Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

GamesforLanguage's 10 Top 2016 Blog Posts

top 10 - yay images2016 has been another fun and adventurous year for GamesforLanguage.

We know that learning a language as an adult is challenging. Not everybody has the time, discipline, and opportunity to learn foreign languages the way Benny Lewis does. (But his language hacks are worthwhile to study and apply.)

In 2016 we attended a language conferences in Montreal, where we met many of the well-known polyglots and language aficionados. (The #5 Blog Post below was a direct result of that conference.)

We continue to enjoy writing on our Blog on a weekly basis, drawing from our own insights and struggles with learning foreign languages.

Maybe not a surprise: While we also write about our travels and related language experiences, our 10 most popular posts in 2016 relate to language learning.

One surprise: Our post about "La Paloma: Learning Spanish with a song," which we published in June 2013 was our 3rd most read blog post in 2016.

1. 1-2-3 German Numbers Are Easy – Just Know the Basics

red numbers This post was our #10 in 2015.

How automatic are your numbers, in any foreign language, when you need them? Numbers may be something you really have to practice a lot to get confident using them.

We have always found that even when traveling in countries where we don't speak the language (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Swedish, etc.), it's good to at least know the numbers from 1 to 100.

Numbers also came in handy when shopping in small stores or paying the bill in restaurants.

Most numbers you'll see are in digital form. You'll rarely need to spell them.

But you do need to understand them when they're spoken. And to learn them, it helps to see them written out.

Many of the English and German numbers from 1-12 are related and have a similar sound, even though their spelling may be different.

The German numbers from 13 to 19 use the same model as English, by combining the lower number with the suffix “-zehn” (-teen), so “dreizehn” is thirteen, etc.

The numbers beyond 21 (that don't end in a zero) often cause confusion, especially when you want to remember a phone number.

They deviate from the English model and invert the digits:

So 45, forty-five, is vierundfünfzig and 54, fifty-four, is fünfundvierzig.

2. Uno-dos-tres: Spanish Numbers Are Easy

numbers Maybe it's not surprising that a very similar post explaining the Spanish numbering system was our second most read post.

Indeed as with German for most English speakers, the Spanish numbers from 1 to 15 are not difficult to learn as many of the English and Spanish numbers are related.

The numbers 16 to 20 are a little trickier as they use the inverse English model by placing the prefix “dieci-” in front of the single numbers, e.g. “dieciséis” whereas English uses the German model and places the single numbers in front of the suffix “-teen” as in sixteen.

The numbers 21 to 99 use the English model although a Spanish spelling revision made 21 to 29 a little more tricky: You have to remember some accents on veintidós (22), veintitrés (23), and veintiséis (26) and the binding “-i-” that has replaced the “y,” which still is there in the numbers above 30 , e.g. treinta y uno (31).

As in English, once you know the Spanish numbers 1-9 and the round number 20-90, then 21-99 are a breeze.

3. La Paloma Lyrics – Learning Spanish With a Song

Victoria de los AngelesWe wrote this post in June 2013 and it has been one of our most read post ever since.

The German version of La Paloma has been a favorite of mine since I was a child. At that time I neither knew anything about the origin of the song nor that “la paloma” means “the dove.”

I thought that “La Paloma” was a sailor's song, as sung by a famous German actor Hans Albers (Here is a YouTube clip.) and later by Freddy Quinn and many others.

When I heard the Spanish version for the first time, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more.

Not only is the melody wonderful, but so are the original Spanish lyrics.

Listening to the amazing voice of Victoria de los Angeles is a great way to both practice your listening skills and pick up some typical Spanish constructs.

We don't quite know why this post made it to a third place in 2016. (Maybe it was due to a 2015 post that linked La Paloma to Cuba, and to Bizet's opera Carmen.)

4. My 12 Best Habits For Learning Foreign Languages

friends in coffeeshop This is a very personal post by Ulrike, in which she explains how she keeps current with the 6 languages she speaks (and a couple of others she is learning).

While she always keeps her little Notebook handy, it's also clear that even she can't keep up with every one of those habits for every language she speaks or learns.

However, just doing a few of them consistently will reap big rewards. Also you will want to concentrate on those that are most appropriate for the level you're at.

For example, watching foreign movies without subtitles may be boring and counter productive, if you don't understand much in the foreign language yet.

It's up to you to try out and adapt the habits that work with your lifestyle, skill level and time you have available.

Are any of these habits part of your language learning? What works best for you?

5. Why Polyglots Also Use Stories For language Learning

Polyglot conference - Gamesforlanguage.comThis post was motivated by the talks of several speakers at the Polyglot conference in Montreal in July 2016.

We were especially intrigued by Jimmy Mello's idea to read a book that he already knows well in his native Brazilian Portuguese (he uses a translation of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), when he starts with a new target language.

By taking the same story every time, he can focus on the sounds of the new language, while already knowing what many of the words mean.

