Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

French Travel Memories 2 - Daniel in Aix-en-Provence

Cours Mirabeau sign surrounded by wiresVisiting the South of France? Then try to include Aix-en-Provence and make your own travel memories there - maybe in the Cours Mirabeau.

As you play our travel-story based language courses, you'll follow a young traveler through several main cities in each country.

And – if you visit these cities yourself – you'll discover that the travel-stories' street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc. all exist. We visited many of them and took pictures.

Our French traveler Daniel flew into Paris, which was the topic of our first French Travel Memory post.

After Paris, Daniel's next stop is in Aix-en-Provence, a picturesque city located in the south of France, about 20 miles north of Marseille.

In Aix, Daniel looks up a French friend he had met earlier during his studies in Boston.

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

Often referred to as a city of art and history, Aix sports beautiful gardens, picturesque fountains, historic buildings, and the remains of Roman baths.

You can find specific events for your travel dates on the Tourist Office website, and more information in these books and travel guides.

We'll just mention a few quick facts and list some basic terms in French that will help you in your travels.

A FEW QUICK FACTS ABOUT AIX-EN-PROVENCE

Aix is a city-commune (or, incorporated municipality) located in the region of Provence, in the department of Les Bouches-du-Rhone.

In 2014, it counted a population of 142,149.

The region of Provence gets its name from the Romans. By the end of the second century BC, the region of Provence was part of the first Roman "province" beyond the Alps.

Aix had its beginnings in 122 BC as a Roman town. During the breakdown of the Roman Empire and beyond, the town survived numerous battles, periods of occupation, and repeated plundering.

From 879 until 1486, Provence was a semi-independent state ruled by the Counts of Provence. During that time, Aix became its capital and an artistic and intellectual center.

In 1487, Aix passed to the crown of France, together with the rest of Provence.

le Midi - the Midi, South of France (colloquial)Fountain at La Rotonde in Aix-en-Provence

les jardins - the gardens

les fontaines - the fountains

les ruines romaines - the Roman ruins

la commune - the town, municipality

la capitale - the capital

ville d'art et d'histoire - city of art and history

RUE MAZARINE

Daniel's friend Pierre lives in the Mazarin district on rue Mazarine, a street that runs parallel to the popular and lively Cours Mirabeau (more below).

The "quartier Mazarin" was developed in the 17th century by the then ruling archbishop Michel Mazarin.

Located in the south of Aix, this elegant neighborhood is known for its numerous "hôtels particuliers" (grand townhouses), built for the nobility, army officers, politicians, and the newly wealthy merchant class.

FRENCH TRAVEL MEMORIES WITH PAUL CÉZANNE

Paul Cézanne monument in Aix-en-ProvenceThe painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was born and grew up in Aix-en-Provence.

His father, co-founder of Banque Cézanne et Cabassol, was a successful banker. For several years the young Cézanne studied law and worked in his father's bank.

At the same time, however, he was also enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix and envisioned a career in the arts.

At age 21, Cézanne left for Paris and for the life of a struggling artist.

Read more about Cézanne's struggles and artistic development.

Throughout his life, Cézanne came back to Aix frequently and finally settled there again during his later years.

Café Clément, where Cézanne often went to meet friends, was at 44 Cours Mirabeau.

The bank Cézanne's father founded, Banque Cézanne et Cabassol, was on 24, rue des Cordeliers. It is now the location of a property management company.

In Aix, you can visit Cézanne's atelier: 9 avenue Paul Cézanne. It's about a 30-minute walk to the north of the town. That's where he worked every day from 1902 until his death in 1906.

l'atelier - the atelier, artist's workshop

le peintre - the painter

le tableau - the painting, picture

la peinture – the paint, painting

la banque – the bank

le banquier - the banker

travailler - to work

LE COURS MIRABEAU

Cours Mirabeau tree-line avenue in Aix-en-ProvenceThe Cours Mirabeau is a wide boulevard built in 1649 along the southern ramparts of the city. To the south of this lively street lies the quartier Mazarin (see above).

The Cours Mirabeau is lined with restaurants, cafés, stores, bookshops, movie theaters, and beautiful fountains. (see picture)

The popular café "Les Deux Garçons" - frequented by the writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, the philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as Paul Cézanne - is at number 53 Cours Mirabeau. It was built in 1660 and is the oldest café in Aix.

le cours - the long avenue

l'écrivain - the writer, author

le cinéaste - the filmmaker

le philosophe - the philosopher

le dramaturge - the playwright

CATHÉDRALE SAINT SAUVEUR

Aix's cathedral was first built in the 12th century, Main entrance of Cathédrale Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provenceon the site of a pre-Roman pagan temple and later Roman temple of Apollo.

In the following centuries, the cathedral underwent several more phases of construction.

Now a national monument of France, the building is an interesting combination of Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-gothic architectural styles.

Noteworthy are the Gothic portals, the Bell Tower (started in 1323), the Romanesque Cloister, as well as the interior of the church.

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT

Besides strolling through the streets old Aix with its stunning architecture, its markets and shops, the Hotel de Caumont centre d'art is worth a visit (located in a "hôtel particulier").

Also of interest are short tours into the surrounding countryside. First on the list may be the neighboring Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a frequent subject of Cézanne's paintings.

And, if you are visiting during the summer months, don't miss a tour to Provence's lavender fields.

SOME ADVICE

As you're making your travel memories, you'll notice that Aix-en-Provence has an atmosphere that is reminiscent of Paris. 

In the summer you may enjoy "Musique dans la rue" or one of the many "Festivals" and art exhibitions; or join the fashionable Aixois sipping an expresso or an apéritif on one of the terraces of the Cours Mirabeau cafés.

The center of Aix' old town is now a pedestrian zone with large parking lots around the perimeter.

So, if you travel by car – use one of those lots and don't even try to drive into the town center!

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 travel memories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Posted on by PeterRettig

Eine “Affenhitze”? Fahrenheit to Celsius Made Easy

Celsius - Fahrenheit thermometerA recent post about German expressions you may hear in Germany during the summer months includes “Affenhitze.” (Literally, it's “monkey heat,” or very hot, you get the picture.)

Talking about the weather is always a good conversation topic, especially when traveling.

For many travelers from the U.S. to Europe (or vice versa), being able to correlate the Fahrenheit scale to the European Celsius is a mystery.

There are conversion charts, thermometers often show both scales as on this picture, and your smartphone will have an app for conversions of areas, weights, temperatures, etc.

(And yes, there is the simple approximation: deduct 30 from ºF, divide by 2 to get ºC, or double ºC and add 30 to get ºF.)

But after reading this post, "approximate" won't do for you any longer and you can also impress your friends, by NOT using a mobile gadget.

You'll now be able the make all conversions quite easily in your head by just remembering a few key numbers.

And, feel free to forward the post to anyone who could use it!

But first a little history.

Fahrenheit

The Fahrenheit scale was proposed in 1724 by the Danzig/Gdansk born,Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit doing experiment Amsterdam-based physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit.

Today Fahrenheit is used as the official temperature scale only in the United States, a few Island states in the Pacific, the Bahamas, Belize, and the Cayman Islands.

