It's been five years since we went live with our GamesforLanguage site. It's time to step back a little and have a look at how "fun and effective" our games for language learning really are.
GamesforLanguage started out as an experiment and family project: A college language teacher and language course writer/editor, a retired engineer/consultant, a computer programmer (our son) and his graphic designer wife put an idea into action:
Listen, read and repeat story dialogues, learn and practice vocabulary with simple interactive games
We get feed-back that our games are "fun." But how effective are they for learning the 4 language skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing? And how much new vocabulary does a player learn and remember? We'll take a stab at some answers below.
WHO CAN BEST LEARN WITH GAMESFORLANGUAGE?
Language learners are a varied group of people. Players that come to our site (and have told us) range from 14 to 80 years old and come from diverse backgrounds. Some already know other languages, others are learning their first foreign language. And, some are not native speakers of English, but seek to improve their knowledge of English while learning French, Italian, German, or Spanish.
We have players of our courses that come back again and again, schools that have their classes practice with us, and learners that systematically go through all our Quick Games. We also have users that try us a for a bit and then move on.
True Novices may find the entry into and progression through GamesforLanguage a bit hard.
Learners who've had some contact with the language before (in school or college, on travels, through self-study) seem to do well.
They want to pick up the language again, practice vocabulary in an engaging way, and improve their listening and speaking skills. (The general range of our users is from beginner to low intermediate; in the Common European European Framework of Reference for Languages that means: A1, A2, B1.)
For adults, learning a language is more about persistence than cramming. We generally recommend that a learner do only ONE NEW lesson (Scene) per day and redo earlier Scenes or Games that have less than a 100% score.
Each of the Story-Courses teaches over 700 new words. Learners that practice fairly regularly and like the game aspect appear to make good progress.
But what kind of learning goes on, and progress in what?
GamesforLanguage provides useful tools for building listening comprehension. This may indeed be our strongest feature. We have audio for everything, from individual words, to phrases, to the initial conversations at the beginning and end of the lessons (Scenes).
When training to listen, our brains go into gear to find sound patterns. The more you listen, the better you start noticing the patterns.
You begin to hear what clusters of sound are typical for the language you're learning. You start to notice what sounds go together to make words, where words start and end, where sentences begin and finish.
It's important to hear individual words in isolation, as well as hearing them in the stream of phrases and sentences. When people speak rapidly, the sounds of individual words get "swallowed up", sounds change or simply get lost.
A goal is to understand the meaning of the sounds you hear, which happens best when you get comprehensible input. Part of that is becoming aware of meaningful grammatical patterns. Are things happening now, or did they happen some time in the past? Is the statement a negation? A question, a request, an opinion?
There are various ways to practice listening with GamesforLanguage. Once you've gone through a Level (6 lessons), you can listen to the Podcast. You'll understand most of it as you've already practiced all the words and sentences. So now you can close your eyes and just listen. This is a powerful way to build listening skills.
Or if you also want to read what is being said, go back and play just the conversations, one after the other. You don't automatically get translations, but you can check, if necessary.
You won't become fluent just by using GamesforLanguage. Well, no online program can make you talk like a native. To become a fluent conversationalist, you have to SPEAK with live partners, often, and about a variety of topics.
But GamesforLanguage does give you the tools to get started, to help you work on your pronunciation by having you SAY and MEMORIZE phrases and sentences you can use in daily life.
You're encouraged to repeat everything OUT LOUD, every word, phrase, and sentence. By imitating the pronunciation of the speakers, you begin to attune your ear and work your mouth to make the right sounds.
The clue really is to speak out loud, to repeat, and to repeat again. Sure, there are many ways to learn vocabulary - from using flashcard apps to writing out your own flashcards. These are good ways to review new words on the go, whenever you have a few minutes.
But to practice speaking, you have to schedule some quiet time for yourself and to use that to really focus on the sounds you're making!
Our best tool for learning to speak may be our Recording feature. Each lesson has a "Record It" section that you can access at any time. You hear the conversation of the lesson sentence by sentence. At each sentence you're asked to "press 'Record' and repeat after the speaker." Then, when you press "Replay," you'll hear the speaker and yourself right after. You can do this as often as you want, before going on to the next sentence.
One of our young users learning Italian complained that she "hated to hear" her own voice. We agree, it does take getting used to hearing one's own voice, especially in another language.
