Paul Pimsleur developed his language learning method over 50 years ago. And, if you read on, you'll understand why taking a look at Pimsleur Unlimited is feeling a little bit like "back to the future" for me.
If you've ever used Pimsleur audio lessons for learning a language, you'll know how deeply the sound of words and phrases embed themselves in your brain with this program.
Young children also learn their first language through sound. They hear (and repeat) their caregivers' words, phrases, and sentences numerous times, begin to absorb the patterns of the language, and put all of this together to say what they want, and to understand others.
The Adult's Conundrum
When you learn a new language as an adult, you're in fact learning a new sound system, which runs parallel to the one of your native language (or to a second, or third, etc., if you speak more languages).
A problem for adults is that they may find it difficult to hear some of the sounds in a new target language. Why is that so?
Very early on, children's brains make it possible for them to hear ANY sounds of ANY language. As they focus on learning their first language, this ability narrows down to the sounds they listen to and use in their daily life.
This narrowing down of sounds heard continues through adolescence and adulthood and can be traced to the growth of our “categorical perception.” (We described this phenomenon in an earlier post: “Beyond Learning a Language Like a Child”.)
So, adults have to re-learn how to hear and produce sounds that are not part of the language(s), they use in their daily life. It can be done, but they have to focus and practice.
Before you read on, you may want to read my disclosure at the bottom. For these reasons I can't really provide an objective review of the German course(s). But by starting to use the Pimsleur Unlimited Russian app, I'm able to judge how the app works for a language that I don't know.
What I know well: Pimsleur German Audio CDs
Obviously, I'm well familiar with the features that make a Pimsleur German audio effective:
Each unit's initial conversation has only one new word or phrase.
Later in each unit, new words are introduced in the context of what you know.
You hear and repeat new words, with backward buildup. (Singers call it "back-chaining.")
Comments on pronunciation issues are given as they come up.
A “spaced” recall schedule helps you move words from short to long-term memory.
You learn to make new combinations following a familiar pattern.
The speakers pronounce clearly, with a standard German accent.
You learn the sound system of German.
You learn basic German sound-spelling correlation in the Reading sections.
The units are downloadable. You can play them on your computer or mobile device.
But, no course can be everything to everyone. People have asked about these points:
There's no systematic introduction to grammar. There are only brief explanations.
Not enough vocabulary. Each unit introduces about 10 new words.
Most cues are in English, so you hear a lot of English.
You don't learn the spelling of the German words and phrases you hear.
Pimsleur audio does a very good job teaching the sounds and pronunciation to adult beginners. And most importantly, it asks the learner to SPEAK, REPEAT, and IMITATE. Good pronunciation can become a habit. Pimsleur gets you into the good pronunciation habit.
User comments, competition, online/app progress, etc. were certainly reasons for expanding the Pimsleur method, first to downloadable software, and now also to mobile apps.
What I'm discovering: Pimsleur Unlimited
To try out Pimsleur's "Unlimited" mobile app, I used the iOS app for German. To its traditional audio course, Pimsleur has added Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises. (To date, Pimsleur has 8 languages in its Unlimited mobile edition: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian.)
The core of the program is still the audio lesson, as described above. The added feature for "Unlimited" is that you can easily pause, skip back and skip forward when doing the audio. You can keep redoing a short (or longer) segment until you've got it.
With the Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises you have new and different tools for quick practice and recall of what you've learned.
Listening + Reading
Besides, you're learning to hear and understand, to say, and to READ words, phrases, and sentences in context. By learning to read beyond basic sound-spelling correlation, you're acquiring a powerful language learning tool.
Yes, children learn languages without first learning to read. By age three to three and a half, many children are highly conversant in their native language. However, they then spend years in school to learn to read and write fluently.
For adults, reading and writing in one's native language is part of daily life. When you learn new words in a foreign language, you automatically imagine how they are spelled. Without other information, you'll apply your own native-language, or other familiar spelling system.
By learning how German words sound and are written, you're training yourself to become a reader of German texts.
German is plentiful on the Internet in the form of news stories, social media streams on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (to name the most popular), ebook readers you can download, etc. Once you make a habit of reading German on a daily basis, your vocabulary will grow exponentially.
My Tricks With Russian
I'm a native speaker of German and taught college German for a number of years in the U.S. Right now I'm learning Russian from scratch with Pimsleur Unlimited. In general, my tricks for using the program with Russian are also applicable for German, or any other language. (I'm planning a more detailed review of Pimleur's Unlimited Russian for later.)
Whenever I start with a new online program or app, it takes me a couple of weeks to get into it and figure out ways I can optimize the resource.
The Pimsleur Unlimited mobile app is very easy to navigate, so you can hop around. Besides learning daily with new material, I go back and review. I love it that you can pick and choose what chunks to redo.
I go back a lot and replay parts of the course. For example, I replay the five last conversations, one after the other, just the conversations. Or I listen to one conversation again and again, until I've memorized it.
I replay an earlier Quick Match or Speak Easy, or several of them in a row.
A small notebook for each language is a constant companion for me. In it, I write down words and phrases, as well as brief grammar explanations that come up.
Even if I never check back to those particular notes, just the act of writing something out by hand, helps me to remember better. Writing out also makes me literate right from the beginning and teaches me the new spelling system as I go along.
From time to time during the day, I recall in my mind - without the app - the words or phrases I learned the day before. There always are a few moments of down time to do this. My little notebook helps me if I need a prompt.
I certainly follow Paul Pimsleur's Golden Rule for Success #4: "Daily exposure to the language is critical to your success, but don’t attempt to do more than one 30-minute Audio Lesson per day. You may repeat a lesson more than once if you find it helpful." (You'll find these rules in the downloadable PDF of Pimsleur Unlimited User Guide, see screenshot above.)
How Fast Can You Learn German (or Russian)?
Learning a language takes time and effort. (Whew, how many times have I said this in my life?) Becoming fluent in a new language as an adult cannot happen just like that in 10 days. Three months of total immersion, with an excellent tutor on the side, may do it. At least that was my experience when I learned Dutch, and later English.
Learning a language as an adult with a job, a family, and a social life means you have to squeeze language learning in whenever you can. And you have to keep your motivation up.
With Pimsleur you can get a good start and keep going. Most of all, you'll build some confidence in speaking. For many, having the courage to speak in a new language is the hardest part.
As you need them, add other resources, such as a basic grammar book (to figure out what some of the underlying patterns are), podcasts or audio books (to learn listening to rapid German), a browser extension, such as Lingua.ly (to help you read many different types of texts), or a flashcard program, such as Memrise (to practice various types of vocabulary).
Finding a language exchange partner, or a tutor via Skype can also be a powerful motivator. If you can, travel to a country or region where the language is spoken.
Putting in the effort is really worth it. Most of all, have fun! Viel Spaß!
Let us know your comments below.
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 or below.
Disclosure: Ulrike Rettig was the Development Editor/Author of Pimsleur's German Levels 1, 2 and 3, written during the time she worked for Pimsleur Language Programs (owned since 1997 by Simon & Schuster Audio). She left Pimsleur in 2010. GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with Simon & Schuster, other than receiving the German and Russian Unlimited apps for free.
2016 has been another fun and adventurous year for GamesforLanguage.
We know that learning a language as an adult is challenging. Not everybody has the time, discipline, and opportunity to learn foreign languages the way Benny Lewis does. (But his language hacks are worthwhile to study and apply.)
In 2016 we attended a language conferences in Montreal, where we met many of the well-known polyglots and language aficionados. (The #5 Blog Post below was a direct result of that conference.)
We continue to enjoy writing on our Blog on a weekly basis, drawing from our own insights and struggles with learning foreign languages.
Maybe not a surprise: While we also write about our travels and related language experiences, our 10 most popular posts in 2016 relate to language learning.
One surprise: Our post about "La Paloma: Learning Spanish with a song," which we published in June 2013 was our 3rd most read blog post in 2016.
Maybe it's not surprising that a very similar post explaining the Spanish numbering system was our second most read post.
Indeed as with German for most English speakers, the Spanish numbers from 1 to 15 are not difficult to learn as many of the English and Spanish numbers are related.
The numbers 16 to 20 are a little trickier as they use the inverse English model by placing the prefix “dieci-” in front of the single numbers, e.g. “dieciséis” whereas English uses the German model and places the single numbers in front of the suffix “-teen” as in sixteen.
The numbers 21 to 99 use the English model although a Spanish spelling revision made 21 to 29 a little more tricky: You have to remember some accents on veintidós (22), veintitrés (23), and veintiséis (26) and the binding “-i-” that has replaced the “y,” which still is there in the numbers above 30 , e.g. treinta y uno (31).
As in English, once you know the Spanish numbers 1-9 and the round number 20-90, then 21-99 are a breeze.
This post was motivated by the talks of several speakers at the Polyglot conference in Montreal in July 2016.
We were especially intrigued by Jimmy Mello's idea to read a book that he already knows well in his native Brazilian Portuguese (he uses a translation of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), when he starts with a new target language.
By taking the same story every time, he can focus on the sounds of the new language, while already knowing what many of the words mean.
And when we say “story,” we mean any narrative, which may cover sports, history, politics, etc., i.e. anything than interests you and keeps you engaged in the target language.
(That's also why Gamesforlanguage's courses use the format of a travel-story sequel.)
Using “stories for language learning” means that you are not just learning words, but their meaning in context.
The Polyglot Symposium - renamed Montreal LangFest - will take place again in 2017, on the last weekend in August. The event will appeal to anyone who loves language and is involved in languages in some way (teachers, students, adult self-learners, parents raising bilingual kids - or wishing to, etc. as well polyglots). Check it out. We'd love to see you there!
The way human memory works is a fascinating process. Clearly, the brain doesn't just shut down when we sleep, it keeps working on what we learned and experienced during the day.