The scale is defined by two fixed points:

32 ºF as the temperature when water freezes, and 212 ºF as the temperature when water boils at sea level and a defined atmospheric pressure.

Just remember: On the Fahrenheit scale, water freezes at 32 ºF.

Celsius

Anders Celsius paintingThe Celsius scale, which the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius proposed in 1742, was actually the reverse of the scale we are using today: 0 as the boiling point and 100 as the freezing point of water.

Read about the Celsius history, and how the reversal to 0 ºC as the freezing point and 100 ºC as the boiling point of water came about, in this Wiki entry.

Just remember: On the Celsius scale, water freezes at 0 ºC.

But enough of physics.

The Fahrenheit/Celsius Correlation

We now know:

Water freezes at 32 ºF and 0 ºC.

Water boils at 212 ºF and 100 ºC.

The difference between freezing and boiling is therefore 180 ºF and 100 ºC on either scale.

Dividing both differences by 20 (180:20=9; 100:20=5) gives you the first easy relationship to remember:

Each 5 ºC correlates to 9 ºF

If 0 ºC = 32 ºF, then

   5  ºC = 9 ºF + 32 ºF = 41 ºF

You got the idea?

What would then 20 ºC be in Fahrenheit? Easy!

Remembering that 4 x 5 ºC = 20 ºC, you apply the same logic to the Fahrenheit conversion:

4 x 9º  + 32º = 68 ºF

This leads you to the second correlation you may want to remember:

68 ºF correlates to 20 ºC

Once you remember this one, it's not difficult either to calculate and even remember the next one

50 ºF correlates to 10 ºC

How do I know?

Well, remembering that 5 ºC correlates to 9 ºF,

you can either add 2 x 9º = 18º to 32º, or deduct 18º from 68º, both result in 50 ºF.

In the last few weeks European temperatures have often exceeded 30 ºC, and the 90s ºF are not unusual for many parts of the U.S. these days: 

What are the ºC/ºF equivalents? Easy!

Just add 2 x 9º = 18º to the 68 ºF (= 20 ºC) that you remembered from above and you'll get:

30 ºC correlates to 86 ºF.

Add another 5 ºC or 9 ºF and you get:

35 ºC correlates to 95 ºF.

The Fahrenheit – Celsius Table

Here is the table for the easy 5 ºC increments, and you can obviously interpolate among those. But as long as you remember the key relationships  (5 ºC ~ 9 ºF, 0 ºC ~ 32 ºF and 20 ºC ~ 68 ºF) , you can always figure it out again easily.

Celsius   Fahrenheit
0º           32º
5º           41º
10º         50º
15º         59º
20º         68º
25º         77º
30º         86º
35º         95º
40º       104º

It's summer now, but you may also want to know in the winter how cold -10 ºC is in Fahrenheit?

No problem, right?

Here is a good one to remember as well:

-40 ºC correlates to -40 ºF

By now, I'm sure you are able to figure out why this is correct.

The Fahrenheit – Celsius Formula

For the more mathematically inclined readers, here are the two conversion formulas which the mobile apps are using:

ºC = [(ºF – 32 ) / 9] x 5 and

ºF = ºC x 9 / 5 + 32

Some Final Thoughts

For those readers who use European cook books that include ºC temperature recommendations, it's worthwhile to know that 200 ºC is 328 ºF and 250 ºC is 418 ºF.

I've written these two conversion sets in each of my European cook books.

Of course, as with anything, you have to practice a bit. And, if you are learning a foreign language, why not practice the conversion numbers in your new language?

To brush up on the numbers, just click on the French, German, Italian and Spanish number posts and games!

As the Germans would say: You could “zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen” - which converts easily to “kill 2 birds with one stone”...

And please, forward this post to anyone for whom the Fahrenheit/Celsius relationship has always been a mystery!

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 or below.

 

Posted on by Maile Proctor

How to Decide Which Foreign Language You Should Learn

foreign language globeAlthough the world’s two billion English speakers span an estimated 57 countries, in our “global” society, the importance of being able to speak a second (or third or fourth) foreign language is more valuable than ever before.

With plenty of opportunities to start learning right away, it’s time to decide which language you want to start learning. There are a lot of factors that can influence this decision.

Some languages are easier to learn than others, some are more widely used, and you may have a vested interest in one language over another based on where you live, your background or any other personal preferences.

If you’re on the fence about which language to learn, here are a few ways to help you decide.

Are You Looking for a New Hobby?

Becoming adept in a foreign language offers numerous personal benefits includingFinding Hobby concept enhanced memory and cognitive function, more confidence in your capabilities and intellect, or even just “bragging rights” to impress friends and family.

If your motivation for learning another language stems from the desire to acquire a new skill or explore a new hobby, consider studying French or Spanish. Both of these languages are widely spoken throughout the world, with French spoken in 32 countries and Spanish in 21.

Given the appropriate time investment—five days per week—you could gain conversational proficiency in six months.

Are You Heading Back to School?

I'm going back to learn it right!Not only does learning a language make you a better student, various scholarships are available to bilingual speakers, especially for graduate program expenses.

If you want to learn another language for educational purposes, consider studying German, which is esteemed in academia.

Also, keep your degree program and major in mind when you select a language. If your degree would benefit from learning one language or another, consider that as well.

You may want to talk to your academic advisor and see what he or she recommends. Having languages skills on your resume can help you land your dream job.

Are You Preparing for a Trip Abroad?

Knowing how to speak the native tongue when traveling allows you to have aforeign travel pictures more authentic and memorable experience.

It also makes you a more self-assured traveler, being able to communicate with locals, read traffic signs, and order from a restaurant menu without mispronouncing the entree.

You will have a much more fulfilling trip and be able to experience more than you would if there was a language barrier or lack of understanding of the local language.

If your motivation for learning another language stems from wanderlust, study whichever language correlates with the region you’re visiting.

Are You Investing in Career Goals?

catapulting your careerKnowing a foreign language can make you a sought-after—perhaps even indispensable—asset on the job market because companies recognize the advantage of global business relations in our modern economy.

Bilingual employees can network with international clients, remain abreast of overseas corporate trends, or even compete for higher-paid positions abroad.

If your motivation for learning another language stems from professional development, consider studying Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken by 1.3 billion people, more than any other language.

Are You Connecting a Foreign Language to Your Roots?

Learning a foreign language promotes awareness of other cultures, how ethnic heritage shapes Family Tree w/ relativesfamily dynamics and rituals, cultural perceptions and beliefs, or even your own life and ancestry.

If your motivation for learning foreign languages stems from an appreciation for where your family originates from, consider studying whichever language reflects that ancestry.

Caucasians often find German or French beneficial, while Hispanics gravitate toward Spanish or Portuguese. Asians might choose Malay or Chinese, while those of Middle Eastern descent likely connect with Arabic.

This is a great way to learn about the history and native language of your spouse’s family as well. You can learn the language together and then plan a trip to visit their family’s home country.

Once you gain proficiency in one language and, therefore, understand how the learning process works, learning more languages over time becomes less intimidating, challenging and time consuming. Decide which language you want to learn, start studying and see where it takes you—who knows, you could end up moving abroad or landing your dream job.

