Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

4 Fun German Language Games Before You Travel

Schloss Neuschwanstein, Bavaria, Germany Are you planning to travel to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or another country where you can use German? (Image left: Neuschwanstein castle, Bavaria, Germany)

Then practicing your German with these German language games may be for you!

In our travels we have found that knowing question words, some basic vocabulary, common travel phrases, and the numbers 1-100 has been very useful in countries where we don't speak the language.

You won't speak German fluently, of course, after reading this post and playing the four games. But you're sure to remember some of the words and phrases, and how to pronounce and use them correctly.

A Few Simple Tips

Always say the words and phrases aloud, or if you're on a bus Speaking aloudor standing in line, mouth them silently to yourself. Then when you're on your own, say them OUT LOUD from memory.

A good way to learn phrases and expressions is to practice them as "chunks" not as a series of individual words.

Idiomatic phrases often have a meaning that's quite different from the sum of the individual words in it. Once you know them, practice them as whole phrases and attach a mental image to them.

Repetition is essential. We rarely learn something just by hearing and saying it once or twice. 

To pronounce foreign words, we have to learn which mouth muscles to use for the right sounds. Each particular combination of sounds has to get lodged in our brain. And, our brain has to connect sound to meaning.

No matter how you like to learn German, speaking words and phrases out loud and writing them out by hand will help you remember them.

1. Question Words

German Question words - Gamesforlanguage.comInterrogatives are a basic tool for giving and getting information, either in casual conversations or when you're shopping, asking for directions, or inquiring about opening and closing times, train schedules, local events, etc.

In English, common question words - with the exception of "how" - tend start with "wh-" (when, where, why, who, what, which).

Common German question words begin with a "v" sound, which is how you pronounce a German "w."

English and German have look-alikes that have different meanings. For example, English "who" is German "wer"; English "where" is German "wo." Also, German has individual words for "where," "where to," and "where from."

Here is a Game to practice German question words. (Click also on "Snap Cloud" screen, above left.)

2. Basic Everyday Phrases

The basic phrases in our game include greetings and pleasantries that you German Basic phrases - Deal no Dealwould use often and in many situations - in a café, at a bar, at a party, in a store, online, on Skype, etc. (Click on "Deal no Deal" screen shot, right)

When you learn conversational phrases and expressions in context, you're focusing on communication. You don't have to think about grammar.

Learn and practice German Basic Phrases with this fun German game.

3. Buying a Train Ticket

Buying a train ticket - dialogue screenGoing by train in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland is one of the pleasures of traveling there. (Click on "Dialogue" screen shot, left)

The network of train and bus connections is huge and with it you can reach many towns and villages that are off the beaten track.

Knowing a few specific terms is very helpful because outside of the cities not everyone is fluent in English. You'll definitely want to understand and say the German for such terms as "ticket," "one-way," "return trip," "change," and other terms involved with buying a ticket.

This Buy a Train Ticket game will give you a good start.

4. Numbers

When you travel to another country, knowing the numbers is a good skill German Numbers Word Invaders Gameto have. But you need to be able to understand them as well as to say them.

Numbers come in handy for talking about schedules, shopping, paying in a café, buying tickets, making hotel reservations, etc.

Knowing the numbers 1-100 is a good start. German numbers up to twenty are easy for English speakers. Then, you have to remember that the numbers from 21 to 99 are turned around. In German you say "one and twenty," "two and twenty," right through to "nine and ninety." It's a matter of saying them enough so they become automatic.

Here's the Numbers 1-20 game to practice the numbers in a fun way.  (Click on "Word Invaders" screen shot, above left)

Even if you don't have the time or motivation to learn a language to fluency before traveling, knowing some key vocabulary and phrases will go a long way to making your trip more enjoyable. It will also be quite helpful in many circumstances, and who knows, perhaps get you out of some tricky situations.

You want to learn more German?

If you're having fun with our approach and these games, you'll find additional Quick Language Games for French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Inglés on our site.