It's worth overcoming your reluctance. You can improve your spoken language noticeably, just by spending 20 minutes, recording your own voice and playing it back. For example, do a sentence five, six times, and try to capture the melody of what's being said rather than saying each word distinctly, etc. To boot, close your eyes while you listen and talk. It really helps.
Since everything is in written form, GamesforLanguage gives learners a way to start connecting sound to spelling. With time, you'll start noticing patterns in how words are spelled in relation to their sound. That's just a start, though. Next, you'll need to find a way to continue to read texts that are increasingly challenging.
Learning to read in a foreign language is a wonderful achievement. It's a way to learn a ton of vocabulary. Once you know the written language, you have access to many resources in the form of books, stories, articles, comments, letters/emails etc. printed or online.
Most importantly, you can now chose, what really interests you, a key for staying engaged and motivated.
Vocabulary is often taught in groups of topics: Greetings, food, animals, body parts, professions, etc. GamesforLanguage introduces words and phrases in context by using a STORY. It's a different way of getting into a language.
While it's important to learn specific vocabulary, we've always found that we remember words, phrases, and sentences better when we hear them in the context of a conversation or a story. That's why our lessons are, in fact, Scenes of an ongoing travel story. (Our German 2 course "Blüten in Berlin?" is a mystery-story sequel to the German 1 travel-story.)
Unless you keep a notebook on the side or create your own written flashcards with phrases and sentences, you won't learn much writing with GamesforLanguage.
We do have a short writing game in each lesson, but it's mostly just spelling practice for words.
Two of our games - Word Invader and Shootout - ask the learner to build sentences word by word.
These require the player to choose the correct grammatical form for each word, such as feminine vs. masculine, the verb with the right personal ending, a present or past tense form, subject or object form, etc.
When playing, you also practice word order. Some sentences in other languages follow the English, many do not. German is a case in point, but Romance languages also have their word-order idiosyncrasies.
Programs with Spaced Repetition Systems (SRSs) have become very popular. An algorithm keeps track of what words you learn and what mistakes you make. You're are asked to recall the words at a specific time. The goal is to get the words into your long-term memory.
GamesforLanguage does not (yet) have an SRS. We do have several memorization and built-in recall games, but the spacing is not personalized.
To really memorize new words, you have to do more than just play through a game once or twice. You have to make new words your own and start using them actively.
The vocabulary of our early lessons is on Quizlet, for those who like to practice vocabulary more intensively.
Another good method for remembering new words is to write them out (either in a notebook or on small flashcards).
In "Fluent Forever," Gabriel Wyner suggests that by writing out your own flashcards, you'll have a much easier time remembering words. He also says that he reviews his flashcards, in increasing intervals, for a full year before he stops completely. Even Polyglots need to review multiple times.
We know that no program can be everything to everyone. We also use other sites to learn and practice our languages. With some sites we have established partnershiparrangements.
With other free sites like Lingohut we share blog posts and tips. Our revenue-share arrangements with selected fee-for-service sites or apps, which we mention in our Dictionary and Quick Games, give us a (small) benefit. They help keep our site otherwise add-free and provide our users with learning options that we use and like ourselves.
PAST AND FUTURE GAMES FOR LANGUAGE LEARNING
GamesforLanguage is a labor of love and totally free. For us, working on the site is a way to learn, discover, and do what we enjoy. It keeps us in touch with new insights about language learning for grown ups that we can share with others.
Right from the beginning, we've been working with a wonderful team of native-speaker collaborators.
Since our early days, we've added a language-learning Blog that now has weekly posts, as well as Podcasts of the stories, and over 200 Quick Language Games.
We've also continuously tweaked our Travel-Story Courses following input from users.
We decided early on to forgo the development of a GamesforLanguage app. Instead, we're relying on the increasing availability of free WiFi and the mobile-friendly design of our web-based program.
Still to be solved is making the recording feature work on mobile devices and replacing the Flash-Player that is currently necessary.
Much remains to be done: Our French 2 course has to be recorded, the Spanish 2 and Italian 2 courses have to be written and recorded.
Other ideas for improvement and new content are waiting in the pipeline.
And while we're always thinking about ways to enhance language learning, we also believe that Gabriel Wyner is correct when he notes in "Fluent Forever":
"No one can give you a language; you have to take it yourself. You are rewiring your brain. To succeed, you need to actively participate. Each word in your language needs to become your word, each grammar rule your grammar rule."