And when we say “story,” we mean any narrative, which may cover sports, history, politics, etc., i.e. anything than interests you and keeps you engaged in the target language.

(That's also why Gamesforlanguage's courses use the format of a travel-story sequel.)

Using “stories for language learning” means that you are not just learning words, but their meaning in context.

The Polyglot Symposium - renamed Montreal LangFest - will take place again in 2017, on the last weekend in August. The event will appeal to anyone who loves language and is involved in languages in some way (teachers, students, adult self-learners, parents raising bilingual kids - or wishing to, etc. as well polyglots). Check it out. We'd love to see you there!

6. Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep

sleeping womanThe way human memory works is a fascinating process. Clearly, the brain doesn't just shut down when we sleep, it keeps working on what we learned and experienced during the day.

A PsychCrunch Podcast by The British Psychological Society alerted us to studies about sleep and memory recently done by Swiss scientists. They had come to some interesting insights.

For example using MRI technology, they looked are the core stages of memorizing vocabulary and why sleep is so important for vocabulary retention. "Hearing" recently learned vocabulary again during certain stages of sleep, will consolidate these new memories.

There are no practical ways yet to replicate such tests at home. However, other research seems to confirm that reviewing foreign words and phrases BEFORE you go to sleep will also enhance your memory of them.

7. How to Progress Faster to Language Fluency

teenager talkingIf conversational fluency is your goal, what are the crucial techniques for getting there? Why is it important to say everything out loud rather than silently to yourself?

The simple answer is that to learn to speak in a foreign language, you have to speak. That's easier said than done. The question is how you can get yourself speaking enough so that you feel totally comfortable in a conversation.

But is just speaking enough? How important is reading for fluency? For many, reading will boost their vocabulary (especially if they start using these words in a conversation), and will provide them with interesting topics to talk about.

8. Three Tips to Spark Your Language Learning Motivation

sparkplugLearning a language can be fun, and there are many reasons for that. But when life is busy, sticking with your language project takes time and effort.

And sometimes it's hard to stay motivated. From Jeremy Dean's ebook "Spark - 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything," we gleaned three tips that apply especially to language learning.

Don't just jump into any old program, be self-aware as you plan your learning and implement your plan. Dean has some interesting ideas that can be easily applied.

Figure out coping skills that help you along. Dean suggest "modelling" yourself after someone whose coping skills fit your own situation.

In Spark we also found a couple of easy, practical tips that work well for creating a language learning habit. See if you agree.

9. Reaching Language Fluency: My Experience With Spanish

friendsIf you're learning a language, fluency's the game. But, really, what is fluency? Can an adult learner really achieve fluency? Can you be fluent even if you don't "sound like a native"? How does grammar figure in fluency?

Not everyone agrees what fluency is. (But when you have it, you do know what it feels like, don't you?)

We would argue that there are three essential marks of fluency, even if you haven't reached perfection.

What is fluency for you? Have you reached it yet for a foreign language?

10. Do You Need a Language Time-Out?

time-out signThere are lots of reasons for taking a language time-out. Once you lose your enthusiasm for learning a language, taking a time-out is really a good thing.

This happens to all language learners at some time or another. When it happens to either of us, we  see it as a time to reassess, to find new inspiration, and to look for new resources. The language won't go away, but during our time-out we'll find a new way to approach how we learn it and to get our motivation back.

Happy New Year and make learning a new language one of your 2017 goals!

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook,   Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

5 Tips for your 2017 Foreign Language Learning Goal

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

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

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

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

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

For many language learners that may even be an understatement.

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

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

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

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

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

Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #5 - Set some reasonable expectations

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some realistic goals that may work for you:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Listening and Speaking: Language Fluency's Key Challenges

man an d woman listening and speakingFor many adults, listening to and then speaking a foreign language remain key challenges. And that may be so even after several years of school and college instruction.

Hearing and producing the new sounds of another language take a special effort. Plus, we may be shy about speaking up, afraid that we'll make mistakes.

A popular marketing promise of some language programs contains some wishful thinking: “Learn a second language like a child.” It implies that by following such program learning will occur as effortlessly as young children seem to learn their first language.

No matter that children spend nearly all the waking hours of their first few years just listening to and then learning to speak the language of their parents and caregivers. Once in kindergarten and school, it'll take them several more years to learn how to read and write.

What we may consider “effortless,” actually involves quite a bit of struggle and effort. As infants, children first learn to understand the meaning of the words, gestures, and expressions others use to interact with them. At the same time, they start using their own vocal chords to replicate the sounds of words they hear. It's only after much trial and error that they can make themselves understood.

Clearly, it takes time and effort to develop good listening and speaking skills in a language. Children learning their first language have the advantage of being immersed in the language on a daily basis. They hear their native language and speak it all the time. (In fact, they can even handle more than one language!)

