Welcome back to Language Learning Stories.
Language Learning Stories with Bec Howie founder of Irregular Endings
My guest today is French, Italian and German learner Bec Howie.
Bec is the founder and owner of Irregular Endings – who produce printed goods for language lovers.
Irregular Endings aim is to help you bring languages other than English into your everyday life, through bright and simply-designed printed products that feature useful and beautiful words from other languages. The range currently includes stationery, greeting cards, calendars and tote bags.
I first met Bec through the Women in Language conference – an online conference in early 2018. Bec was one of the only Australia based speakers. We recently met up in ‘real-life’ in Melbourne to record this interview.
Thank you to Bec for her interview! You can read all the Language Learning Stories interviews here.
Tell us about Irregular Endings – the products just look so beautiful. How did you come up with the idea? Where does it all come from?
We started with a product we don’t actually sell right now. Back in the beginning, Chris and I started it together, we were both studying some German after quite a big break of not doing anything language related. I had done a lot of French at school and at uni and I’d enjoyed studying French. But I got caught up with studying, and getting a job and my career, so it had been quite a break. Then we both started the German classes for fun, once a week, nothing intense, but we were really enjoying it. We started making vocab cards for ourselves and we’d review them together before bed.
We thought it would be fun to make them a bit more formal, and we started illustrating them. Once we’d created the German ones, we had a few people say to us – can you translate them into French for me? And others said can you translate them into Italian? It rolled into a vocab card ‘thing’. At the same time I was getting my language juices back, and my creative juices back. I’m quite a creative person but I had lost that a little bit in the time I had been at uni and at work. I started mucking around with greeting card designs – totally just for fun.
We got some printed, made a website, and started to think about what else we could do!
And Irregular Endings was created
It all stems from our own interest in languages and wanting to bring language into our own everyday lives. Things go up and down all the time, my German is definitely not amazing, and my focus is really on Italian right now. And that’s ok. But I still think having things in my house, or at work or what I see on my phone, whatever it might be for you -it’s all about having regular exposure in an accessible way without it being overwhelming for you.
Irregular Endings has become a way for us to bring small amounts of language learning in an achievable, non-overwhelming way into your everyday life.
One of the other things I’ve tried to do with Irregular Endings is meeting a need for adult language learners. I found this when I was learning French, particularly at Uni, there’s a lot of stuff out there for kids which is great, but unfortunately, it can be harder to find language learning resources for adults.
Your business evolved from a side project, with friends asking you to replicate what you’ve done for them.
When a business comes from your own need, you really understand every element of it, and what you need and want. I needed this and I couldn’t find it anywhere so I just made it for myself!
The notepads (which are pretty new for us) – include the to do list and the weekly planner. The daily practice notepad (in French and Italian at the moment) – is a template to help you organise your vocab notes.
How design can impact our learning
I was consistently frustrated with how I was taking notes. In class if you’re writing down everything you hear or what you think is useful, by the end of class you might look back and go ugghh what’s this – there’s a verb here, some vocab there, and I wrote some practice sentences, and it’s just a big mess. As soon as I see a mess, I don’t read anymore. I just need a template to capture the words I don’t know, find the translations and put them on the side, and a prompt for me to do some verb practice. I know from experience that forcing myself to conjugate some verbs is not a bad thing.
I do love a good grammar textbook. I do think from a design point of view, grammar textbooks have not been the best designed things. They can be a lot of text with some fill the blanks exercise. Useful in their own way, but I don’t think a lot of people have a good association with that type of layout. It’s not enticing!
I think having a nice clean template can make such a difference!
Did you do French as part of your degree?
I went to Melbourne Uni and at the time they’d started a new structure, and it allowed me to study some subjects outside of my faculty and ended up making French a diploma.
How do you feel about your current level in French?
I definitely felt I made good progress at uni, and I was lucky enough to travel and spend a semester in Montreal. French in Canada was quite different from what I’d studied through school and uni with French teachers. I studied in French for my science degree, plus a language course that counted towards my diploma. I was quite confident in my skills before I got to Montreal, and it was a pretty jarring experience when I wasn’t really understanding what people were saying. Similar to listening to a Scottish speaker with a thick accent – and with some difference in vocabulary. It took me 3-4 weeks to get my ear trained to the different accent.