Or why not try our FREE German 1 travel-story course: Michael in Deutschland. With its 36 fifteen-minute lessons you'll learn over 600 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 Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or one of the other countries or regions where German is widely spoken, such as, South Tyrol (Italy) Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium.

And, just maybe, you like German songs, such as the one my husband often hums in the morning: Guten Morgen liebe Sorgen .... This song was an earworm in Germany in the 90s. You can learn more about it and its funny lyrics by clicking on the song title link above.

We recently discovered a very effective App for learning German: MosaLingua. There are currently iOS and Android Apps, with the MosaLingua Desktop App for PC, Mac and Linux in the works. You can try out the "Lite" version App for FREE!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She's been 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 on our site on contact.

Disclosure: The link above is to a partner's program with revenue sharing, if you decide to buy or subscribe.

Posted on by Kendal Knetemann

Venice: Romance and Delicious Foods...

Venice travel log - LingohutIf you ever want to practice the Italian you have just learned and enjoy the local cuisine as well, you can combine both in this beautiful place called Venice.  

“Romance” is certainly the word that came to our mind when my husband and I visited this city during a recent mini escape and collected our visual impressions in this Lingohut Travel log (click also on the image) .

Venice, capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, is built on more than 100 small islands in a marshy lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. Its stone palaces literally rise out of the water.

There are no cars or roadways, just canals and boats. The Canal snakes through the city, which is filled with innumerable narrow, maze-like alleys and small squares.

One of the pleasures of being in Italy is hearing and trying out the language. Spoken Italian is so melodious and expressive! You can learn and practice Italian vocabulary here.

As you can see just below, many common words can be easily recognized by English speakers. But oh, what fun to sound them out!

  • il canale - the canalVenice canal - Lingohut
  • la barca - the boat
  • l'isola - the island
  • la città - the city
  • il palazzo - the palace
  • la piazza - the square
  • il calle - the street, alley

It's in Venice's old town that we discovered our favorite food during our journey through Italy.

I would like to share two places with you. Let me start with the best lasagna and eggplant parmesan we have ever put in our mouths: It was at Osteria Ale Do' Marie. I had never eaten a sea food lasagna before in my life, it was decadent! This place is off the beaten path and visited mostly by locals. 

Another must stop is the Taverna da Buffo nestled in one of Venice’s many squares with a canal running alongside is an ideal romantic place to enjoy a meal with your love or a terrific spot to meet good friends. 

While you sit there eating a delicious meal, from time to time a street performer will stop by and serenade you.  To me it was complete ecstasy, the square was serene and charming. There is nothing better in life than to sit with the love of your life in this surreal environment.

Enough about the ambiance, let’s get to the important stuff, the food.  It was out of this world.  After trying many pizzas, I was thrilled to find the perfect one at Taverna da Buffo.  This thin crusted wood fired oven pizza, with delicious topping and just the perfect amount of mozzarella was mind blowing.  As we all know Branzino _ Lingohutthe mozzarella in Italy can’t be topped.

My husband will tell you that his fish was scrumptious and one of the best he has ever had.  That is saying a lot for him, since he is a fish connoisseur.

We spent three of our evenings in Venice in this quaint square having romantic dinners at Taverna da Baffo.  The first night he ate the “Branzino,” a delicious sea-bass and the other evenings he enjoyed the “Rombo” turbot, a local fish.  In his words “Wow.”

The following may also come in handy:

  • osteria - pub, bar
  • pesce - fish
  • forno di legno - wood oven
  • frutti di mare - sea food
  • artista di strada - street performer

During our first lunch, oh yeah I forgot to tell you, we found this place by accident in the middle of the day while strolling the narrow alleys of Venice, that is when we had the pleasure of meeting Alex Barcaru, the owner. He is such a friendly charismatic young man, always making sure his customers are well taken care of.

During our visit to the restaurant we also got the honor to get to know Diana and Andrei, two very personable and knowledgeable waiters. They were so helpful in sharing what the dishes had and how they were fixed. Stick with their house wine you will not be disappointed. Buon appetito!!!