We hope that our GamesforLanguage site is a fun and useful resource for anyone who wants to learn and practice French, German, Italian, and Spanish for free. We always welcome feedback and suggestions for improving and expanding our site, so leave a comment right here!
Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
In an earlier post, I wrote about Dutch Canal Boating. After a fun trip around Dutch rivers and canals, we said goodbye to our American friends. We then began the next stage of our European travels.
In the Dutch city of Utrecht, we boarded one of the fabulous European Intercity trains. It took us through Cologne and along the Rhine River to Basel. There we changed to a regional train.
In Basel, the Rhine bends sharply to the east and for long stretches makes a natural border between Germany and Switzerland.
Initially, the train tracks follow the Rhine River Valley. At dusk we passed the well-known “Rheinfall of Schaffhausen” - the waterfalls of the Rhine at the Swiss town of Schaffhausen. (German students, don't forget to note the spelling of “Rheinfall” versus “Reinfall”! The latter means “letdown, failure, flop, disaster.” It is often used in wordplays with its sound-alike cousin.)
Überlingen at Lake Constance
Our destination that day was the city of Überlingen, located on one of the two major arms of the “Bodensee” (Lake Constance). (In Überlingen we met up with my sister, who had come from Switzerland.)
I had last been in Überlingen as a young boy with my parents. And while there was little that I recognized from that time, I vividly remembered climbing the bell tower of the St. Nikolaus Cathedral with my father. (see picture) As we neared the top, the huge bells suddenly started to ring, scaring me both with their powerful sounds and the vibrations they generated in the tower.
A good part of the city, including our hotel, is located on a sandstone cliff overlooking the lake. The 100 steps of the “Teufelstreppe” (Devil's Stairs) made it less than a 10 minute walk down to the lake. There, we found a “Promenade,” a wide walkway along the lake, leading to the town center with its restaurants, cafés, ship wharves, etc.
We were told that Überlingen has become one of Germany's favorite retirement destinations. That also makes it one of the oldest cities in Germany (in reference to the age of its inhabitants). The “seniors” we saw strolling down the Promenade, sitting in cafés, riding their bikes, or waiting to board a ship, all looked fit and active to us. (see picture)
While we were sitting in one of the cafés, we were surprised to see many bikers board a ship. We found out that there are several bicycle organization that organize tours along the “Bodensee-Radweg” (Lake Constance-bicycle path). It calls itself “Europa's beliebtester Radweg” (Europe's favorite bicycle path).
We often took advantage of the wonderful, warm fall weather and enjoyed people-watching while sitting in one of the many outside restaurants. There, we couldn't help but overhear conversations in various German dialects spoken at nearby tables.
Some German Dialects
Überlingen is located in Baden-Württemberg, the third-largest German state, which has close to 11 million inhabitants. Stuttgart is its capital and largest city.
Two distinct dialects are spoken in the state, with various variants: the Alemannic dialect of Swabian and Franconian. Swabian is spoken in the southern part of Baden-Württemberg, up to the border of the neighboring state, Bavaria. Franconian is spoken in the west/northwest along the Rhine including in Mannheim and Heidelberg.
[Note also: The Swiss German language is another variant of the Alemannic dialect. And, Franconian can also be heard in the northern parts of Bavaria [Germany's largest state], around Nuremberg, Bamberg, etc. The most recognizable dialect of the state of Bavaria is Austro-Bavarian, spoken in the southeast of the state and reaching beyond the border into Austria in a continuum of local and regional variants.]
We also heard the very distinct Saxon dialects from regions around Leipzig and Dresden.
And how could I forget the Hessian dialect, spoken around Frankfurt and Bad Nauheim (the city where I spent most of my school years, and subject of an earlier post: Where “Bad” does not mean “bad”...)
You can see the various German dialects on the chart.
The Bodensee, or Lake Constance is the largest lake in Germany and Austria. It is only a little smaller than Lake Geneva, the largest lake located on the border of Switzerland and France.
Lake Constance is also the huge water reservoir which feeds the Rhine, the second largest European river after the Danube.
The Rhine River begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, enters Lake Constance at its eastern Swiss/Austrian border and then leaves it again near Konstanz from the Lower Lake. (Note: It's the town of Konstanz/Constance which gave the Bodensee its English name.)