Maile Proctor is a professional blogger and content editor. She writes articles on lifestyle and family, health and fitness, education, how-to and more. Maile earned her Bachelor’s in Broadcast Journalism from Chapman University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking in San Diego, California.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage has no business relationship with Couponbox and Maile Proctor other than publishing Maile's article.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Spanish Travel Memories 2 - David in Granada

Travel memories at ancient fortress of Alhambra, Granada, SpainThe Spanish Travel Memories add to the information that our young traveler David picks up in our GamesforLanguage travel-story courses.

In the courses, we use street names, neighborhoods, hotels, and restaurants - many of which we've explored ourselves - in each of the Spanish cities.

In Spanish Travel Memories 1, we tell you more about Barcelona. After visiting his aunt and uncle there and exploring the city, David heads south to Granada.

If you're going to visit Spain, you wouldn't want to miss Granada. It's a fascinating city with a multicultural history, and certainly a place for travel memories.

We're also listing a few basic words and phrases in Spanish that will help you to communicate locally. The word lists are a combination of words and phrases taught in the course and other useful travel terms.

Just as we did with our post about Barcelona, we'll follow David's discoveries in Granada. For those of you who have done or are doing our Spanish 1 course: David en Españathis may be of special interest.

Quick Facts about Granada

The city of Granada is the capital of the province of Granada, one of the eight provinces in the autonomous community of Andalusia. The city proper has a population of over 236,000.

Granada has a great location. It lies close to the Sierra NevadaGranada with Sierra Nevada in background mountain range, and is only about an hour by car from the Mediterranean coast.

The name "Granada" may come from either the Spanish word for "pomegranate" (granada) or from the Arabic word said to mean "hill of strangers."

In its early history, the region of what is now Granada was the site of an Iberian settlement, Elibyrge, (5th century b.c.), and of the Roman town Illiberis (150 b.c.). During the reign of the Visigoths (500 a.d.), a small community of Jews who had also settled there, named the area Garnata al-yahut.

In 711, a Moorish Caliphate invaded and conquered Granada. After internal conflicts among Arab clans, the Ziries clan created an independent kingdom, which lasted from (1013-1238). It was followed by the powerful Nazrid dynasty (1238-1492).

It was during the reign of the Nazrid kingdom, that the Alhambra fortress and the Generalife palace were built.

Granada was the last Muslim kingdom to be conquered by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

  • the mountain range - la sierra
  • snow-covered, snowy - nevado/a (adj.)
  • the coast - la costa
  • the pomegranate - la granada
  • the settlement - el asentamiento
  • the dynasty - la dinastía
  • Catholic Monarchs - Reyes Católicos

Train to Granada

Barcelona to Granada mapThe distance between Barcelona (located in the northeast of Spain) and Granada (in the south) is 425 miles. Rather than fly to Granada, David chooses the less expensive option. He takes the train, which in his case is the Arco train with a route along the eastern coast.

Side Note: Obviously, train schedules and routes change over time. The Arco train to cities in Andalusia, operated by RENFE (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles), has been replaced by their AVE trains with somewhat different routes. The map above shows the driving options, which also mirror the train routes quite closely. The train route via Madrid may be faster. 

Once he arrives in Granada, David asks for directions to “la calle Reyes Católicos,” the street where his friend Daniel lives, in the center of town. From the train station it's about a three-mile walk. (There's also an easy bus connection.)

  • the train station - la estación de tren
  • the distance - la distancia
  • the train schedule - el horario de trenes
  • the train ticket - el billete de tren
  • the (train) track - la vía
  • to wait - esperar
  • a seat by the window - un asiento en la ventana
  • Is this seat available? - ¿Está este asiento todavía libre?

Washington Irving and the Alhambra

Washington Irving Statue in Alhambra, Granada, SpainThe Alhambra ("the red" in Arabic) is a spectacular palace and fortress built between 1238 and 1358 during the Moorish Nazrid dynasty. It stands on a plateau overlooking the city of Granada. You can read up more on its history HERE.

We were surprised to learn that the American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859) had actually lodged in a room in the Alhambra palace for three months in 1829. During that time he began his "Tales of the Alhambra," a colorful mixture of local history and legend. There's a plaque in the room where he stayed.

On the way down through the gardens, you can see a statue of Irving, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of his death. Downtown, there's also a street named after him.

  • the palace - el palacio
  • a palatial complex - un complejo palaciego
  • the writer (m/f) - el escritor, la escritora
  • the tale, story - el cuento
  • the plaque - la placa
  • the garden - el jardín
  • the statue - la estatua

Side note: The city of Alhambra in California is reportedly named after the "Tales of the Alhambra." In 1874, the daughter of Benjamin Wilson, a wealthy developer, was reading the book and encouraged him to use the name for his new suburban development in Los Angeles County.

University of Granada

Founded in 1531 by emperor Charles V, the University of Granada is one of the oldest in Spain and continues a long educational tradition that goes back to the time of the Moorish epoch.

With over 50,000 students in Granada alone (and seven campuses, five in Granada, and two in Spanish territories in Northern Africa), the University of Granada is the one of the largest in Spain.

The university is also highly popular with students of Erasmus, a program adopted by the European Commission in 1987, to encourage and support student exchanges throughout the European Union.

Side Note: The Erasmus Program was named after the Dutch philosopher and scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536). At the same time, ERASMUS also stands for: European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.

Mirador de San Cristóbal

The San Cristobal Viewpoint is in the picAlbaicin neighborhoodturesque Albaicín neighborhood of Granada. From the viewpoint you have a stunning panoramic view of the city, including a side view of the Alhambra and the snow-peaked mountains behind.

El Albaicín has maintained the narrow winding streets and the architecture of its Moorish past. It was declared a world heritage site in 1984, together with the Alhambra. 

(We recently came across this Post "Ask an Expat: Living in Granada, Spain" by Nina Bosken, who describes her experience teaching and living in Granada. And to fill out the picture of Granada, read this New York Times Travel Dispatch In Spain, Secrets and a Possible Betrayal!)

David's next Stop (and future Spanish Travel Memories 3)

From Granada, David takes the train to Seville for more travel memories. There he checks into a hotel his friends had recommended to him.

He explores the Toro del Oro and the Almohad Tower, called La Giralda. Together with Ana and some of her friends he spends an evening in Triana, the neighborhood known for flamenco dancers and singers.

Register or log in again and continue with the Spanish 1 course.

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, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments below or with contact. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

The Other Swiss Languages: Italian and Romansh

Swiss map with CantonsBesides German and French, there are two other official Swiss languages: Italian and Romansh. (See also our previous post: Language Learning: German and French in Fribourg, Switzerland)

Like German and French, Italian has full official status on the federal level in Switzerland: all laws and official documents have to be written in these three languages.

Romansh has "partial" official status, i.e. it is used on the federal level when needed for communication with Romansh speakers.

However, each Swiss canton and, generally, even each community can choose which language to use for its own official communication.

Italian is the only official language of the Canton of Ticino and one of the three official languages of the Canton of Graubünden.

Romansh is recognized as an official language only in the Canton of Graubünden, (the largest Swiss canton, but with less than 200,000 inhabitants, also the canton with the lowest population density).

