“Blüten” in German means “blossoms,” but in colloquial language the word also means “funny money.” Our German 2 course uses a story that appeared in the Berlin newspaper in 2013, as shown in this excerpt on the left. Note the admonition that “Blüten müssen umgehend der Polizei gemeldet werden.” (Funny money has to be reported to the police right away.)
Language Magazine October 2014
The write-up on page 44 of Language Magazine's online October edition (see below) and in the Magazine's Materials section, describes how this narrative is used in Gamesforlanguage.com's German 2 course to teach and practice real and useful German phrases and sentences. The first draft lesson of the German 2 course is already online. Those who completed the German 1 course, will recall why Michael Mueller is visiting Berlin again. More lessons will be added as they are being completed.
Changed Lesson Format
Returning players will also notice a change in our lesson format: Each of the six levels will now have 12 lessons or Scenes, for a total of 72 . Each Scene has two parts and various games have now been combined in “Memory,” “Say & Write,“ and “Deal No Deal” segments to make learning and practicing even more fun and effective.
And those learners who complete “Blüten in Berlin” can also speculate what our German 3 course will be all about.
In the coming months, look for French 2, Spanish 2, and Italian 2 courses with a similar mystery story.
I recently read again that the “Grammar Translation Method” was first used in teaching Greek and Latin before being also applied to modern languages. It worked a bit like this:
Listen and then repeat after me Let's look at this sentence and find the grammar rule Do the exercise on page 43 of your Grammar/Text Book Memorize the vocabulary list Translate the first paragraph on page 45 Where do you see the grammar rule X applied in this paragraph
Maybe that's why many (including myself) have such bad memories of their language learning days in school...
Our First Language
We certainly don't learn to speak our first language from a grammar book. We learn our first language and its grammar – the rules by which the language works – mostly just by listening to and imitating other speakers. Research suggests that our brains are wired to do this. (Multiple Brain Regions Wired For Language, Study Finds). We seem to grasp the grammar idiosyncrasies of our first language without much effort early on and then learn the rules in school later. However, grammar rules themselves are not set in stone. Many of them even change over time and people often argue about them.
Our Second (or Third) Language
Learning a second or third language typically starts in school - for most of us and excepting children who grow up bilingual - after we have acquired the basics of our first language. And here the teaching methods (such as the “Grammar Translation Method”) may have a lot to do with how children or teenagers, and for that matter, even adults learn a foreign language.
Knowing certain grammar rules is obviously an essential part of mastering a language. But consciously learning grammar rules is a different type of activity from engaging in a language. Grammar rules are memorized and applied. Engaging in a language means actively using it, starting with listening/understanding, then reading, speaking, and writing it.
The question is how one can teach grammar with language games. For now, we go as far as adding brief grammar “tips” in a translation game. But mostly we set up the language games in such a way that the player makes grammar connections intuitively. In fact, a recent articleWhen It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learningreinforced our idea that games make language learning more effective: Learning can occur "playfully" rather than "with effort."
When you get curious enough about a grammar point, it is interesting to check up on it. Sometimes that's the only way that you can figure out the meaning of something. But while you're talking or listening to someone talking to you, it's not usually possible to say “Hey, let me look that up.” Language games intend to put you right into the flow of understanding and using a language. That's not a bad skill to practice.
When my wife and I arrived in Italy several years ago, after having studied Italian with the 90 lessons of three Pimsleur Italian courses, we felt quite confident. Watching a television show the first evening quickly destroyed our illusion. We could barely distinguish words, even less understand what seemed to us to be just rapid-fire Italian. After a couple of weeks of watching and listening, however, and doing the homework that our tutor gave us, we started to hear individual words. And sometimes we guessed the meaning from the context of the show or movie.
Understanding is obviously crucial - without it, there is no conversation. Listening/understanding is considered a passive activity, but it's importance should not be underestimated. When we marvel at the ease children learn a language, we should not forget that their listening already starts before they are even born and it still takes them several years before they can speak fluently.
Daring to Speak
Overcoming the fear of speaking a foreign language is a big step for many adults. There are no shortcuts to speaking. You have to do it as often as you can, starting with reading aloud, repeating, recording your voice, etc. What only could be done in "language labs" in schools and colleges in the past is now possible with many CD or online language courses.
In learning Italian and Spanish I have found that recording myself and comparing my pronunciation to that of the native speaker works best for me: I begin to hear the sound differences and while I'm often not successful in imitating the native speaker completely, I seem to get a little closer with every try. (And voice recognition programs just frustrate me!)