A PsychCrunch Podcast by The British Psychological Society alerted us to studies about sleep and memory recently done by Swiss scientists. They had come to some interesting insights.
For example using MRI technology, they looked are the core stages of memorizing vocabulary and why sleep is so important for vocabulary retention. "Hearing" recently learned vocabulary again during certain stages of sleep, will consolidate these new memories.
There are no practical ways yet to replicate such tests 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.
If conversational fluency is your goal, what are the crucial techniques for getting there? Why is it important to say everything out loud rather than silently to yourself?
The simple answer is that to learn to speak in a foreign language, you have to speak. That's easier said than done. The question is how you can get yourself speaking enough so that you feel totally comfortable in a conversation.
But is just speaking enough? How important is reading for fluency? For many, reading will boost their vocabulary (especially if they start using these words in a conversation), and will provide them with interesting topics to talk about.
If you're learning a language, fluency's the game. But, really, what is fluency? Can an adult learner really achieve fluency? Can you be fluent even if you don't "sound like a native"? How does grammar figure in fluency?
Not everyone agrees what fluency is. (But when you have it, you do know what it feels like, don't you?)
We would argue that there are three essential marks of fluency, even if you haven't reached perfection.
What is fluency for you? Have you reached it yet for a foreign language?
There are lots of reasons for taking a language time-out. Once you lose your enthusiasm for learning a language, taking a time-out is really a good thing.
This happens to all language learners at some time or another. When it happens to either of us, we see it as a time to reassess, to find new inspiration, and to look for new resources. The language won't go away, but during our time-out we'll find a new way to approach how we learn it and to get our motivation back.
Happy New Year and make learning a new language one of your 2017 goals!
Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any comments withcontact.
Words are important building blocks of languages. Without knowing them you cannot achieve conversational fluency in any new language you are learning.
So it's no surprise that people often ask: How many words do I need to know to become conversationally fluent?
This question comes without a precise answer, because it depends on the language, and to an extent on your life situation, your personal, and professional interests.
Still, there are estimates. For example, the linguist and polyglot Alexander Argüelles apparently believes that the 2000 most frequent words are those that let you express everything you could possibly want to say, although often by awkward circumlocutions.
"When you learn 90-95 % of commonly used words, you'll understand practically all everyday conversations. The last 5-10% you'llbe able to guess just from the context."
Then looking at the size of foreign dictionaries and the claims of a number of studies, the post notes:
“A vocabulary of about 3000 words (not counting for inflexions, plurals, etc.), then, would be the number necessary to efficiently learn from context with unsimplified text.”
Of course, having a precise number is nice. But, how do I know how many words I've learned? Perhaps the reverse is true: When I understand most of everyday conversations and texts in a foreign language, I probably know between 2000 and 3000 words.
Knowing frequently-used words is essential and will help you understand, as does the context in which you're having the conversation.
And yes, knowing at least some of the 13 body parts, shown on this drawing above, in your target language will be useful. You'll certainly come across many of them in your studies.
But if you're learning a new language, you've probably realized that “communicating,” i.e. participating in a conversation, is not that easy, even if you've practiced tons of words: You have to be able to LISTEN and COMPREHEND and then also to SPEAK.
Listening comprehension is learned with what Steve Kaufmann of LingQ calls listening to “comprehensible input.” A lot of it.
Real conversations are often unpredictable in content. So listening to various kinds of topics you're interested in will help prepare you. With time, you'll start noticing and assimilating certain language patterns, even if there's a great variety in vocabulary.
Also, when you first start listening it will appear that the sound stream goes too fast. It's an experience most language learners share.
I still remember arriving in Italy some years ago. Even after having completed three Levels of the Pimsleur Italian audio program (90 lessons), I could not distinguish individual words while watching Italian TV.
After several weeks, the rapid-fire Italian seemed to slow down for me. I was more and more able to distinguish individual words, then sentences, and finally to understand the context and meaning.
If you're a novice practicing listening comprehension, start out slow, with individual words, phrases, then sentences. Short audio stories are a good next step. Make sure you know the meaning of what's being said.
For the more popular languages, there now are free podcasts and YouTube videos available. Many of the free or fee-based online language programs have podcasts or videos as well (including GamesforLanguage).
LEARNING WORD ORDER and GRAMMAR FORMS
When you learn a foreign language, you're learning how to combine words in a new way that is meaningful in your new language. In other words, you're learning a second (or third, etc.) word-order system.
You're also learning grammar forms that don't exist in your own language. In English, you don't have noun gender, for example. French, Spanish, and Italian have two: masculine and feminine, German has three: masculine, feminine, and neuter.
Or, the language you're learning has a different way of forming a question. A case in point: French has three ways to ask a question, and none of them follow the pattern of English. That means you're learning two different grammar systems that your brain will alternate between.
Dealing with two (or more) grammar systems makes a teenager or adult different from young children learning their first language. Between the ages of two and three or so, toddlers go from one- or two-word “sentences” to quite sophisticated ways of asking questions, saying what they want, telling you what they saw, repeating what they heard, teasing you, etc.
Despite some hits and misses, children seem to catch on quickly which words go into what order, and what grammar forms to use. Most amazingly, often what they say are new combinations, and not just sentences they've heard and are repeating.
Children are able to do that because of their brain's powerful “learning mechanisms,” which allow them to assimilate patterns of usage though listening.
Pattern learning also holds for adults learning other languages. The more we're exposed to the patterns of usage of a language, the better we'll acquire them. However, compared to children learning their native language(s), adults' exposure to a new language - in a class, online, reading, or listening - is typically more limited. (Unless, you're “immersed” in the language in the country or community where it is spoken, etc.)
For becoming conversationally fluent, you need to develop two skills: understand what's being said and create speech that is meaningful and relevant.
You don't directly need reading for becoming conversationally fluent. Children learn to speak in sentences years before they learn how to write them. And in many countries there are still adults who can't read or write.
In fact, I was shocked to read the following, when googling for “U.S. illiteracy rate”:
“According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can't read. That's 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can't read.”
(No wonder then that learning a second language is more difficult for many U.S. adults. If the world's literacy interests you, you may be surprised by the countries at the top of this World Factbook list compiled by the CIA.)
Adults don't NEED reading to become conversationally fluent. But for most, reading is still the most practical way to accelerate their learning in class, with exercises and apps, or with online programs.
Furthermore, as soon as you're able to read news articles, blog posts, even books in your new language, you have several potential benefits:
For one, reading is another way to assimilate the word-order and grammar patterns of a language.
Also, reading will expand your vocabulary and teach you how to guess meaning from context.
Finally, by reading you acquire ideas and facts about topics you want to talk about. Everyday conversations don't stop at questions such as “Where are you from?” “What work do you do?” They are also very much about ideas, events, and if you're brave, about history and politics.
I very much like the motto of the late Dartmouth Professor John Rassias, a effective promoter of the immersion teaching method: “Don't learn to speak a language, speak to learn it.” Speaking fluently can only be learned by actually speaking.
You won't learn to speak automatically just by doing lots of reading or listening. Yes, both will expose you to the characteristic word-order and grammar patterns of the language. Listening will train your ear to the language's sounds, which is essential when the sounds are quite different from your native language.
But, speaking a foreign language involves transforming your thoughts into specific sounds by training your vocal chords and moving your mouth in a certain way. It also means creating a stream of sounds that has the particular rhythm, pitch, and intonation, etc. of the language.
All of that has to be practiced aloud, typically by imitating native speakers. A teacher or tutor will be able to correct your pronunciation and point out different ways the tongue or mouth can produce the desired sounds.
Apps or online programs that have recording features are quite effective for improving your pronunciation. By playing back your own recordings and hearing how you sound next to the native speaker, you can work on making changes.
As a novice, start out slowly. Listen and repeat as often as you can. Don't be discouraged when you hear yourself for the first time. Memorize conversations, even act them out, mimic the native speakers – have fun sounding like a native!
FROM REPETITION to SPEAKING FREELY
It's very hard to have a genuine conversation just with sentences that you've memorized.
So how does one progress from a “low intermediate” level - where you can ask and answer basic questions - to speaking freely about everyday topics?
Certainly, repeating words and sentences aloud, and learning them by rote are essential techniques for a beginning learner.
But then, conversations with friends or exchange-partners who are native speakers, or a tutor who only uses the target language are the best way to improve your conversational skills in your target language.
Talking with someone is a complicated back and forth that creates a context for words and sentences. With talking come all kinds of “filler words and sounds” that are normal for a casual conversation.
Participating often in such open-ended conversations will expose you again and again to the typical patterns of the language you're learning and prompt you to use these patterns yourself.
So yes, learning 90-95% of words commonly used is an excellent language learning goal. And if you learn them in context, rather than as words in a list, you'll be building conversational skills.
Even if you understand all the words, you still have to decided whether someone is asking for something or telling you what you should do. You have to figure out how to formulate a question, express a reasoned opinion, or how to comment to a fast-moving conversation of your friends or family.
Getting to that level of fluency takes more than just words, it also takes much listening and many conversations on a variety of topics. And it takes friends and conversation partners to practice with.
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 or below.
2017 is approaching fast. Will learning a foreign language be one of your 2017 goals?
January is definitely a key month. And there's some good news: A survey published by the Boston Globe in 2014 showed that 76% of the people who keep their resolutions through February 1, will keep going.
You have at least a three-in-four chance to reach your goal by year end. So, what should you be taking into account?
“Learning a Language isn't always easy...”
Languages Around the Globe blogger Brian Powers recently pointed out in a post with the above title that “for most of us learning a language from scratch isn't always a walk in the park.”
For many language learners that may even be an understatement.
Based on school experiences, some may feel that they are “just not good at learning a foreign language.”
Others get discouraged when they don't progress fast enough.
And some just give up because they get bored and can't stay engaged.
While you may have some strong beliefs about learning a foreign language, you should keep the following in mind:
If you were able to learn your native language, why shouldn't you be able to learn another language?
