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 Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Is GamesforLanguage a “Serious” Language Learning Program?

Gamesforlanguage shoot-out gameAt times we think that the “GamesforLanguage” name has two drawbacks, as some language learners could assume that:

(1)  Language learning games are more for children, or that

(2) Gamesforlanguage.com is not a serious and well-thought-out self-teaching language program.

They could not be more wrong.  

And then we also remember: Adults can't learn a new language as easily as young children do - but at least they can have a little fun playing games while learning and practicing - as children do.

GamesforLanguage's Key Language Learning Features

Our courses are based on our own extensive experience in foreign language learning, as well as a 20-year stint in writing and editing self-teaching language programs.

Each of our courses integrates several key features into one unique comprehensive language learning program:

  • A travel-story sequel of a young traveler visiting Young Friends having funny conversationthe country of his parent's family.
  • Fun games that practice reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
  • Everyday vocabulary, which is introduced, practiced, and then repeated in later lessons.
  • New words and structures introduced in every lesson, and familiar words and structures repeated from previous lessons.
  • Travel-related and culturally relevant vocabulary, dialogues, and expressions that are immediately useful on a foreign trip.
  • Grammar and structures that the learner can discover gradually. Brief comments and tips that clarify aspects of the target language and culture.

Language Learning Patterns

student in new learning environmentWe know that learning a foreign language as an adult takes motivation, engagement, and commitment.

We also know that self-teaching online language programs are not for everyone.

Recently, a post on another language-learning site analyzed the learning patterns of its users.

It prompted us to look at the learning patterns of our registered users.

We can distinguish a few characteristics, and we are not always "serious"! Some fun also helps learning!

The “0” Points Player

Now and then we see visitors who register and start a course, but then decide on the next screen not to continue.

Maybe they expected another type of course or game, or thought they had to register for the Quick Games. (You don't.)

We are planning a survey of those players to better understand their reasons for registering, but not continuing with a course.

The Nibbler

About 15% of those that started a language course playNibbled apples only a game or two.

As each lesson starts with a story dialogue, they may have listened to the dialogue, but then stopped after the first game screens.

Maybe they expected a different game, pictures, or a video game.

Or they just wanted to see what “GamesforLanguage” was about, without any real interest in learning a language.

We have also noticed that some “Nibblers” come back later to practice or try out another language.

The Voracious Player

Sometimes we see players who - in one stretch, after registering – play an entire level, or six lessons, often just beating the minimum score to move on to the next lesson.

Maybe these players are motivated by the fun aspect of the games to test their knowledge.

However, we also noticed that they are unlikely to come back, to either improve their scores or continue.

The Finisher or Focused Learner

Marathon finish lineThe Finisher plays through all or most of the games of the first lesson, though he or she may skip the Recording (as it requires the Flash Player which is not supported on smart phones or tablets).

Then, having met the score requirement, this learner moves on to lesson #2. These players seem to be interested in one language only.

They may also “nibble” sometimes by trying out another language, but then return to the language of their choice.

These are the learners who are most likely to continue with their course.

Language learning is not a short sprint but more like long-distance running. After you cross the finish line, the feeling of accomplishment is sweet and will stay with you for a long time.

The Polyglot Player

Polyglot players go for at least one scene of two or more languages right away. From his or her scores we can speculate that this player may already know one or more of the languages.

Sometimes Nibblers also try out different languages. When their scores are high enough to let them move on to further Scenes, we can't distinguish them from Polyglots.

The Quick Language Game Player

Since our start, we have added over 200 Quick Language Games, which can be played without registering.

These Quick Games are quite popular. But we don't see the names of individual players, we can only note which games are played and how many times.

How to Play, Learn & Practice

The “serious” learners are more likely to click on “How to Play and Learn” under “New Here?” on the Course Page.

Below are a few key suggestions for effective learning and practice. These apply not only to GamesforLanguage, but also to many other online language learning sites:

  • Play only one (1) NEW lesson per day, and - if you have 20-30 minutes - start by reviewing the PREVIOUS lesson, or at least the Dialogue of the previous lesson.
  • Re-play any of the games of a previous lesson, for which you scored less than 100%.
  • To get into the learning habit, PLAY SOME GAMES EVERY DAY. (Also note that the Quick Language Games can be played without logging in.)
  • Don’t worry, if you don’t know the meaning in the “Balloon Words,” or “Say It” games. Just concentrate on the sounds and the melody of the language, while you repeat what you hear.
  • Repeat the native speaker's words and phrases in any game whenever you can - BEFORE the native speaker, if you can, and AFTERWARDS to correct yourself.
  • Practice your pronunciation with “Record It.” Keep recording and re-recording your voice until you feel that you're getting close to the native speaker's pronunciation.
  • In the games, pay attention to the occasional abbreviations that appear directly behind the English word. They will tell you which form of the foreign word you should use.
  • After completing a Level (six or twelve lessons) listen to the Podcast. If you don't understand a lesson perfectly, replay it.
  • Listen to the Podcast of the next Level and find out how much you can understand or guess, before you start a new lesson.

How About Fluency?

Few, if any, online language programs can make you fluent. The only way to become fluent is to TALK, to engage in as many conversations as you can join.

But online programs can be an excellent preparation. That's why we emphasize REPEATING ALOUD, and making use of the recording feature whenever possible.

Fluency not only requires sufficient vocabulary, but also the ability to combine words into phrases and sentences when talking with others.

Until online programs can truly generate interactive one-on-one conversations, teachers, tutors, language exchange or conversation partners (in-person or on-line) are the best way to become fluent in a new language.

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 Peter Rettig

Language Learning During Retirement? It Worked for me!

Retirement dreams...My (first) retirement is now already a few years behind me. I was very lucky when we were able to sell the consulting firm I had co-founded. I was still in my fifties.

However, while I was looking forward to a less stressful life, I was also aware that retirement can have its own challenges.

I had read the usual books about retirement, how to stay busy, get or continue with a hobby, etc. Yes, I also had the typical list of house projects I never had time to complete earlier.

But during the months leading to the day when I didn't have to go to work anymore, my wife Ulrike and I made plans for an extended stay in Italy.

Preparing for Italy

Both Ulrike and I already spoke several languages: German, English, French, and she also Dutch.

These were languages we had either learned as children or young adults living/working in the respective countries. Italian was to be the first language we were going to learn as mature adults.

