Recently I started an online Swedish course and was surprised by how difficult the first few lessons were for me, although there were only 7 or 8 new words/expressions in each lesson. Swedish is a Germanic language – and I speak Dutch and German fluently – but it is really quite different from the Romance languages that I speak. As readers may recall from an earlier blog: my husband and I had used our Spanish 1 course in preparation for our stay in Spain last year. But even though Spanish was a new language for both of us, its similarity to French and Italian (languages we know) did not make us real “beginners.”
Based on the feedback from many buyers and users who tried our free demo lessons and promotions (in May: FREE 6-day trial for complete 36-lessons courses of all four languages), we had concluded that our first few lessons were too easy. Maybe some players had come to this conclusion because our games made the beginning lessons indeed seem easy. “I was learning, but it didn't feel like learning” was an early, typical comment.
Expanding Lesson 1
We therefore began expanding the first lesson ("Scene") of our German 1 and our Spanish 1 program, which initially consisted of three foreign dialog lines with about 16 new words. The additional six dialog lines, however, stopped many beginners from progressing to the second Scene. Did they feel that learning a new language was too steep a cliff to climb? We decided to wait for more feedback before expanding the French and Italian scenes.
What makes Gamesforlanguage.com different?
By learning a language (Swedish) that has fewer similarities with languages I already know, I put myself again into a beginner's shoes (for the 5th time, actually). And I experienced first hand the difference between a typical language program and GamesforLanguage:
Rather than teaching and drilling lists of words and short expressions (hello, good-bye, thanks, how are you?, I am fine, thanks, etc., etc.) GamesforLanguage deconstructs, practices, and reconstructs the dialog of a story beginning with Scene 1: Words and expressions, as in the examples above, come up as well, but later and always within the context of "The Story."
Indeed, the learner is immersed in real life, every-day language right from the start. While those with some background in the language will find the program easily accessible, beginners may need a few baby steps to help them get started.
German 1 now starts with “Scene 0”
With German 1, we have therefore added a Scene 0, with simple words and expressions that beginners can practice with our various games (and others, with more language backgrounds can skip). We also are “lightening up” the first few scenes so that players can better ease into “The Story” of our program. We'll be curious to see whether more beginners will “stay the course” in German. If that is the case, we'll then also add a Scene 0 (or even a Level 0) to all courses.
We invite your feedback
We love comments and feedback! So, if you have tried our course or have experience with other language courses, just add your comment below!
In our blog The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1, we describe the key points, approach, and methods of our program. Part 2 describes the various games, the players' activities and how you'll learn with the games.
In the “Memory Game” (left), you'll first see key words and phrases of “The Story.” You then pick a red (English) card and click on the matching foreign word. With this game, you'll acquire new vocabulary for your understanding of “The Story.”
In these games, you'll hear a foreign word (from “The Story”) and then - choosing among 3 similar looking words - click on the word you just heard. Such games (e.g. "Moon Landing," right) train the ear. Your brain is normally tuned to the sounds of your native language. The listening games teach you a new and different correlation between sound and spelling.
In this game, you'll hear and are asked to repeat select phrases of “The Story” before the text appears briefly on the screen. When learning a language, you are challenged to recognize new letter combinations, to pronounce new sounds, and to get the timing of the intonation right. The Say-It games allow you to focus on hearing and reproducing the melody of the foreign language without worrying about meaning. Then, to help you correlate the sound and spelling of a new foreign phrase, it appears briefly before you hear the next one. (This we always felt was missing from audio-only courses!)
Word and Phrase Games
These games, e.g. "Snap Clouds" (left), require you to identify the correct story words in different types of games and settings. By switching between native and foreign translation, you are challenged again and again to produce the right answer. At the same time, you'll assimilate the meaning, spelling, and essential grammar of the foreign words and phrases that you're practicing.
Pronoun, Verb, Number, et al. games
Here, e.g. "Balloon Shoot" (right), you'll learn and practice particular word categories and/or forms. Each language has its own challenge if you want to master pronouns, gender, verb conjugations, noun endings, etc. These games recall vocabulary as well as the special features of each language.
In these games, e.g. "Deal no Deal" (left), you are asked to choose the correct translation of each of the sentences that form a segment of “The Story.” Quick tips explain relevant points of grammar or culture, providing you with further insights into the new language.