Were your expectations for fast progress unrealistic?
Couldn't you overcome boredom with more interesting and engaging methods?
Surveys show that “keeping up the motivation” and “not enough time” are the two principal difficulties that learners list when learning a foreign language.
The excuse that there's “not enough time” may also hide other reasons. Most adult learners are usually quite motivated at the outset, only to realize that real progress is slow and takes more time and effort than they had anticipated.
Also, there are different levels of motivation. The need to understand and speak a new language may be different for someone who has a new job assignment and career in a foreign country, than for someone who intends to travel there for a short vacation. But “keeping up the motivation” is certainly a difficulty that cannot be underestimated.
There are few things (if any) in life we can learn half-heartedly. As children we seem to learn many things playfully. Still, it takes us quite a few years to fully acquire our first language. The same is true for complex skills such as playing an instrument or doing various sports.
One's motivation to learn is likely both genetic (“wired” for language, music, walking, running, winning, etc.) and environmental (copying, competing with, encouraged by siblings, friends, parents, teachers, etc).
As adults, the goals and challenges we set ourselves arise from various sources, family, friends, jobs, as well as our own feelings, interests, desires, fears, etc.
Being aware of our motivation for achieving a goal is often not as simple as it sounds. But for any long-term project - as learning a new language clearly is - knowing your motivation is essential.
If you want to “spark” your language learning motivation, have a look at an earlier post of ours HERE.
What does “engagement” mean in this context? To be “engaged” implies that you do more than just attend a language class once a week, listen to a couple of CDs, take online lessons once or twice per week, or open a vocabulary app or a course book from time to time.
It means that you have been hit by the language bug and are getting involved with the new language in many different ways. Maybe at the start, you'll watch a foreign movie with subtitles or read dual-language books. Then you'll graduate to reading newspaper articles and books on topics that interest you. You'll watch TV and movies (without subtitles!), regularly listen to audios and podcasts, and meet people to talk to, either in person or online.
(Talking with native speakers is really the best way, and many believe the only way, to practice speaking and to improve your fluency.)
There are lots of ways to make language learning more interesting. If you're planning a trip to a country or region where the language is spoken, you can start learning about its culture, history and politics. If you love the country's food and wine, great – there's another entry point for making new discoveries.
Just think how engaged you are with any activities you enjoy. The more you can connect the target language with those aspects of life that are fun to you or you feel passionate about, the more engaged you'll be, and the more fuel you'll add to your motivation.
If you've read this far, you may already know what my five tips are about:
Tip #1 - Know exactly, WHY you want to learn a new Language!
The reason for learning a foreign language has to be strong enough to keep you going when things get tough, as they invariably will. It's no secret that the stronger the need, the stronger the motivation to keep learning.
So take a good look at WHY you really want to make it a 2017 goal. Write down the reasons and the benefits and attach them to your fridge or somewhere else where you can see them daily.
People's reasons are always quite personal. They differ from individual to individual: A job opportunity and/or moving to another country, a new partner or family member, exotic travel plans, etc. all will bring different urgency and time considerations with them.
Tip #2 – Determine what engages – or what bores you!
Determining what engages or bores you is essential. This has both to do with the way you learn and with what keeps you interested.
For some, attending live language classes, being motivated by peer pressure, etc. is the way to go. Others learn well on their own, with language books, CDs/DVDs, apps, online programs or tutors.
The earlier you find ways to connect your learning and practicing method with your areas of interest, the better. That's also why the first few months of learning will be the hardest. Without knowing the language basics and having sufficient vocabulary, your choices will be more limited.
Finding the right venue or program will take some careful consideration and will also depend on #3 and #4 below.
Tip #3 – Research what's offered online and in your neighborhood
What is offered in your neighborhood or community in language learning resources will depend greatly on where you live. Live language courses will often only be available for certain languages, but you may be able to find private tutors if you can't find any courses.
Many public libraries have language courses on CDs or DVDs, or they may have online courses for download.
Even many fee-for-service online programs have free trial offers. Take advantage of them until you find a program that's a good fit for you.
One note of caution: Don't get caught by the marketing hype. Learning a new language as an adult takes work and effort. But the right teachers and tutors can make a huge difference in how you learn. That's also true for online learning programs that keep you learning and practicing.
Take your time, if you can, and find one that keeps you going and engaged.
Tip #4 – Determine the time/resources you can commit
If you're setting a goal for 2017, you may already have a deadline or a commitment. You may even have a budget and/or time allocated for learning.
If you can spend 3-4 weeks in an immersion-style course in a language school, good for you. You'll make great progress.
If you learn best in language classes and you can find one in your community, great as well. (You'll certainly want to figure out what extracurricular language activities you should add.)
If you're a self-learner with a limited budget and/or time, you should plan when and how you're going to learn.
Experience has shown that daily exposure to the target language is key: 15-20 minutes every day will be more effective than 2 hours once a week.
So, whether learners are taking classes or using CDs, DVDs, apps or online programs, they should allow for daily connection with the language they are learning.
During the early stages, this may be just learning 5-10 new words a day, playing a language game (such as GamesforLanguage offers), doing a lesson, reading a page in a book (ideally aloud), listening to a song, recording yourself reading, etc.
Later, with the basics behind you, you can plan reading online articles, books, and watching movies and videos, etc. of topics that interest you.
Tip #5 - Set some reasonable expectations
Depending on the language you're learning, basic fluency should take between 500 and 1000 hours of study. This is according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). For further opinions, read up on a discussion on Quora.
So, unless you plan to study 10 hours a week for the easiest language, you're not likely to reach conversational fluency by the end of the year.
What about Benny Lewis' promise “Fluent in 3 months?” The answer is: if you use his single-minded approach and immersion strategies, you could get there.
And indeed, all of his techniques and hacks are very useful – IF YOU PRACTICE THEM REGULARLY AND CONSISTENTLY.
However, most of us will not be able to do so. We therefore need to set more realistic expectations and goals.
Here are some realistic goals that may work for you:
Take a class and complete it, with all the required homework, etc.
Learn with an app or online course, and plan the number of lessons you want to complete each week, and the number of words you want to learn and review daily.
Read an easy novel in your target language after three or four months.
Be able to watch and understand a foreign movie without English subtitles after 9 months.
It's very easy to be too optimistic at the beginning. Don't overestimate the time you have available or are willing to commit. Start slowly and get into a learning habit. Then add practice time.
Eventually you want to do something in your target language DAILY - learn/review vocabulary, play a language game, do a course lesson, read a chapter of a book or article, listen to a podcast, watch a movie, etc. - anything that really interests and engages you.
And, if you do so, your language skills will certainly grow (as the acronym above implies!)
Learning a foreign language as an adult is a big challenge. You need to stay motivated and put in the time.
Your efforts will show best if you have regular and frequent exposure to the language. To do that, engage with the language in as many ways as you can. Start making it part of your life!
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's 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.
The travel stories in our Gamesforlanguage courses use real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc., many of which we visited ourselves.
In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (You'll already find posts on Frankfurtand Paris.)
David is our traveler to Spain. His first stop is Barcelona, often named as one of the top ten travel destinations in Europe. (And no, the photo above is not Dubai, but of the W Hotel right at the beach in Barcelona.)
Visiting Barcelona? Here's a short introduction to this lively, bilingual port city. We'll also list a few basic terms in Spanish and Catalan that will help you in your travels.
We'll follow David's discoveries in Barcelona, for those of you who have done or are doing our Spanish 1 course: David en España.
In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational Spanish. The Spanish vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms. We've also added Catalan equivalents.
The first published novel actually includes a “Walk in the Footsteps...” to “give a flavor of the setting for 'The Shadow of the Wind', and can be used as a starting point to explore more of the world of the novel, many of the locations and sceneries.”
Many places that we're familiar with and our traveler David visits as well, are described in the novels which span the first half of the 20th century.
The Catalan language
Because our course teaches Spanish, we don't include information about the Catalan language. However, the city is clearly bilingual. Catalan is a language spoken in three regions of Spain: Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as just across the border in southern France and a small community on Sardinia, Italy. It's also the official language of Andorra.
While 98% of Barcelona's population speaks Castilian Spanish, a majority, around 60%, also speaks Catalan. You'll hear Catalan spoken as you walk around town and you'll see many signs in both languages. You'll notice that many of the names of streets, parks, villa, museums, etc. on your street map will be in Catalan.
If you'd like to know more about the Catalan language and why one should not consider Catalan a “melting pot” of Spanish, French, and Italian, read this excellent post by the Spanish Linguist.
The territory of Spain, according to its constitution of 1978, is organized into 17 autonomous communities, and 2 autonomous cities. (see map)
In its second article, the constitution “recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.” [Wikipedia]
While the “autonomous” label and “self-government” language in the constitution would indicate a substantial degree of independence of many communities, the tax levies and its distribution by the central government in Madrid remain an area of contention for many, not only for the proponents of secession in Catalonia.
A referendum in 2006, gave Catalonia an higher degree of autonomy than stated above. But a wish for more independence has obviously remained. And language has long been part of politics, with some bitterness on both sides.
Quick Facts about Barcelona
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is a cosmopolitan port city located on the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast of Spain. It is the second largest city in Spain, with over 1.6 million inhabitants. Its metropolitan area has a population of over 4.6 million.
The history of Barcelona appears to go back over two thousand years, though details of its founding and early times remain elusive.
Ruins from Roman Barcelona (then called Barcino) date back to the 1st century AD. These can be visited in what is now the gothic part of the Barcelona's medieval city. In his Blog, the travel writer Richard Varr describes the site as “The world's most Extensive Underground Roman Ruins.”
Barcelona belongs to the world's major global cities and has been called one of the world's leading tourist, economic, trade fair and cultural centers.
