Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language

Dutch windmillIn our previous post, European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”, we described a few of our observations in the Netherlands at the start of our visit this year. (Read also about our canal boating!)

The Netherlands is a great country to visit. It has bucolic scenery, picturesque towns, and a rich tradition of art and intellectual life. Plus, there's Amsterdam. Who can beat that?

Most Dutch people speak English quite well, so it's not necessary to speak any Dutch to get around.

Still, knowing a few phrases of the language can be the passport to a more genuine experience of the Netherlands and its people.

DUTCH - THE NETHERLANDS - HOLLAND

To clarify:

  • English speakers may learn “Dutch,” while Dutch people (Nederlanders) speak “Nederlands” or "Hollands."
  • “The Netherlands” is made up of twelve (12) provinces, plus three (3) Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten) and three (3) municipalities (Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius), also in the Caribbean.
  • “Holland” consists of the two provinces, North Holland and South Holland, therefore just describes a part of the Netherlands. However, "Holland" is often used by German speakers when talking about the Netherlands.

Last year's post, 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion, includes a snapshot of Dutch history.

Map of the NetherlandsWe should also point out, that the new Dutch kingdom, established in 1815, lost its southern half in 1830, when that became part of Belgium. William Z. Shetter in The Netherlands in Perspective describes the reasons this way:

“The North had had centuries of independence and prosperity while the South had been a remote province of the Spanish and later Austrian Empires. The constitutional provision for equality of religion had not changed the fact that Protestantism was dominant in the North and Catholicism in the South.”

Dutch language (Nederlands) is spoken in the Netherlands and in Flanders, northern Belgium, (the Dutch kingdom's former southern half) where the language is called Flemish (Vlaams). Flemish is also spoken in the French region Nord-Pas-de-Calais, bordering Belgium.

Dutch is also spoken in the Republic of Suriname (located in South America, north of Brazil). In addition, Dutch has official status in the three countries and three municipalities in the Caribbean.

Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch, is one of the official languages of South Africa. Dutch and Afrikaans are mutually intelligible.

SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORD "DUTCH"

In the Brittanica you'll find this explanation:Dutch language

"In the Middle Ages the language of the regions was called Dietsc, or Duutsc, historically equivalent to German Deutsch and meaning simply 'language of the people,' as contrasted with Latin, which was the language of religion and learning. The form Duutsc was borrowed into English and gives modern 'Dutch.'

The official name of the language is Nederlands, or Netherlandic. In the Netherlands it is also called Hollands (Hollandish), reflecting the fact that the standard language is based largely on the dialect of the old province of Holland (now North Holland and South Holland)."

For a more detailed account of the history of the Dutch language, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_language.

DUTCH IS BETWEEN ENGLISH AND GERMAN

German-UK flagsLearning some Dutch is a fun adventure, especially for someone who speaks English and German. This is because Dutch is closely related to both English and German. One could say that it is between them.

On the one hand, Dutch resembles English in that it has no umlaut, doesn't use the subjunctive, and does not use case endings for adjectives, etc.

On the other hand, Dutch resembles German in that it has three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), a similar word order, and uses modal particles (those little hard-to-translate words used in spoken language that reflect the attitude of the speaker). Also, Dutch and German vocabulary often show great similarity.

Below is a sampler. (To learn and practice Dutch words and phrases with audio for free, go to Lingohut.com)

THE NUMBERS 1-14 (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • one, een, eins
  • two, twee, zweipool balls
  • three, drie, drei
  • four, vier, vier
  • five, vijf, fünf
  • six, zes, sechs
  • seven, zeven, sieben
  • eight, acht, acht
  • nine, negen, neun
  • ten, tien, zehn
  • eleven, elf, elf
  • twelve, twaalf, zwölf
  • thirteen, dertien, dreizehn
  • fourteen, veertien, vierzehn

QUESTION WORDS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • where, waar, woquestion words
  • what, wat, was
  • when wanneer, wann
  • why, waarom, warum
  • These two are a little confusing:
  • who, wie, wer
  • how, hoe, wie

BASIC NOUNS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • street, straat, Straße
  • house, huis, Haus
  • bridge, brug, Brücke
  • way, weg, Weg
  • money, geld, Geld
  • check, rekening, Rechnung
  • table, tafel, Tisch
  • weather, weer, Wetter

COMMON ADJECTIVES (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • now, nu, jetzt
  • later, later, später
  • bad, slecht, schlecht
  • good, goed, gut
  • small, klein, klein
  • big, groot, groß
  • new, nieuw, neu
  • old, oud, alt
  • low, laag, niedrig
  • high, hoog, hoch

DUTCH SAYINGS

One characteristic of the Dutch language is that it's full of colorful sayings that are sometimes pretty hard to figure out. But they sure are entertaining. Here are a couple:

1. De hond in de pot findendog in flower pot

Literal: To find the dog in the pot
English equivalent: All the food has been eaten

Ze kwam zo laat thuis dat ze de hond in de pot vond.
She came home so late that all the food had been eaten.