According to an article about Swiss languages published in July 2016 by swissinfo.ch, German (both High German and Swiss German) is spoken by about 63% of the population, French by about 23%, Italian by about 8%. Romansh is spoken by less than 1% of the total population.

The Third Swiss Language: Where Italian is Spoken

Swiss Italian is the Italian spoken in the Canton of Ticino and in the southern part of the Canton Graubünden. Ticino on Swiss map(see map of Ticino, right and map of Graubünden below)

The territory of present-day Ticino was annexed from Italian cities in the 15th century. With the creation of the Swiss Confederation in 1803, the lands were named Ticino, after the largest river in the area. To read up on the history of Ticino: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ticino

The official name of Ticino is Repubblica e Cantone Ticino (Republic and Canton of Ticino). Because of historical ties, the people of Ticino have a strong cultural affinity to their Italian neighbors.

Ticino is the only canton where Italian is the sole official language. Over 87% of the people speak Italian as their native language, around 666,000 according to Ethnologue. (About 10% speak German, and about 5% speak French.)

In the Canton of Graubünden about 15% of the population speaks Italian (just under 30,000). 

Please note: The numbers and percentages I'm quoting show some variation in the French, German, English, and Italian articles I consulted about Swiss languages.

Swiss Italian - Svizzero Italiano

Over the centuries, the Swiss Italian language has been influenced by the local Ticinese dialects and the other national languages, French and German. There are Helveticisms (words typical for Switzerland), differences in idiomatic usage and syntax, and loan words (not known in Standard Italian). 

Here are a few loan words that come from French or German:

To book, reserve (a room or table)
Italian: prenotare.  Swiss Italian: riservare.  French: réserver.

Change, money back
Italian: resto.  Swiss Italian: ritorno.  French: retour.

Sticker (for car)
Italian: bollino.  Swiss Italian: vignetta.  French: vignette.

Discount
Italian: sconto.  Swiss Italian: ribasso.  German: rabatt.

Blind, roller shutter
Italian: taparelle.  Swiss Italian: rolladen.  German: Rollladen. (yes, 3x "l")

Here's a nice little YouTube podcast in Italian about the Swiss Italian language. 

More Swiss Languages: Ticinese

In addition to Swiss Italien, a part of the population of Ticino speaks Ticinese, which is a group of dialect varieties of the Lombard language. For many Italian speakers, Ticinese is difficult to understand.

Ticinese has now been named an endangered language. (According to Ethnologue, there are 303,000 speakers of Ticinese in Switzerland.)

The Lombard language is also spoken in the Northern Italian regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, and Trentino. https://www.ethnologue.com/country/CH/languages

The Fourth Swiss Language: Where Romansh/Rumantsch is Spoken

Graubünden on Swiss mapThe Romansh language is spoken primarily in the southeast of Switzerland, in the Canton of Graubünden, where it has official status alongside German and Italian. (Besides the two spellings above, there are a number of other ways to spell the language.)

Romansh is a descendant of Vulgar (or spoken) Latin. In 2012, it counted just over 36 thousand people who called it their main language. At 0.9% of Swiss citizens makes it the least spoken of the four official Swiss languages.

The spoken Romansh language is generally divided into 5 dialect groups, which together form a continuum. Still, there are recognizable differences even from village to village. The most widely spoken dialect is Sursilvan, which is used by more than half of the speakers of Romansh. In addition to the 5 major dialects, there are a number of other recognized dialects.

Although they are closely related, the Romansh dialects are not always mutually comprehensible. For that reason, when speakers of different varieties talk with each other, they tend to use Swiss German rather than their own dialect. Apparently for Romansh speakers, identity is tied largely to the local dialect region.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, grammar and spelling guidelines were developed for the regional written dialects. Now, each of the 5 Romansh dialect varieties has its own standardized written language. Romansh is taught in some of the local schools.

In 2000 a bilingual high-school diploma was introduced in Graubünden. Since then, if they wished, students have been able to follow studies and graduate in Romansh/German or in Italian/German. 

Pan-Regional Rumansch Grischun

There were attempts to create a unified written Romansh language in 1867, and again in 1958, but these did not gather much support during the early days. A main criticism was that such a created language would be artificial and destroy the Romansh cultural heritage.

Nevertheless, attempts to introduce the standardized Rumansch Grischun in local schools have continued. Finally, in 2015, a hesitant compromise was reached: This unified version of the language is not to be introduced before grade 7. As expected, both supporters and opponents are unhappy.

How do the Swiss Manage?

In researching this topic, it became clear to me that accommodating these four languages and various dialects remains a challenge for Swiss communities and their government.

Resentments between language groups continue to exist. And still Switzerland, a small country of only 8.5 million inhabitants, is somehow managing.

One key may be the autonomy that the individual cantons and communities have in choosing their official language(s), and how and where the languages are taught, etc.

Maybe direct and frequent voting gives the citizens a sense of control? Maybe becoming bilingual by the time they get to school let children become more tolerant towards other languages?

Whatever the reasons, it seems to work. And it reminds me that South Tyrol may have emulated the language success of its neighbor, as we wrote in a previous post: South Tyrol – A Multicultural Success Story.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's 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 right below!

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

“Gruezi” and Other Swiss German Expressions

Saaner's Loch - Switzerland by Gamesforlanguage.comIn our previous post, we focused on the bilingualism of many Fribourgers. The German spoken in Fribourg is clearly of the Swiss German variety, with a few French expressions mixed in at times.

And while Swiss German is the generic label for the dialect, there are plenty of regional differences that a foreigner would only detect after a while.

When you're traveling in countries where you speak the language, you may notice that both formal and informal greetings often vary from region to region.

For example, when we were traveling in Northern Germany a couple years ago (see our post: From Utrecht to Hamburg: Dialects and Travel Tips in Northern German), we first couldn't make out the informal greeting we heard everywhere: “Moin.” We first thought it was an abbreviation of “Morgen,” as in “Guten Morgen” (Good morning), but it was clearly used all day.

Digging a little further, we found that while “morgen” may be one etymological explanation for “Moin,” another one could be the Dutch, Frisian, and Low German word “moi,” meaning “beautiful” or “good.”

This week we are exploring a few Swiss German expressions we encountered while skiing in the "Berner Oberland". (Above picture of "Saaner's Loch)

Grüezi” and a Swiss German Ear-Worm

To get a little taste of the Swiss German language, The Minstrels singerslisten to this YouTube Video of a popular song by a Swiss group, The Minstrels, from the late 60s.

It was the #1 song in Switzerland in 1969 for 10 weeks, made it to #3 in Germany, and sold over 1.5 million copies in 27 countries.

Even if you know some German, you'll have a hard time understanding the simple refrain. But listening to it a few times, you'll start distinguishing verbs, their grammatical modifications. You'll also pick up a few Swiss German idiosyncrasies.

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa: The Lyrics, Standard German, and Translation

Ja, grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Ja, grüß sie wohl, Frau Stirnimaa
(Hello there, Ms Stirnimaa)

Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie sind sie de so dra?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie sind Sie denn so dran?
(Tell me, how's life, how's it going?)

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie gaht's denn ihre Ma?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie geht es ihrem Mann?
(Tell me, how's life, how's your husband doing?)

Quick note: There is no standard written form of Swiss German. Letters and letter combinations are mostly attempts to express the way words sound.

And while you'll notice how the verb forms and endings are different from Standard German and hear how the “n” and “m” endings are dropped, we won't try to explain much more.

Just listen to the Swiss German language melody.

Swiss German in the Berner Oberland

Swiss Restaurant Terrace with guestsThis week the public schools in the canton of Bern have vacation, and besides a little French, we hear mostly Swiss German in the villages and on the mountain between Zweisimmen and Gstaad.

Even for us German speakers, some of the Swiss German we come across is a little hard to understand.

Briefly: In general, the dialects spoken in Switzerland (collectively called Swiss German) belong to the Alemannic variety of German.

Greetings: “Grüezi” vs. “Grüess eech”

Grüezi is arguably the most well-known Swiss German greeting. It's an abbreviation of “Gott grüez i” or literally in German: Gott grüß euch. (May God greet you.)

A variation of “Grüezi” is “Grüezi mitenand,” with “mitenand” (“miteinander” - together) making it clear that the greeting is for more than one person.

This greeting is used mainly in the Zurich area and in the east of Switzerland.

In the western part, around Bern and Basel, it's more common to hear “Grüss eech,” which also means literally: Gott grüß euch.

Indeed, here in the Berner Oberland, we've been hearing “Grüss eech” or “Grüess eech mitenand,” all over the place: when entering a restaurant, going into a shop, when sharing a gondola or chair lift with others. People even greet you as you're walking in the village.

In a restaurant: the verb “sein” - “sii” and “gsi” (or “gsy”)

Today, we ate on the terrace of a mountain restaurant. After greeting us “Grüess eech mitenand,” our waitress asked: “Was derfs sii?” - Was darf es sein? (Lit: What may it be? Meaning: What can I get you?)

When we finished our meal and she started to clear the table, she asked: “S isch guat gsi?” - Ist es gut gewesen? (Lit: Was it good? Meaning: How was the meal?)

Swiss German uses a shorter and older form of the verb “sein.” Instead of “sein,” it's “sii” and instead of “gewesen,” it's “gsi.”

Meal time: “Ä Guätä!”

It was a beautiful, sunny day and the terrace was A Guätä - Signcrowded. So, as is typical for many European countries, we shared our table with other restaurant guests.

We ordered “Röschti” (Rösti), which are fried potatoes prepared in a typical way in Switzerland. A meal of Röschti comes in all kinds of combinations: with a fried egg, with ham, with vegetables, etc.

Note also: The letter combination “st” (appearing anywhere in a word) is pronounced “sch.” The German word “ist” becomes “isch” (the -t is dropped)

We were served first, and when our meal arrived, our table neighbors wished us “Ä Guätä!” This is literally, “(Have) a good one!” and best translates to “Enjoy your meal!” The equivalent in Standard German would be: Guten Appetit! literally: Good appetite!

When we finished and were ready to leave, while our table neighbors received their meals, we wished them “Ä Guätä!”

Other useful words and phrases we heard

We often heard teenagers saying “Sali” or “Sali mitenand.” - Hallo, alle. - Hi everybody.
“Sali” is less formal than the greeting “Grüezi.” It comes from the French “salut” (hi/hey).

The French “Merci” (thank you) has been appropriated by Swiss German as well, and you hear it alone or also as “Merci vilmals” - Vielen Dank (Thanks a lot).

The German “Auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye) has the Swiss German equivalent of “Uf widaluege,” and means the same, “luege” - sehen (to look).

Probably a leftover from the old telephone technology of bells, if you want to say “I'll call you,” you'd say “Ich lüt dir a.” This literally means: Ich leute dich an, or Ich leute bei dir an (I'll ring you.)

For more Swiss German expressions see also our previous posts Swiss German Language Lessons in Gstaad (1) and (2).

Don't Despair

If you're just learning German and are trying to understand Swiss German, don't despair. Even native Germans have a tough time understanding rapidly spoken Swiss German, even more so speaking it.

But as with any language or dialect you want to learn, there are many ways to do it.

Here are three iPhone apps that will help you: Gruezi Switzerland (free), Schweizerdeutsch Lernen ($0.99), and uTalk Classic Learn Swiss German ($9.99).

We have not tried any of these yet, so let us know what you think below.

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.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 3: Dutch Language & Canal Boating

Pénichette 1020FB layoutIf “fietsen” (bicyling) is a Dutch favorite, “bootjevaren” (boating), which includes “zeilen” (sailing), is certainly another.

With about one third of the Dutch mainland BELOW sea level and another one third very close to it, it's no wonder that the Dutch have a special relationship with water.

Yes, Italy has Venice, which has romantic canals but also more frequent flooding. Venice also needs to worry about its future as it is slowly sinking into the Adriatic Sea.

On the other hand, Amsterdam with its many “grachten” (canals) is a vibrant international city that has well adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the ever present water.(See also European Travels 1 and European Travels 2)

And, the canal network in the Netherlands is nothing but astounding. It's a great way to explore the country.

For the fun of it, we'll sprinkle in a few Dutch words. Because Dutch is a Germanic language just like English and German, you may find some cognates.

  • het land - the country, land
  • de stad - the city
  • de fiets - the bicycle
  • het water - the water
  • de gracht - the canal (in a city)
  • het kanaal - the canal (outside of a city)
  • de rivier - the river
  • de zee - the ocean, sea 

Dutch Canals and Rivers

Traveling by boat on a canal or river lets you experience the countryside in a different way Dutch windmill along canal - Gamesforlanguage.comthan driving through it. At 7 to 8 miles per hour, you can observe your surroundings in a leisurely way.

You'll notice the different designs of houses and various building methods, admire beautiful gardens, wonder what crops are growing in the fields, what type of cattle is grazing on the pastures.
Often the canals are higher than the adjacent pastures, as water is pumped continually from the lower lying fields into the canals.

While most pumps in the Netherlands are now electrically operated, there are still old windmills that are doing the job. We certainly observe more and more of the modern wind turbines every time we visit.

The ABC of Dutch Canal Travel

Operating a motor boat on Dutch canals is not really difficult, although sometimes when in tight quarters, you have to keep calm and go slowly. 

You don't need a license. If you haven't sailed or operated a motor boat before, don't worry. The charter company will instruct you in how to handle the boat.

Obviously, prior boating experience helps, not only for operating a boat, but also for knowing a few basic facts:

  • Boats have no brakes
  • Boats are affected by wind and current
  • Boats have various electrical and plumbing systems
  • The forward/backward gear of boats is operated with a throttle
  • Larger boats respond more slowly to throttle and steering commands
  • A “bow thruster” greatly helps maneuvering in tight quarters
  • Locks” connect waterways with different water level elevations
  • The lower the boat, the more bridges you can pass (without their opening)

Our 2016 Charter Choice

For our previous three canal cruises in the Netherlands, we had chartered from different local charter companies. This time we selected Locaboat, a multinational charter with locations in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, and the Netherlands.

Pénichette 1020FB layoutTheir location in Loosdrecht, just north of Utrecht and close to the Dutch family reunion we attended, as well as our good experience with them during a charter in France a few years earlier, made them an easy choice.