For adults, who are learning another language, listening comprehension and speaking are important skills to practice. However, many language programs focus more on reading and writing, than listening and speaking – with the exception of predominantly audio programs such as Michael Thomas, Pimsleur, and some others. 

THE IMMERSION TEACHING METHOD

We recently had a conversation with a friend of ours, who spent over head above water cartoon30 years teaching German to English speakers in U.S. colleges, as well as English to German students in high schools in Germany.

He firmly believes that students progressed most in his classes – both in the U.S. and in Germany - when he taught with a method that uses immersion. In particular, he found the Rassias method to be very effective.

John Rassias, former professor of French and Italian at Dartmouth College, believed in the motto: Speak to learn a language, not learn to speak a language. The Rassias method, which continues to be widely used, combines theatrical techniques and rapid-fire drills to fully engage the learner in the target language.

My experience with college language teaching in the U.S. was pretty similar. In a classroom, you can create an immersive environment by staying in the target language and explaining things using gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, pictures, reformulations, etc.

But clearly, getting students to understand and speak in their new language in class does require a lot of extra theatricals and energy. And, no matter what you do, if you have a large class, students won't be speaking much in the target language. 

Teachers at international language schools, such as the Goethe Institute, the Alliance Française, or Berlitz, often create an immersive learning classroom. But unless the school is located in a country where the language is spoken, students rarely use their target language outside of class. 

(Some language schools, e.g. the Middlebury [summer] Language Schools, ask students to sign a pledge to only speak in their target language.)

It seems that one-on-one lessons taken in person or online via Skype may provide the best chance for immersion learning, if you can't be in a country or region where people speak the language. That's especially true if the tutor pushes you to speak a lot.

HOW ABOUT ONLINE LANGUAGE PROGRAMS and APPS?

New technology has made it convenient to learn a language online and doing so has become very popular. But to what extent can online programs and apps provide immersion learning, and with it, fluency in listening and speaking?

Immersion learning, especially for beginners, is not easy to create in an online program. But training listening and speaking in foreign language is a challenge that different programs have attempted to solve in various ways.

Having developed our own GamesforLanguage courses and reviewed a number of other language learning programs, here's a quick snapshot how these programs encourage listening and speaking (in sequence of our development/review).

GamesforLanguage

Each of our course lessons (we call them “Scenes”), start with a dialogue of an ongoing travel story. The learner reads and hears sentences in the target language, which he or she might encounter while traveling, but may or may not fully understand.

New words are then taught and tested with various games in which learners see the words and are encouraged to repeat them. In the listening game Say It, the player hears and is asked to repeat a new word, which then appears for just a moment. In another listening game, Balloon Words, the player hears the word and has to pick the correct one from three words with a similar spelling. In both, no translation is given so that the attention can remain on listening and repeating.

After other translation and writing games, learners can then record the sentences of all story-dialogues at the end of each lesson, as often as needed. This helps to both memorize phrases and expressions, and to get close to the pronunciation of the native speakers.

Rosetta Stone

Are you now thinking, but isn't “Rosetta Stone” total immersion? Yes, there are no English translations and you are indeed “immersed” in the foreign language throughout a session.

I only bought Level 1 of Spanish, quite a while ago, so that's all I can comment on. The four Levels are set up as pictures and short sentences that describe the pictures.

You hear a sentence, identify the corresponding picture, and then are prompted to record your voice. My voice recording often gets rejected even after several tries. But it's not clear why some sentences are accepted and others aren't. Rather than improving, I just get frustrated. 

Is there a boredom factor built into Rosetta Stone? People do seem to give up easily on the kind of "immersion" this program offers. It may be because in each lesson you go through repeating dozens of unrelated phrases and sentences. On top of that, many grammar lessons are in the form of simple pattern drills, where you just click on one word each time. And, because everything is done with pictures, it gets hard to remember what each picture is supposed to mean. (See our 5 Rosetta Stone reviews)

Babbel

This program has a fairly traditional approach: A lesson starts with a flashcard exercise where you are asked to Study the words and their spelling. Then you go through exercises to practice writing, reading, listening, speaking, and basic grammar. Most of the exercises work from translation. Explanations are in English.

For listening practice, I particularly like the dictation exercises (Write what you hear), and the part where you complete the sentences of a conversation by adding a word that cued from the English translation of the sentence. In both of these sections, you see and hear language in context.

Speaking practice is up to you: It's best to repeat words and sentences as much as you can. Most lessons have a section for practicing sounds that are different from English. 

Duolingo

My main beef with Duolingo is that it has me often write English translations, which I find a huge waste of time. I'd rather be writing answers in the target language. I would be learning so much faster. To avoid writing in English, I've set my native language to another language I'm learning.  (I now have an account to learn Italian from Spanish.)

I do like the voice recognition part because it makes me say things out loud, which I sometimes forget to do. (Of course, there is no REAL voice recognition with feedback.)