Catalan Art Nouveau architecture, called “Modernisme,” developed between the years of 1878 and 1910, and was an expression of Catalonia's striving for its own national identity. Barcelona claims to have the greatest collection of Art Nouveau Buildings of any city in Europe.
Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics, which revamped the harbor area and many buildings, and created a several mile-long beach area with cafés, restaurants, promenade, etc.
David arrives at Barcelona's El Prat Airport
David is a young student who learned some Spanish at home and later studied it in school. His father is from Spain and his mother from Mexico. This will be his first visit to Spain.
On his flight to Barcelona, Michael chats in Spanish with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him.
He arrives at the busy International El Prat Airport, which is located 12 miles from the center of the city. (Visitors using certain discount airlines may also arrive at the Reus and Girona airports, which are about 60 miles from Barcelona, so watch out!)
David's aunt picks him up. Otherwise, he would have gotten into town by taxi, bus, or train.
As David goes through passport control, he continues to use his Spanish. Responding to the standard immigration/passport control questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to Spain and how long he will stay. Following the Spanish, you'll see the Catalan equivalent in parentheses.
the flight - el vuelo (el vol) the flight attendant - el auxiliar de vuelo (el auxiliar de vol) the airport - el aeropuerto (el aeroport) the passport control - el control de pasaportes (el control de passaports)
Districts of Barcelona
David's aunt and uncle live on Carrer de Mallorca (Spanish: Calle de Mallorca). This large street runs through the neighborhood (Spanish: barrio) of la Dreta de l'Eixample, and is close to Plaça de Cataluña and el Passeig de Gràcia.
Barcelona is divided into 10 administrative districts, which consist of 73 “barrios.” Each of the 10 districts is referred to by number and a name. (see map)
The old town stretches mostly across districts 1 (Ciutat Vella) and 2 (Eixample). It's in the latter where the barrio “Dreta de l'Eixample” is located.
Again, some relevant vocabulary, first Spanish, then Catalan in parentheses.
the street - la calle (el carrer) the neighborhood - el barrio (el barri) the square - la plaza (la plaça) the promenade - el paseo (el passeig) the district - el distrito (el districte) the old town - el casco antiguo (el nucli antic) the city - la ciudad (la ciutat)
La Sagrada Familia
David and his cousin María walk over from Calle Mallorca to Antoni Gaudí's spectacular church “La Sagrada Familia.”
Begun in 1882, the project became Gaudí's life work. At his death in 1926, only part of the church was finished. Construction resumed after the Civil War (1936-1939) during the reign of Franco, and continued after Franco's death (1975). The building is now projected to be finished in 2026.
“La Sagrada Familia” has been called the most unconventional church in Europe. Gaudí used the natural world and its curves for his inspiration and avoided straight lines and angles as much as he could.
For his constructions, he developed his own architectural techniques. Some of these are on display in the museum of the church as well as in the Casa Milà Exhibits (see below).
the church - la iglesia (la església) the Civil War - la Guerra Civil (la Guerra Civil) the nature - la naturaleza (la naturalesa)
El Paseo de Gracia (Passeig de Gràcia)
As they walk through their neighborhood, his cousin María asks David if he wants to join her for some shopping on the Passeig de Gràcia.
The Passeig de Gràcia is a wide avenue with shops and businesses that leads from Plaça Cataluña to the neighborhood of Vila de Gràcia. (The photo left is taken from the roof of Gaudí's Casa Milà, see also below)
A little history: Originally, Passeig de Gràcia was called Camí de Jesus and connected the city of Barcelona to the nearby town of Gràcia. With time, small houses, cafés, restaurants, shops, theaters, and dance halls were built along the stretch.
In 1897, the town of Gràcia was formally annexed by Barcelona. It became fashionable to live on the Paseo and to have one's house build in the Modernist style, by architects such as Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and others.
Today, the Passeig de Gràcia has retained its appeal. Most of the older buildings have been restored; villas, shops, and fashion houses have multiplied. Along the avenue, which is lined with trees, there are street lamps and benches.
Here is a link to more history and a walking tour along the Passeig.
On the Passeig de Gràcia there are also many restaurants and cafés. In Spain, a café is called “una cafetería.” David and María order “una horchata” (a tiger nut milk drink; in Catalan: orxata), “un cortado” (espresso with a dash of mik; in Catalan: tallat), and “magdalenas” (small cupcakes).
In 1900, Count Eusebi Guëll, a wealthy and influential Catalan owner, bought land in Gràcia. He employed his friend Antoni Gaudí to design an estate for the rich. The park was built between 1900 and 1914. Gaudì's imaginative designs and architectural solutions were inspired by natural organic shapes.
Only two houses were built, though neither was by Gaudì. Because the project was not commercially successful, the family Guëll gave the land to the city in 1923 as a public park. It officially opened in 1926.
Gaudì lived in the park between 1906 and 1926 in a house built by the architect Francesc Berenguer.
In 1984, the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
the park - el parque (el parc) World Heritage - Patrimonio de la Humanidad (Patrimoni de la Humanitat) to design - diseñar (dissenyar)
Other Places to visit in Barcelona
The Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys): Built for the 1929 International Exhibition, the stadium was renovated in 1989 for the 1992 Summer Olympics. It is located on Montuïc, a hill in Barcelona that overlooks the harbor.
Casa Milà(picture left)popularly known as “La Pedrera” was Antoni Gaudì's last civil work and built from 1906 to 1912. It is an apartment building located around an inner court yard and incorporates many innovative features of its time.
The gallery in the building's attic exhibits many examples of Gaudi's design and engineering concepts. From the top you get a stunning view of the city. (see photo)
The building is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso): The museum opened in 1963 and houses an extensive permanent collection of Pablo Picasso's works presented in five medieval palaces.
Joan Miró Foundation (Fundacío Joan Mirò): A collection of Miró's art, exhibitions of contemporary art, and Espai 10 and Espai 13, a Laboratory for Contemporary Art - “where artists have the right to fail.”
David's next Stop
From Barcelona, David takes the train to Granada. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston.
(Going from Barcelona to Granada by train, is a nearly 600-mile trip. Taking the train is the most inexpensive option, and the trip can take between 8 to 12 hours. You can, of course, also fly to Granada, which takes about an hour and a half.)
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.
For many adults, listening to and then speaking a foreign language remain key challenges. And that may be so even after several years of school and college instruction.
Hearing and producing the new sounds of another language take a special effort. Plus, we may be shy about speaking up, afraid that we'll make mistakes.
A popular marketing promise of some language programs contains some wishful thinking: “Learn a second language like a child.” It implies that by following such program learning will occur as effortlessly as young children seem to learn their first language.
No matter that children spend nearly all the waking hours of their first few years just listening to and then learning to speak the language of their parents and caregivers. Once in kindergarten and school, it'll take them several more years to learn how to read and write.
What we may consider “effortless,” actually involves quite a bit of struggle and effort. As infants, children first learn to understand the meaning of the words, gestures, and expressions others use to interact with them. At the same time, they start using their own vocal chords to replicate the sounds of words they hear. It's only after much trial and error that they can make themselves understood.
Clearly, it takes time and effort to develop good listening and speaking skills in a language. Children learning their first language have the advantage of being immersed in the language on a daily basis. They hear their native language and speak it all the time. (In fact, they can even handle more than one language!)
For adults, who are learning another language, listening comprehension and speaking are important skills to practice. However, many language programs focus more on reading and writing, than listening and speaking – with the exception of predominantly audio programs such as Michael Thomas, Pimsleur, and some others.
THE IMMERSION TEACHING METHOD
We recently had a conversation with a friend of ours, who spent over 30 years teaching German to English speakers in U.S. colleges, as well as English to German students in high schools in Germany.
He firmly believes that students progressed most in his classes – both in the U.S. and in Germany - when he taught with a method that uses immersion. In particular, he found the Rassias method to be very effective.
John Rassias, former professor of French and Italian at Dartmouth College, believed in the motto: “Speak to learn a language, not learn to speak a language.” The Rassias method, which continues to be widely used, combines theatrical techniques and rapid-fire drills to fully engage the learner in the target language.
My experience with college language teaching in the U.S. was pretty similar. In a classroom, you can create an immersive environment by staying in the target language and explaining things using gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, pictures, reformulations, etc.
But clearly, getting students to understand and speak in their new language in class does require a lot of extra theatricals and energy. And, no matter what you do, if you have a large class, students won't be speaking much in the target language.
Teachers at international language schools, such as the Goethe Institute, the Alliance Française, or Berlitz, often create an immersive learning classroom. But unless the school is located in a country where the language is spoken, students rarely use their target language outside of class.
(Some language schools, e.g. the Middlebury [summer] Language Schools, ask students to sign a pledge to only speak in their target language.)
It seems that one-on-one lessons taken in person or online via Skype may provide the best chance for immersion learning, if you can't be in a country or region where people speak the language. That's especially true if the tutor pushes you to speak a lot.
HOW ABOUT ONLINE LANGUAGE PROGRAMS and APPS?
New technology has made it convenient to learn a language online and doing so has become very popular. But to what extent can online programs and apps provide immersion learning, and with it, fluency in listening and speaking?
Immersion learning, especially for beginners, is not easy to create in an online program. But training listening and speaking in foreign language is a challenge that different programs have attempted to solve in various ways.
Having developed our own GamesforLanguage courses and reviewed a number of other language learning programs, here's a quick snapshot how these programs encourage listening and speaking (in sequence of our development/review).
Each of our course lessons (we call them “Scenes”), start with a dialogue of an ongoing travel story. The learner reads and hears sentences in the target language, which he or she might encounter while traveling, but may or may not fully understand.
New words are then taught and tested with various games in which learners see the words and are encouraged to repeat them. In the listening game “Say It,” the player hears and is asked to repeat a new word, which then appears for just a moment. In another listening game, “Balloon Words,” the player hears the word and has to pick the correct one from three words with a similar spelling. In both, no translation is given so that the attention can remain on listening and repeating.
