If you ever want to practice the Italian you have just learned and enjoy the local cuisine as well, you can combine both in this beautiful place called Venice.
“Romance” is certainly the word that came to our mind when my husband and I visited this city during a recent mini escape and collected our visual impressions in this Lingohut Travel log (click also on the image) .
Venice, capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, is built on more than 100 small islands in a marshy lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. Its stone palaces literally rise out of the water.
There are no cars or roadways, just canals and boats. The Canal snakes through the city, which is filled with innumerable narrow, maze-like alleys and small squares.
One of the pleasures of being in Italy is hearing and trying out the language. Spoken Italian is so melodious and expressive! You can learn and practice Italian vocabulary here.
As you can see just below, many common words can be easily recognized by English speakers. But oh, what fun to sound them out!
il canale - the canal
la barca - the boat
l'isola - the island
la città - the city
il palazzo - the palace
la piazza - the square
il calle - the street, alley
It's in Venice's old town that we discovered our favorite food during our journey through Italy.
I would like to share two places with you. Let me start with the best lasagna and eggplant parmesan we have ever put in our mouths: It was at Osteria Ale Do' Marie. I had never eaten a sea food lasagna before in my life, it was decadent! This place is off the beaten path and visited mostly by locals.
Another must stop is the Taverna da Buffo nestled in one of Venice’s many squares with a canal running alongside is an ideal romantic place to enjoy a meal with your love or a terrific spot to meet good friends.
While you sit there eating a delicious meal, from time to time a street performer will stop by and serenade you. To me it was complete ecstasy, the square was serene and charming. There is nothing better in life than to sit with the love of your life in this surreal environment.
Enough about the ambiance, let’s get to the important stuff, the food. It was out of this world. After trying many pizzas, I was thrilled to find the perfect one at Taverna da Buffo. This thin crusted wood fired oven pizza, with delicious topping and just the perfect amount of mozzarella was mind blowing. As we all know the mozzarella in Italy can’t be topped.
My husband will tell you that his fish was scrumptious and one of the best he has ever had. That is saying a lot for him, since he is a fish connoisseur.
We spent three of our evenings in Venice in this quaint square having romantic dinners at Taverna da Baffo. The first night he ate the “Branzino,” a delicious sea-bass and the other evenings he enjoyed the “Rombo” turbot, a local fish. In his words “Wow.”
The following may also come in handy:
osteria - pub, bar
pesce - fish
forno di legno - wood oven
frutti di mare - sea food
artista di strada - street performer
During our first lunch, oh yeah I forgot to tell you, we found this place by accident in the middle of the day while strolling the narrow alleys of Venice, that is when we had the pleasure of meeting Alex Barcaru, the owner. He is such a friendly charismatic young man, always making sure his customers are well taken care of.
During our visit to the restaurant we also got the honor to get to know Diana and Andrei, two very personable and knowledgeable waiters. They were so helpful in sharing what the dishes had and how they were fixed. Stick with their house wine you will not be disappointed. Buon appetito!!!
A different version of this blogpost was published on LingoHut.
Bio: Kendal Knetemann is founder of Lingohut, where free language lessons, activities and articles are making language learning uncomplicated. Communication is our thing!!! Help us grow, share us with your friends and like us on Facebook
There's no shortage of advice on the web about learning foreign languages. If you can just convert some of that advice into a few habits - they'd be sure to make a difference on your path to fluency.
To learn a language, you can choose from many online and offline language learning options available today. Select the one that engages you the most and has you go back again and again to learn and practice.
But ultimately, how effective any of the programs will be, may depend on how well you can incorporate some language learning habits into your daily life.
Here are my 12 best daily habits to maintain and improve my languages.
1. Have a Small Notebook Handy at All Times
I do a lot of my language learning using online programs and resources. Still, I always keep a small notebook with me, which I use in multiple ways.
It's a place where I keep track of my learning. I also write down words and phrases I want review later.
When I'm in the mood, I write a short journal entry in my target language.
If you do some writing, and have a mind to get corrections, you could copy and post what you've written on Lang-8, or italki. It's free. In return, your corrections of what others have written is much appreciated.
When I come across new resources, books, sites, songs, etc. I put them in my notebook.
Yes, you can do most of this on your phone. Still, I find that writing by hand engages my mind in a different way from typing or tapping. The biggest benefit is that it strengthens my memory.
2. Try to Formulate as Much as You Can in Your Target Language
During times you're free to do so, try to think and talk to yourself in your foreign language.
For example, when I set the breakfast table, I say the names of any items in the room. Anything I want to look up, I'll write down in my notebook.
Likewise, you can talk to yourself about things that you're doing, going to do, or did in the past - all in your target language.
As you go about your day, you can spontaneously translate common phrases you hear or think, such as: "Let's go" "That's fun" "I'm late" "What's that?" "What's up?" "I don't know" "I got a text" etc.
The more you think in your new language, the easier it will become. With time, you'll be doing it automatically.
3. Say Your Target Language Out Loud Whenever You Can
This is an important habit to get into. No matter how much you (silently) read and listen to your foreign language, you have to produce the sounds to speak with any fluency.
Live conversations are, of course, the best way to practice. But if you push yourself to say as much as possible aloud, your target language speaking skills will benefit enormously.
There are many ways to do this. Read a few sentences aloud from your target language book.
Or, as you practice with an online program, repeat and say words, phrases, and sentences aloud.
Reading newspaper headlines? Read them aloud. Listening to a song? Sing along.
4. Listen to Songs in Your Target Language
Popular songs in your target language can be a fun and effective way to learn and practice.
Music opens your ears and connects you straight to the sound. There's no need to worry about grammar or pronunciation, you just go with the flow.
Even as you listen and imitate the melody and lyrics, you are practicing the sounds, rhythm, and various idiomatic phrases in the language you are learning.
You can find many songs with translations on YouTube.
And even better, Language Zen uses songs for teaching Spanish very effectively, by breaking the lyrics up into chunks, and then building up the song again, all the while integrating the music. I'm looking for programs that do the same for other languages.
5. Set Your Phone to Get Notifications or Headlines From News Sites in Your Target Language
If possible, set any news alerts you get in your native language into the language you're learning.
Notifications are another option. Now, with the European Soccer Championship taking place in France, I've signed up to get updates in French from the newspaper Le Monde. (Depending on your interest, you can also subscribe to different Le Monde Newsletters.)
I also stay abreast of what's happening in Switzerland with German newsflashes from "20 Minuten."
Daily emails with news headlines in your target language are another option.
