In our blog The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1, we describe the key points, approach, and methods of our program. Part 2 describes the various games, the players' activities and how you'll learn with the games.
In the “Memory Game” (left), you'll first see key words and phrases of “The Story.” You then pick a red (English) card and click on the matching foreign word. With this game, you'll acquire new vocabulary for your understanding of “The Story.”
In these games, you'll hear a foreign word (from “The Story”) and then - choosing among 3 similar looking words - click on the word you just heard. Such games (e.g. "Moon Landing," right) train the ear. Your brain is normally tuned to the sounds of your native language. The listening games teach you a new and different correlation between sound and spelling.
In this game, you'll hear and are asked to repeat select phrases of “The Story” before the text appears briefly on the screen. When learning a language, you are challenged to recognize new letter combinations, to pronounce new sounds, and to get the timing of the intonation right. The Say-It games allow you to focus on hearing and reproducing the melody of the foreign language without worrying about meaning. Then, to help you correlate the sound and spelling of a new foreign phrase, it appears briefly before you hear the next one. (This we always felt was missing from audio-only courses!)
Word and Phrase Games
These games, e.g. "Snap Clouds" (left), require you to identify the correct story words in different types of games and settings. By switching between native and foreign translation, you are challenged again and again to produce the right answer. At the same time, you'll assimilate the meaning, spelling, and essential grammar of the foreign words and phrases that you're practicing.
Pronoun, Verb, Number, et al. games
Here, e.g. "Balloon Shoot" (right), you'll learn and practice particular word categories and/or forms. Each language has its own challenge if you want to master pronouns, gender, verb conjugations, noun endings, etc. These games recall vocabulary as well as the special features of each language.
In these games, e.g. "Deal no Deal" (left), you are asked to choose the correct translation of each of the sentences that form a segment of “The Story.” Quick tips explain relevant points of grammar or culture, providing you with further insights into the new language.
Word Order Games
Here, you are asked to build sentences from “The Story” by clicking on individual words in the correct order. An English translation and specific word choices guide this task (see "Word Invaders," right). Once you've selected a correct word, you'll hear it again.These games draw attention to idiomatic expressions and highlight the difference between English and foreign word order.
Considered often the most difficult task in any foreign language (besides speaking), writing here becomes a fun game. In a race against the clock, you'll translate and write out first simple foreign words, then in later levels, short phrases.
In the recall-games, you'll practice the vocabulary and short phrases you learned in an earlier scene. For example, "Word Hero" (right) lets you review the words and phrases of the previous SCENE, while "Recall and Record" has you recall and speak the words, phrases, and sentences from a scene in the previous LEVEL.
Here (not really a game), you'll hear and see all individual sentences from “The Story” and have the chance to easily record each one in your own voice. A playback button allows you to compare your recording to that of the native speaker. You can do this as many times as you wish. This is a great way to improve your pronunciation, and also an excellent way to internalize and memorize individual phrases and sentences.
The table below summarizes how you learn from each Game/Screen screen and Player Activity. In order to keep you, the learner, both engaged and challenged, the sequence and configuration of the games changes throughout the six levels of each course.
How You Learn
Hear language melody
Guess meaning from context
Listen, see foreign phrases w/optional translation “roll/over”
Identify and memorize key words and phrases
Hear, see, and click on key words
Identify correct word, correlate sound and meaning
Hear, see, and click on key words
Imitate sounds, recognize patterns
Hear, repeat, then see key words & phrases
Identify the meaning and basic grammar of the foreign sentence
Hear, see, and click on translation of foreign sentence
Practice vocabulary, sound, and spelling
Identify, click and hear foreign word
Figure out idiomatic construction, word order, and grammar forms
Word Order Games
Identify, click on, and hear foreign word while building foreign dialog sentence
Recall vocabulary, sound, spelling
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
Practice pronouncing the melody of sentences
Listen & record own voice and compare
Translate and spell
Write foreign words/phrases
Figure out grammar forms
Pronoun, Verb, et al. Games
Click on the right grammar form
Recall earlier scene vocabulary
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
We invite any questions about or comments to our program and games!