2. De aap komt uit de mouw

Literal: The monkey comes out of the sleeve
English equivalent: Truth will come out

Als hij binnekort voor de rechter staat, komt de aap uit de mouw.
When he soon stands in front of the judge, truth will come out.

3. Iets op eigen houtje doenwood carving

Literal: To do something on one's own piece of wood (or carving stick)
English equivalent: To do something on one's own

Hij is geen groepsmens, hij doet dingen het liefst op eigen houtje.
He's not a group person, he prefers doing things on his own.

WHAT ABOUT “FIETSEN"?

Woman with bicycle in Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.com“Fietsen” is a word you may hear a lot, as its seems that everybody does it in the Netherlands: Bikes are everywhere; in Amsterdam, along the canals, on bridges, etc.

The words “bike" (English), “fiets" (Dutch), and “Fahrrad" (German) don't seem to be at all related.

The English terms "bike" or "bicycle" are derived from the Greek (bi- "two" + kyklos "circle, wheel"). The German word "Fahrrad" is simply a "riding wheel." Thus, these words make etymological sense.

But, the origin of the word “fiets," so central to daily life in the Netherlands, has long puzzled linguists.

One long-held conjecture was that the word "fiets" was a corruption of the French word "vélocipède" (as "fielsepee") and originated in 1870 in the town of Apeldoorn. (dr.j.devries etymologisch woordenboek, 1973)

Another popular possibility was that "fiets" came from the name of the bicycle merchant E.C. Viets (V pronounced as F).

Or, that it's a corruption of the French word "vitesse" (speed).

Or, that it comes from the southern Dutch word "vietse," meaning "to move quickly."

Most recently, two Belgian linguists suggested that "fiets" comes from the German "Vize-Pferd" (substitute horse) (Linbkhttp://www.24oranges.nl/2012/02/23/etymology-of-dutch-word-for-bicycle-cracked-after-140-years/)

However, the suggestion that "fietsen" is a German loanword was quickly and thoroughly criticized online in the electronic magazine for Dutch language and literature, by the linguist Jan Stroop in his 2012 post, Ga toch fietsen. (The article is in Dutch, but you can easily get a Google translation, which gives you the basic idea.)

Stroop ends his argument with the sentence: "Fiets" een Duits leenwoord? Bike rider in Holland Ga toch fietsen. ("Fiets" a German loanword? - Go take a hike., i.e No way! )

So, the origin of "fiets" remains a riddle.

For anybody visiting the Netherlands "fietsen" is a must activity. Weaving your way through traffic and busy pedestrian passages may take some practice and not be for everyone.

But in all cities and towns, you'll also find bicycle lanes you can ride on comfortably and safely "Dutch style," sitting erect and leisurely enjoying the surroundings...

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Brexit language and history: 18 German terms you should know

Brexit sign (Updated 8/16/2016)

Over the last few weeks, Europe has slowly been adjusting to the vote by the British people to leave the European Union.

Brexit,” a new word which combines “Britain” with “exit,” has become the generally used term in many languages to describe this event.

It's interesting to read how different news organizations in various countries are explaining and commenting on the vote and its likely effects on Great Britain, Europe, and the world.

But for us language enthusiasts, it's also an opportunity to discover terms and idioms that relate to Brexit in another language.

Here are 18 German terms that may help when you're in a Brexit discussion with German speakers. We'll give explanations and some historic background. You'll also find a separate list of all the German terms at the end of this post.

Volksabstimmung - Referendum

On June 23, 2016, Great Britain held a people's referendum (Volksabstimmung).Brexit decision sign The Brexit vote actually was the second referendum for the British related to the European Union. (Many German newspapers actually also use the term "Referendum.")

In 1973 the conservative government achieved the entry (Beitritt) into the European Economic Community (Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft, or EWG), the precursor of the European Union (Europäische Union, or EU).

This could only happen after the departure of French President de Gaulle, who had twice vetoed Great Britain's entry into the EEC.

At that time, the left wing of the social-democratic Labour Party had opposed joining the EEC and, in order to prevent a breakup (Auseinanderbrechen) of the party, prime minister Harold Wilson decided to hold a referendum in 1975.

In that first country-wide referendum in Great Britain's history, over 67% of the population voted for remaining in the EEC.

History does not repeat itself exactly: Prime Minister Cameron attempted to counteract the rise of the Europe-critical UK Independence Party (UKIP), which was fueled by immigration, the economy, and other concerns, by holding new negotiations with the EU and finally by the referendum.