A few months before my retirement and our travels – my wife was working as a development editor at Pimsleur International at that time - we began using Pimsleur's self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, 90 lessons in all.

This was an accomplishment. We felt quite smug about being able to understand basic Italian, but we also knew that the real test would come upon our arrival in Rome.

First Impressions and Lessons

We were picked up at Fiumicino Airport by our landlord's driver. WhenRoman and Guiseppe in Trastevere bakery we tried out our Italian on him it became clear immediately that his English was much better than our Italian.

Our first apartment was in a narrow street above a grocery/bakery in Trastevere (see picture of Romand and Guiseppe), and located just opposite a wonderful little restaurant, Le Mani in Pasta. (This restaurant is now listed on Tripadvisor as #27 of 327 restaurants in Trastevere.)

We became regulars there, and as the owners and waiters spoke very little English, it was great place to practice our Italian.

Seeing “Le Mani” everyday when we left our building, it was easy to remember that “la mano” (the hand) is one of the exceptions in Italian, as most nouns ending in an “o” are masculine.

Other feminine nouns ending with “o” are: àuto (car), mòto (motorcycle), dìnamo (dynamo), ràdio (radio), mètro (subway), libido (libido), etc.

Fluency Realities

Trastevere vegetable standWe also quickly realized, however, that we were far from being fluent in Italian. Yes, we had completed maybe 45-50 hours of learning with the Pimsleur audio courses. 

While we got compliments for our pronunciation, we still had to rely a lot on pointing and gesturing for buying groceries in our grocery/bakery or local market (see picture).

For several weeks, our vocabulary clearly continued to be insufficient. And to our dismay, the Italian on TV was an incomprehensible garble of words for us.

We were lucky to find a tutor who discovered quickly via a first test that our Italian spelling was atrocious. With Pimsleur's Italian audio course we had not learned how to read and write and our spelling was automatically based on the French we knew.

The daily 2-hour lessons with required homework kept us busy learning for half the day. The other half we spent exploring Rome and its surroundings. We tried out our Italian wherever we could.

After a few weeks, the Italian TV garble dissolved into individual words that we began to distinguish where they started and ended. While we still did not know a huge number of words, we started to guess what words meant from the context. That accelerated our learning further.

Over the next months, as our tutor worked with us and monitored our progress, our confidence grew. We started to understand and enjoy Italian TV and movies, and increasingly conversed with shopkeepers and people we encountered during the day.

Language Learning during Retirement

There have been many research findings about the benefits of mental exercises for older adults. And learning a foreign language is near the top of that list - ahead of playing Lumosity games or solving crossword puzzles.

Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar patterns through practice.

And yes, we also experienced – although still far away from a Golden Anniversary - what a friend described facetiously in a guest post, French in Dijon: Fluency Realities with no "Lover Option".

When younger people are sitting in bars discussion politics, love, and pop music Friends discussing in coffee housewith passion, we are getting ready for bed. Since my wife and I've been married more than fifty years, neither of us can go out and find a lover! In short: The quickest avenues to fluency are now closed to us.

Acquiring fluency in a foreign language is certainly harder when you don't speak it all the time with your partner. That's true even if you stay in the country where the language is spoken.

However, there are also many opportunities today to Progress Faster to Language Fluency.

If you can take advantage early on of one of retirement's key benefits: Planning your day and doing activities that YOU like – you'll never be bored.

Then, if language learning is on that list, you'll open a new world to explore: articles to read, conversations to have, movies or TV shows to watch, planning a trip to a place where your new language is spoken.

Beyond Retirement – “Un-Retiring”

For me personally, learning Italian (and later continuing with Spanish and Dutch, see my post about P.M Tools.) also led to our starting up Gamesforlanguage.

Using my interest in languages and my project management skills, plus Ulrike's background in teaching and course development has given us a wonderful way of combining our passion with a purpose:

Helping others practice languages we have learned as well, and sharing our experiences about language learning, culture and travel on our Blog.

And when we get a Thank-you note such as this one from a 80+ year old woman, who had completed both our German courses, we also know that it's never too late to learn and practice a new language: 

"Thank you for such an interesting way to practice and learn German. I have really enjoyed doing this each day and am hoping to go to Austria in the Fall for a week at a spa. I liked the way you varied the learning process, also that you had a score at the end of each lesson, which, if not good enough, you could redo. Thank you again, M."

So who knows – once you start learning another language during your retirement – you may also discover reasons to “un-retire” again.

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 Ulrike Rettig

Listening and Speaking: Language Fluency's Key Challenges

man an d woman listening and speakingFor many adults, listening to and then speaking a foreign language remain key challenges. And that may be so even after several years of school and college instruction.

Hearing and producing the new sounds of another language take a special effort. Plus, we may be shy about speaking up, afraid that we'll make mistakes.

A popular marketing promise of some language programs contains some wishful thinking: “Learn a second language like a child.” It implies that by following such program learning will occur as effortlessly as young children seem to learn their first language.

No matter that children spend nearly all the waking hours of their first few years just listening to and then learning to speak the language of their parents and caregivers. Once in kindergarten and school, it'll take them several more years to learn how to read and write.

What we may consider “effortless,” actually involves quite a bit of struggle and effort. As infants, children first learn to understand the meaning of the words, gestures, and expressions others use to interact with them. At the same time, they start using their own vocal chords to replicate the sounds of words they hear. It's only after much trial and error that they can make themselves understood.

Clearly, it takes time and effort to develop good listening and speaking skills in a language. Children learning their first language have the advantage of being immersed in the language on a daily basis. They hear their native language and speak it all the time. (In fact, they can even handle more than one language!)

For adults, who are learning another language, listening comprehension and speaking are important skills to practice. However, many language programs focus more on reading and writing, than listening and speaking – with the exception of predominantly audio programs such as Michael Thomas, Pimsleur, and some others. 

THE IMMERSION TEACHING METHOD

We recently had a conversation with a friend of ours, who spent over head above water cartoon30 years teaching German to English speakers in U.S. colleges, as well as English to German students in high schools in Germany.

He firmly believes that students progressed most in his classes – both in the U.S. and in Germany - when he taught with a method that uses immersion. In particular, he found the Rassias method to be very effective.