Duolingo's newest addition are the Chatbots. At this time, they're available for French, German, and Spanish conversations. What you do is chat in your target language with a partner by writing predictable answers to questions and comments, with help from pictures. It's really quite neat.

You hear and see what your Chatbot partner is saying. You can check the meaning of the vocabulary, and get feedback for what you've written. To practice speaking, though, you just have to push yourself to say out loud whatever you hear and see. (see also Duolingo and Babbel: How They Differ)

Language Zen

At the moment, Language Zen is only available for learning Spanish online. The addition of Spanish Music (songs and lyrics) to its courses let's you focus on listening.

In general, you hear a lot of Spanish in this course. You learn new Spanish words and phrases by hearing them (and seeing their spelling and English translation). Next, you hear the Spanish word or phrase and have to identify the correct English translation among five options. When you click on the correct translation, you'll hear it again, see it spelled in Spanish, and are thereby induced to repeat it yourself.

Speaking is an important part of the course. Once you've heard and learned a few words, you are asked to translate an English sentence into Spanish – either by saying it (or by writing it). The voice recognition software is actually pretty good. It has adjusted to my voice, as well as Peter's voice and accent, and writes what it hears.

You can correct any spelling (or hearing) mistake. Click on “Check Answer” and you now hear the correct answer. If you're correct, move on, if not, you have one more chance to say or write the correct Spanish translation.

We very much like the fact that you're encouraged to say (or write) Spanish words and phrases quite often, and that you're not asked to say or write sentences in English. (see also our detailed Language Zen Review.)

SuperCoco

This is a new app for Spanish, created by Larkwire. It can be used hands-free. The program is very well done and clearly focuses on listening and speaking. So far, four (4) Levels have been released, from Beginner to Intermediate (with higher levels to come).

Each lesson (almost 250 to date) has you listen to and repeat individual words and sentences, with an emphasis on individual sounds, intonation, and the rhythm of the language. Since the purpose of the program is to repeat what you hear, that's what you do. English translations are spoken and written, so you do hear lots of English not just Spanish.

Brief pronunciation lessons teach you the basic sounds of Spanish. You're told how to produce the sounds and are given examples. Then you record yourself, play back your voice, and compare your pronunciation to that of the native speaker. This is a great feature. (See also our SuperCoco Review.)

Lingualia

Lingualia is an online program (with iOS and Android apps) to learn Spanish or English. All word definitions, audios, fill in the blank and unscramble exercises, image identification, etc. are in the target language. 

If you want, you can set the interface language to English, Spanish, and now also to German. So, if you're learning Spanish and if you set the interface language to Spanish, everything will be in Spanish.

In the program, you're not asked to do any translations (though translations with google are available).

With Lingualia you can work seriously on your listening skills. The program contains 200 rapidly spoken conversations, one at the beginning of each lesson. You can listen to them as often as you want, with or without seeing the text.

There's less chance for practicing your speaking skills, unless you make a special effort to constantly repeat individual phrases of a conversation as they scoot by. There are no exercises to practice sentences. There's no recording feature to play back your voice. (See also our Lingualia Review.)

Pimsleur

Having worked at Pimsleur both as author of the first three German courses and co-author and development editor of various other courses, I'm both familiar with and fond of the Pimsleur approach. We have not (yet) published a review of this program, which started out with audio tapes and CDs, and now also has MP3 files for download. In addition, there's an interactive product called Pimsleur Unlimited, which can be downloaded on your computer or mobile devices.

With a Pimsleur Audio course, you listen and speak right from the beginning. The Narrator guides you along (first in English and later in the target language) and gives explanations. After you've heard the initial dialogue, you learn new words by hearing and repeating them, usually by building them from the end.

As a lesson progresses, the Narrator gives you the English cues for the words that you've learned, sometimes prompting you to make new combinations. However, the audio lessons are hard to navigate beyond listening in sequence.

Pimsleur Unlimited contains the 30-minute audio lessons, Flashcards and Quick Match to practice new words and sentences, plus a Speak Easy part to practice the conversation. Except for Speak Easy, where you participate in the conversations, everything is prompted from English.

In all, Pimsleur does a great job pushing the learner to say everything aloud. Its particular audio method (backward buildup, anticipation of the answer) is very effective to train the ear and help the learner get a good pronunciation.

THE ONLINE/APP TEACHING DILEMMA

dilemma - Gamesforlanguage.comAs this quick survey shows, none of these programs (including our GamesforLanguage courses) can provide a true immersion experience, the way a live conversation, or online session with a tutor can.

Online courses or apps have to rely on images (e.g. Rosetta Stone, etc.), written text, or English audio to transmit meaning to the learner. A teacher or tutor can do that with gestures, mimic, different sounds, or alternate expressions in the target language, etc., all options that apps or online courses do not have.

