Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My 5 Top Tips For Speaking More Fluently

River in NorwayHow fluent are you in the language you're learning? Can you read and understand spoken language pretty well? But your ability to give "quick responses in conversations" is lacking?

There's definitely a way to learn and practice to speak more naturally.

I have a very particular reason for wanting to work on speaking more fluently. It's for French. Curiously enough, it's not that my French is particularly bad, but ... Well, I talk more about it at the end of this post under the heading: My Own Project for Speaking More Fluently


Whatever level you're at and using resources you like, start listening to phrases Speaking and Listeningand sentences, and repeat them aloud whenever you can.

Learning how to say things with some fluency is not a one-time practice. Rather, it's best to go back to working on the same phrases, sentences, or even conversations again and again. That way, your pronunciation will get closer to that of a native speaker.

Close is good. If you're learning a language as an adult, perfect native pronunciation may take much longer, or may not happen at all.

In most languages, when words are used in expressions or in a sentence, they become part of a stream of sounds. Letters are dropped, stress changes, there are contractions, etc. This has to be practiced.

It also helps to memorize short conversations and repeat them to yourself when you're in the shower, as you prepare breakfast, or while jogging, etc.

Online language programs are perfect for practicing natural, rapid speech because you can try as many times as you want. Frequent repetition is key.


exclamation mark signInterjections are short words, usually said at the beginning of a sentence, that express strong emotions.

They can be learned together with vocabulary and practiced as part of conversations.

Common interjections in English are "hey" "oh" "good!" "right!" "now way!"

Some common French interjections would be: "Ouf" (Whew), "Zut !" (Darn), "Mais/Bah oui !" (Why yes!), "Quoi !" (What!), "Allez !" (C'mon!)

Common Spanish interjections: "¡Ay!" ( Oh), "¡Ojalà!" (I hope so ), "¡Vaya! (Wow!), "¡Claro!" (Of course!), and mostly in Spain: "¡Guay!" (Cool), "¡Vale!" (Okay!)

Common Italian interjections: "Magari!" (I wish!, If only!), "Bravo! (Well done!), "Dai!" (Come on!, Come now!), "Boh! (No idea!), "Basta!" (Stop!), "Peccato!" (Too bad!)

Common German interjections: "Aha!" (I get it), "Hä?) (I don't understand), "Also..." (Well...), "Wau!" (Wow!), "Ach nee!" (I knew it!), "Klar!" (Of course!)

The best way to learn to notice and use interjections in a language you're learning is to watch films or TV series. You can do this online, which also gives you the chance to repeat snippets of language aloud without annoying others.

Repeating aloud is absolutely essential for learning to say interjections. Seeing and hearing them as part of conversations puts them into context and shows you their exact meaning.


Besides interjections, you can learn to add pauses and fillers to your speech.Pause Icon Fillers are sounds, or words and phrases that are an essential part of conversational speech, but don't have much meaning in themselves.

They mark a pause when someone's speaking, or a moment of hesitation, as the person is considering what to say next. They help to keep the conversation going.

Speech fillers have to be practiced, since they impact on the intonation and rhythm of spoken language.

There are three good reasons why you should learn to use fillers in the language you're learning.

For one, it'll help you navigate better through a conversation. For example, if you just can't find the word you're looking for, you won't be stuck in an awkward silence. Instead, you can use some "hesitation sounds" of a few filler words, as you think about how to reformulate or how to get onto another topic.

Secondly, it will help you keep conversational contact with the person you're speaking to. With fillers, you can keep your own part of the conversation going, or indicate interest in what the other person is saying.

Thirdly, it will make you sound much more like a native. Most native speakers of a language don't hold conversations in full, perfect sentences all the time. They hesitate often enough, break sentences off, change topics as new ideas occur to them, etc. The fillers will help you do that too, without feeling like you're stumbling.

Fillers in American English that I hear a lot in conversations are: "uuh" "uhmm" "err" "well..." "yeah" "like" "right," or the phrase "you know."

French conversational fillers (mots de remplissage, mots bouche-trou): "euh" "bah" "hein" "bon" "ben" "alors" "bah" "eh bien."

Spanish conversational fillers (muletillas): "eh" "este" "pues" "bueno" "mira" "ya" "vale" "¿no?"

Italian conversational fillers (riempitivo, parole superflue): "mm" "mh" "e(eee)" "tipo" "ecco" "

German conversational fillers (Füll-Laute, Verzögerungslaute, Pausenlaute): "äh" "ähm" "mhh" "so" "tja" "halt" "oder" "gelt"

To find YouTube videos with TV series, romantic or action films you can watch, do a search, for example, "youtube serie tv français" "youtube series tv español" "peliculas en español youtube" "peliculas completas en italiano youtube" "deutsch filme youtube komplett" - and so on.


young man with laptopYes, it's hard to listen to your own recorded voice. I used to try to avoid it as well.

But, recording and listening to your voice and comparing your pronunciation to that of a native speaker is a very powerful technique for improving.

Start with words or short phrases, then work yourself up to full sentences. You have a lot to listen for: individual sounds, rhythm, intonation, the flow of what you're saying.

In different languages, stress is used differently. Listen for it and try to imitate.

In different languages, the same letters that we have in English may have a similar sound, but are pronounced less or more distinctly or explosively.

And, when you are recording yourself, you can practice difficult word combinations, saying them faster and faster.


You will unlikely hear this tip from a language teacher: In conversations don't worry about mumbling some of the words, especially their endings.

In casual conversations, most native speakers don't use the enunciation of a TV announcer. Especially when they speak in a local dialect, they talk quickly, mumble, mutter, ramble, blurt out things, drop endings. 

In German, "to mumble" is called "nuscheln." In French, you'd say "marmonner." In Spanish, it's "mascullar." And for Italian, the equivalent seems to be "borbottare."

The huge advantage when you learn to mumble a little in a language you're learning, is that you can slide over some of the tricky grammatical parts. It's especially good for endings that are supposed to change in different grammatical context. A neutral mumble can easily suggest the right ending.

All my reading - dozens and dozens of classic and modern novels in college and later on, and more recently, all of the Harry Potter novels in French - did not make me conversationally fluent in French. For sure, I have all the vocabulary that I need, but now I must practice the skill of speaking fluently.

I am fluent in Dutch, though I've done very little reading in it. What I have done for years and years is speak with others and imitate their natural conversational speech.

Repeating normal- and fast-speed sentences, adding interjections, pauses and fillers, and finally recording yourself and playing back your voice - all these together are bound to increase your ability to give "quick responses" in a conversation and become more fluent.


What I need to work on is relaxing when I speak so that I don't over-pronounce each individual word. Not just in French, but in all languages that I speak and am learning.

What's wrong with my French? Not that much really, except ... Well, let me back up a little. I learned French in a classroom setting: in grades 4 & 5 in the Netherlands, then from grades 6 on through grade 11 in Canada, followed by a French Honors university program.

At the end of my studies, I had great reading skills, a large vocabulary, and adequate writing skills. But my listening skills were lacking. I could understand the news (local French Radio) and formal lectures in French, but I could not follow fast conversational French. I also could not hold my own in natural, fast conversations with French speakers.

Later, when we started to regularly visit family in French-speaking Fribourg, Switzerland, my listening and speaking skills had already improved a lot. But even now, when I participate in conversations, my contributions are nicely constructed sentences, painstakingly pronounced. I resemble an announcer, who interrupts a group of people who are pleasantly chatting away.

My goal for further improvement is to be ready for our visit to Switzerland next year. With a French friend and with my husband I'm now practicing to not over-pronounce, to speak faster, to add interjections and fillers, and to “mumble” here and there.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

U.S. Presidents and Foreign Languages

Presidential electionFour years ago, we published a post titled Wonks, Foreign Languages and Presidential Politics.

In it we linked the NPR opinion article by Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

In rereading our post and Professor Walt's full article, which had appeared in on August 23, 2012 as The Top 10 Things that Would-Be Foreign-Policy Wonks Should study, we realize that Professor Walt was right in labeling “History” as #1.

In Professor Walt's words:

1. History. Trying to understand international affairs without history puzzle pieceknowing history is like trying to cook without knowing the difference between flour and flounder.

Not only does history provide the laboratory in which our basic theories must be tested, it shapes the narratives different peoples tell themselves about how they came to their present circumstances and how they regard their relationship to others.

How could one hope to understand the Middle East without knowing about the Ottoman Empire, the impact of colonialism, the role of Islam, the influence of European anti-Semitism and Zionism, or the part played by the Cold War?

Similarly, how could one grasp the current complexities in Asia without understanding the prior relations between these nations and the different ways that Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, Pashtuns, Hindus, Muslims, and others understand and explain past events? 

But don’t just memorize a lot of names and dates: Seek out teachers who can help you think about the past in sophisticated ways.

Among other things, it’s useful to know how other societies see the past even if you don’t agree with their interpretation, so make sure you read histories written by citizens of other countries.

And if you’re studying in the United States, don’t just study 'Western Civilization.' The world is a lot bigger than that.

How could one argue with the above advice?

In the 2016 Presidential elections, U.S. voters will also decide whether knowing history and understanding the complexities of the modern world are important. Their choice may well affect many foreign countries and shape our future.

The Language Skills of U.S. Presidents

Wikipedia table: US Presidents' Language skillsIn reviewing this Wikipedia entry (see excerpt of Wiki table, left) and overview of the language skills of the U.S. Presidents, it becomes clear that the early U.S. Presidents from John Adams (#2) to John Quincy Adams (#6) had superior foreign language skills to most of their successors.

