Arriving at one of the world's great cities is always a thrill. If, in addition, you've made the effort to learn the local language, you'll have added another dimension to your experience. And while you're exploring the city, you can continue to engage with its language. Here are 4 easy ways to keep on learning. I tried them out while recently visiting Oslo, Norway's capital. (Oslo's stunning new opera, above)
1. DECODING SIGNS WHILE EXPLORING ON FOOT
Oslo's Karl Johans gate (right) is a pedestrian way that sweeps through the city from Sentralstasjon (central station) to Slottet (the royal palace). It is lined by cafés, shops, office buildings, and is always bustling with activity. As you stroll along this street, you meet a constant stream of visual language: signs on buildings and apartments; signs regulating car and bicycle traffic; advertising signs in stores, etc. Some of these are translated into English, but many are not. It's fun to guess the meaning of these signs, and armed with a small dictionary, you can decipher many of them. Since many words and phrases pop up in various locations, you'll start to recognize and learn them.
For Norwegian, knowing another Germanic language (such as English, Dutch, or German) is helpful. An ad on a tram (left) reads: "ring billig til utlandet": "ring" (American: call); "billig" (same word in German: cheap), "til" (to/until); "utlandet" (close to German "Ausland" or Dutch "buitenland," meaning "abroad.") Sometimes though, you have to chuckle at the shift in meaning. For example, a sign at an Oslo Parking garage (right) reads "LEDIG" (Vacant); the German word "ledig" means "unmarried." Or, you have to be beware of out-and-out false friends: Norwegian "barn" means "children" in English.
2. LISTENING TO ANNOUNCEMENTS ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Oslo has an excellent network of buses, trams, subways (T-bane), ferries, and local trains that take you to practically any point in the city and to many towns in the surrounding county Akershus. A 7-day all-inclusive pass helped us round out our sightseeing. Just for a start, we took the T-bane to the Holmenkollen hopp (ski jump); the tram to Vigelandsparken, an amazing open-air sculpture park (see a sculpture by Gustav Vigeland, left); and the ferry to Nesoddtangen (a village 4 miles south of Oslo).
Stops on trams, buses, subways, and trains are shown visually, but they are also announced aloud in Norwegian. For me, this was a fun way to learn the correlation between spelling and pronunciation. Norwegian has many silent letters, plus a few letter combinations that are totally unpredictable for a native English speaker. Listening to the names of stops, as well as to lengthier general announcements is a good way to get the music of the language into your ear. Moreover, everything is spoken in Norwegian first, and then in English, allowing you to double-check that you've really understood the meaning.
3. READING DUAL-LANGUAGE TEXTS IN MUSEUMS
Oslo offers a host of interesting museums, some housed in spectacular buildings, others tucked away in formerly private apartments. Each exhibit provides well-constructed, colorful background stories - in Norwegian and English. As you read about the artists, the individual works of art, the history of the city, etc., you can have a language lesson to boot.
From dual-language plaques, we learned about Munch's lengthy stays in Berlin and Paris and his bohemian life there (Munch Museum); we read that Ibsen had lived abroad for 27 years and the reasons why he did his best writing outside of the country (Ibsen Museum); we discovered that, when in 1905, the Danish Prince Carl and his British wife became King Haakon VII and Queen Maude of Norway (Hollenkollen Museum), they and their children became avid skiers (see the royal family, right, and read our recent blog Language Politics).
4. SPEAKING THE LOCAL LANGUAGE
Last but not least, it was fun to try out our practical, phrase-based Norwegian. We are far from fluent, but every time we made a purchase, ordered food or drinks, bought tickets, or asked for directions, we practiced the language we had so far acquired. Waiters in cafés or restaurant were usually multilingual and when our Norwegian didn't suffice, they joined us in language-switching back and forth between Norwegian, English, German, and sometimes Spanish and Italian.
When you think about it, a city offers a lot of free and fun resources for language learning. You just have to become aware of them and use them as they come up. Keeping a 3"x5" spiral notebook with you to write down any new words or phrases you see or hear, will help you remember and learn.
More and more online language learning sites are adding games or game-like features to their course repertoire. And that is for good reason: Making language learning more entertaining can also produce better results. All four language skills – listening/comprehension, reading, speaking, and writing - can well be practiced with interactive games or lessons/exercises that have game-like features.