John Rassias, former professor of French and Italian at Dartmouth College, believed in the motto: Speak to learn a language, not learn to speak a language. The Rassias method, which continues to be widely used, combines theatrical techniques and rapid-fire drills to fully engage the learner in the target language.

My experience with college language teaching in the U.S. was pretty similar. In a classroom, you can create an immersive environment by staying in the target language and explaining things using gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, pictures, reformulations, etc.

But clearly, getting students to understand and speak in their new language in class does require a lot of extra theatricals and energy. And, no matter what you do, if you have a large class, students won't be speaking much in the target language. 

Teachers at international language schools, such as the Goethe Institute, the Alliance Française, or Berlitz, often create an immersive learning classroom. But unless the school is located in a country where the language is spoken, students rarely use their target language outside of class. 

(Some language schools, e.g. the Middlebury [summer] Language Schools, ask students to sign a pledge to only speak in their target language.)

It seems that one-on-one lessons taken in person or online via Skype may provide the best chance for immersion learning, if you can't be in a country or region where people speak the language. That's especially true if the tutor pushes you to speak a lot.

HOW ABOUT ONLINE LANGUAGE PROGRAMS and APPS?

New technology has made it convenient to learn a language online and doing so has become very popular. But to what extent can online programs and apps provide immersion learning, and with it, fluency in listening and speaking?

Immersion learning, especially for beginners, is not easy to create in an online program. But training listening and speaking in foreign language is a challenge that different programs have attempted to solve in various ways.

Having developed our own GamesforLanguage courses and reviewed a number of other language learning programs, here's a quick snapshot how these programs encourage listening and speaking (in sequence of our development/review).

GamesforLanguage

Each of our course lessons (we call them “Scenes”), start with a dialogue of an ongoing travel story. The learner reads and hears sentences in the target language, which he or she might encounter while traveling, but may or may not fully understand.

New words are then taught and tested with various games in which learners see the words and are encouraged to repeat them. In the listening game Say It, the player hears and is asked to repeat a new word, which then appears for just a moment. In another listening game, Balloon Words, the player hears the word and has to pick the correct one from three words with a similar spelling. In both, no translation is given so that the attention can remain on listening and repeating.

After other translation and writing games, learners can then record the sentences of all story-dialogues at the end of each lesson, as often as needed. This helps to both memorize phrases and expressions, and to get close to the pronunciation of the native speakers.

Rosetta Stone

Are you now thinking, but isn't “Rosetta Stone” total immersion? Yes, there are no English translations and you are indeed “immersed” in the foreign language throughout a session.

I only bought Level 1 of Spanish, quite a while ago, so that's all I can comment on. The four Levels are set up as pictures and short sentences that describe the pictures.

You hear a sentence, identify the corresponding picture, and then are prompted to record your voice. My voice recording often gets rejected even after several tries. But it's not clear why some sentences are accepted and others aren't. Rather than improving, I just get frustrated. 

Is there a boredom factor built into Rosetta Stone? People do seem to give up easily on the kind of "immersion" this program offers. It may be because in each lesson you go through repeating dozens of unrelated phrases and sentences. On top of that, many grammar lessons are in the form of simple pattern drills, where you just click on one word each time. And, because everything is done with pictures, it gets hard to remember what each picture is supposed to mean. (See our 5 Rosetta Stone reviews)

Babbel

This program has a fairly traditional approach: A lesson starts with a flashcard exercise where you are asked to Study the words and their spelling. Then you go through exercises to practice writing, reading, listening, speaking, and basic grammar. Most of the exercises work from translation. Explanations are in English.

For listening practice, I particularly like the dictation exercises (Write what you hear), and the part where you complete the sentences of a conversation by adding a word that cued from the English translation of the sentence. In both of these sections, you see and hear language in context.

Speaking practice is up to you: It's best to repeat words and sentences as much as you can. Most lessons have a section for practicing sounds that are different from English. 

Duolingo

My main beef with Duolingo is that it has me often write English translations, which I find a huge waste of time. I'd rather be writing answers in the target language. I would be learning so much faster. To avoid writing in English, I've set my native language to another language I'm learning.  (I now have an account to learn Italian from Spanish.)

I do like the voice recognition part because it makes me say things out loud, which I sometimes forget to do. (Of course, there is no REAL voice recognition with feedback.)

Duolingo's newest addition are the Chatbots. At this time, they're available for French, German, and Spanish conversations. What you do is chat in your target language with a partner by writing predictable answers to questions and comments, with help from pictures. It's really quite neat.

You hear and see what your Chatbot partner is saying. You can check the meaning of the vocabulary, and get feedback for what you've written. To practice speaking, though, you just have to push yourself to say out loud whatever you hear and see. (see also Duolingo and Babbel: How They Differ)

Language Zen

At the moment, Language Zen is only available for learning Spanish online. The addition of Spanish Music (songs and lyrics) to its courses let's you focus on listening.

In general, you hear a lot of Spanish in this course. You learn new Spanish words and phrases by hearing them (and seeing their spelling and English translation). Next, you hear the Spanish word or phrase and have to identify the correct English translation among five options. When you click on the correct translation, you'll hear it again, see it spelled in Spanish, and are thereby induced to repeat it yourself.

Speaking is an important part of the course. Once you've heard and learned a few words, you are asked to translate an English sentence into Spanish – either by saying it (or by writing it). The voice recognition software is actually pretty good. It has adjusted to my voice, as well as Peter's voice and accent, and writes what it hears.

You can correct any spelling (or hearing) mistake. Click on “Check Answer” and you now hear the correct answer. If you're correct, move on, if not, you have one more chance to say or write the correct Spanish translation.

We very much like the fact that you're encouraged to say (or write) Spanish words and phrases quite often, and that you're not asked to say or write sentences in English. (see also our detailed Language Zen Review.)

SuperCoco

This is a new app for Spanish, created by Larkwire. It can be used hands-free. The program is very well done and clearly focuses on listening and speaking. So far, four (4) Levels have been released, from Beginner to Intermediate (with higher levels to come).

Each lesson (almost 250 to date) has you listen to and repeat individual words and sentences, with an emphasis on individual sounds, intonation, and the rhythm of the language. Since the purpose of the program is to repeat what you hear, that's what you do. English translations are spoken and written, so you do hear lots of English not just Spanish.