The indicated language skills in the Wikipedia table may not all be completely accurate. For example, by his own account, (as he wrote in an April 12, 1817 letter) Thomas Jefferson was able to read “Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English of course, with something of it's radix the Anglo-Saxon.”

Although he learned French as a student, he only acquired some fluency after spending time in France.

Thomas Jefferson and Spanish

Jefferson already recognized, however, that speaking Spanish Thomas Jefferson on 2 Dollar billwould be beneficial to U.S. politicians in the future. In 1785 he wrote in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr:

...Our future connection with Spain renders that [Spanish] the most necessary of the modern languages, after the French. When you become a public man, you may have occasion for it, and the circumstance of your possessing that language, may give you a preference over other candidates.”

In this excerpt from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation about Jefferson's French language quotes, you can also read how he changed his mind about his nephew Peter Carr learning Spanish instead of Italian.

1785 August 19. (Jefferson to Walker Maury). “My intention had been that he [Peter Carr] should learn French and Italian, of the modern languages. But the latter must be given up (for the present at least) and Spanish substituted in it’s place.”

Foreign Languages in recent Presidential Campaigns

Franklin Roosevelt stampIt has been 84 years since the U.S. elected a President who spoke another language than English fluently. Franklin Roosevelt was taught French and German from childhood on.

He even went to school briefly in Bad Nauheim, Germany - the town, in which I grew up. See my post: Where “Bad” does not mean bad...

(While Presidents Carter and George W. Bush speak some Spanish, Clinton some German, and Obama some Indonesian, they are certainly not fluent in those languages.)

Some of you may remember that John Kerry downplayed his knowledge of French in 2004.

President Obama got a lot of flak in 2008 when he regretted:

I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing ... It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?” (CBS News 7/11/2008)

In 2012, a candidate for the Republican nomination, Jon Huntsman, had been U.S. ambassador to China. He was attacked for speaking fluent Mandarin, called “China Jon” and “Manchurian candidate,” implying that voters should be suspicious of him.

And Mitt Romney quickly learned that speaking French was no advantage either.

Foreign Languages in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

Republicans' Candidates

Spanish was the one foreign language that acquired some prominence in the Republican primaries.

There are several YouTube videos ob Jeb Bush doing interviews in Spanish, showing that he is quite fluent in Spanish.

Jeb Bush or Senator Marco Rubio (who grew up bilingual) would have beenCruz -Rubio debate  exchange the first U.S. President with a command of Spanish beyond a high-school level. (Senator Ted Cruz also speaks some Spanish.)

There was a somewhat funny exchange during one of the Republican debates when Marco Rubio stated that Ted Cruz did not speak Spanish, and Cruz challenged him in Spanish.

This February 14, 2016 article in The Washington Post, titled What that Cruz-Rubio ‘He doesn’t speak Spanish’ thing was about, provides an interesting perspective on this event and opens with the following:

There is a dark period in American history. It's one to which some Americans seem eager to return. It's one when people were barred, shamed or even punished for speaking languages other than English. That was especially true outside the home.

Speaking a foreign language or limited English was very widely believed to be an indicator of suspect national loyalty, limited intelligence or ability. Speaking a foreign language simply was not regarded as a useful skill.

The Republican Candidate, Donald Trump, doesn't speak (or read) a foreign language, which makes him somewhat of an exception in his family:

  • His mother, Maryanne, was reportedly from a village on the Isle of Lewis and spoke Scottish Gaelic as her first language.
  • His paternal grandparents were German-born, but it's unclear whether his father actually spoke German.
  • His first wife, Ivana, was Czech; his current wife, Melania is Slovenian and most of his children are multilingual.

Trump's Vice-President choice Mike Pence does not seem to speak another language, either.

Democrats' Candidates

Bernie Sanders does not speak any foreign languages, but he learned enough Spanish to confirm in one of his Spanish campaign ads that he “approves this message.”

A 2008 New York Times article indicates that Hillary Clinton does not speak any foreign languages. (Visiting over 90 countries doesn't do it; and whatever language courses she may have taken at Wellesley apparently had no lasting effect!)

Tim Kaine's Senate speech in SpanishThis leaves Tim Kaine, Clinton's choice for Vice President as the only remaining candidate in 2016 who speaks a second language.

He acquired his fluency in Spanish, while working and teaching in Honduras when he took a year off from his studies.

In 2013 Senator Tim Kaine made history by giving a speech in the Senate (see clip above) in support of immigration reform entirely in Spanish. It was an impressive performance by a politician who did not grow up bilingual, but learned Spanish as a young man.

It's not surprising that Spanish has risen in importance in the U.S.: The U.S. Census estimates the Hispanic population in 2014 as 55 million, or 17% of the nation's total population.

By 2060, the Hispanic population in the U.S. is projected to increase to 119 million or  nearly 29% of the total population. 

Will 2016 be the year when speaking Spanish as well as English will not be seen as a disadvantage for politicians?

The Importance of Foreign Languages

Professor Walt had listed “Foreign Languages” as #3. Here is his reasoning:

If you grew up outside the United States and are headed for college, you probably already speak more than one language.

If you're an American, alas, you probably don't. You should.

I know that everyone is learning English these days, but learning at least one foreign language provides a window into another culture that you can't get any other way, and also provides a sense of mastery and insight that is hard to achieve otherwise.

I'm not particularly good at languages, but I'd gladly trade my mediocre abilities in French and German for real fluency in one of them (or many others). Don't make my mistake: get to the language lab and acquire some real skills.”

I would just add, that if you want to speak fluently, but can't live for a while in the country where your target language is spoken, don't have a partner with whom to practice, or don't have access to a language lab, you have more options today: 

Join one of the local language groups, online language exchanges, immersion sites like fluentu, get a tutor on italki, etc. or practice on other similar online sites.

There is no way around it: To become fluent in a foreign language you have to start SPEAKING it.

Thomas Jefferson would certainly have agreed...

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.


Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language

Dutch windmillIn our previous post, European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”, we described a few of our observations in the Netherlands at the start of our visit this year. (More about our canal travel later!)

The Netherlands is a great country to visit. It has bucolic scenery, picturesque towns, and a rich tradition of art and intellectual life. Plus, there's Amsterdam. Who can beat that?

Most Dutch people speak English quite well, so it's not necessary to speak any Dutch to get around.

Still, knowing a few phrases of the language can be the passport to a more genuine experience of the Netherlands and its people.


To clarify:

  • English speakers may learn “Dutch,” while Dutch people (Nederlanders) speak “Nederlands” or "Hollands."
  • “The Netherlands” is made up of twelve (12) provinces, plus three (3) Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten) and three (3) municipalities (Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius), also in the Caribbean.
  • “Holland” consists of the two provinces, North Holland and South Holland, therefore just describes a part of the Netherlands. However, "Holland" is often used by German speakers when talking about the Netherlands.

Last year's post, 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion, includes a snapshot of Dutch history.

Map of the NetherlandsWe should also point out, that the new Dutch kingdom, established in 1815, lost its southern half in 1830, when that became part of Belgium. William Z. Shetter in The Netherlands in Perspective describes the reasons this way:

“The North had had centuries of independence and prosperity while the South had been a remote province of the Spanish and later Austrian Empires. The constitutional provision for equality of religion had not changed the fact that Protestantism was dominant in the North and Catholicism in the South.”

Dutch language (Nederlands) is spoken in the Netherlands and in Flanders, northern Belgium, (the Dutch kingdom's former southern half) where the language is called Flemish (Vlaams). Flemish is also spoken in the French region Nord-Pas-de-Calais, bordering Belgium.

Dutch is also spoken in the Republic of Suriname (located in South America, north of Brazil). In addition, Dutch has official status in the three countries and three municipalities in the Caribbean.

Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch, is one of the official languages of South Africa. Dutch and Afrikaans are mutually intelligible.


In the Brittanica you'll find this explanation:Dutch language

"In the Middle Ages the language of the regions was called Dietsc, or Duutsc, historically equivalent to German Deutsch and meaning simply 'language of the people,' as contrasted with Latin, which was the language of religion and learning. The form Duutsc was borrowed into English and gives modern 'Dutch.'

The official name of the language is Nederlands, or Netherlandic. In the Netherlands it is also called Hollands (Hollandish), reflecting the fact that the standard language is based largely on the dialect of the old province of Holland (now North Holland and South Holland)."

For a more detailed account of the history of the Dutch language, see


German-UK flagsLearning some Dutch is a fun adventure, especially for someone who speaks English and German. This is because Dutch is closely related to both English and German. One could say that it is between them.

On the one hand, Dutch resembles English in that it has no umlaut, doesn't use the subjunctive, and does not use case endings for adjectives, etc.

On the other hand, Dutch resembles German in that it has three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), a similar word order, and uses modal particles (those little hard-to-translate words used in spoken language that reflect the attitude of the speaker). Also, Dutch and German vocabulary often show great similarity.

