Posted on by Dimitris Polychronopoulos

Why Writing is an Important Part of Language Learning

hand with pen writing in a note bookLearning a language generally involves learning four skills: listing/comprehension, reading, speaking and writing. We typically learn our first, native language by listening and speaking and then add reading and writing later in school.

When we learn other languages as adults we typically do so with "comprehensible input," by listening and reading, and we practice some writing early on as well (unless we use audio-only methods like Pimsleur).

When we learn a new language, we often neglect to truly develop our writing ability in that language.

Our language-learning efforts often focus only on trying to understand what others are saying and trying to be understood when we speak.

As we advance, many of us strive to be able to read the newspaper in our target language.

When it comes to writing in another language, though, we often only reach the level where we are comfortable writing text messages, emails and short notes.

The Writing Challenge

There is a lot a language learner can gain by taking the time to practice writing. Obviously beginners will not be able to practice writing essays and articles yet.

At the early stages, it is best to focus on writing simple sentences and paragraphs.

It is easy to receive feedback on short writing samples by using the app or website Hi Native for single sentences or the website Lang-8 for entire paragraphs.

When you are at the intermediate level, you can start to write longer texts. Composing an entire article requires a lot of thought.

The task becomes less daunting when you start with an outline. One of the drawbacks of writing in a foreign language is that it is harder to find native speakers to offer quality feedback.

Native speakers themselves are often not highly skilled at offering constructive feedback on long texts, because they themselves may not have studied essay-composition skills and article-writing and editing skills.

That means you may need to rely on a professional language teacher for feedback.

Your Language Learning Motivation

It is a good idea to consider your motivations.cartoon of Lion's motivational morning roar behind desk

Some language learners will be more motivated to become skilled writers in their target language, while others will not.

Those who wish to study at a university in a foreign language, work at a professional level in a foreign language and integrate into society in a different language will be highly motivated to reach the highest level possible in their writing abilities.

Although those who do not have such ambitions will be less inclined to spend the time to improve their writing skills, that doesn’t mean that they should ignore writing practice altogether. After all, there is a lot to gain from writing practice.

The Benefits of Writing Practice

When you practice letter writing and article writing in a foreign language, you get a clearer picture of your limitations in grammar and vocabulary.

As you revisit the texts you’ve written in a foreign language, it is easy see the progress you make.

Your past mistakes get cemented in time and you see at what point you learn to overcome certain mistakes that you habitually make.

There may be a certain word that you continue to misspell, or a particular verb that you never seem to conjugate correctly.

Perhaps you notice a common trend of mixing up two words that sound alike or sound similar, such as it’s and its or affect and effect.

By conquering these differences, you build a stronger grasp of the language you are learning.

Writing also allows you to focus on how to organize your thoughts and how you seek to logically draw arguments and conclusions.

This is a challenge enough in our native language(s).

The extra challenge of doing so in a different language helps build up your skills in that language in ways that can spill over to your other abilities in the language, such as improved conversational skills and better reading ability.

Bio: Dimitris Polychronopoulos is the founder of yozzi.com, where he welcomes guest posts and guest interviews in his eight strongest languages: English, French, Greek, Italian, Mandarin, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Yozzi is a platform where you can offer feedback to help others improve their writing skills in their target languages.

Posted on by Peter Editor

Become Bilingual And Feel Great!

Yes, learning a new language is a fun and exciting opportunity - not only to grow in a very useful skill but also for feeling great for many years to come!

In the last few months research has found that bilinguals enjoy many practical advantages: 

Being bilingual can help you find higher paying jobs, improve your ability to perform mental tasks, and slow down symptoms of aging.

We have linked various articles and posts about such research in the past.

TakeLessons Bilingual Infographic

Recently we became aware of an informative infographic by TakeLessons, which summarizes those benefits quite succinctly. You'll find Take Lessons' sources at the end of the graph.

(And if you're not quite ready yet for language lessons, just click on the link below the graph and play a few fun games!)

15 Stats That Prove Being Bilingual is Awesome [Infographic]

Bilingual with Gamesforlanguage Quick Games?

No time or not ready yet for language courses? No problem.

Just play a Quick Language Game or two, when you have a minute. (No registraction required.)

We can't promise you that you'll become bilingual that way, but just maybe, you'll develop a taste for (re)learning and a habit of practicing a foreign language.

And, if you keep at it, YOU can become bilingual as well!

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.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage has no business relationship with TakeLessons, other than using its infographic.

 

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 Peter Rettig

5 Tips for your 2017 Foreign Language Learning Goal

2017 Goals - Yay images2017 is approaching fast. Will learning a foreign language be one of your 2017 goals?

January is definitely a key month. And there's some good news: A survey published by the Boston Globe in 2014 showed that 76% of the people who keep their resolutions through February 1, will keep going.

You have at least a three-in-four chance to reach your goal by year end. So, what should you be taking into account? 

Learning a Language isn't always easy...”

Languages Around the Globe blogger Brian Powers recently pointed out in a post with the above title that “for most of us learning a language from scratch isn't always a walk in the park.”

For many language learners that may even be an understatement.

Based on school experiences, some may feel that they are “just not good at learning a foreign language.”

Others get discouraged when they don't progress fast enough.

And some just give up because they get bored and can't stay engaged.

While you may have some strong beliefs about learning a foreign language, you should keep the following in mind:

  • If you were able to learn your native language, why shouldn't you be able to learn  another language?
  • Were your expectations for fast progress unrealistic?
  • Couldn't you overcome boredom with more interesting and engaging methods?