I have fond memories of the Bodensee, where I started first grade in the town of Friedrichshafen. It was in there that Ferdinand von Zeppelin established the first factory to build his famous dirigibles, the Zeppelins, around 1900.
I remember going fishing on the lake with my grandfather. Later, a sailing trip on the lake with my father, as we ghosted by the Mainau (see below) at night, made me fall in love with sailing. On clear days you can see the Alps in the background, as in this photo.
This time, Ulrike and I took advantage of sunny weather and took several trips with the Bodensee's “Weiße Flotte,” the White Fleet of motor ships, with which you can explore the lake.
There are also two car ferries to take you across the lake: (1) Between Meersburg and Constance and (2) Between Friedrichshafen and Romanhorn (Switzerland). On this Bodensee-Schifffahrt site – yes, the word is spelled with three “f's” - you can download the “Fahrplan” (schedule) for the various seasons.
Our first lake trip took us to the Island of Mainau.
I visited the island first as a young teenager and remember that I was fascinated by its history. The island has changed owners many times over the centuries.
In early years, it belonged to the Order of Teutonic Knights. Then, after falling into private hands, it was purchased in 1853 by Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden to serve as a summer palace.
Later, through inheritance, the island fell to the Swedish Prince Wilhelm, who in 1932, gave it to his only son, Lennart Bernadotte. He then owned it until 1974, when he transferred it to a foundation.
Currently, Lennart's oldest daughter Sonja and her brother Björn Bernadotte are managing the property.
The island is a flowering paradise. Over 30,000 rose bushes of more than 1,200 varieties grow there, as well as 20,000 dahlias of 250 varieties, and many other kinds of flowers.
We were there at the time of a dahlia exhibition. Walking through the gardens, we saw stunning arrangements by local garden shops, which where competing for the exhibition honor roll.
The island attracts more than 1 million visitors a year and it serves as a favorite destination for weddings. You'll find more information on the island's website.
Another car trip took took us to the town of Meersburg.
Meersburg is located on the eastern shore of Lake Constance, at the midpoint between Überlingen and Friedrichshafen.
We visited the Old Castle, which towers over the town, and learned that it is still the oldest inhabited fortress in Germany. (There is also a Baroque New Castle.)
The guide, dressed in a medieval costume, took us through the part of the castle that is open to the public and now a museum. It included the Knight's Hall (see picture), the Arm's Hall, the dungeon, etc.
She told us much about the castle's history and the various legends surrounding it. The castle dates back to the 7th century and the Merovigians under King Dagobert I.
In 1268, it became the seat of the Bishop of Constance until the bishops built the New Castle at the beginning of the 18th century.
The Old Castle then came under the control of the Grand Duchy of Baden. The collector and business man Joseph von Laßberg purchased it in 1838.
For German language enthusiasts, the castle is also noteworthy as the sister of Laßberg's wife, the famous poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, lived there the last 8 years of her life.
In 1877, Karl Mayer von Mayerfels purchased the castle and established the Medieval Museum. His descendants still live in the building during the summer months.
As in many of the towns along the Bodensee, there is a Promenade along the lake with pleasant cafés and restaurants. The small streets and squares bustle with boutiques, shops, and street merchants.
We just happened pass through when grapes were unloaded at the local winery. That was a colorful spectacle.
Other Sights along the Bodensee
There are many other places along the Bodensee that are worth a visit.
I still remember the little town of Unteruhldingen where I visited the “Pfahlbaumuseum” (Stilt-House Museum) during my childhood. The stories the guides told at the time were fascinating. This time, we did not visit the rebuilt village, but we could see the stilt houses from the ship as we docked (see picture).
I've already mentioned Friedrichshafen. While more of an industrial city (heavily bombarded during World War II because of its airplane and bomb factories), the modern Dornier aerospace museum shows the various Dornier airplane models, engines, satellites, and products of the Airbus Group.
The historic town of Lindau is located on a small island connected by a dam to a strip of land that allows Bavaria access to Lake Constance. The Lindau harbor entrance with the light house and its Bavarian Lion statue (see picture) is a beautiful sight. I remember it well from my youth when we entered or left the harbor on one of the white ships.
Traveling just a few miles further southeast, you'll enter Austria and will have reached the end of the lake in Bregenz, the capital of the Austrian state of Vorarlberg.
