On the weekend of July 23 and 24, 2016, we attended the first North American Polyglot Symposium (NAPS) in Montreal, Canada. (You can find the YouTube clips of most of the presentations, interviews etc. with this NAPS link, and many thanks to Joey Perugino, Tetsu Yung and all the others for organizing the event.)
There were some familiar faces from last fall's international Polyglot Conference 2015in New York City, but also many new participants.
Among many others, we met Steve Kaufmann from LingQ and Lilia Mouma from Mango Languages. Both are excellent sites to learn and practice many different languages.
What are “Polyglots”?
Merriam-Webster's simple definition of a “Polyglot” is someone who “knows or uses several languages.”
There were certainly many multilingual speakers at the Montreal event. But the program also appealed to those just starting out with a second language.
One common misconception about polyglots - and we humbly count ourselves among them - is that we can speak all our languages fluently or equally well.
The fact is that we don't. Some polyglots may have grown up bilingual or trilingual. But in the languages we have acquired as adults, we often have a non-native accent and make mistakes that native speakers can easily detect.
It was great to meet and talk with many of the well-known polyglots, language bloggers, and linguists who attended.
If there was one theme that came through many of the presentations and talks, it was this: There is no magic pill, no “one” learning system or method that works for everybody and all the time.
Nobody can learn a language FOR you. You have to find the way that works best for you. Often that means some trial and error. You have to keep adjusting your method to the language(s) you want to learn, the goal you want to achieve, or the time you can commit.
One of the speakers commented - was it Jimmy Mello? - that polyglots are not “normal” language learners. We often don't learn another language because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to. True!
Our motivation is fueled by a genuine interest in how a language works, its history, its connection with other languages, etc. Our wish to converse with native speakers in their language is also a huge motivator. To be able to do so gives you a real feeling of happiness.
Nevertheless, we also know that without frequent exposure to the target language in listening, reading, and speaking, our skills will not develop. They may even go into hiding.
Polyglots know that in order to learn a language, you have to put in the work. Yes, some may be more gifted in hearing and producing the sounds, or memorizing the words of a new language. But without practicing your skills often, consistent progress will be slow.
We heard from four young English speakers (14-17 years old) how they got interested in languages. They talked about learning multiple languages as different as Romanian, Turkish, Arabic, Thai, and Chinese. They described how much fun it was to be multilingual. They also shared their struggles with anxiety, fitting in with others, finding what works for them. Their stories were inspiring and motivating.
Why Stories from the Start?
Many language courses - be they books, CDs, online programs, or apps - are structured around learning particular vocabulary topics: “survival words & phrases,” such as greetings, numbers, directions, shopping, time, days, months; or “categories,” such as colors, food items, parts of the body, animals, professions, objects found in the home, etc.
Clearly, these words and phrases are important to learn and know. However, if they are just introduced as a list and without context, they are difficult to retain. Besides, if you just learn a list, you won't know how to use them in a conversation.
That's why GamesforLanguage.com has chosen a “Story-Approach”: Each new word is introduced as part of an ongoing story – a young man traveling to the country of the foreign language to be learned: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the U.S. (this last one, English for speakers of Spanish).
Will the young traveler use all the vocabulary from the various topics mentioned above? Probably not.
But the 700 words that make up the phrases and sentences in each GamesforLanguage course will not only be more useful, but also easier to remember and apply. And that is what's important to most learners: acquiring vocabulary that they can use in daily life.
For learners who already have some background in one of the five languages, GamesforLanguage provides a fun and effective way to “brush up” on the language they want to relearn.
Why Polyglots Learn With Stories
The conventional thinking is: Before you can start reading or listening to a story in your target language, you first have to learn the basics. That's when your effort and work starts to pay off. You can now read articles, listen to audios, or watch movies that you really enjoy.
But you may not even have to wait that long. Even polyglots have to stay motivated to continue learning and improving. Several speakers at the Montreal conference related some of their personal tips and tricks.