Word Order Games
Here, you are asked to build sentences from “The Story” by clicking on individual words in the correct order. An English translation and specific word choices guide this task (see "Word Invaders," right). Once you've selected a correct word, you'll hear it again.These games draw attention to idiomatic expressions and highlight the difference between English and foreign word order.
Considered often the most difficult task in any foreign language (besides speaking), writing here becomes a fun game. In a race against the clock, you'll translate and write out first simple foreign words, then in later levels, short phrases.
In the recall-games, you'll practice the vocabulary and short phrases you learned in an earlier scene. For example, "Word Hero" (right) lets you review the words and phrases of the previous SCENE, while "Recall and Record" has you recall and speak the words, phrases, and sentences from a scene in the previous LEVEL.
Here (not really a game), you'll hear and see all individual sentences from “The Story” and have the chance to easily record each one in your own voice. A playback button allows you to compare your recording to that of the native speaker. You can do this as many times as you wish. This is a great way to improve your pronunciation, and also an excellent way to internalize and memorize individual phrases and sentences.
The table below summarizes how you learn from each Game/Screen screen and Player Activity. In order to keep you, the learner, both engaged and challenged, the sequence and configuration of the games changes throughout the six levels of each course.
How You Learn
Hear language melody
Guess meaning from context
Listen, see foreign phrases w/optional translation “roll/over”
Identify and memorize key words and phrases
Hear, see, and click on key words
Identify correct word, correlate sound and meaning
Hear, see, and click on key words
Imitate sounds, recognize patterns
Hear, repeat, then see key words & phrases
Identify the meaning and basic grammar of the foreign sentence
Hear, see, and click on translation of foreign sentence
Practice vocabulary, sound, and spelling
Identify, click and hear foreign word
Figure out idiomatic construction, word order, and grammar forms
Word Order Games
Identify, click on, and hear foreign word while building foreign dialog sentence
Recall vocabulary, sound, spelling
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
Practice pronouncing the melody of sentences
Listen & record own voice and compare
Translate and spell
Write foreign words/phrases
Figure out grammar forms
Pronoun, Verb, et al. Games
Click on the right grammar form
Recall earlier scene vocabulary
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
We invite any questions about or comments to our program and games!
Self-teaching language programs are available as books, CDs, DVDs, and direct downloads. Some well-known names are Assimil, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Fluenz, Michael Thomas, Busuu, Rocket Languages, and recently Duolingo. While all programs help motivated learners improve their language skills, not all are equally effective for learning to understand, speak, read, and write a foreign language.
The GamesforLanguage learning Program has been designed to teach all four (4) language skills. Games are a way for making language learning more fun. But games - with their special ways to engage your brain - can also make learning more effective, as shown by researchers that study how people learn. For example, see Kathy Sierra’s Crash course in learning theory.
Entertaining digital games have auditory features (spoken language, sounds), visual components (text, colors, images, design), as well as kinesthetic elements (writing against the clock, clicking on moving images, etc). By engaging multiple senses, digital games enhance a learner’s ability to recall and retain new words and expressions. Language learning is about message decoding and communication, and this is not a straightforward process. Learning a language involves trial and error, a certain amount of confusion, but also plenty of insightful “aha!” moments.
Three important points guide our development of the GamesforLanguage Learning Program:
- Adults can learn a second language more rapidly online when they can relate words, phrases and grammatical structures to their native language. In this way their learning experience is quite different from that of children, who are able to acquire their first language without even knowing how to read and write. This notion is supported by observations of other learners and our own experience.
- Learning with the help of a story allows you to identify with situations and circumstances you will encounter yourself. This makes the acquired vocabulary not only immediately relevant and useful, but also helps you to memorize it more easily.
- Learning foreign languages as an adult requires an effort. Playing language games will make this effort fun. Memorizing vocabulary, phrases and sentences, identifying grammar rules and structures all occur "playfully," as you can test and improve your language skills during increasingly more challenging games.