If you are an opera lover and happen to be there during the months of July and August, be sure not to miss the Bregenzer Festspiele. Most memorable will certainly be a performance on a floating stage in the open-air amphitheater. (But be sure to reserve your tickets early!)
On the other side of the lake, right on the border to Switzerland, lies Konstanz (Constance), a lively university town and for over 1200 years the seat of Catholic bishops. (See photo of Constance, with a view of the "Untersee" and continuation of the Rhine)
The city has an interesting history. Konstanz was refused entrance into the Swiss Confederacy in 1460, then joined the Swabian league and became part of the German Empire in 1871.
The city avoided being bombed during World War II by a clever ruse – it left the lights on and allied bombers could not distinguish it from neighboring Swiss towns. The large and well-preserved “Altstadt” (Old town) is dominated by the “Münster” (Cathedral).
Our stay in Überlingen and our various excursions along the lake brought back many vivid memories from my childhood and later vacations at the Bodensee. We can see why this region has become a favorite place in Germany for retirees. Austria and Switzerland are only a boat ride away. The cultural offerings in the nearby towns and cities are amazing. There are many things to see and do in each of the seasons.
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Paul Pimsleur developed his language learning method over 50 years ago. And, if you read on, you'll understand why taking a look at Pimsleur Unlimited is feeling a little bit like "back to the future" for me.
If you've ever used Pimsleur audio lessons for learning a language, you'll know how deeply the sound of words and phrases embed themselves in your brain with this program.
Young children also learn their first language through sound. They hear (and repeat) their caregivers' words, phrases, and sentences numerous times, begin to absorb the patterns of the language, and put all of this together to say what they want, and to understand others.
The Adult's Conundrum
When you learn a new language as an adult, you're in fact learning a new sound system, which runs parallel to the one of your native language (or to a second, or third, etc., if you speak more languages).
A problem for adults is that they may find it difficult to hear some of the sounds in a new target language. Why is that so?
Very early on, children's brains make it possible for them to hear ANY sounds of ANY language. As they focus on learning their first language, this ability narrows down to the sounds they listen to and use in their daily life.
This narrowing down of sounds heard continues through adolescence and adulthood and can be traced to the growth of our “categorical perception.” (We described this phenomenon in an earlier post: “Beyond Learning a Language Like a Child”.)
So, adults have to re-learn how to hear and produce sounds that are not part of the language(s), they use in their daily life. It can be done, but they have to focus and practice.
Before you read on, you may want to read my disclosure at the bottom. For these reasons I can't really provide an objective review of the German course(s). But by starting to use the Pimsleur Unlimited Russian app, I'm able to judge how the app works for a language that I don't know.
What I know well: Pimsleur German Audio CDs
Obviously, I'm well familiar with the features that make a Pimsleur German audio effective:
Each unit's initial conversation has only one new word or phrase.
Later in each unit, new words are introduced in the context of what you know.
You hear and repeat new words, with backward buildup. (Singers call it "back-chaining.")
Comments on pronunciation issues are given as they come up.
A “spaced” recall schedule helps you move words from short to long-term memory.
You learn to make new combinations following a familiar pattern.
The speakers pronounce clearly, with a standard German accent.
You learn the sound system of German.
You learn basic German sound-spelling correlation in the Reading sections.
The units are downloadable. You can play them on your computer or mobile device.
But, no course can be everything to everyone. People have asked about these points:
There's no systematic introduction to grammar. There are only brief explanations.
Not enough vocabulary. Each unit introduces about 10 new words.
Most cues are in English, so you hear a lot of English.
You don't learn the spelling of the German words and phrases you hear.
Pimsleur audio does a very good job teaching the sounds and pronunciation to adult beginners. And most importantly, it asks the learner to SPEAK, REPEAT, and IMITATE. Good pronunciation can become a habit. Pimsleur gets you into the good pronunciation habit.
User comments, competition, online/app progress, etc. were certainly reasons for expanding the Pimsleur method, first to downloadable software, and now also to mobile apps.
What I'm discovering: Pimsleur Unlimited
To try out Pimsleur's "Unlimited" mobile app, I used the iOS app for German. To its traditional audio course, Pimsleur has added Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises. (To date, Pimsleur has 8 languages in its Unlimited mobile edition: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian.)