I get them from Huffington Post with news from Spain, Québec and France, Italy, and Germany - each in the local language. Of course, you can do this with other newspapers and in other languages too.
6. At Breakfast or Dinner Do a Quick Practice with your Partner or Children
Involving a partner, a friend, or even your children in some fun language practice is a huge benefit.
My husband and I go over a daily list with Spanish words, at breakfast or dinner, alternating who gets asked. For that, we use my little notebook with words we want to learn, and go over hard words that I've starred in pencil. Needless to say, we laugh a lot doing that as we practice sounds, find associations, think of translations into other languages, etc.
When our sons were still living at home, we spent a few minutes at each meal telling anecdotes in German. They've often told us how much they appreciate the effort we put into helping them become bilingual. They are now busy adults, who still find time to do the same with their young children.
Children are so open to learning! A friend of ours plays a little "I see, I see what you don't see" language game in French with her kids during meals. Even her two-year-old chimes in by imitating some of the words.
7. Play Language Games
There are many language game apps you can buy for a few dollars, such as Mindsnacks, Drops, Worddive, etc. You can also play the free online Gamesforlanguage Quick Games, Quizlet games or games on Lingohut.
Many of these games you can play at various times during the day, while commuting by bus or train, waiting, etc.
Interactive games have features that can help you learn vocabulary and grammar points intuitively and painlessly. Replaying the games helps you to memorize.
In addition to games for individual play, there are games you can play with your friends.
And, it doesn't always have to be apps or online games. For example, you can play various Kloo Games with your children and friends and improve everyone's French, Italian, Spanish (and English).
When you're having fun through a game, you're less likely to be anxious about grammar and pronunciation.
8. Record Your Voice and Play It Back
Listening to podcasts and watching TV shows is important for your pronunciation. But you become much more aware of your own speech when you record yourself.
Use your smartphone to record yourself and just chat away in your target language. Then, play your recording back. You’ll hear your own pronunciation, and become aware of what sounds you should practice.
It's a powerful and deliberate step towards improvement.
(The Gamesforlanguage.com Stories all have a "Record It" feature at the end of each Scene. This way you can record each dialogue and compare yourself to the native speaker.)
9. Set up Some Time With a Tutor, an Exchange Partner, a Native-Speaker Friend, etc.
Talking with native speakers is one of the most important ways to improve your fluency. Make it a habit to seek out various people to practice with.
Ways to do that is to schedule sessions with a tutor, meet friends over a cup of coffee, attend language meetups in your town, go to a local shop or market where you can use your target language, join a cultural club, etc.
The benefit of doing so is that you'll start thinking about the upcoming session. That often involves getting yourself ready, if only by practicing a few phrases and sentences in your mind.
10. When You're Cooking, Running, or Exercising, Listen to a Podcast or an online Radio Program
This gives you a choice to listen to whatever interests you. If you listen to a subject that you know something about, the context will help you guess unknown words.
Even if you're not totally focused on listening because you're also doing something else, your brain takes in more than you think: sounds, intonation, words, phrases, the rhythm of sentences, etc.
The important thing is that listening this way puts you into the environment of the language, it immerses you.
11. Watch Videos, TV Shows, and Films in your Target Language
If you like watching films, TV shows, or YouTube videos, then make a habit of watching some of them in the language you're learning.
At first, quickly spoken language may sound like gibberish. I had that experience when we lived in Rome for a few months. But after a while, I started hearing individual words and getting more and more of the meaning. The flow of the language seemed to slow down.
Foreign films are a great way to practice listening comprehension and to learn about culture. Setting the subtitles option to the same foreign language is often a big help. I prefer this to subtitles in English.
12. Go over a Few Words and Phrases Just Before You Go to Sleep
Unfortunately, there is no practical way yet to replicate such test results at home. However, other research seems to confirm that reviewing foreign words and phrases BEFORE you go to sleep will also enhance your memory of them.
Apparently, your brain keeps working on what you just reviewed while you sleep and starts moving the words and phrases into your longer-term memory.
Any of these 12 habits can add some routine to your language learning. Try some of them and tell us what you think. You can always reach us via Contact.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada and speaks German, English, Dutch, and French fluently. She intends to become as fluent in Italian, Spanish and Swedish. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Disclosure: Certain links above are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe.
Language Zen is a language learning site that features Spanish for English speakers. Its home page promises: “Language learning without frustration. Personalized to you.”
Frustration is sometimes unavoidable when you're learning and are annoyed by your mistakes. However, learning a foreign language with a program that adapts to your learning style and skill level is clearly the way to go.
At the center of Language Zen's program is the algorithm that keeps track of what you've learned and has you redo the phrases and sentences where you made mistakes.
What you learn are the most frequently used words, which Language Zen gathers through “data mining” - analyzing thousands of TV transcripts.
A special feature of Language Zen is that you can learn with songs and use the song lyrics for learning vocabulary. The program promises: “The system gets smarter the more you use it. If you learn something through a song or a special course, it will carry over to the rest of the system.”
Let's see how it works!
Once you've registered and clicked on “Start Learning,” you can do an Assessment Test to determine your level: Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate, Intermediate Plus, Advanced, Advanced Plus, Fluent, Near Native
To find your level for the test, you're asked to “Slide to the right until you don't understand one or more of the Spanish words.” [see screenshot, right]
The test is based on translation, always into the target language. For my level, I slid into Advanced Plus. The test of 20 sentences that followed included various verb tenses and idiomatic ways of saying things. I did not come across any uncommon or specialized language.
For the translations, I could speak or write the answer. An option for a “literal” cue provided some help. Then, for each answer I got corrections and brief explanation. So I was already learning during the test.
After completing the test, I was indeed assessed to be Advanced Plus. But that doesn't tell me that everything I did was perfect. It simply means that I'll do my best learning in the advanced language environment.
Language Zen is a bright, uncluttered, inviting site, and easy to navigate.
On the Bar on top, you see: Learn, Courses, Music, Review, Blog, Premium
LEARN (or Start Learning)
When you start, you learn at the level you've reached.
There are three types of exercises:
Write or speak the translation of a sentence into the target language. Once you've done that, you'll hear the right answer and get corrections. From time to time, you'll get a grammatical hint.
Listen to a sentence in the target language and choose the correct translation out of five. Again, you'll see and hear the correct answer so you can check.
Match the meanings of 5 words or phrases.
At the end of each section, you'll see your progress.