I also went to France later on and au-paired for a family in south-west France in a small village on an island. Day to day speaking was great practice, as opposed to the academic style of speaking and writing essays.
I probably felt I was fluent in French when I was there last time in France. At the moment, my French feels pretty good, but I’m not confident talking about anything or any topic. It just goes up and down, whether this is fluency or not, I don’t really know.
It’s all about what you want to use your language for. When I was an au pair in France, i was very confident writing essays and speaking on all kind of things, but talking to a 5 year old was a whole other challenge! I’ve still got my vocab lists in my diary from that time – with all kinds of 5 year old boy words – dragon, sword, soldier, fighting, war – all kinds of random vocab!
I see all the amazing videos you are posting in Italian on Instagram – what is this all about?
I’ve has been involved before – given away Irregular Endings products as part of the challenge but with more time up my sleeve now (since resigning from my full-time job) I was able to commit to the Language Diary Challenge.
I’m actively learning Italian, and it’s a really nice way to keep myself motivated to show up once a day. Even if I only have 15 minutes or an hour to do some solid practice then I can do that – but it’s flexible and fun, and lots of interaction and feedback as part of the challenge.
Lingo Mama – full credit to you – I am always full of admiration for people who put themselves out there speaking in a language they’re learning.
I’m motivated by others I’ve seen doing it online too – “It’s not that hard” and I know the community is really positive and they’re so willing to give positive feedback. They don’t say “why are you bothering to learn Italian when you live in Australia!”. It’s a very comfortable community to be involved in. Seeing other people doing it is motivating.
How did your interest in German come about?
We just kind of picked it! Classes were given to me as a gift from Chris – we loved our travel to Germany and just thought it would be fun!
Italian was something I’d wanted to learn for a long time. We got married earlier this year and booked our honeymoon to Sicily, so that was what pushed me into actively learning Italian.
Are there similarities between French and Italian? Do you ever mix the two up?
Already knowing French makes learning Italian a lot easier and I use French as a grappling hook. I feel like I’m still a beginner in Italian, if I think of what I want to say in English – I might get half of what I want in Italian, but then I might think how would I say it in French – and then give it a go in Italian and often I am pretty close.
I don’t think I really get confused between the two, but I think if I was a beginner in both and learning both at the same time it could be quite hard.
Do you think you might add another romance language?
I would quite like to learn Spanish! I’d like to improve my Italian first. The main thing I find hard with Spanish though is the pronunciation of Spanish. Especially Spanish spoken in Spain as opposed to South American Spanish which sounds clearer to me. Spanish is beautiful to listen to, very melodic and interesting to hear. It would be a pretty natural next step.
But I constantly think of what next. We started watching this tv show called Occupied and got obsessed with it. It’s set in Norway, but only 50% is in Norwegian, but the rest of it is in English, Russian and French. I started listening to the Norwegian and thinking that sounds cool – I added it to my Duolingo, and thinking a Scandinavian language would be a fun thing to learn!
Then I started to seeing posts from Lingo Mama and Bite-Sized Chinese and thinking maybe I should learn an Asian language. I did Japanese at high school and I was thinking maybe I should pick that up again?!
It’s so tempting! We are so lucky and there are so many resources out there to help us.
Even in high school, only 10 years ago, but we didn’t have apps, YouTube was just starting. Now there’s such an abundance of resources. Podcasts, apps and games, YouTube, books, and we probably get to travel more too if you are lucky enough to do this.
Back to Irregular Endings, your focus now is on French, Italian, German and Spanish products, would you like to add any others in the future?
I would love to add other languages! We had to start with what we knew and what we could get checked. We have to get a sense of what there’s a market for, so we’re not quite at this point of what we can add with certainty that it will work.
I used to work for an adult language school in Melbourne when I was at uni. I spoke to a lot of people about why they were enroling in certain languages and I got a sense of what languages adults were learning for pleasure.
We’ve had lots of questions about Asian languages and I’d really like to add to the collection but I’m just not quite sure on the direction. Watch this space!
A huge thank you to Bec from Irregular Endings for this insightful interview. I loved chatting with Bec and I hope you have got some language inspiration from our chat as well. Don’t forget to check out Irregular Endings too!
Read all of my other Language Learning Stories interviews here.
Please leave any questions or comments for Bec below! Have you also returned to language learning after a break to focus on your career, family or other things?
We’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,