A different version of this blogpost was published on LingoHut.

Bio: Kendal Knetemann is founder of Lingohut, where free language lessons, activities and articles are making language learning uncomplicated. Communication is our thing!!! Help us grow, share us with your friends and like us on Facebook

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My 12 Best Daily Habits for Learning Foreign Languages

Friends in a coffee house - Gamesforlanguage.coThere's no shortage of advice on the web about learning foreign languages. If you can just convert some of that advice into a few habits - they'd be sure to make a difference on your path to fluency.

To learn a language, you can choose from many online and offline language learning options available today. Select the one that engages you the most and has you go back again and again to learn and practice.  

But ultimately, how effective any of the programs will be, may depend on how well you can incorporate some language learning habits into your daily life. 

Here are my 12 best daily habits to maintain and improve my languages.

1. Have a Small Notebook Handy at All Times 

I do a lot of my language learning using online programswriting in note book - gamesforlanguage.com and resources. Still, I always keep a small notebook with me, which I use in multiple ways.

It's a place where I keep track of my learning. I also write down words and phrases I want review later.

When I'm in the mood, I write a short journal entry in my target language.

If you do some writing, and have a mind to get corrections, you could copy and post what you've written on Lang-8, or italki. It's free. In return, your corrections of what others have written is much appreciated.

When I come across new resources, books, sites, songs, etc. I put them in my notebook.

Yes, you can do most of this on your phone. Still, I find that writing by hand engages my mind in a different way from typing or tapping. The biggest benefit is that it strengthens my memory.

2. Try to Formulate as Much as You Can in Your Target Language

During times you're free to do so, try to think and talk to yourself in your foreign language.

For example, when I set the breakfast table, I say the names of any items in the room. Anything I want to look up, I'll write down in my notebook.

Likewise, you can talk to yourself about things that you're doing, going to do, or did in the past - all in your target language.

As you go about your day, you can spontaneously translate common phrases you hear or think, such as: "Let's go" "That's fun" "I'm late" "What's that?" "What's up?" "I don't know" "I got a text" etc.

The more you think in your new language, the easier it will become. With time, you'll be doing it automatically.

3. Say Your Target Language Out Loud Whenever You Can

talking - Gamesforlanguage.comThis is an important habit to get into. No matter how much you (silently) read and listen to your foreign language, you have to produce the sounds to speak with any fluency.

Live conversations are, of course, the best way to practice. But if you push yourself to say as much as possible aloud, your target language speaking skills will benefit enormously.

There are many ways to do this. Read a few sentences aloud from your target language book.

Or, as you practice with an online program, repeat and say words, phrases, and sentences aloud.

Reading newspaper headlines? Read them aloud. Listening to a song? Sing along.

4. Listen to Songs in Your Target Language

Popular songs in your target language can be a fun and effective way to learn and practice. 

Music opens your ears and connects you straight to the sound. There's no need to worry about grammar or pronunciation, you just go with the flow.

Even as you listen and imitate the melody and lyrics, you are practicing the sounds, rhythm, and various idiomatic phrases in the language you are learning.

You can find many songs with translations on YouTube.

And even better, Language Zen uses songs for teaching Spanish very effectively, by breaking the lyrics up into chunks, and then building up the song again, all the while integrating the music. I'm looking for programs that do the same for other languages.

5. Set Your Phone to Get Notifications or Headlines From News Sites in Your Target Language

If possible, set any news alerts you get in your native Le Monde news on iphone - Gamesforlanguage.comlanguage into the language you're learning.

Notifications are another option. Now, with the European Soccer Championship taking place in France, I've signed up to get updates in French from the newspaper Le Monde. (Depending on your interest, you can also subscribe to different Le Monde Newsletters.)

I also stay abreast of what's happening in Switzerland with German newsflashes from "20 Minuten."

Daily emails with news headlines in your target language are another option.

I get them from Huffington Post with news from Spain, Québec and France, Italy, and Germany - each in the local language. Of course, you can do this with other newspapers and in other languages too.