COURSES (or Special Courses)
Here you have a list of 13 specific topics: Greetings, General Education, Travel Essentials, At a Restaurant, Getting Around, Telling Time, The Family, General Shopping, Watching Sports, Dating, Flirting with Girls, Flirting with Guys, and Investing in Startups
With the 4 hours I had done in the “Learn” section, I could see the percentage of words that I knew in each of these courses (without yet doing any of the courses).
The last course “Investing in Startups” caught my eye. The Info Tab tells you: “Language Zen is starting its first raise. As a treat for our investors and potential investors, we've built a course to help you talk about investing in the next great Latin American startup.”
The learning method is similar to what I've been doing in the “Learn” section.
Learning from your mistakes is part of the method:
For example, I translated the sentence “I like working with VCs” with: “Me gusta trabajar con VVCC.” (Because I had previously learned that you make abbreviations plural by doubling the letter, as in EEUU (United States).
However, the correct answer is: “Me gusta trabajar con VC,” which is something I will now remember. Deeper into the course, I also learned the Spanish for VCs - “inversores de riesgo.”
I really like getting the corrections, sometimes with a brief explanation of why my answer was wrong.
Recording the answer is a really cool option.
When you speak your translation, it appears automatically as written. You can still correct the written form before you “check” it.
However, as with many voice recognition features, this one sometimes doesn't work that well for me.
I spoke the sentence “¿Cuánta pista tienen?” (How much runway do you have?) - and the program wrote: “autopista kennedy.”
My husband, who was listening, commented that maybe my Austrian accent in Spanish didn't go over that well... But then, who doesn't have some kind of accent when learning a foreign language?
I've noticed, though, that the program has become more accepting of my voice, with fewer strange transcriptions. That means it's learning too!
MUSIC (Learn from Music)
I love learning with songs. Because there's lots of repetition, songs become a surprisingly effective way to learn vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, grammar structures, and the pronunciation of difficult sounds.
For many language enthusiasts learning the lyrics of a foreign song is a great way to engage both with the music and the language. (No wonder that La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish With a Song, is still one of our most-read blog posts!)
For Spanish, 15 songs are listed. Next to the song titles, you see the percentage of its words that you have already learned in another context on the site.
Each song has three Tabs: Learn, Play, Info
The Info Tab lists the Artist, Album, Genre, and Accent: Spanish (Peninsular), Dominican, Honduran, Colombian, Mexican, American, Andalusian (Peninsular), Chilean, Puerto Rican.
By the way, it's a good idea to listen to different accents and dialects in a language. Doing so, trains your ear to hear subtle differences in sound. If you do this consistently, you'll understand native speakers of your target language much better. Especially, if they aren't your standard-accent radio announcer.
The Play Tab takes you to the song. You can listen to it in Spanish and see each of the lines as they're sung either in Spanish or in English.
The Learn Tab teaches you individual phrases that occur in the song (by having you translate or pick a translation out of multiple choice). I noticed that some of the sentences from my other course lesson also showed up, scattered in between.
You can also just do a “lesson on the lyrics,” where you learn individual phrases that go to make up the lines of the song.
As you go along, you get quick grammar tips. For example: As you see the sentence (line of the song) “Lo oigo todo es tiempo” a small box opens and tells you: “When someone or something receives the action of a verb, that someone or something is known as the direct object of a sentence.”
As you progress, you'll hear snippets of the song, where the words you're learning occur.
You slowly start building the sentences of the song.
The short phrases are quite easy in themselves, but as you start putting them together into longer sentences, you learn colloquial structures that go beyond literal translation.
If you click on More ... on the bottom of the box, a page of explanation opens, giving you an extensive description of a direct object, including a list of pronoun objects, and a note about word order.
Learning a language effectively depends a whole lot on how you review. Language Zen has some nice features in that department.
On “Review” you can pull down three options: Progress, Words, Facts
This opens a Dashboard that tells you your status: How close you're to your weekly goal in hours; what you've learned in numbers and on a graph (Words, Facts, Phrases, Meanings); your streak in days; what level you're on; how many points you've earned.
This lists all the words and their meanings that you've learned so far.
You can sort by: Words I “Know / Don't Know” and “Need / Don't Need” to Practice that are “Of Any Type” or 11 other grammatical categories such as /Verbs /Nouns / Prepositions, etc.
When you see the letter P beside any of the words, it means you need to practice it; a puzzle piece beside it means there's a grammatical fact attached to it.
Under "Facts", you'll find a list of grammatical points that are explained in the lessons, such as “Por vs para,”“Expressions with Tener,”etc.
You can sort this list the same way as in the Words section. Also, you are given the skill level for each. Clicking on any of the items gives you a brief explanation and examples.
For example, in the screenshot as on the left: “they are”, the use of the verb “estar” to express “conditions” (rather than “qualities,” for which “ser” is used) is explained.
Language Zen can be used for free, with ads on the site and limited daily learning.
There are also Premium monthly subscription options, which let you try out the premium version for free for a month before being charged $14.95 for 2 months. Check the Membership Feature Comparison page for the various subscription options. (An option for companies and schools includes “custom professional content” and “group usage metrics.”)
What we Like
You learn most vocabulary in the context of phrases and sentences.
The vocabulary seems practical and useful.
The “Special Courses” let you learn and practice what you need or want.
Translations are always into Spanish.
When translating a English phrase you often get several Spanish options.
Choosing the “literally” translation option is often helpful.
You can select a slow voice option.
Recording your answer gives you an opportunity to speak.
The voice recorder seems to learn and adapt to your voice.
You choose the level to start (or rely on the assessment test).
The recall algorithm of words I missed, seemed to work well.
You get grammar points at times, but they are not overwhelming.
Other things to consider
The learning and practice is translation based.
I did not find any dialogues of conversations (beyond some of the song lyrics).
The “Learn” and “Course” module translations are quite demanding; interspersing a song and just reading the lyrics can be relaxing.
Language Zen has found a very effective way of using its teaching method for song lyrics. We find the method both engaging and demanding.
It really requires you to be on your toes to get the translations correctly – one sure way you are learning!
There are no iOS or Android apps yet but we understand that an Android app is in the works, to be followed by an iOS app.
Conversations and stories, using a similar method as for the song/lyrics module, are also in development and will be added shortly.
Brief Comparison with Lingualia
In April we reviewed the Spanish program (online and apps) of our partner site Lingualia. Lingualia also uses a learning algorithm and adjusts to your skill level. Here are features in which Lingualia differs from Language Zen:
Lingualia's exercises are all in Spanish (without any English/Spanish translations).