But speaking as part of a conversation obviously requires more than just pronouncing words more or less correctly. You have to recall vocabulary, consider word order, tenses, conjugations, and other grammatical idiosyncrasies to form sentences in a particular language. And, you have to do it in "real time."
Now, while learning vocabulary is essential, it's been our own experience that we recall words much better if we learn them in context, i.e. with phrases and sentences we would use ourselves. (That is also the idea of the travel story approach of gamesforlanguage.com!) When you recall and adapt phrases and sentences that you have heard and memorized, you have to think much less about word order, conjugations, endings, etc.
Yes, some apps and translation gadgets may help you look up a forgotten word or two, but for a real one-on-one conversation they are also a distraction.
We now know that, as we grow up, we lose our ability to distinguish certain sounds. Asian language speakers find it difficult to distinguish "l" and "r" sounds, as they don't exist in their languages. English speakers have trouble with French nasal sounds, German speakers with the English "w." While certain sounds can be learned with a focus on the mouth mechanics (a previous post), chances are that an adult will rarely speak a newly acquired foreign language completely without an accent.
Living with a Foreign Accent
I have been in the United States for over 40 years, but I still have a German accent. As I can't eliminate it, in spite of earlier "accent reduction" tutoring, I'll just live with it. And I do speak English quite fluently - maybe better now than French, which I had learned in my twenties while living and working in Switzerland.
I have been told that my accent in French is not quite German (maybe Swiss German?), but I can clearly hear my German accent when I record myself while learning and improving my Italian and Spanish.
I recently heard Henry Kissinger on a TV show. His German accent is certainly much stronger than mine, but nobody would argue that he does not speak English fluently.
My point is: Once you dare to speak, you can always work on improving your accent. But do not let your accent be the reason for not speaking.
Sabía (I knew) - that Scotland recently voted to stay part of Great Britain. It should have given Madrid some confidence that letting the democratic process play out may in fact be the right idea. (Or maybe Madrid already "knows," (sabe) how Catalonia would vote, if they were allowed to do so.) A recent article in The New Republic, Spain is Learning All the Wrong Lessons from Scotland's Referendum, analyses Madrid's position and actions.
In an earlier post we had excerpted a portion of our friend Jordi's e-mail in which he traced the political conflict back to 1714. Here is Part 2, in which he describes his view of the ongoing language struggle.
There is no problem with the level of the Spanish/Castilian language in Catalonia. All the statistics show that the current Catalan educational system - which is in fact bilingual - provides the students with a higher knowledge of both languages - Catalan and Castilian - than the monolingual Spanish system.
The knowledge of Castilian in Catalonia is above the average in Spain and even higher than in many parts of Castilia itself. There is not a single person in Catalonia that knows only Catalan and not Castilian. However, for many residents of Catalonia, the opposite situation is true. What the people that ask for "more Spanish” really want is "less Catalan" in Catalonia, asserting "the right” to be ignorant of the language of the country they are living in. In fact, they deny the existence of Catalonia as a country.
On the other hand, it is worth knowing is that, for the period of 2013-2014 only five (yes, 5) families asked for an education in "Spanish only" - in a population of about 7.5 million people. For the current period of 2014-2015, there is not a single family yet asking for "Spanish only" education. This, in spite of the fact that Mr. Wert, the Minister of Education in Madrid, has decreed that the Catalan Government will pay for "Spanish only" education of students that ask for it.
In the Valencian County, thousands of families have been asking the Government for new schools where the functional language would be Catalan, which is their mother tongue. The response of Minister Wert has been to close many of the Catalan schools and to increase the number of schools in “only Castilian.” There have been many demonstrations against that decision but the policies of education don’t change.
In the Balearic Islands, where there is the same system of immersion in Catalan as in Catalonia, a new law allows schools to hold only 30% of the classes in Catalan. There has been a long strike of about two months, in which more than the 90% of teachers, and children with their families, participated. Eventually the teachers decided to return to work but not abide by that rule.
So, as a matter of conclusion, I would say that there is no "language problem" in Catalonia, but only policies for the “cultural genocide” of Catalonia that Spain tries to implement.
These are strong words born out of frustration with the often heavy-handed educational policies decreed by Madrid.
We recently met a Spanish college professor who has lived in the US for many years, but is following the events in Spain with great interest. Growing up in the northwest of Spain with a Basque father and a mother from Catalonia, she knows the language issues well. She told us that her nieces and nephews in Catalonia are all participating in the many demonstrations for a referendum. And while they all support the independence of Catalonia from Spain they also are quite pessimistic about the outcome of a vote - assuming that Spain's Supreme Court would even allow such a referendum to proceed in the first place.