After other translation and writing games, learners can then record the sentences of all story-dialogues at the end of each lesson, as often as needed. This helps to both memorize phrases and expressions, and to get close to the pronunciation of the native speakers.
Are you now thinking, but isn't “Rosetta Stone” total immersion? Yes, there are no English translations and you are indeed “immersed” in the foreign language throughout a session.
I only bought Level 1 of Spanish, quite a while ago, so that's all I can comment on. The four Levels are set up as pictures and short sentences that describe the pictures.
You hear a sentence, identify the corresponding picture, and then are prompted to record your voice. My voice recording often gets rejected even after several tries. But it's not clear why some sentences are accepted and others aren't. Rather than improving, I just get frustrated.
Is there a boredom factor built into Rosetta Stone? People do seem to give up easily on the kind of "immersion" this program offers. It may be because in each lesson you go through repeating dozens of unrelated phrases and sentences. On top of that, many grammar lessons are in the form of simple pattern drills, where you just click on one word each time. And, because everything is done with pictures, it gets hard to remember what each picture is supposed to mean. (See our 5 Rosetta Stone reviews)
This program has a fairly traditional approach: A lesson starts with a flashcard exercise where you are asked to “Study the words and their spelling.” Then you go through exercises to practice writing, reading, listening, speaking, and basic grammar. Most of the exercises work from translation. Explanations are in English.
For listening practice, I particularly like the dictation exercises (“Write what you hear”), and the part where you complete the sentences of a conversation by adding a word that cued from the English translation of the sentence. In both of these sections, you see and hear language in context.
Speaking practice is up to you: It's best to repeat words and sentences as much as you can. Most lessons have a section for practicing sounds that are different from English.
My main beef with Duolingo is that it has me often write English translations, which I find a huge waste of time. I'd rather be writing answers in the target language. I would be learning so much faster. To avoid writing in English, I've set my “native” language to another language I'm learning. (I now have an account to learn Italian from Spanish.)
I do like the “voice recognition” part because it makes me say things out loud, which I sometimes forget to do. (Of course, there is no REAL voice recognition with feedback.)
Duolingo's newest addition are the Chatbots. At this time, they're available for French, German, and Spanish conversations. What you do is chat in your target language with a “partner” by writing predictable answers to questions and comments, with help from pictures. It's really quite neat.
You hear and see what your Chatbot partner is saying. You can check the meaning of the vocabulary, and get feedback for what you've written. To practice speaking, though, you just have to push yourself to say out loud whatever you hear and see. (see also Duolingo and Babbel: How They Differ)
At the moment, Language Zen is only available for learning Spanish online. The addition of Spanish Music (songs and lyrics) to its courses let's you focus on listening.
In general, you hear a lot of Spanish in this course. You learn new Spanish words and phrases by hearing them (and seeing their spelling and English translation). Next, you hear the Spanish word or phrase and have to identify the correct English translation among five options. When you click on the correct translation, you'll hear it again, see it spelled in Spanish, and are thereby induced to repeat it yourself.
Speaking is an important part of the course. Once you've heard and learned a few words, you are asked to translate an English sentence into Spanish – either by saying it (or by writing it). The voice recognition software is actually pretty good. It has adjusted to my voice, as well as Peter's voice and accent, and writes what it hears.
You can correct any spelling (or hearing) mistake. Click on “Check Answer” and you now hear the correct answer. If you're correct, move on, if not, you have one more chance to say or write the correct Spanish translation.
We very much like the fact that you're encouraged to say (or write) Spanish words and phrases quite often, and that you're not asked to say or write sentences in English. (see also our detailed Language Zen Review.)
This is a new app for Spanish, created by Larkwire. It can be used hands-free. The program is very well done and clearly focuses on listening and speaking. So far, four (4) Levels have been released, from Beginner to Intermediate (with higher levels to come).
Each lesson (almost 250 to date) has you listen to and repeat individual words and sentences, with an emphasis on individual sounds, intonation, and the rhythm of the language. Since the purpose of the program is to repeat what you hear, that's what you do. English translations are spoken and written, so you do hear lots of English not just Spanish.
Brief pronunciation lessons teach you the basic sounds of Spanish. You're told how to produce the sounds and are given examples. Then you record yourself, play back your voice, and compare your pronunciation to that of the native speaker. This is a great feature. (See also our SuperCoco Review.)
Lingualia is an online program (with iOS and Android apps) to learn Spanish or English. All word definitions, audios, fill in the blank and unscramble exercises, image identification, etc. are in the target language.
If you want, you can set the interface language to English, Spanish, and now also to German. So, if you're learning Spanish and if you set the interface language to Spanish, everything will be in Spanish.
In the program, you're not asked to do any translations (though translations with google are available).
With Lingualia you can work seriously on your listening skills. The program contains 200 rapidly spoken conversations, one at the beginning of each lesson. You can listen to them as often as you want, with or without seeing the text.
There's less chance for practicing your speaking skills, unless you make a special effort to constantly repeat individual phrases of a conversation as they scoot by. There are no exercises to practice sentences. There's no recording feature to play back your voice. (See also our Lingualia Review.)
Having worked at Pimsleur both as author of the first three German courses and co-author and development editor of various other courses, I'm both familiar with and fond of the Pimsleur approach. We have not (yet) published a review of this program, which started out with audio tapes and CDs, and now also has MP3 files for download. In addition, there's an interactive product called Pimsleur Unlimited, which can be downloaded on your computer or mobile devices.
With a Pimsleur Audio course, you listen and speak right from the beginning. The Narrator guides you along (first in English and later in the target language) and gives explanations. After you've heard the initial dialogue, you learn new words by hearing and repeating them, usually by building them from the end.
As a lesson progresses, the Narrator gives you the English cues for the words that you've learned, sometimes prompting you to make new combinations. However, the audio lessons are hard to navigate beyond listening in sequence.
Pimsleur Unlimited contains the 30-minute audio lessons, Flashcards and Quick Match to practice new words and sentences, plus a Speak Easy part to practice the conversation. Except for Speak Easy, where you participate in the conversations, everything is prompted from English.
In all, Pimsleur does a great job pushing the learner to say everything aloud. Its particular audio method (backward buildup, anticipation of the answer) is very effective to train the ear and help the learner get a good pronunciation.
THE ONLINE/APP TEACHING DILEMMA
As this quick survey shows, none of these programs (including our GamesforLanguage courses) can provide a true immersion experience, the way a live conversation, or online session with a tutor can.
Online courses or apps have to rely on images (e.g. Rosetta Stone, etc.), writtentext, or English audio to transmit meaning to the learner. A teacher or tutor can do that with gestures, mimic, different sounds, or alternate expressions in the target language, etc., all options that apps or online courses do not have.
The online/app dilemma then is this: Images are rarely sufficient for explaining the meaning of thoughts, feelings, and complex activities, etc. in the target language. You require a teaching language to translate from. (I don't know if Lingualia is an exception for beginners, who may use Google translate in the early stages.)
Translations, however, take the learner away from the the target language. The moment the learner hears or reads the translation in his or her native language (English or otherwise), immersion is interrupted.
THREE POWERFUL IMMERSIVE TECHNIQUES
Still, using online programs and apps to learn can give you a good basis for getting started and progressing in a language, for learning vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation.
My advice: Don't just click on the correct translation or answer.Repeat and speak the words and phrases you hear and learn in such programs. Without speaking and trying out the new sounds you won't become fluent.
So, what can you add - besides a regular language tutor - to strengthen your immersion experience in the language and become more fluent?
Watch a film or YouTube video in your target language, without English captions (or with captions in the same language).
Listen, with attention, to an audio book. If you can, follow along with the text in your target language.
Listen to a passage from your audio book, and then read and record the same passage. Play back and compare. Do this several times. This is really powerful.
And remember: learning to become fluent in a new language is a long-term project. Use as many different means and methods to read, listen to, or speak the target language every day. Daily “exposure,” if not “immersion,” will get you there.
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: Several of the language learning companies mentioned above are partner sites with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.
Because I'm interested in everything language learning, I signed up to beta test "a new approach to language learning" in one of my online language groups. This was some time ago.
In the summer, I got an email that I could "test flight" the iPhone app for Spanish and started testing it through its updates. Mid-October 2016, "SuperCoco - Learn Spanish by talking" went live. It's pretty neat.
For many people, myself included, learning to converse with some fluency in a new language is highly challenging. SuperCoco seeks to addresses that issue in interesting ways.
Except for audio programs such as the Pimsleur Language Programs, and more than any other language apps or programs that I've tried, SuperCoco encourages you to SPEAK. The instructions are simple: "When you hear Spanish, you repeat it. When you hear English, you say the Spanish."
Phil Mitchell, who is the founder of Larkwire, the maker of the SuperCoco app, told us:
"SuperCoco was built by people who love language learning. It's the app we wanted for ourselves. Version 1.0 is incomplete, of course, there's lots more coming ... but we'd really love to hear from users about what they like and don't like in the app so far. It's an opportunity for people to get the app that they want."
WHAT YOU LEARN
To date, SuperCoco has four (4) Levels: Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Early Intermediate, Intermediate.
Five (5) more Levels are to come: Advanced Intermediate, Proficient, Advanced Proficient, Near Fluent, Fluent.
Each of the current Levels has 60 or more conversations organized into 4 Chapters. In a Level you'll learn over 1000 sentences, and around 1000 new vocabulary items. (see screen shot: Intermediate Chapter 3)
The conversations are in the form of brief stories, sometimes ending with a humorous or surprising twist. These anecdotes contain cultural information and give context to the language.
You don't learn lists, you always learn words in the context of conversational sentences. That also means you learn grammatical forms as they are used.
Only new words are practiced separately in the Spanish First + words option, which is the initial and default "learning stage." Any words you've had before, are not isolated for practice.