Below is a sampler. (To learn and practice Dutch words and phrases with audio for free, go to


  • one, een, eins
  • two, twee, zweipool balls
  • three, drie, drei
  • four, vier, vier
  • five, vijf, fünf
  • six, zes, sechs
  • seven, zeven, sieben
  • eight, acht, acht
  • nine, negen, neun
  • ten, tien, zehn
  • eleven, elf, elf
  • twelve, twaalf, zwölf
  • thirteen, dertien, dreizehn
  • fourteen, veertien, vierzehn


  • where, waar, woquestion words
  • what, wat, was
  • when wanneer, wann
  • why, waarom, warum
  • These two are a little confusing:
  • who, wie, wer
  • how, hoe, wie


  • street, straat, Straße
  • house, huis, Haus
  • bridge, brug, Brücke
  • way, weg, Weg
  • money, geld, Geld
  • check, rekening, Rechnung
  • table, tafel, Tisch
  • weather, weer, Wetter


  • now, nu, jetzt
  • later, later, später
  • bad, slecht, schlecht
  • good, goed, gut
  • small, klein, klein
  • big, groot, groß
  • new, nieuw, neu
  • old, oud, alt
  • low, laag, niedrig
  • high, hoog, hoch


One characteristic of the Dutch language is that it's full of colorful sayings that are sometimes pretty hard to figure out. But they sure are entertaining. Here are a couple:

1. De hond in de pot findendog in flower pot

Literal: To find the dog in the pot
English equivalent: All the food has been eaten

Ze kwam zo laat thuis dat ze de hond in de pot vond.
She came home so late that all the food had been eaten.

2. De aap komt uit de mouw

Literal: The monkey comes out of the sleeve
English equivalent: Truth will come out

Als hij binnekort voor de rechter staat, komt de aap uit de mouw.
When he soon stands in front of the judge, truth will come out.

3. Iets op eigen houtje doenwood carving

Literal: To do something on one's own piece of wood (or carving stick)
English equivalent: To do something on one's own

Hij is geen groepsmens, hij doet dingen het liefst op eigen houtje.
He's not a group person, he prefers doing things on his own.


Woman with bicycle in Amsterdam -“Fietsen” is a word you may hear a lot, as its seems that everybody does it in the Netherlands: Bikes are everywhere; in Amsterdam, along the canals, on bridges, etc.

The words “bike" (English), “fiets" (Dutch), and “Fahrrad" (German) don't seem to be at all related.

The English terms "bike" or "bicycle" are derived from the Greek (bi- "two" + kyklos "circle, wheel"). The German word "Fahrrad" is simply a "riding wheel." Thus, these words make etymological sense.

But, the origin of the word “fiets," so central to daily life in the Netherlands, has long puzzled linguists.

One long-held conjecture was that the word "fiets" was a corruption of the French word "vélocipède" (as "fielsepee") and originated in 1870 in the town of Apeldoorn. (dr.j.devries etymologisch woordenboek, 1973)

Another popular possibility was that "fiets" came from the name of the bicycle merchant E.C. Viets (V pronounced as F).

Or, that it's a corruption of the French word "vitesse" (speed).

Or, that it comes from the southern Dutch word "vietse," meaning "to move quickly."

Most recently, two Belgian linguists suggested that "fiets" comes from the German "Vize-Pferd" (substitute horse) (Linbk

However, the suggestion that "fietsen" is a German loanword was quickly and thoroughly criticized online in the electronic magazine for Dutch language and literature, by the linguist Jan Stroop in his 2012 post, Ga toch fietsen. (The article is in Dutch, but you can easily get a Google translation, which gives you the basic idea.)

Stroop ends his argument with the sentence: "Fiets" een Duits leenwoord? Bike rider in Holland Ga toch fietsen. ("Fiets" a German loanword? - Go take a hike., i.e No way! )

So, the origin of "fiets" remains a riddle.

For anybody visiting the Netherlands "fietsen" is a must activity. Weaving your way through traffic and busy pedestrian passages may take some practice and not be for everyone.

But in all cities and towns, you'll also find bicycle lanes you can ride on comfortably and safely "Dutch style," sitting erect and leisurely enjoying the surroundings...

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”...

European travels Traveling to Europe after Labor Day can only be recommended. The trains are not as crowded and the interstate roads - while always busy – don't have the massive tie-ups that often occur during the main travel months in the summer.

We are lucky to be members of an international family that gets together once a year, in late summer or early fall. The reunions take place mostly in cities or villages in the Netherlands, but we've also attended gatherings in Werden, Germany, and in Brugge, Belgium.

These reunions (see last year's 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion) are not only an opportunity to touch base with family members, but they also give us the chance to use and practice our languages.

Frankfurt - Amsterdam

Our flight from Boston to Frankfurt am Main was eventless. As usual, it was easy to pass throughFernbahnhof sign - passport control, pick up our luggage, and walk over to the “Fernbahnhof” (long-distance train station) to board our train to Amsterdam.

Frankfurt has another train station, this one for local trains, as the signage makes quite clear. It's the “Regionalbahnhof,” in case you just want to head into the city. (If you do, our blog post about Michael's visit to Frankfurt may interest you.)

The ICE trains are pleasant and convenient. We learned from one of the daily papers that they are now already in their 4th model series. Normally we like to select a “quiet” compartment after arriving from Europe so we can pick up on some lost sleep. (A quiet compartment is marked by a sign with a man saying Psst and a second one that has a cell phone with a line through it.) 

Here's a quick explanation for the three terms mentioned above:

Fernbahnhof - station for long-distance trains

Regionalbahnhof - station for regional trains

ICE  - Intercity-Express (high speed trains that run through Germany and surrounding countries)


Amsterdam Centraal Station - Gamesforlanguage.comA few hours later when exiting the Centraal Station” (see left) in Amsterdam, we stepped into bright sunshine and 80 degrees weather. Amsterdam's central train station is an imposing building sitting right on the banks of the Ij river.

The station was designed in the Gothic/Renaissance Revival style by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers (1827-1921) and first opened in 1889. Cuypers is the same architect who also designed the building of the Rijksmuseum.

In front of the train station, you're immediately faced with crossing a busy street that takes you over a canal. Our Airbnb was located in the center of Amsterdam, so that's where we needed to go.

Our quarters were only a 12-minute walk from the train station. Our host must have heard our approach as he greeted us before we could ring the bell.

The room was in a typical Dutch row house and situated below street level, along one Amsterdam  B&B at Canal - Gamesforlanguage.comof the typical Amsterdam canals. With big windows and a glass door opening to the sidewalk and street, it looked very inviting. The inside was attractively furnished and well equipped.

Our host gave us detailed instructions: how to use the coffee maker, get Internet access, etc. He also explained that the shower and toilet had to be pumped up to the sewer line and that the water level of the canal was less than one foot below our room floor. He hastened to assure us: “Don't worry, it's safe, this building has been here for over 200 years.”

A bottle of red wine was waiting for us as a nice welcome gesture and we enjoyed our two nights there.

Amsterdam is a great city for walking. From Centraal Station to the Rijksmuseum, which is at the other end of the historic center, it's only about a mile.  

Dutch bike sign - Gamesforlanguage.comBut - you have to really watch out to avoid the bike riders, who seem to attack you from all directions as you try to cross the street. They are clearly a privileged class in the Netherlands. 

One-way streets? They are one-way just for cars. Bikes or mopeds are not shy about taking them in either direction, even with cars heading their way. Often there are signs that expressly make bikes and mopeds the exception,” as on this typical one-way sign, uitgezondered (except) for bikes and mopeds, which can still come towards you.

We had been in Amsterdam some years ago. This time we stayed only one dayAmsterdam:Eye Film Museum - in the city as we were familiar with many of the sights and had done the must-do activities, a canal cruise, the Anne Frank house, Rembrandt House, etc.

Our host suggested that we take the free ferry across the Ij river, just on the other side of Centraal Station. We did so the next morning under blue skies, together with a crowd of pedestrians, bikes, and scooters.

The spectacular structure of Amsterdam's Eye Film Institute certainly invited a look, and anyone interested in the cinema and its history will enjoy spending time in there.


We spent the afternoon in the famous RRembrandt's "Nightwatch" - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.comijksmuseum, which had been closed for several years during extensive renovations. We went straight to the Honor Gallery with its masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age by Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael, and others.

We spent quite a bit of time with Rembrandt's “Nightwatch,” one of the most prominently exhibited paintings.

From the available information sheet, we became aware of a lot of details that the casual observer would miss: the chicken hanging from a young girl's belt, the mascot of the guard unit, or Rembrandt's face peering out from behind one of the soldiers. The claws of the dead chicken on the girl's belt represent the “clauweniers” (arquebusiers) and the dead chicken suggests a defeated adversary.

A Family Reunion and a Roman Castellum 

Soest, a small town east of Utrecht was again the location of our Dutch family's reunion. Communication is not a problem because all members speak English and often one or two other languages to boot. We always have fun distinguishing the various German, Austrian, and Swiss or the British, Canadian, and U.S. accents.

One of Ulrike's distant cousins had just moved with his wife and young child from Mexico to Amsterdam, the Netherland's capital city. While both their English was excellent, they spoke no Dutch (yet) and it'll be interesting to see their progress when we see them again. (Maybe next year?)

While my Dutch had improved substantially and I could follow many Dutch conversations, speaking fluently remains a challenge. Nearly all of the Dutch relatives' English is better than my Dutch. Besides, they're eager to practice their English.

We always learn something new about the area or city where the reunion takes place. Castellum Hoge Woerd, Netherlands - Gamesforlanguage.comThis time we all went on an excursion to the Castellum Hoge Woerd, in De Meern, near Utrecht. This is a replica of a Roman fort with an exhibit of a recently discovered Roman river barge (below). It took us back to the time the Romans ruled in the area. (see also:

Roman barge - The museum is brand new, with free entrance. Interactive displays of Roman life and culture added to the interesting stories of our guide: He imagined what could have caused the sinking of the over 90 feet long barge as the Roman skipper was guiding it down the river. (The river since then has changed its course, and is now called the Oude Rijn.)