6. At Breakfast or Dinner Do a Quick Practice with your Partner or Children

Involving a partner, a friend, or even your children in some fun language practice is a huge benefit.

My husband and I go over a daily list with Spanish words, at breakfast or dinner, alternating who gets asked. For that, we use my little notebook with words we want to learn, and go over hard words that I've starred in pencil. Needless to say, we laugh a lot doing that as we practice sounds, find associations, think of translations into other languages, etc.

When our sons were still living at home, we spent a few minutes at each meal telling anecdotes in German.
They've often told us how much they appreciate the effort we put into helping them become bilingual. They are now busy adults, who still find time to do the same with their young children.

Children are so open to learning! A friend of ours plays a little "I see, I see what you don't see" language game in French with her kids during meals. Even her two-year-old chimes in by imitating some of the words.

7. Play Language Games

Word Invaders - Gamesforlanguage.comThere are many language game apps you can buy for a few dollars, such as Mindsnacks, Drops, Worddive, etc. You can also play the free online Gamesforlanguage Quick Games Quizlet games or games on Lingohut.

Many of these games you can play at various times during the day, while commuting by bus or train, waiting, etc.

Interactive games have features that can help you learn vocabulary and grammar points intuitively and painlessly. Replaying the games helps you to memorize.

In addition to games for individual play, there are games you can play with your friends.

And, it doesn't always have to be apps or online games. For example, you can play various Kloo Games with your children and friends and improve everyone's French, Italian, Spanish (and English).

When you're having fun through a game, you're less likely to be anxious about grammar and pronunciation.

8. Record Your Voice and Play It Back

Listening to podcasts and watching TV shows is important for your pronunciation. But you become much more aware of your own speech when you record yourself.

Use your smartphone to record yourself and just chat away in your target language. Then, play your recording back. You’ll hear your own pronunciation, and become aware of what sounds you should practice.

It's a powerful and deliberate step towards improvement.woman on laptop with earphone - Gamesforlanguage.com

(The Gamesforlanguage.com Stories all have a "Record It" feature at the end of each Scene. This way you can record each dialogue and compare yourself to the native speaker.)

9. Set up Some Time With a Tutor, an Exchange Partner, a Native-Speaker Friend, etc.

Talking with native speakers is one of the most important ways to improve your fluency. Make it a habit to seek out various people to practice with.

Ways to do that is to schedule sessions with a tutor, meet friends over a cup of coffee, attend language meetups in your town, go to a local shop or market where you can use your target language, join a cultural club, etc.

The benefit of doing so is that you'll start thinking about the upcoming session. That often involves getting yourself ready, if only by practicing a few phrases and sentences in your mind.

10. When You're Cooking, Running, or Exercising, Listen to a Podcast or an online Radio Program

woman exercising with earphones - Gamesforlanguage.comThis gives you a choice to listen to whatever interests you. If you listen to a subject that you know something about, the context will help you guess unknown words.

Even if you're not totally focused on listening because you're also doing something else, your brain takes in more than you think: sounds, intonation, words, phrases, the rhythm of sentences, etc.

The important thing is that listening this way puts you into the environment of the language, it immerses you.

11. Watch Videos, TV Shows, and Films in your Target Language

If you like watching films, TV shows, or YouTube videos, then make a habit of watching some of them in the language you're learning.

At first, quickly spoken language may sound like gibberish. I had that experience when we lived in Rome for a few months. But after a while, I started hearing individual words and getting more and more of the meaning. The flow of the language seemed to slow down.

Foreign films are a great way to practice listening comprehension and to learn about culture. Setting the subtitles option to the same foreign language is often a big help. I prefer this to subtitles in English.

12. Go over a Few Words and Phrases Just Before You Go to Sleep

As we reported in a recent post – Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep? - Swiss researchers have found that hearing such words and phrases WHILE YOU SLEEP, could improve your memory.

Unfortunately, there is no practical way yet to replicate such test results 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. 

