Recently I started an online Swedish course and was surprised by how difficult the first few lessons were for me, although there were only 7 or 8 new words/expressions in each lesson. Swedish is a Germanic language – and I speak Dutch and German fluently – but it is really quite different from the Romance languages that I speak. As readers may recall from an earlier blog: my husband and I had used our Spanish 1 course in preparation for our stay in Spain last year. But even though Spanish was a new language for both of us, its similarity to French and Italian (languages we know) did not make us real “beginners.”
Based on the feedback from many buyers and users who tried our free demo lessons and promotions (in May: FREE 6-day trial for complete 36-lessons courses of all four languages), we had concluded that our first few lessons were too easy. Maybe some players had come to this conclusion because our games made the beginning lessons indeed seem easy. “I was learning, but it didn't feel like learning” was an early, typical comment.
Expanding Lesson 1
We therefore began expanding the first lesson ("Scene") of our German 1 and our Spanish 1 program, which initially consisted of three foreign dialog lines with about 16 new words. The additional six dialog lines, however, stopped many beginners from progressing to the second Scene. Did they feel that learning a new language was too steep a cliff to climb? We decided to wait for more feedback before expanding the French and Italian scenes.
What makes Gamesforlanguage.com different?
By learning a language (Swedish) that has fewer similarities with languages I already know, I put myself again into a beginner's shoes (for the 5th time, actually). And I experienced first hand the difference between a typical language program and GamesforLanguage:
Rather than teaching and drilling lists of words and short expressions (hello, good-bye, thanks, how are you?, I am fine, thanks, etc., etc.) GamesforLanguage deconstructs, practices, and reconstructs the dialog of a story beginning with Scene 1: Words and expressions, as in the examples above, come up as well, but later and always within the context of "The Story."
Indeed, the learner is immersed in real life, every-day language right from the start. While those with some background in the language will find the program easily accessible, beginners may need a few baby steps to help them get started.
German 1 now starts with “Scene 0”
With German 1, we have therefore added a Scene 0, with simple words and expressions that beginners can practice with our various games (and others, with more language backgrounds can skip). We also are “lightening up” the first few scenes so that players can better ease into “The Story” of our program. We'll be curious to see whether more beginners will “stay the course” in German. If that is the case, we'll then also add a Scene 0 (or even a Level 0) to all courses.
We invite your feedback
We love comments and feedback! So, if you have tried our course or have experience with other language courses, just add your comment below!
In our blog The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1, we describe the key points, approach, and methods of our program. Part 2 describes the various games, the players' activities and how you'll learn with the games.
In the “Memory Game” (left), you'll first see key words and phrases of “The Story.” You then pick a red (English) card and click on the matching foreign word. With this game, you'll acquire new vocabulary for your understanding of “The Story.”
In these games, you'll hear a foreign word (from “The Story”) and then - choosing among 3 similar looking words - click on the word you just heard. Such games (e.g. "Moon Landing," right) train the ear. Your brain is normally tuned to the sounds of your native language. The listening games teach you a new and different correlation between sound and spelling.
In this game, you'll hear and are asked to repeat select phrases of “The Story” before the text appears briefly on the screen. When learning a language, you are challenged to recognize new letter combinations, to pronounce new sounds, and to get the timing of the intonation right. The Say-It games allow you to focus on hearing and reproducing the melody of the foreign language without worrying about meaning. Then, to help you correlate the sound and spelling of a new foreign phrase, it appears briefly before you hear the next one. (This we always felt was missing from audio-only courses!)
Word and Phrase Games
These games, e.g. "Snap Clouds" (left), require you to identify the correct story words in different types of games and settings. By switching between native and foreign translation, you are challenged again and again to produce the right answer. At the same time, you'll assimilate the meaning, spelling, and essential grammar of the foreign words and phrases that you're practicing.
Pronoun, Verb, Number, et al. games
Here, e.g. "Balloon Shoot" (right), you'll learn and practice particular word categories and/or forms. Each language has its own challenge if you want to master pronouns, gender, verb conjugations, noun endings, etc. These games recall vocabulary as well as the special features of each language.
In these games, e.g. "Deal no Deal" (left), you are asked to choose the correct translation of each of the sentences that form a segment of “The Story.” Quick tips explain relevant points of grammar or culture, providing you with further insights into the new language.
Word Order Games
Here, you are asked to build sentences from “The Story” by clicking on individual words in the correct order. An English translation and specific word choices guide this task (see "Word Invaders," right). Once you've selected a correct word, you'll hear it again.These games draw attention to idiomatic expressions and highlight the difference between English and foreign word order.