Ken Burns' documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History: Get Action (1858-1901)” brought back childhood and school memories. As the narration turned to Franklin Roosevelt's stay in Germany, I immediately recognized the spa where he had stayed with his parents four times during 1891-1896. His father had sought the water cure there for his heart condition and Franklin even went to the town's public school for 6 weeks. While not identified in the documentary, the spa was located in Bad Nauheim.(Photo of Sprudelhof, Bad Nauheim, by Hiltrud Hölzinger.)
A Well-Known Spa and Famous Visitors
For 13 years I passed the “Sprudelhof” - as the square around the fountain in Bad Nauheim was called (see picture) - every day on my way to and from school. Now the complex of buildings surrounding the fountain is also recognized as one of the largest examples of Art Nouveau in Germany.
The mineral waters, which were believed to benefit various heart ailments, made Bad Nauheim a well-known spa between the second part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century.
Three empresses stayed there: Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria and Hungary, in 1898, Czarina Alexandra Feodorowna of Russia, in 1910, and Auguste Viktoria - Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia, in 1912. As a child, I was greatly impressed by the story that a special railway station was built for the Czarina, so she could step from her private railcar directly into her carriage. And the German newspapers began to call Bad Nauheim the “Drei-Kaiserinnen-Bad” (three-empresses-spa).
Other royalty and famous people also sought the mineral water's curative power: Otto von Bismarck, Mark Twain (see also our Heidelberg & Mark Twain post), Richard Strauß, Albert Einstein, Edvard Munch, William Randolph Hearst, Anwar Al Sadat, Zarah Leander, and many others.
George S. Patton and Elvis Presley
George Patton only stayed for a short time in Bad Nauheim, the headquarters of the Fifteenth Army, to which General Eisenhower assigned him in October 1945. (General Patton died in December 1945 in a car crash on his way from Bad Nauheim to Mannheim.)
I still remember the stir that Elvis Presley's stay in Bad Nauheim created. He served his military service at the US garrison in Friedberg, a neighboring town, between 1958-1960, but was allowed to live off base. He initially stayed in the Park Hotel in Bad Nauheim, but after complaints from other guests, he moved to the house on Goethestrasse 14. (On a visit to Bad Nauheim several years ago, we noticed that his memory was still being kept alive with a small shrine and fresh flowers.)
The German word “Bad” can both mean “bath” and “spa.” Towns that have “Bad” as a prefix, such as Bad Nauheim, Bad Vilbel, Bad Homburg, etc. are spa towns, which is an official designation for towns where cures for certain ailments are offered. Using this prefix requires governmental authorization.
Until Germany's Universal Health System clamped down on the free/paid-for stays in the “Sanatoriums” of German spas in the 1980s, towns like Bad Nauheim benefitted greatly from Europe's popular spa culture.
Today there are still over 150 towns in Germany with the “Bad” prefix. The suffix “bad/baden” can also appear in town names such as “Wiesbaden” or “Marienbad” or make up the whole name as in “Baden-Baden,” arguably Germany's most famous spa town.
But while the heydays of German spa visits may be in the past, German spa towns (“Kurorte” or “places for a cure”) still attract affluent and famous personalities that do not have to rely on their health insurance.
More on Franklin Roosevelt's German Experience
Michael Beschloss, in his ebook The Conquerors - Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Germany, 1941-1945, writes that “Years later, as President, Roosevelt liked to believe that his early German experience gave him a special understanding of German politics and psychology.”The second chapter of his book gives a fascinating glimpse at how Roosevelt's German experience may have influenced his views and political decisions later on.
As lifelong language learners - by necessity and passion - we have used many different methods for learning a new language:
English and French classes during our school years in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada
Assimil records, tapes, and books
Berlitz and other classroom courses to learn/improve French
Immersion French courses in France
Pimsleur CDs to learn Italian and Chinese
Various CD and online courses, including Babbel, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, our Gamesforlanguage, etc. to learn Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.
Books and dictionaries for the above and other languages
Classroom courses also involved reading novels and newspaper articles (activities that online add-ons such as Lingua.ly can now also make more accessible for more advanced learners.) And for us, a story or interesting text made language learning both relevant and effective.
Overcoming Boring and Frustrating Beginnings
But beginning to learn a new language with CDs or online was often boring and frustrating: Many courses start out by teaching vocabulary and word combinations that seem useless and nonsensical. (Even Duolingo, a program we like a lot ourselves, started out with strange sentences, but is now constantly improving!) While various grammar points, word order, etc. can obviously be practiced with out-of-context sentences, it's been our experience, that we recall vocabulary much better, if (a) we learn vocabulary in context and (b) we learn useful, everyday language.
