Summer camps abroad are becoming an increasingly popular choice for both children (ages 5-18) and their guardians. The extended summer break provides children a wonderful opportunity to experience new cultures, improve at sports or other activities, and enjoy a well-earned break with friends. Parents see the educational opportunities available and encourage children to take part.
I work at a summer school in Alicante Spain, and am fortunate enough to help mentor 14-18 year olds and teach them the Spanish language. Our ISC Spain program promotes the Spanish language and culture through educational, sport, cultural, and leisure activities. I am amazed how fast young students learn the language when they visit. It also made me realize how different the children's experience is at a summer school - where they learn or improve a language as part of a cultural event, as opposed to a classroom task.
The benefits of a summer school are huge for students. Their cultural experience ranges from reading city signs to find their way, to absorbing the language by listening and engaging with the local people. As students mix with locals, they will become interested in their customs and traditions. Taking part in local activities and sports means a unique integration into the community and gives students a chance to establish a network of friends with whom they can communicate in their language. The environment of learning becomes one with the culture. Here are my seven top tips to help you learn a language when visiting a summer camp abroad.
- Visit all the local shops and services when you first arrive. Make a note of their name in the language and only refer to those services in the native language.
- Revise and learn three good ways to open a conversation. This will encourage you to talk to people and communicate in the native language.
- When eating at restaurants, engage with the waiters and ask them to explain phrases you might want to know. They are friendly and happy to help.
- Take part in local activities and events. Immersing yourself in the culture will help you learn the language and customs.
- Keep a language guide handy at all times and study it whenever you have a free moment.
- Always listen to the conversations around you. Try and pick up on what other words mean and associate them to things which are familiar.
- Befriend a member of the local community and spend time with them. They can help you understand the culture and communicate in the language you want to learn.
A summer camp abroad will be an experience you'll remember for years to come, especially if you have forged friendships that continue afterwards.
I've been learning Spanish for about eight months now. After a few lessons with Rosetta Stone (see my blog #3) and the initial 6-week boost with our Spanish 1 course, progress now is slow but steady. Learning a new language means building new skills, gradually. During the weeks before election, one or the other candidate spoke or had ads in Spanish, e.g. President Obama in this You Tube clip. I could understand most of these, no problem! I feel that I'm ready to add Social Media to my tools for improving my Spanish further.
30 Minutes a Day
Life is busy, but most days I do manage to squeeze in about 30 minutes of Spanish - 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there. My learning "schedule" is scattered throughout the day. Generally, it consists of:
- Reading a few pages of my Spanish ebook (at the moment, Zafón’s La sombre del viento) );
- Playing a couple of Vocabulary Games with sound;
- Reading Spanish newspaper articles online;
- Watching a Spanish soap for 10-15 minutes in the evening
- Doing a couple of grammar exercises from an old fashioned book with my husband over coffee. We chuckle over some of the weird and useless sentences that come up - such as: ¿Cómo come Juan? (How does Juan eat?) and ¿Dónde beben los animales? (Where do the animals drink?)
Social Media for Learning Spanish
It's easy to add Spanish to your Twitter(left) or Facebook feeds. And, you can read the posts when you have a spare moment or whenever you feel like it. Choices are endless, but they'll all grow your grasp of Spanish and the culture of Spain and Latin American countries. You'll begin to better understand how opinions are formulated, how regional humor is expressed, how discussions are carried on, etc.
12 Social Media Terms in Spanish
So, if you are ready to participate in Spanish on Social Media, here's a start with some basic social media terms:
Compartir - Share
Conectar - Connect
Comentarios - Comments
Enviar - Send
Escribir - Write
Recuérdame - Remember me
Seguir - Follow
Twittear - Tweet
Usuario registrado - Registered user
Lo más visto en ... - The most seen on ...
Lo más debatido ahora - Most talked about now
Lo que hacen tus amigos - What your friends are doing
Once you have mastered some of the basics of a new language, using your Social Media News Feeds is also a great way to foster your motivation. News Feeds let you connect to the topics that interest you and expand your vocabulary in just those areas. Research has shown that learning new words and phrases in context will help you retain and use them more easily.