Motivation

Surveys show that “keeping up the motivation” and “not enough time” are Motivational Roar cartoon - Yay Imagesthe two principal difficulties that learners list when learning a foreign language.

The excuse that there's “not enough time” may also hide other reasons. Most adult learners are usually quite motivated at the outset, only to realize that real progress is slow and takes more time and effort than they had anticipated.

Also, there are different levels of motivation. The need to understand and speak a new language may be different for someone who has a new job assignment and career in a foreign country, than for someone who intends to travel there for a short vacation. But “keeping up the motivation” is certainly a difficulty that cannot be underestimated.

There are few things (if any) in life we can learn half-heartedly. As children we seem to learn many things playfully. Still, it takes us quite a few years to fully acquire our first language. The same is true for complex skills such as playing an instrument or doing various sports.

One's motivation to learn is likely both genetic (“wired” for language, music, walking, running, winning, etc.) and environmental (copying, competing with, encouraged by siblings, friends, parents, teachers, etc).

As adults, the goals and challenges we set ourselves arise from various sources, family, friends, jobs, as well as our own feelings, interests, desires, fears, etc.

Being aware of our motivation for achieving a goal is often not as simple as it sounds. But for any long-term project - as learning a new language clearly is - knowing your motivation is essential.

If you want to spark your language learning motivation, have a look at an earlier post of ours HERE.

Engagement

Reading paper - Yay imagesWhat does “engagement” mean in this context? To be “engaged” implies that you do more than just attend a language class once a week, listen to a couple of CDs, take online lessons once or twice per week, or open a vocabulary app or a course book from time to time.

It means that you have been hit by the language bug and are getting involved with the new language in many different ways. Maybe at the start, you'll watch a foreign movie with subtitles or read dual-language books. Then you'll graduate to reading newspaper articles and books on topics that interest you. You'll watch TV and movies (without subtitles!), regularly listen to audios and podcasts, and meet people to talk to, either in person or online.

(Talking with native speakers is really the best way, and many believe the only way, to practice speaking and to improve your fluency.)

There are lots of ways to make language learning more interesting. If you're planning a trip to a country or region where the language is spoken, you can start learning about its culture, history and politics. If you love the country's food and wine, great – there's another entry point for making new discoveries.

Just think how engaged you are with any activities you enjoy. The more you can connect the target language with those aspects of life that are fun to you or you feel passionate about, the more engaged you'll be, and the more fuel you'll add to your motivation.

If you've read this far, you may already know what my five tips are about:

Tip #1 - Know exactly, WHY you want to learn a new Language!

The reason for learning a foreign language has to be strong enough to keep you going when things why-hook  Yay imagesget tough, as they invariably will. It's no secret that the stronger the need, the stronger the motivation to keep learning.

So take a good look at WHY you really want to make it a 2017 goal. Write down the reasons and the benefits and attach them to your fridge or somewhere else where you can see them daily.

People's reasons are always quite personal. They differ from individual to individual: A job opportunity and/or moving to another country, a new partner or family member, exotic travel plans, etc. all will bring different urgency and time considerations with them.

Tip #2 – Determine what engages – or what bores you!

class cartoon - Yay ImagesDetermining what engages or bores you is essential. This has both to do with the way you learn and with what keeps you interested.

For some, attending live language classes, being motivated by peer pressure, etc. is the way to go. Others learn well on their own, with language books, CDs/DVDs, apps, online programs or tutors.

The earlier you find ways to connect your learning and practicing method with your areas of interest, the better. That's also why the first few months of learning will be the hardest. Without knowing the language basics and having sufficient vocabulary, your choices will be more limited.

Finding the right venue or program will take some careful consideration and will also depend on #3 and #4 below.

Tip #3 – Research what's offered online and in your neighborhood

What is offered in your neighborhood or community in language learning resources will depend greatly on cartoon city - Yay imageswhere you live. Live language courses will often only be available for certain languages, but you may be able to find private tutors if you can't find any courses.

Many public libraries have language courses on CDs or DVDs, or they may have online courses for download.

Even many fee-for-service online programs have free trial offers. Take advantage of them until you find a program that's a good fit for you.

One note of caution: Don't get caught by the marketing hype. Learning a new language as an adult takes work and effort. But the right teachers and tutors can make a huge difference in how you learn. That's also true for online learning programs that keep you learning and practicing.

Take your time, if you can, and find one that keeps you going and engaged.

Tip #4 – Determine the time/resources you can commit

sandglass and dollars - Yay imagesIf you're setting a goal for 2017, you may already have a deadline or a commitment. You may even have a budget and/or time allocated for learning.

If you can spend 3-4 weeks in an immersion-style course in a language school, good for you. You'll make great progress.

If you learn best in language classes and you can find one in your community, great as well. (You'll certainly want to figure out what extracurricular language activities you should add.)

If you're a self-learner with a limited budget and/or time, you should plan when and how you're going to learn.

Experience has shown that daily exposure to the target language is key: 15-20 minutes every day will be more effective than 2 hours once a week.

So, whether learners are taking classes or using CDs, DVDs, apps or online programs, they should allow for daily connection with the language they are learning.

During the early stages, this may be just learning 5-10 new words a day, playing a language game (such as GamesforLanguage offers), doing a lesson, reading a page in a book (ideally aloud), listening to a song, recording yourself reading, etc.

Later, with the basics behind you, you can plan reading online articles, books, and watching movies and videos, etc. of topics that interest you.

Tip #5 - Set some reasonable expectations

Depending on the language you're learning, basic fluency should take between grow acronym - Yay images500 and 1000 hours of study. This is according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). For further opinions, read up on a discussion on Quora.

So, unless you plan to study 10 hours a week for the easiest language, you're not likely to reach conversational fluency by the end of the year.

What about Benny Lewis' promise “Fluent in 3 months?” The answer is: if you use his single-minded approach and immersion strategies, you could get there.

And indeed, all of his techniques and hacks are very useful – IF YOU PRACTICE THEM REGULARLY AND CONSISTENTLY.

However, most of us will not be able to do so. We therefore need to set more realistic expectations and goals.

Here are some realistic goals that may work for you:

  • Take a class and complete it, with all the required homework, etc.
  • Learn with an app or online course, and plan the number of lessons you want to complete each week, and the number of words you want to learn and review daily.
  • Read an easy novel in your target language after three or four months.
  • Be able to watch and understand a foreign movie without English subtitles after 9 months.

It's very easy to be too optimistic at the beginning. Don't overestimate the time you have available or are willing to commit. Start slowly and get into a learning habit. Then add practice time.

Eventually you want to do something in your target language DAILY - learn/review vocabulary, play a language game, do a course lesson, read a chapter of a book or article, listen to a podcast, watch a movie, etc. - anything that really interests and engages you.

And, if you do so, your language skills will certainly grow (as the acronym above implies!)

 

Learning a foreign language as an adult is a big challenge. You need to stay motivated and put in the time.

Your efforts will show best if you have regular and frequent exposure to the language. To do that, engage with the language in as many ways as you can. Start making it part of your life!

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 Peter Rettig

Traveling and Language Learning – They Go Together

world map - Gamesforlanguage.comMaybe you've already traveled this summer and regretted that you didn't understand the language(s) spoken in the countries you visited?

If you can capture that feeling, it'll motivate you to start learning before your next trip!

Or you're planning to travel to a foreign country this fall and believe that it's too late to even begin?

Not so. I won't tell you that you'll be fluent in 30 days. But practicing some essential phrases and sentences is a good start.

Listen and repeat what you hear. That way you'll become familiar with the sounds and the rhythm of your new language. Doing some of this regularly for even just a month will go a long way to make your trip more enjoyable.

If you keep your goal in mind, learning a new language can truly be an exciting project. Besides boosting your confidence and improving your memory, it'll open up a new world to explore, a new way of looking at life.

Blue Latitudes and Captain Cook...

While recently reading Tony Horwitz's Blue Latitudes - Boldly going where CaptainReplica of "Discovery" - Cook's ship Cook has gone before – I was vividly reminded how different traveling was then: No phrase books, no tapes, no CDs, no online audio, no apps with which to prepare for encounters with the various native peoples of Polynesia, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

Cook's three epic journeys between 1768 and 1780 count among the last great voyages of discovery. (picture: replica of Cook's "Endeavour" in Whitby Harbor)

The book makes for fascinating reading, not only because it tells of the explorations Cook made (as well as the damages, health problems, diseases he and his men left in their wake) but also because it recounts the difficulties of communication he and his men encountered.

An example from Cooks landing in Botany Bay in Australia in 1770 (page 151):

Most of the natives fled as the English boats came close to land. But two men stood their ground.

'They called to us very loud in a harsh sounding Language of which neither of us or Tupaia [a Tahitian native who had wanted to sail on with Cook] understood a word,' Banks wrote. 'Parkinson recorded their words as 'Warra warra wai'. Cook, meanwhile, attempted his usual peacemaking, throwing 'nails, beeds, etc. ashore.' ...

Englishmen aboard the First Fleet would later learn that 'warra warra wai' meant 'Go away'."

Traveling Today – an Opportunity to Learn

Eiffel Tower & Trocadero - Gamesforlanguage.comYes, we travelers today are in a different category than the great explorers of the past. We mostly follow well-traveled paths. But we are explorers in our own right. We want to experience new cultures, discover new vistas, meet new people.

From that perspective, learning a new language can be a fresh and fun experience. It should stretch our mind and engage our whole person. One way to do this is to tie language learning to planning our  trip.

As we map out and organize our trip, we anticipate being there. We imagine walking through the old parts of Berlin; gliding through the Venice canals in a vaporetto; looking at the stunning view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro hill in Paris (see left picture); taking a night tour of the Alhambra in Granada.

School Memories?

Some of us remember our school experience. As a teenager, school memories - Gamesforlanguage.comlearning a foreign language sometimes seemed "tedious" and totally unrelated to our lives.

Why memorize lists of strange sounding words and learn phrases we would never use? And, give me a break - why learn the grammar rules of a foreign language?

Worst of all, we had to stand up in front of the class to give a presentation in the language we were learning. Lots of anxiety there.

Now we have numerous options as self-learners to refresh a school language or acquire a new one. If we do it right, it can be both fun and relevant. 

A Running Start

running start - Gamesforlanguage.comHave you ever encountered visitors to the U.S., who don't speak any English? Their experience of America is bound to be limited to looking at sights and taking tours in their own language.

If they're traveling on their own, of course, they would pick up some English along the way. But if they had learned some essential words and phrases before their trip, they would have had a running start.

It's the same for us when we travel. Not everyone in another country speaks English (or wants to). The better we speak the local language, the more deeply we experience the country and its people. Being able to communicate allows us to venture off the usual routes and engage in conversations with those we meet.

New Ways to Learn

The internet has opened a whole new way of learning a foreign language. Sure, some adults may still prefer attending language classes or taking private lessons, when these are offered in their community.

girl on laptop with earphones But for many others, language apps, online learning programs, and online tutors, are quickly replacing or supplementing books and live classes.

Self-learners have access to a large variety of resources in many foreign languages: You can listen to language audios and podcasts, read ebooks and hear the audio version at the same time, watch videos or movies, read news online, participate in language groups and forums. The list goes on.

So, when you have a travel destination, get started on learning some basics in the language that's spoken there. It's a fun adventure in itself.

At the very least, buy yourself a travel guide and study and practice the key phrases it provides.

We'd also encourage you to learn the numbers from 1-100, as they will prove very useful for shopping, making an appointment, paying at a café, etc. (For French, German, Italian, and Spanish, you can practice numbers and many common words and expressions with our Quick Games.)

For the above languages, and if you have more time, you can also use our FREE travel-story courses, or use the online programs of our partners - Frantastique, Lingualia, Language Zen, Lingohut, Moslingua's apps, and iTalki (some of them also have FREE versions).

For those and other languages, we also like Duolingo, LearnwithOliver, Linguaville and LingQ.

Don't wait! Start learning and practicing today. Do it with enthusiasm and with imagination. Find a way to motivate yourself to stick with it. Then travel and speak up!


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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Some links above are to a partner's program with revenue sharing, if you decide to buy or subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Why Polyglots Also Use Stories for Language Learning

Polyglot Symposium MontrealOn the weekend of July 23 and 24, 2016, we attended the first North American Polyglot Symposium (NAPS) in Montreal, Canada. (You can find the YouTube clips of most of the presentations, interviews etc. with this NAPS link, and many thanks to Joey Perugino, Tetsu Yung and all the others for organizing the event.)

There were some familiar faces from last fall's international Polyglot Conference 2015 in New York City, but also many new participants.

Among many others, we met Steve Kaufmann from LingQ and Lilia Mouma from Mango Languages. Both are excellent sites to learn and practice many different languages.

What are “Polyglots”?

Merriam-Webster's simple definition of a “Polyglot” is someone who “knows or uses several languages.”polyglot - Gamesforlanguage.com

There were certainly many multilingual speakers at the Montreal event. But the program also appealed to those just starting out with a second language.

One common misconception about polyglots - and we humbly count ourselves among them - is that we can speak all our languages fluently or equally well.

The fact is that we don't. Some polyglots may have grown up bilingual or trilingual. But in the languages we have acquired as adults, we often have a non-native accent and make mistakes that native speakers can easily detect.

It was great to meet and talk with many of the well-known polyglots, language bloggers, and linguists who attended.

If there was one theme that came through many of the presentations and talks, it was this: There is no magic pill, no one learning system or method that works for everybody and all the time.

Nobody can learn a language FOR you. You have to find the way that works best for you. Often that means some trial and error. You have to keep adjusting your method to the language(s) you want to learn, the goal you want to achieve, or the time you can commit. 

Motivation

motivation - GamesforlanguageOne of the speakers commented - was it Jimmy Mello? - that polyglots are not “normal” language learners. We often don't learn another language because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to. True!

Our motivation is fueled by a genuine interest in how a language works, its history, its connection with other languages, etc. Our wish to converse with native speakers in their language is also a huge motivator. To be able to do so gives you a real feeling of happiness.

Nevertheless, we also know that without frequent exposure to the target language in listening, reading, and speaking, our skills will not develop. They may even go into hiding.

Polyglots know that in order to learn a language, you have to put in the work. Yes, some may be more gifted in hearing and producing the sounds, or memorizing the words of a new language. But without practicing your skills often, consistent progress will be slow.

We heard from four young English speakers (14-17 years old) how they got interested in languages. They talked about learning multiple languages as different as Romanian, Turkish, Arabic, Thai, and Chinese. They described how much fun it was to be multilingual. They also shared their struggles with anxiety, fitting in with others, finding what works for them. Their stories were inspiring and motivating.

Why Stories from the Start?

Many language courses - be they books, CDs, online programs, or apps - are structured around airplane start - Gamesforlanguage.comlearning particular vocabulary topics: “survival words & phrases,” such as greetings, numbers, directions, shopping, time, days, months; or categories, such as colors, food items, parts of the body, animals, professions, objects found in the home, etc.

Clearly, these words and phrases are important to learn and know. However, if they are just introduced as a list and without context, they are difficult to retain. Besides, if you just learn a list, you won't know how to use them in a conversation.

That's why GamesforLanguage.com has chosen a “Story-Approach”: Each new word is introduced as part of an ongoing story – a young man traveling to the country of the foreign language to be learned: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the U.S. (this last one, English for speakers of Spanish).

Will the young traveler use all the vocabulary from the various topics mentioned above? Probably not.

But the 700 words that make up the phrases and sentences in each GamesforLanguage course will not only be more useful, but also easier to remember and apply. And that is what's important to most learners: acquiring vocabulary that they can use in daily life.

For learners who already have some background in one of the five languages, GamesforLanguage provides a fun and effective way to “brush up” on the language they want to relearn.

Why Polyglots Learn With Stories

The conventional thinking is: Before you can start reading or listening to a story in your target language, you first have to learn the basics. That's when your effort and work starts to pay off. You can now read articles, listen to audios, or watch movies that you really enjoy.

But you may not even have to wait that long. Even polyglots have to stay motivated to continue learning and improving. Several speakers at the Montreal conference related some of their personal tips and tricks.

The little Prince - AmazonFor example, Jimmy Mello, who runs a language school in Brazil, LISTENS to Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his new target language, as soon as he begins to learn it. He already knows the story in his other languages - Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, German, English, etc. By using the same story every time, he can focus on the sounds of the new language, while already knowing what many of the words mean.

The same is obviously true when READING “Le Petit Prince” or reading/listening to any other story that you may already know in a language you've acquired. Children's books make an especially good choice: The language is simple, the sentences short.

Olly Richards et al. took this idea and developed Short Stories for Beginners. These are currently available for English, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish, with an Audible Audio edition available for some of them.

Steve Kaufmann talked about how he keeps current with some of the languages for which he does not have a conversation partner: He reads books and listens extensively to audiobooks with topics that really interest him.

Keep Learning With What's Engaging and Interesting to YOU

In the talks and discussions during the Polyglot meeting, a recurrent topic was that we all have to develop our own way of acquiring and maintaining our target language. 

Steve Kaufmann compared the language learning experience to an inverted hockey stick: classroom At the beginning you may find your progress quite rapid and exciting as you are learning new words and phrases.

Then comes the flat and nearly horizontal phase, when progress seems to be slow. This can even happen when you already speak your target language quite well. You may have reached a fluency plateau and need to find ways to get beyond it.

Each one of us may have to discover our own path to traverse these plateaus. But finding interesting and engaging ways to use and practice your language - whether reading, listening, speaking, or writing – will keep you both motivated and getting better. 

For some, this may be attending traditional classroom courses. Others prefer online learning, reading and listening, or watching videos and movies, and extraverts may enjoy and practice speaking much earlier than others.

The good news is that if you're a self learner who really wants to learn a language, you don't have to moan and groan about course homework: You can choose you own requirements and enjoy them to boot.

 

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, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Do You Need a Language Learning Time-Out?

Time-0ut sign - Gamesforlanguage.comIt happens to many language learners at some point:

The initial enthusiasm for learning a new language wanes.

The app or program that was fun and interesting becomes boring.

You don't reach your daily goal of learning X new words.

You start skipping your language class, etc.

Setbacks happen, and the reasons are legion. But getting back on track doesn't have to be hard.

So, how can you rekindle your enthusiasm?

Here's what has worked for me:

Take a Time-out

This could be a few days or a couple of weeks. Put the books and the dictionary away.

Turn off any reminders you may be getting from your online courses.

Become aware of your thoughts about your original language “project.”

What made you want to learn your new language in the first place?

Has anything changed?

Are you still looking to study or work abroad?

Do you still want to converse with foreign language friends or family members in their language?

Are you still planning a trip to the country or a region where the language is spoken?

If the main reason you started learning the foreign language is still valid, then it's time to look at your study goals.

Review and Adjust Your Practice Goal

Did you set yourself a too ambitious practice goal? Did language learning consume too much of your spare time? How much daily study time is enough? (The post by Languages Around the Globe explores this question.)Rubgy goal kick - Gamesforlanguage.com

Forcing yourself to cram a lot of new foreign vocabulary every day is not only tiresome, it's also not very effective.

That's especially true if you're preparing for a test or exam. Studies have shown that a relaxed mind can learn languages faster.

You could try a more modest and attainable short-term goal, for example 15 minutes a day for 21 days. See how that works. Then set a new goal.

Rather than just studying and practicing, you should plan to include other language-related activities, e.g. watching a foreign movie or video, reading a foreign newspaper article online, reading comics, children's books, etc.

But before you re-start your learning program, you could learn from other language learners.

Get inspired by Blog Posts, Books, Ted Talks, YouTube Videos, etc.

A little extra inspiration can never hurt. Learning foreign languages is a topic that is generating many blog posts and books. Polyglot Benny Lewis is well known for his “Fluent in 3 months” online offer and book. Or watch his Tedx Talk Hacking language learning  where he talks about how he learned 10 languages after the age of 21. He claims that adults are better language learners than children. 

BBC - Alex Rawlings InterviewOr have a look at Gabriel Wyner's book, Fluent Forever, which is already a classic.

A YouTube video that's fun to watch is the interview of university student Alex Rawlings on the program BBC Breakfast (see picture left). At 20, he won a national competition to find the UK's most multi-lingual student.

And if you google “foreign language learning” or join a Reddit language group for your target language, you'll discover many inspiring ideas and tips.

Or, if you have done all of this BEFORE you started on your language learning journey, read some of the posts or books again. You're sure to discover new insights that you may have missed earlier!

Then, armed with these new insights, take a fresh look at your learning and practice tools.

Try out Different Apps, Online Programs, or Tutors

This is key: To get your enthusiasm back, you need to find resources that engage your interest and motivate you to continue learning and practicing.

If you're so inclined, you could use some of your time-out to get a taste of other apps or online programs. You could even schedule a couple of trial lessons with new tutors.

What works for me is using a number of different online programs just for variety.

For example, for Spanish, I play our Spanish Quick Language Games, and listen to our Spanish Podcasts, do a lesson of Lingualia, and review my Spanish Word list on Learn with Oliver.zorro novel title page Recently we discovered LanguageZen and I have been using it a lot for translating sentences.

In the evening, just before going to sleep, I often read a few pages of a Spanish novel.

And no, I don't use ALL of them every day, but at least ONE of them every day.

I always find that when trying out a new online program - as I'm currently doing with LanguageZen - it rekindles my enthusiasm for the language I'm learning.

And sometimes when you change your online tutor - as my wife did recently with iTalki - it provides a new impetus.

When you have reviewed, maybe adjusted your goals, got inspired by the experiences from other learners, settled on your learning and practice tools, it's time to continue with your language learning project again.