Apparently, your brain keeps working on what you just reviewed while you sleep and starts moving the words and phrases into your longer-term memory.

Any of these 12 habits can add some routine to your language learning. Try some of them and tell us what you think. You can always reach us via Contact.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada and speaks German, English, Dutch, and French fluently. She intends to become as fluent in Italian, Spanish and Swedish. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Disclosure: Certain links above are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Language Zen" - Learning Spanish - A Review

Language Zen - Gamesforlanguage.comLanguage Zen is a language learning site that features Spanish for English speakers. Its home page promises: Language learning without frustration. Personalized to you.

Frustration is sometimes unavoidable when you're learning and are annoyed by your mistakes. However, learning a foreign language with a program that adapts to your learning style and skill level is clearly the way to go.

At the center of Language Zen's program is the algorithm that keeps track of what you've learned and has you redo the phrases and sentences where you made mistakes.

What you learn are the most frequently used words, which Language Zen gathers through data mining” - analyzing thousands of TV transcripts. 

A special feature of Language Zen is that you can learn with songs and use the song lyrics for learning vocabulary. The program promises: The system gets smarter the more you use it. If you learn something through a song or a special course, it will carry over to the rest of the system.

Let's see how it works!

ASSESSMENT TEST

Once you've registered and clicked on Start Learning, you can Select your Level - Language Zendo an Assessment Test to determine your level: Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate, Intermediate Plus, Advanced, Advanced Plus, Fluent, Near Native

To find your level for the test, you're asked to Slide to the right until you don't understand one or more of the Spanish words. [see screenshot, right]

The test is based on translation, always into the target language. For my level, I slid into Advanced Plus. The test of 20 sentences that followed included various verb tenses and idiomatic ways of saying things. I did not come across any uncommon or specialized language. 

For the translations, I could speak or write the answer. An option for a literal cue provided some help. Then, for each answer I got corrections and brief explanation. So I was already learning during the test.

Language Zen start screen - Gamesforlanguage.comAfter completing the test, I was indeed assessed to be Advanced Plus. But that doesn't tell me that everything I did was perfect. It simply means that I'll do my best learning in the advanced language environment. 

Language Zen is a bright, uncluttered, inviting site, and easy to navigate. 

On the Bar on top, you see: Learn, Courses, Music, Review, Blog, Premium

LEARN (or Start Learning)

When you start, you learn at the level you've reached.

There are three types of exercises:

  • Write or speak the translation of a sentence into the target language. Once you've done that, you'll hear the right answer and get corrections. From time to time, you'll get a grammatical hint.
  • Listen to a sentence in the target language and choose the correct translation out of five. Again, you'll see and hear the correct answer so you can check.
  • Match the meanings of 5 words or phrases.

At the end of each section, you'll see your progress.

COURSES (or Special Courses)

Here you have a list of 13 specific topics: Language Zen Courses - Gamesforlanguage.comGreetings, General Education, Travel Essentials, At a Restaurant, Getting Around, Telling Time, The Family, General Shopping, Watching Sports, Dating, Flirting with Girls, Flirting with Guys, and Investing in Startups

With the 4 hours I had done in the Learn” section, I could see the percentage of words that I knew in each of these courses (without yet doing any of the courses).

The last course Investing in Startups caught my eye. The Info Tab tells you: Language Zen is starting its first raise. As a treat for our investors and potential investors, we've built a course to help you talk about investing in the next great Latin American startup.

The learning method is similar to what I've been doing in the Learn” section.

Learning from your mistakes is part of the method:

For example, I translated the sentence I like working with VCs with: Me gusta trabajar con VVCC. (Because I had previously learned that you make abbreviations plural by doubling the letter, as in EEUU (United States).

However, the correct answer is: Me gusta trabajar con VC, which is something I will now remember. Deeper into the course, I also learned the Spanish for VCs - inversores de riesgo.

I really like getting the corrections, sometimes with a brief explanation of why my answer was wrong.