Considered often the most difficult task in any foreign language (besides speaking), writing here becomes a fun game. In a race against the clock, you'll translate and write out first simple foreign words, then in later levels, short phrases.
In the recall-games, you'll practice the vocabulary and short phrases you learned in an earlier scene. For example, "Word Hero" (right) lets you review the words and phrases of the previous SCENE, while "Recall and Record" has you recall and speak the words, phrases, and sentences from a scene in the previous LEVEL.
Here (not really a game), you'll hear and see all individual sentences from “The Story” and have the chance to easily record each one in your own voice. A playback button allows you to compare your recording to that of the native speaker. You can do this as many times as you wish. This is a great way to improve your pronunciation, and also an excellent way to internalize and memorize individual phrases and sentences.
The table below summarizes how you learn from each Game/Screen screen and Player Activity. In order to keep you, the learner, both engaged and challenged, the sequence and configuration of the games changes throughout the six levels of each course.
How You Learn
Hear language melody
Guess meaning from context
Listen, see foreign phrases w/optional translation “roll/over”
Identify and memorize key words and phrases
Hear, see, and click on key words
Identify correct word, correlate sound and meaning
Hear, see, and click on key words
Imitate sounds, recognize patterns
Hear, repeat, then see key words & phrases
Identify the meaning and basic grammar of the foreign sentence
Hear, see, and click on translation of foreign sentence
Practice vocabulary, sound, and spelling
Identify, click and hear foreign word
Figure out idiomatic construction, word order, and grammar forms
Word Order Games
Identify, click on, and hear foreign word while building foreign dialog sentence
Recall vocabulary, sound, spelling
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
Practice pronouncing the melody of sentences
Listen & record own voice and compare
Translate and spell
Write foreign words/phrases
Figure out grammar forms
Pronoun, Verb, et al. Games
Click on the right grammar form
Recall earlier scene vocabulary
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
We invite any questions about or comments to our program and games!
Self-teaching language programs are available as books, CDs, DVDs, and direct downloads. Some well-known names are Assimil, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Fluenz, Michael Thomas, Busuu, Rocket Languages, and recently Duolingo. While all programs help motivated learners improve their language skills, not all are equally effective for learning to understand, speak, read, and write a foreign language.
The GamesforLanguage learning Program has been designed to teach all four (4) language skills. Games are a way for making language learning more fun. But games - with their special ways to engage your brain - can also make learning more effective, as shown by researchers that study how people learn. For example, see Kathy Sierra’s Crash course in learning theory.
Entertaining digital games have auditory features (spoken language, sounds), visual components (text, colors, images, design), as well as kinesthetic elements (writing against the clock, clicking on moving images, etc). By engaging multiple senses, digital games enhance a learner’s ability to recall and retain new words and expressions. Language learning is about message decoding and communication, and this is not a straightforward process. Learning a language involves trial and error, a certain amount of confusion, but also plenty of insightful “aha!” moments.
Three important points guide our development of the GamesforLanguage Learning Program:
- Adults can learn a second language more rapidly online when they can relate words, phrases and grammatical structures to their native language. In this way their learning experience is quite different from that of children, who are able to acquire their first language without even knowing how to read and write. This notion is supported by observations of other learners and our own experience.
- Learning with the help of a story allows you to identify with situations and circumstances you will encounter yourself. This makes the acquired vocabulary not only immediately relevant and useful, but also helps you to memorize it more easily.
- Learning foreign languages as an adult requires an effort. Playing language games will make this effort fun. Memorizing vocabulary, phrases and sentences, identifying grammar rules and structures all occur "playfully," as you can test and improve your language skills during increasingly more challenging games.
The GamesforLanguage Learning Program may appeal primarily to teenagers and adults. However, we know that children who have just learned to read and write also enjoy the games. Our courses work for beginners without any prior knowledge of the foreign language, as well as for learners with some language background. While beginners will spend more time on each scene, advanced players may be able to move through the scenes more rapidly. Throughout each of the courses, you'll accumulate up to 12,000 points by playing various language games. At the same time you'll acquire a working vocabulary of close to 700 essential words and many idiomatic expressions. At the end of a course, you'll also be able to read and understand the entire travel story, which consists of over 2,000 words.
Each course consists of 6 levels, with 6 lessons (we call them “scenes”) per level for a total of 36 scenes. So far, the most effective approach has been for learners to do one scene per day (which should take around 15 minutes) and to review an earlier scene for extra recall. Each lesson builds on the previous one and adds between 16-20 NEW words to your vocabulary.