For many observers, the Brexit vote also marks the culmination of a gradual estrangement (Entfremdung) between Great Britain and Europe over several decades.

Briten Rabatt - Rebate for the Brits

Rebate signFrom the beginning of its membership in the EEC and later in the EU, Great Britain had been able to negotiate special arrangements.

Prime minister Margaret Thatcher is remembered for her words: “I want my money back!” at the EEC meeting in Fontainebleau, France, in 1984. The Germans called the agreement that followed, the “Briten-Rabatt.”

This special rebate meant that two-thirds of Britain's net payments to the EEC were to be returned to Great Britain. This was justified then, as the UK, with its smaller agricultural share, did not benefit as much from the EEC's agricultural subventions as other countries. In spite of this rebate (6 billion Euros in 2014), Great Britain has remained one of the largest net payers in Europe.

Other special rights (Sonderrechte) allowed Great Britain, as well as Denmark, to not join the currency union (Währungsunion) in 1999, which had been part of the Maastricht agreement of 1992 and a goal of the EU.

This allowed Great Britain to remain fiscally more independent and not follow the decisions of the European Central Bank (Europäische Zentralbank, or EZB) – seen by many as an advantage during the recent economic turmoil, the Greek bailout, and other looming bank and debt crises.

Great Britain did not become part of the European Schengen Area (Schengenraum) which instituted open borders between European countries.

Arbeitnehmerfreizügigkeit - Workforce mobility

A word composed of “Arbeitnehmer” (worker or employee) and workforce mobility - Gamesforlanguage.com“Freizügigkeit” (mobility, permission to move around) was and is a key discussion point for many in Great Britain and the rest of the EU. The realization that the ability to work in other European countries may become severely restricted seemed to concern especially many of the young in Britain.

The attempt to limit the immigration to Great Britain by EU residents (currently around 3 million, including over 800,000 from Poland) was an important argument by Brexit advocates. While British politicians will attempt to secure work mobility for their citizens in the EU, similar to the rights of non-EU members Norway and Switzerland, it's hard to see how this would be achievable without reciprocity for EU citizens in the UK.

(Norway and Switzerland provide residence reciprocity for EU citizens, as long as they have an employment agreement or sufficient other means to live on.)

Brexit Befürworter - Brexit supporters/advocates

supporter-opponentThe German word for supporters, "Befürworter," is another typical German composite word, meaning to “have words for something,” or favoring or advocating something. Brexit advocates argued that the EU's zeal to regulate (Regulierungswut) was hindering Great Britain's economy.

They may overlook the fact that Britain's economy is one of the least regulated in the world and not consider the advantages of easy access to a unified European market (or assume that such access will continue even after the Brexit).

Austrittsverhandlungen – Exit negotiations

Since 2009, Article 50 of the EU agreement gives each member negotiations signcountry the option to leave the EU “in accordance with its constitutional rules.” A member needs to apply for the exit (Austritt) to the Council of Europe (Europarat), which consists of the leaders of each member country.

These negotiations could take as long as two years, and, theoretically, Great Britain could leave the EU after such time, even if the negotiations were not concluded. Most observers believe the latter unlikely, as access to the European market would then stay in limbo.

(Or, within the two year time frame, Great Britain could withdraw its exit request.)

Any agreement would have to be approved by a qualified majority of the European Council and could also be subject of a veto by the European Parliament.

At the time this post is written, Great Britain has not yet made an official request to leave the EU.

In fact, Theresa May, in her first telephone calls after becoming Great Britain's new Prime Minister, with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Holland asked for more time to prepare for the Brexit negotiations

(Much of the information above is based on Vera Kämper's Endlich verständlich: Die wichtigsten Anworten zum Brexit in  “Spiegel Online” as of 6/24/2016 and recent articles in der “Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung”)

German Terminology:

Arbeitnehmer (m) - worker, employee

Arbeitnehmerfreizügigkeit (f) - workforce mobility

Auseinanderbrechen (n) – break-up

Austritt (m) – exit from an organization, party, club, etc.

Austrittsverhandlung (f) – exit negotiation

Befürworter (m) – supporter/advocate

Beitritt (m) - entry

Briten-Rabatt (m) - Rebate for the Brits

Entfremdung (f) - estrangement

Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft (EWG) - European Economic Community (EEC)

Europäische Zentralbank (EZB) - European Central Bank

Europäische Union (EU) - European Union (EU)

Europarat (m) - Council of Europe, European Council

Freizügigkeit (f) - freedom of movement, mobility

Regulierungswut (f) - zeal to regulate

Sonderrecht (n) - special right

Volksabstimmung (f) - people's referendum

Währungsunion (f) - currency union

Postscript: This article which appeared in the Guardian on August 15, 2016 article sheds some more light on the difficulties Great Britain faces: Theresa May's Swiss holday will show her just how bad Brexit could be

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.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Lingualia" - Learning Spanish (or English) - A Review

LingualiaLast month we reviewed “Frantastique,” our first partner site for learning French. Searching for an online language program for learning Spanish that would fit well with ours, we came across Lingualia.