The GamesforLanguage Learning Program may appeal primarily to teenagers and adults. However, we know that children who have just learned to read and write also enjoy the games. Our courses work for beginners without any prior knowledge of the foreign language, as well as for learners with some language background. While beginners will spend more time on each scene, advanced players may be able to move through the scenes more rapidly. Throughout each of the courses, you'll accumulate up to 12,000 points by playing various language games. At the same time you'll acquire a working vocabulary of close to 700 essential words and many idiomatic expressions. At the end of a course, you'll also be able to read and understand the entire travel story, which consists of over 2,000 words.
Each course consists of 6 levels, with 6 lessons (we call them “scenes”) per level for a total of 36 scenes. So far, the most effective approach has been for learners to do one scene per day (which should take around 15 minutes) and to review an earlier scene for extra recall. Each lesson builds on the previous one and adds between 16-20 NEW words to your vocabulary.
Each scene has a dialogue or narrative of 8-16 lines, which we call “The Story.” For the first 3 levels, or 18 scenes, “The Story” appears at the END of each scene. When you get there, you'll have learned the words and phrases in the various games, and understanding “The Story” will now be easy. Beginning with level 4, “The Story” appears at the BEGINNING of each scene, requiring the learner to guess the meaning, based on the (English) introduction and context. This is quite similar to what you would experience when arriving in a foreign country with some language background. (For the impatient player, a roll-over option provides the full translation right away.)
The 36 scenes of a course tell the story of a young man who travels to France, Italy, Spain, or Germany. From talking with his neighbor in the airplane, greeting his aunt who picks him up at the airport, asking for directions to a friend's house, to ordering food and drink, and chatting with friends, the vocabulary is a great start on learning how to communicate. The travel story engages the learner, provides relevant vocabulary, and creates a framework that ties everything together.
Part 2: Games Summary
A next blog will describe the various games we are using in our program. Our games are not just individual learning clips, nor are they simply an enhancement of a conventional language program. The games ARE the language program. We'll add a summary table that shows the specific skills each game teaches.
Learning a language can seem like a lengthy, difficult process and, at times, it can feel like you’re wading through a sticky bog unable to get to the other side. Too many people focus on the end goal without thinking about – and acting upon – a series of smaller tasks that will help them reach that end goal. Whilst it’s good to practice every day to keep everything fresh in your mind, you don’t have to sacrifice other things. Taking ten minutes here or there throughout your day is enough, especially if you incorporate the language learning process into your every day routine.
1. Change the language on your phone
You probably already know your way around your phone pretty well, so why not change the settings so it’s in your target language? Seeing the language pop up every time you look at your device – which, let’s face it, is pretty often for most people – can help etch it in your memory, and the regular exposure will keep you thinking about it throughout the day.
2. Listen to a podcast
Most of us have some kind of daily commute, whether it’s to work or to the supermarket, which is the perfect opportunity to practice language learning. Download some podcasts or get a good audiobook to plug yourself into during this time and you won’t feel like you have wasted a single second of your day.
3. Read an article or news story
To familiarise yourself with the grammar and sentence structure of your target language, it is a great idea to read one or two articles in it each day. They don’t have to be long; just a current affairs piece or something on a topic that interests you. To take this a step further, try reading the article out loud to get used to the sound of the letters and to practice your intonation.
4. Flash cards and post-its
When I was learning to talk, my mum stuck post-it notes with the names of objects all around the house to familiarise me with how words look and to encourage me to learn more vocabulary. This is a great thing to do when learning a language, too. Of course, this method only really works for tangible objects – you can’t put a post-it on an abstract notion – but it is an effective revision technique as you will be looking at and using these objects on a daily basis.
5. Translate your shopping list
Talking of supermarkets, writing out your shopping list or your to-do list in your target language is another great technique to incorporate into the language learning process. Practicing writing things out gets you used to the spelling and formation of words and, if you don’t know the word for something you need, you can look it up and add a new word to your ever-expanding vocabulary!
6. Listen to some music
If you’re a music fan, weaving songs in your target language into your daily routine can be hugely beneficial as well as fun. Most songs are written in a casual manner, giving you an insight into colloquial language. Plus, they are great tools for getting to grips with grammar and pronunciation, and they’re easier to memorise than dry blocks of text.
7. Have a dictionary on hand
Pick up a pocket dictionary and carry it with you at all times. So, if you have a spare moment, you can have a flick through or, if you’re desperate to know what a certain word or phrase means in your target language, you can quickly look it up and add it to your new-found dialogue.