Each scene has a dialogue or narrative of 8-16 lines, which we call “The Story.” For the first 3 levels, or 18 scenes, “The Story” appears at the END of each scene. When you get there, you'll have learned the words and phrases in the various games, and understanding “The Story” will now be easy. Beginning with level 4, “The Story” appears at the BEGINNING of each scene, requiring the learner to guess the meaning, based on the (English) introduction and context. This is quite similar to what you would experience when arriving in a foreign country with some language background. (For the impatient player, a roll-over option provides the full translation right away.)
The 36 scenes of a course tell the story of a young man who travels to France, Italy, Spain, or Germany. From talking with his neighbor in the airplane, greeting his aunt who picks him up at the airport, asking for directions to a friend's house, to ordering food and drink, and chatting with friends, the vocabulary is a great start on learning how to communicate. The travel story engages the learner, provides relevant vocabulary, and creates a framework that ties everything together.
Part 2: Games Summary
A next blog will describe the various games we are using in our program. Our games are not just individual learning clips, nor are they simply an enhancement of a conventional language program. The games ARE the language program. We'll add a summary table that shows the specific skills each game teaches.
A recent exhibition of Paul Cézanne "The Large Bathers" at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts reminded us that in Scene 4.5 of our French 1 course our traveler Daniel learns about Paul Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence.
We recently put together a YouTube clip Which famous painter lived in Aix-en-Provence (and first worked as a banker)? And as we did in our previous blog Heidelberg & Mark Twain, we believe that knowing more about the context of “The Story”, not only makes learning more interesting, but also more effective: In Scene 4.5 we are practicing the French past imperfect tense with sentences such as “Le peintre Paul Cézanne allait souvent au Café Clément.”, “Oui, et voici la banque où il travaillait jusqu’en 1862.”, “Paul Cézanne était banquier?”, “Ah d’accord, je ne le savais pas!”, “Paul Cézanne aimait vivre à Aix-en-Provence.”, etc. By remembering the context of these sentences, you will be able to recall verbs and forms more easily, and can then apply them as well in different situations.
Paul Cézanne was Fortunate
There is not much mystery about Cézanne's life as a banker's son who became a famous painter and is seen by many (Wiki) “to form the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism.” And “His father, Louis-Auguste Cézanne (28 July 1798 – 23 October 1886), was the co-founder of a banking firm that prospered throughout the artist's life, affording him financial security that was unavailable to most of his contemporaries and eventually resulting in a large inheritance.”
It is interesting, though, that his path was not a straight line either: As pointed out in this Cézanne's biography, his father initially opposed his artistic career; he started to study law, while also enrolled in the School of Design in Aix. The above link continues further:
In 1861 Cézanne finally convinced his father to allow him to go to Paris. He planned to join Zola there and to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts. But his application was rejected and, although he had gained inspiration from visits to the Louvre, particularly from the study of Diego Velázquez and Caravaggio, Cézanne experienced self-doubt and returned to Aix within the year. He entered his father's banking house but continued to study at the School of Design.
The remainder of the decade was a period of flux and uncertainty for Cézanne. His attempt to work in his father's business was abortive, and he returned to Paris in 1862 and stayed for a year and a half. During this period he met Monet and Pissarro and became acquainted with the revolutionary work of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet.
Learning – Rarely a Straight Line
Cézanne was fortunate to be able to pursue his dream, but it's also clear that his life did not always follow a straight path. Learning a language is also a path of many twists and turns. Relating Cézanne's story to learning French: You may have to try out various approaches before you are successful. As banking or law were not for Cézanne, so the current language method or course you are struggling with may not be the right one for you. Give it your best effort, but if it doesn't work, try out others – or learn with several simultaneously!
If you want to learn to speak a foreign language, is it really important to practice aloud? My experience has been that although the benefits of practicing listening, reading, writing, and speaking overlap, each foreign language skill also needs its own practice.
Last year my husband and I spent a month in Barcelona. We had rented an apartment and found this to be a brilliant opportunity to practice our nascent Spanish in daily situations - such as shopping, banking, getting around the city, or socializing with locals in our neighborhood café.
Practicing Reading aloud
But Spanish wasn't the only language we "practiced aloud." One weekend, our nephew, his wife, and their 4 year old daughter Céline came to visit us. They live in Switzerland and are French-speaking, so for three days we conversed only in French. The first night, I was the lucky one to read a bed-time story to Céline. She wanted to hear Raiponce (Rapunzel, in French) and had brought her own book. When I started, it was immediately apparent that Céline was not tired at all and I found myself reading to her aloud for close to an hour. In between bouts of reading, Céline peppered me with questions why Raiponce did this, or Raiponce did that. French is my 4th language and I'm fairly fluent, but let me tell you, discussing the storyline of a complicated fairy tale with a chatty 4 year old can be challenging.
The next day, I felt the effects of my brief but intense immersion experience. My French brain was working in high gear: I found that words came more easily to me and the sometimes awkward French sounds flowed more smoothly.
Producing Foreign Language sounds
Practicing a new language aloud starts with sounding out individual words and phrases, but also includes repeating - aloud - longer sentences. These might not always sound perfect, but the effort to recreate the music and intonation of a sentence is excellent practice in itself. Producing the sounds of a foreign language is in part a mechanical process that involves position of the tongue, movement of the muscles in the mouth, and guiding your breath. Your mouth is definitely multitasking.
There are many audio courses, YouTube clips, etc. that teach pronunciations and the particular sounds of many languages. We find that imitating practice by recording your own voice and comparing it to the native speaker works best for us, and we have included this feature in all our courses. In addition, we often find that we can remember a sound better when we see the written word. That's why we have also a “Say it” section: You hear a word or phrase, are asked to repeat it, then see it written for a moment before you hear the next one.
Reading and listening are great ways to rapidly improve your understanding of a foreign language, but don't forget, practicing and speaking aloud will get you ready for conversations: they may be with kids about a fairly tale, or with peers about anything at all!
I've been learning Spanish for about eight months now. After a few lessons with Rosetta Stone (see my blog #3) and the initial 6-week boost with our Spanish 1 course, progress now is slow but steady. Learning a new language means building new skills, gradually. During the weeks before election, one or the other candidate spoke or had ads in Spanish, e.g. President Obama in this You Tube clip. I could understand most of these, no problem! I feel that I'm ready to add Social Media to my tools for improving my Spanish further.
30 Minutes a Day
Life is busy, but most days I do manage to squeeze in about 30 minutes of Spanish - 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there. My learning "schedule" is scattered throughout the day. Generally, it consists of:
- Reading a few pages of my Spanish ebook (at the moment, Zafón’s La sombre del viento) );
- Playing a couple of Vocabulary Games with sound;
- Reading Spanish newspaper articles online;
- Watching a Spanish soap for 10-15 minutes in the evening
- Doing a couple of grammar exercises from an old fashioned book with my husband over coffee. We chuckle over some of the weird and useless sentences that come up - such as: ¿Cómo come Juan? (How does Juan eat?) and ¿Dónde beben los animales? (Where do the animals drink?)
Social Media for Learning Spanish
It's easy to add Spanish to your Twitter(left) or Facebook feeds. And, you can read the posts when you have a spare moment or whenever you feel like it. Choices are endless, but they'll all grow your grasp of Spanish and the culture of Spain and Latin American countries. You'll begin to better understand how opinions are formulated, how regional humor is expressed, how discussions are carried on, etc.
12 Social Media Terms in Spanish
So, if you are ready to participate in Spanish on Social Media, here's a start with some basic social media terms:
Compartir - Share
Conectar - Connect
Comentarios - Comments
Enviar - Send
Escribir - Write
Recuérdame - Remember me
Seguir - Follow
Twittear - Tweet
Usuario registrado - Registered user
Lo más visto en ... - The most seen on ...
Lo más debatido ahora - Most talked about now
Lo que hacen tus amigos - What your friends are doing
Once you have mastered some of the basics of a new language, using your Social Media News Feeds is also a great way to foster your motivation. News Feeds let you connect to the topics that interest you and expand your vocabulary in just those areas. Research has shown that learning new words and phrases in context will help you retain and use them more easily.
Vocabulary acquisition is an essential part of language learning. Individual words and phrases are the building blocks of communication, without them, you won't have much to say. How many words you need for basic, effective communication is up for debate. It depends on the language and the kinds of topics you want to talk about. Opinions differ quite a bit. At one end of the spectrum, for example in German, 2000 words can get you started pretty well and provide a good base to build on. Near the other end stand 10,000 words as the native vocabulary mastered by a five year old who is ready to start school. The bottom line is that you gotta build your vocabulary!
First, keep a dictionary handy. It's the most basic tool for any language learner. You'll use it for quickly looking up a new word, for double-checking the meaning or the spelling, or for looking up verb conjugations. You'll also want to see common expressions that use a particular word. For example, Ultralingua offers these features, and, in addition, you can download iPhone or iPad apps. Having a dictionary on your mobile is really convenient when you're traveling. Such apps contain much more information than the mini-dictionaries I used to travel with.