Vocabulary acquisition is an essential part of language learning. Individual words and phrases are the building blocks of communication, without them, you won't have much to say. How many words you need for basic, effective communication is up for debate. It depends on the language and the kinds of topics you want to talk about. Opinions differ quite a bit. At one end of the spectrum, for example in German, 2000 words can get you started pretty well and provide a good base to build on. Near the other end stand 10,000 words as the native vocabulary mastered by a five year old who is ready to start school. The bottom line is that you gotta build your vocabulary!
First, keep a dictionary handy. It's the most basic tool for any language learner. You'll use it for quickly looking up a new word, for double-checking the meaning or the spelling, or for looking up verb conjugations. You'll also want to see common expressions that use a particular word. For example, Ultralingua offers these features, and, in addition, you can download iPhone or iPad apps. Having a dictionary on your mobile is really convenient when you're traveling. Such apps contain much more information than the mini-dictionaries I used to travel with.
Here are FOUR more tools for building your vocabulary:
Flashcards are a great way to create a base of words and phrases, and you can keep using them to continue building your vocabulary. Resources abound and they come in all kinds of configurations: Words + Translation; Picture + Written Word; Picture + Written Word + Sound, etc. Some of the programs incorporate spaced repetition, some allow you to add your own vocabulary. A popular flashcard program, to name one, is Anki.
Language Exercises & Games
Good language exercises and fun games can take vocabulary to the next level. Besides learning new vocabulary, you can practice verb tenses and conjugations, drill subject and object pronouns, learn to build sentences, etc. Besides our own program GamesForLanguage, Mindsnacks is definitely a fun program to try.
Reading with Translation
Once you have a grasp of basic vocabulary and grammar, reading has to be the best way to keep on building vocabulary. When you read a longer text, the same words and phrases will often come up several times. Depending on your venue, you can get a translation with a click, or by checking a printed translation. With time, you'll get better at guessing the meaning from the context. A versatile program like LingQ provides a library of texts and tools for learning. You can also read foreign language newspapers online and use Google Chrome's Language Immersion feature.
Listening: Podcasts, Audio Books, and Videos
Understanding a stream of foreign words may be the hardest skill to learn (besides becoming fluent in speaking). The trick is to listen to the same audio many times. Your goal is to hear the words and phrases distinctly, and not as a stream of gibberish. Listening to foreign language audios, you'll keep hearing words you know and start to put them into your long-term menory. But you'll also hear new words that you are able to understand because of context. Here's list of language learning podcasts.
When starting a new language, one of the hardest things to learn is to understand a native speaker. It's definitely much easier to read a foreign language than to understand a stream of it when it’s spoken quickly. When I started learning Italian, TV programs sounded like gibberish. But now, I’m pretty good at understanding Italian speakers and Italian TV and films. Just as with building any skill, it helped me to break down the learning process. You can do it in these three steps.
1. Listen repeatedly to a short audio or video
Listen to a short audio of which you understand or can guess about 50%. Listen to this same audio segment several times in the next several days.This will make your brain familiar with the "music” of the language, its melody and rhythm. Pay attention to where stress goes on words and which words are stressed in a sentence. You’ll quickly learn to distinguish individual types of sentences (statements, questions, negative responses, short emphatic answers, etc.). You'll be surprised how repetition increases your understanding of what is being said.Also, from day to day, your brain continues to processing the sounds that you are learning. After some time, you may find that you'll be able to identify individual words within the stream of sounds that is whooshing by. That's a huge step and a very exciting one.
To get the idea, here are the MP3 audios of Scene 2 from our four languages, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. Pick a language that you understand somewhat. Then listen to the corresponding scene in a language you don’t know at all. It’ll give you a taste of audio learning.
2. Watch or listen to an ongoing story
Watch a TV series in your new language. Or, if one in your language is not available, look for an un-dubbed film that you can watch in short increments. The ongoing story will provide you with related vocabulary and lots of repetition. The context of the story itself will offer plenty of clues so that you can guess the meaning of what is going on.
3. Learn by immersion with a variety of materials
Now you’re ready to tackle all kinds of different audio and video material in your new language. TV programs in the language you’re learning, films, news audios and videos, a radio station. learning, etc. Increasingly, context clues will help. A great way to get into immersion is a site like yabla.com. Also a good post to check out is Learn a Language by Listening to the Radio. Also, in an earlier blog, I list 10 essential grammar items to become familiar with. They’ll help you get a good start with immersion learning.