8. Play a game
There are so many online language learning games now that there is bound to be one out there that suits your needs and you find fun. Alternatively, if you are a big gaming fan, you can change the settings on your favorite game to your target language. There tends to be a number of conversations to move games forward and it won’t feel like you’re doing any work at all!
9. Sign up to a forum
The vast majority of countries have a range of forums on a various topics, from relationships, to writing, to computer programming like forosdelweb. So, if you’re interested in technology and you’re learning Spanish, you might want to sign up to a site like this for a great way view interactions between native speakers, to get involved yourself, and to gain some industry-specific vocabulary - if this is what you are looking to learn.
10. Write about your day
This is one of my favorite daily techniques because you can easily begin to see the progress you have made after a couple of weeks if you keep all your ‘daily reviews’ in the same place. You only need to write a couple of sentences about what you got up to, things you saw, and things you read or heard and it will keep the creative juices flowing in your target language. If you do it quickly before bed you can review it the next morning to keep the language fresh in your mind for the rest of the day.
Lizzie writes for GEOS Languages Plus and other language school sites. Last year she went to LanguagesAbroad to learn Spanish in Spain where she realized that language learning has to become a part of everyday life if you want to succeed. In her spare time you can find her exploring Europe and further afield, watching nature documentaries, and drinking an obscene amount of tea.
We are often asked why we chose games and a travel story for our language program. We answered this question in a recent article on Omniglot.com and are republishing it here with a few minor edits:
Several years ago, my husband and I prepared for an extended stay in Italy by learning Italian with the three 30-lesson courses of a well-known audio CD program. Arriving in Italy, we could communicate well enough - although not speak fluently. However, we could read Italian only with difficulty, and writing it was a disaster. We kept spelling everything the French way, French being a language which we both speak fluently.
Before our trip, we had also looked at other CD and DVD programs and had tried several, including Rosetta Stone. But as the vocabulary did not match our interests or needs, it was hard to stay motivated and we were quickly bored. For example, in one of the early lessons of RS, we practiced (multiple times) all of the following sentences: the women are eating rice, the girls are reading, the horses are running, the boy is not driving.
Gamesforlanguage was born from of a simple idea: Learn language in a relevant context. If you can repeatedly hear, read, write, and speak the words, phrases, and sentences of a story, you'll remember them more easily, because you remember the context. To learn a new language, you have to connect it to your own experiences. With travel being a common denominator for many language learners, we decided to create a travel story of a young man traveling to the European countries of our four languages we currently offer. The everyday, practical language he experiences on his trip is bound to be relevant to most travelers. (The first 6 lessons of our new course, English for Spanish speakers, are currently available for a free try-out)
Learning with Games
But Gamesforlanguage.com is also offering something still different. Our games are not just individual learning clips, nor are they simply an addition to or an enhancement of a conventional language program. The games ARE the language program. Each lesson of our 36 lesson course is made up of games that practice one or more of the four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Here are some examples:
- Memory Game: Memorize new words and phrases by hearing, reading, and saying them
- Snap Clouds: Practice by choosing the foreign word/phrase, hearing, and saying it
- Balloon Words: Train your ear by identifying the sounds of key words
- Say It: Repeat words and phrases aloud after hearing them (and before seeing them briefly)
- Deal No Deal: Discover the meaning of the story dialogue by simple elimination
- Word Invaders: Build a foreign sentence by clicking on the right words
- Writing Clowns: Translate and spell against time
- Record It: (not really a game) Hear, repeat, and record each sentence of the story dialogue
Other games focus on particular aspects of each language, such as pronouns, articles, adjective endings, basic conjugations, etc.
A YouTube Snapshot
This brief YouTube clip Play n' Learn with Games and a Travel Story gives a snapshot of some of the games in the first Italian lesson. By the time the learner hears the full story dialogue - just before "Record It" - he or she will easily understand it, after having memorized, heard, read, spoken, and written the words and phrases of the story several times. Starting with Level 4 - after 18 lessons - a slight change occurs. Now the story dialogue will occur at the beginning of each lesson, forcing the learner to guess the meaning from the context of the story and before discovering and learning the new words and phrases. This is quite similar to what a traveler will experience when he or she tries to understand a foreign conversation.