Definitions are in Spanish and you are often given Spanish synonyms and antonyms for words you're learning.
Each lesson starts with a rapidly spoken dialogue. You can listen to it as many times as you want.
If needed, you can click to activate Google translate for dialogues and example sentences (and have to live with the often literal and incorrect Google translations).
Grammar points are taught in the form of exercises, with explanations in Spanish.
Texts in Spanish and questions for reading comprehension are mixed in.
Both the iOS and Android Lingualia apps work well with the online account.
Both sites are good examples for how different programs can be used for developing and practicing different skills.
Which one is more effective for you, may well depend on which method and topics engage you the most. You'll want a site to which you come back again and again to learn and practice - the only sure way to progress.
If translating, special courses and vocabulary, Spanish songs and lyrics, etc. are your thing, then Language Zen will work very well for you.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of :GamesforLanguage.com. She is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands and Canada. You can follow her onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any commentswithcontact.
Disclosure: Only the link to Lingualia is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe. Gamesforlanguage, LLC has no business relationship with Language Zen, other than having received a free subscription for the course.
We all want to speed up our language learning. Lately, I have been practicing Dutch and Spanish vocabulary with LearnwithOliver.com (in preparation for a review on our Blog) and I noticed something interesting: When looking over the daily “Sentence of the Day” and “Words of the Day” list, I recognize most of them and understand their meaning.
However, when I later review the “Words in the Queue,” I often cannot produce the English translation for individual words. On the other hand, when I scroll down to the foreign example sentence – which includes the foreign word I can't remember – the meaning of that word becomes quite clear.
I have found that in many cases remembering words as a part of a “chunk” helps a lot (as do other mnemonic practices). A chunk is a short group of words that typically go together.
In my language learning, I've come across various types of chunks (also called “collocations”).
Here are a few examples:
A chunk that you remember because of an association you create
Continuing with my “Words in the Queue” example from above: I've had a hard time remembering the meaning of the Spanish word “aguantar” (to put up with, hold, support, bear).
LearnwithOliver's example sentence was: ¿Puedes aguantar la respiración durante 30 segundos? What helped me, was to remember the expression “aguantar la respiración” (to hold your breath).
The word “aguantar” contains (for me) the word “agua,” and I see the mental image of “holding one's breath under water.” With that image, I can now remember the individual word too, and its meaning in different contexts.
A short chunk containing a grammatical kernel
These can be prepositional phrases, typical verb-noun, or adjective-noun constructions, etc. Once such word combinations become automatic, they provide good building blocks for speaking.
In German, phrases “nach Hause” and “zu Hause” are better remembered in context with related verbs, such as “nach Hause kommen”(to come home) or “zu Hause sein”(to be at home).
(In Gamesforlanguage's German Stories “zu Hause” and “nach Hause” appear in different contexts, which you can find by just searching for Hause in our German Dictionary)
In Spanish, “en casa” and “a casa” are quite similar to their German equivalents, as a search for casa in our Spanish dictionary will show.
A chunk in which the meaning of the individual words doesn't add up to the meaning of the phrase
With the English phrase, “What's up?”, you're not really asking the question literally, right? Other languages have similar phrases.
In Spanish, you ask: “¿Qué tal?” The word “tal” alone translates as: such, that. But the greeting means: What's going on?, How about it?
Germans typically greet each other: “Wie geht's?” This is literally How does it go? How goes it?, but means: How are you?
Very similarly in Italian: “Come va?” (“va” = it goes),
and in French: “Ça va?”, short for “Comment ça va?”
These greetings, etc. you'll remember without even thinking about grammar and the meaning of the individual words.
A chunk that contains an image that doesn't translate into your language
The German expression: “nichts am Hut haben” (literally: to have nothing on the hat), means: not to care a fig about something.
The French expression: “Ça a l'air bon” (literally: that has the good air), means: That looks good.
The Spanish expression: “estar por las nubes” (literally: to be for the clouds), just means that something is "very expensive.”
Replacing “por” with “en”, however, changes the meaning completely: “estar en las nubes” means that somebody is in the clouds, or daydreaming.
There are many expressions in all languages that you'll not understand if you just translate the individual words.
But once you understand the expression, it also lets you remember more easily the individual words through association with the image.
How to practice chunks:
A good way to practice a chunk is to copy an existing audio, or record it yourself. Then play and repeat it as often as you can.
You should know it so well, that you can say it automatically, without thinking about how the phrase is put together.
That's also why, at the end of each of our Gamesforlanguage's Story Scenes, we have a “Record It” feature, which let's you record the Scene Dialogue and compare yourself to the native speakers. (Right, Italian 1 Story, Scene 3, “Record It” screen)
It will not only help you with your pronunciation, but also make you better remember typical expressions.
Another good tool for recording a phrase you want to practice is using the free Audacity audio program which you can download both for Windows or Mac by using the above link. (We'd like to credit an earlier Mezzofanti Guild post for making this suggestion.)
Never Again Wordlists or Grammar Paradigms?
That's up to you. For some, memorization of words and endings feels like a chore.
I, for one, actually like learning and reviewing vocabulary. There are plenty of programs around for doing that, a popular one being Memrise.
You may also like the practice option (for the words you had to look up) that Lingua.ly provides when you use its browser extension or its app when reading texts online
In any case, I prefer learning words and grammar structures that I've seen in context. That way, I'm sure of the meaning and I avoid committing “google translate” type bloopers.
From time to time, I also go to check a conjugation just to make sure I have the forms right. Wordreference has conjugation pages for many languages, where you can see the full conjugation of a verb on one page.
For me, various forms of chunks (pre-assembled phrases) are the anchors of the language I'm learning. Once they become automatic, I'm freed up to focus more on the message that I'm trying to express.
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
It was my niece who finally convinced me to take the plunge. She told me how much she enjoyed the various options italki provides.
Even more importantly, she was happy about how quickly her fluency in Spanish was improving. She'll be using Spanish in her work, for counseling families and conducting interviews.
For me, becoming conversationally fluent is a personal goal, though one that I take very seriously. So, a few weeks ago, I decided to try out italki.
The italki site is easy to navigate. When you start looking around, you'll find various free options and features that can enhance your experience on the site, besides, or in addition to taking (paid) lessons.
On your Dashboard you can see all your activity at one glance, including your schedule, your teachers, your friends, your community activities, a recommended article, as well as your “wallet.”
At the footer of your Dashboard page is the heading “Browse.” From there you can jump to any of the sections listed below. Once you're there, sort by language and specific options.