Language learning is not a linear process
You may want to go back to any of the previous steps from time to time. Learning to understand a new language is not a linear process, it's more like a fun zig-zag, filled with new discoveries all the time. Of course, if you can interact with native speakers, you'll want to do that right from the start. They'll make your language learning personal, add direct experience of the language, and give your valuable feedback.
Have fun! And yes, these “language exercises” for your brain have all kinds of good benefits. And as said by Rita Mae Brown: "Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going."
A recent NPR article by Stephen M. Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard University, caught my attention: Foreign Policy: 10 Things Future Wonks Should Know. The article meant to address the "things" our future Secretaries of State or for that matter, the students and future international policy wonks should learn. (The 1938 photo from the article shows undergraduates from Oxford University as they walk to lectures, well equipped with books.)
While I certainly cannot argue with any of his ten points, I wish he had listed “Foreign Language” as #2 or even #1 (instead of #3) for all the excellent reasons he mentions:
“... 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.” It seems clear to me that among the many other “things” a foreign policy expert should know, foreign language and history should be on top.
Considering the interconnections of our lives with the rest of the world, Prof. Walt's reasoning does not only apply to foreign policy wonks, but indeed to many industries, businesses, and people. He also speaks to “a sense of mastery that is hard to achieve otherwise,” a point that is rarely mentioned when enumerating the benefits of knowing a foreign language.
The current presidential election campaign in the US also makes me again painfully aware of the fact that knowing another language (than English) does not give any candidate an advantage with the voting public.
You may all remember that John Kerry downplayed his knowledge of French in 2004, and Mitt Romney is currently doing the same. President Obama is now staying away from that topic as well, as he got blasted in 2008 when regretting: “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)
But for those who endeavor to learn another language both the “window into another culture” and the “sense of mastery” provide ample rewards.
Are you learning a new language? Soon you may be eager to begin watching videos or TV programs, with no translation provided. The goal of this type of immersion is to start processing language like native speakers do. It’s a fun and challenging way to learn. Your mind goes into full gear and you're pushing yourself way out of your linguistic comfort zone.
To make your immersion learning productive, you’ll want to become familiar with some of the essential elements of your new language. The following 10 basic grammar items are crucial for beginning to understand spoken language on TV. Using audio and written examples for each, I practiced these before starting to watch a Spanish telenovela.
10 Basic Grammar Items
1. Subject pronouns. (Are they always used or mostly dropped?)
2. Regular verb endings for first, second, and third person.
3. Definite and indefinite articles. (Are they used or not used?)
4. The 5 most common question words.
5. The 5 most common prepositions. (eg. the equivalents for: in, on, to, with, from)
6. The different vowel sounds in the new language.
7. The consonants whose sounds don't exist in English.
8. The common words that express negation.
9. The sentence melody of statements. (Practice to imitate the melody.)
10. The sentence melody of questions. (Practice these too.)
As your listening skills advance, you may want to add other steps. In the meantime, these 10 grammar steps will help you make the jump from sound as “gibberish” to sound as “words that have meaning.”
Recent innovations in technology have shown that language learning is becoming more and more popular. The other day I stumbled across a delightful "language learning" YouTube video. There are hundreds maybe thousands of such videos on the Internet and they get lots of visitors. This one, called language learning evolution (part 1), was made by a 22 year old student from Taiwan, who describes how he has learned several languages. The video runs about 13 minutes and was posted a year ago. Essentially, his message is: "go slowly, language learning takes time" and "speak, speak, speak." (He doesn't mention specific courses or methods.) Just this one video has gotten over 2000 views and numerous comments. It's personal, fun to listen to, inspiring, and yes, it's cool! I hope it indicates a trend in language learning!
My OWN Language Learning Experience...
When I was a teenager, my family had emigrated twice and I had attended school in each of the countries. I spoke three languages fluently. Was that cool? No way! I had an accent, a kind of European mix that kids noticed and sometimes made fun of. On top of it, I was totally clueless about the secret (social) rules of my new home country, Canada.
The whole dating scene was a mystery to me (at age 13 “everyone” went to weekly dances in church basements and community centers). I may have been able to speak English pretty well, but I was not fluent in the kind of social small talk that teenagers on this side of the ocean engaged in. Did I hide that I could speak other languages? For sure! I didn't want to be different. I had two personas, and my social one did NOT include being trilingual.