Grammar in Context only
In contrast to some other programs, gamesforlanguage.com teaches grammar items only as they come up in the context of the ongoing story. Grammar is not taught in the form of abstract rules.
For example: In the second lesson of our French 1 course, the following sentence is part of the dialogue: "Je suis contente que vous parliez français." We explain the use of the subjunctive form "vous parliez" (instead of the indicative "vous parlez") briefly why it is used: after a phrase expressing emotion ("je suis contente que ..."). That's all. At this stage the learner would be overwhelmed by a more detailed explanation.
Audience & Technology
Gamesforlanguage.com courses may appeal primarily to teenagers and adults. However, we know that children who have just learned to read and write also enjoy the games. The online course works on all modern browsers and, since January 2013, also on iOS6 iPads and iPhones (except for the recording feature, as Apple does not support the Flash Player). We are hopeful that multichannel audio for HTML5 will soon be supported by Android devices as well.
Traveling to France? Preparing for the trip may both heighten your anticipation as well as enhance your experiences there. Travel entrepreneur Rick Steves has called this Prepare for Spontaneity. A basic knowledge of the local language and culture are essential tools for navigating new places and meeting locals.
In our four language courses we are introducing the learner to various particularities of each language or culture. For example in our French 1 course our traveler Daniel learns about the "bouillabaisse". Listen HERE to a conversation between him and his aunt. Maybe your French lets you understand how this traditional French dish got its name. If not, you'd certainly understand it by the end of lesson 33!
The 36 lessons - we call them "Scenes" - take our "hero" Daniel (and, by extension you!) for a three week journey to France, where you'll learn the language of daily French life.
For example, in Paris, you'll visit with relatives, take a walk on a famous square, order "un express" and "une tarte aux fraises" at a café. You'll buy a train ticket to Aix-en-Provence. There, you'll ask directions to a friend's house, and on a walk around the city, learn about Cézanne's occupation before he became a famous painter. In Avignon, you'll take a bus to your hotel, and check in. Later, after dinner, a friend will show you the famous bridge. (Who doesn't know the song "Sur le pont d'Avignon"?) For your last week, you'll return to Paris.
Each of the 36 lessons is based on a dialog and on part of the story. In each lesson, you'll play your way through a series of games, with which you learn and practice vocabulary, train your listening comprehension, practice speaking by recording and playing back your own voice. You'll also get essential grammar and culture tips.
Your goal will be to exceed a target score so that you can move on to the next lesson and hear “the rest of the story.” You'll also be challenged and often able to understand the meaning of the next dialog through the context of the story alone – similar to what you might experience living in the foreign country, or following an original French movie.
So, maybe, next time you're sitting in a French bistro and see the "bouillabaisse" on the menu, you'll give it a try and even know what the name means...
Recently we put together a YouTube video “Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg?” based on Scene 4.5 of our course and our conjecture that Mark Twain liked the name "Heidelberg" because Heidelberg in English means Huckelberry mountain, (actually Heidelberg is an abbreviation of Heidelbeerenberg [huckleberry mountain].
We found it interesting that Twain had stayed in Heidelberg with his family for several months in 1878. A Wiki entry notes that he had unsuccessfully tried “to learn German in 1850 at age fifteen. He resumed his study 28 years later in preparation for a trip to Europe."
Mark Twain had published his novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in 1876 and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in1884. A little further digging found several German sites which also describe his love of Heidelbeeren. He found them in the forests around Heidelberg and enjoyed Heidelbeerkuchen (huckleberry pie). By the way, the confusion between a huckleberry and a blueberry also exists in German between a “Heidelbeere” and a “Blaubeere” and the difference is well explained here.
So the character of Huckleberry Finn had already been well established by the time Mark Twain arrived in Heidelberg as this link explains further:
“Supposedly looking for a quiet village, where people didn't know him, neither of which fit Heidelberg because it was already home to active American and British communities, he arrived with his family on May 6 for the day and stayed three months.His biographer Justin Kaplan asserts Twain was aware that Heidelberg derived from "Heidelbeerenberg", meaning "Huckleberry Mountain", which may explain his affinity.