Some baby boomers and older learners may not (yet) be as used to learning with games as generation X, Y, Z, but it seems inevitable that the trend of learning with games will continue.
Clearly, Gamesforlanguage.com was created with the idea that learning a language with games can be fun and effective. But we have also learned that players should observe a few “rules” or practices to get the most out of our games. Here are our five (5) tips which are based on our own experience and on comments from our users. We have also incorporated them into our list of suggestions: “How to play and learn?”
1. Be mindful and pay attention to the spelling
When new foreign words first come up, take a moment to study them and memorize their typeface/appearance, especially when special foreign letters, accents, umlauts, etc. are involved. You'll have to recall the specifics later when you have to write them.
2. Limit the new vocabulary you learn daily to 15-20 words
It's easy to be carried away by easy games and just move on to the next set of new words. However, our brain is only able to handle so many words or expressions a day and move them from short-term to long-term memory. The number of new words one can learn a day may vary, but we suggest a range of 15-20.
3. Repeat the native speaker's word's and phrases whenever you can
Learning to speak a new foreign language requires pronouncing the foreign words. This may feel awkward and strange at the beginning, but you have to do it as often as you can. Most online language programs have recording features and you are asked to emulate the native speaker (see also 5. below). But don't even wait until you can record. Take every opportunity to repeat a foreign word, phrase or sentence, right from the start.
4. Play some games every day
Especially at the beginning it's important that you get into a learning habit. Set a time that fits best into your schedule. Just 15-20 minutes for 5 or 6 days in a row will be better than an hour or two once a week! The daily practice will have you soon naming objects and activities in your new language. This way you are sure to move the new vocabulary into your long-term memory.
5. record your voice and compare yourself to the native speaker
We have not been able (yet) to make recording your voice into a real game. Some language courses are using voice recognition and voiceprint spectrograms to compare your voice to the native speaker's voice. This may be fun to watch, but can also be frustrating, especially at the beginning. However, you can make your own game out of imitating the native speaker by acting the part with gusto. And you should really focus on listening and hearing the difference between your pronunciation and that of the native speaker. That is a sure way to improve.
Games for learning languages are evolving. There are many gaming features that can make them more challenging and exciting. Not all of them are make learning more effective, but more research will be needed to understand what the trade-offs are.
There are many different ways of learning a foreign language and each person has to find the one which suits him or her best. Using a personal tutor is a great way to getting a running start or accelerating your learning. If you have never considered this method, then here are 5 of the top benefits to think about.
Get Personalized Attention
One of the most obvious benefits of getting a personal tutor is that you get all of his/her attention all of the time. This is hugely important in any subject, but especially when it comes to languages. By dealing with your teacher on a one-on-one basis, you can increase your vocabulary and confidence very quickly. The amount of time you spend speaking is a vital part in the learning process and a group situation simply won’t give you the same number of opportunities to practice speaking.
Go At Your Own Pace
We all learn at different speeds. When you are in a big classroom, you run the risk of either falling behind the rest of the students or being frustrated at the speed they force you to go at. By using the personal tutoring approach, you can be sure that the pace of the teaching you receive is exactly right for you.
Concentrate on Your Weaknesses
No one learns a new language in exactly the same way as anyone else. We all have certain words or grammatical rules which seem to take longer to sink in. A personal tutor, however, can help you overcome your weaknesses by providing you the explanations and tips you need. As your tutor will be talking to you on a regular basis he/she will understand which areas you most need to work on in order to improve.
Focus on Your Needs
Another point to bear in mind when deciding how you are going to learn a foreign tongue is that we all have various reasons for learning and therefore not the same needs. You might be planning on moving abroad, need to learn a language for business reasons, or just be looking for an interesting new hobby. Each one of these reasons will lead to different learning needs, and a personal tutor can help you focus on those needs from the start and help you learn exactly what you want.
Find the Perfect Tutor
If you are going to get the most from your personal language tutoring then you will need a great tutor. The good news in this respect is that a reputable firm such as Language Trainers will give you access to a range of qualified native speaking teachers. This means that you can find the perfect tutor and learn in the best way possible.