The core of the program is still the audio lesson, as described above. The added feature for "Unlimited" is that you can easily pause, skip back and skip forward when doing the audio. You can keep redoing a short (or longer) segment until you've got it.
With the Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises you have new and different tools for quick practice and recall of what you've learned.
Listening + Reading
Besides, you're learning to hear and understand, to say, and to READ words, phrases, and sentences in context. By learning to read beyond basic sound-spelling correlation, you're acquiring a powerful language learning tool.
Yes, children learn languages without first learning to read. By age three to three and a half, many children are highly conversant in their native language. However, they then spend years in school to learn to read and write fluently.
For adults, reading and writing in one's native language is part of daily life. When you learn new words in a foreign language, you automatically imagine how they are spelled. Without other information, you'll apply your own native-language, or other familiar spelling system.
By learning how German words sound and are written, you're training yourself to become a reader of German texts.
German is plentiful on the Internet in the form of news stories, social media streams on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (to name the most popular), ebook readers you can download, etc. Once you make a habit of reading German on a daily basis, your vocabulary will grow exponentially.
My Tricks With Russian
I'm a native speaker of German and taught college German for a number of years in the U.S. Right now I'm learning Russian from scratch with Pimsleur Unlimited. In general, my tricks for using the program with Russian are also applicable for German, or any other language. (I'm planning a more detailed review of Pimleur's Unlimited Russian for later.)
Whenever I start with a new online program or app, it takes me a couple of weeks to get into it and figure out ways I can optimize the resource.
The Pimsleur Unlimited mobile app is very easy to navigate, so you can hop around. Besides learning daily with new material, I go back and review. I love it that you can pick and choose what chunks to redo.
I go back a lot and replay parts of the course. For example, I replay the five last conversations, one after the other, just the conversations. Or I listen to one conversation again and again, until I've memorized it.
I replay an earlier Quick Match or Speak Easy, or several of them in a row.
A small notebook for each language is a constant companion for me. In it, I write down words and phrases, as well as brief grammar explanations that come up.
Even if I never check back to those particular notes, just the act of writing something out by hand, helps me to remember better. Writing out also makes me literate right from the beginning and teaches me the new spelling system as I go along.
From time to time during the day, I recall in my mind - without the app - the words or phrases I learned the day before. There always are a few moments of down time to do this. My little notebook helps me if I need a prompt.
I certainly follow Paul Pimsleur's Golden Rule for Success #4: "Daily exposure to the language is critical to your success, but don’t attempt to do more than one 30-minute Audio Lesson per day. You may repeat a lesson more than once if you find it helpful." (You'll find these rules in the downloadable PDF of Pimsleur Unlimited User Guide, see screenshot above.)
How Fast Can You Learn German (or Russian)?
Learning a language takes time and effort. (Whew, how many times have I said this in my life?) Becoming fluent in a new language as an adult cannot happen just like that in 10 days. Three months of total immersion, with an excellent tutor on the side, may do it. At least that was my experience when I learned Dutch, and later English.
Learning a language as an adult with a job, a family, and a social life means you have to squeeze language learning in whenever you can. And you have to keep your motivation up.
With Pimsleur you can get a good start and keep going. Most of all, you'll build some confidence in speaking. For many, having the courage to speak in a new language is the hardest part.
As you need them, add other resources, such as a basic grammar book (to figure out what some of the underlying patterns are), podcasts or audio books (to learn listening to rapid German), a browser extension, such as Lingua.ly (to help you read many different types of texts), or a flashcard program, such as Memrise (to practice various types of vocabulary).
Finding a language exchange partner, or a tutor via Skype can also be a powerful motivator. If you can, travel to a country or region where the language is spoken.
Putting in the effort is really worth it. Most of all, have fun! Viel Spaß!
Let us know your comments below.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook,Twitterand Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.
Disclosure: Ulrike Rettig was the Development Editor/Author of Pimsleur's German Levels 1, 2 and 3, written during the time she worked for Pimsleur Language Programs (owned since 1997 by Simon & Schuster Audio). She left Pimsleur in 2010. GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with Simon & Schuster, other than receiving the German and Russian Unlimited apps for free.
2016 has been another fun and adventurous year for GamesforLanguage.
We know that learning a language as an adult is challenging. Not everybody has the time, discipline, and opportunity to learn foreign languages the way Benny Lewis does. (But his language hacks are worthwhile to study and apply.)