There's a wide variety of topics. They include: Essentials, Food, Shopping, Communications, Transportation, Housing, Health, Social, Entertainment, Sights, Language, Dating, Wayfinding, Family, Work, Culture, School, and others.
SuperCoco automatically moves you through Learning Stages that are increasingly challenging.
(You could, but don't need to ever touch the Practice Mode button.)
Spanish first + words (Sp. audio - pause - words Sp./Engl. - Sp. audio - pause - Eng. - Sp. written)
English first (Engl. audio - pause - Sp. audio - Sp. written)
Partner: You take the role of one of the conversation partners (tap to hear Spanish)
Phil Mitchell also explained the following:
"Tracking every word allows the program to do something really neat: if SuperCoco predicts that you can already produce a given sentence, it jumps right into English First mode the first time you see that line. This is very powerful. First, it gives you the chance to produce Spanish that you've never heard before; and second, when you're in the flow of the conversation, you often speak the Spanish without even realizing that it's brand new. You're just speaking Spanish."
HOW YOU LEARN: FIRST LISTENING and SPEAKING
With SuperCoco you learn first and foremost through sound. When you start a lesson, you can go hands free, and just listen and repeat. The lesson continues automatically.
Or if you wish, you can control SuperCoco by voice commands, such as Coco WHAT? (alias: Coco REPEAT?) - to hear a line again; Coco SLOW - to hear the line at slower speed; Coco STOP (alias: Coco PAUSE) - to pause the conversation, etc. Go to the Library (Menu icon) for other voice commands. Note that you can only give commands when SuperCoco is not speaking.
You learn and practice each of the conversations sentence by sentence. You never hear the full conversation just in Spanish. (It is always broken up by English translation.)
After the Spanish audio or the English cue, there's a pause to let you say the Spanish word or sentence.
In the early lessons, coach SuperCoco pops up to give you tips, reminders, and encouragement.
At the end of a conversation, you can rate it: Too hard, Just right, Too easy. This information will go into the algorithm of the program, and determine how soon and how often you'll review that particular conversation.
DO YOU NEED TO SEE THE WORDS?
As an adult who's been schooled in reading and writing, you may automatically imagine how words in a foreign language are spelled - when you hear them.
Most likely, you'll apply the sound-spelling correlation that you're familiar with, i.e. the spelling of English if that's your native language.
Learning a new language means that you have to learn a new sound-spelling system. You can only do that by seeing how a word is spelled when you hear it, or right after.
SuperCoco gives you that option. You can see the Spanish text after you hear the audio, following a short delay. The brief pause not only lets you repeat what you hear, you can also anticipate the spelling in your mind.
(By the way, that's quite similar to Gamesforlanguage's “Say It” module, which we use in all of our language story-based courses.)
GRAMMAR at YOUR FINGERTIPS (if you want)
By tapping on a specific word in the conversation, you'll first see a brief grammar point.
Then, if you tap the capsule, it loads a full explanation. For a verb, it explains the tense or mood and shows shows the conjugation. You'll also see links to related topics.
For example (see screenshot above), you'll see the sentence "¿Por qué ne estás tirando fresas?" (Why are you throwing strawberries at me?)
When you tap on "tirando" and then "fresas" you'll see: tirando (tirar): to throw (verb: gerund); and, fresas (fresa): strawberry (noun: pl f ).
By tapping further, you'll load an explanations of the gerund form, and other related links.
Or, tapping on the imperative form "espere," (see screen shot) you'll load an explanation of the form, as well as the (positive and negative) conjugation of the imperative.
Very different from picture-heavy Rosetta Stone (and many other popular programs), SuperCoco uses no pictures at all. Interesting!
While pictures can certainly link to the foreign words (or labels) of objects, they can also be a distraction from learning their sounds.
With a picture-driven program you have to constantly figure out what the picture is supposed to represent. Besides, how can one show anything complicated or abstract with a still picture?
THE SKILLS TAB and PRONUNCIATION LESSONS
There are eight (8) Core Skills Lessons which give you one Key Tip in each lesson. Each is about 2-3 minutes long and includes the topics 'How to absorb Spanish faster,' 'What to do when you can't remember,' 'How to find time to practice,' and 'How and when to learn grammar.'
In the Skills Tab, you'll also find 23 excellent short Pronunciation Lessons that cover all the sounds of Spanish, with step-by-step instructions on how to produce the sounds. In each lesson, you can then Listen, Record, and Check your pronunciation. It's a fast track to getting a great accent.
Without a subscription, you are limited to one chapter of conversations -- it can be any chapter.
A subscription to the SuperCoco app Spanish is $4.99 a month in the app store. With a subscription, you have access to all the chapters.
Having a monthly subscription may quite motivating: The serious learner will want to pack in as much as possible into a limited time.
WHAT WE LIKE
The focus on listening and speaking is very effective.
Seeing the spelling right after the audio is a great option.
The stories, which are in conversational format, are humorous and use real language.
Understanding the meaning is always part of how you learn.
The many different topics cover a wide range of vocabulary.
You can find a level that challenges you and you can pick and choose topics.
The voice recordings are high quality and easy to understand.
You're pushed to translate automatically when you hear an English sentence.
You get lots of encouragement.
We really like the hands-free part. You can listen while cooking, walking, commuting, etc.
SuperCoco is currently available only for Apple devices with iOS 8.2 or later.
There's no setting for listening to a Spanish conversation in its entirety.
You cannot record and play back your own voice to check your pronunciation.
At this time, there's no reading and writing practice.
You don't get alternative translations.
CAN YOU LEARN WITH the APP FROM ZERO SPANISH?
I believe so, but since my Spanish was at an intermediate level before I started testing the app, I don't have an objective answer for that.
In my experience, the combination of hearing, repeating, and understanding the meaning of the foreign words and sentences is essential for learning a new language.
In any case, I can recommend SuperCoco as an excellent resource for learning and practicing Spanish.
Using more than one resource will help you stay interested and motivated. Once you have progressed beyond the basics, choose articles or books with topics that interest you for reading, podcasts for listening comprehension, language-exchange partners for conversations, etc.
In all, SuperCoco is a powerful learning tool that's fun, versatile, and easy to use. Whether using it alone, or adding it to whatever else you're learning with, you're bound to level up your Spanish.
That's true especially for your pronunciation, your listening comprehension, and fluency in speaking. To be contacted about new levels that are added, write to Larkwire: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with SuperCoco, except for having participated in some beta testing and receiving the app for free. Certain links above are to affiliates' programs with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe.
Listening to Spanish songs, first with the lyrics, and then without, is a great way to absorb words, phrases, and even grammatical structures.
In one of our first posts on learning a foreign language with a song, we chose La Paloma, a song which originated in 1861 in Cuba.
Now listen to a much more recent song, "El Perdón," co-written and co-performed by Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias, both popular singers in the Latin pop scene.
"El Perdón" became a smash hit upon its release in 2015. The official Spanish YouTube video has had over 650 million views at this time.
Nicky Jam (Nick Rivera Caminero) was born in Boston MA, USA in 1981, but moved to Puerto Rico at the age of ten. For the Wiki-bio in Spanish click HERE.
Enrique Iglesias (Enrique Miguel Iglesias Preysler) was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1975. At age 11, he was sent to live Miami for security reasons. (His grandfather had been kidnapped by the Basque ETA.) See his English Wiki-bio HERE.
You can of course listen to a song in a foreign language and never get the lyrics. That's fine. Music can be enjoyed on its own.
But songs can also be a great language learning tool if you pay attention to the lyrics to understand their meaning. So, what makes music such a powerful way of getting language into your brain? It's because songs combine melody, rhythm, and emotion with language. What's on your side is the "earworm" effect. A good song will continue playing in your head.
Listening to songs in a language you're learning:
Improves your pronunciation
Has you mimic intonation
Helps you memorize vocabulary
Familiarizes you with idiomatic phrases
Lets you absorb grammar structures
Gets you into the rhythm of the language
Listen to the song again and now follow it by reading the lyrics below. How much can you understand?
At the end of the post we have the English translation, so you can check.
Dime si es verdad Me dijeron que te estas casando Tú no sabes como estoy sufriendo Esto te lo tengo que decir
Cuéntame Tu despedida para mi fue dura Será que él te llevo a la luna Y yo no supe hacerlo así
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Eso me está matando oh no
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Como un loco tomando
Es que yo sin ti Y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta Esto no me gusta
Es que yo sin ti Y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta Esto no me gusta
Vivir si ti, no aguanto más Por eso vengo a decirte lo que siento Estoy sufriendo en esta soledad
Y aunque tu padre no aprobó esta relación Yo sigo insistiendo a pedir perdón Lo único que importa está en tu corazón
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Esto me está matando oh no
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Como un loco tomando oh
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta Esto no me gusta
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Eso no me gusta Eso no me gusta
Yo te juré a ti eterno amor Y ahora otro te da calor Cuando en las noches tienes frío oh oh, oh
Yo sé que él te parece mejor Pero yo estoy en tu corazón Y por eso pido perdón
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta, oh no
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta oh yeah, oh
Dicen que uno no sabe lo que tiene hasta que lo pierde pero (Yo sin ti) Vale la pena luchar por lo que uno quiere (No puedo vivir así) Y hacer el intento (No quiero vivir así)
Refreshing a Few Grammar Points
1. Gerundio - the progressive form of a verb describing an ongoing action.
te estas casando - you are marrying (inf. casar) estoy sufriendo - I am suffering (inf. sufrir) estaba buscando - I was looking for (inf. buscar) me está matando - it's killing me (inf. matar) sigo insistiendo - I keep on insisting (inf. insistir)
2. Adding object pronouns to imperative and infinitive forms.
dime - tell me (imperative form of "decir") cuéntame - tell me (imperative form of "contar") hacerlo - to do it (infinitive) decirte - to tell you (infinitive)
3. Preterito - simple past form of verbs.
fue - it was (inf. ser) supe - I knew (inf. saber) aprobó - he approved (inf. aprobar) juré - I swore (inf. jurar)
Why would it be important to hear different voices, accents, and dialects in the language you're learning?