With our Gamesforlanguage courses we are using a travel story right from the start: The vocabulary grows from a few simple words in an airplane to phrases and sentences that describe a young man's experiences as he travels through various European cities.
A Mystery Story for Non-Beginners
For our German 2 course, (the first 24 lessons will be online in the fall of 2014), we are using a mystery story. Michael, the young traveler from our German 1 course, returns to Berlin. The young woman who sits beside him in the airplane gives him a book, “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” which she does not want to finish. Without giving away too much, let's just say that this book plays a key role in the story.
Each lesson is built around 4-8 dialog or story sentences, which are broken up into words and phrases - then heard, read, practiced and, re-assembled again, and finally recorded by the learner. German 2 will add another 700 NEW words to the 700 words of German 1, many of which will be recalled in various games of German 2.
Learners will again have to exceed certain point thresholds with each lesson, before they can unlock the next one. We believe that getting “to the end of the story” will not only be a worthwhile incentive to learn, but will also make learning more fun AND effective. We are planning to add French 2, Italian 2, and Spanish 2 courses with a similar mystery story in 2015.
During our stay in Barcelona (left, view from Antonio Gaudí's Parc Güell) a couple of years ago, we realized that - In Barcelona Learning "Spanish" is not enough. Since then, we've been following the recent developments in Catalonia with interest. Jordi, our friend in Barcelona, has continued to educate us about the historical background of Catalonia's differences with "Spain." And I certainly did not know - no sabía - that this struggle, has its 300-year anniversary this year.
Here is an excerpt from one of Jordi's recent emails:
When "Spain" was founded by joining Catalonia and Castilia, each of the
kingdoms kept its own laws, its economical and social systems, political
structures, internal hierarchy, and its traditions. All this was destroyed
in 1714, when King Felipe V of Castilia invaded Catalonia and eliminated
all the political, economical, and cultural systems of Catalonia. The language
was part of this process, and Castilian, proclaimed as “the Spanish”, was
imposed as the only language accepted, even in the private sphere.
For the last three centuries, Catalonia has tried repeatedly to recover
the institutions of a free country but has been violently attacked by "Spain"
each time. The “Catalan Republic”, for instance, has been proclaimed five
times. The last one, in 1934, ended when the dictator Francisco Franco
invaded Catalonia, with the help of Hitler's and Mussolini's armies. Since 1714,
we Catalans have never been asked by the Spanish whether or not we
wanted to be part of Spain.
After the Franco period and 40 years of dictatorship, the new winds of
democracy gave Catalonia some hope for change but, sadly, after more than
30 year of transition between dictatorship and democracy, the real democracy
is still not here. Besides, not only have the “autonomy” and recovery of the
Catalan institutions not gone ahead, but Madrid’s government is implementing
a new plan of extinction of the Catalan culture, subtle but persistent.
This Economist article How to Make a Country for Everybody, provides some excellent information about the Catalan language and how other countries are dealing with language issues.
In Part 2 we'll let Jordi explain his view of the Catalan/Castilian language struggles and how the current language policies play out in Catalonia and Spain.
You can't become fluent in a foreign language without practicing to speak. This appears to be self-evident. But learners often seem to forget it, when they practice flashcard apps on their phone or on mobile devices, and do so without repeating and pronouncing the foreign words and phrases. Yes, learning vocabulary is important and yes, it's difficult to practice aloud in public, at work, or even at home while others are listening. However, there are no shortcuts: You have to practice your pronunciation and learn to speak.
The opportunities to speak are obviously greatest with week- or month-long language immersion programs, and also exist with private tutors or even in classroom settings. Learners are constantly encouraged and challenged to speak. With textbook- and CD/DVD-based, or online language programs speaking can become an option. Even with popular programs, such as Duolingo, speaking is only required in, maybe, 30% of the exercises. However, in most online programs, including Duolingo and our GamesforLanguage, learners obviously have the option to repeat the foreign words and sentences they hear and read.
All our GamesforLanguage courses have a “Say It” sequence, which is especially popular with many beginners who are reluctant to use the “Record It” feature towards the end of each lesson. In “Say It,” the learner hears a word or phrase spoken by a native speaker, which then is followed by a “Say It” command. With time to repeat the word or phrase several times before it appears on the screen, the learner can then correlate the audio, i.e. what s/he heard with the spelling of the word/phrase. In these examples for German and French, you can see how it works. Repeat each “game” a couple of times and you'll be surprised how much you'll learn and remember.