Nobody really knows," writes Werner Pieper in his updated Mark Twain's Guide to Heidelberg , 'what made Mark Twain stay in Heidelberg for such a long time. Maybe he was prompted by old dreams from the times he was passing Heidelberg, Mississippi, while working on the steamships? Did he plan to stay here or did he and his family just fall in love with this city?"
While the above allusion to Mark Twain's passing by Heidelberg, Mississippi during his days as a river pilot may also be compelling, a little further digging causes some doubts: Mark Twain worked on a steamboat, first as an apprentice, then as a pilot during 1857 to 1861. However, Heidelberg, Mississippi was only founded in 1882 by Washington Irving Heidelberg. Twain visited the river a number of times, after his pilot days, most notably in 1882 as he prepared to write "Life on the Mississippi". Maybe that's when he came across the name Heidelberg again.
So whether he already knew the name Heidelberg or whether he related to it as a translation of "huckleberry" we'll never know. But we do know that he liked his three months in Heidelberg, Germany.
And we'll explore in another blog Mark Twain's love-hate relationship with "The Awful German Language" which he published as an Appendix to his "A Tramp Abroad" in 1880.
A recent blog reviewed some evidence of the question: "Can Playing Language Games Make You Smarter". Anyone scanning the Internet will find a huge number of online language learning programs. In addition, there are lots of apps available for phones and tablets, including iPhones and iPads. Those are all a tremendous resource for language lovers!
Flashcards do work!
Many of the online programs and apps are based on a flashcard model, and teach words and short phrases only. Flashcards exercises are indeed an excellent way to drill and recall vocabulary. They are also perfect for grammar items, such as verb conjugations, adjective endings, noun genders, contractions, etc. In digital form, flashcards can space recall optimally, and often use pictures and combine visual and auditory information. You’re in charge of your learning and you can easily track your progress.
Are Flashcards enough?
However, one may reasonably ask: Can you really learn to speak a language by just memorizing words and word forms? For most of the European languages – and those are the ones we know best – we believe, the answer has to be no!
The reason seems quite obvious: Conversations and narratives are not just a series of isolated words or phrases. In order to create meaning, you have to choose the right words and put them into a particular sequence. Often, it's the sequence that is crucial for the meaning. As a starter, you need to show whether you're making a statement or asking a question. Add to this the need to find the correct gender of the noun (and, depending on the language, also the correct ending), the right tense and verb conjugation, the position of a preposition, etc. - and it becomes clear why speaking a foreign language is not an easy process.
The Language Games Challenge!
The challenge to those of us who are developing online language games or apps is this:
How to create compelling games that can teach much more than a series of words and phrases -- games that build the confidence to communicate?
It's the repeated use and practice of phrases and sentences in a meaningful context, that will ultimately enable you to speak with some fluency. Words and grammar rules are not enough. Conversations are a process of dynamic communication. By the time you have deliberately constructed the perfect sentence, the conversation may have already moved on.
In future blogs, we’ll review some of the available language games, and please, share with us your experiences!
I still remember the first time I played a game on a computer. I was just a 6-year-old kid, and as a native speaker of Spanish, it was an exciting and challenging experience to play games intended for the English speaking market. Simple on-screen messages like “loading” or “game over” were exposing me to the language for the first time, before I started receiving proper English lessons at school. A few terms, the easiest ones, I would learn by pure observation, others, I would have to check the dictionary for their meaning.
In any case, it didn’t feel like I was making any extra effort, because I was having fun and the new vocabulary I was acquiring would also help me complete each game I played.
What’s more, far from developing prejudices against the English language, I started having a genuine interest about the language and its culture. The whole gaming-based language learning process broadened my mind considerably.
Today, I think my first and natural approach to language learning shares many similarities with the type of approach that certain courses follow, which integrate fun and effective games for language learning. Truth is, I wish such courses would have been available back then, in the early 80’s. Some of these new programs are especially designed for language learning in mind, unlike the computer games I played when I was a kid. But all in all, I am happy I put many hours into gaming, as it helped raise my curiosity for a new language.
PS: Pablo Montoya is both the writer and a speaker of our Spanish 1 course; he is also assisting us in developing our ESL course for Spanish speakers. For a description of our Spanish 1 course, click here
When you google something like “language learning boosts the brain” dozens of entries come up. The technology for studying the brain has become quite advanced, so there seems to be some proof. But not everyone has the same experiences with the same results. Here are some musings of mine about language learning.