Brief pronunciation lessons teach you the basic sounds of Spanish. You're told how to produce the sounds and are given examples. Then you record yourself, play back your voice, and compare your pronunciation to that of the native speaker. This is a great feature. (See also our SuperCoco Review.)

Lingualia

Lingualia is an online program (with iOS and Android apps) to learn Spanish or English. All word definitions, audios, fill in the blank and unscramble exercises, image identification, etc. are in the target language. 

If you want, you can set the interface language to English, Spanish, and now also to German. So, if you're learning Spanish and if you set the interface language to Spanish, everything will be in Spanish.

In the program, you're not asked to do any translations (though translations with google are available).

With Lingualia you can work seriously on your listening skills. The program contains 200 rapidly spoken conversations, one at the beginning of each lesson. You can listen to them as often as you want, with or without seeing the text.

There's less chance for practicing your speaking skills, unless you make a special effort to constantly repeat individual phrases of a conversation as they scoot by. There are no exercises to practice sentences. There's no recording feature to play back your voice. (See also our Lingualia Review.)

Pimsleur

Having worked at Pimsleur both as author of the first three German courses and co-author and development editor of various other courses, I'm both familiar with and fond of the Pimsleur approach. We have not (yet) published a review of this program, which started out with audio tapes and CDs, and now also has MP3 files for download. In addition, there's an interactive product called Pimsleur Unlimited, which can be downloaded on your computer or mobile devices.

With a Pimsleur Audio course, you listen and speak right from the beginning. The Narrator guides you along (first in English and later in the target language) and gives explanations. After you've heard the initial dialogue, you learn new words by hearing and repeating them, usually by building them from the end.

As a lesson progresses, the Narrator gives you the English cues for the words that you've learned, sometimes prompting you to make new combinations. However, the audio lessons are hard to navigate beyond listening in sequence.

Pimsleur Unlimited contains the 30-minute audio lessons, Flashcards and Quick Match to practice new words and sentences, plus a Speak Easy part to practice the conversation. Except for Speak Easy, where you participate in the conversations, everything is prompted from English.

In all, Pimsleur does a great job pushing the learner to say everything aloud. Its particular audio method (backward buildup, anticipation of the answer) is very effective to train the ear and help the learner get a good pronunciation.

THE ONLINE/APP TEACHING DILEMMA

dilemma - Gamesforlanguage.comAs this quick survey shows, none of these programs (including our GamesforLanguage courses) can provide a true immersion experience, the way a live conversation, or online session with a tutor can.

Online courses or apps have to rely on images (e.g. Rosetta Stone, etc.), written text, or English audio to transmit meaning to the learner. A teacher or tutor can do that with gestures, mimic, different sounds, or alternate expressions in the target language, etc., all options that apps or online courses do not have.

The online/app dilemma then is this: Images are rarely sufficient for explaining the meaning of thoughts, feelings, and complex activities, etc. in the target language. You require a teaching language to translate from. (I don't know if Lingualia is an exception for beginners, who may use Google translate in the early stages.)

Translations, however, take the learner away from the the target language. The moment the learner hears or reads the translation in his or her native language (English or otherwise), immersion is interrupted.

THREE POWERFUL IMMERSIVE TECHNIQUES

Still, using online programs and apps to learn can give you a good basis for getting started and progressing in a language, for learning vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation.

My advice: Don't just click on the correct translation or answer. Repeat and speak the words and phrases you hear and learn in such programs. Without speaking and trying out the new sounds you won't become fluent.

So, what can you add - besides a regular language tutor - to strengthen your immersion experience in the language and become more fluent?

  1. Watch a film or YouTube video in your target language, without English captions (or with captions in the same language).
  2. Listen, with attention, to an audio book. If you can, follow along with the text in your target language.
  3. Listen to a passage from your audio book, and then read and record the same passage. Play back and compare. Do this several times. This is really powerful.

And remember: learning to become fluent in a new language is a long-term project. Use as many different means and methods to read, listen to, or speak the target language every day. Daily “exposure,” if not “immersion,” will get you there.

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

Disclosure: Several of the language learning companies mentioned above are partner sites with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.

 

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 Rettig

4 Other Useful italki Features for Language Learning

italki logo (updated 8/11/2016)

I'm a latecomer to italki.

There's been a lot of buzz about italki these past couple of years. On various social media channels, I kept hearing that italki was the next best thing to having a native-speaker friend.

Italki is about talking in the language you're learning.

I've been learning Spanish on my own for some time now. Most recently, I reported on my progress in Reaching Language Fluency – My Experience With Spanish (so far). And while I can understand and read Spanish quite well, I can't speak it as fluently as I would like.

It was my niece who finally convinced me to take the plunge. She told me how much she enjoyed the various options italki provides.

Even more importantly, she was happy about how quickly her fluency in Spanish was improving. She'll be using Spanish in her work, for counseling families and conducting interviews.

For me, becoming conversationally fluent is a personal goal, though one that I take very seriously. So, a few weeks ago, I decided to try out italki.

The italki site is easy to navigate. When you start looking around, you'll find various free options and features that can enhance your experience on the site, besides, or in addition to taking (paid) lessons.

On your Dashboard you can see all your activity at one glance, including your schedule, your teachers, your friends, your community activities, a recommended article, as well as your wallet.

At the footer of your Dashboard page is the heading Browse. From there you can jump to any of the sections listed below. Once you're there, sort by language and specific options.

The Main Stay: Lessons for Speaking

Learning to talk fluently in a foreign language and building on Italki teacher screenconversational skills are the main goals for many language learners.

One-on-one sessions with a skilled language teacher - be it from home, or when living where the language is spoken - are doubtless the best way to get there.

Skype or Facetime lessons are italki's mainstay. There are lots of options for everyone. You can choose between professional teachers (who are certified and experienced) and community tutors (native or near-native speakers who do informal tutoring).

For Browsing through a list for available teachers or tutors, you can set the language, the country where the teacher is from, a rate, tags (such as: beginners, children, teenagers, business, test preparation), native speaker, trial lesson, audio & video, available times (instant tutoring, or time of day, days of the week).

To find the section, simply click on Language Teachers.

Italki encourages you to try out different teachers and offers three (3) 30-minutes, discounted trial sessions for their teachers and tutors. (The discounts are set by each teacher and tutor, and therefore vary.)