Right from the start we liked some features that are similar to our Gamesforlanguage courses: the context of a dialog with each lesson, coupled with fun and effective ways for practicing words and phrases used in the dialog.

This review is based on Lingualia's Spanish course with English as the teaching/translation language.

(The program also works for teaching English. As with the Spanish course, you have a choice of a number of different teaching/translation languages).

I am learning with the Free version. As part of our partnership agreement, Lingualia provided us also with a free 6-month premium membership, which my husband Peter is using.

I've chosen to use my computer or laptop. (On my iPhone, or iPad, the audio for the dialogues is available only with Premium.)

Similar to Frantastique, an initial test places a learner into a Level ranging from A1 to B2 (according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).

You can also choose your own starting level, if you want. I decided to start at the beginning of A1 to see how the course is built up. After his test, Peter was to start at level A2.

THE SETUP: The Dashboard

Clicking on Lingualia or Home gets you to the Dashboard with the choices of Home, Lingu,” Lessons, Challenge, and Activities on the top bar.

The DashboardLingualia dashboard - Gamesforlanguage.com

The dashboard sample (right) shows my current status, i.e. I've completed 35% of Spanish A1, and 41 of 82 “Concepts” - these are words, abbreviations, grammar points, phonetics, etc.

Clicking on “Statistics,” I can see that I am behind in my vocabulary learning and my reading (both of which are accelerated with “Lingu” - see below). 

The “Social” tab lets you compete and connect with other learners – a feature we have not yet taken full advantage of. There you can invite your friends from various other social sites (Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Yahoo) or you can simply send them an email. You can also connect with others on Lingualia by following them.  

LinguLingualia: Lingua - Gamesforlanguage.com

LINGU is your individualized “made-to-measure” teacher that adapts the course to your rate of progress and your level. In the free version, you are limited to learning and practicing 8-10 concepts a day with Lingu. (In the Premium version, you are not restricted.) Lingu prepares you for each of the lessons.

As you do your lessons, Lingu tracks how often you've recalled a certain word or concept. Then, in your practice session with Lingu, you'll review it in different ways until you've mastered it. 

Here are some examples from my recent practice session with Lingu. In one question type, you hear a word - such as, “microondas” - and then select an image that goes with it. If you don't know what the word is, you can get a further clue by clicking on “Theory” - which gives you a definition in Spanish.

It's fun and challenging to see if you understand the Spanish definition. Here's the one for Microondas" [mi.kro.ón.das]:Lingualia: Microondas - Gamesforlanguage.com (s., m.) Horno que funciona por generación de ondas electromagnéticas.” If you want a translation, you click on the beginning of the Spanish sentence - which activates Google Translate. (The Premium version will, in addition, give you an example sentence with audio.)

In another type of question, you are asked to click on the written word that you hear, or even type out the word that you hear. The old technique of dictation still works well. 

In a third type of question, you see a picture with a series of letters that you have to unscramble and type in. The particular picture I just saw was that of the Taj Mahal, and beside it the letters: u o e m n m t o n. The answer is “monumento.”

A fourth type of question would be selecting the definition, in Spanish, of a word, which in this particular Lingu session is “ojo” (eye). The correct definition is “(s., m) Parte del cuerpo que está situada en la cara y que se ocupa del órgano de la vista.” In this case, if you click on the icon “Theory,” you can verify your answer. Again, by clicking on the beginning of the the sentence, you activate Google Translate.Lingualia: text - Gamesforlanguage.com

In a fifth type of question, you're given a text of about 130 words to read in Spanish and are asked a (not always obvious) question about it. You answer by picking one of four responses. In my lesson, I am asked: “Según el texto, los egipcios piensan que los gatos...”

with the answer being: “vuelven a vivir después de la muerte.”

These short reading texts provide you with vocabulary that is richer and in the context of more complicated sentences. You learn to absorb a description, an explanation, a brief argument, etc. and see how language is used to connect ideas. 

LessonsLingualia: Lessons - Gamesforlanguage.com

In Level A1, there are 50 Lessons (10 Units, with 5 Lessons each). Each lesson has a Dialogue in Spanish, 13-15 items of new Vocabulary, a Grammar section, a short Phonetics section, and finally a Checkpoint, which tests you on what you learned in the lesson. 