Language Zen Recording - Gamesforlanguage.comRecording the answer is a really cool option.

When you speak your translation, it appears automatically as written. You can still correct the written form before you check it.

However, as with many voice recognition features, this one sometimes doesn't work that well for me.

I spoke the sentence ¿Cuánta pista tienen? (How much runway do you have?) - and the program wrote: autopista kennedy.

My husband, who was listening, commented that maybe my Austrian accent in Spanish didn't go over that well... But then, who doesn't have some kind of accent when learning a foreign language?

I've noticed, though, that the program has become more accepting of my voice, with fewer strange transcriptions. That means it's learning too!

MUSIC (Learn from Music)

I love learning with songs. Because there's lots of repetition, Language Zen Song - Gamesforlanguage.comsongs become a surprisingly effective way to learn vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, grammar structures, and the pronunciation of difficult sounds.

For many language enthusiasts learning the lyrics of a foreign song is a great way to engage both with the music and the language. (No wonder that La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish With a Songis still one of our most-read blog posts!)

For Spanish, 15 songs are listed. Next to the song titles, you see the percentage of its words that you have already learned in another context on the site.

Each song has three Tabs: Learn, Play, Info

The Info Tab lists the Artist, Album, Genre, and Accent: Spanish (Peninsular), Dominican, Honduran, Colombian, Mexican, American, Andalusian (Peninsular), Chilean, Puerto Rican.

By the way, it's a good idea to listen to different accents and dialects in a language. Doing so, trains your ear to hear subtle differences in sound. If you do this consistently, you'll understand native speakers of your target language much better. Especially, if they aren't your standard-accent radio announcer.

The Play Tab takes you to the song. You can listen to it in Spanish and see each of the lines as they're sung either in Spanish or in English.

The Learn Tab teaches you individual phrases that occur in the song (by having you translate or pick a translation out of multiple choice). I noticed that some of the sentences from my other course lesson also showed up, scattered in between.

Language Zen Lyrics lesson - Gamesforlanguage.comYou can also just do a lesson on the lyrics, where you learn individual phrases that go to make up the lines of the song.

As you go along, you get quick grammar tips. For example: As you see the sentence (line of the song) Lo oigo todo es tiempo a small box opens and tells you: When someone or something receives the action of a verb, that someone or something is known as the direct object of a sentence.

As you progress, you'll hear snippets of the song, where the words you're learning occur.

You slowly start building the sentences of the song.

The short phrases are quite easy in themselves, but as you start putting them together into longer sentences, you learn colloquial structures that go beyond literal translation.

If you click on More ... on the bottom of the box, a page of explanation opens, giving you an extensive description of a direct object, including a list of pronoun objects, and a note about word order.

REVIEW

Learning a language effectively depends a whole lot on how you review. Language Zen has some nice features in that department.

On Review you can pull down three options: Progress, Words, Facts

Progress:

This opens a Dashboard that tells you your status: Language Zen Progress screen - Gamesforlanguage.comHow close you're to your weekly goal in hours; what you've learned in numbers and on a graph (Words, Facts, Phrases, Meanings); your streak in days; what level you're on; how many points you've earned.

Words:

This lists all the words and their meanings that you've learned so far.

You can sort by:  Words I Know / Don't Know” and Need / Don't Need to Practice that are Of Any Type or 11 other grammatical categories such as /Verbs /Nouns / Prepositions, etc.

When you see the letter P beside any of the words, it means you need to practice it; a puzzle piece beside it means there's a grammatical fact attached to it.

Facts:

Language Zen grammar explanations - gamesforlanguage.comUnder "Facts", you'll find a list of grammatical points that are explained in the lessons, such as Por vs para, Expressions with Tener,”etc.

You can sort this list the same way as in the Words section. Also, you are given the skill level for each. Clicking on any of the items gives you a brief explanation and examples.

For example, in the screenshot as on the left: they are”, the use of the  verb estar to express conditions (rather than “qualities,” for which “ser” is used) is explained.