For example, Jimmy Mello, who runs a language school in Brazil, LISTENS toLe Petit Princeby Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his new target language, as soon as he begins to learn it. He already knows the story in his other languages - Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, German, English, etc. By using the same story every time, he can focus on the sounds of the new language, while already knowing what many of the words mean.
The same is obviously true when READING “Le Petit Prince” or reading/listening to any other story that you may already know in a language you've acquired. Children's books make an especially good choice: The language is simple, the sentences short.
Steve Kaufmann talked about how he keeps current with some of the languages for which he does not have a conversation partner: He reads books and listens extensively to audiobooks with topics that really interest him.
Keep Learning With What's Engaging and Interesting to YOU
In the talks and discussions during the Polyglot meeting, a recurrent topic was that we all have to develop our own way of acquiring and maintaining our target language.
Steve Kaufmann compared the language learning experience to an inverted hockey stick: At the beginning you may find your progress quite rapid and exciting as you are learning new words and phrases.
Then comes the flat and nearly horizontal phase, when progress seems to be slow. This can even happen when you already speak your target language quite well. You may have reached afluency plateauand need to find ways to get beyond it.
Each one of us may have to discover our own path to traverse these plateaus. But finding interesting and engaging ways to use and practice your language - whether reading, listening, speaking, or writing – will keep you both motivated and getting better.
For some, this may be attending traditional classroom courses. Others prefer online learning, reading and listening, or watching videos and movies, and extraverts may enjoy and practice speaking much earlier than others.
The good news is that if you're a self learner who really wants to learn a language, you don't have to “moan and groan” about course homework: You can choose you own requirements and enjoy them to boot.
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, Twitterand Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Over the last few weeks, Europe has slowly been adjusting to the vote by the British people to leave the European Union.
“Brexit,” a new word which combines “Britain” with “exit,” has become the generally used term in many languages to describe this event.
It's interesting to read how different news organizations in various countries are explaining and commenting on the vote and its likely effects on Great Britain, Europe, and the world.
But for us language enthusiasts, it's also an opportunity to discover terms and idioms that relate to Brexit in another language.
Here are 18 German terms that may help when you're in a Brexit discussion with German speakers. We'll give explanations and some historic background. You'll also find a separate list of all the German terms at the end of this post.
Volksabstimmung - Referendum
On June 23, 2016, Great Britain held a people's referendum (Volksabstimmung). The Brexit vote actually was the second referendum for the British related to the European Union. (Many German newspapers actually also use the term "Referendum.")
In 1973 the conservative government achieved the entry (Beitritt) into the European Economic Community (Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft, or EWG), the precursor of the European Union (Europäische Union, or EU).
This could only happen after the departure of French President de Gaulle, who had twice vetoed Great Britain's entry into the EEC.
At that time, the left wing of the social-democratic Labour Party had opposed joining the EEC and, in order to prevent a breakup (Auseinanderbrechen) of the party, prime minister Harold Wilson decided to hold a referendum in 1975.
In that first country-wide referendum in Great Britain's history, over 67% of the population voted for remaining in the EEC.
History does not repeat itself exactly: Prime Minister Cameron attempted to counteract the rise of the Europe-critical UK Independence Party (UKIP), which was fueled by immigration, the economy, and other concerns, by holding new negotiations with the EU and finally by the referendum.
For many observers, the Brexit vote also marks the culmination of a gradual estrangement (Entfremdung) between Great Britain and Europe over several decades.
Briten Rabatt - Rebate for the Brits
From the beginning of its membership in the EEC and later in the EU, Great Britain had been able to negotiate special arrangements.
Prime minister Margaret Thatcher is remembered for her words: “I want my money back!” at the EEC meeting in Fontainebleau, France, in 1984. The Germans called the agreement that followed, the “Briten-Rabatt.”
This special rebate meant that two-thirds of Britain's net payments to the EEC were to be returned to Great Britain. This was justified then, as the UK, with its smaller agricultural share, did not benefit as much from the EEC's agricultural subventions as other countries. In spite of this rebate (6 billion Euros in 2014), Great Britain has remained one of the largest net payers in Europe.