The Main Stay: Lessons for Speaking
Learning to talk fluently in a foreign language and building on conversational skills are the main goals for many language learners.
One-on-one sessions with a skilled language teacher - be it from home, or when living where the language is spoken - are doubtless the best way to get there.
Skype or Facetime lessons are italki's mainstay. There are lots of options for everyone. You can choose between “professional teachers” (who are certified and experienced) and “community tutors” (native or near-native speakers who do informal tutoring).
For Browsing through a list for available teachers or tutors, you can set the language, the country where the teacher is from, a rate, tags (such as: beginners, children, teenagers, business, test preparation), native speaker, trial lesson, audio & video, available times (instant tutoring, or time of day, days of the week).
To find the section, simply click on “Language Teachers.”
Italki encourages you to try out different teachers and offers three (3) 30-minutes, discounted trial sessions for their teachers and tutors. (The discounts are set by each teacher and tutor, and therefore vary.)
4 More Features
1. Informal Conversational Practice
For casual practice, you can add Language-Exchange sessions, which are free. You can set up as many as you want, and with time you'll probably find some good partners and ways to make the language exchanges run smoothly.
In this section you can get free language practice by exchanging time teaching your native language, for time learning a foreign language. You can sort by language you're learning, gender, place your partner is from, and native speaker.
To get there, just click on “Language Partners.” Some of the language partners are also teachers on italki. Above the profile picture, you can “Switch to Teacher Profile.”
In some cases, time differences and a partner's availability make language-exchange sessions somewhat more difficult to schedule than sessions with teachers. This is a problem that many language-exchange sites share.
The best way to grow your (passive) vocabulary is to read as much as you can in your target language, and on a variety of subjects.
Italki has a free section where teachers and tutors post articles they've written. They come in a variety of languages and are mostly about learning a language, specific language topics, or cultural themes.
These articles are conversational in nature. I recommend reading the ones that are in your target language. For a learner, they are a great way to start internalizing informal language beyond basic phrases such as “how are you?”“where are you from?”“are you a student?”“what kind of work do you do?”“do you have any brothers and sisters?”
To get there, click on “Articles.” Sort by language and scroll down. You'll see articles in your native and in your target language.
I find, though, that I may have a huge (reading) vocabulary in a foreign language, but still find myself tongue-tied when speaking it. So, you need to find ways to use your words and phrases in real conversations, by speaking!
Now that there are lots of Forums, Facebook community pages, Chat options, etc. in various languages, learning to write well enough in your target language seems a good skill to shoot for.
In the “Notebook” section, on italki, you can write short journal-like entries in the language you're learning about topics that interests you or something that's on your mind.
These notebook entries are then corrected by others who are native speakers or proficient in the language. You'll sometimes get several corrections and comments. In turn, you are encouraged to correct the notebook entries of others, written in your native language or one you're highly proficient in.
This option is free and you can use it even if you haven't taken any lessons.
Under Browse, click on “Notebook,” sort by language.
4. Grammar and Usage
Not many language learners approach a language by just learning grammar rules and memorizing conjugation tables. However, when you're beyond the beginner level, figuring out some of the grammar points is actually fun.
You can do that in the “Answers” section. There you can add specific questions about the language you're learning (translation, correct usage, etc.) and answer questions about a language that you speak.
To get there, go to “Answers” and sort by language.
The following quote by a learner says it very well: “I've used italki to get answers for questions I don't have the courage to ask in the classroom as I'm very shy. I always get satisfactory answers, the community is really nice as far as I can tell.”
Even Polyglots use italki
You may never become a Polyglot like Benny Lewis. You may not even agree with him that learning your target language is easy. Or you wonder how one can Become Fluent in 3 months, as he promises in his well-known guide.
But when even Benny uses italkito keep up his fluency in the many languages he speaks, you know that italki has something going for it.
I will certainly continue to use it for the languages I want to become more fluent in.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada and speaks German, English, Dutch, and French fluently. She intends to become as fluent in Italian, Spanish and Swedish. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Disclosure: The links above to Fluent in 3 Months and italki are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe.
Learning a language takes time, focus, and a certain amount of effort. As we juggle our time, demands from work and family, and our need for rest and recreation, language learning can easily fall by the wayside.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to keep your language learning motivation on track, even when you're hitting a few obstacles.
Here are my 3 main takeaways from “Spark” for language learners :
1. Stay self-aware all the way through
The e-book “Spark” is set up as 17 steps and you are asked to “stop and think” at each of them. I think it's a helpful approach for looking at your language learning goal as well.
Choose a realistic goal for your language learning
What is really useful is that each level gives you a description of skills (see page 35 of the PDF that you can download.) For example: a B1 (3rd level) proficiency - which is a good goal to shoot for - means the following:
“I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and immediate need or on current events).”
Know why you want to learn a foreign language
Is your wish connected to a trip you're planning?
Do you have friends or family you want to converse with?
Is learning the language job related?
Or are you doing it for the pure pleasure of mastering another language?
Know where you are on the road to your goal
Are you an absolute beginner or do you already have the basics down?
Are you a re-learner of a language you learned in school or college?
Or are you re-learning a language you knew as a child or from living in the country?
Your rate of learning and acquiring a native-like pronunciation will very likely be influenced by your language history.
As you go along, you can always adjust your goal up or down.
2. Figure out coping skills that work for you
One of the steps in “Spark” is called “Modelling.” There the author talks about a “coping model.”
It's pretty easy to figure out why Blogs about language learning are so popular. The good ones are written by bilinguals or multilinguals, who share their experiences and can show us how to deal with and overcome difficulties.
Learning a language has its ups and downs, and sometimes we find that we have to cope with discouragement, boredom, and a sense of failure.
We can learn a lot about coping skills from others, especially from language learners who are similar to us. (Jeremy Dean of “Spark” reminds us that beginner problems are different from expert problems.)
Here are a few typical struggles/challenges others can help us to cope with:
What about the many everyday words in your target language, which you learned and then couldn't remember in a casual conversation? Memory tricks and apps for learning and remembering vocabulary abound.
Frustration with grammar issues
Not to mention German cases and how articles and adjectives change for a case. Or remember how tricky the French subjunctive and conditional verb forms are.
When learning a foreign language, we also need to absorb how it functions, i.e. its grammar.
Are there times you get a little nervous and suddenly start speaking with a strong native-language accent? It happens to me.
Having a foreign accent is not a terrible thing, but you'll want to be able to control it to a certain extent, simply because you want to be understood.
3. Figure out ways that keep you going
To keep your momentum, you have to “do” something in the language you're learning. Avoidance or procrastination won't move you forward.