4 More Features

1. Informal Conversational Practice

italki - language partnersFor casual practice, you can add Language-Exchange sessions, which are free. You can set up as many as you want, and with time you'll probably find some good partners and ways to make the language exchanges run smoothly.

In this section you can get free language practice by exchanging time teaching your native language, for time learning a foreign language. You can sort by language you're learning, gender, place your partner is from, and native speaker.

To get there, just click on Language Partners. Some of the language partners are also teachers on italki. Above the profile picture, you can Switch to Teacher Profile.

In some cases, time differences and a partner's availability make language-exchange sessions somewhat more difficult to schedule than sessions with teachers. This is a problem that many language-exchange sites share.

2. Reading

The best way to grow your (passive) vocabulary is to read as much as you italki - reading screencan in your target language, and on a variety of subjects.

Italki has a free section where teachers and tutors post articles they've written. They come in a variety of languages and are mostly about learning a language, specific language topics, or cultural themes.

These articles are conversational in nature. I recommend reading the ones that are in your target language. For a learner, they are a great way to start internalizing informal language beyond basic phrases such as how are you? where are you from? are you a student? “what kind of work do you do? do you have any brothers and sisters?

To get there, click on Articles. Sort by language and scroll down. You'll see articles in your native and in your target language.

I find, though, that I may have a huge (reading) vocabulary in a foreign language, but still find myself tongue-tied when speaking it. So, you need to find ways to use your words and phrases in real conversations, by speaking!

3. Writing

italki - NotebookNow that there are lots of Forums, Facebook community pages, Chat options, etc. in various languages, learning to write well enough in your target language seems a good skill to shoot for.

In the Notebook section, on italki, you can write short journal-like entries in the language you're learning about topics that interests you or something that's on your mind.

These notebook entries are then corrected by others who are native speakers or proficient in the language. You'll sometimes get several corrections and comments. In turn, you are encouraged to correct the notebook entries of others, written in your native language or one you're highly proficient in.

This option is free and you can use it even if you haven't taken any lessons.

Under Browse, click on Notebook, sort by language.

4. Grammar and Usage

Not many language learners approach a language by just learning grammar rules and memorizing conjugation tables.italki answers However, when you're beyond the beginner level, figuring out some of the grammar points is actually fun.

You can do that in the “Answers” section. There you can add specific questions about the language you're learning (translation, correct usage, etc.) and answer questions about a language that you speak.

To get there, go to Answers and sort by language.

The following quote by a learner says it very well: I've used italki to get answers for questions I don't have the courage to ask in the classroom as I'm very shy. I always get satisfactory answers, the community is really nice as far as I can tell.

Even Polyglots use italki

You may never become a Polyglot like Benny Lewis. You may not even agree with him that learning your target language is easy. Or you wonder how one can Become Fluent in 3 months, as he promises in his well-known guide.

But when even Benny uses italki to keep up his fluency in the many languages he speaks, you know that italki has something going for it.

I will certainly continue to use it for the languages I want to become more fluent in.

PostscriptWe recently become aware of a post that summarizes well the various options for speaking practice: Find Language Partners - Language Exchange (Step 3). You will certainly find one that works best for you.

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

Disclosure: The links above to Fluent in 3 Months and italki  are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Reaching Language Fluency – My Experience with Spanish (so far)

friends talking - Gamesforlanguage.comUpdated (6/10/2017) 

Fluency in the language we're learning is important for many of us, especially if we're talking with new friends. But, what is fluency?

Unless you think that being fluent means perfection, I would argue that these are the three essential marks of fluency:

  1. You have enough vocabulary to hold your own, to argue your point. You should not be constantly searching for words. If you can't think of a word or expression right away, you can easily talk around it, and find another way to say what's on your mind.
  2. Your pronunciation is adequate. Even if you don't sound absolutely like a native speaker, people can understand you. Otherwise, your conversation is not going to move forward.
  3. You can sustain a conversation with someone without thinking much about grammar. That means, even if your grammar isn't perfect, your mistakes won't throw your message off track.

In other words, if you're able to engage in conversations with native speakers without constantly searching for words and tripping up over grammar, you're well on your way to fluency.

Getting to the threshold of fluency is one thing. Making the leap into fluency is another. For me, the million dollar question is how an adult learner can achieve that leap.

I acquired my first three languages by growing up and living in different countries (Austria, the Netherlands, Canada/US). My fourth language, French, I learned in school and college, and I improved it during stays in France and (French) Switzerland.

Italian and Spanish I began to learn later in life. I thereby continue to experience all the challenges of an adult learner.

In this post I'll write about my experience with Spanish. I don't speak it quite fluently yet, but I'm ready to make that leap.

VOCABULARY, PRONUNCIATION, GRAMMAR

Vocabulary 

 There are many ways and different tools to acquire vocabulary. Putting together a personal "system" of daily exposure to new vocabulary is not that hard.

Social media sites are an easy source. For example, vocabulary - Gamesfrolanguage.comI follow several word-a-day Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. When I check into these, I can always pick up some new words and phrases in Spanish.

We're using Spanish post-its on furniture, gadgets, and other items in our house.

By reading news articles, opinion pieces, or stories in your target language, you can build a diverse vocabulary. If you write down any new words or put them into a Flashcard game such as Quizlet, you'll remember them better.

Lingua.ly's browser extension or app lets you collect words when reading online. As with Quizlet, you can then practice them later.

Online language programs and apps are set up to have you learn and practice vocabulary. Most of these offer the advantage of providing audio - which is essential for improving your pronunciation.

Pronunciation 

Some programs let you record your voice, play it back, and compare your pronunciation with that of the native speaker. (This is one of the features the Gamesforlanguage quick games and courses provide.)

Voice recognition seems to be getting popular too. Though I must confess, the ones I've tried tend to frustrate me more than they help.

In any case, recording your voice and playing itgrammar crisis - Gamesforlanguage.com back is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation - even if there's no native speaker for comparison.

Grammar 

Unless you love memorizing conjugation tables and case endings, it's best to acquire gradually and in context. The idea is to become aware of patterns. Here again, reading will help you a lot.

Once you've internalized a grammatical structure, you can build on it. That may be a good time to look it up, learn the rule, and try out a few more examples in your next conversation.

WHEN TO START SPEAKING?