Self-teaching language programs are available as books, CDs, DVDs, and direct downloads. Some well-known names are Assimil, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Fluenz, Michael Thomas, Busuu, Rocket Languages, and recently Duolingo. While all programs help motivated learners improve their language skills, not all are equally effective for learning to understand, speak, read, and write a foreign language.
The GamesforLanguage learning Program has been designed to teach all four (4) language skills. Games are a way for making language learning more fun. But games - with their special ways to engage your brain - can also make learning more effective, as shown by researchers that study how people learn. For example, see Kathy Sierra’s Crash course in learning theory.
Entertaining digital games have auditory features (spoken language, sounds), visual components (text, colors, images, design), as well as kinesthetic elements (writing against the clock, clicking on moving images, etc). By engaging multiple senses, digital games enhance a learner’s ability to recall and retain new words and expressions. Language learning is about message decoding and communication, and this is not a straightforward process. Learning a language involves trial and error, a certain amount of confusion, but also plenty of insightful “aha!” moments.
Three important points guide our development of the GamesforLanguage Learning Program:
- Adults can learn a second language more rapidly online when they can relate words, phrases and grammatical structures to their native language. In this way their learning experience is quite different from that of children, who are able to acquire their first language without even knowing how to read and write. This notion is supported by observations of other learners and our own experience.
- Learning with the help of a story allows you to identify with situations and circumstances you will encounter yourself. This makes the acquired vocabulary not only immediately relevant and useful, but also helps you to memorize it more easily.
- Learning foreign languages as an adult requires an effort. Playing language games will make this effort fun. Memorizing vocabulary, phrases and sentences, identifying grammar rules and structures all occur "playfully," as you can test and improve your language skills during increasingly more challenging games.
The GamesforLanguage Learning Program may appeal primarily to teenagers and adults. However, we know that children who have just learned to read and write also enjoy the games. Our courses work for beginners without any prior knowledge of the foreign language, as well as for learners with some language background. While beginners will spend more time on each scene, advanced players may be able to move through the scenes more rapidly. Throughout each of the courses, you'll accumulate up to 12,000 points by playing various language games. At the same time you'll acquire a working vocabulary of close to 700 essential words and many idiomatic expressions. At the end of a course, you'll also be able to read and understand the entire travel story, which consists of over 2,000 words.
Each course consists of 6 levels, with 6 lessons (we call them “scenes”) per level for a total of 36 scenes. So far, the most effective approach has been for learners to do one scene per day (which should take around 15 minutes) and to review an earlier scene for extra recall. Each lesson builds on the previous one and adds between 16-20 NEW words to your vocabulary.
Each scene has a dialogue or narrative of 8-16 lines, which we call “The Story.” For the first 3 levels, or 18 scenes, “The Story” appears at the END of each scene. When you get there, you'll have learned the words and phrases in the various games, and understanding “The Story” will now be easy. Beginning with level 4, “The Story” appears at the BEGINNING of each scene, requiring the learner to guess the meaning, based on the (English) introduction and context. This is quite similar to what you would experience when arriving in a foreign country with some language background. (For the impatient player, a roll-over option provides the full translation right away.)
The 36 scenes of a course tell the story of a young man who travels to France, Italy, Spain, or Germany. From talking with his neighbor in the airplane, greeting his aunt who picks him up at the airport, asking for directions to a friend's house, to ordering food and drink, and chatting with friends, the vocabulary is a great start on learning how to communicate. The travel story engages the learner, provides relevant vocabulary, and creates a framework that ties everything together.
Part 2: Games Summary
A next blog will describe the various games we are using in our program. Our games are not just individual learning clips, nor are they simply an enhancement of a conventional language program. The games ARE the language program. We'll add a summary table that shows the specific skills each game teaches.
We are often asked why we chose games and a travel story for our language program. We answered this question in a recent article on Omniglot.com and are republishing it here with a few minor edits:
Several years ago, my husband and I prepared for an extended stay in Italy by learning Italian with the three 30-lesson courses of a well-known audio CD program. Arriving in Italy, we could communicate well enough - although not speak fluently. However, we could read Italian only with difficulty, and writing it was a disaster. We kept spelling everything the French way, French being a language which we both speak fluently.
Before our trip, we had also looked at other CD and DVD programs and had tried several, including Rosetta Stone. But as the vocabulary did not match our interests or needs, it was hard to stay motivated and we were quickly bored. For example, in one of the early lessons of RS, we practiced (multiple times) all of the following sentences: the women are eating rice, the girls are reading, the horses are running, the boy is not driving.
Gamesforlanguage was born from of a simple idea: Learn language in a relevant context. If you can repeatedly hear, read, write, and speak the words, phrases, and sentences of a story, you'll remember them more easily, because you remember the context. To learn a new language, you have to connect it to your own experiences. With travel being a common denominator for many language learners, we decided to create a travel story of a young man traveling to the European countries of our four languages we currently offer. The everyday, practical language he experiences on his trip is bound to be relevant to most travelers. (The first 6 lessons of our new course, English for Spanish speakers, are currently available for a free try-out)
Learning with Games
But Gamesforlanguage.com is also offering something still different. Our games are not just individual learning clips, nor are they simply an addition to or an enhancement of a conventional language program. The games ARE the language program. Each lesson of our 36 lesson course is made up of games that practice one or more of the four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Here are some examples:
- Memory Game: Memorize new words and phrases by hearing, reading, and saying them
- Snap Clouds: Practice by choosing the foreign word/phrase, hearing, and saying it
- Balloon Words: Train your ear by identifying the sounds of key words
- Say It: Repeat words and phrases aloud after hearing them (and before seeing them briefly)
- Deal No Deal: Discover the meaning of the story dialogue by simple elimination
- Word Invaders: Build a foreign sentence by clicking on the right words
- Writing Clowns: Translate and spell against time
- Record It: (not really a game) Hear, repeat, and record each sentence of the story dialogue
Other games focus on particular aspects of each language, such as pronouns, articles, adjective endings, basic conjugations, etc.
A YouTube Snapshot
This brief YouTube clip Play n' Learn with Games and a Travel Story gives a snapshot of some of the games in the first Italian lesson. By the time the learner hears the full story dialogue - just before "Record It" - he or she will easily understand it, after having memorized, heard, read, spoken, and written the words and phrases of the story several times. Starting with Level 4 - after 18 lessons - a slight change occurs. Now the story dialogue will occur at the beginning of each lesson, forcing the learner to guess the meaning from the context of the story and before discovering and learning the new words and phrases. This is quite similar to what a traveler will experience when he or she tries to understand a foreign conversation.
Grammar in Context only
In contrast to some other programs, gamesforlanguage.com teaches grammar items only as they come up in the context of the ongoing story. Grammar is not taught in the form of abstract rules.
For example: In the second lesson of our French 1 course, the following sentence is part of the dialogue: "Je suis contente que vous parliez français." We explain the use of the subjunctive form "vous parliez" (instead of the indicative "vous parlez") briefly why it is used: after a phrase expressing emotion ("je suis contente que ..."). That's all. At this stage the learner would be overwhelmed by a more detailed explanation.
Audience & Technology
Gamesforlanguage.com courses may appeal primarily to teenagers and adults. However, we know that children who have just learned to read and write also enjoy the games. The online course works on all modern browsers and, since January 2013, also on iOS6 iPads and iPhones (except for the recording feature, as Apple does not support the Flash Player). We are hopeful that multichannel audio for HTML5 will soon be supported by Android devices as well.
GamesforLanguage works on iOS6 mobile devices!
Finally, you can access our four language programs not only on your desktop or laptop but also on your iOS6 mobile devices. Many of our users have been frustrated that while they could access our online program perfectly well from their new iPad, the audio did not work!
With the release of iOS6 (the most recent release of the operating system on mobile Apple devices), Apple iPhones and iPads now support multi channel audio in HTML5. We have now integrated this new technology, called the Web Audio API, into our games.
This means you don't need to go through the Apple store to use GamesforLanguage. You would want to have a good Wi-Fi connection. Just open your Safari browser and login to our site and start playing and learning. While for us the screen on the iPhone is too small for certain games, Memory Game, Snap Clouds, Shootout, etc. may still work for some users. We prefer the regular iPad and iPad mini.
One caveat though: As Apple does not support the Flash Player either, the recording functions, both in “Record it” and “Recall and Record” (which starts with Level 2) do not work on the mobile devices.
(As there may still be some bugs to resolve, we'd appreciate, if you would let us know of any that you encounter and we'll be happy to add/extend a FREE monthly subscription.)
At this point we don't know yet when we can make Games4language also work on Android mobile devices. Android does not yet support the technology that now enables multi-channel audio to work on Safari in iOS.
Those of you who replayed some earlier Scenes may also have noticed the following changes:
- An expanded Story dialog for the first Scene of German1 (with the other languages to follow).
- All Scenes have lengthened games for more playing practice.
- “The Story” now appears at the end of each Scene by which time it will be easily understood (until level 4, when it switches to the beginning).
- Quick, short games teach articles, pronouns, noun genders, etc. right from the start, and in the later levels we added other fun games such as Whack-a-Zombie, Falling Apples, Moon Landing, etc. (above).
In fact, you will find that many of the games are even more fun to play on a tablet, as you can just touch the screen for the correct word or phrase.
Vocabulary acquisition is an essential part of language learning. Individual words and phrases are the building blocks of communication, without them, you won't have much to say. How many words you need for basic, effective communication is up for debate. It depends on the language and the kinds of topics you want to talk about. Opinions differ quite a bit. At one end of the spectrum, for example in German, 2000 words can get you started pretty well and provide a good base to build on. Near the other end stand 10,000 words as the native vocabulary mastered by a five year old who is ready to start school. The bottom line is that you gotta build your vocabulary!
First, keep a dictionary handy. It's the most basic tool for any language learner. You'll use it for quickly looking up a new word, for double-checking the meaning or the spelling, or for looking up verb conjugations. You'll also want to see common expressions that use a particular word. For example, Ultralingua offers these features, and, in addition, you can download iPhone or iPad apps. Having a dictionary on your mobile is really convenient when you're traveling. Such apps contain much more information than the mini-dictionaries I used to travel with.
Here are FOUR more tools for building your vocabulary:
Flashcards are a great way to create a base of words and phrases, and you can keep using them to continue building your vocabulary. Resources abound and they come in all kinds of configurations: Words + Translation; Picture + Written Word; Picture + Written Word + Sound, etc. Some of the programs incorporate spaced repetition, some allow you to add your own vocabulary. A popular flashcard program, to name one, is Anki.
Language Exercises & Games
Good language exercises and fun games can take vocabulary to the next level. Besides learning new vocabulary, you can practice verb tenses and conjugations, drill subject and object pronouns, learn to build sentences, etc. Besides our own program GamesForLanguage, Mindsnacks is definitely a fun program to try.
Reading with Translation
Once you have a grasp of basic vocabulary and grammar, reading has to be the best way to keep on building vocabulary. When you read a longer text, the same words and phrases will often come up several times. Depending on your venue, you can get a translation with a click, or by checking a printed translation. With time, you'll get better at guessing the meaning from the context. A versatile program like LingQ provides a library of texts and tools for learning. You can also read foreign language newspapers online and use Google Chrome's Language Immersion feature.
Listening: Podcasts, Audio Books, and Videos
Understanding a stream of foreign words may be the hardest skill to learn (besides becoming fluent in speaking). The trick is to listen to the same audio many times. Your goal is to hear the words and phrases distinctly, and not as a stream of gibberish. Listening to foreign language audios, you'll keep hearing words you know and start to put them into your long-term menory. But you'll also hear new words that you are able to understand because of context. Here's list of language learning podcasts.
Yesterday, as I was poking around one of the Forums at Fluent in 3 Months I came across a post in the topic of Time Management in Language Learning.
A forum member asked about goal setting. One answer to her question especially caught my eye because it expresses a familiar feeling: "Yes I have [set a goal] but I rarely keep to it. I do not know why, but when I set a goal, I do everything to not reach it. ... I feel compelled and I rebel."
A lot of language learners can probably empathize with such a statement. Rebellion of that sort may have to do with personality, with former school experience, with family dynamics, with the enormity of the project, etc. In any case, it means you have to deal with your own feelings of resistance to something you actually want to do.
Based on experience, here's my best advice for overcoming this kind of inner hurdle: Approach your language learning from an activity that you truly enjoy. It is bound to fuel your enthusiasm.
If you're a great reader, dabble with texts and their translations. Google’s Language Immersion for Chrome or a program like LingQ work well for that. Just think, the better you get, the greater access you will have to anything written in your new language.
Watching Videos and TV
If you like to watch moving images (I don't want to say "if you're a TV addict"), find online news videos, or follow a soap in your new language. You'll learn a lot of vocabulary by guessing from the context of the story, gestures, facial expressions, sound of voice, and such. In addition, becoming familiar with a few basic grammar items will help a lot (such as pronouns, question words, etc.). I've posted a couple of links to soaps and videos, as examples, on our Facebook site.
Listening to Music
If you are crazy about music, download songs, listen, sing along, google the words and memorize them. There's plenty of evidence that this is a fun and effective way to learn a language. A blog on the Everyday Language Learner is full of wonderful tips.
If you like playing games, you're in luck. You'll find a host of language apps and sites online that include games. Obviously, I'm hooked on games, and there are plenty of sites that I like, including our own GamesForLanguage. Here are a couple of others to try out: Digital Dialects, Mindsnacks, and don't forget the Nintendo DS language games.
If writing is what you love, then start by writing out words, phrases, and short sentences. Duolingo, a free crowdsourced language learning and translation website, has you writing right from the beginning. Community style programs, such as Busuu or Mango Languages include writing exercises and offer a chat feature with which you can communicate with native speakers.
If you love to talk, tell stories, and are not shy about speaking up in a foreign language, get yourself into a situation where you can be your chatty self. Finding a language-exchange partner who's on your proficiency level is the best way. Meet with or skype with each other, and do this often. Here are two online resources: Conversation Exchange (a site we successfully used in Barcelona) and My Language Exchange.
Textbooks and Grammar
Should I add this category? I for one really like to figure out how a language works. It’s not a bad idea to have a way to check some grammar points, be it in a textbook or on an online grammar site.
Just remember, progress with language learning is not linear. It's more like a zig-zag, a back and forth. Some things you won't get for a while, others you'll master immediately. Still, whatever you put in will get you a step ahead - be it a stint of learning vocabulary, practicing pronunciation, watching a news video, reading headlines, or scrolling through a foreign language Twitter feed. Even a few minutes count. If you approach your language learning in a way that you personally enjoy, chances are your you'll maintain your enthusiasm at a high level.
A recent blog reviewed some evidence of the question: "Can Playing Language Games Make You Smarter". Anyone scanning the Internet will find a huge number of online language learning programs. In addition, there are lots of apps available for phones and tablets, including iPhones and iPads. Those are all a tremendous resource for language lovers!
Flashcards do work!
Many of the online programs and apps are based on a flashcard model, and teach words and short phrases only. Flashcards exercises are indeed an excellent way to drill and recall vocabulary. They are also perfect for grammar items, such as verb conjugations, adjective endings, noun genders, contractions, etc. In digital form, flashcards can space recall optimally, and often use pictures and combine visual and auditory information. You’re in charge of your learning and you can easily track your progress.
Are Flashcards enough?
However, one may reasonably ask: Can you really learn to speak a language by just memorizing words and word forms? For most of the European languages – and those are the ones we know best – we believe, the answer has to be no!
The reason seems quite obvious: Conversations and narratives are not just a series of isolated words or phrases. In order to create meaning, you have to choose the right words and put them into a particular sequence. Often, it's the sequence that is crucial for the meaning. As a starter, you need to show whether you're making a statement or asking a question. Add to this the need to find the correct gender of the noun (and, depending on the language, also the correct ending), the right tense and verb conjugation, the position of a preposition, etc. - and it becomes clear why speaking a foreign language is not an easy process.
The Language Games Challenge!
The challenge to those of us who are developing online language games or apps is this:
How to create compelling games that can teach much more than a series of words and phrases -- games that build the confidence to communicate?
It's the repeated use and practice of phrases and sentences in a meaningful context, that will ultimately enable you to speak with some fluency. Words and grammar rules are not enough. Conversations are a process of dynamic communication. By the time you have deliberately constructed the perfect sentence, the conversation may have already moved on.
In future blogs, we’ll review some of the available language games, and please, share with us your experiences!
I recently came across one of Rick Steves' articles “How to meet the locals while traveling in Europe.” As we are currently in Barcelona, Spain, I thought we would try out a couple of his suggestions.
Using Social Media to Connect. We used: Conversationexchange.com
Rick Steves lists a number of links for meeting locals through social media. While none of his links worked out for us, another site, www.coversationexchange.com, which I found by chance, set us up very well. A few days after registering, we were contacted by Fabian, a professor of architecture who teaches at a University in Barcelona. He was as eager to practice his English as we were to practice our Spanish.
We met in the “Ciutat Vella” (Catalan for “Old City”) and he took us on a tour of some special places we had not yet seen. (The picture on the right shows children playing in the Plaça de SANT FELIP NERI, where the bullet holes from Franco era executions are still visible.) The language exchange was great. Beyond that, though, he gave us a fascinating glimpse into the cultural and political struggle between Catalonia and “Spain.” (And yes, Catalonia is a part of Spain!) This ongoing push-and-shove between the two cultures is something we had been aware of, but certainly hadn’t appreciated enough. (We’re planning another blog on just that topic.)
Using Spanish Language Phrases...
Another of Steves' suggestions was also right on: “Play with kids.”; “...make friends with the parents...” At one of our favorite squares, Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia (left), we were sipping our evening aperitifs at an outdoor café, as a young woman and her two-year-old child came to sit down at the next table. It did not take long before we played peek-a-boo with the child and tried out our Spanish with the mother by asking “How old is your daughter?”, “What is her name?”, etc. (all phrases and sentences, by the way, we had remembered or adapted from our Spanish 1 course). We soon were talking away, and when Carmen told us that the brother of her Italian husband works in a restaurant in Falmouth, MA, we could even use another phrase from our course: “¡Qué coincidencia!” In our conversation with her, we gained quite a few insights into Catalan life and society. A couple of days later, Carmen introduced us to her parents as well as to her 94 year old grandmother, who had lived through the Franco years. We may not have understood all of the grandmother's painful and vivid memories. However, without our basic knowledge of Spanish, we would have missed all of it. (The grandmother speaks no English!)
Making Yourself into a Language Extrovert ...
“When you’re traveling in Europe, make yourself and extrovert, even if you’re not.” Following Rick Steves' suggestion, we try to start up a conversation with anyone who will talk to us - and we do it in Spanish. We do our shopping in Spanish, where we often make small talk with the shopkeeper or other people waiting to be served. We order our meals and ask about obscure (to us) items on the menu in Spanish. The other day, we visited Vilanova (a town about 30 minutes away) and at the Information Office, the woman asked us if we wanted her explanations in Castilian, French, or English. We chose Castilian and had no trouble following her. Since Castilian Spanish is the second language for most native Catalonians, they speak it (a little more) slowly and deliberately – a real advantage to learners like us!
We haven’t yet tried Rick Steves' trick that he calls “pal up to a pooch” - but it might be worth finding out, if pooches in Barcelona are bilingual too. The drawback is that pooches don't talk back...
I still remember the first time I played a game on a computer. I was just a 6-year-old kid, and as a native speaker of Spanish, it was an exciting and challenging experience to play games intended for the English speaking market. Simple on-screen messages like “loading” or “game over” were exposing me to the language for the first time, before I started receiving proper English lessons at school. A few terms, the easiest ones, I would learn by pure observation, others, I would have to check the dictionary for their meaning.
In any case, it didn’t feel like I was making any extra effort, because I was having fun and the new vocabulary I was acquiring would also help me complete each game I played.
What’s more, far from developing prejudices against the English language, I started having a genuine interest about the language and its culture. The whole gaming-based language learning process broadened my mind considerably.