In the screenshot on your right, you see my summary for Lesson 26. It shows the vocabulary practiced, as well as the 100 Percent score I received when doing the Checkpoint Test. It should be noted that the Dialogue typically contains more vocabulary than practiced in the vocabulary section.

Dialogue: Lesson 26 has a one-minute Dialogue (audio and written): “Esta semana he trabajado mucho.” The Dialogues in general are spoken in fast conversational speed.

You can listen to each Dialogue's sentence also individually and play it as many times as you want. This is a great way to improve your listening-comprehension skill. (Note that the audio the dialogues is not available for the Free version is you're using an app.)

I find that I often need several playbacks before I get the meaning, but it also allows me to pay attention to the language melody. (On the computer or laptop you can now get a Google Translation in the language you choose with a mouse left click.) 

Vocabulary: The individual items of vocabulary are introduced with their definition in Spanish. For example, “derecho” (right/law) is defined as: “(s., m.) Ciencia que estudia las leyes y su aplicacíon.”

Then, when I click on the beginning of the Spanish definiton, I get an English translation (via Google Translate) - “(S., M.) Science that studies the laws and their application.” (Google Translate, of course, is not perfect, but definitely helps for finding the meaning of the Spanish sentence.)

Grammar: Préterito perfecto: regulares (Regular present perfect) You get a simple version of the rule and the conjugation of regular “-ar” verbs. The rule is given in Spanish, and by clicking on the beginning of the sentence, you get the English meaning.

Phonetics: a tongue twister and description of the ñ sound in Spanish. (To play the audio, though, you need a Premium account.)

Checkpoint: You get 15 questions that put to the test what you have learned in the lesson you just completed.

Challenges

You can find people to follow and challenge them to a language duel. Peter and I challenged each other a few times and it was fun who could get the better score.

You'll notice quickly that each question has a time limit, so you don't have time to look up the correct answer, if you are really competitive!

Activities

Here you can practice your writing and have it corrected by other users. (I must confess that I have not taken advantage of this opportunity yet!)

ACCOUNT SETTINGS

You have a number of options: Create a profile (with biography, etc.); Interface language (Español, English, Deutsch); Privacy Settings; Notifications you want to receive (Newsletter, Weekly progress, Lingu challenge alerts, Follow, Accepted invitations, Activities); Subscription information

PRICING

Lingualia is free with registration, and you can sign up here for Spanish or English and try it for free. If it works for you and you want to become a Premium user (see below) look for special offers.

After registration (and until March 31st) you can activate Coupon code GAME25 for a 25% discount by visiting http://www.lingualia.com/coupons/validate/ (The regular monthly subscription rates range from $9.95/month to $24.95/month, depending on the subscription length.)

As a Premium (subscribed) user, you have the following advantages: Faster learning; Access to 15.000 audios to improve pronunciation and understanding; No restrictions when learning with Lingu; All downloads in a PDF file; All these are available on iPhone, iPad, and Android apps; No ads.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • I particularly enjoy the Dialogues (which get longer as you go along). They are conversational, spoken at normal speed. And, I see the text, and can replay the audio as often as I want, line by line.
  • The all-Spanish definitions are great, they get me into an immersion mindset. If I don't understand something, I click on the beginning of the line and get a Google translation into English. (While the Google translations are not always perfect, you will always will get the gist of the meaning.)
  • The exercises are varied, including “write what you hear”; “unscramble the letters” to match a definition or an image; “read a text” and click on the right answer to a question about it; etc.
  • At the end of each lesson you'll do a 15-question Quiz that tests what you've just learned.
  • Lingu helps you to practice words and phrases (“Concepts”) often enough until you've mastered them.
  • You can keep track of what you learned, and go back any time to review.
  • The tests provide immediate feedback and the dashboard lets you review and understand your progress.
  • You come into contact with a wide range of words and phrases, which you hear and practice all in context.
  • I also find the phonetics section with the many similar sounding Spanish words like votar/botar, tubo/tuvo, seta/zeta, rayar/rallar, etc. quite useful.
  • You learn and practice Grammar in small chunks and related to the Dialogues in each lesson. This part has been very helpful and I feel I'm clearly building my grammar knowledge of Spanish.

OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER

  • To practice your pronunciations, you should repeat everything you hear and read, and imitate the native speakers as best as you can..
  • The standard lessons are short. (Lesson 26 took me 12 minutes.)
  • By trying out Lingualia for free, as long as you want, you can see if it works for you.
  • The subscription (Premium) does add various benefits, including unlimited learning with Lingu and being able to progress as quickly as you want.

I've enjoyed learning with Lingualia. When you use it regularly, discover how to get the Google translations when needed, use the “Theory” icon to help you, or practice some grammar points until you've “got it,” you'll also learn how to tailor each lesson to your individual needs and liking - and, most importantly: your Spanish keeps improving!