Many online programs now provide recording options for learners. While for some hearing their own imperfect intonation (compared to that of the native speakers) is stressful when played back, frequent use of recording features will not only improve your pronunciation, it will also make you more confident when speaking. (And if the voice recognition feature of your favorite language program frustrates you – just turn it off. )
As your language skills start to improve and you begin to read paragraphs, articles, and maybe soon books, read aloud whenever you can. Don't worry, if you can't yet pronounce each word correctly. At the start, it's more important that you keep trying to convert the written words into spoken language than trying to sound like a native. Think about how long it takes children to pronounce each word of their own native language correctly and give yourself time to improve.
The earlier you start using your speaking skills in real life situations, the better. But unless you are living in a foreign country or a neighborhood were the language is spoken, have a foreign-language friend or partner, or are traveling, your options will be limited. Online communities, using Skype, Facetime and similar networks can open the doors to speaking and communicating, but such arrangements have to be planned and scheduled.
The truism proposed at the beginning: “You can't become fluent in a foreign language without practicing to speak it,” also means that any adult serious about language fluency has to plan where and how to practice speaking. In addition to the suggestions above, you'll also want to include speaking opportunities into your language practice plan.
We are often asked whether you can learn and/or practice German, French, Italian etc. by just using our GamesforLanguage program. Our honest answer is no. The same way one cannot learn a foreign language by just studying a text book, you shouldn't just use ONE approach or program to learn a new language.
How About Language “Immersion”?
In our opinion, language immersion is likely the most effective way to learn a foreign language rapidly. Ideally such “immersion” takes place in the country whose language you are learning, supported by personal tutors, classroom sessions, or self-teaching courses, books, audio/videos, etc. (And I don't mean "immersion" CD or online language courses!) There are language immersion schools in the US and in many other countries. In the US, the Center of Applied Linguistics (CAL) provides a directory of foreign language immersion programs in US schools. Many colleges and universities operate study-abroad programs and/or summer immersion programs.
Adults who have the time (and money) will certainly benefit greatly from such immersion courses (abroad or in the US), especially, if they continue to learn, and practice reading, speaking, etc. afterwards.
Classroom Courses and Personal Tutors
Many adults who have taken classroom courses during their school years know that they never became fluent or proficient without additional work and practice. But for some adults classroom courses are a way to stay focused and motivated. And, if they supplement their course learning with other materials, e.g. books, audios, online courses and/or apps, audios, videos, movies/TV, find a conversation partner, etc. they are sure to progress. Personal tutors can also accelerate your learning with individual attention as they can focus on your strengths and weaknesses.
Self-Teaching Books and Programs
Many self-teaching books (a popular one is the “Teach Yourself” series) have now been joined by CDs/DVDs, online courses and, increasingly, apps for Apple or Android mobile devices. The self-teaching programs have many advantages. In fact, we subscribe to LingQ's Steve Kaufmann's notion: “Nobody can teach you a language – You have to learn yourself.”
Cost - there are many entirely FREE language programs, including Duolingo, Gamesforlanguage; “Freemium” programs with a free base version and premium upgrades, such LingQ., RocketLanguages, etc.; and pricey programs such as Rosetta Stone, Fluenz, etc., to just name a few – however, all are likely to be less expensive than immersion programs or classroom courses and tutors.
Flexibility – you can learn by fitting them into your work schedule or life style. This advantage works for highly motivated and disciplined learners, but flexibility can become a disadvantage when motivation fades.
Focus on particular skills – Some learners want to improve a particular skill (e.g. reading, listening, writing, speaking) and you can find programs that focus just on one or more skills.
Exposure is Key
One reason immersion programs are quite effective can be explained by the amount of time a learner is exposed to the new language. Hours and days of hearing a new language, being challenged to remember new sounds, words, and phrases and, most importantly - to speak - all will impact both your short and long-term memory. A weekly 1-2 hour class or online session gives you only a fraction of exposure time to a new language, when you compare this to an immersion course of several weeks. So, unless learners that use self-teaching programs can substantially increase their language practice/exposure time (often limited by work, family etc), they will have to accept a slower pace of learning.
Clearly there are approaches and programs that can accelerate your learning: They all require motivation, time, and money in varying amounts. As we outlined in previous posts for Beginners and Non-Beginners, there are a number of steps you should take BEFORE and AFTER you start learning a foreign language. And, by all means, use several programs and/or approaches so learning remains fun, exciting, and motivating.
The Rosetta Stone reviews had been missing from our “Online Sites” section and we are therefore adding them here now. Just click on one of the above links for the review.
Rosetta Stone is still the dominant language learning site in the US. If you have used a Rosetta Stone course in the past, you can leave a comment about your experience below.