also, be sure to watch Kris Broholm talk about Depression and Language-Learning Presentation at the 2016 North American Polyglot Symposium.
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition.