2017 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?
Surveys show that “keeping up the motivation” and “not enough time” are the 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.
What 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 get 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!
Determining 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 where 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
If 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 500 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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Maybe 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'sBlue Latitudes - Boldly going where Captain 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
Yes, 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.
Some of us remember our school experience. As a teenager, learning 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
Have 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.
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.)
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 Facebook, Twitterand 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.
On 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 2015in 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.”
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.
One 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 learning 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.
For example, Jimmy Mello, who runs a language school in Brazil, LISTENS toLe Petit Princeby 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.
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: 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 afluency plateauand 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, Twitterand Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
It 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.)
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 learningwhere he talks about how he learned 10 languages after the age of 21.He claims that adults are better language learners than children.
Or 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.
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
No 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 Facebook, Twitter 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.
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 are 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
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
One 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:
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.
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” something 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.
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 Facebook, Twitter 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.
Are 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:
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.
For 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.”
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.
A trip may also be a wonderful opportunity to “recover” 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.
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:
Communication essentials such as Yes/No, Please, Thank you, You're welcome, Excuse me, Hello, Good-bye, etc.
Time phrases (minutes, hours, times of day, days of the week)
Every 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.
You'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 MINDSET
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.
DO 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 ZONE
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 Facebook, Twitterand 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.
Do you ever wonder why learning a language using someone else’s ideas doesn’t seem to work as well as you hoped?
There are many reasons for this and some answers to this problem too. Here are a few thoughts on the matter of language acquisition from personal experience.
Language Learning Problems
Easier for Some?
Learning a new language is challenging for most adults.
A few gifted individuals find it quite easy. They have a different level of neuroplasticity, or brain agility, that allows them to make new neural pathways more quickly than the rest of us.
For most of us, it takes time and some effort. It may be difficult to stay motivated when we don’t see success coming right away.
Different Ways for Different People
You are an individual learner and have your own unique set of experiences and ways of thinking, communicating and understanding.
Someone else’s approach, while aiming to be effective for the broadest group, may not exactly fit how you learn.
Some people need more logical and sequential learning with lots of grammar and explanation of word meaning and history. Others learn more quickly by listening and speaking first.
Find out what works for you.
Fear of Making Mistakes
Risk taking is part of learning a language and fear of making mistakes holds some folks back.
Not wanting to sound foolish or uneducated is a laudable characteristic in most cases.
But when learning a language, it is a hurdle that must be overcome.
Only a few can begin learning a language and not make mistakes of tense, gender, or sound-alike words.
3 Tips That Work for Me
1. Be Eclectic!
Explore as many methods and online sites with free introductory offers as you can find.
These include Babbel, LinguaVille, Lingualia, Fluencia, Frantastique to just name a few that I am familiar with. They'll give you an understanding of basics to begin with.
And before you even buy or subscribe to any premium content, you'll have found out whether the method works for you,
Of course, there are also sites such as Duolingo, Gamesforlanguage, Lingohut, Digital Dialects, and others that are completely free beyond just the introductory level!
Whether you select a free or fee-based language learning site after some try-outs and testing: Choose a method that engages and motivates you to get into a learning habit.
Remember: the "best" program is useless, if it bores you and you give up!
2. Choose Some Add-ons!
After you've settled in with an online learning program, you may be looking for some other ingredients to spice up your learning and understanding. For some, basic grammar books and dictionaries are essential, but at the start, can be intimidating for others.
Some like vocabulary apps such as Memrise, Anki, Mindsnacks, or Drops.
You can Google your language, individual words, or use a translator program to help you. Use all the aids you can to supplement your learning.
3. Develop your own practice method!
It does not have to be as extreme as in this cartoon, but here are a few ideas that I used:
Maybe writing vocabulary words on stickies and placing them around the house helps.
Make lists of words that you can carry with you and review from time to time whether in written or just in audio form.
Do lots of listening to your new language, even when you don’t understand it. Your brain needs to get used to hearing the sounds.
Say phrases, words aloud to yourself if you don’t have someone to practice with. Reading, writing and speaking are done with different parts of the brain but they usually support each other.
Students fully immersed in a new language, especially when living in the country where the language is spoken, usually take 3 to 6 months to become somewhat fluent.