Other special rights (Sonderrechte) allowed Great Britain, as well as Denmark, to not join the currency union (Währungsunion) in 1999, which had been part of the Maastricht agreement of 1992 and a goal of the EU.
This allowed Great Britain to remain fiscally more independent and not follow the decisions of the European Central Bank (Europäische Zentralbank, or EZB) – seen by many as an advantage during the recent economic turmoil, the Greek bailout, and other looming bank and debt crises.
Great Britain did not become part of the European Schengen Area (Schengenraum) which instituted open borders between European countries.
Arbeitnehmerfreizügigkeit - Workforce mobility
A word composed of “Arbeitnehmer” (worker or employee) and “Freizügigkeit” (mobility, permission to move around) was and is a key discussion point for many in Great Britain and the rest of the EU. The realization that the ability to work in other European countries may become severely restricted seemed to concern especially many of the young in Britain.
The attempt to limit the immigration to Great Britain by EU residents (currently around 3 million, including over 800,000 from Poland) was an important argument by Brexit advocates. While British politicians will attempt to secure work mobility for their citizens in the EU, similar to the rights of non-EU members Norway and Switzerland, it's hard to see how this would be achievable without reciprocity for EU citizens in the UK.
(Norway and Switzerland provide residence reciprocity for EU citizens, as long as they have an employment agreement or sufficient other means to live on.)
Brexit Befürworter - Brexit supporters/advocates
The German word for supporters, "Befürworter," is another typical German composite word, meaning to “have words for something,” or “favoring or advocating something.” Brexit advocates argued that the EU's zeal to regulate (Regulierungswut) was hindering Great Britain's economy.
They may overlook the fact that Britain's economy is one of the least regulated in the world and not consider the advantages of easy access to a unified European market (or assume that such access will continue even after the Brexit).
Austrittsverhandlungen – Exit negotiations
Since 2009, Article 50 of the EU agreement gives each member country the option to leave the EU “in accordance with its constitutional rules.” A member needs to apply for the exit (Austritt) to the Council of Europe (Europarat), which consists of the leaders of each member country.
These negotiations could take as long as two years, and, theoretically, Great Britain could leave the EU after such time, even if the negotiations were not concluded. Most observers believe the latter unlikely, as access to the European market would then stay in limbo.
(Or, within the two year time frame, Great Britain could withdraw its exit request.)
Any agreement would have to be approved by a qualified majority of the European Council and could also be subject of a veto by the European Parliament.
At the time this post is written, Great Britain has not yet made an official request to leave the EU.
In fact, Theresa May, in her first telephone calls after becoming Great Britain's new Prime Minister, with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Holland asked for more time to prepare for the Brexit negotiations
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any comments withcontact.
Play these 4 fun Italian Language Games a few times before you travel to Italy or to a region where Italian is widely spoken.
The four games in this post are just a taste of Italian, of course. It takes more to become fluent in Italian, but they're a start. And we hope that they'll inspire you to learn more.
For us, knowing some everyday vocabulary, essential travel phrases, and the numbers 1-100 has been a must for our travels in countries where we don't speak the language.
Some Simple Tips
Always say the words and phrases aloud. The more you do this, the better you'll remember them. It will also greatly improve your pronunciation over time.
Focus on practicing any expressions as "chunks" and try not to think about them as individual words. Like that, you'll directly link sound to meaning.
Whenever you can, associate words and expressions with an image in your mind. That way you'll remember them better.
It's essential to repeat words and phrases many times. Hearing or saying something just once doesn't cut it.
Speaking involves using various mouth muscles to produce the right sounds. The term "muscle memory" well describes how we learn to produce sounds that are not in our native language. And ultimately, our brain has to attach the correct meaning to a particular sound sequence.
Whatever your preferred method for learning may be - saying the Italian out loud and writing words and phrases out by hand helps you to internalize the language.
1. Basic Everyday Italian Phrases
Learning greetings and pleasantries in a language is a start, especially if you practice them so you can say them spontaneously and with good pronunciation.