These two tips come up directly in “Spark.”
1. Think about your last effort to motivate the next one.
In language learning terms, it means for me, for example: When I complete a lesson with few mistakes it encourages me to do the next one even better.
2. Set up mini-goals with very specific actions.
For example, when I drink my second cup of coffee in the morning, I'll do a part of a lesson; and before I go to sleep, I'll review the last 10 words I learned during the day.
Here are a few more momentum-keeping tricks that have worked for me:
When you finish a lesson, tell yourself what your next step will be. Then, when you pick up the next day where you left off, you'll know exactly where to start.
Schedule a lesson with a tutor or a session with a language-exchange partner. Just knowing that it will be coming up, raises your level of enthusiasm and engagement. It also might prompt you to prepare a few questions and answers.
The bottom line is to “do something.” Maybe you don't feel like doing a full lesson, or you don't have time for one. But if, instead, you can listen to a song, read a short newspaper article, play a quick language game, etc., you've taken another step rather than stopping cold.
And all along, it's worth keeping the following in mind:
Becoming fluent in a language gives us a sense of competence, that we're good at something that's challenging.
Learning on our own gives us a sense of autonomy.
Having a second, or third language connects us to others who have a different take on life. It opens up our world.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Disclosure: We purchased the "Spark" e-book, and have no affiliation with it's author or with Psyblog. Several other links above are to a partners' program or an affiliate with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.
Since adding German 2 in 2014, we made quite a few changes. But the summary, which appeared on page 44 of Language Magazine's October 2014 edition, describes the course so well that we are citing it in full again below:
Due to popular demand, GamesforLanguage.com is adding a German 2 course.
In this sequel to the German 1 course, Michael Mueller, a young traveler, returns to Berlin, where he is faced with a baffling mystery.
After he is caught paying with a counterfeit Euro (“Blüte” in German jargon), he sets out to find the young woman who has slipped him the note on the plane from Boston to Berlin.
By playing dynamic games while following a mystery narrative, users are motivated to learn by the fun of it. To solve the mystery of the “Blüte,” they must collect enough points to move on to the next scene. They hereby learn and practice useful German phrases and sentences, which – because of the engaging story context – they'll remember.
All lessons begin with a short story dialogue. The sentences are then broken down into their component words and phrases, which layers practice in various games. Finally, players are prompted to reassemble the sentences from the dialogue.
A “Say It” sequence emphasizes the importance of repeating and speaking words and phrases.
With games like “Word Invaders” or “Shootout,” players practice translations and word order.
“Word Hero” and “Shooting Gallery” games help recall the vocabulary of previous lessons.
“Record it” then lets learners record the story lines themselves and practice their pronunciation.
GamesforLanguage's courses (German, French, Italian, and Spanish) are all online and free. Courses and Quick Games are accessible on most tablets.
72 instead 36 Lessons
German 2 builds your mastery of idiomatic language, helps you understand and use those hard-to-pin-down filler words (ja, schon, noch, doch, denn, eigentlich, mal, etc.), and has you practicing “conversational past” and “simple past” verb forms.
Returning players will notice a change in our lesson format:
Each of the six levels of German 2 now has 12 lessons or Scenes, for a total of 72. Based on user comments, we've made various changes from the German 1 course:
We're introducing only 8 new words or phrases per Scene and are combining various games to make learning and practicing even more fun and effective.
Many of the German words and expressions used in both courses can also be practiced with the more than 70 German Language Games (Quick Games), which can be played without even registering.
Is German 1 a prerequisite for German 2?
German 1 is NOT a prerequisite for German 2. The course format allows anyone with basic knowledge of German to jump right in.
Our Recording Feature
We believe that the best way to practice speaking and pronunciation is still recording one's own voice and comparing it to that of the native speaker. (Voice recognition programs that some sites are using are still mostly frustrating, especially for beginners.)
By repeated listening and comparing, we are both training our ear and improving our pronunciation.
The recording feature, which is used in the final game of each Scene, requires the Flash Player. Recording therefore works with PC and laptop browsers, but not with most phones and tablets. So, when playing on a phone or tablet, you can just skip the “Record It” game at the end of each lesson.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
I contacted Prof. Rasch and he was kind enough to send me three articles, the latest one titled: “The beneficial role of memory reactivation for language learning during sleep: A review,” authored by him and Thomas Schreiner. (The article is available now on Elsevier.com's “Brain and Language” and can also be obtained via ScienceDirect.)
Language Learning Stages
I found the Schreiner/Rasch article fascinating because it examines the close tie between language learning and the basic processes of memory. As you learn words in a new language, you go through three core stages: encoding, consolidation, and retrieval.
When we first hear new words (also called labels) for objects, activities, feelings, etc. in a foreign language, our brain has to encode them. That means, we change the information into a form that our memory can cope with.
There are three main ways in which information can be encoded: with a picture (visual), with sound (acoustic), and with meaning (semantic). For example, to learn the German word for “dog,” you could use an image of a dog plus the audio and/or written text “Hund.” That's the encoding.
The authors remind us that, “during encoding, new and initially labile memory traces are formed that are still highly susceptible to interference.”
Nevertheless, such “memory traces” are no longer just conjecture. They can be made visible today with MRI brain scans.
During this stage, the newly encoded memories are “stabilized and strengthened” and “gradually integrated into pre-existing knowledge networks on the cortical level for long-term storage.”
This must be the stage where practice and interactive learning comes into play. Whether by associations with images or feelings, repeating and saying aloud, spaced-recall exercises, writing, or other drills - consolidating new memories is essential for learning a foreign language.
It's especially at this stage that sleep is key. Before reading the article, I was not aware of how important sleep is for memory functions.
Schreiner/Rasch note: “While encoding and retrieval are clearly tied to wakefulness, sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of newly encoded memories.”
There is a vast amount of research that documents the beneficial effects that sleep has on memory.
In this third stage, memories can be accessed and are available for active use. We know what that means when we start practicing a foreign language: We not only understand the meaning of the foreign words, we can also use and apply them when listening, reading, speaking, or writing.
Understandably, the memories stored in our brain are more like a collage, or even a jigsaw puzzle, than a series of lists. And thus, associations (helped by context, specific questions, or other cues) play an important role in the retrieval of information.
Sleep/Language Study Set-up
A group of Germans was given 120 Dutch-German word pairs to study before 10 PM.
Then, half of the group, the “Sleep Group,” slept for three hours, while the other half, the “Control Group,” stayed awake.