Péniche” is the French word for a barge. A “Pénichette©”, Locaboat's trademarked name for its motorboats, is therefore a small barge.

We selected a “Flying Bridge Pénichette© 1020FB, which had two cabins with toilets and showers, just right for our American friends and us.

The “Oude Rijn” (the old Rhine), as our mini barge was called, had inside and outside steering – perfect for either rainy or sunny weather – a bow thruster, and the two bicycles we had reserved.

With its 10.20 meter length (about 34 feet), it suited us fine.  The midship saloon and steering station provided a great view during any meal. The compact kitchen (galley) had a refrigerator, a two-burner stove and oven, and all the pots, pans, and dishes we needed.

I noticed several improvements since the last time we had chartered from Locaboat:

  • The bow thruster
  • Electric instead of pump toilets
  • No switch to change from inside to outside throttle operation
  • A spacious refrigerator working well either on motor or shore power
  • An easily operated diesel heater for the hydronic heating system

Dutch canal chartThrough the charter company we had ordered some basic supplies from the local grocery store, such as water, beer, etc. These arrived shortly after we boarded.

After reviewing our intended itinerary, (see map) learning about the boat's systems, and a quick test-outing into the canal with me backing into the slip, we started our trip.

While Locaboat reportedly makes WIFI available on its boats in France, we had to arrange for internet access ourselves in the Netherlands.

After some research I had selected my-webspot.com. The Paris, France based company had shipped the portable WIFI to our hotel. After an easy set up on the boat - it just plugged into the 12-V charger - we were connected. As we also had guests, with phones and iPads, the ability to connect up to 10 devices worked great for all of us.

It was late afternoon and we had to pass one lock and bridge before starting our round trip as shown on the chart.

  • de winkel - the shop
  • de boot - the boat
  • de sluis - the lock (on a waterway)
  • de brug - the bridge
  • het dorp - the village, town
  • het huis - the house
  • de tuin - the garden, yard
  • de boerderij - the farm

Locks

In a lock adjusting lines - Gamesforlanguage,comShortly after leaving the Marina, we encountered the Mijnden Sluis, the first of the few locks that we had to pass on our trip.

When approaching a lock, you'll know from the position of the gates (open or closed) and the red or green lights - whether you have to wait (red) and possibly tie up, or whether you can enter (green).

Once in the lock, your crew loops a couple of lines around the bollards and holds on to them. But they should NOT TIE UP.

As the lock gates are closed and the water level rises and falls, the crew adjusts the lines so the boat glides along the lock walls, protected by its fenders. (In this picture our friends are adjusting the lines in the biggest lock we encountered, behind a large commercial barge.)

As the lock gates open again, you motor out the other side to a different water level.

In the Dutch inland canals, such level differences are often only a foot or two.

(In French canals, we had encountered a level difference of 10 feet or more in many locks. Also, in an earlier blog post, we describe how the boat lift in Henrichenburg, Germanyovercomes a 42 feet level difference.)

Bridges

We had chartered a motor boat for the first time in the Netherlands, over 20 years ago in Utrecht. Our teenage sons loved it right away. At that time, a few of the bridges still had to be opened manually. The boys had to jump ashore, open the bridge, let us pass, close the bridge, and then hop on board again.

This time, we were told that we would not have to open any bridges ourselves on our trip.

The moving bridges we encountered, called “Beweegbare Bruggen,” and labeled “BB” on the chart, were operated as follows:

  • By an operator at the bridge or a person who monitored it remotely via cameras
  • By a push button, typically located on a piling before the bridge
  • By phone call to an operator or on an automated line

Many bridges opened as we approached, adding a yellow light to the red light before it turned green. Sometimes we called. (Telephone numbers were on a sign at the bridge. In addition, nearly all bridges had a telephone number listed in the boat manual or in the chart app on my tablet.)

More instructions were provided in the boat's handbook, but Ulrike's command of Dutch was clearly helpful for the third option.

under fixed bridgeThere are only very few bridges left where the operator collects a fee with a wooden shoe on a long pole. We passed only two.

In towns and cities, operating hours often consider morning and evening traffic rush hours. Commercial vessels always have priority over recreational boats and you learn to be patient.

Your chart tells you the passing height of each bridge. Our “Oude Rijn” was listed as 2.92 m. Passing under a 3.00 m bridge left only 8 cm or a little more than 3 inches – and when steering and sitting outside on top of the upper deck we certainly had to duck. (In the above picture there were only a few inches to spare...)

Mooring Sites

The waterway chart (as well as the Dutch app for my tablet which I had downloaded earlier) not only shows all the locks and bridges, but also the marinas and mooring sites that one can tie up to.

Some of the mooring sites in small towns are free.

At others, you can replenish your water or hook up your shore power (for a fee). We only did this a couple of times. 

However, you're not limited to the designated mooring sites. Especially in the countryside, you can just hammer in two steel spikes ashore and tie up your boat along the canal bank.

No Hurry

After passing through the Mijnden lock, we turned north and were immediately faced with our first challenge.

The bridge operator of the first moving bridge we were to pass in Loenen, informed us that the next bridge had mechanical problems and could not be opened. He thought it could be fixed in an hour or two and suggested we should just tie up. 

We did and explored the little town of Loenen, with its narrow cobble stone streets and its two picturesque bridges across the river Vecht. We also found a bakery and stocked up on fresh bread and pastries.

Bridge opening in LoenenThis short delay taught us again not to be in a hurry. Canal traveling has to be done leisurely.

Yes, we would not get very far this first day, but no matter. Waiting for bridges or locks to open is as much part of canal travel as finding a nice restaurant for lunch or dinner or a good mooring spot for the night.

Indeed, when the bridge operator told us that the problem was fixed, we continued north on the Vecht. (see picture above)

As it was soon going to get dark we made fast near the small town of Overmeer.

After a 10 minute walk we found a very pleasant restaurant for our first dinner ashore.

Returning a few hours later to our “Oude Rijn,” we were glad that we had not forgotten the flashlight to unlock the door.

We had a quiet and peaceful night and the next morning greeted us with sunshine and ducks and other birds in the water around us.

Sightseeing

The Netherlands is very densely populated country. In traveling
along the small rivers and canals, we passed through cities and towns, as well as commercial and industrial areas. But we also came through long stretches of farm land and pastures.

In addition to the many small towns and villages we came across and explored, the major cities on our itinerary were Amsterdam, Gouda, and Utrecht.

We've written a blog post about Amsterdam, as we stayed there before getting on the boat. But visiting Amsterdam by boat is even more fun.

You can easily get to the marina in the center of town from where you'll explore the city on foot. There are a few more marinas in the outskirts, but then you have to find a way to get into the city.

Gouda is a wonderful town with a stunning 15th-centuryGouda City Hall - Gamesforlanguage.com city hall (see picture) and a spacious market place, where during the spring and summer a traditional cheese market is held every week (Thursday mornings).

You can actually moor right in the center of town, but we chose to tie up and stay overnight on the Hollandsche IJssel, just south of the city.

When we came to Utrecht, it was not possible to go through the town with our Flying Bridge Pénichette, as the many arched bridges of the Vecht were too narrow and low for the “Oude Rijn.”

However, mooring in the “Singelgracht” close to the center of town, allows you to explore the city easily on foot.