The online/app dilemma then is this: Images are rarely sufficient for explaining the meaning of thoughts, feelings, and complex activities, etc. in the target language. You require a teaching language to translate from. (I don't know if Lingualia is an exception for beginners, who may use Google translate in the early stages.)

Translations, however, take the learner away from the the target language. The moment the learner hears or reads the translation in his or her native language (English or otherwise), immersion is interrupted.

THREE POWERFUL IMMERSIVE TECHNIQUES

Still, using online programs and apps to learn can give you a good basis for getting started and progressing in a language, for learning vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation.

My advice: Don't just click on the correct translation or answer. Repeat and speak the words and phrases you hear and learn in such programs. Without speaking and trying out the new sounds you won't become fluent.

So, what can you add - besides a regular language tutor - to strengthen your immersion experience in the language and become more fluent?

  1. Watch a film or YouTube video in your target language, without English captions (or with captions in the same language).
  2. Listen, with attention, to an audio book. If you can, follow along with the text in your target language.
  3. Listen to a passage from your audio book, and then read and record the same passage. Play back and compare. Do this several times. This is really powerful.

And remember: learning to become fluent in a new language is a long-term project. Use as many different means and methods to read, listen to, or speak the target language every day. Daily “exposure,” if not “immersion,” will get you there.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Several of the language learning companies mentioned above are partner sites with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Speed up Your German Learning With Social Media

Pretty woman holding mobile phoneIt's an open secret that increasing the exposure to the language you want to learn, will speed up your learning.

Setting your phone or tablet to your target language is an easy way to do just that.

Often learners are reluctant to make the switch because they're afraid that getting back to English will be problematic.

In earlier posts we discuss social media terms for French, Italian, and Spanish.

Here we'll explain how you can get some moments of mini-immersion when you set your electronic gadgets to German. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll get to understanding and using these terms.

German social media terms are made up of vocabulary that is sophisticated and generally useful. Using them, you can also learn some basic grammar forms.

If you're a Facebook user, that's a good place to start. 

SETTING YOUR iPHONE/iPAD OR ANDROID DEVICES

On an iPhone or iPad, you have to set iPad language change screen - Gamesforlanguage.comthe language by going into your iPhone or iPad Settings and change your iPhone/iPad Language. You cannot do it just for your Facebook app, etc.

Click on "Settings," "General," "Language & Region," and set your iPhone/iPad Language to "Deutsch/German." (see screenshot)

On Android phones and tablets, also go to "Settings," then scroll down to "Personal," and click on "Language and input."

On Peter's Galaxy S7, he only sees the selected English and choices for Spanish, Vietnamese and several other "preloaded" Chinese/Asian languages. He has not been able to add other languages yet and is looking for help to add Italian and Dutch. 

One word of caution: On Android devices, be careful with languages with a non-western writing system and, at least, remember the small icon in front of "Language and input," in case you want to get back to English!

(On your laptop or PC, you could change the language only on Facebook, etc., or in one of your browsers, or even set your preferred language for the computer in "Language & Region.")

Setting your language back to English:

On your iOS devices, click on the "Einstellungen" (Settings) icon, then go to "Allgemein" (General), "Sprache & Region" (Language & Region), "iPhone/iPad-Sprache" (iPhone/iPad Language), and finally, "English/Englisch."

  • "Abbrechen" means Cancel;
  • "Fertig" means Done;
  • "Fortfahren" means Continue.

WAIT! THERE'S GERMAN ALL OVER MY DEVICE

Don't Panic. The icons on your gadget give you lots of help. And here are a few initial terms to get you going:

  • Zum Entsperren Home-Taste drücken - Press home to unlock
  • Wiederholen - Try again ("repeat")
  • Nachrichten (f.) - Messages
  • Uhr (f.) - Clock
  • Seitenmanager (m.) - Pages ("page manager")
  • Notizen (f.) - Notes
  • Erinnerungen (f.) - Reminders
  • Einstellungen (f.) - Settings
  • Flugmodus (m.) - Airplane Mode
  • WLAN - Wi-Fi
  • Mitteilungen (f.) - Notifications
  • Nicht stören - Don't disturb

GERMAN FACEBOOK TERMS

Happy man using digital tabletTo interact with you, Facebook uses the friendly, familiar "du" form. For example, the familiar imperative form of "describe yourself" is "Beschreibe dich." (The polite form would be "Beschreiben Sie sich.")

To translate "Like," German uses the verb "gefallen" for the idiomatic expression "Gefällt mir" (I like it, or more literally: It pleases me).

For forms like "Comment, Share, Show, Log out" etc. (which could be both infinitive and imperative), German uses infinitive forms: "Kommentieren, Teilen, Zeigen, Abmelden" etc.

Words and phrases that you keep seeing on your device are bound to end up in your long-term memory. You'll probably never forget them.