The river's mud had preserved both the hull and the skipper's tool chest quite well for nearly 2000 years. It made this an extraordinary find and allowed for many speculations about the skipper (a veteran Roman soldier?), his skills as a carpenter, the load the barge might have carried, and his likely connection to the leader of the Roman Castellum. (Did he know him from serving with him earlier?) The barge was found close to the location of the original castle, of which only foundations remained. It was part of the Roman fortification line, the limes that stretched across Europe.

These excursions always present wonderful opportunities to talk with family members in the bus, during a coffee break, or when looking at something of common interest!

Fietsen” (biking) to the Dunes

Soest Dunes - Gamesforlanguage.comSoest lies about over 80 miles inland from the coast. Discovering large stretches of sand dunes during a bike trip therefore was quite surprising. (If you are interested in the origin of "fietsen", read our next post: European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language)

The dunes were created by heavy westerly winds during the second to last ice age. (see: “Soester Duinen” Dutch Wikipedia) Later, woods and heath grew around it. The area is now a nature reserve and a popular place for bike and walking tours. It is also a beautiful spot to just sit and enjoy the stunning natural landscape. Families with children used a brilliant Sunday afternoon to enjoy the beach-less dunes, as you see on this picture.

The Dutch have developed extensive, numberedsenior bikers in the Netherlands - bike networks, for which already many apps exist. I downloaded the Android app “knooppunten” (junctions). It lets you plan your trip, provides a map with the bike path and numbers, and gives you various statistics.

On this Sunday afternoon, we saw a wide range of bikers on these bike paths: Families with young children on the parents' bikes or riding in front of them; groups of seniors on a leisurely outing, (see picture right) riding high on their typical Dutch bikes; teams of quite determined looking men in full gear on their racing bikes.

What was quite noticeable for citizens of the U.S.: Except for the men with their racing gear, (and maybe a few of the younger children), none of the bikers wore a helmet!

Canal Cruising

The next stage of our Europe trip this year was a week on the Dutch canals with friends from the U.S. This was the fourth time we were canal cruising in the Netherlands.

Gliding through the country side at about 5 miles/hour lets you take in many sights you'll miss when traveling by car – but this will be the topic of a next post...

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Learn Italian Social Media Terms With Facebook

Gamesforlanguage Facebook PageAs we and others have suggested, setting your phone, tablet, Mac/PC, etc. to the language you want to learn is a great way to increase your daily exposure to that language.

Maybe you're not yet ready to do this for all your electronic gadgets and applications. But, if you're a Facebook user, that's a good place to start. You'll be able to pick up Italian social media terms and pay attention to some Italian grammar forms at the same time. (Gamesforlanguage's Facebook page in Italian, above, left)


You easily can set your Facebook language on your computer or laptop (temporarily, if you want) to Italian. On your personal Facebook page, (see mine, below, right) Facebook Page  Ulrikepull down the arrow, top right, click on “Settings” then click on “Language” (left margin).

Beside “What language do you want to use Facebook in?” click on “Edit,” pull down “Italiano,” and Save Changes.

Setting your language back to English:

To get back to English, you just need to do the reverse, but now use the Italian links: Pull down the arrow, top right, go to “Impostazioni” (Settings), then click on “Lingua” (Language).

Beside the question “Che lingua vuoi usare in Facebook?” click on “Modifica” (Edit). Pull down English, and save by clicking on “Salve le modifiche” (Save the changes). “Annulla” means “Cancel.”

Facebook - managing your pages in Italian - Gamesforlanguage.comSETTING 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. (I imagine that it's similar for Android phones and Tablets.)

Click on Settings, General, Language & Region, and change your iPhone/iPad language to Italiano.

Setting your language back to English:

Go to “Impostazioni” (Settings), then “Generali” (General), “Lingua e Zona” (Language & Region), “Lingua iPhone/iPad” (iPhone/iPad Language), and finally, “English/inglese.”


To interact with you, Facebook uses the friendly, familiar “tu” form. For example, “Your pages” is “Le tue pagine.”

Or, see the familiar imperative form. “Describe who you are” is “Descrivi chi sei.” The polite forms would be: “Le sue pagine” and “Descriva chi è.” (See more about the familiar imperative forms below.)


The vocabulary you'll learn by navigating your Facebook page in Italian is both sophisticated and generally useful. Besides, you can learn some basic grammar forms pretty painlessly, simply by seeing them over and over again in a functional context.

Cerca persone, luoghi, e cose - Search persons, places, and things

Trova amici - Find friends

Diario - Timeline (“diary/log”)

Informazioni - About (“informations”)

Altro - More (“other”)

In the Profile (Profilo) section: 

In breve - Intro (“briefly”)

Descrivi chi sei - Describe yourself (“describe who you are”)

Home: (Home)

Modifica Profilo - Change your Profile

Lingua - Language

Preferiti - Favorites

Notizie - News

Pagine - Pages

Gruppi - Groups

Applicazioni - Apps

Seeing a Post and reacting to it:

Reacting to post - Facebook

X ha aggiunto - X has added

X ha condiviso - X has shared

X ha aggiornato - X has updated

Mi piace - Like (“I like it/It pleases me”)

Commenta - Comment

Scrivi un commento - Write a comment

Condividi - Share

Rispondi - Reply

Visualizza traduzione - Show translation

Creating a Post:

A cosa stai pensando? - What's on your mind? (“What are you thinking about?”)

Avvenimento importante - Life Event (“important event”)

Managing your Pages:

Le tue Pagine - Your Pages

Crea una Pagina - Create a Page

Gestisci le Pagine - Manage the Pages

Crea un gruppo - Create a group

Nuovi gruppi - New groups

Impostazioni - Settings

Esci - Log out (“leave”)

Centro assistenza - Help (“help center”)


To translate “Like,” Italian uses the verb “piacere” for the idiomatic expression “Mi piace” (I like it/I enjoy it, or more literally: It pleases me).

You often hear “mi piace” and variations

“ti piace” (you like),

“gli piace” (he likes), etc. in conversational Italian.

The word “piacere” is also a masculine noun and used in common expressions such as

“per piacere” (please);

“con piacere” (with pleasure/gladly);

“che piacere vederti” (great to see you);

“è un piacere conoscerla” (pleased to meet you);

“fare un piacere a qn” (to do sb a favor), and others.

(Our Italian Quick Game “Mi dispiace” (I'm sorry/I regret) let's you practice a few of the “piacere” variations.)


Familiar Imperative Forms

For commands like “find, search, comment, share, view, write, log out” etc., you can learn the Italian familiar imperative forms. It's a fun and easy way to get these forms firmly into your mind.

These take an - a ending (which is also in the infinitive ending):

trovare - trova (to find - find! fam.)

cercare - cerca (to search - search! fam.)

commentare - commenta (to comment - comment! fam.)

creare - crea (to create - create! fam.)

visualizzare - visualizza (to view - view! fam.)

These take an -i ending (with verbs that have infinitive ending of -ire or -ere):

condividere - condividi (to share - share! fam.)

gestire - gestisci (to manage - manage! fam.)

risponere - rispondi (to answer - answer! fam.)

scrivere - scrivi (to write - write! fam.)

uscire - esci (to log out - log out! fam.)

Noun Plurals

Masculine nouns ending in -o:

il gruppo - i gruppi (group)

il commento - i commenti (comment)

il luogo - i luoghi (place; note the plural spelling)

Masculine nouns starting with a vowel:

l'amico - gli amici (friend, m.)

l'informazione - gli informazioni (information)

l'impostazione - gli impostazioni (setting)

Feminine nouns ending in -a:

la persona - le persone (person)

la lingua - le lingue (language)

la pagina - le pagine (page)

la cosa - le cose (thing)

This is just some of what you can do. There are lots more tabs you can pull down, for example the “Informazioni” (About) or the “Altro” (More) tabs.

Or click on other options in “Impostazioni,” (Settings), such as “Notifiche” (Notifications), or “Persone che ti seguono” (Followers/Persons who follow you). One click leads to another and to more Italian.

Since the language is functional and you may already know the English for many of the terms and sentences, you'll be able to easily guess what the Italian means.

Whatever you don't know, you can quickly check against your English Facebook page, or look up online.

Have fun! It's a taste of what immersion in Italian may feel like.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Travel Memories 1 - Michael in Frankfurt am Main

Frankfurt a.M.The travel stories, which are the basis of 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.

That we chose Frankfurt for Michael's first stop in Germany was no accident: My husband Peter grew up in Bad Nauheim, a small town 20 miles north of Frankfurt. (Skyline of Frankfurt across the Main River at sunset) 

Ken Burns' PBS documentary reminded us recently that Franklin Roosevelt had attended school in Bad Nauheim for several weeks, while his father sought the water cure for his heart condition. (Read our post: Where “Bad” doesn't mean “bad” - Franklin Roosevelt in Germany...)

Visiting Frankfurt? Here's a short introduction to this lively, cosmopolitan German city. We'll also list a few basic terms in German that will help you in your travels.

We'll follow Michael's discoveries in Frankfurt, for those of you who have done or are doing our German 1 course: Michael in Deutschland.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms.

Quick Facts about Frankfurt

Frankfurt am Main is located on an ancient ford (German: "Furt") on the Main River in the federal state of Hesse.

(There's also a Frankfurt an der Oder, a city that is located on the Oder River in the state of Brandenburg, at the Polish border.)