Think about it: You're probably never going to speak only with people who sound exactly like the person on in your language program.
Both Enrique Iglesias and Nicky Jam are bilingual, with Spanish first and English learned at the age of 10 or 11.
Comparing Enrique's and Nicky's Spanish, you'll notice some differences in pronunciation.
The Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico is part of "Caribbean Spanish," which also includes the Spanish of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and regions along the East coast of Mexico and Central America.
These are popular destinations both for Americans and many Europeans. Caribbean Spanish "is characterized by elided middle consonants and omitted final consonants, as well as an aspirated ‘r’ that is pronounced like the Portuguese ‘x.’." [10 Spanish Dialects: How Spanish is Spoken Around the World]
You'll definitely hear some of that in Nicky Jam's singing.
English Translation of “El Perdón” - Forgiveness
Tell me if it's true They told me you are marrying You don't know how I'm suffering This I have to tell you
Tell me Your goodbye was hard for me Is it that he takes you to the moon And I didn't know how to do it like that
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets This is killing me oh no
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets Like a crazy drunk
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me who can be happy I do not like this I do not like this
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me who can be happy I do not like that I do not like that
Living without you, I can't do it anymore So I came to tell you how I feel I'm suffering in the loneliness
And even though your dad didn't approve of this relationship I'll have to keep asking for forgiveness All that matters to me is in your heart
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets This is killing me oh no
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets Like a crazy drunk oh
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me, who can be happy I don't like that I don't like that
I promised you eternal love And now another man gives you warmth when you're cold at night oh oh
I know he seems better to you But I'm in your heart So I'm asking for forgiveness
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me, who can be happy I don't like this oh yeah...
(You without me) They say you don't know what you have until it's gone but... (Me without you) It's worth it to fight for what you love (I can't live like this) And make an effort (I don't want to live like this)
If you like learning and practicing Spanish with songs, we'd suggest that you try out for FREE Language Zen, a great Spanish language learning site, which uses Spanish songs and their lyrics as part of their program.
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: Language Zen is a partner site with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.
Here we'll explain how you can get some moments of mini-immersion when you set your electronic gadgets to German. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll get to understanding and using these terms.
German social media terms are made up of vocabulary that is sophisticated and generally useful. Using them, you can also learn some basic grammar forms.
If you're a Facebook user, that's a good place to start.
SETTING YOUR iPHONE/iPAD OR ANDROID DEVICES
On an iPhone or iPad, you have to set the language by going into your iPhone or iPad Settings and change your iPhone/iPad Language. You cannot do it just for your Facebook app, etc.
Click on "Settings," "General," "Language & Region," and set your iPhone/iPad Language to "Deutsch/German." (see screenshot)
On Android phones and tablets, also go to "Settings," then scroll down to "Personal," and click on "Language and input."
On Peter's Galaxy S7, he only sees the selected English and choices for Spanish, Vietnamese and several other "preloaded" Chinese/Asian languages. He has not been able to add other languages yet and is looking for help to add Italian and Dutch.
One word of caution: On Android devices, be careful with languages with a non-western writing system and, at least, remember the small icon in front of "Language and input," in case you want to get back to English!
(On your laptop or PC, you could change the language only on Facebook, etc., or in one of your browsers, or even set your preferred language for the computer in "Language & Region.")
Setting your language back to English:
On your iOS devices, click on the "Einstellungen" (Settings) icon, then go to "Allgemein" (General), "Sprache & Region" (Language & Region), "iPhone/iPad-Sprache" (iPhone/iPad Language), and finally, "English/Englisch."
"Abbrechen" means Cancel;
"Fertig" means Done;
"Fortfahren" means Continue.
WAIT! THERE'S GERMAN ALL OVER MY DEVICE
Don't Panic. The icons on your gadget give you lots of help. And here are a few initial terms to get you going:
Zum Entsperren Home-Taste drücken - Press home to unlock
Wiederholen - Try again ("repeat")
Nachrichten (f.) - Messages
Uhr (f.) - Clock
Seitenmanager (m.) - Pages ("page manager")
Notizen (f.) - Notes
Erinnerungen (f.) - Reminders
Einstellungen (f.) - Settings
Flugmodus (m.) - Airplane Mode
WLAN - Wi-Fi
Mitteilungen (f.) - Notifications
Nicht stören - Don't disturb
GERMAN FACEBOOK TERMS
To interact with you, Facebook uses the friendly, familiar "du" form. For example, the familiar imperative form of "describe yourself" is "Beschreibe dich." (The polite form would be "Beschreiben Sie sich.")
To translate "Like," German uses the verb "gefallen" for the idiomatic expression "Gefällt mir" (I like it, or more literally: It pleases me).
For forms like "Comment, Share, Show, Log out" etc. (which could be both infinitive and imperative), German uses infinitive forms: "Kommentieren, Teilen, Zeigen, Abmelden" etc.
Words and phrases that you keep seeing on your device are bound to end up in your long-term memory. You'll probably never forget them.
Here's a list of 20 or so you'll see on your iPhone or iPad:
On your Profile Page:
Suche nach Personen, Orten und Dingen - Search Persons, Places and Things
Certain social media terms can help you absorb some basic grammar structures. It's an easier way to learn grammar than to memorize rules.
1. Compound Nouns
In German compound nouns, it's the second (or last) noun which gives you the gender.
das Profil + das Bild = das Profilbild
der Titel + das Bild = das Titelbild
Some compound nouns take a linking "s."
das Leben + das Ereignis = das Lebensereignis
2. Verb Prefixes: "an" and "ab"
Many German verbs can take different prefixes, which change the meaning of the original verb.
The verb "melden" (as in "ein Problem melden) means "to report."
"Abmelden" means "to log out" or "sign out."
"Anmelden" means "to log in" or "sign up."
To say that you want to register, you would use the reflexive form: "sich anmelden."
Ich möchte mich bei Facebook anmelden. (I want to sign up for Facebook.)
The verb "brechen" means "to break"
"Abbrechen" means "to cancel" (break off).
3. Separable Verb Prefixes:
The prefixes "ab" and "an" are a separable prefixes.
In the present tense, the prefix "ab" goes to the end of the clause: Ich melde mich ab. (I'm signing out.)
In the conversational past, "ab" is separated by "-ge-": Ich habe mich abgemeldet. (I signed out.)
In the future tense, the prefix stays: Ich werde mich anmelden. (I'll sign in.)
4. Inseparable Verb Prefix: "er-" and "be-"
The inseparable verb prefixes "be-" and "er-" always stay as part of the verb and thus don't use "-ge-" in the conversational past.
The verb "stellen" means "to put" or "to place." ("auf den Tisch stellen" - to place on the table)
The verb "erstellen" means "to create" or "to make." ("Seite erstellen" - create a page)
Ich erstelle eine Seite. (I create a page.)
Ich habe eine Seite erstellt. (I created a page.)
Ich werde eine Seite erstellen. (I'll create a page.)
The verb "schreiben" means "to write." ("einen Brief schreiben" - to write a letter)
"Beschreiben" means "to describe" or "to depict." ("Beschreibe dich" - Describe yourself)
Ich beschreibe mich. (I describe myself.)
Ich habe mich beschrieben. (I described myself.)
Ich werde mich beschreiben. (I'll describe myself.)
5. German does not have a "continuous" verb form:
In English, you can say "I'm editing" to mean that you're doing it right now, or that you're in the process of doing it (at this time). German does not have a verb form for that. Instead, you would either add an adverb, such as "gerade" (just now) or reformulate: "ich bin dabei, ... zu bearbeiten" (I'm in the process of ...) to get the same meaning across.
The verb "arbeiten" means "to work."
"Bearbeiten" means "to edit" or "work on."
Ich bearbeite mein Profil. (I'm editing my Profile.)
Ich bearbeite gerade mein Profil.
Ich bin dabei, mein Profil zu bearbeiten.
As you've probably guessed, immersion works best if you have a basic understanding of the language that's being used. Just seeing unknown words and phrases (as I would, if I set my devices to Polish, for example) would be a little scary.
Still, if you're used to navigating the apps on your iPhone and are familiar with the icons on it, you can figure out what many of the foreign words and phrases mean.
Changing the language on your devices lets you try out new things and use context to guess new vocabulary. That's a good way to learn.
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.
If “fietsen” (bicyling) is a Dutch favorite, “bootjevaren” (boating), which includes “zeilen” (sailing), is certainly another.
With about one third of the Dutch mainland BELOW sea level and another one third very close to it, it's no wonder that the Dutch have a special relationship with water.
Yes, Italy has Venice, which has romantic canals but also more frequent flooding. Venice also needs to worry about its future as it is slowly sinking into the Adriatic Sea.
On the other hand, Amsterdam with its many “grachten” (canals) is a vibrant international city that has well adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the ever present water.(See also European Travels 1 and European Travels 2)
And, the canal network in the Netherlands is nothing but astounding. It's a great way to explore the country.
For the fun of it, we'll sprinkle in a few Dutch words. Because Dutch is a Germanic language just like English and German, you may find some cognates.
het land - the country, land
de stad - the city
de fiets - the bicycle
het water - the water
de gracht - the canal (in a city)
het kanaal - the canal (outside of a city)
de rivier - the river
de zee - the ocean, sea
Dutch Canals and Rivers
Traveling by boat on a canal or river lets you experience the countryside in a different way than driving through it. At 7 to 8 miles per hour, you can observe your surroundings in a leisurely way.
You'll notice the different designs of houses and various building methods, admire beautiful gardens, wonder what crops are growing in the fields, what type of cattle is grazing on the pastures. Often the canals are higher than the adjacent pastures, as water is pumped continually from the lower lying fields into the canals.