COST

Language Zen can be used for free, with ads on the site and limited daily learning.

There are also Premium monthly subscription options, which let you try out the premium version for free for a month before being charged $14.95 for 2 months. Check the Membership Feature Comparison page for the various subscription options. (An option for companies and schools includes custom professional content and group usage metrics.)

What we Like

  • You learn most vocabulary in the context of phrases and sentences.
  • The vocabulary seems practical and useful.
  • The “Special Courses” let you learn and practice what you need or want.
  • Translations are always into Spanish.
  • When translating a English phrase you often get several Spanish options.
  • Choosing the “literally” translation option is often helpful.
  • You can select a slow voice option.
  • Recording your answer gives you an opportunity to speak.
  • The voice recorder seems to learn and adapt to your voice.
  • You choose the level to start (or rely on the assessment test).
  • The recall algorithm of words I missed, seemed to work well.
  • You get grammar points at times, but they are not overwhelming.

Other things to consider

  • The learning and practice is translation based.
  • I did not find any dialogues of conversations (beyond some of the song lyrics).
  • The “Learn” and “Course” module translations are quite demanding; interspersing a song and just reading the lyrics can be relaxing.
  • Language Zen has found a very effective way of using its teaching method for song lyrics. We find the method both engaging and demanding.
  • It really requires you to be on your toes to get the translations correctly – one sure way you are learning!
  • There are no iOS or Android apps yet but we understand that an Android app is in the works, to be followed by an iOS app.
  • Conversations and stories, using a similar method as for the song/lyrics module, are also in development and will be added shortly.

Brief Comparison with Lingualia

In April we reviewed the Spanish program (online and apps) of our partner site Lingualia. Lingualia also uses a learning algorithm and adjusts to your skill level. Here are features in which Lingualia differs from Language Zen: 

  • Lingualia's exercises are all in Spanish (without any English/Spanish translations).
  • Definitions are in Spanish and you are often given Spanish synonyms and antonyms for words you're learning.
  • Each lesson starts with a rapidly spoken dialogue. You can listen to it as many times as you want.
  • If needed, you can click to activate Google translate for dialogues and example sentences (and have to live with the often literal and incorrect Google translations).
  • Grammar points are taught in the form of exercises, with explanations in Spanish.
  • Texts in Spanish and questions for reading comprehension are mixed in.
  • Both the iOS and Android Lingualia apps work well with the online account.

Both sites are good examples for how different programs can be used for developing and practicing different skills.

Which one is more effective for you, may well depend on which method and topics engage you the most. You'll want a site to which you come back again and again to learn and practice - the only sure way to progress.

If translating, special courses and vocabulary, Spanish songs and lyrics, etc. are your thing, then Language Zen will work very well for you.

And you can read about our Update on Language Zen.

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

Disclosure: The link to Lingualia is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe. Gamesforlanguage, LLC had no business relationship with Language Zen when the review was written, other than having received a free subscription for the course. Subsequently, on 6/15/2016, we entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with Language Zen.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Speed up Your Language Learning With Chunks - Not Just Individual Words

ice cubes - gamesforlanguage.comWe all want to speed up our language learning. Lately, I have been practicing Dutch and Spanish vocabulary with LearnwithOliver.com (in preparation for a review on our Blog) and I noticed something interesting: When looking over the daily “Sentence of the Day” and “Words of the Day” list, I recognize most of them and understand their meaning.

However, when I later review the “Words in the Queue,” I often cannot produce the English translation for individual words. On the other hand, when I scroll down to the foreign example sentence – which includes the foreign word I can't remember – the meaning of that word becomes quite clear.

I have found that in many cases remembering words as a part of a “chunk” helps a lot (as do other mnemonic practices). A chunk is a short group of words that typically go together.

In my language learning, I've come across various types of chunks (also called collocations).

Here are a few examples:

A chunk that you remember because of an association you create

Continuing with my “Words in the Queue” example from above: I've had a hard time remembering the breathing under water - Gamesforlanguage.commeaning of the Spanish word “aguantar” (to put up with, hold, support, bear).