Learning from a method course will take longer because it is not immersion in the language and culture.
And remember that learning a new language has other benefits: It improves your brain and can help you with other kinds of learning and thinking.
Bio:Barry is a retired FSL and Middle School teacher who lives in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. He loves traveling and learning languages; he currently uses GamesforLanguage for his Spanish practice when he is not traveling around Yucatan and other Spanish-speaking countries.
If you’re a language lover like me, you’ll most likely find that almost any excuse is good enough to start learning a new language, or relearning one you put aside.
Travelling to a foreign country is perhaps one of the best of those reasons. Indeed, wherever you plan on visiting, being able to speak the local language, even if not fluently, can bring along a number of great benefits. That is, of course, apart from the fact that you’ll be able to speak a foreign language in itself.
Being a translator and a travel enthusiast, I often come across situations in which the ability to speak a foreign language is greatly advantageous.
Picking up new lingo before you travel really doesn’t need to be too demanding. Personally, I only take about 45 minutes to an hour a day for 2-3 weeks before visiting a foreign country.
Sure, I am not able to speak the language fluently. Nevertheless, the bits and pieces I pick up are usually sufficient to work in my favor!
Here are my top 5 reasons to learn a new language before you travel.
1. MEET NEW PEOPLE
Many people whose first language is English, tend to forget that not everyone else in the world is also fluent in English.
I'm a native English speaker myself and provide English translation services professionally. I’ve noticed that the ability to speak a language of a country I am visiting allows me to meet more people and be able to talk with them more easily.
Even if you don’t speak the language fluently, your efforts will be appreciated by the locals. As a result, they’ll be more approachable in general.
My travels to Thailand are a great example of this. I am only able to put together a few phrases in Thai. But it seemed enough to work to my advantage! I could easily find my way around hectic streets of Bangkok and negotiate discounts which otherwise are not available to tourists!
2. Test your language
Each of us prefers to approach language learning from a different angle. Some like reading books, while others like video tutorials or going to group classes. There are lots of different ways you can learn a language.
Before I started translating for Language Reach however, I learnt that there is one certain way which will test your language skills completely – and that’s talking to a native speaker.
Discreet things which we may not even consider when learning a language, such as different accents of people, can influence our ability to communicate.
Visiting a foreign country is the perfect opportunity which will allow you to take your language skills for a test run in ‘the real world’. (Do you know what this eye-chart above suggests - in German?)
Whether you like it or not, emergencies and other unforeseen situations can happen even when you’re exploring a foreign country (or perhaps - especially then).
Therefore, whether it’s informing a hospital about your allergies or medications, explaining something to the police officer or asking for directions when you’re lost - knowing how to communicate in the country’s language can be crucial.
Often when trying to explore and see as much as possible, I find myself in such situations. Especially during my escapades in Asia, my ability to communicate - be it every so slightly - allowed me to safely find my way back or to avoid foods and spices to which I am allergic!
4. Explore More
Surely, it’s possible to see and explore a country without speaking the language. You simply follow the well-known tourist routes with other tourists alongside you – perhaps, all taking the same picture in the exact same pose.
Nonetheless, knowing the language during your travels will allow you to explore a country in much more depth. You'll find and discover places perhaps only known by the locals. Remember, not everyone speaks English!
A few months ago, during my visit to Krakow, Poland, I was able to talk with a local shop owner who advised me to visit a restaurant with live jazz music located just outside the city centre.
Imagine how shocked I was to find that such a lovely place wasn’t to be found in any of the books or blogs I ever read about Krakow! Indeed, it seemed that I was the only tourist there.
5. Understand The Culture
Charlemagne once said that ‘to speak another language is to possess another soul.’ Can any other statement be more accurate, especially as you travel to unknown, foreign countries?
By being able to understand the language – how polite and casual forms of address differ, how people express their emotions, etc. - you'll understand the country’s culture much better.
Learning a language before travelling will also allow you to speak directly with locals who may not speak any English. You'll understand their way of life and customs in much more depth.
In short, being able to speak the language of a country you’re visiting can be a great asset. From understanding menus in restaurants and finding your way around the city, to learning about the culture, and meeting new, exciting people – the list just goes on.