The Sleep Group heard a portion of the words - referred to as “cued” words - during their sleep, but during their “Non -rapid eye movement” (NREM) sleep, which typically occurs during the first few hours when you do not dream.
The same words were replayed to the Control Group. After three hours both groups were given tests. The Sleep Group had better recall of the (“cued”) words they had heard during sleep than the Control Group who had listened to them while awake
The image A above shows the set-up and when the Sleep Group heard the “cued” Dutch words.
Graph (B) shows that in the Sleep Group, recall for the German translation of the cued Dutch words (black bar) was significantly improved when compared with uncued words (white bar).
In the Control Group, there was no significant difference between the recall of cued and uncued words.
There are more study details and observations by the researchers than can be discussed here (including the cueing timing and intervals).
The study seemed to confirm that verbal cues – e.g. replaying during sleep a list of foreign words that had been learned earlier – can reactivate the memory of those words.
In other words, hearing vocabulary during our sleep could greatly enhance the “consolidation stage” of our memory and thereby the language learning process.
The authors note that “the findings reviewed above demonstrate the crucial role of sleep in language and specifically word learning.
It has been shown that sleep promotes divers aspects of language learning, from word learning to the abstraction of grammar rules (Batterink et al., 2014; Henderson et al., 2012) and possibly constitutes an ideal state in order to facilitate and accelerate distinct learning processes.
In this vein, evidence that foreign vocabulary are capable of inducing such reactivation processes and thereby enhance subsequent memory performance critically broadens the scope of cued memory reactivations during sleep.”
Schreiner/Rasch also acknowledge a number of open questions. Among them:
What would be the consequences when the word cues were heard during REM sleep (vs. NREM sleep)?
Do closely related languages (e.g. Dutch/German) make cueing during sleep more effective?
Does cueing affect sleep quality?
We would also ask:
What is the optimum timing sequence?
What is the optimum audio volume level?
What about phrases and sentences vs. individual words?
There is clearly still more research needed to determine how best we can take advantage of these findings in language learning practice at home.
One Practical Take-Away
After reading the study and understanding more about the importance of sleep for the “consolidation stage” of our memory, I have set myself a new goal: Play one of our Spanish lessons or Quick Games before turning off the lights.
Finding a way to “cue” the right words at the right time at night, will certainly be a little more difficult.
But it may also be the next frontier that language learning companies will want to cross...
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Schreiner, T., & Rasch, B. The beneficial role of memory reactivation for language learning during sleep: A review. Brain &Language (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2016.02.005
Are you planning to travel to Spain or to one of the other Spanish-speaking countries? (Picture left: Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain)
Then practicing your Spanish with these Spanish language games may be for you!
You'll also know from our previous blogposts that learning, at the very least, basic numbers, some essential vocabulary, and common phrases has been very useful to us in travels to countries whose languages we don't speak.
We won't promise that you'll speak Spanish fluently after reading this post and playing the four games. We're convinced, however, that you'll remember some of the words and phrases and will be able to use and pronounce them.
Some Simple Tips
Always say the words and phrases aloud, or if you're on a bus or standing in line, mouth them to yourself, silently. Then when the coast is clear, say them OUT LOUD from memory.
A good way to learn phrases and expressions is to practice them as "chunks," not as a series of individual words.
Some phrases are idiomatic and have a meaning that's quite different from the meaning of the words in it. Learn them as a whole.
Lots of repetition is essential. We rarely learn something just by hearing and saying it once.
Our mouth has to learn what muscles to use to make the right sounds. The particular combination of sounds that makes up a phrase has to get lodged in our brain. And, our brain has to connect sound to meaning. No matter what your approach is to learning Spanish, speaking words and phrases out loud and writing them out by hand will help you remember them.
When you travel to a foreign country, knowing the numbers is a good skill to have. But you need to be able to understand them as well as to say them.
Numbers come in handy for exchanging phone numbers, giving your address, arranging a time to meet someone, buying at a market, paying the bill in a restaurant, buying tickets, making reservations, etc.
In general, knowing the numbers 1-100 will suffice. Spanish numbers are not difficult, all you need is say them enough so they become automatic.
Here's a game to practice the Spanish Numbers in a fun way. ("Word Invaders" screen, above left)
2. Question Words
You can do a lot with question words to give and get information, either on the personal level or when asking for directions, about opening and closing times, train or bus schedules, etc.
In English, common interrogatives - with the exception of "how" - tend start with "wh-" (when, where, why, who, what, which)
With the exception of "¿dónde?" (where), common Spanish interrogatives have a "k-" sound, which is spelled either as a "q," or a "c-." That's something you have to learn extra.
Also, as question words, these all have an accent: ¿qué?, ¿por qué?, ¿quién?, ¿cuándo?, ¿cuánto?, ¿cuál?, ¿cómo?, ¿dónde?
You'll be using these phrases often when talking in Spanish - with someone at a party, in a café, at a store, online, on Skype, etc. ("Deal no Deal" screen, right)
Make this your start to remembering phrases and expressions: This way you don't even have to think about grammar.
If you're having fun with our approach and these games, you'll find additional Quick Games for French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Inglés on our site.
Or why not try our FREE Spanish 1 course: David en España. With its 36 fifteen-minute lessons you'll learn over 600 new words. But, even more importantly, you'll practice the phrases and sentences of a travel story – useful, real life language that you'll be able to put to use when visiting Spain, Mexico, or one of the many other Spanish-speaking countries or regions .
And just maybe you'll also get enchanted by Spanish songs such as “La Paloma”. If “La Paloma's” history interests you, or if you want to learn it's original (Spanish) lyrics, click on La Paloma Lyrics- Learning Spanish With a Song.
You may not have the time or motivation to learn a language to fluency before traveling.
However, knowing some key vocabulary and phrases will go a long way to making your trip more enjoyable. It will also be quite helpful in many circumstances, and who knows, perhaps get you out of tricky situations.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Disclosure: The links above are to a partner's program with revenue sharing, if you decide to buy or subscribe.
Fluency in the language we're learning is important for many of us, especially if we're talking with new friends. But, what is fluency?
Unless you think that being fluent means perfection, I would argue that these are the three essential marks of fluency:
You have enough vocabulary to hold your own, to argue your point. You should not be constantly searching for words. If you can't think of a word or expression right away, you can easily talk around it, and find another way to say what's on your mind.
Your pronunciation is adequate. Even if you don't sound absolutely like a native speaker, people can understand you. Otherwise, your conversation is not going to move forward.