What has worked for me is to start speaking in my target language right from the start! I use every opportunity to say words and phrases out loud.

One way to get beyond individual words is to memorize dialogues. These you can say to yourself, and if possible out loud at various times during the day. You can even "perform" them as real conversations adding gestures and emotional expression.dialogue - Gamesforlanguage.com

Speaking from day one is also Benny Lewis' advice in Fluent in 3 Months. If you have a partner or friend who's willing to engage in simple target language conversations with you, that's perfect.

On the other hand, Steve Kaufmann of LingQ suggests that you hold off on real conversations until you're ready. For him, the magic word is "input" (reading, listening, watching) until you have enough vocabulary to communicate on more than a basic level.

I do understand Steve Kaufmann's argument. However, in my experience "lots of input" alone has not been enough to make me fluent in Spanish.

MY ROAD TO FLUENCY

This year, I'm intent on becoming fluent in Spanish, my sixth language. I started learning Spanish four years ago, casually, and since then have been trying out and using various programs. On the average, I've spent about 30 minutes a day doing various things in Spanish: listening, playing games, writing, watching films, reading headlines, etc.

Of course, I know our GamesforLanguage Spanish 1 course by heart, often playing one or more of the 36 scenes to work on modifications.

Lingualia - Gamesforlanguage.comLast year I used Duolingo's Spanish course as well as a 3-month subscription for Babbel's Spanish course.

Currently I am using Lingualia's (one of our partners) Spanish course daily. (You can read my review of Lingualia HERE.)

We are listening to Spanish radio stations and are watching Spanish movies (we find Spanish [not English] subtitles especially helpful!) 

My husband and I spent one month in Barcelona, four years ago, and one month in Seville, last year. Though we thoroughly enjoyed interacting with locals as much as we could, met with language exchange partners, engaged a tutor (see: How a Tutor Boosted Our Language Fluency), and improved our Spanish during each stay, I still don't feel that I can speak it fluently.

In order to gain more confidence in speaking, I need another learning boost - intense practice with conversation partners, who are able to give me immediate and informed feedback.

WHY AN ONLINE LANGUAGE TUTOR

My reading and listening comprehension skills are a lot better than my speaking and writing skills.

I have a good grasp of rudimentary Spanish grammar and a passable pronunciation.

However, I do not believe that lots more "input" (reading, listening, watching) is going to boost my speaking skills, per se.

We don't have any Spanish-speaking friends at the moment and living in Spain is out of the question.

So, to become fluent in Spanish, I've started using an online tutor. To date, I've had just a few Skype lessons on italki. The jury is still out, but I feel very encouraged.

FROM HALTING SPEECH TO FLUENCY

With italki I've had two different types of Spanish only Skype lessons. I'm not yet sure which model will work best for me.

Tutor #1- One tutor, let's call him Carlos, has engaged me in real conversations. We talked about topics that I would also want to discuss with others, for example: the main difference between living in Europe and in the United States; what's going on in politics; how I came to be fluent in four languages; or, what it feels like to live in other countries (something that applies to him as well). To me the conversations were interesting and personal to the extent that we exchanged opinions and talked about some experiences.

There were lots of questions back and forth. Carlos skype conversation - Gamesforlanguage.comcorrected some of my mistakes, but not too much, and helped me formulate my thoughts. At the end of the lesson, we went over a list of words and phrases, again with corrections. As he talked, he typed the list into my Skype message box.

Tutor #2 - The second tutor, let's call him Juan, immediately started me on a B1 Level textbook, which he pulled up on Skype. He then proceeded to go over the first exercises of Chapter 1.

The topic was "daily life," and dealt with everyday activities and hobbies. The exercises included typical vocabulary and related grammar points. Juan asked me to read various sentences and to answer questions, but on the whole, the lesson felt somewhat impersonal, more like a regular class.

With both tutors, I felt the lessons were challenging. I had to speak quite a bit, and to listen hard to make sure I understood. At the end of each lesson, I felt "foreign language fatigue." One hour was enough, any longer and my brain would have started to shut down.

I haven't yet chosen which tutor to continue with. Italki, in fact encourages you to try out several before making up your mind. But it's clear to me that I can get closer to fluency by using an experienced tutor.

I'll also try out another site, Hellotalk, and expect to add language-exchange sessions with native speakers as well. But I'll write about that another time. Stay tuned. 

POSTSCRIPT(1): An excellent post which discusses the various options for finding a language partner is: Finding Language Partners - Language Exchange (Option 3)

POSTSCRIPT (1) Ulrike recently discovered an Annenberg Learner Video series "Destinos", which she has been watching regularly for several weeks now.

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 Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Only the links above to Fluent in 3 Months, italki, and Lingualia are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe.

 

Posted on by Nina L. Ivanichvili

How Fluency in Foreign Languages and Cultures Enriches Your Life and Worldview

World - Gamesforlanguage.com"A different language is a different vision of life," said Federico Fellini. As our world becomes smaller and flatter and more people get exposed to foreign languages, the wisdom of this observation begins to sink in.

As you become more fluent in a foreign language you will learn to avoid the common misconception about translators and interpreters. Many U.S. companies often assume that any individual who speaks a foreign language is automatically a translator. But just because you grew up speaking Portuguese doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a good translator.

Translators vs Interpreters

There are two categories of foreign language experts. The interpreter’s job is to translate orally from one language to another everything that is said, preserving the tone and style of the original speech. Translators deal with written documents, taking into account various language and terminology issues and the context.

In other words, translators translate documents, and interpreters interpret speech.

There exist some language professionals who are great at both translating the written word and interpreting the spoken word. But more often than not, they are an exception, not a rule.

What Translators Do

Translator woman - Gamesforlanguage.comLanguage translation is a very specialized field. In addition to
being linguists, some translators are professionally qualified in specific technical disciplines, such as aerospace, biochemistry, hardware and software, electrical engineering, finance, law, mechanical engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications.

Some only translate patents and others concentrate only on translation of technical manuals, or only on translation of legal contracts. Most of the professional translators work only in a single language pair and in one direction (e.g., English to Chinese).

Because professional translation requires training and expertise, it has a high cost for failure. An article in the National Law Journal relates an instance where a large Italian bank was being sued as a loan guarantor. When the loan document was translated literally from Italian, it stated that the bank guaranteed the loan. However, the word "guarantee" has different meanings in Italian than it does in English, and a literal translation did not accurately convey the document's meaning. The court dismissed the case, deciding that an Italian "guarantee" was different than an English "guarantee" - and the bank was not responsible for the loan.