While most pumps in the Netherlands are now electrically operated, there are still old windmills that are doing the job. We certainly observe more and more of the modern wind turbines every time we visit.
The ABC of Dutch Canal Travel
Operating a motor boat on Dutch canals is not really difficult, although sometimes when in tight quarters, you have to keep calm and go slowly.
You don't need a license. If you haven't sailed or operated a motor boat before, don't worry. The charter company will instruct you in how to handle the boat.
Obviously, prior boating experience helps, not only for operating a boat, but also for knowing a few basic facts:
Boats have no brakes
Boats are affected by wind and current
Boats have various electrical and plumbing systems
The forward/backward gear of boats is operated with a throttle
Larger boats respond more slowly to throttle and steering commands
A “bow thruster” greatly helps maneuvering in tight quarters
“Locks” connect waterways with different water level elevations
The lower the boat, the more bridges you can pass (without their opening)
Our 2016 Charter Choice
For our previous three canal cruises in the Netherlands, we had chartered from different local charter companies. This time we selected Locaboat, a multinational charter with locations in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, and the Netherlands.
Their location in Loosdrecht, just north of Utrecht and close to the Dutch family reunion we attended, as well as our good experience with them during a charter in France a few years earlier, made them an easy choice.
The “Oude Rijn” (the old Rhine), as our mini barge was called, had inside and outside steering – perfect for either rainy or sunny weather – a bow thruster, and the two bicycles we had reserved.
With its 10.20 meter length (about 34 feet), it suited us fine. The midship saloon and steering station provided a great view during any meal. The compact kitchen (galley) had a refrigerator, a two-burner stove and oven, and all the pots, pans, and dishes we needed.
I noticed several improvements since the last time we had chartered from Locaboat:
The bow thruster
Electric instead of pump toilets
No switch to change from inside to outside throttle operation
A spacious refrigerator working well either on motor or shore power
An easily operated diesel heater for the hydronic heating system
Through the charter company we had ordered some basic supplies from the local grocery store, such as water, beer, etc. These arrived shortly after we boarded.
After reviewing our intended itinerary, (see map) learning about the boat's systems, and a quick test-outing into the canal with me backing into the slip, we started our trip.
It was late afternoon and we had to pass one lock and bridge before starting our round trip as shown on the chart.
de winkel - the shop
de boot - the boat
de sluis - the lock (on a waterway)
de brug - the bridge
het dorp - the village, town
het huis - the house
de tuin - the garden, yard
de boerderij - the farm
Shortly after leaving the Marina, we encountered the Mijnden Sluis, the first of the few locks that we had to pass on our trip.
When approaching a lock, you'll know from the position of the gates (open or closed) and the red or green lights - whether you have to wait (red) and possibly tie up, or whether you can enter (green).
Once in the lock, your crew loops a couple of lines around the bollards and holds on to them. But they should NOT TIE UP.
As the lock gates are closed and the water level rises and falls, the crew adjusts the lines so the boat glides along the lock walls, protected by its fenders. (In this picture our friends are adjusting the lines in the biggest lock we encountered, behind a large commercial barge.)
As the lock gates open again, you motor out the other side to a different water level.
In the Dutch inland canals, such level differences are often only a foot or two.
(In French canals, we had encountered a level difference of 10 feet or more in many locks. Also, in an earlier blog post, we describe how the boat lift in Henrichenburg, Germany, overcomes a 42 feet level difference.)
We had chartered a motor boat for the first time in the Netherlands, over 20 years ago in Utrecht. Our teenage sons loved it right away. At that time, a few of the bridges still had to be opened manually. The boys had to jump ashore, open the bridge, let us pass, close the bridge, and then hop on board again.
This time, we were told that we would not have to open any bridges ourselves on our trip.
The moving bridges we encountered, called “Beweegbare Bruggen,” and labeled “BB” on the chart, were operated as follows:
By an operator at the bridge or a person who monitored it remotely via cameras
By a push button, typically located on a piling before the bridge
By phone call to an operator or on an automated line
Many bridges opened as we approached, adding a yellow light to the red light before it turned green. Sometimes we called. (Telephone numbers were on a sign at the bridge. In addition, nearly all bridges had a telephone number listed in the boat manual or in the chart app on my tablet.)
More instructions were provided in the boat's handbook, but Ulrike's command of Dutch was clearly helpful for the third option.
There are only very few bridges left where the operator collects a fee with a wooden shoe on a long pole. We passed only two.
In towns and cities, operating hours often consider morning and evening traffic rush hours. Commercial vessels always have priority over recreational boats and you learn to be patient.
Your chart tells you the passing height of each bridge. Our “Oude Rijn” was listed as 2.92 m. Passing under a 3.00 m bridge left only 8 cm or a little more than 3 inches – and when steering and sitting outside on top of the upper deck we certainly had to duck. (In the above picture there were only a few inches to spare...)
The waterway chart (as well as the Dutch app for my tablet I had downloaded) not only shows all the locks and bridges, but also the marinas and mooring sites that one can tie up to. Some of the mooring sites in small towns are free.
At others, you can replenish your water or hook up your shore power (for a fee). We only did this a couple of times.
However, you're not limited to the designated mooring sites. Especially in the countryside, you can just hammer in two steel spikes ashore and tie up your boat along the canal bank.
After passing through the Mijnden lock, we turned north and were immediately faced with our first challenge.
The bridge operator of the first moving bridge we were to pass in Loenen, informed us that the next bridge had mechanical problems and could not be opened. He thought it could be fixed in an hour or two and suggested we should just tie up.
We did and explored the little town of Loenen, with its narrow cobble stone streets and its two picturesque bridges across the river Vecht. We also found a bakery and stocked up on fresh bread and pastries.
This short delay taught us again not to be in a hurry. Canal traveling has to be done leisurely.
Yes, we would not get very far this first day, but no matter. Waiting for bridges or locks to open is as much part of canal travel as finding a nice restaurant for lunch or dinner or a good mooring spot for the night.
Indeed, when the bridge operator told us that the problem was fixed, we continued north on the Vecht. (see picture above)
As it was soon going to get dark we made fast near the small town of Overmeer.
After a 10 minute walk we found a very pleasant restaurant for our first dinner ashore.
Returning a few hours later to our “Oude Rijn,” we were glad that we had not forgotten the flashlight to unlock the door.
We had a quiet and peaceful night and the next morning greeted us with sunshine and ducks and other birds in the water around us.
The Netherlands is very densely populated country. In traveling along the small rivers and canals, we passed through cities and towns, as well as commercial and industrial areas. But we also came through long stretches of farm land and pastures.
In addition to the many small towns and villages we came across and explored, the major cities on our itinerary were Amsterdam, Gouda, and Utrecht.
We've written a blog post about Amsterdam, as we stayed there before getting on the boat. But visiting Amsterdam by boat is even more fun.
You can easily get to the marina in the center of town from where you'll explore the city on foot. There are a few more marinas in the outskirts, but then you have to find a way to get into the city.
Gouda is a wonderful town with a stunning 15th-century city hall (see picture) and a spacious market place, where during the spring and summer a traditional cheese market is held every week (Thursday mornings).
You can actually moor right in the center of town, but we chose to tie up and stay overnight on the Hollandsche IJssel, just south of the city.
When we came to Utrecht, it was not possible to go through the town with our Flying Bridge Pénichette, as the many arched bridges of the Vecht were too narrow and low for the “Oude Rijn.”
However, mooring in the “Singelgracht” close to the center of town, allows you to explore the city easily on foot.
Along the Vecht, there are many restaurants tourists and locals alike seemed to enjoy on a late summer day.
The town has over 20 museums, ranging from the Aboriginal Art, to the National Military, the Railway, and the Waterline Museum Fort Vechten.
This is often one of the major benefits of sightseeing from a boat: You can moor in or near the center of a town or city (where finding a parking space for your car may often be difficult).
het stadhuis - the city hall
het centrum - the center (of town)
de jachthaven - the marina
de buitenwijken - the outskirts (of town)
de marktplaats - the market
de kaas - the cheese
de Noordzee - the North Sea
de Oostzee - the Baltic Sea
The European Canal system
While we traveled mostly on small canals and rivers (such as the Vecht and IJssel), there were also a few stretches where we encountered commercial traffic.
When a large container-laden barge is heading towards you (as on this picture), you realize how important the waterways are still for the European economy. You also do your best to keep out of the way!
Leaving Utrecht and before we could re-enter the Vecht near Maarsen, we had to travel on the wide Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. This canal serves as an important commercial link between Amsterdam and the Rhine.
Indeed, barges can make it up and down the Rhine all the way to Basel, Switzerland, or via the Main river, the Main-Danube Canal, and the Danube to Budapest, Vienna, and the Black Sea.
No wonder, traffic is heavy and recreational boats like ours have to keep well out of the way.
The European canal system not only connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, but barges and boats (even sailboats with a lowered mast) can find their way into the Mediterranean Sea, via the Mosel and the Rhone.
Our last overnight stop before returning to our base was Breukelen. Breukelen, by the way, gave New York's Brooklyn its name.
We again were moored right in the center of town, behind a typical old-style bascule bridge and several restaurants. In one of them we ate dinner.
There we met the Dutch artist, Toos van Holstein, who was elected the Netherland's “Briljanten Kunstenaar 2016” (Dutch Brilliant Artist of 2016). She had just organized a special art event “25 Karaats Briljant” at the gallery Peter Leen, which is adjacent and connected to the excellent Thai Same Same restaurant.
Traveling on Dutch canals leaves you with many impressions, memories and pictures, certainly more than we can relate here.
On our last evening we could again enjoy a spectacular sunset across the huge Dutch sky - a fitting end to our canal cruise.
If you're interested in trying it yourself in the Netherlands or France and have more questions, drop us a line via contact and we'll be happy to help.
Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them onFacebookTwitterandInstagram, and leave any comments withcontact.