Here's a list of 20 or so you'll see on your iPhone or iPad:

On your Profile Page:

  • Suche nach Personen, Orten und Dingen - Search Persons, Places and Things
  • Bearbeiten - Edit ("work on")
  • Gemeinsame Freunde - Mutual Friends
  • Neuer Beitrag (m.) - New Post
  • Profil bearbeiten - Edit Profile
  • Mehr - More
  • Profilbild auswählen - Upload Profile Picture ("choose Profile Picture")
  • Foto hochladen - Upload Foto
  • Info (f.) - About
  • Fotos (n.) - Photos
  • Besuche (m.) - Check-Ins ("visits")
  • Lebensereignis (n.) - Life Event
  • Beschreibe dich - Describe who you are ("describe yourself")

Reacting to Posts:

  • Gefällt mir - Like ("pleases me")
  • Gefällt mir nicht mehr - Unlike ("doesn't please me any more")
  • Traurig - Sad
  • Wütend - Angry
  • Kommentieren - Comment
  • Teilen - Share
  • Geteilt - Shared
  • Aufrufe (m.) - Views
  • Mehr anzeigen - Show more
  • Beitrag speichern - Save post

Posting on Facebook:

  • Was machst du gerade? - What's on your mind? ("What are you doing right now?")
  • Öffentlich - Public
  • Freunde (m.) - Friends
  • Enge Freunde - Close Friends
  • Freunde außer Bekannte - Friends except acquaintances
  • Benutzer (m.) - User(s)
  • Freunde markieren - Tag friends

Managing your Facebook Page:

  • Einstellungen (f.) - Settings
  • Profilbild (n.) ändern - Change profile
  • Titelbild (n.) ändern - Change Cover
  • Seite erstellen - Create Page
  • Netzwerke (n.) - Networks
  • Hilfe und Unterstützung - Help and Support
  • Ein Problem melden - Report a Problem
  • Abbrechen - Cancel
  • Abmelden - Log Out

GERMAN FACEBOOK GRAMMAR:

Certain social media terms can help you absorb some basic grammar structures. It's an easier way to learn grammar than to memorize rules.

1. Compound Nouns

In German compound nouns, it's the second (or last) noun which gives you the gender.

  • das Profil + das Bild = das Profilbild
  • der Titel + das Bild = das Titelbild
  • Some compound nouns take a linking "s."
  • das Leben + das Ereignis = das Lebensereignis

2. Verb Prefixes: "an" and "ab"

Many German verbs can take different prefixes, which change the meaning of the original verb.

  • The verb "melden" (as in "ein Problem melden) means "to report."
  • "Abmelden" means "to log out" or "sign out."
  • "Anmelden" means "to log in" or "sign up."

To say that you want to register, you would use the reflexive form: "sich anmelden."

  • Ich möchte mich bei Facebook anmelden. (I want to sign up for Facebook.)

The verb "brechen" means "to break"

  • "Abbrechen" means "to cancel" (break off).

3. Separable Verb Prefixes:

The prefixes "ab" and "an" are a separable prefixes.

  • In the present tense, the prefix "ab" goes to the end of the clause: Ich melde mich ab. (I'm signing out.)
  • In the conversational past, "ab" is separated by "-ge-": Ich habe mich abgemeldet. (I signed out.)
  • In the future tense, the prefix stays: Ich werde mich anmelden. (I'll sign in.)

4. Inseparable Verb Prefix: "er-" and "be-"

The inseparable verb prefixes "be-" and "er-" always stay as part of the verb and thus don't use "-ge-" in the conversational past. 

The verb "stellen" means "to put" or "to place." ("auf den Tisch stellen" - to place on the table)

  • The verb "erstellen" means "to create" or "to make." ("Seite erstellen" - create a page)
  • Ich erstelle eine Seite. (I create a page.)
  • Ich habe eine Seite erstellt. (I created a page.)
  • Ich werde eine Seite erstellen. (I'll create a page.)

The verb "schreiben" means "to write." ("einen Brief schreiben" - to write a letter)

"Beschreiben" means "to describe" or "to depict." ("Beschreibe dich" - Describe yourself)

  • Ich beschreibe mich. (I describe myself.)
  • Ich habe mich beschrieben. (I described myself.)
  • Ich werde mich beschreiben. (I'll describe myself.)
5. German does not have a "continuous" verb form:

In English, you can say "I'm editing" to mean that you're doing it right now, or that you're in the process of doing it (at this time). German does not have a verb form for that. Instead, you would either add an adverb, such as "gerade"  (just now) or reformulate: "ich bin dabei, ... zu bearbeiten" (I'm in the process of ...) to get the same meaning across.

The verb "arbeiten" means "to work."

"Bearbeiten" means "to edit" or "work on."

  • Ich bearbeite mein Profil. (I'm editing my Profile.)
  • Ich bearbeite gerade mein Profil.
  • Ich bin dabei, mein Profil zu bearbeiten. 