Even if a particular language isn’t on your ‘to learn’ list, it's been my experience that just a few simple phrases can make a great difference. And, perhaps the country you’re planning to visit will fascinate you to such an extent that learning its language will be the next, natural step!
Bio: Hidaya Warsame is a translator and an account manager for Language Reach. She loves languages as much as traveling and spends any free moment she finds mastering her lingo.
2015 has been a fun and adventurous year for GamesforLanguage. We have also realized that many learners use other programs and apps to drill conjugations and grammar rules. They come to us, though, for practicing their language with games and a travel story (and a mystery story for German 2!).
We've seen an increased stream of steady "players" who've made it a habit to engage with French, German, Italian, or Spanish frequently - to keep their brains buzzing.
Learning a language as an adult is a challenge. But it's one that can give a lot of pleasure and can reap all kinds of extra benefits: when traveling abroad, applying for a job, or finding a new partner.
A key to playing effectively at GamesforLanguage is saying everything ALOUD. When you actually SAY words and expressions - rather than just reading them - you are practicing a physical skill. You make specific movements with the muscles of your jaw, and with your tongue and lips. These mouth mechanics (the topic of one of our most read of 2012 posts) produce the sounds that are part of the foreign language you're learning.
Our Blog posts cover language learning, travel and cultural topics.
Not a surprise: Our 12 most popular posts in 2015 are related to language learning. (Click on the blue titles to read.)
Yes, immersion is the fastest way to learn a language. But who can just pack up to live (and work) in another country? The rest of us have to be more patient and build foreign language confidence step by step, as we make a foreign language part of our life. Get some tips and practical advice here.
Duolingo (free) and Babbel (fee based) are two popular programs for language learners. We've used both for Dutch, Swedish, and Spanish. Both programs are online and have apps, and both use gamification features. But what are the differences? Here's what we have found.
One of the most interesting talks at the 2015 Polyglot Conference in New York was by Taghreed Al-Saraj, whose topic was "The Anxious Language Learner - A Saudi Woman's Story." She got us thinking about ways anyone can overcome the fear of speaking up in a foreign language.
False language friends (or false cognates) can be a source for awkward misunderstandings. But they sure are fun to discover. English and German, for example, share many words that have different meanings. The English word "gift" exists in German, but - oops - it means "poison" in German (das Gift). Going to Germany? Be prepared!
5. Two (2) Strategies for Relearning a Dormant Language
Recent brain imaging studies have shown that a second language - even when you seem to have forgotten it - retains a presence in your brain. However, you may want to use different strategies for relearning a language, depending on whether you learned it as a child or as an adult.
Another talk at the 2015 Polyglot Conference in New York we really liked was Michael Erard's "A New Metaphor for Language Learning."We had never before considered why the way we think about language learning is so important. So, how can "weaving a language rope" give you some insights?
Kids learn a language fast and painlessly (we think) - and we envy them for that ability. But why is learning a language harder for adults than for children? And how can we as adults overcome those hurdles?
When traveling to a foreign country, knowing the numbers is a huge asset. You'll use them for shopping at a market, for addresses and telephone numbers, for making appointments. For practice, we've added links to a couple of fun games. (We also have blog posts and games for numbers in French, Italian, and Spanish.)
If you want to improve your French pronunciation, you'll probably need to practice some of the difficult sounds aloud. We've got some tips and games to get you started with the French "r", "u", and "nasal vowels."
(In Frantastique, our partner's French course, you'll hear many different French voices and accents, which will make you aware of the great variation of sounds within the French language. Try it FREE for a week, or longer, if you contact us.)
Adults as well as children learn well with games. Though it's unlikely that you'll become fluent just by playing a few language games, you can certainly use games to build basic speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. Besides, if it's fun, you'll stay motivated.
We've come to enjoy writing blog posts on a weekly basis. We now have over 250 blog posts about language learning, travel, and culture. As a result, our readership has increased dramatically.
If our topics of language learning, travel, and culture interest you, you can subscribe to our posts HERE.
Happy New Year and why not make learning a new language one of your 2016 goals!