Along the Vecht, there are many restaurants tourists and locals alike seemed to enjoy on a late summer day. 

The town has over 20 museums, ranging from the Aboriginal Art, to the National Military, the Railway, and the Waterline Museum Fort Vechten. 

This is often one of the major benefits of sightseeing from a boat: You can moor in or near the center of a town or city (where finding a parking space for your car may often be difficult).

  • het stadhuis - the city hall
  • het centrum - the center (of town)
  • de jachthaven - the marina
  • de buitenwijken - the outskirts (of town)
  • de marktplaats - the market
  • de kaas - the cheese
  • de Noordzee - the North Sea
  • de Oostzee - the Baltic Sea

The European Canal system

While we traveled mostly on small canals and riverscontainer barge on canal - Gamesforlanguage.com (such as the Vecht and IJssel), there were also a few stretches where we encountered commercial traffic.

When a large container-laden barge is heading towards you (as on this picture), you realize how important the waterways are still for the European economy.  You also do your best to keep out of  the way! 

Leaving Utrecht and before we could re-enter the
Vecht near Maarsen, we had to travel on the wide Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. This canal serves as an important commercial link between Amsterdam and the Rhine.

Indeed, barges can make it up and down the Rhine all the way to Basel, Switzerland, or via the Main river, the Main-Danube Canal, and the Danube to Budapest, Vienna, and the Black Sea.

No wonder, traffic is heavy and recreational boats like ours have to keep well out of the way.

The European canal system not only connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, but barges and boats (even sailboats with a lowered mast) can find their way into the Mediterranean Sea, via the Mosel and the Rhone.

Breukelen

Our last overnight stop before returning to our base was Breukelen. Breukelen, by the way, gave New York's Brooklyn its name.

We again were moored right in the center of town, behind a typical old-style bascule bridge and several restaurants. In one of them we ate dinner.

There we met the Dutch artist, Toos van Holstein, who was elected the Netherland's “Briljanten Kunstenaar 2016” (Dutch Brilliant Artist of 2016). She had just organized a special art event “25 Karaats Briljant” at the gallery Peter Leen, which is adjacent and connected to the excellent Thai Same Same restaurant.

Traveling on Dutch canals leaves you with many
impressions, memories and pictures, certainly more than we can relate here.

On our last evening we could again enjoy a spectacular sunset across the huge Dutch sky - a fitting end to our canal cruise.

If you're interested in trying canal boating yourself in the Netherlands or France and have more questions, drop us a line via contact and we'll be happy to help.

For more photos from the trip see our picture gallery Canal Boating in the Netherlands.

You can also follow our European travels from Utrecht to Lake Constance, and Discoveries in Austria.


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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

French Travel Memories 1 - Daniel in Paris

TRAVEL MEMORIES IN Paris The French Travel Memories expand on our GamesforLanguage travel-story based courses, which use the cities' real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc. We visited many of them ourselves and tell you a little more about each French city.  

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (You'll find our first German post by clicking on: German Travel Memories 1 – Michael in Frankfurt)

Daniel's first stop is in Paris, France's cosmopolitan capital, and where his travel memories begin.

We'll follow Daniel's discoveries in Paris. For those of you who have done or are doing our French 1 course: Daniel en France, this post provides some local color. Others may discover some new things about Paris and perhaps get inspired to dig deeper.

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

Visiting Paris? To many of you, Paris doesn't need much of an introduction. Besides, there are plenty of sites that can fill in any gaps. We'll just mention a few quick facts and list some basic terms in French that will help you in your travels.

A FEW QUICK FACTS ABOUT PARIS

Paris was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Celtic people called Île de la Cité and Notere Damethe Parisii, who gave the city its name. They settled on Île de la Cité (see photo), an island in the middle of the Seine river and located on an important north-south trade axis.

(The well-known Cathédrale Notre-Dame, seen on the photo was later located there.)

In 52 BC, the Romans set up camp on the Île de la Cité and (temporarily) renamed the city Lutetia.

By the end of the 12th century, Paris had become the largest city in the western world, and the political and economic capital of France.

By the 17th century, Paris was an important center of finance, commerce, science, fashion, and the arts in Europe. It continues to play that role today.

It was interesting to read why Paris is called The City of Light (La Ville Lumière).

For one, Paris played an important role during the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that championed the concepts of reason, liberty, and the scientific method, seeking to illuminate man’s intellect.

For another, Paris and London were two of the early cities to adopt gas street lighting.

Since the late 19th century, Paris has also been known as Panam(e) (pronounced: [panam]) in French slang.

The city of Paris (also called the Commune or Department of Paris) now has a population of over 2.2 million people. The urban area of Paris is estimated to have a population of 10.5 million.

Île-de-France, also called “région parisienne” is one of the 18 regions of France. It includes Paris as well as 7 other administrative departments. The Île-de-France region has a population of over 12 million inhabitants.

la capitale - the capital
la ville - the city, town
la lumière – the light
Île de la Cité – an island in the Seine, within the city of Paris
la commune - the town, municipality
l'arrondissement – city district
le fleuve – the river (flows into the sea)
la rivière - the river (flows into a lake or another river)
l'aire urbaine (f) - the urban area
la banlieue – the suburbs (autonomous administrative entities outside of the city of Paris)
Île-de-France – one of the 18 regions of France

PARIS CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT

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

On his flight to Paris, Michael chats in French with the flight attendant and with the woman who's on the seat next to him.

He arrives at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is Europe's 2nd busiest airport in Europe, after London.

As Daniel goes through Passport Control, he continues to speak French. Responding to the standard questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to France and how long he will stay.

le vol - the flight
l'hôtesse de l'air/le steward - the flight attendant f/m
l'aéroport (m) - the airport
le contrôle des passeports - the Passport Control
Êtes-vous ici pour affaires? - Are you here on business?
affaires has multiple meaning: affairs, matters, business
Combien de temps? - How long?
un bon séjour - a good stay

PARIS NEIGHBORHOODS

Paris arrondissments mapParis is divided into 20 arrondissements, or administrative districts, arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral (snail shell) starting from the middle of the city, the first being on the Right bank (north bank) of the Seine, the 20th being on the outer edge. (Plan by ThePromenader http://www.paris-promenades.com
with numbers in map.)

Most of the districts have their particular brand of Parisian identity and atmosphere. A brief description of each arrondissement can be found HERE. You can click on the number of a particular district to see the streets, metro stops, monuments, etc.

RUE LA FAYETTE

Daniel's aunt and uncle live in the 9th arrondissement, on Rue La Fayette (which also continues through the 10th district). Rue La Fayette is two miles long and an important axis on Paris' Right Bank.

The 9th district is a lively and diverse residential area, with many boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Historically, the fashionable, the moneyed, and the artistic mingled there.

In the 9th you'll find the Paris Opera and the neighborhood of Pigalle, home of the cabaret Moulin Rouge. The painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec had his studio there, and Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh lived near Place Pigalle.

You'll also find the famous department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in the 9th.

The Galeries Lafayette are a chain of upscale department stores. The famous flagship store on 40 Boulevard Haussmann had its early beginnings in 1893 with a small fashion shop located at the corner of rue La Fayette and rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin. The shop founders were two cousins from Alsace, Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn.