Today, I think my first and natural approach to language learning shares many similarities with the type of approach that certain courses follow, which integrate fun and effective games for language learning. Truth is, I wish such courses would have been available back then, in the early 80’s. Some of these new programs are especially designed for language learning in mind, unlike the computer games I played when I was a kid. But all in all, I am happy I put many hours into gaming, as it helped raise my curiosity for a new language.
PS: Pablo Montoya is both the writer and a speaker of our Spanish 1 course; he is also assisting us in developing our ESL course for Spanish speakers. For a description of our Spanish 1 course, click here
When you google something like “language learning boosts the brain” dozens of entries come up. The technology for studying the brain has become quite advanced, so there seems to be some proof. But not everyone has the same experiences with the same results. Here are some musings of mine about language learning.
For me, learning something new or getting better at an activity requires that I engage in doing it. If I don't, I don't progress. For example, I'm a skier and every year in November, I start my first run of the season thinking: “OK, weight on your lower ski, stay away from ice, avoid the moguls for now.” During my first days on skis, I discover muscles I hadn't used for months, I get used to my edges again, I try out all kinds of turns. But, hey, by the end of ski season, I happily head for the moguls, and feel that I could follow Lindsay Vonn down a black diamond. Preferably in Austria.
Something similar is happening with my Italian language skills. For a while, I didn't practice my Italian very much. I was too busy with work! But then I found a way to motivate myself to do a daily practice. What I do is read Roberto Gervaso's daily “Tu per tu” column in ilmessaggero.it and watch an episode of the soap opera unpostoalsole.rai.it right on their web page.
Does this help to keep my brain fit? I think it does. When I can read through Gervaso's article and get the meaning without looking up any words, I get a great feeling of pleasure and boost in confidence. This affects whatever else I do during that day. The same happens when I understand what's going on in an episode of “Il posto al sole.” They speak fast and there's always some kind of underlying scheming going on. I learned Italian from scratch when I was a mature adult. It didn't all come easy. For instance, it took me a couple of weeks to fully learn “pomeriggio,” the Italian word for “afternoon.” With all the claims about how hard it is for adults to learn a language, I feel I've done well.
Emboldened by my success with Italian, I'm now learning Spanish. For obvious reasons, I am using our GamesforLanguage.com Spanish 1 course, and the new techniques and technologies are great. In addition to the language games I am using Twitter feeds for practice. When I'm ready, I'll start skyping with Spanish speaking language partners. For now, my biggest challenge isn't assimilating a word like “pomeriggio,” it's trying not to mix up Italian and Spanish. The two languages are similar and my comprehension of Spanish is good. But when I speak Spanish, Italian gets in the way.
But everyone's different. What about those who say they can't learn another language? That their efforts are doomed to failure because ...? My answer to that brings me back to skiing.
During this week, Waterville Valley NH is hosting the National Adaptive Alpine Ski Races. I've been watching the skiers, many of them quite young, skiing through difficult race courses. Each one of them has a physical challenge, lost limb(s), spinal paralysis. Each one of them skis with such skill, that he or she way outshines the rest of us on the mountain. The pleasure that these skiers radiate makes me appreciate the value of determination and the effort for overcoming challenges.
As the Dutch say: “You must row with the oars that you have.” (Je moet roeien met de riemen die je hebt.) So for language learning, the approach: “I've tried it once and it didn't work” – is not a good one. You've got to have passion, patience, and persistence. And you may find that your brain will thank you for it.
- Context learning
- Effective learning Games
- ESL learning
- Foreign Language Fluency
- Foreign Language Learning
- Foreign Language Proficiency
- Foreign Novels
- German Grammar
- German idioms
- Language & Food
- Language and Travel
- Language as Communication
- Language Camps
- Learning as a Game
- Learning Grammar
- Memory Training
- Mobile Devices
- Music and Language
- Online Foreign Language Learning
- Rosetta Stone Blog
- Social Interaction Online
- Swiss French
- Teaching Tools
- Training the Ear
- Is Gamesforlanguage.com Too Steep a Climb For Beginners?
- QUICK TIP German: "holen" vs "abholen"
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