In 2016 we attended a language conferences in Montreal, where we met many of the well-known polyglots and language aficionados. (The #5 Blog Post below was a direct result of that conference.)
We continue to enjoy writing on our Blog on a weekly basis, drawing from our own insights and struggles with learning foreign languages.
Maybe not a surprise: While we also write about our travels and related language experiences, our 10 most popular posts in 2016 relate to language learning.
One surprise: Our post about "La Paloma: Learning Spanish with a song," which we published in June 2013 was our 3rd most read blog post in 2016.
Maybe it's not surprising that a very similar post explaining the Spanish numbering system was our second most read post.
Indeed as with German for most English speakers, the Spanish numbers from 1 to 15 are not difficult to learn as many of the English and Spanish numbers are related.
The numbers 16 to 20 are a little trickier as they use the inverse English model by placing the prefix “dieci-” in front of the single numbers, e.g. “dieciséis” whereas English uses the German model and places the single numbers in front of the suffix “-teen” as in sixteen.
The numbers 21 to 99 use the English model although a Spanish spelling revision made 21 to 29 a little more tricky: You have to remember some accents on veintidós (22), veintitrés (23), and veintiséis (26) and the binding “-i-” that has replaced the “y,” which still is there in the numbers above 30 , e.g. treinta y uno (31).
As in English, once you know the Spanish numbers 1-9 and the round number 20-90, then 21-99 are a breeze.
This post was motivated by the talks of several speakers at the Polyglot conference in Montreal in July 2016.
We were especially intrigued by Jimmy Mello's idea to read a book that he already knows well in his native Brazilian Portuguese (he uses a translation of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), when he starts with a new target language.
By taking the same story every time, he can focus on the sounds of the new language, while already knowing what many of the words mean.
And when we say “story,” we mean any narrative, which may cover sports, history, politics, etc., i.e. anything than interests you and keeps you engaged in the target language.
(That's also why Gamesforlanguage's courses use the format of a travel-story sequel.)
Using “stories for language learning” means that you are not just learning words, but their meaning in context.
The Polyglot Symposium - renamed Montreal LangFest - will take place again in 2017, on the last weekend in August. The event will appeal to anyone who loves language and is involved in languages in some way (teachers, students, adult self-learners, parents raising bilingual kids - or wishing to, etc. as well polyglots). Check it out. We'd love to see you there!
The way human memory works is a fascinating process. Clearly, the brain doesn't just shut down when we sleep, it keeps working on what we learned and experienced during the day.
A PsychCrunch Podcast by The British Psychological Society alerted us to studies about sleep and memory recently done by Swiss scientists. They had come to some interesting insights.
For example using MRI technology, they looked are the core stages of memorizing vocabulary and why sleep is so important for vocabulary retention. "Hearing" recently learned vocabulary again during certain stages of sleep, will consolidate these new memories.
There are no practical ways yet to replicate such tests at home. However, other research seems to confirm that reviewing foreign words and phrases BEFORE you go to sleep will also enhance your memory of them.
If conversational fluency is your goal, what are the crucial techniques for getting there? Why is it important to say everything out loud rather than silently to yourself?
The simple answer is that to learn to speak in a foreign language, you have to speak. That's easier said than done. The question is how you can get yourself speaking enough so that you feel totally comfortable in a conversation.
But is just speaking enough? How important is reading for fluency? For many, reading will boost their vocabulary (especially if they start using these words in a conversation), and will provide them with interesting topics to talk about.
If you're learning a language, fluency's the game. But, really, what is fluency? Can an adult learner really achieve fluency? Can you be fluent even if you don't "sound like a native"? How does grammar figure in fluency?
Not everyone agrees what fluency is. (But when you have it, you do know what it feels like, don't you?)
We would argue that there are three essential marks of fluency, even if you haven't reached perfection.
What is fluency for you? Have you reached it yet for a foreign language?
There are lots of reasons for taking a language time-out. Once you lose your enthusiasm for learning a language, taking a time-out is really a good thing.
This happens to all language learners at some time or another. When it happens to either of us, we see it as a time to reassess, to find new inspiration, and to look for new resources. The language won't go away, but during our time-out we'll find a new way to approach how we learn it and to get our motivation back.
Happy New Year and make learning a new language one of your 2017 goals!
Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any comments right here.