For me, learning something new or getting better at an activity requires that I engage in doing it. If I don't, I don't progress. For example, I'm a skier and every year in November, I start my first run of the season thinking: “OK, weight on your lower ski, stay away from ice, avoid the moguls for now.” During my first days on skis, I discover muscles I hadn't used for months, I get used to my edges again, I try out all kinds of turns. But, hey, by the end of ski season, I happily head for the moguls, and feel that I could follow Lindsay Vonn down a black diamond. Preferably in Austria.
Something similar is happening with my Italian language skills. For a while, I didn't practice my Italian very much. I was too busy with work! But then I found a way to motivate myself to do a daily practice. What I do is read Roberto Gervaso's daily “Tu per tu” column in ilmessaggero.it and watch an episode of the soap opera unpostoalsole.rai.it right on their web page.
Does this help to keep my brain fit? I think it does. When I can read through Gervaso's article and get the meaning without looking up any words, I get a great feeling of pleasure and boost in confidence. This affects whatever else I do during that day. The same happens when I understand what's going on in an episode of “Il posto al sole.” They speak fast and there's always some kind of underlying scheming going on. I learned Italian from scratch when I was a mature adult. It didn't all come easy. For instance, it took me a couple of weeks to fully learn “pomeriggio,” the Italian word for “afternoon.” With all the claims about how hard it is for adults to learn a language, I feel I've done well.
Emboldened by my success with Italian, I'm now learning Spanish. For obvious reasons, I am using our GamesforLanguage.com Spanish 1 course, and the new techniques and technologies are great. In addition to the language games I am using Twitter feeds for practice. When I'm ready, I'll start skyping with Spanish speaking language partners. For now, my biggest challenge isn't assimilating a word like “pomeriggio,” it's trying not to mix up Italian and Spanish. The two languages are similar and my comprehension of Spanish is good. But when I speak Spanish, Italian gets in the way.
But everyone's different. What about those who say they can't learn another language? That their efforts are doomed to failure because ...? My answer to that brings me back to skiing.
During this week, Waterville Valley NH is hosting the National Adaptive Alpine Ski Races. I've been watching the skiers, many of them quite young, skiing through difficult race courses. Each one of them has a physical challenge, lost limb(s), spinal paralysis. Each one of them skis with such skill, that he or she way outshines the rest of us on the mountain. The pleasure that these skiers radiate makes me appreciate the value of determination and the effort for overcoming challenges.
As the Dutch say: “You must row with the oars that you have.” (Je moet roeien met de riemen die je hebt.) So for language learning, the approach: “I've tried it once and it didn't work” – is not a good one. You've got to have passion, patience, and persistence. And you may find that your brain will thank you for it.
- Context learning
- Effective learning Games
- ESL learning
- Foreign Language Fluency
- Foreign Language Learning
- Foreign Language Proficiency
- Foreign Novels
- German Grammar
- German idioms
- Language & Food
- Language and Travel
- Language as Communication
- Language Camps
- Learning as a Game
- Learning Grammar
- Memory Training
- Mobile Devices
- Music and Language
- Online Foreign Language Learning
- Rosetta Stone Blog
- Social Interaction Online
- Swiss French
- Teaching Tools
- Training the Ear
- Is Gamesforlanguage.com Too Steep a Climb For Beginners?
- QUICK TIP German: "holen" vs "abholen"
- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 2: Games Summary
- Zorro: 1 (big) Thing to Learn Spanish
- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1: Approach & Methods
- May 2013 (4)
- April 2013 (5)
- March 2013 (3)
- February 2013 (3)
- January 2013 (3)
- December 2012 (4)
- November 2012 (4)
- October 2012 (3)
- September 2012 (5)
- August 2012 (3)
- July 2012 (2)
- June 2012 (4)
- May 2012 (7)
- April 2012 (5)
- March 2012 (3)
- February 2012 (5)
- January 2012 (5)
- December 2011 (3)
- November 2011 (2)
- October 2011 (1)
- September 2011 (2)
- August 2011 (5)
- July 2011 (2)
- June 2011 (1)
- May 2011 (6)
- March 2011 (1)
- February 2011 (3)
- January 2011 (4)