As you've probably guessed, immersion works best if you have a basic understanding of the language that's being used. Just seeing unknown words and phrases (as I would, if I set my devices to Polish, for example) would be a little scary.

Still, if you're used to navigating the apps on your iPhone and are familiar with the icons on it, you can figure out what many of the foreign words and phrases mean.

Changing the language on your devices lets you try out new things and use context to guess new vocabulary. That's a good way to learn.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My 5 Top Tips For Speaking More Fluently

River in NorwayHow fluent are you in the language you're learning? Can you read and understand spoken language pretty well? But your ability to give "quick responses in conversations" is lacking?

There's definitely a way to learn and practice to speak more naturally.

I have a very particular reason for wanting to work on speaking more fluently. It's for French. Curiously enough, it's not that my French is particularly bad, but ... Well, I talk more about it at the end of this post under the heading: My Own Project for Speaking More Fluently

1. LISTEN AND REPEAT, PUSHING YOUR BOUNDARIES

Whatever level you're at and using resources you like, start listening to phrases Speaking and Listeningand sentences, and repeat them aloud whenever you can.

Learning how to say things with some fluency is not a one-time practice. Rather, it's best to go back to working on the same phrases, sentences, or even conversations again and again. That way, your pronunciation will get closer to that of a native speaker.

Close is good. If you're learning a language as an adult, perfect native pronunciation may take much longer, or may not happen at all.

In most languages, when words are used in expressions or in a sentence, they become part of a stream of sounds. Letters are dropped, stress changes, there are contractions, etc. This has to be practiced.

It also helps to memorize short conversations and repeat them to yourself when you're in the shower, as you prepare breakfast, or while jogging, etc.

Online language programs are perfect for practicing natural, rapid speech because you can try as many times as you want. Frequent repetition is key.

2. INTERJECTIONS

exclamation mark signInterjections are short words, usually said at the beginning of a sentence, that express strong emotions.

They can be learned together with vocabulary and practiced as part of conversations.

Common interjections in English are "hey" "oh" "good!" "right!" "now way!"

Some common French interjections would be: "Ouf" (Whew), "Zut !" (Darn), "Mais/Bah oui !" (Why yes!), "Quoi !" (What!), "Allez !" (C'mon!)

Common Spanish interjections: "¡Ay!" ( Oh), "¡Ojalà!" (I hope so ), "¡Vaya! (Wow!), "¡Claro!" (Of course!), and mostly in Spain: "¡Guay!" (Cool), "¡Vale!" (Okay!)

Common Italian interjections: "Magari!" (I wish!, If only!), "Bravo! (Well done!), "Dai!" (Come on!, Come now!), "Boh! (No idea!), "Basta!" (Stop!), "Peccato!" (Too bad!)

Common German interjections: "Aha!" (I get it), "Hä?) (I don't understand), "Also..." (Well...), "Wau!" (Wow!), "Ach nee!" (I knew it!), "Klar!" (Of course!)

The best way to learn to notice and use interjections in a language you're learning is to watch films or TV series. You can do this online, which also gives you the chance to repeat snippets of language aloud without annoying others.

Repeating aloud is absolutely essential for learning to say interjections. Seeing and hearing them as part of conversations puts them into context and shows you their exact meaning.

3. PAUSES AND FILLERS

Besides interjections, you can learn to add pauses and fillers to your speech.Pause Icon Fillers are sounds, or words and phrases that are an essential part of conversational speech, but don't have much meaning in themselves.

They mark a pause when someone's speaking, or a moment of hesitation, as the person is considering what to say next. They help to keep the conversation going.

Speech fillers have to be practiced, since they impact on the intonation and rhythm of spoken language.

There are three good reasons why you should learn to use fillers in the language you're learning.

For one, it'll help you navigate better through a conversation. For example, if you just can't find the word you're looking for, you won't be stuck in an awkward silence. Instead, you can use some "hesitation sounds" of a few filler words, as you think about how to reformulate or how to get onto another topic.

Secondly, it will help you keep conversational contact with the person you're speaking to. With fillers, you can keep your own part of the conversation going, or indicate interest in what the other person is saying.

Thirdly, it will make you sound much more like a native. Most native speakers of a language don't hold conversations in full, perfect sentences all the time. They hesitate often enough, break sentences off, change topics as new ideas occur to them, etc. The fillers will help you do that too, without feeling like you're stumbling.

Fillers in American English that I hear a lot in conversations are: "uuh" "uhmm" "err" "well..." "yeah" "like" "right," or the phrase "you know."

French conversational fillers (mots de remplissage, mots bouche-trou): "euh" "bah" "hein" "bon" "ben" "alors" "bah" "eh bien."

Spanish conversational fillers (muletillas): "eh" "este" "pues" "bueno" "mira" "ya" "vale" "¿no?"