Frankfurt am Main is the 5th largest city in Germany. Its metropolitan area has a population of over 5 million. The city is an important financial center. Its stock exchange (Frankfurter Wertpapierbörse, FWB) ranks among the top 10 stock exchanges of the world. (Frankfurt with the twin towers of the "Deutsche Bank" below)

Frankfurt is also known for its trade fairs, which go back in history to the Middle Ages. The city hosts the world's largest book fair, which takes place annually in October. The first Frankfurt Book Fair was held in 1485. (For further reading)

der Fluss - the riverFrankfurt a.M. - Deutsch Bank Towers

das Bundesland - the federal state

die Grenze - the border

die Stadt - the city

der Großraum - the metropolitan area

die Bevölkerung - the population

das Finanzzentrum - the financial center

die Börse - the stock exchange

die Buchmesse - the book fair

Frankfurt Airport 

Michael is a young student who learned some German at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to Germany.

On his flight to Frankfurt, Michael chats in German with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him.

Frankfurt airport is the 4th busiest airport in Europe, after London, Paris, and Istanbul. With its 297 destinations in 104 countries (as of 2015), Frankfurt's airport may have the most international destinations in the world. (Further information)

As Michael goes through passport control, he continues to use his German. Responding to the standard immigration/passport control questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to Germany and how long he will stay. 

der Flug - the flightGerman passport control

der/die Flugbegleiter(in) - the flight attendant m/f

der Flughafen - the airport

die Passkontrolle - the Passport Control

Sind Sie geschäftlich hier? - Are you here on business?

Wie lange bleiben Sie? - How long are you staying?

Eine gute Zeit! - Have a good time!

Districts of Frankfurt

Frankfurt is divided into 46 districts. The financial center spreads across several districts in and near the inner city.

A little farther out, you'll find a number of residential areas that are still well-connected by subway and tram to the city center and its core, the historical quarter.

Leipziger Straße, where Michael's aunt and uncle live, is a charming street with bistros, shops, and apartments in the residential district called Bockenheim.

Not far from Leipziger Straße is one of the four campuses of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität with its lively student quarter.

(Aerial view of Frankfurt-Bockenheim below, right)

der Stadtteil - the (city) districtFrankfurt Bockenheim

die Innenstadt - the inner city

die Wohngegend - the residential area

die U-Bahn - the subway

das Universitätsgelände (der Campus) - the campus

das Studentenviertel - the student quarter

die Kneipe - the pub

das Geschäft - the shop

Der Römerberg

Michael's cousin Julia shows him around Frankfurt's historic quarter ("Altstadt").

Römerberg market place - Frankfurt a.M.They walk across the central market square, which is called "Römerberg," (see picture left with Justizia statue) literally translated as "Roman mountain." Curiously enough, the name may have nothing to do with early Roman settlement, which can be documented for the time between 75 and 260 A.D. (or if you prefer, C.E.)

Rather, there are various speculations about the origin of the name "Römerberg." One idea is that the name comes from the presence of Italian merchants that frequented the popular meeting place for fairs and markets during the Middle Ages.

Another is that the square was considered a focal point for celebrations during the Holy Roman Empire (a multi-ethnic empire, which lasted from the early Middle Ages to the early 19th century and included, among others, the Kingdoms of Germany, Bavaria, Burgundy, and Italy.) For more information click here.

Frankfurt was heavily bombed during World War II (1939-1945) and its historic city center was reduced to rubble. Most of Frankfurt was rapidly built up again, but without much attention paid to architectural style.

However, city planning took hold in the 60s and 70s and in the 1980s, some of the buildings in the historic city center were rebuilt in the old style. In 2010/11 a new effort was started, called the "Dom-Römer Projekt," to reconstruct another 35 buildings using old historical plans.

Reconstruction has included the timber-framed houses on the Römerberg, as well as the city hall, called "der Römer." The step-gabled house became Frankfurt's city hall in the 15th century and has been the seat of city government ever since.

(See picture below right of Frankfurt old town.)

der Berg - the mountain Frankfurt old town

die Römer - the Romans

der Römer - Frankfurt's city hall

das Rathaus - the city hall

das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages

die Altstadt - the history quarter

der Marktplatz - the market place

das Gebäude - the building

das Fachwerkhaus - the timber-framed house

der Weltkrieg - the world war

Die Zeil

During their walk through the historic center, his cousin Julia asks Michael if he wants to go to the Zeil with her to do some shopping. It's about a 10 minute walk from the Römerberg to get there.

Die Zeil is a well-known, busy shopping street in the center (Innenstadt) of Frankfurt. Its name dates back to the 14th century, when it referred to a specific row of houses. Over the centuries, the street was extented and became a boulevard of palaces, grand buildings in various architectural styles, fine restaurants, and numerous department stores. Many of these were not rebuilt after the second World War.

From 2004 to 2009, the Zeil underwent major renovations, and the Myzeil shopping arcade with its gigantic glass façade was added. It has eight floors and its architecture is stunning.

(See picture of MyZeil shopping arcade below, right)

die Zeile - the rowMyZeil - Frankfurt a.M.

die Einkaufsstraße - the shopping street

der Reiseführer - the travel guide

die Renovierung - the renovation

das Kaufhaus - the department store

die Architektur - the architecture

Das Frankfurter Goethe-Haus

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Germany's most famous writer, was born and grew up in Frankfurt am Main, then still an Imperial Free City of the Holy Roman Empire.

Goethe got his education from private tutors, with a special focus on languages (Latin, Greek, French, Italian, English, and Hebrew). He loved drawing, and read as much as he could of literature, history, and religion, in books that were in his father's library.

In 1765, at the age of 16, he (reluctantly) began his law studies, at the universities of Leipzig and Straßburg, finishing his law degree in Frankfurt in 1771. During his time as a student, he became close friends with other writers, fell in and out of love, and started writing passionate poetry himself. In 1772, he gave up his law career and left Frankfurt.

Goethe is probably best known for two works. One is his loosely autobiographical Sturm and Drang novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther" (1774), which he wrote in the course of six weeks. Upon publication, the novel instantly made him world famous. People started dressing and acting like the young Werther. Unfortunately, it also led to some copycat suicides.

Goethe's other well-known work is the drama "Faust I" (published in 1806). This was a reworking of the old Faust legend - a scholar's pact with the devil - that had been popularized by Marlowe in his "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" (1604).

The Goethe-Haus (see picture below, right) documents the writer's formative years in Frankfurt. (For further reading about Goethe, click on this Wiki entry

der Dichter - the poet, writerGoethe Haus - Frankfurt a. M.

die Kaiserstadt - the Imperial City

die Bildung/Ausbildung - the education

die Sprache - the language

die Bibliothek - the library

das Jurastudium - the law studies

das Gedicht - the poem

Sturm und Drang - Storm and Stress (early Romanticism)

Die Leiden des jungen Werther - The Sorrows of Young Werther

Michael spends a few more days in Frankfurt. Among the other sites he visits, these may also interest you:

Other Places to visit in Frankfurt

The Archäologische Garten: an archeological museum that includes remnants of ancient Roman settlement.

Frankfurt Cathedral: the city's main cathedral, constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries. Roman-German emperors were crowned here during the time of the Holy Roman Empire.

Haus Wertheim: a timber-framed house on the Römerberg that was undamaged during World War II.

The Alte Oper: the former opera house, built in 1880.

Michael's Next Stop

Heidelberg - GermanyFrom Frankfurt, Michael takes the train to Heidelberg. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston.

Register or log in again and continue with the German 1 course. When you reach the Heidelberg Scene you'll also learn the English translation of the town's name.

In Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg? we further speculate about why Twain stayed in Heidelberg for three months in 1878.

Twain had a love-hate relationship with the German language and his The Awful German Language - an Appendix to his 1880 book, A Tramp Abroad, is a fun read for anyone learning German.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Learning and Practicing Spanish – Language Zen Update

Language Zen home pageRecently, Ulrike reviewed Language Zen - one of our partner sites for learning Spanish. While I had also used it intermittently, I really got into practicing with it during the last several weeks.

I also discovered a few features that are really helpful, but that I had not paid much attention to before.

“Literally” vs. "Meaning”

For translating a sentence, you often have the option to select “literally” vs. “meaning.”not a single man knows it - alternative Spanish translations - Language Zen &

For example, to translate “Not a single man knows it.” I was very tempted to start with something like: No un solo hombre ...

However, when I clicked on the “literally” option, it suggested I say: “Not it (male) he knows not one man,” for my translation into Spanish.

And, as ningun had been introduced previously, I remembered that it was the translation for not one. Thus I was able to translate the sentence correctly. Then, when I confirmed my response, I was given the other possible correct answers, i.e. I could also have used “señor” and a different word order.

Using the“Try Again” Option

Earlier, I'd been frustrated when I made a mistake or could not remember a word or form. I finally discovered the benefits of the “Try again” link. Not only can I correct a mistake, but by retyping it correctly (or saying it again, see below) it helps me to remember it better. It also improves my accuracy score.

That woman has something in her hands - Spanish translation - Gamesforlanguage.comA case in point would be translating the following sentence: That woman has something in her hands.”

Using the “literally” option, I see that in Spanish you would not say “her hands” but “the hands.” However, I had forgotten that the Spanish word for “hand” has a feminine gender – although it ends with an “o.”

As I check my answer I both HEAR the correct translation and am informed of my mistake: los is crossed out, and I read las is missing from your answer.

I can now rewrite (or say) the sentence with the correct female pronoun “las.” Not only has it now cemented the correct gender for “la mano” in my mind, but I am also are credited for the correct answer in the progress chart. (Love that!)

Translation Alternatives

As I pointed out above, one other translation alternatives - Language Zen and Gamesforlanguage.comfeature I find particularly helpful is getting translation alternatives for many English sentences. In many other online programs there is often only ONE possible correct answer.

Language Zen gives lots of translations alternatives both for the vocabulary as well as for the word order of a translated sentence.

The screen shot (on the right) for the translation of “Can you (formal) tell me what happened?” shows a whole series of options, including different verb options for  tell, and happened, different word order, etc. 

(You'll also note that I did not conjugate the verb pasar correctly - or, the voice recognition did not like my pronunciation and I failed to correct the shown spelling.)

Lesson Accuracy and Progress

Language Zen accuracy chart - Gamesforlanguage.comOne of the motivating factors for me is the “lesson accuracy” at the end of each lesson. See the screenshot of my last lesson: 98%. I just hate it when I can't get close to a 100%, i.e. a perfect score.

My score tends to slip when I lose concentration and get tired. That is also a good reminder that it's time to stop and do something else.

Under “View Progress,” you'll see the words that I've practiced multiple times (green) Language Zen Progress Chart - Gamesforlanguageand the new words (blue) that were recently introduced.

Clicking on the “View Progress” tab lets me see several other learning metrics and also check how I'm doing in several categories: words, phrases, facts and meanings.

The screenshot on the right shows how my recent re-engagement with Language Zen is reflected in those categories.

Courses – Watching Sports

With the Olympics recently happening, I thought I would check out the “Courses” and the “Watching Sports” topic.

screenshot: which channelIndeed I was learning much relevant vocabulary, e.g. “partido,” “canal,” “defender,” “boletos,” etc.

For the translation of “On which channel is the game?” I had neglected to use the “literally” option (On what channel they GIVE the game?) and promptly made a mistake. Let's hope that I now remember to use “dar” and translate: “¿En qué canal dan el partido?

I also learned that “One has to defend well” translates to “Hay que defender bien.” Again the “literally” translation option (“There is that to defend well”) had given me the clue to avoid a mistake and pick up this idiomatic expression.

Using the Microphone

I'm also using the microphone more often now to enter myLanguage Zen screenshot translations. This is only practical when you are by yourself without much background noise.

The voice recognition is not always perfect as this screenshot (right) shows – it understood my “tienes” as “quieres,” but that is also easy to correct.

I noticed that the system appears to be getting used to my still imperfect pronunciation. Either the system's improving with time, or I'm getting better (or maybe both ...)

In any case, having the translation transcribed speeds up the practice, even considering the necessary corrections. It also lets me do more translations within my daily time quota, currently set to 3 hours per week. (I plan to double this time once I have again completed my 2 daily Scenes of our GamesforLanguage Spanish 1 course.)

At the moment, the transcription of dictated translations does not work on my iPad. It does work in my Android phone and tablet with the Chrome browser. We understand that Language Zen is working on an app, which should fix that issue. 

Learning with Songs

Language Zen song - Julieta VenegasThe idea of learning with songs attracted us first to Language Zen. I have just started taking full advantage of this feature by playing Julieta Venegas' wonderful song Eres para mí (You are for me).

It's not only a great way to learn a Spanish song, but the repetition of phrases and sentences certainly makes you remember certain expressions. 

For example, it will be hard to forget the refrain Eres para mí and its expansion to  eres para  yo soy para ti.

The song feature lets you listen to the song, see the lyrics either in Spanish or in English. (You can switch between either as the song plays.) Then you can click on Start lesson on the lyrics.tus ojos mirandome - Language Zen

After that, you're asked to translate the English words, phrases and sentences of the song into Spanish. Again you can use the microphone and when you check your answer you'll often hear the fragments of the song again.

For example, in Your eyes watching me you'll pay attention the the gerund of mirar and in this, as in many other instances, how Spanish words are linked: mirándome.

I especially like songs with a memorable refrain and melody. Language Zen's selection is still limited, but you may well find a song that you like and that you'll want to learn. And when you do it with the Language Zen song feature, you'll not only learn the song, but also improve your Spanish skills at the same time.

In taking advantage of the various options Language Zen provides, I'm not only enjoying the lessons more, but with my increased accuracy percentage I can also see that I am getting better!

Realizing that I am making progress is definitely an important motivator to continue learning and practicing.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Language Zen is a partner site with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Why Context is Essential for Language Learning

Languages GlobeRecently I read again Steve Kaufmann's post Meaningful Context in Language Learning. He tells the story of a Chinese family.

The family immigrated to Canada 12 years ago when the daughter was 4 years old. She is now 16 and speaks English fluently, while her parents still have great difficulties and can't speak English well at all.

Steve traces their lack of English language skills to the fact that English is not very important to them. [...] They don’t have a strong sense of wanting to participate in an English-speaking society so there isn’t that context of wanting to participate in the language, but context goes beyond that.”

Clearly, lack of exposure to the new foreign language – as so often happens in immigrant enclaves in all countries – may well be the main reason the parents in Steve's anecdote never learned to speak English fluently.

In their daily lives, English did not occur in a “meaningful context for them,” and that may explain why they were not motivated to learn.

Why immigrants learn or do not learn the language of their new country is a complicated question. It involves issues of time and money, stresses of daily life, problems with assimilation, integration into the local community, the language used at work, availability of resources, etc. All or any of these may hold a person back from becoming functionally fluent in a new language.

Comprehensible Input

Steve Kaufmann argues that to get beyond just the basics of ahand on laptop - Stock Unimited language, a learner has overcome personal hurdles and also learn with interesting comprehensible input.

That means being exposed to language materials that are relevant, that “resonate” with a person's interests.

With all the technology available these days, you can be pretty much in control of your own language learning, though sometimes this may be a hit-or miss process to find your level.

To get the right kind of exposure to your new language, you can set up the right context for learning your new language by reading books and articles, listening to audios, watching films and videos that genuinely interest you.

But just LISTENING alone will not let you learn a new language unless you have a way of figuring out what the sounds and words of the new language mean. Whatever you're listening to has to be comprehensible - language that you understand, at least about 80% of it.

The Story” and Games

French Dialogue screenshot - Gamesforlanguage.comOur approach at GamesforLanguage is one way of providing “comprehensible input.” We teach vocabulary and grammar structures with short games and “The Story” - a sequential and connected series of dialogues and short narratives that tell of a young man's travels in one of four European countries.

While the different games help the learner to practice all four skills (listening, reading, writing, and speaking), the dialogues and narratives introduce and repeat grammatical structures, which he or she will recognize and/or, at times, be alerted to.

For example, already in the second Scene (lesson) of our French 1 course, Deal no Deal screenshot - Gamesforlanguage.comwe bring in the subjunctive, with the sentence “Je suis contente que vous parliez...” in our dialogue (above left). 

We then briefly explain the form “vous parliez in our “Deal no Deal?” game (see right). Twenty Scenes later, the expression “je suis contente” is used again, but with the subjunctive of another verb.

Will we teach all subjunctive forms of these particular verbs? No, but the learner is alerted to the context in which such forms are used and will soon start to recognize new subjunctive forms as they come up.

The Limitation of Flashcards

I love flashcards and we use them in our games. Learning vocabulary is clearly necessary and flashcards are a great tool for that.

But simply memorizing lists of words is not enough to really understand and speak a foreign language. Individual words are the building blocks. But you need to know how to build sentences with them and how these relate to each other in a conversation. 

The goal is to internalize how the language works for communication, in other words, the grammar rules that govern speech. That is best done in context. In addition, you have to understand what language fits into the given context.

Why Context Matters - An Example for French

Taking a sample French “core conversation,” in our French 1 course, I'd like to show how learners would focus on different aspects of the language at different stages of their learning, and why context is important:

In this short dialogue, a young man, Daniel, is at the home of a friend. There he meets Mathilde for the first time.

woman shaking hand - Gamesforlanguage.comDaniel: Bonjour Mathilde, enchanté de faire votre connaissance.
Virginie: Daniel, ne sois pas si formel. Vous pouvez vous tutoyer!
Daniel: Ça ne te dérange pas, Mathilde?
Mathilde: Bien sûr que non.

Hello Mathilde, delighted to meet you.
Daniel, don't be so formal. You (two) can say tu to each other!
You don’t mind, Mathilde?
Of course not.

Initially you may mostly focus on:

  • individual words and phrases
  • learning their meaning, practicing their pronunciation and spelling
  • finding a way to practice the sentences (Speak them aloud to whoever is willing to listen, type or write them out, hang the page up in the kitchen or your office.)

Soon, you may also want to know:

  • basic conjugations of the verbs used: faire, pouvoir, déranger, tutoyer, être
  • negation in French with ne ... pas: ne sois pas; ça ne dérange pas

Replaying this dialog again later on, you may discover and understand:

  • sentence structure: the form of a statement, a command, a type of question
  • other grammatical forms: the imperative of être: ne sois pas [tu]; a reflexive verb with a reciprocal meaning: vous pouvez vous tutoyer

Key Points to consider:

What is important about the context the dialog provides?

  • the age of the people (here they are students in their twenties)
  • how well people know each other
  • the circumstance of the conversation

Why take a conversation rather than individual phrases or sentences?

  • you'll better remember the words/phrases related to the context
  • you'll pick up cultural information (i.e. students say “tu”)

What will you have learned initially, and later on, either explicitly or intuitively?

  • 20 useful words, in a meaningful context
  • negation with ne ... pas
  • 5 verbs and a conjugation of each (Conjugations are shown in the game: Deal no Deal?)
  • 3 types of sentences
  • an imperative form of être and a reflexive form of se tutoyer

Once you've absorbed a few dozen conversations and acquired more than friends in a coffee house conversation - Yay Images500 content words, you're probably ready to engage in relevant, personal conversations with others.

Based on our own experience of learning several foreign languages as adults, we know that we can best retain and apply words and phrases when they relate to objects, actions, feelings, etc. that we encounter in our own life. (That's why we chose a travel story.)

We have found that it's best to learn a language in the context of a topic that interests us. It lets us recall words and phrases as part of meaningful statements, questions, etc. Moreover, when we use them in new sentence combinations, applying the grammar rules becomes much easier.

Discovering grammatical structures in context during the learning process is rewarding and more effective than drilling conjugations, tenses, etc.

Once we're out of the basics in a language, it's helpful to get more detailed grammar explanations. Sometimes though, explanations are just confirmations of our own discoveries.

There are plenty of ways to get comprehensible input” for many of the more popular languages. The extensive offering of free or inexpensive apps and online courses will allow you to choose and combine different approaches that fit your needs and learning preferences.

Real Conversations

People in Sevilla - Gamesforlanguage.comFinally, practicing your language in real conversations is a must!

As the Finnish born linguist Dr. Marjo Mitsutomi describes in Some Fundamental Principles of Language Teaching and Learning, you need interaction with others (speaking and writing) about topics that are relevant to you.

She argues: “mere exposure is not sufficient … interaction in the language is needed in order for the learner to communicate personal meaning in the target language. [...] Language practice which takes place in relevant context will then result in the acquisition of the language.”

Or, said in a different way: If your goal is to engage in relevant, personal conversations with others – the “context approach” is a good way to get there. 

As the Language Lizard Blog stresses, the value of context should be remembered even when teaching language to young children: “We use language for communication and therefore it is best learned in its natural form: through discussions, conversations, and stories.”

Yes, certainly, gestures, pointing to objects, repeating, etc. are all ways children learn to speak their native language(s). But from very young on, language for children is also a back and forth between them and others.

Adults who live in an immersive language environment can improve their new language skills tremendously if the language engages them in the context of their daily lives (and, in addition, if they practice speaking, and study reading and writing, as children have to do as well).

The Process of Communication

When you speak with someone in a foreign language, many things communication - Jay Imageare happening all at once. This involves multiple skills.

You need to follow the stream of sounds, catch where words start and end, interpret what the words mean, and create responses.

As far as it's important to the meaning, you have to figure out the essential grammar. (Is the verb in the present, past, or future? What pronouns or personal verb endings are used?, etc.) You also have to understand what kind of sentence it is. (Is it a question, a statement, an exclamation, a request or command?)

On top of this, it all has to make sense in the context of the situation. At the same time, you have to keep up your side of the conversation. Your brain has to construct meaningful responses, and you have to produce the right kind of sound stream to be understood.

That's a lot going on at the same time. All conversations from basic to advanced take place in a specific context.

Sounds are key. We know that imitating and producing sounds starts early in childhood. Learning to hear and say sounds forms part of a child's brain development.

However, as we grow up, we lose our ability to HEAR and DISTINGUISH sounds that don't exist in our native language (See our post: Beyond "Learning a Language Like a Child"). While this also makes it harder to sound like a native, it does not prevent adults from becoming quite fluent in a second or third language.

If you're not in the country and don't have a live community that speaks your new language, you should head to one of the virtual “language learning communities,” which Kirsten Winkler, Founder and Editor of EDUKWEST, calls Pubs of the Global Village. There, you can practice what you know and you'll continue to learn and improve your vocabulary and pronunciation - until you sound (almost) like a native.

We like italki a lot and use it ourselves to practice some of our languages. But there are many other language exchange sites such as Speaky, HelloTalk, WeSpeke, Tandem, etc. where you can find conversation partners.

It may take a little time, but you are likely to find someone with whom you can talk in your target language about topics that interest both of you. 

And that's when your language studies really start to pay off: When you can have an interesting conversation and are really communicating with another person in their language.  

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of 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.

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

The Languages of Curious George – and Documentary

Margaret and Hans ReyWe recently joined the Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about the lives of the Curious George creators, Hans and Margret Rey.

Before settling in the US they had traveled to and lived in several different countries. 

The Rey's Curious George books have been translated into many languages after they were first published in the US in 1941. Curious George, the little mischievous monkey they created, had different names in other languages, but the images stayed the same.

Curious George's Other Names

Readers of this post may know Curious George by his other names, to just name a few:

French: “George le singe”

German: “Coco”

Italian: “Curioso come George”

Spanish: “Jorge, el Curioso”

Portuguese; “George, o Curioso”

Dutch: Nieuwsgierig Aapje

Danish: Peter Pedal

Swedish: Nicke Nyfiken

Finnish: Utelias Vili

Hungarian: Bajkeverö majom

I remember reading “George le singe” to my niece in Switzerland while learning French at the same time.

Margret and Hans Rey's Story

This Wikipedia excerpt summarizes the Rey's storyThe Journey that saved Curious George - Amazon

Hans Augusto Reyersbach was born in Hamburg, Germany, as was his wife Margret. Hans' and Margret's fathers were German Jews; Margret's mother was not. The couple first met in Hamburg at Margret's sister's 16th birthday party.

They met again in Brazil, where Hans was working as a salesman of bathtubs and Margret had gone to escape the rise of Nazism in Germany. They married in 1935 and moved to Paris in August of that year.[3]

They lived in Montmartre and fled Paris in June 1940 on self-made bicycles, carrying the Curious George manuscript with them.[4][5]

If you'd like to learn more about the Rey's wartime escape from Paris, the book by Louise Borden and Allan Drummond, The Journey that saved Curious George, tells the full story (see picture right) 

Our Connection to Curious George

When our children grew up, we read to them from several of the The Rey Center - Waterville Calley, NHCurious George books. They also watched some of the early animated Curious George films on TV.

We've now enjoyed for many years the programs organized by The Margaret and H.A. Rey Center at the Curious George Cottage, in Waterville Valley, NH. It's the place where we spend our summers hiking, swimming, playing tennis. During the winter months, we often come up to ski.

Just last week, we listened to the Center's 2016 Artist-in-Residence, Nicky Philips, as she explained her project for a musical about the Rey's lives.

While we never met Margret and Hans in Waterville Valley (Hans died in 1977 and Margret in 1996), we know many who did.

And when we received the kickstarter invitation from Ema Ryan Yamazaki, we did not hesitate.

The Documentary Project

The Curious George Documentary projectHere is Ema's description of her project as posted on the Center's website: (see also the link with video below)

Some of you may know that I’ve been making a documentary about the creators of Curious George, Hans and Margret Rey. Using animation, archival materials, and interviews, the documentary explores the extraordinary lives of the Reys, who fled the Nazis on bicycles with the first Curious George book in their possession.

The documentary also features Waterville Valley, a place the Reys made their summer home, as we learn about the Reys from Waterville residents who knew them, and their experience of watching the Reys create the Curious George books.

In making this documentary, I’ve made three trips to Waterville Valley, including a week of filming last summer as I interviewed those who knew the Reys, as well as the beautiful landscape of the valley. Out of all the places the Reys lived in, from Hamburg to Rio, to Paris, to New York, Waterville Valley is the only place I still very much felt their presence. I can understand why the Reys picked Waterville as a place to call home – it’s special, and I believe that comes through in the documentary I am making.

From Tuesday, July 26, we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete the documentary. Kickstarter is an online crowdfunding platform where projects can connect with “backers” who support projects in return for rewards. We have 30 days to raise $175,000 – it’s an all-or-nothing deal, meaning if we don’t make our goal, we don’t receive any of the funds. So we need your help!

Join us on our journey in completing this documentary. Who the Reys were is why we have George today – and I’m determined to share their story. Check out our Kickstarter campaign, pick your reward (we have quite an array of offerings, from limited editing Curious George mugs to signed movie posters!), and help us spread the word through emails and social media. We are so close in making this film a reality, and are now turning to you to make that possible.

Kickstarter Link:

Ema Ryan Yamazaki Director/Producer/Editor

Facebook page:



The Rey's Languages

At last week's talk at the Rey Center, we learned from Nicky Philips that she had visited the Grummond Children's Literary Collection in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This Center had received the Rey's entire literary estate when Margret died in 1996.

As Nicky was researching details about Margret's and Hans' lives, she came across many letters they wrote to each other.

Both spoke German as their native language. Hans had worked in Buenos Aires as a salesman of bathtubs (and where he married Margaret) and spoke Portuguese. They both lived in Paris from 1935 to 1940 and were quite fluent in French.

Interestingly, Nicky found, when looking through the many boxes at the Grummond Center, that all of Margret's and Hans' correspondence with each other was in English.

Those who knew them in Waterville Valley don't recall ever hearing them talk to each other in German either. Maybe they abandoned their native language after having to flee their home country and then their second home in Paris from the Nazis as well? 

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.



Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"MosaLingua" - Learning Italian - A Review

Mosalingua - Gamesforlanguage.comHave you heard of MosaLingua? I hadn't, until a few weeks ago, while I was looking for an iOS app to practice and improve my Italian.

I had put Italian aside for a couple of years, because I wanted to focus on Spanish (and was afraid of interference between the two languages).

It's been a nice way to ease myself back into Italian. I've actually found that using a different program for Italian (than for Spanish) helps me to minimize interference between the two. (I have a visual memory. When I'm recalling a word, I also remember the visual context in which I learned it.)


MosaLingua is a range of flashcard-based vocabulary apps for iPhone,Mosalingua Flashcards iPod, iPad, and Android devices.

It has a great, uncluttered design, easy to use layout, and a number of cool features. 

The vocabulary you learn is extensive and highly practical. Moreover, you can choose what to learn and at what level.

Your learning is driven by a spaced repetition system for refreshing your memory. Ideally, whatever you learn will be reviewed 8 hours later, then 2 days, 8 days, 1 month later, at which time it should be in your long-term memory.

Currently, there are apps for 6 languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Brazilian Portuguese, and for any language combination between them (eg. French for Italian speakers; German for Spanish speakers, etc.).

There are also individual applications that teach Business language, Medical vocabulary, and, for those learning English, Test preparation for TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] and for TOEIC [Test Of English for International Communication].


Mosalingua offersWhen you start, you're asked to set a learning objective: Travel, Speak and socialize, Work and do business, Improve grades, Pass an exam, Other. You can change your objective at any time.

Within an app, you can change the teaching language. I, for example, have the option to learn Italian from any of the 5 other languages. At the moment, my "preferred language" setting is English.

My husband Peter is currently using Spanish as the teaching language to practice his Italian. He actually says that it helps him to not mix up the two languages (as he usually does).

In a couple of weeks, I'll start learning Italian from Spanish to find out whether it works for me as well.

When you begin, you can take a "Level test" (find this in "Settings"), or you can choose a level of difficulty to start with. You can change the difficulty level at any time. Italian has 12 levels.

Next, choose what type of vocabulary you'd like to start with. For Italian, there are 16 Categories and 4 Episodes of a Travel Story: Fabrice's Trip to Cambodia.

The categories include many which you'd typically find in a travel guide, e.g. Eating, Accommodation, Transportation, Shopping, Tourism, Emergencies, Time and Weather, etc. But there also are others, such as Hobbies, Socializing, People, Telecommunications, etc.

Optional Packs for the more advanced users offer further possibilities. There are many materials included in the fee-based Italian apps, as the above screenshot shows. You'll find over 3,000 Flashcards, organized in 16 main and 100 subcategories and 10 levels of difficulty, Tips for studying, 37 Dialogues, 200 "Bonus" items, and more.

Just for registering on MosaLingua's website, you can download an ebook: "The 6 essential tools to learn a language," as well as 5 Phrasebooks (French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Portuguese), and more. 


Mosalinguag Learning stepsNow, you're ready to start learning the 5 flashcards that show up.

You'll follow these Learning Steps:

  • Listen & Pronounce: Then Repeat and Record.
  • Memorize: An English cue and a picture help you remember the word or phrase.
  • Write: You translate words, or arrange words into short sentences.
  • Self-Assessment: You test yourself with an English cue and a picture. Your self-assessment determines the recall schedule. (You can choose: Again, Difficult, Good, Perfect.)

(As I already knew the first batch of Italian words, I clicked on "Perfect," only to be alerted that this "assessment" will not provide any information for the recall schedule. So, I set a more difficult level and switched to "Good" for the next few times.)

You'll practice these flashcards again eight hours later or the next day, before you start learning with new flashcards. 


There are 34, Dialogues. The audio of each is about 60 to 90 Mosalingua Dialoguesseconds long. They depict specific situations, such as Introducing yourself, Taking a taxi, Talking about your trip, Buying a bus ticket, On the phone, etc.

As with individual words and phrases, you can listen to the full dialogue with several options: Audio only, Audio with target language subtitles, Audio with English subtitles.

With each of these options, you learn a little differently. Following a conversation by just hearing it, allows you to focus just on the sounds, while your brain figures what the rush of words means.

It's exhilarating to suddenly start getting the meaning of what you hear.

Finally, you can choose to go through the dialogue sentences to memorize them, with the option of adding any of them to your learning stack.

Under the section "Dialogues," you'll find "Travel Stories." With these, you not only learn travel language, but also follow the adventures of Fabrice on his trip to Cambodia.

At this time, there are 4 Episodes in Italian. The approach is the same as with other Dialogues.


There are few explicit grammar lessons in the early MosaLingua lessons.

Co-founder Luca Sadurny explains: "In my opinion, it's best to start to learn a language by listening, memorizing vocabulary, repeating loud sounds, words and sentences. ... Especially at first, when you learn grammar it can be a real drag when learning how to speak. ... But, [grammar] will prove to be useful later on."

We actually do agree with Luca on this. Focusing on grammar rules too early will inhibit you from speaking. Once you have absorbed the basics of the language and acquired sufficient vocabulary, you'll begin noticing and remembering some of the grammatical patterns. And then you'll want to know more about some of the grammar rules.

From time to time, at the end of the day's practice session, some grammar tips do appear, and, I assume more frequently as I progress.

Also, under "Categories" and "Lessons: Tips for Success," you'll find a section on "Italian Conjugation." It explains the conjugation of the auxiliary verbs "to be" and "have," as well as the conjugation rules for the various tenses of regular verbs.

Some of the tips are not available in the "Lite" version.


The MosaLingua Italian iOS app, which I am using, offers lots of advice and practical tips. Two quick examples out of many:

At the end of the list of words in Level 0 (The Basics), you can tap on "Our advice on how to initiate a conversation with a stranger." You get practical tips, as well as 12 easy conversation starters. These are flashcards with audio, and a translation. For each, you have the option to add it to your learning stack.

Or, after a flashcard practice, I'm told that I've put them into my long-term memory: "Long-Term Memory? What does it mean to have flash cards in your long-term memory? It simply means that the review sessions for these flash cards will be 30 days apart." 


As an inducement for continued study, MosaLingua offers "Bonus Material," which only unlocks after you have reviewed more cards and progressed.

They include historic facts about Italy, quotes of Italian celebrities, Italian proverbs and jokes, as well as further learning advice, memorization techniques, and much more.

As I've just started and have only studied about 50 flashcards to date, there's a lot of bonus material still waiting for me. One of the "language facts" I recently unlocked:

  • Around 59 million people are native speakers of Italian.
  • In total around 85 million people speak Italian around the world.
  • Italian is obviously the official language of Italy, but it's also an official language of Switzerland.
  • You'll find many Italian speakers in Malta, Vatican State, Croatia, Slovenia and France (especially in Corsica). In addition, Italian is the second most spoken language in Argentina.
  • etc.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Another example would be these two Italian quotes, which are easy to memorize and help to remember some of words they include:

  • Un viaggio de mille miglia inizia sempre con un singolo passo. (by Lao Tzeu): A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. (I would, however, translate it as: ... always begins with single step.)
  • Ho un'ottima memoria per dementicare. (by Robert Louis Stevenson): I've a grand memory for forgetting.

You then also have the option to click on an icon and "put this flash card in your learning stack (menu 'Memorize')".


The apps are available on iTunes (for iOS) and Google Play (for Android).

See also for information about the coming Desktop app.

There is a free "Lite" version with reduced content, for each of the languages. Individual language and test apps are +/- $4.99. Business language apps, and app bundles are also available. Check for special offers or discounts.

The advanced learner can buy additional packs: Advanced Vocabulary, Master slang, Sound like a native speaker, Speaking online, Manage at school/university; News vocabulary. (You can find those in Optional Packs, under Categories.)

In Next dialogues (under Travel stories) you can add the final dialogues of Fabrice's trip to Cambodia and his complete trip to the USA, for $2.99.

Compared to the monthly subscription prices of many of the popular online language programs and their free apps, the MosaLingua apps appear like a real deal. And there are the Free "Lite" versions, so you can first try out whether you can learn with them.

Especially when considering that - after purchasing the basic apps - the all-inclusive packs are currently offered at a substantial discount ($10.99 iOS, and $6.99 Android).


  • The fun, clean design
  • The feature to record and play back your voice to check your pronunciation
  • Spaced repetition system for memorization
  • Option to set level and choose categories of vocabulary
  • Option to add and remove and word or phrase from the learning stack
  • Frequent advice and practical tips
  • The dialogues to start practicing listening comprehension
  • The forthcoming desktop app for PC, Mac, Linux users


  • For some, the many options may seem a little overwhelming at the beginning. Once you get familiar with it, however, you'll discover many more ways to learn and practice (and to buy other packages).
  • While the iOS and Android apps are excellent, some users may prefer a larger screen and full keyboard. (A Desktop option is in development.)
  • The travel stories are like a "dubbed" film: eg. in Cambodia everyone speaks Italian. A story happening in the target language country could better address what is particular about Italian culture and language.
  • MosaLingua is based on memorization, which is not the only way we learn. For example, longer stretches of listening and reading - without memorization - help the brain to recognize and process linguistic patterns. (We'd advocate more stories.)
  • No online program or app is going to make you a fluent speaker. You need to line up other resources to practice speaking: a tutor, a language-exchange partner, local language meetups, friends who are native speakers, etc.

Both the iOS and Android apps are well made and easy to use. They offer motivated learners a great way to learn and practice their target language on the go, while commuting or waiting.

And anyone traveling to one of the countries whose languages are offered can quickly pick up some essential travel language with the apps and/or with the free phrase books you can download.


Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: The link above to Mosalingua is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase.

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