Keeping Your Enthusiasm Alive:The Daily Habit

Daily Habit - Gamesforlanguage.comNo matter what you want to become proficient in: math, reading, yoga, karate, basketball shooting, writing, meditation - the key seems to be, any way you google it: daily, steady practice.

Daily language “practice” – and I don't mean only lessons, but any activity which engages you with your target language - will improve your proficiency a little every day.

Eventually that will show up big time, when you are able to read a foreign novel, understand the dialogues in a foreign movie, or participate in a conversation in your target language.

Steady practice will strengthen your self esteem. It'll help you develop the discipline that could easily spill over into some of your other activities as well.

A time-out is the perfect opportunity to decide and plan which language habits to incorporate into your daily life.

While these habits may be different for every learner, they will be essential for making steady progress in your target language.

And feeling that you are making progress will keep your enthusiasm alive.

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.

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Tips to "Spark" Your Language Learning Motivation

Sparkplug spark - Gamesforlanguage.comNot surprisingly, Jeremy Dean's recent e-book, Spark - 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything, has some very relevant suggestions that apply to language learning.

Learning a language takes time, focus, and a certain amount of effort. As we juggle our time, demands from work and family, and our need for rest and recreation, language learning can easily fall by the wayside.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to keep your language learning motivation on track, even when you're hitting a few obstacles.

Here are my 3 main takeaways from “Spark” for language learners :

1. Stay self-aware all the way through

The e-book Spark is set up as 17 steps and you Soccer goal - Gamesforlanguage.comare asked to stop and think at each of them. I think it's a helpful approach for looking at your language learning goal as well.

 

Choose a realistic goal for your language learning

A good way to do that is to check with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Also called the CEFR, it describes foreign language proficiency at six levels.

What is really useful is that each level gives you a description of skills (see page 35 of the PDF that you can download.) For example: a B1 (3rd level) proficiency - which is a good goal to shoot for - means the following:

I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and immediate need or on current events).

 

Know why you want to learn a foreign language

 

  • Is your wish connected to a trip you're planning?
  • Do you have friends or family you want to converse with?
  • Is learning the language job related?
  • Or are you doing it for the pure pleasure of mastering another language?

 

Know where you are on the road to your goal

 

  • Are you an absolute beginner or do you already have the basics down?
  • Are you a re-learner of a language you learned in school or college?
  • Or are you re-learning a language you knew as a child or from living in the country?

Your rate of learning and acquiring a native-like pronunciation will very likely be influenced by your language history.

As you go along, you can always adjust your goal up or down.

2. Figure out coping skills that work for you

fashion show runway - Gamesforlanguage.comOne of the steps in “Spark is called Modelling. There the author talks about a coping model.

It's pretty easy to figure out why Blogs about language learning are so popular. The good ones are written by bilinguals or multilinguals, who share their experiences and can show us how to deal with and overcome difficulties.

Learning a language has its ups and downs, and sometimes we find that we have to cope with discouragement, boredom, and a sense of failure.

We can learn a lot about coping skills from others, especially from language learners who are similar to us. (Jeremy Dean of Spark reminds us that beginner problems are different from expert problems.)

Here are a few typical struggles/challenges others can help us to cope with:

Fear of speaking in the foreign language

Just think about the times you've avoided situations in which you would need to use your new language. There are excellent coping strategies for that, as we reviewed in How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety.

Forgetting vocabulary

What about the many everyday words in your target language, which you learned and then couldn't remember in a casual conversation? Memory tricks and apps for learning and remembering vocabulary abound.

Frustration with grammar issues

Not to mention German cases and how articles and adjectives change for a case. Or remember how tricky the French subjunctive and conditional verb forms are.

When learning a foreign language, we also need to absorb how it functions, i.e. its grammar.

However, learning grammar is something you do in context, and not by rote memory. I have found this article by Mezzofanti Guild's Donovan Nagel very reassuring: You Don't Need To Study Grammar To Learn A Foreign Language.

Inability to improve our accent

Are there times you get a little nervous and suddenly start speaking with a strong native-language accent? It happens to me.

Having a foreign accent is not a terrible thing, but you'll want to be able to control it to a certain extent, simply because you want to be understood.

3. Figure out ways that keep you going

To keep your momentum, you have to do "Keep Going" sign - Gamesforlanguage.comsomething in the language you're learning. Avoidance or procrastination won't move you forward.

These two tips come up directly in Spark.

1. Think about your last effort to motivate the next one.

In language learning terms, it means for me, for example: When I complete a lesson with few mistakes it encourages me to do the next one even better. 

2. Set up mini-goals with very specific actions.

For example, when I drink my second cup of coffee in the morning, I'll do a part of a lesson; and before I go to sleep, I'll review the last 10 words I learned during the day.

Here are a few more momentum-keeping tricks that have worked for me:

  • When you finish a lesson, tell yourself what your next step will be. Then, when you pick up the next day where you left off, you'll know exactly where to start.
  • Schedule a lesson with a tutor or a session with a language-exchange partner. Just knowing that it will be coming up, raises your level of enthusiasm and engagement. It also might prompt you to prepare a few questions and answers.
  • The bottom line is to “do something.” Maybe you don't feel like doing a full lesson, or you don't have time for one. But if, instead, you can listen to a song, read a short newspaper article, play a quick language game, etc., you've taken another step rather than stopping cold.

And all along, it's worth keeping the following in mind:

  • Becoming fluent in a language gives us a sense of competence, that we're good at something that's challenging.
  • Learning on our own gives us a sense of autonomy.
  • Having a second, or third language connects us to others who have a different take on life. It opens up our world. 