You can sustain a conversation with someone without thinking much about grammar. That means, even if your grammar isn't perfect, your mistakes won't throw your message off track.
In other words, if you're able to engage in conversations with native speakers without constantly searching for words and tripping up over grammar, you're well on your way to fluency.
Getting to the threshold of fluency is one thing. Making the leap into fluency is another. For me, the million dollar question is how an adult learner can achieve that leap.
I acquired my first three languages by growing up and living in different countries (Austria, the Netherlands, Canada/US). My fourth language, French, I learned in school and college, and I improved it during stays in France and (French) Switzerland.
Italian and Spanish I began to learn later in life. I thereby continue to experience all the challenges of an adult learner.
In this post I'll write about my experience with Spanish. I don't speak it quite fluently yet, but I'm ready to make that leap.
VOCABULARY, PRONUNCIATION, GRAMMAR
There are many ways and different tools to acquire vocabulary. Putting together a personal "system" of daily exposure to new vocabulary is not that hard.
Social media sites are an easy source. For example, I follow several word-a-day Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. When I check into these, I can always pick up some new words and phrases in Spanish.
We're using Spanish post-its on furniture, gadgets, and other items in our house.
By reading news articles, opinion pieces, or stories in your target language, you can build a diverse vocabulary. If you write down any new words or put them into a Flashcard game such as Quizlet, you'll remember them better.
Lingua.ly's browser extension or app lets you collect words when reading online. As with Quizlet, you can then practice them later.
Online language programs and apps are set up to have you learn and practice vocabulary. Most of these offer the advantage of providing audio - which is essential for improving your pronunciation.
Some programs let you record your voice, play it back, and compare your pronunciation with that of the native speaker. (This is one of the features the Gamesforlanguage quick games and courses provide.)
Voice recognition seems to be getting popular too. Though I must confess, the ones I've tried tend to frustrate me more than they help.
In any case, recording your voice and playing it back is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation - even if there's no native speaker for comparison.
Unless you love memorizing conjugation tables and case endings, it's best to acquire gradually and in context. The idea is to become aware of patterns. Here again, reading will help you a lot.
Once you've internalized a grammatical structure, you can build on it. That may be a good time to look it up, learn the rule, and try out a few more examples in your next conversation.
WHEN TO START SPEAKING?
What has worked for me is to start speaking in my target language right from the start! I use every opportunity to say words and phrases out loud.
One way to get beyond individual words is to memorize dialogues. These you can say to yourself, and if possible out loud at various times during the day. You can even "perform" them as real conversations adding gestures and emotional expression.
Speaking from day one is also Benny Lewis' advice in Fluent in 3 Months. If you have a partner or friend who's willing to engage in simple target language conversations with you, that's perfect.
On the other hand, Steve Kaufmann of LingQ suggests that you hold off on real conversations until you're ready. For him, the magic word is "input" (reading, listening, watching) until you have enough vocabulary to communicate on more than a basic level.
I do understand Steve Kaufmann's argument. However, in my experience "lots of input" alone has not been enough to make me fluent in Spanish.
MY ROAD TO FLUENCY
This year, I'm intent on becoming fluent in Spanish, my sixth language. I started learning Spanish four years ago, casually, and since then have been trying out and using various programs. On the average, I've spent about 30 minutes a day doing various things in Spanish: listening, playing games, writing, watching films, reading headlines, etc.
Of course, I know our GamesforLanguage Spanish 1 course by heart, often playing one or more of the 36 scenes to work on modifications.
Last year I used Duolingo's Spanish course as well as a 3-month subscription for Babbel's Spanish course.
Currently I am using Lingualia's (one of our partners) Spanish course daily. (You can read my review of Lingualia HERE.)
We are listening to Spanish radio stations and are watching Spanish movies (we find Spanish [not English] subtitles especially helpful!)
My husband and I spent one month in Barcelona, four years ago, and one month in Seville, last year. Though we thoroughly enjoyed interacting with locals as much as we could, met with language exchange partners, engaged a tutor (see: How a Tutor Boosted Our Language Fluency), and improved our Spanish during each stay, I still don't feel that I can speak it fluently.
In order to gain more confidence in speaking, I need another learning boost - intense practice with conversation partners, who are able to give me immediate and informed feedback.
WHY AN ONLINE LANGUAGE TUTOR
My reading and listening comprehension skills are a lot better than my speaking and writing skills.
I have a good grasp of rudimentary Spanish grammar and a passable pronunciation.
However, I do not believe that lots more "input" (reading, listening, watching) is going to boost my speaking skills, per se.
We don't have any Spanish-speaking friends at the moment and living in Spain is out of the question.
So, to become fluent in Spanish, I've started using an online tutor. To date, I've had just a few Skype lessons on italki. The jury is still out, but I feel very encouraged.
FROM HALTING SPEECH TO FLUENCY
With italki I've had two different types of Spanish only Skype lessons. I'm not yet sure which model will work best for me.
Tutor #1- One tutor, let's call him Carlos, has engaged me in real conversations. We talked about topics that I would also want to discuss with others, for example: the main difference between living in Europe and in the United States; what's going on in politics; how I came to be fluent in four languages; or, what it feels like to live in other countries (something that applies to him as well). To me the conversations were interesting and personal to the extent that we exchanged opinions and talked about some experiences.
There were lots of questions back and forth. Carlos corrected some of my mistakes, but not too much, and helped me formulate my thoughts. At the end of the lesson, we went over a list of words and phrases, again with corrections. As he talked, he typed the list into my Skype message box.
Tutor #2- The second tutor, let's call him Juan, immediately started me on a B1 Level textbook, which he pulled up on Skype. He then proceeded to go over the first exercises of Chapter 1.
The topic was "daily life," and dealt with everyday activities and hobbies. The exercises included typical vocabulary and related grammar points. Juan asked me to read various sentences and to answer questions, but on the whole, the lesson felt somewhat impersonal, more like a regular class.
With both tutors, I felt the lessons were challenging. I had to speak quite a bit, and to listen hard to make sure I understood. At the end of each lesson, I felt "foreign language fatigue." One hour was enough, any longer and my brain would have started to shut down.
I haven't yet chosen which tutor to continue with. Italki, in fact encourages you to try out several before making up your mind. But it's clear to me that I can get closer to fluency by using an experienced tutor.
I'll also try out another site, Hellotalk, and expect to add language-exchange sessions with native speakers as well. But I'll write about that another time. Stay tuned.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Disclosure: Only the links above to Fluent in 3 Months, italki, and Lingualia are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe.