We are speaking German with Calvin, our three-year-old grandson. We don't need a "method." His brain is a sponge that soaks up whatever strikes him as fun. Telling him that "apple juice" is "AHP-fell-sahft" has him laughing out loud. He repeats the word a couple of times and looks at me to see if I'm laughing. I'm thrilled. I'm amazed how good his pronunciation is.
Then we're playing trains. Calvin likes the word "Lo-ko-mo-TIH-veh," which I sneak in, as we make the train chug along. Suddenly he laughs again. Then he lets loose a stream of "pretend German." It sounds like German, with its characteristic consonants and intonation, but what he's spouting is total nonsense. I sure can't understand what he's saying. Later, when I think about this, it occurs to me that Calvin is recreating the sounds he hears when my husband and I are having a conversation in German. He doesn't understand many of the words. But he has definitely picked up the melody and the rhythm, in short, the sounds of the German language and is mimicking them well.
In my mind, this clicks with something I noticed when Calvin was an eighteen-month-old toddler. At that age, he was already able to say a few words. These he used insistently when he wanted something. But other times he just talked away - in pure gibberish. But this gibberish had the melody and the rhythm of American English. No question about that. He was talking in nonsense sentences. (Carol Bainbridge, Gifted Children / inventing language? ) Some of his sentences were clearly questions, others were statements, some where emphatic, others more tentative. He was reproducing conversational talk that he heard all the time at home. In what he was saying, occasionally a word would pop up that I could identify as English. Within weeks, the number of individual words increased, which I could understand. A few months later, the gibberish stopped and Calvin started talking in short noun-verb sentences. As a toddler, he had picked up the melody and rhythm of English and was mimicking those perfectly.
And with that, I remember an experience of my own. Five years ago, when my husband and I had just arrived in Rome, we started watching a half hour of TV every evening. We were going to spend several months in Italy, and we were determined to learn Italian. During the morning, we worked with a tutor; in the afternoon, we walked the city; then, after a late dinner, we let an Italian soap opera or news program wash over us. That's what the daily television experience felt like: The language just washed over us. We heard a fast stream of sounds and rhythms. Beautiful sounds. But we barely caught a familiar word. The stream of Italian sounds was gibberish to us. However, over time, this stream of sounds seemed to slow down. Here and there, we started to identify familiar words, then phrases. By the end of our stay in Rome, we could pretty well follow a story, for example, the story of the Italian TV series “Orgoglio,” which was running at that time.
I can well imagine the excitement Calvin feels as he gradually begins to master his languages. I've been there as a mature adult. My brain too went from hearing a stream of gibberish, to understanding words, and then to understanding their meaning. I now watch an online soap opera in Italian called “Un posto al sole” - con mucho gusto. And, I'm looking around for the next language to learn. I love these new beginnings.
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to celebrate my retirement by living for several months in Rome, Italy – to both explore the historical treasures as well as to learn another foreign language. We both were fluent in several languages (German, French, English, and my wife also in Dutch). These were languages we had learned either as children or young adults, living and/or working in the respective countries. However, Italian was to be the first language we were going to learn as mature adults.
A few months before our travels, we began using self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, totaling 90 lessons. This was an accomplishment. We felt quite smug about being able to understand basic Italian, but we also knew that the real test would come when we arrived in Rome.
The drive from Fiumicino airport into Rome to our apartment did not prove conclusive, as our landlord's driver wanted to practice his English – which was clearly better than our Italian.
Our apartment in Trastevere was located in a narrow street, above a bakery/grocery store. Directly opposite was a wonderful little restaurant called “Le mani in pasta.” Here we could try out our Italian. English was not spoken.
We discovered rapidly that our vocabulary was quite limited. What we remembered best were the set phrases we had learned in our language course: How to order a glass of wine or beer, how to buy 100 grams of prosciutto, etc. We also found that while our knowledge of French was quite helpful at times – both Italian and French are Romance languages and share many similar words - at other times our brain simply refused to memorize certain Italian words.
We also realized that by having used mainly CDs and tapes, we had not learned how to read and write in Italian. Through a local bookshop, we found a wonderful young Italian tutor, whose initial writing test quickly ascertained this deficiency. Over the next months, as she worked with us and monitored our daily homework, our confidence grew. We started to understand and enjoy Italian TV and movies, and increasingly conversed with shopkeepers and people we encountered throughout the day.
Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and some discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar rules. In fact, research has shown that such mental exercises can be especially beneficial to an older brain. Playing electronic/computer games does not have to be the purview of children and young adults. Seniors who play language games also exercise their gray cells and have fun doing so. They don't feel guilty. They are learning a new language at the same time!
We now watch Italian movies on a cable channel at home, read Italian newspapers online, and continue to exercise our gray cells. We believe: “If you don't use it – you lose it!”
Fluent in a foreign language in ten days? It's a catchy idea, but can it really happen? Can you become a good tennis player in ten days? Or a great cook? You can't. Skill mastery takes time. So, if you want to learn a language, you have to find a way to make it part of your day.
First you need to get started. You can work at a language learning course, let's say German from a book, from CDs and DVD's, or from a German online course. Or you can faithfully go to a language school. Once you have a good foundation in your new language, you need to maintain momentum and build on your skills. Certainly, you can read books in the foreign language. But you also have to keep finding new ways to learn your new language. You have to keep challenging yourself.
Fortunately, with the wealth of technology available, there are many resources. The Internet opens a new gateway to foreign language text, audio, and video content. French online newspaper articles are as easy to find as Italian news videos and Spanish online soap operas. You can join a foreign language learning website. You can sign up to exchange conversations with someone who is trying to learn English. There are television programs in Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese, etc., on the various international channels in the US. The Language Learning Advisor provides an excellent list of resources. The bottom line is that if you want to become fluent, you have to engage with your new foreign language often and regularly. The key is “often and regularly.” You have to find ways to hear, read, write, and speak your new language. It's as simple or as complicated as that. But whatever you do to start or maintain your foreign language learning, you'll find it fun to play snappy and easy language games. And at any stage, fun and challenging games help maintain your motivation and momentum. They can help you become proficient.
Why Games? Well, why not? If you want to learn a foreign language, you have to play around with it, again and again, until the new language gets under your skin. Games are perfect for that. A “foreign language” isn’t something you cram for a week and then it’s yours. Learning a language is a journey of discovery. Putting the journey into a games format can definitely lighten the experience.
The challenge facing us at gamesforlanguage.com is to find ways to make languages learning into a fun game. I remember how we enticed our American born sons to learn German. We didn’t just give them the German translation of our daily vocabulary. Stories were key. We read stories to them. We unabashedly made up tales as we talked. We built on the stories that they invented. All of this in German, with explanations when they were needed. Our sons ended up mastering the German language pretty well.
As the boys were growing up, video and later computer games were becoming enticing activities. How often did I wish that some of these games had a fun and worthwhile component for learning German!
So here we are in an age when “Games are creeping into everything” (according to Jesse Schell, game designer, who led research projects at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center). Why not instill a playful dimension into learning a foreign language? Why not create an online German language course? And now, that’s what we’re doing. Our language learning games at gamesforlanguage.com are built on the travel adventures of a main character. Traveling certainly is a great incentive to learn a foreign language.
Games can provide short intense challenges with quick closure. Done right, they can put you into a kind of quick “flow learning” that bypasses slugging things out mentally. An online language learning site is a great resource. You can go there to play games when you feel like it - maybe even on an iPhone while you are waiting or just sitting around. You want to get into the game setting easily and pick up the game where you left off earlier.
In games that I play, I like the visual environment of the game, and I enjoy the sense of challenge. I like getting a score and the feeling that I accomplished something worthwhile. All of this adds up. Working on gamesforlanguage.com brings to mind Jane McGonigal’s comment on her website Gameful - which she calls a “secret HQ,” a place where responsible game makers connect: “What all of these projects have in common: they’re dedicated to making some kind of a real positive impact on gamers’ lives and the world around them.”
- Context learning
- Effective learning Games
- ESL learning
- Foreign Language Fluency
- Foreign Language Learning
- Foreign Language Proficiency
- Foreign Novels
- German Grammar
- German idioms
- Language & Food
- Language and Travel
- Language as Communication
- Language Camps
- Learning as a Game
- Learning Grammar
- Memory Training
- Mobile Devices
- Music and Language
- Online Foreign Language Learning
- Rosetta Stone Blog
- Social Interaction Online
- Swiss French
- Teaching Tools
- Training the Ear
- Cool German Idioms 3
- Is Gamesforlanguage.com Too Steep a Climb For Beginners?
- QUICK TIP German: "holen" vs "abholen"
- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 2: Games Summary
- Zorro: 1 (big) Thing to Learn Spanish
- May 2013 (5)
- April 2013 (5)
- March 2013 (3)
- February 2013 (3)
- January 2013 (3)
- December 2012 (4)
- November 2012 (4)
- October 2012 (3)
- September 2012 (5)
- August 2012 (3)
- July 2012 (2)
- June 2012 (4)
- May 2012 (7)
- April 2012 (5)
- March 2012 (3)
- February 2012 (5)
- January 2012 (5)
- December 2011 (3)
- November 2011 (2)
- October 2011 (1)
- September 2011 (2)
- August 2011 (5)
- July 2011 (2)
- June 2011 (1)
- May 2011 (6)
- March 2011 (1)
- February 2011 (3)
- January 2011 (4)