Postscript: In a later post I'm describing Reaching Language Fluency - My Experience with Spanish (so far).

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Frantastique": Learning French (or English) - A Review

Frantastique - Gamesforlanguage.comWe're always looking for multiple resources for learning and practicing a foreign language. Different programs teach you different things and will often complement each other.

GamesforLanguage's mission is to find ways of making language learning both fun and effective. We've seen that games and a story will make learners come back again and again. Nothing against traditional methods. It's just that adding fun elements - and context - to language practice makes learning so much more engaging and motivating.

We've been on the lookout for other online programs with some of the above characteristics. In addition, motivated learners - perhaps after completing our free GamesforLanguage's French 1 course - may be ready for a next step: individualized lessons, more explanations, more grammar exercises, and other ways to test their language level.

From that point of view, Frantastique is definitely a winner in our eyes. Here's why this program could lift your French to another plateau.

The idea is unique: The program consists of a regular email (5 times a week), a (somewhat) crazy story or text used as a frame, a number of exercises, detailed explanations, and an immediate email back with corrections.

Frantastique provided my husband Frantastique - Gamesforlanguage.comPeter and me with a free 4-month Basic subscription.

Lessons are personalized right from the beginning. After seven lessons, Frantastique assigned us a skill level. Frantastique uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:

Mine started at 4.2-4.4 (B1-B2). After 24 lessons, I am now pegged at a straight 4.5 (B2). Peter, who speaks French more fluently than I, but is weaker in spelling and grammar, started with a 3.4 (B1) level. Now (after lesson 24), he has moved up to 3.7 (B1).

The Setup: an Email, a Brief Review, an Ongoing Story, Exercises, Correction

Frantastique - emailThe Email

Five times a week early in the morning, you receive an email with your 15-minute lesson. It sits in your inbox, waiting.

Obviously, you can do it any time that's convenient for you. If you skip your lesson, you'll get a reminder after three days.

The Review

Your lesson starts with a review. If you made any mistakes in your previous lesson, the Review will cover them again with detailed explanations. To see if you've understood, you'll be asked to do another couple of related questions.Frantastique - Review

You'll then find a brief review of some grammar points or expressions for which you can get a translation.

After each of these, you have a number of options: You can click on "inutile to reviser" (don't need to review) or “je savais” (I knew), etc. When you do, these particular grammar questions won't be included in a future review. Or if you don't know or are not sure, you'll see them again. This is also a way your lessons become personalized.

Frantastique - Story startThe Ongoing Story

Each lesson gives you a small piece of the story, either related to the Extraterrestrials and Victor Hugo or a humorous, made-up story in the form of a newspaper article. (Clicking on the image left will let you play the beginning of the Victor Hugo story.)

The story chunk you get consists of a short article, video, cartoon, or just audio. Typically, you'll see the written dialogue of the audio or video clip when you receive your corrections.

The story itself is a little crazy: A naked, fully-bearded Victor Hugo traipses around Paris together with a couple of aliens from outer space. Hard to believe, but their conversations are eminently practical and fun.

The ExercisesFrantastique - Exercises

These come in the form of questions about an idiom, expression, grammar point, or cultural topic.

You answer these by typing fill-ins, choosing pull-downs, or writing what you hear. Most of the questions have a small audio with it. This way you can hear French spoken at normal speed by native speakers throughout the lesson.

When you're done, you send off the email with your answers.

Frantastique-correctionCorrection

Before you can say Victor Hugo, your corrected lesson will be in your inbox. If you look at the corrections right away, everything you just wrote will still be fresh in your mind.

For each question you answered, there's a brief explanation of the rule. This is especially helpful for understanding why a guess was correct. If you've made a mistake, you'll also see why your answer is wrong. How better to learn and remember an expression, a way of spelling, or a grammar point.

There are advantages to not receiving corrections the same moment that you write them (as you do with many language programs and apps, including GamesforLanguage). By getting the corrections AFTER completing a lesson, there is no trial-and-error guessing. Also, with the accompanying explanation, you'll better remember both the correct answers as well as the corrected mistakes.

With potentially 340 lessons (at 5 lessons a week), you'll have over 1.5 years of study.

Account SettingsFrantastique - account settings

There are a number of settings you can chose in your account tab:

Reception Days: You can only select 5 days, which is ok if you don't want to learn during the weekend.

Vacation Days: Each subscription allows for a certain number of vacation days during which you postpone your lessons. (For example, a 6-month subscription allows for 4 weeks of vacation.) These days will be added automatically to the end of your subscription.

Lesson Length: Five (5) Options range from “minimum” (no story) to “maximum.” We have “standard,” which is the default.

Spicy Mode: You can opt out of receiving “spicy” content.