As you find out more about professional translators and interpreters, you will learn that it is a good sign if the translation company, whose services your company uses, provides professionally executed legal, corporate and technical translations and utilizes translators, who are certified by the American Translators Association and who translate only into their native language.

Where Interpreters Work

Interpreter with client - Gamesforlanguage.comThere are two types of foreign language interpreters: simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpreters facilitate conferences with a large number of attendees.
For small meetings, tradeshows, depositions and social events, companies need to hire consecutive interpreters.

As you begin to experience in a different culture, you will learn how easy it is to create a misunderstanding by viewing people from other cultures, as if they are similar to us.

Imagine that your company sends you to Japan for a technical meeting. The Japanese company’s representative comes to your hotel room and inquires if you have had your lunch. You tell him that you want to try some sushi. You feel great when he invites you to a restaurant, where a gracious waiter encourages you to try various kinds of sushi. A while later, you begin to feel ill at ease, when you realize that your host has just paid about $400.00 for your lunch.

Language and Culture

Incorrect assumptions about cultural similarities may cause us to misjudge people and situations. In our culture, smiles, for example, are associated with pleasant emotions and project friendliness. Some Asian cultures, on the other hand, use a smile as a mask when dealing with unpleasant situations.

As you continue to enhance your knowledge of a foreign language, your competence in the culture of the country whose language you are studying will also increase. And little by little you will be able to see and interpret any situation from two different viewpoints. And you will then understand what Federico Fellini meant when he said that a different language is a different vision of life.

Enjoy the beautiful journey as your growing fluency in another language and in another culture will continue to enrich your life and your worldview.

Bio: Nina L. Ivanichvili is CEO of All Language Alliance, Inc., a legal translation and interpreting company providing multilingual legal translations, certified translation services and deposition interpreting services in more than 100 foreign languages. You can contact her at 303-470-9555, at www.languagealliance.com, and follow her legal translation blog Translation for Lawyers.


Posted on by Peter Rettig

How to Progress Faster to Language Fluency?

teenagers talking - Gamesforlanguage.comFor most of us who are learning a foreign language, speaking fluently is the ultimate goal. Having a conversation in a foreign language, being able to express feelings and ideas, voicing opinions – all are proof that you have reached a new plateau.

Your accent may not be perfect, but you now have the confidence to express what you want to say. And even if you can't find the absolutely right idiom or expression every time – you now have also other ways to say what's on your mind.

Practice Tips

In a previous post How to Gain Confidence in Speaking and Writing a Foreign Language, we suggested how learners from the “beginner” to the “advanced” level could hone their skills, especially when they are learning a language online and on their own at home.

There is no question that the so-called passive skills – reading and listening – are important for achieving fluency. And yes, having a good vocabulary is necessary as well.

However, my own experience also tells me that even when you can read a foreign language and understand it fairly well when it's spoken, SPEAKING it fluently is another step.

Online- vs Classroom-Learningwoman learning

One of the big drawbacks of online learning is that learners can do so silently. You may do all the exercises, but few online programs “force” you to speak out loud.

(We, at GamesforLanguage, in addition to the “Record-It” segment at the end of each lesson, also invite learners to “Say-it”, i.e. repeat words and phrases they only HEAR, and then briefly SEE spelled out. You can try “Say-It” with one of our German or French Quick Language Games.)

On the other hand, in the classroom, and especially with a one-on-one tutor, you typically have to speak, formulate answers to questions, etc. (The size of a class obviously matters greatly here.)

For beginners, repeating and saying words and phrases aloud, or reading out loud is an important first step.

Especially with languages that have sounds that don't exist in English, getting your “mouth mechanics” working correctly is another crucial task. (Benny Lewis - see below - may disagree!)

From Hearing to Speaking

HEARING and then REPRODUCING sounds that are different from our native language are not an easy task. Just think of the French nasal sounds, the German “umlauts,” or the many subtle sounds of the Asian languages.

Speaking & ListeningNow, we also know that our ability to HEAR sounds that don't exist in our native language diminishes from early childhood on. (This was the topic of a previous post: Beyond Learning a Language Like a Child, in which we discussed the concept of “Categorical Perception.”)

So, the challenge, especially for all online-learners is this: SPEAK as much as you can, repeat ALOUD the words, phrases and sentences of all the exercises or games you are doing. And once you are able to start reading articles and books, read these out loud as well whenever you can. (And when this is not possible, try “reading aloud silently,” by just moving your lips!)

The sooner you feel ready to participate in real-life conversations, the faster your fluency will improve.

Try to find someone in your neighborhood or among your friends to practice your new language with. But if you can't, you can join language communities such as italki, where you can find an online teacher for personal language lessons and conversations.

The Benny Lewis Method

Maybe not everybody can muster the time or commitment that Benny Lewis promotes with Fluent in 3 Months. But if you watch his clip and consider the points above, you will conclude as well:

To become fluent in your target language, start SPEAKING it whenever you can - right from the start!

Creating a habit is not easy – but the start of a new year is a great opportunity to set some goals. Make 2016 YOUR year to become fluent in your target language!

Disclosure: Some links above are to sites with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety

anxious woman - Gamesforlanguage.comDo you ever get a little anxious when speaking a foreign language? Foreign language anxiety knows no age and can bubble up in anyone. It doesn't matter whether you're speaking formally in the classroom or office, on the telephone with someone you don't know, or informally "on the street." 

So, why do some of us get anxious when speaking to someone in a foreign language?

Well, we sometimes imagine all kinds of mishaps. The thoughts are all in our head but the fears feel very real. We worry about:

  • making a fool of ourselves
  • saying an utterly wrong thing
  • being badly misunderstood
  • making mistakes
  • being embarrassed

On top of that, our anxiety itself may have all kinds of effects on us:

  • we blank out in the middle of what we're saying
  • we forget words and phrases that we thought we knew well
  • we start to stutter or get visibly flustered
  • we start to feel nauseous or otherwise physically uncomfortable

Worst case scenario: As a result, we avoid situations in which we could use our foreign language. Ultimately, we find it hard to continue learning the language.

But it doesn't have to go that way!