There are lots of situations you can use them throughout the day - when getting your morning coffee in a café; visiting the local market; browsing in a store; having lunch or dinner; hanging out in a bar; socializing with new friends, etc.
Click on Basic Phrases or the screenshot right to play this Italian Quick Language Game. "What is it?" may be a question you can ask the waiter when a menu item is unfamiliar to you.
2. Italian Question Words
Quick questions help you to orient yourself in a city; to get information about when shops and museums are open; to ask for the price at markets; to start conversations with people you've just met, etc.
Common English questions words - with the exception of "how" - begin with a "wh-" sound (which, where, when, why, what, who, whom).
Italian interrogatives have greater variety of sound and form. There are contractions, such as: dov'è (of dove + è = where is). Chi (who/whom) combines with the prepositions a, di, con, and per - which go before. There are three ways to ask "what?": che cosa?, che?, cosa? - which are interchangeable.
3. Practice Numbers with these Italian Language Games
Mastering the numbers gives you a great tool for dealing with daily tasks in another language. But you need to practice them enough to understand them easily and to say them automatically.
Numbers come in handy for setting appointments, paying in stores or restaurants, making reservations, purchasing tickets, etc.
The Italian numbers from 1 to 20 can be easily memorized. And, once you know the round numbers 20, 30, 40, to 90, you won't have any trouble with the numbers from 21 to 100.
One thing to remember is that from 21 on, you contract the compound number slightly when the second number starts with a vowel, which is the case with "uno" (one) and "otto" (eight). So you say "ventuno" and "ventotto" in contrast to "ventitré" or "ventinove." This is consistent right through 99: "novantuno" and "novantotto" versus "novantatré" or "novantanove."
Here's a game to practice the numbers 21 and beyond in a fun way. (Or click on the "Word Invaders" screen shot, above right.)
4. Making a Phone Call in Italian
It's quite a challenge to make a call in a foreign language. But hey, if you do it often, it'll become routine and give you quite a boost in confidence.
When we were staying in Rome, I was the one who regularly called in to make a tennis court reservation at a local club where we played. At first I was nervous and read off what I was going to say. Even then I made mistakes.
After a couple of weeks, though, it became automatic and I actually enjoyed doing the call. It also prepared me for making other and more difficult calls later.
Every call you make is going to be a little different. But with a little practice, you learn how to prepare and how to deliver what you want to say.
Here's a Game to learn and practice how to ask for someone on the phone, and possible responses. "Non c'è" is a common phrase meaning that someone isn't there. Click on Pronto or the screen shot of the listening game above left.
Free Italian with Gamesforlanguage
If you enjoy our approach and these games, look for more Quick Games for French, Italian, Spanish, and Inglés on our site.
Or why not try our FREE Italian 1 travel-story course: Marco in Italia. With its 36 fifteen-minute lessons you'll learn close to 750 new words.
But, even more importantly, you'll practice the phrases and sentences of a travel story – useful, real life language that you'll be able to put to use when visiting Italy, or a country or region where Italian is widely spoken.
These include the canton of Ticino (Switzerland), the peninsula of Istria (Croatia), the island of Malta, the state of Monaco, and the micro-state of San Marino.
Any of these would make fascinating travels, by the way!
And, just maybe, you'll also get enchanted by Italian songs such as by one of our Italian favorites: “Dimmi Quando...”. This early 60s song, first performed by Tony Renis – who also wrote the music – was translated into many languages and later sung by Pat Boone, Connie Francis , and others. You can learn more about this song and its lyrics with the typical Italian constructions, by clicking on the above blog post link.
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.
It happens to many language learners at some point:
The initial enthusiasm for learning a new language wanes.
The app or program that was fun and interesting becomes boring.
You don't reach your daily goal of learning X new words.
You start skipping your language class, etc.
Setbacks happen, and the reasons are legion. But getting back on track doesn't have to be hard.
So, how can you rekindle your enthusiasm?