In the next couple of decades, Bader and Kahn added adjacent buildings, with the goal to transform the whole complex into something of a luxury bazaar.

The architect Ferdinand Chanut “called upon great artists from the École de Nancy to decorate this magnificent building in the style of Paris Art Nouveau. ... The dome, rising to a height of 43 metres, soon became the iconic symbol of Galeries Lafayette. Master glass-maker Jacques Gruber was responsible for designing the Neo-byzantine style stained glass windows.”

The store was inaugurated in 1912. You can read more HERE.

SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRÉS

Saint-Germain-des-Prés is an administrative quarter in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This quarter has a large number of bookstores and publishing Place Saint-Germain-Des-Préshouses, and several famous cafés including Les Deux Magots (where Daniel has “un verre” with his aunt when he returns to Paris.)

As you can see on the image on the right, the number of the arrondissement is shown on all signs of streets and squares.

In the middle of the Twentieth century, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter was the center of the Paris Existentialist movement (associated especially with the writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir).

The church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the oldest churches in Paris. Originally a Benedictine Abbey, it was founded in the 6th century AD.

Historically, Saint-Germain-des-Prés square was an important marketplace thanks to its annual fair.

The Foire Saint-Germain, which dates back to 1176, attracted merchants from all over Europe throughout the centuries. It lasted generally three to five weeks around Easter.

Today, there's a covered market on the square.

la place – the square
le marché – the market
la librairie – the bookstore
l'éditeur – the publisher
la maison d'édition – the publishing house
la foire – the fair, trade fair
un verre - the glass
prendre l'apéritif – to have an aperitif (pre-dinner drink)

RUE DE GRENELLE

Hotel Lutetia - ParisDaniel returns to Paris at the end of his trip and stays for a few days with his aunt Juliette, who lives on Rue de Grennelle, in the 6th arrondissement.

On his way to Rue de Grenelle, Daniel passes Hôtel Lutetia, located at 45 Boulevard Raspail (see picture). It was built in 1910 in the Art Nouveau style and was named after the early Roman town Lutetia.

The interiors of the hotel are in the somewhat later Art Deco style. During Nazi occupation of France, the hotel played an important role as a shelter for refugees.

Over the years, the hotel was visited by guests such as Picasso, Charles de Gaulle, James Joyce (who wrote part of his novel Ulysses here), Peggy Guggenheim, and Josefine Baker.

Rue de Grenelle is a funky street lined with stunning 17th and 18th century mansions, charming bars and restaurants, and interesting shops. Somewhat off the tourist route, rue de Grenelle is a great place for a stroll.

Nearby, on Boulevard de Grenelle, you'll find one of Paris' best street markets (Wednesdays and Sundays). The Eiffel Tower is just a short walk away, and will certainly appear in any visitor's travel memories - whether you survey the city from above or admire it from the Trocadero as on the picture below.

LE TROCADÉRO and LA TOUR EIFFEL

After dinner, Daniel and his aunt Juliette take an evening stroll to the TRAVEL MEMEORIES OF THE TROCADERO AND EIFFEL TOWER Trocadéro, a 20-minute walk away, and located in the 16th arrondissement.

A hill and esplanade with a magnificent view over the Seine to the Eiffel Tower, it's the site of Palais Chaillot, built for the 1937 Paris Expo. (For more info click HERE.)

Sloping down towards the Eiffel Tower are the Gardens of the Trocadéro, also built for the 1937 Paris Expo. The gardens are a beautiful open space with a large water basin called the Fountain of Warsaw, and lined with numerous statues and smaller fountains.

The Eiffel Tower (7th arr., on the Champ de Mars) was erected for the 1889 World's Fair on the centennial of the French Revolution.

The tower was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower (and also created, among other monuments, the metal structure of the Statue of Liberty). The Eiffel Tower continues to be the tallest structure in Paris at 324 meters (1,063 ft.). To get to the top, a visitor can take one of the 5 elevators, or walk up 1665 steps.

Every evening since 1985, the Eiffel Tower is lit up, and sparkles for five minutes at the beginning of each hour.

QUARTIER LATIN and DEUX MAGOTS

Les Deux Magots - ParisAfter visiting the Eiffel Tower, Daniel and his aunt Juliette walk over to the Latin Quarter (6th & 7th arr.) known for the Sorbonne and other educational institutions and lively student atmosphere.

Called “Latin” quarter because Latin was the language of learning in the Middle Ages, its winding streets are the home of quirky second-hand bookshops, and hip cafés and bars.

At the café Les Deux Magots, Daniel and his aunt enjoy a glass of wine to finish the evening. Located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the café was a popular meeting place for intellectuals, writers, and artists.

Besides Beauvoir and Sartre, its patrons have included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Albert Camus, Bertolt Brecht, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Julia Child, and others.

Since 1933, the Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded every year to a new French novel that is a little off-beat and non-conventional. The writer who received the prize in 2016 was Pierre Adrian for his novel La Piste Pasolini (published by Les Équateurs).

TRAVEL MEMORIES WITH A BOAT TOUR ON THE SEINE

Near the end of his visit, Daniel and his aunt take a river cruise on the Seine. It's his chance to see many of Paris' monuments one last time.Gamesforlanguage Facebook page

A boat tour on the Seine during a sunny day with the “Bateaux Parisiens,” “Bateaux Mouches,” or “Vedettes de Pont Neuf” is indeed a great way to enjoy many of the Paris sights and add to your travel memories. You'll glide under quite a few of the 37 bridges and learn about the Paris history.

(Click on the image of our Facebook page for our French Quick Game: Paris Quiz!)

A boat tour on the Seine also passes by the new buildings of the National Library.

France's national library dates back to the 14th century. First located at the Louvre Palace, the collection of book grew dramatically over the centuries and was moved again and again into more spacious housing.

The latest expansion, which included new construction, was initiated by President François Mitterrand. The 4 angular towers of the Mitterrand Library - which suggest four open books - were built on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 13th district and opened in 1996.

Controversial since its inception, the new facility had its share of design and construction problems as this article Books Under Glass: the Bibliotheque Nationale de France confirms.

A dinner cruise at night may not be the gourmet highlight of a Paris visit, but lets you experience why Paris is “la Ville Lumière.”

Daniel's travels in France take him also to Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. You'll read about these two cities in a future blog post.

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 travel memories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

U.S. Presidents and Foreign Languages

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

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

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

In Professor Walt's words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could one argue with the above advice?

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

The Language Skills of U.S. Presidents

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

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

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

Thomas Jefferson and Spanish

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

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

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

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

Foreign Languages in recent Presidential Campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Languages in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

Republicans' Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democrats' Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Foreign Languages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Jefferson would certainly have agreed...

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

 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

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

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

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

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

Frankfurt - Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

Fernbahnhof - station for long-distance trains

Regionalbahnhof - station for regional trains

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

Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rijksmuseum

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

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

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

A Family Reunion and a Roman Castellum 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fietsen” (biking) to the Dunes

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

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

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

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

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

Canal Cruising

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

Gliding through the country side at about 8 miles/hour lets you take in many sights you'll miss when traveling by car – and you can read about it in this post...

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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