About the Guest Author: Ivana Vitali represents Language Trainers. Language Trainers provides individually-tailored language training on a one-on-one or small group basis to busy people who need language skills for business, family and travel needs.
In English, you don't need to worry about noun gender. But in languages such as German, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. you do.
The Non-logic of it All
There seems to be little logic about the gender of nouns. Take the word for "sun," for example. In German, it's "die Sonne" (feminine), in French, it's masculine: "le soleil," and in Dutch, it's "de zon," a word of common gender, which is a masculine/feminine category. On the other hand, "house" is neuter in both German and Dutch: "das Haus" and "het huis," but feminine in French: "la maison."
So, how can you learn the articles for all these nouns? Well, you can't get around doing it. But here are three ways you can make this task a little easier and stick better.
1. Auditory Memory
A language is a series of sounds. Even if you're just reading or writing, you're often silently "sounding out" the words in your mind. Sound is a powerful tool for memorization. Don't memorize "Haus is neuter." Repeat "das Haus" a few times, focussing on the sounds that go together, in this case, "-s with Haus." Later, when you're trying to remember the gender of "Haus," - the feminine or masculine articles will just not sound right with this word.
2. Visual Memory
Unless you only want to hear and speak a language, you'll spend plenty of time reading and writing it. These are excellent ways to get words, phrases, and structures into your visual memory. Don't just memorize "soleil is masculine." When you write out "le soleil" a few times and remember the “e” in both the “le” and “soleil”, the feminine article will simply not look right with "soleil."
3. General Rules and Exceptions
There are no iron-clad rules about the gender of nouns. But there are general rules you certainly should add to your tools and each language has a few that can supplement your auditory and visual memory. (Following are just a couple of examples, it's by no means an exhaustive list.)
In French, nouns ending in "-e" are feminine, barring a few notable exceptions, such as "le problème."
In Spanish and Italian, nouns ending with “o” are generally masculine, those ending with “a” mostly feminine (with "el problema" [Spanish] and "il problema" [Italian] again one of several exceptions.)
In German, words ending in "-e" are mostly feminine; words that have the diminutive ending "-chen" or "-lein" are always neuter. For example, die Küche (kitchen), die Straße (street); and "das Mädchen" (girl), "das Sträßlein" (little street).
Learn to Trust Yourself
And once you've learned the general rules, you'll be able to apply your auditory and visual memory to the exceptions as well. With time, you'll learn to trust your auditory and visual memory more and are on your way to building that wonderful, uncanny skill that we all strive for: a real feel for the language.
Let us know about YOUR experiences with visual and auditory memory!
Does your day look really busy, but you would hate missing your language learning fix? Are you looking to boost one or the other of your new foreign language skills? (Even the Shuttle, left, needed some boosters!)
Learning a foreign language as an adult requires you to find those methods and routines that work best for you and that allow you to apply them - ideally - on a daily basis.
Here are 5 ways you can improvise a quick foreign language learning moment.
- READ 3-4 sentences ALOUD - preferably from an ongoing book you've been following. Reading aloud (or even in a whisper) gets you to work on your "mouth mechanics" - the way you need to move your mouth in order to produce the correct sounds. In the meantime, your brain is registering word order and an idiom or two.
- Type or WRITE out (copy) a few interesting sentences from a book, magazine, Internet site, etc. Writing out a language is very different from reading it. You become much more aware of structure, spelling, endings, etc.
- Take a useful sentence from a book or story, MEMORIZE it, and then write it out from memory. It can also be a famous saying. The sentence can be as short or long as you wish. Do this with 2 or 3 sentences, checking back to see if what you wrote was correct.
- Doodle or DRAW 4-5 objects, such as furniture, clothing, fruit, items on your desk. Then write the name of each item in your new language. Maybe you'll have to look up the words. No-one has to see your drawing, unless you're a Picasso. But the act of creating images and labeling them is a great way to engage your brain.
- LISTEN for a few minutes to your favorite foreign language song and follow the lyrics closely. Music is a compelling way to experience the rhythm and intonation of a language. (We had posted suggestions for French, German, Italian, and Spanish.)
Any of these 5 quick boosts will keep you learning. For steady progress, nothing can beat a regular learning routine, and these brief techniques can keep you going even in busy times.
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.
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!
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