Low Level mode: Activating the “mode bas niveau” will give you the same modules, but they are less difficult.

Pedagogy: The Pedagogy tab lets you view your latest lessons, vocabulary, and grammar to review. It also provides various progress statistics.

Ipad & Android Apps: The iPad and Android apps are well integrated with the online version, but obviously need WiFi access to the email account.

Pricing

Frantastique has 3 different fee categories: Basic and Premium (for individuals) and Pro (for companies and institutions). Prices for individuals range from $49 - $69 for Basic, and $77 - $111 for Pro subscriptions. For further information: link to the online shop

What We Like

  • The lessons are fun and immensely Frantastique - newspaper articleenjoyable because of the humorous context of the Victor Hugo story or the funny, made-up  newspaper articles as this one on your right.
  • The expressions and grammar points you learn or review are all practical.
  • Corrections arrive seconds after you've finished the lesson and reinforce your learning.
  • The lessons arrive five days a week, which helps you to build a learning habit.
  • The course lessons are indeed tailored to your skill level. Peter's are different from mine.
  • There are multiple short audios in the lesson.
  • You'll hear various voices and different accents, besides standard French.
  • In your “Account” you'll see all your episodes and corrections in the “cahier de cours.”
  • The vocab audios have Parisian French and Canadian French versions and let you hear the differences in pronunciation

Other Points to Consider

  • The lessons are not for complete beginners (although you can opt for the “low level mode”).
  • The playful mode disguises the fact that Frantastique is a serious and effective course.
  • To practice your pronunciation you should repeat everything you hear and read.
  • The standard lessons are short – it takes me about 15 minutes for each lesson
  • In addition to English, Frantastique is currently fully available also for German, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese, with Chinese to be added soon. Other languages are being developed.
  • By trying out Frantastique for FREE for a week (or during special promotions even for a month), you can determine whether it works for you.

Final Thoughts

If you already have same basic knowledge of French, Frantastique - dessert du jourbut want to get to a next level and improve your listening, reading, and writing skills, and do so with a fun and engaging course that prompts you with lessons 5 days a week – then Frantastique is your ticket.

The extra video and audio clips of “Le dessert du jour” (as this Jean Belmondo clip on the left) that accompany each lesson often make you smile. And when you are looking forward to the next lesson, it'll motivate you to learn and practice even dry French grammar points.

Frantastique's sister site Gymglish uses a very similar approach for teaching English (e.g to Spanish speakers) with a story set in San Francisco


Posted on by Peter and Ulrike Rettig

Black Friday: Great Deals, Partnerships, and Changes

Black Friday cartoon With Black Friday, the Christmas Shopping season starts in the U.S. Many companies, including language learning sites, are offering great deals.

GamesforLanguage is a completely free site already, so we can't offer any special deals!

Over the last year, we have been making a few bucks (really few!!) with Google Ads. However, the Google ads that you see on our site pages are typically not related to language learning (unless YOU searched for them).

We therefore have decided to limit Google Ads to our dictionary pages.

We plan to partner with language learning companies we like and whose approaches and philosophy are similar to ours.

These may be companies and sites that offer free and/or fee-based services or products.

When we mention, review, or recommend such a company or site, we will always let you know whether we have a financial relationship with them. Look for our disclosure at the bottom of any of our posts.

Past Reviews and Relationships

We noted in our past reviews or mentions of Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Duolingo, Linguaville, Lingua.Ly, LingQ, Digital Dialects, Quizlet, Eduxeso, Speaklikethem, etc. when we either used free or purchased/subscribed courses.

For the review of the book of French idioms: Other Cats to Whip” we had received a free e-book.

And, we are currently working with a free 3-month subscription of LearnwithOliver.com's Dutch course, as well as a free 3-month subscription of Lingualia's Spanish course for future reviews of these sites.

We will continue to mention and comment on courses, apps, and sites as we learn about them and try them out ourselves.

Current Affiliations

As you've seen over the past months, we have not only mentioned some companies in posts, but also in some of our Quick Games.

Our Languages

French: We are adding links to our French Quick Games for Frantastique, a fun and very effective site for French non-Beginners. They offer a free 1-week try-out.

Spanish: We have added links to our Spanish Quick Games for Lingualia, a site which we are currently using ourselves to improve our Spanish. Try it out for free and see whether you like it as much as we do.

German: There are links in some of our German Quick Games for Freelanguage.org and its free Language Learning Magazine. 

Italian: In addition to Freelanguage.org, we also have links in our Italian Quick Games for Luana's free Italian Video Lessons Learnitalianwithme.it

Inglés: We will be adding links to our Inglés Quick Games for Gymglish (a sister company of Frantastique), as well as Lingualia, both of whom provide excellent English courses for Spanish speakers.