And even if  you can't emulate well-known Polyglots, such as Benny Lewis (Fluent in 3 Months), Gabriel Wyner (Fluent Forever), or Olly Richards, Alex Rawlings, Steve Kaufmann, et al, their perspective and experience will inspire you.

No one can learn a foreign language for you. You have to find your own path to do so. (See our recent post on Lingohut: Finding the Adult-Path to Language Learning.)

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: We purchased the "Spark" e-book, and have no affiliation with it's author or with Psyblog. Several other links above are to a partners' program or an affiliate with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.

 

 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Language Learning Before Traveling Abroad? Maybe! But When & What to Learn?

travel highlights - Gamesforlanguage.comAre you planning to travel abroad this year? Then, should learning the local language be part of your preparation? Language enthusiasts will likely answer with a clear: “Yes, obviously,” and give you a number of reasons. One of our guest writers did so recently in 5 Reasons for Learning a Language Before You Travel.

Maybe you also saw some ads, such as “Learn a Language in 10 Days.” Or perhaps Benny Lewis' “Fluent in 3 Months” convinced you to get started before your next trip.

Yes, learning a new language can be an exciting project. With your new language comes a whole new world to explore - a different way of looking at the world, even a different way of going through daily life.

However, if you are a busy adult with many demands on your time, you also have to decide how much time and effort you can really commit. So, you can probably use a more qualified answer than just “Yes, obviously.”

Types of Travel

Traveling abroad” can cover a variety of situations:Travel agency - Gamesforlanguage.com

  • a weekend trip to a foreign resort;
  • an organized tour with others through one or more foreign countries;
  • staying in, or traveling through a foreign country for several weeks on your own or with a like-minded partner;
  • living abroad for several months (or years)

The first two situations will hardly give you a strong reason to START learning a foreign language. But, they could still give you a good push to BRUSH UP on a language you haven't used for a while.

As we suggest below, for a shorter visit you can focus on specific vocabulary that you could use in almost any social encounter.

On the other hand, the last two situations will certainly provide many opportunities for communicating in the foreign language. Thus, preparing for your trip or stay will very likely include learning and/or practicing the language of the country more extensively.

Language Complexities

easy-medium-hard - Gamesforlanguage.comFor English speakers, some languages are easier to learn than others. Language Testing International's chart for How long Does it Take to Become Proficient? categorizes many of the European languages as Group I languages.

(Group IV languages, which include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. are thought to take at least twice as much time to learn as Group I languages.)

For that reason, you'll have to calibrate your preparation time to the complexity of the language and the time you can commit on a daily and weekly basis.

The two of us don't speak any of the Group IV languages. But before we traveled to China and Japan, we learned some specific vocabulary that proved quite useful.

Language Learning Hang-ups

Some of us remember our school experience and associate learning a foreign language with “boring,” “irrelevant,” and “embarrassing.”early class - Gamesforlanguage.com

For example, in school, we had to memorize lists of strange-sounding words and learn sentences we would never use; we had to figure out abstract grammar rules and we had to drill paradigms (je vais, tu vas, il va, nous allons, etc.); we had to speak up “foreign” in front of our classmates; we got graded on our pronunciation and spelling; once the classes were over, everything faded.

Instead, learning a language can be a fresh and fun experience. It should stretch our mind and engage our whole person. One way to do this is to tie language learning to the enjoyment of planning and anticipating a trip.

Language “Recoveries”

Recoveries - Gamesforlanguage.comA trip may also be a wonderful opportunity to “recover” a dormant language.

It could be a language you heard as a child or studied in school, but never had the experience to hear spoken in its native environment. (see also: 2 Strategies for Relearning a Dormant Language)

Rather than “learning” per se, you could just start LISTENING to foreign radio stations, podcasts, and watch videos or movies in your target language.

You may be amazed how much you understand, how much is “still there.” And don't worry about speaking. This will come later.

Our Own Experience

Some years ago (before we started Gamesforlanguage), we decided to spend five months in Rome, Italy. While both of us, in addition to our native German, speak English and French quite fluently, we did not speak any Italian.Colosseum, Rome - Gamesforlanguage.com

About six months before our departure, we began learning Italian with Pimsleur CDs and completed all three Italian courses (90 lessons).

It was a humbling experience - as we described in one of our 2011 posts - and one of the main reasons we started our own language learning site!

But it was the preparation before our stay that gave us also the foundation and the desire to really get into Italian once we were there. The progress we made with our tutor in Rome would not have been possible if we hadn't started to learn Italian before our trip.

Our Rome adventure also taught us a few lessons for our travels to countries with languages we don't speak, namely China and Japan (as well as Sweden and Norway.)

What Can or Should you Learn?

It's obvious: the more time you plan to spend in a foreign country on your own, the more intensive your preparation should be.

Today, you no longer have to rely just on language classes, books, or CDs. You can learn with online courses and apps (free or fee-based), improve your reading with browser translation extensions, and practice your speaking on language-exchange sites or with online tutors such as italki.

And even if you only spend a few days in the foreign country and don't have the time or interest to really learn the language, we have found that these three (3) word/phrase categories are extremely helpful and should be in your arsenal:

  1. Communication essentials such as Yes/No, Please, Thank you, You're welcome, Excuse me, Hello, Good-bye, etc.
  2. Numbers
  3. Time phrases (minutes, hours, times of day, days of the week)

numbers - Gamesforlanguage.comEvery foreign guidebook has a phrase section, which includes the above three categories, as well as others such as Emergency, Shopping, Sightseeing, Food/ Menu, etc. (On our site and in the languages we cover, you'll find many free “Quick Language Games” with which to practice aloud or free Podcasts to train your ear. For either of these, you don't even have to register!)