LearnwithOliver's example sentence was: ¿Puedes aguantar la respiración durante 30 segundos? What helped me, was to remember the expression aguantar la respiración” (to hold your breath).

The word “aguantar” contains (for me) the word “agua,” and I see the mental image of “holding one's breath under water.” With that image, I can now remember the individual word too, and its meaning in different contexts.

A short chunk containing a grammatical kernel

cartoon house - Gamesforlanguage.comThese can be prepositional phrases, typical verb-noun, or adjective-noun constructions, etc. Once such word combinations become automatic, they provide good building blocks for speaking.

In German, phrases “nach Hause” and “zu Hause are better remembered in context with related verbs, such as nach Hause kommen (to come home) or zu Hause sein (to be at home).

(In Gamesforlanguage's German Stories “zu Hause” and “nach Hause” appear in different contexts, which you can find by just searching for Hause in our German Dictionary)

In Spanish, “en casa” and “a casa” are quite similar to their German equivalents, as a search for casa in our Spanish dictionary will show.

A chunk in which the meaning of the individual words doesn't add up to the meaning of the phrase

With the English phrase, “What's up?”, you're not really asking the question literally, right? Other languages have similar phrases.what's up? - Gamesforlanguage.com

In Spanish, you ask: “¿Qué tal?” The word “tal” alone translates as: such, that. But the greeting means: What's going on?, How about it?

Germans typically greet each other: “Wie geht's?” This is literally How does it go? How goes it?, but means: How are you?

Very similarly in Italian: “Come va?” (“va” = it goes),

and in French: “Ça va?”, short for “Comment ça va?”

These greetings, etc. you'll remember without even thinking about grammar and the meaning of the individual words.

A chunk that contains an image that doesn't translate into your language

The German expression: “nichts am Hut haben” (literally: to have nothing on the hat), means: not to care a fig about something.

clouds in blue sky - Gamesforlanguage.comThe French expression: “Ça a l'air bon” (literally: that has the good air), means: That looks good.

The Spanish expression: “estar por las nubes” (literally: to be for the clouds), just means that something is "very expensive.”

Replacing por with en, however, changes the meaning completely: estar en las nubes means that somebody is in the clouds, or daydreaming.

There are many expressions in all languages that you'll not understand if you just translate the individual words.

But once you understand the expression, it also lets you remember more easily the individual words through association with the image.

How to practice chunks:

A good way to practice a chunk is to copy an existing audio, or record it yourself. Then play and repeat it as often as you can.

You should know it so well, that you can say it automatically, Record It - gamesforlanguage.comwithout thinking about how the phrase is put together.

That's also why, at the end of each of our Gamesforlanguage's Story Scenes, we have a “Record It” feature, which let's you record the Scene Dialogue and compare yourself to the native speakers. (Right, Italian 1 Story, Scene 3, “Record It” screen)

It will not only help you with your pronunciation, but also make you better remember typical expressions.

Another good tool for recording a phrase you want to practice is using the free Audacity audio program which you can download both for Windows or Mac by using the above link. (We'd like to credit an earlier Mezzofanti Guild post for making this suggestion.)

Never Again Wordlists or Grammar Paradigms?

That's up to you. For some, memorization of words and endings feels like a chore.

I, for one, actually like learning and reviewing vocabulary. There are plenty of programs around for doing that, a popular one being Memrise.

You may also like the practice option (for the words you had to look up) that Lingua.ly provides when you use its browser extension or its app when reading texts online

In any case, I prefer learning words and grammar structures that I've seen in context. That way, I'm sure of the meaning and I avoid committing “google translate” type bloopers.

From time to time, I also go to check a conjugation just to make sure I have the forms right. Wordreference has conjugation pages for many languages, where you can see the full conjugation of a verb on one page.

For me, various forms of chunks (pre-assembled phrases) are the anchors of the language I'm learning. Once they become automatic, I'm freed up to focus more on the message that I'm trying to express.

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.