Here are FOUR more tools for building your vocabulary:
Flashcards are a great way to create a base of words and phrases, and you can keep using them to continue building your vocabulary. Resources abound and they come in all kinds of configurations: Words + Translation; Picture + Written Word; Picture + Written Word + Sound, etc. Some of the programs incorporate spaced repetition, some allow you to add your own vocabulary. A popular flashcard program, to name one, is Anki.
Language Exercises & Games
Good language exercises and fun games can take vocabulary to the next level. Besides learning new vocabulary, you can practice verb tenses and conjugations, drill subject and object pronouns, learn to build sentences, etc. Besides our own program GamesForLanguage, Mindsnacks is definitely a fun program to try.
Reading with Translation
Once you have a grasp of basic vocabulary and grammar, reading has to be the best way to keep on building vocabulary. When you read a longer text, the same words and phrases will often come up several times. Depending on your venue, you can get a translation with a click, or by checking a printed translation. With time, you'll get better at guessing the meaning from the context. A versatile program like LingQ provides a library of texts and tools for learning. You can also read foreign language newspapers online and use Google Chrome's Language Immersion feature.
Listening: Podcasts, Audio Books, and Videos
Understanding a stream of foreign words may be the hardest skill to learn (besides becoming fluent in speaking). The trick is to listen to the same audio many times. Your goal is to hear the words and phrases distinctly, and not as a stream of gibberish. Listening to foreign language audios, you'll keep hearing words you know and start to put them into your long-term menory. But you'll also hear new words that you are able to understand because of context. Here's list of language learning podcasts.
Some idioms with "beißen"
Some Idioms with "blau"
When starting a new language, one of the hardest things to learn is to understand a native speaker. It's definitely much easier to read a foreign language than to understand a stream of it when it’s spoken quickly. When I started learning Italian, TV programs sounded like gibberish. But now, I’m pretty good at understanding Italian speakers and Italian TV and films. Just as with building any skill, it helped me to break down the learning process. You can do it in these three steps.
1. Listen repeatedly to a short audio or video
Listen to a short audio of which you understand or can guess about 50%. Listen to this same audio segment several times in the next several days.This will make your brain familiar with the "music” of the language, its melody and rhythm. Pay attention to where stress goes on words and which words are stressed in a sentence. You’ll quickly learn to distinguish individual types of sentences (statements, questions, negative responses, short emphatic answers, etc.). You'll be surprised how repetition increases your understanding of what is being said.Also, from day to day, your brain continues to processing the sounds that you are learning. After some time, you may find that you'll be able to identify individual words within the stream of sounds that is whooshing by. That's a huge step and a very exciting one.
To get the idea, here are the MP3 audios of Scene 2 from our four languages, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. Pick a language that you understand somewhat. Then listen to the corresponding scene in a language you don’t know at all. It’ll give you a taste of audio learning.
2. Watch or listen to an ongoing story
Watch a TV series in your new language. Or, if one in your language is not available, look for an un-dubbed film that you can watch in short increments. The ongoing story will provide you with related vocabulary and lots of repetition. The context of the story itself will offer plenty of clues so that you can guess the meaning of what is going on.
3. Learn by immersion with a variety of materials
Now you’re ready to tackle all kinds of different audio and video material in your new language. TV programs in the language you’re learning, films, news audios and videos, a radio station. learning, etc. Increasingly, context clues will help. A great way to get into immersion is a site like yabla.com. Also a good post to check out is Learn a Language by Listening to the Radio. Also, in an earlier blog, I list 10 essential grammar items to become familiar with. They’ll help you get a good start with immersion learning.
Language learning is not a linear process
You may want to go back to any of the previous steps from time to time. Learning to understand a new language is not a linear process, it's more like a fun zig-zag, filled with new discoveries all the time. Of course, if you can interact with native speakers, you'll want to do that right from the start. They'll make your language learning personal, add direct experience of the language, and give your valuable feedback.
Have fun! And yes, these “language exercises” for your brain have all kinds of good benefits. And as said by Rita Mae Brown: "Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going."
- Context learning
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- Training the Ear
- Is Gamesforlanguage.com Too Steep a Climb For Beginners?
- QUICK TIP German: "holen" vs "abholen"
- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 2: Games Summary
- Zorro: 1 (big) Thing to Learn Spanish
- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1: Approach & Methods
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