General: 

Lingohut - With Lingohut, also a free language learning site, that offers brief lessons for 10 languages, and ESL (English as a Second Language) courses, we have been in a partnership for several months. We exchange guest blogs, information etc.

Fluent in 3 Months - We recently joined the affiliate program of Benny Lewis (whom we met during the Polyglot Conference in New York in October). His Fluent in 3 Months Premium program is being offered at a 51% discount until Monday 11/30/2015. We admire his enthusiasm and dedication to language. We believe that anybody who wants to boost his or her motivation and language learning will greatly benefit from his method and many practical tips!

More Changes to GamesforLanguage

We continue to work on improving our courses. Starting with German, we have been streamlining the “Memory Games” and “Snap Cloud” sequencing, adjusted the Word Hero's speed, and added more Vocabulary Quizzes and Quick Games.

We also continue to publish blog posts weekly on one of our three topics: Language Learning Culture and Travel.

 

Disclosure: Certain links above are to partners' programs with revenue sharing, should you decide to subscribe or purchase.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Deutsch & English: "Denglisch" - and other Language Evolutions

Particle CollisionAn excellent About.com article by Hyde Flippo, Denglisch: When Languages Collide, made me think about how all our languages are constantly evolving.

As we look into our European past, we obviously have to note first the tremendous influence that Latin had, not only on forming the Romance languages but by impacting the Germanic languages as well.

Norman French + Middle English = Modern English

Modern English, in fact, was greatly affected by William the Conqueror's victory in 1066 and the Normans' rule for several hundred years.

Geoff Boxell's article All is the same - All is changed: The Effect of 1066 on the English Language gives an interesting account of how Old English, Middle English, and Norman French merged into the English we know today.

Many language changes were initiated by edicts and policies of the ruling class, others evolved over hundreds of years. (See also our 2012 blog post The “French Connection” of 1066.)

Deutsch + English = Denglisch

What is different from the above example is not only our short time horizon, but also the fact that incorporating English words into the German language does not presently occur under English-speaking occupation or governance.

Rather, Germans use English words because they see them as practical and/or “cool.” Hyde Flippo describes five different definitions of Denglisch, which capture well how and where they occur. 

He then describes in some detail the various aspects of how English influences the German language; he also notes that “there are several small language organizations in Germany that see themselves as guardians of the German language and try to wage war against English — with little success to date.”

The article should be of interest to German expats and German language learners alike: Both will find English expressions they can use while still being understood when speaking German.

History will tell whether the numerous changes described in the about.com article will be permanent and taken over into the “Duden,” the authoritative German language dictionary.

And, if the comments on various language forums are any indication, German is not the only language which experiences English “intrusions”: All Romance languages are affected (although the French may be more resistant than others), as are the Nordic, and other European languages.

One can bemoan, as some do, the changes to one's native language. However, as long as such changes are not forced, but occur “naturally” by common consent or use, they seem to me to be part of the evolution of a language.

Let's also not forget that what's "cool" today, may not be so tomorrow, but what's practical may indeed endure.

Posted on by Pablo Montoya

Learning English as a Second Language (ESL) in Spain

Last week, I read an article on the difficulties that the majority of Spanish high school students are facing in understanding spoken English. According to data taken from the latest European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC), only 12% actually understand simple expressions about everyday topics.

Given such data, a simple question arises: What is wrong with ESL programs in the current educational system in Spain? From my own experience, two main reasons immediately occur to me:

    • Firstly, the quantity of English input that a student receives in class is extremely low. On average, the amount of time spent engaging in listening activities is 30 minutes per week.
    • Secondly, and as importantly, the quality of the English that students hear is quite poor because: (a) Portable stereo systems have inadequate sound quality and can hardly be heard in the back of classrooms.         (b) Exceptions aside, the pronunciation of non-native teachers is sometimes not quite up to standard. This fact, together with not hearing native speakers often enough, makes it hard for students to improve their listening skills.

    Consequences of Dubbing

    In addition, there are a few extra-academic factors, which definitely have an influence on the listening skills of high school students. One mentioned in the article is the dubbing into Spanish of movies and television shows. This alone represents an additional obstacle to ESL students because, as a result, they are not being exposed to the English language as much as it would be desirable outside of class.

    Benefits of digitalization

    However, I'm convinced that with the advent of media digitalization, the option to choose between Spanish and English audio tracks on multimedia content is giving students the chance to improve their language competence. It might actually be interesting to research a bit further: Will those students, who regularly watch content in English, do better than the 12% percent of students who understand simple expressions?

    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. 

    Posted on by Pablo Montoya

    ESL Learning Through Gaming

    video game - Gamesforlanguage.comI 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.

    BIO: 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.