When friends came to my place, I tried to keep my parents linguistically in line. But they did slip up from time to time and lapsed into German, the language they spoke with each other. That embarrassed me a lot. To top it off, my mother did not have the vocabulary for scolding me in English. So she usually reprimanded me in her native language, Dutch. My friends already knew and would tease me: "Now she's getting mad, she's speaking Dutch! What did you do?"
Are Language Learning Attitudes Changing?
It wasn't just my peers who thought it was uncool to speak in another language. Riding the bus, my mom and I would speak Dutch with each other. On occasion, someone would turn to her and say: "You are now in Canada. Why don't you speak English!" I imagine that one could hear a similar comment today, in any country - even though the Internet allows easy access to foreign cultures, social networks, and a large array of language programs - all across language barriers.
As children and adolescents grow into adults, they may discover that speaking another language not only is “cool” but also opens doors professionally. A second language is an asset for studying, working abroad, or traveling. To the extent that Generation Y (also called the Net Generation) can take advantage of the language learning offerings of the web, they may even get a head start in overcoming the language attitudes of former generations.
What do you think, can the web help change language learning attitudes?
When you get into a conversation with Italians, you have little time to think about the many particularities of the language: noun gender, different types of articles, prepositions, etc. Here are ten easy rules that you can keep in mind when you speak.
1. Nouns ending in -o are normally masculine.
il ragazzo - the boy
il libro - the book
Notable Exceptions: Feminine nouns ending in -o: la mano, la foto, la radio, l’auto
2. Regular masculine nouns that end in -o change their ending to -i in the plural.
i ragazzi - the boys
i libri - the books
3. Nouns ending in -a are normally feminine.
la ragazza - the girl
la scuola - the school
Notable Exceptions: Masculine nouns ending in -a: il problema, il cinema, il programma
4. Regular feminine nouns that end in -a change their ending to -e in the plural.
le ragazze - the girls
le scuole - the schools
5. Instead of il, the definite article lo (the) goes before masculine singular nouns beginning with z, s+consonant, ps, gn.
lo zio - the uncle (but: la zia - the aunt)
lo studio - the study (but: la strada - the street)
lo psicologo - the psychologist (but: la psicologa - the female psychologist)
6. The definite article gli is the plural form of lo - instead of the masculine plural i.
gli zii - the uncles
gli studi - the studies
gli psicologi - the psychologists
7. The definite article is used with possessive adjectives, except with singular nouns denoting family members.
il mio libro - my book
la tua amica - your friend
mio padre - my father
tua madre - your mother
mio zio - my uncle
Note: With plural family members, the definite article is used: i miei parenti - my parents (plural!)
8. To make a sentence negative, put non before the verbal expression (incl. object pronouns).
Non voglio mangiare. - I don’t want to eat
Non ho finito. - I haven’t finished.
Non lo conosco. - I don’t know him.
9. The preposition in (to/in) is normally used with continents, countries, regions, and large islands.
in Africa - to Africa/in Africa
in Francia - to France/in France
in Toscana - to Tuscany/in Tuscany
in Sardegna - to Sardinia/in Sardinia
10. The preposition a (to/in) is normally used with cities and small islands.
a Roma - to Rome/in Rome
a Capri - to Capri/in Capri
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. For a description of our Spanish 1 course, click here
When you’re engaged in speaking a language, you don’t have time to think much about grammar. Conversations just move too fast. There are, however, a few rules that are easy to keep in mind. With time, you’ll apply them automatically.
1. Diminutive nouns with the ending -chen or -lein are neuter:
2. Nouns ending in -heit, -keit, -ung are always feminine
3. “die” is the plural article for all nouns (subject forms)
4. All seasons are masculine:
5. All days are masculine:
6. A group of prepositions contract with “das."
These all imply a “change of place” or “direction to”:
7. A predicate Adjective takes no ending
A predicate adjective follows a noun and is preceded by a form of “sein” (to be).
e.g.: einundzwanzig - twenty-one (21), neununddreißig - thirty-nine (39), etc.
9. The verb forms of formal "you" (Sie) and "they" (sie) are the same.
10. Word Order: In simple sentences, the verb is in second position.
Note: Whatever word/phrase occurs before the verb is emphasized.
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- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1: Approach & Methods
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