Before traveling to China and Japan, we only learned Chinese and Japanese basic phrases and numbers. Knowing the numbers 1-20 turned out to be surprisingly helpful.

Language Learning Before Traveling Abroad?

It's no secret, travel can be a terrific motivator for learning or re-learning a dormant language. Once you're realistic about your own time constraints, there's still much you can accomplish.

For short travels to any country, we recommend learning at least the vocabulary of the three categories above.

For longer stays abroad, you can be more ambitious. You should take advantage of the many opportunities that your town or access to the internet can give you.

These may range from language classes in your local school or community center, to apps, and free or subscription-based online courses or language communities.

Learning a foreign language when not living in a country where it's spoken, is a long-term project. Visits to that country can definitely boost your enthusiasm as well as level up your fluency.

You are in charge of your learning progress. Nobody can learn a language FOR you.

Disclosure: Only the italki link above is to a partner site with revenue-sharing.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Sure Ways to Escape the Language Learning Rut

Rut in Grass - Gamesforlanguage.comYou've been learning a new foreign language for some time now. But are you making any progress? Does it feel like you're treading water? Or even worse, do you feel like you're in a rut?

This can happen even when you've got a good, daily routine. Or, ironically, it may be your daily routine that's getting you down and taking the spark out of your language quest.

So, how to get back that feeling of excitement, and with it, a real sense of progress?

The short and simple answer is that you have to add some new things to your language learning arsenal.

Notice, that I said “add.” Don't give up your learning habit! Learning a language takes time and effort. It's a long-term journey, and on a road that has many twists and turns. Many little steps one after the other - yes, regular practice is what builds character and sustains your progress.

But a routine, even the best one, can get stale and unexciting. What kinds of new things, then, will get you out of your rut?

DEVELOP A NEW MINDSETnew mindset - Gamesforlanguage.com

As a starter, take a step back and look at why you're learning your chosen language. Maybe your original reasons no longer motivate you. Perhaps negative thoughts and feelings about your goals have crept in.

One way to clear your mind about this is to grab a sharp pencil and a fresh sheet of paper. List your reasons. If they are still all valid, take a look at your initial goals.

Maybe you now realize that fluency will take longer than you thought, or that watching an original foreign movie is still beyond you.

Yes, you could recalibrate your goal(s). Or even better, you could follow the advice of Dilbert's creator, Scott Adam. In his Blog Goals vs. Systems, (based on his book) he says not to worry about any goals. For you, that would mean creating a “system” by doing some enjoyable language learning activities every day, rather than pursuing an elusive goal.

Actively finding new occasions for learning your target language will add excitement to your routine. They'll also boost your confidence big time.

If you like games, you could chose language games like our Quick Games. If you're more advanced, find video games in your target language. (That's how our Spanish writer described learning English in his post ESL Learning Through Gaming.)

For some of you, it's a wacky app or online program like Frantastique (French) or Gymglish (English), with daily lessons in your inbox. (Note: both sites are partners of ours.)

For others, listening to a podcast or radio station on the commute to and from work may be your ticket, or getting an app or extension like Lingua.ly to help your read articles in your target language online.

Joining a local language exchange group or scheduling online lessons with italki, or other sites, can also give your motivation a huge boost..

In short, by creating new opportunities and new contacts with other language learners and teachers, you're sure to develop a new and more positive mindset.

Cognition vs Emotion signs - Gamesforlanguage.comDO THE OPPOSITE

Have a good look at how you're learning. Whatever it is you're doing now, try something quite different, and add that. Make sure that it's fun.

For example, if you're doing everything online, take a book and read out loud for 10 minutes every day. Just read, don't look up anything. Pretend you're a native speaker and put as much drama into your reading as you can.

Or, if you mostly learn by talking with someone, online and/or off, start a daily journal and have someone correct it for you. A good place for that is Lang-8.

Let's say your routine is to learn by going through a grammar book or a grammar-based online course and doing the exercises that follow each lesson. The opposite would be to find a tv series (a soap or detective episodes) that you can watch daily on your computer. Again, just listen, don't worry if there are things you don't understand.

You get the idea: make whatever you add to your learning routine totally different from what you're used to. The more challenging, the better. But make sure it's something you enjoy.

GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONEcomfort zone sign - Gamesforlanguage.com

Doubtless, for many language learners, the most comfortable activity is to read an easy book, or listen to an easy podcast in their target language.

There's nothing wrong with that, and "comfortable" language-learning tasks should definitely be part of your routine.

But, to add some spark to your language learning, you should add some things that are clearly out of your comfort zone.

Try making a video in which you introduce yourself to an online group in your target language. Another idea: try holding a short talk on video, or in a local language-exchange group meeting.

For most language learners moving from “passive” activities such as reading and listening, to the active writing and speaking tasks are big steps.

Most online courses make you practice reading, listening, and writing. But having a conversation with another person gets many learners out of their comfort zone.

There's no way around that: if you want to become fluent in your target language, you have to find opportunities for conversations.

If you can't find a language group that regularly meets at a neighborhood bistro or café, if you don't have friends with whom to speak and practice, or don't attend a live class, etc. - you can still go and explore the many opportunities that the internet has opened up.

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 Frantastique, italki and Gymglish are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe.

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