Here's what has worked for me:
Take a Time-out
This could be a few days or a couple of weeks. Put the books and the dictionary away.
Turn off any reminders you may be getting from your online courses.
Become aware of your thoughts about your original language “project.”
What made you want to learn your new language in the first place?
Has anything changed?
Are you still looking to study or work abroad?
Do you still want to converse with foreign language friends or family members in their language?
Are you still planning a trip to the country or a region where the language is spoken?
If the main reason you started learning the foreign language is still valid, then it's time to look at your study goals.
Review and Adjust Your Practice Goal
Did you set yourself a too ambitious practice goal? Did language learning consume too much of your spare time? How much daily study time is enough? (The post by Languages Around the Globe explores this question.)
Forcing yourself to cram a lot of new foreign vocabulary every day is not only tiresome, it's also not very effective.
That's especially true if you're preparing for a test or exam. Studies have shown that a relaxed mind can learn languages faster.
You could try a more modest and attainable short-term goal, for example 15 minutes a day for 21 days. See how that works. Then set a new goal.
Rather than just studying and practicing, you should plan to include other language-related activities, e.g. watching a foreign movie or video, reading a foreign newspaper article online, reading comics, children's books, etc.
But before you re-start your learning program, you could learn from other language learners.
Get inspired by Blog Posts, Books, Ted Talks, YouTube Videos, etc.
A little extra inspiration can never hurt. Learning foreign languages is a topic that is generating many blog posts and books. Polyglot Benny Lewis is well known for his “Fluent in 3 months” online offer and book.Or watch his Tedx Talk Hacking language learningwhere he talks about how he learned 10 languages after the age of 21.He claims that adults are better language learners than children.
Or have a look at Gabriel Wyner's book, Fluent Forever, which is already a classic.
A YouTube video that's fun to watch is the interview of university student Alex Rawlings on the program BBC Breakfast(see picture left). At 20, he won a national competition to find the UK's most multi-lingual student.
And if you google “foreign language learning” or join a Reddit language group for your target language, you'll discover many inspiring ideas and tips.
Or, if you have done all of this BEFORE you started on your language learning journey, read some of the posts or books again. You're sure to discover new insights that you may have missed earlier!
Then, armed with these new insights, take a fresh look at your learning and practice tools.
Try out Different Apps, Online Programs, or Tutors
This is key: To get your enthusiasm back, you need to find resources that engage your interest and motivate you to continue learning and practicing.
If you're so inclined, you could use some of your time-out to get a taste of other apps or online programs. You could even schedule a couple of trial lessons with new tutors.
What works for me is using a number of different online programs just for variety.
In the evening, just before going to sleep, I often read a few pages of a Spanish novel.
And no, I don't use ALL of them every day, but at least ONE of them every day.
I always find that when trying out a new online program - as I'm currently doing with LanguageZen - it rekindles my enthusiasm for the language I'm learning.
And sometimes when you change your online tutor - as my wife did recently with iTalki- it provides a new impetus.
When you have reviewed, maybe adjusted your goals, got inspired by the experiences from other learners, settled on your learning and practice tools, it's time to continue with your language learning project again.
Keeping Your Enthusiasm Alive:The Daily Habit
No matter what you want to become proficient in: math, reading, yoga, karate, basketball shooting, writing, meditation - the key seems to be, any way you google it: “daily, steady practice.”
Daily language “practice” – and I don't mean only lessons, but any activity which engages you with your target language - will improve your proficiency a little every day.
Eventually that will show up big time, when you are able to read a foreign novel, understand the dialogues in a foreign movie, or participate in a conversation in your target language.
Steady practice will strengthen your self esteem. It'll help you develop the discipline that could easily spill over into some of your other activities as well.
A time-out is the perfect opportunity to decide and plan which language habits to incorporate into your daily life.
While these habits may be different for every learner, they will be essential for making steady progress in your target language.
And feeling that you are making progress will keep your enthusiasm alive.
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is 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.
Disclosure: Several links above are to sites with revenue-sharing arrangements should you decide to buy or subscribe.