CC Speech #10 – The labyrinth of learning

Welcome to recap of my speech #10. The following text comes from the document I used as a preparation for the speech and thus it is more-or-less exact transcript of the speech itself. The transcription is written in normal text, while my comments are in italic. As I used slides to support my speech, you can see the slides at the places where I showed them to the audience over the course of the speech. This shows the actual content of the speech, but as time permits, I intend to also post how the speech worked, my own impressions and the feedback from the evaluator, so that the reader can see a more complex picture. Enjoy!

To improve public speaking. To be a competent communicator, or, in other words, to be gregarious. To obtain leadership skills. And also very importantly, to learn.


As a programmer I have to learn new stuff every day. Every minute, every day I seek ways to solve the programming problems I face. I believe that the same applies to every one of us here. I admit I enjoy that.

However, through the years of my studies at both grammar school and university I discovered an interesting paradox. The more we learn new things, the more we enjoy learning. Therefore, in order to stay on a roll, we should keep actively seeking out more knowledge even if that is not strictly necessary.

If we study more, we will enjoy our jobs more and will be happier overall. Question is what to learn? Is there any particular area of knowledge that is really suitable for our needs?

The answer to this is a resounding “YES, THERE IS”. For me, in particular, it is learning new languages.

  • Studying another language can be done at your own tempo. You may devote few minutes a day to it or few hours or no time at all. It can be entirely up to you.
  • There are readily available resources with very high quality. That means it is quite possible to learn a new language completely for free.
  • Last but not least, learning a new language is respectable. In my experience, your friends and family have far more understanding for learning language than for some other hobbies.
  • 2_which_language

    We are decided then. We are going to learn a new language. The crucial choice is: which one? Imagine me, two years ago, making the exactly same decision. I was thinking: allright, I have basic knowledge of German and a bit less knowledge of Spanish from my grammar school. I should pick one these two languages. However, my IT specialization is computer security. Under that you can imagine encryption and hacking. Should start learning Russian? As intriguing as the idea was, I dropped it in the favor of better options.

    In the end my choice was a practical one. I have a German name. Hertl. In German that means strong, brave, tough. Moreover, when you attend an international conference you usually wear name badges. Since my name is obviously German, people tend to talk to me in German when they meet me. Imagine my embarrassment when my only reply was: “sorry, I don’t speak german”.

    More seriously, I believe German is the language Czech people encounter most often and, therefore it is the economically most sensible one.


    The choice is made. The dice is cast. Let us learn the new language. But how do we do it? Tonight’s meeting is themed around mistakes. Rest assured that in the last two years, in the course of my German studies, I made many of them. When I began, I took an old textbook called “Nemecky s usmevem”. Point is, this textbook was a good source of learning German about two decades ago.

    Yet I spent vast amount of time with that book. I even took the book’s vocabulary and decided to learn it by heart. I even wrote my own application to help me with that. Do you remember recent speech by Martin Plsek on the topic of flashcards? I do now. If I had used such a software then, it would have saved me quite a few hours of my life. Altogether, the time spent with this book was pretty much wasted. Mistake? In a way, yes, but it still pushed me in the right direction.


    Another resource I discovered is the webpage Memrise. Essentially, Memrise is composed of flashcards made for you by other users. It is community-driven website, which doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it is amazingly powerful. It provides you with hundreds of free courses for almost any language of your choice.

    For about half I year I kept doing memory lessons there. Soon I started to feel the progress. Imagine my joy. Now I was moving somewhere.

    This is as far as my written preparation goes. I decided to try to make the rest more natural and finish in non-rigid manner. The rest of teh speech described two things which are briefly explained below. Ultimately that wasn’t a very good idea, as I messed the ending up a little bit. For next time the rule of thumb is to write down the conclusion and learn it by heart.


    The best language-learning resource currently available (or so I believe) is Duolingo. It gives very broad view of the language and lets you learn on almost any level, from the very basics to about B2. I highly suggest you give it a try if you want to learn a language on your own.


    For me, though, Duolingo is completed, as the above trophy shows. I still use it to refresh some particular grammar elements from time to time, but I can boldly say I know the stuff there pretty well. Therefore I must move on and look for other ways to improve my German..


    The last shown resource was book reading. The particular book was German version of Game of thrones, episode #1. However, I had very little time left, so instead of describing the book I just wrapped up the speech by saying that the most important aspect of learning a language is enjoying it.

    I would like to close the speech recap by a funny remark. When I displayed the above trophy (owl with scarf), one of our members started laughing. I didn’t know what she found so funny until I talked to her later. She was sitting at the back of the room and actually thought the owl was Pikachu, as the following picture illustrates.

    duo pikachu

    As I am sure you will agree, there is a .. certain similarity. Lesson learned: when you are preparing slides for your speech, avoid small cute yellow animals. The audience may accidentally mistake them for Pikachu 🙂

    Josef Hertl, VP PR


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