A second or third language is a huge personal and professional asset. If you want to make that new language your own, it's totally worth dealing with your anxieties.

Below are 3 situations in which the fear of speaking in a foreign language often pops up, even in people who are outgoing and used to being assertive.

SPEAKING UP OR PRESENTING IN anxious student in front of blackboard - Gamesforlanguage.comCLASS, or in another formal context

Holding your own in a foreign language when you're being evaluated by a teacher, a superior, or even peers can be particularly anxiety-provoking. Before and during your speech, all kinds of additional emotions may come up, including jitters about standing in front of a group.

  • You may feel anxious about:
  • looking foolish
  • not being prepared
  • suddenly losing concentration
  • feeling self-conscious and shy
  • feeling unable to explain your ideas
  • getting stuck and/or losing your thread
  • going completely blank

Dealing with anxiety about speaking in front of a group starts the moment that you know you'll be doing it. But curious as it may seem, you have quite a bit of control over such an event.

Because you're anxious, it's easy to avoid thinking about the presentation. Thinking about it also means worrying about it. However, the key is to start early and not to procrastinate.

A Few Tips For Acing That Speech

  • Put your speech or presentation together as soon as you can, and don't try to make it perfect.
  • Practice your speech out loud, in front of a mirror, and if you can, before a partner or friend. Practice again and again until you have your speech pretty well memorized; then write down a few key words, and practice your speech again, this time talking more freely.
  • Look up and write down a few phrases that you'll need when you should lose your thread during your presentation, phrases such as: "what I meant to say ...", "okay, that's not right", "let's go back", etc.
  • Practice your speech, this time "blanking out" a couple of times. Use your phrases to get back on track. Don't forget to chuckle at yourself as you do this.
  • During your presentation, focus on the here and now. Find a kind-looking face in the middle or back of the room and from time to time use that person as a focus.

woman speaking on phone - Gamesforlanguage.comSPEAKING WITH SOMEONE ON THE TELEPHONE, or Skype, camera off

If you cannot see the other person, you don't get important visual clues from the other person. So, you have to focus exclusively on the person's voice.

This makes a telephone call in a foreign language with someone you don't know or don't know well, particularly difficult and anxiety-provoking.

In such a situation, you may be be concerned about:

  • misunderstanding what the other person is saying
  • not being able to formulate what you want to say
  • sounding scared rather than confident
  • saying something stupid
  • starting to stutter
  • having the other person hang up in exasperation

As with a presentation, preparing yourself is crucial. Even if your language learning goal has been only to "speak" in the foreign language, it's worth mastering some writing skills.

The good thing about speaking with someone on the telephone, is that you can have your "cheat sheet" right in front of you to help you along. If you're polite, relaxed, and smile as you talk, you'll be just fine.

A Few Tips For Dealing With Telephone Anxiety

  • Write out a couple of typical phrases for greeting someone on the telephone, and for starting and concluding a conversation.
  • List the items of information that you want to ask or to communicate.
  • Write down how to ask questions politely and how to confirm, "yes, that's it."
  • Learn typical phrases to help you get through the conversation, such as "Sorry I didn't understand," or "Could you repeat that, please?" or, "Did I get that right?"
  • Practice your phrases out loud, several times.
  • On the telephone, always repeat the information the other person gave you, just to make sure you fully understood.

SPEAKING WITH SOMEONE IN PERSON, woman speaking - Gamesforlangiage.comalso on Facetime, or Skype, camera on

Let's say you're lucky enough to know native speakers you can chat with in person. Or, also nice, you're in the country or in a region where your new language is spoken. All I can say is, go for it!

While having a real conversation may seem a little scary, you have the huge advantage of getting immediate feedback beyond the other person's responses and tone of voice.

You also get lots of visual clues: gestures, body language, and his or her facial expressions - especially the eyes. 

When talking with native speakers you know or meet, you would typically talk about yourself, your interests, things that you do, and ask about the other person.

If, however, you are visiting or living in a country where the language is spoken,
you'd have additional opportunities for applying your new language with daily tasks:

  • buying something at an outdoor market
  • asking for directions
  • ordering in a restaurant
  • asking for the check
  • purchasing a train ticket
  • looking for a specific item in a store
  • resolving an ATM issue in a bank (see our experience in Seville)
  • starting up a conversation while waiting in a line
  • making small talk at a social gathering

These kinds of language interactions are not quite as limited in scope as the others. Still, they are a great way to confront your foreign language anxiety in relative safety.

As a starter, you could preface any of these encounters by saying that you are just learning the language and that you're eager to put it into practice.

A Few Tips for Conversations

  • Prepare by writing down some of the words and phrases that you'll need, skyping - Gamesforlanguage.combe it for the task you'll undertake or the kind of conversation you're expecting.
  • Memorize and practice these aloud.
  • Write down questions you want ask, and phrases to help the conversion along, such as: "I didn't understand," "Can you repeat that," "What does X mean?", etc.
  • Take a piece of paper with you with a list of words. It can't hurt.
  • When you're in a conversation, pay attention to the filler words or sounds, "uhm", "hmm", "eh," etc. Use them, but cautiously at first. Used correctly, they can help you sound more like a native.
  • Be aware of the cultural context in which you find yourself. Become alert to what is appropriate, what is not. This is often learned through conversation, by asking questions, and yes, also by making mistakes.

When speaking a foreign language, the cultural context is highly important. In her timely talk - based on her book, The Anxious Language Learner: A Saudi Woman's Story - which Taghreed Al-Saraj gave at the 3rd Polyglot Conference in New York (October 10-11, 2015), she stressed how important a role culture plays in communication and behavior.

It also means that the person learning a language is adopting "a new identity ... (and) is learning a new way of doing things. ... What's normal in one culture differs from what's normal in another culture."

Should you indeed say something silly or make a cultural faux pas - you'll probably know this from the other person's immediate, verbal and/or non-verbal responses. When it happens, it's best to learn how to laugh at yourself, say you're truly sorry, and chalk it up to language-learning experience.

Just remember, a little specific preparation can make it easier to speak up in the foreign language you're learning. It's been proven that practice reduces anxiety. Then, when you are involved in a conversation, know in your mind that it's okay to make mistakes and to feel somewhat uncomfortable. With time and practice, you'll gradually learn to deal with your fears.

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 Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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