Italian conversational fillers (riempitivo, parole superflue): "mm" "mh" "e(eee)" "tipo" "ecco" "

German conversational fillers (Füll-Laute, Verzögerungslaute, Pausenlaute): "äh" "ähm" "mhh" "so" "tja" "halt" "oder" "gelt"

To find YouTube videos with TV series, romantic or action films you can watch, do a search, for example, "youtube serie tv français" "youtube series tv español" "peliculas en español youtube" "peliculas completas en italiano youtube" "deutsch filme youtube komplett" - and so on.

4. LISTEN, RECORD, AND REPLAY YOU OWN VOICE

young man with laptopYes, it's hard to listen to your own recorded voice. I used to try to avoid it as well.

But, recording and listening to your voice and comparing your pronunciation to that of a native speaker is a very powerful technique for improving.

Start with words or short phrases, then work yourself up to full sentences. You have a lot to listen for: individual sounds, rhythm, intonation, the flow of what you're saying.

In different languages, stress is used differently. Listen for it and try to imitate.

In different languages, the same letters that we have in English may have a similar sound, but are pronounced less or more distinctly or explosively.

And, when you are recording yourself, you can practice difficult word combinations, saying them faster and faster.

5. RELAX and MUMBLE

You will unlikely hear this tip from a language teacher: In conversations don't worry about mumbling some of the words, especially their endings.

In casual conversations, most native speakers don't use the enunciation of a TV announcer. Especially when they speak in a local dialect, they talk quickly, mumble, mutter, ramble, blurt out things, drop endings. 

In German, "to mumble" is called "nuscheln." In French, you'd say "marmonner." In Spanish, it's "mascullar." And for Italian, the equivalent seems to be "borbottare."

The huge advantage when you learn to mumble a little in a language you're learning, is that you can slide over some of the tricky grammatical parts. It's especially good for endings that are supposed to change in different grammatical context. A neutral mumble can easily suggest the right ending.

All my reading - dozens and dozens of classic and modern novels in college and later on, and more recently, all of the Harry Potter novels in French - did not make me conversationally fluent in French. For sure, I have all the vocabulary that I need, but now I must practice the skill of speaking fluently.

I am fluent in Dutch, though I've done very little reading in it. What I have done for years and years is speak with others and imitate their natural conversational speech.

Repeating normal- and fast-speed sentences, adding interjections, pauses and fillers, and finally recording yourself and playing back your voice - all these together are bound to increase your ability to give "quick responses" in a conversation and become more fluent.

MY OWN PROJECT FOR SPEAKING MORE FLUENTLY

What I need to work on is relaxing when I speak so that I don't over-pronounce each individual word. Not just in French, but in all languages that I speak and am learning.

What's wrong with my French? Not that much really, except ... Well, let me back up a little. I learned French in a classroom setting: in grades 4 & 5 in the Netherlands, then from grades 6 on through grade 11 in Canada, followed by a French Honors university program.

At the end of my studies, I had great reading skills, a large vocabulary, and adequate writing skills. But my listening skills were lacking. I could understand the news (local French Radio) and formal lectures in French, but I could not follow fast conversational French. I also could not hold my own in natural, fast conversations with French speakers.

Later, when we started to regularly visit family in French-speaking Fribourg, Switzerland, my listening and speaking skills had already improved a lot. But even now, when I participate in conversations, my contributions are nicely constructed sentences, painstakingly pronounced. I resemble an announcer, who interrupts a group of people who are pleasantly chatting away.

My goal for further improvement is to be ready for our visit to Switzerland next year. With a French friend and with my husband I'm now practicing to not over-pronounce, to speak faster, to add interjections and fillers, and to “mumble” here and there.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Speed up Your Italian Learning with Facebook and Social Media

Gamesforlanguage Facebook PageAs we and others have suggested, setting your phone, tablet, Mac/PC, etc. to the language you want to learn is a great way to increase your daily exposure to that language.

Maybe you're not yet ready to do this for all your electronic gadgets and applications. But, if you're a Facebook user, that's a good place to start. You'll be able to pick up Italian social media terms and pay attention to some Italian grammar forms at the same time. (Gamesforlanguage's Facebook page in Italian, above, left)

SETTING YOUR COMPUTER OR LAPTOP

You easily can set your Facebook language on your computer or laptop (temporarily, if you want) to Italian. On your personal Facebook page, (see mine, below, right) Facebook Page  Ulrikepull down the arrow, top right, click on “Settings” then click on “Language” (left margin).

Beside “What language do you want to use Facebook in?” click on “Edit,” pull down “Italiano,” and Save Changes.

Setting your language back to English:

To get back to English, you just need to do the reverse, but now use the Italian links: Pull down the arrow, top right, go to “Impostazioni” (Settings), then click on “Lingua” (Language).

Beside the question “Che lingua vuoi usare in Facebook?” click on “Modifica” (Edit). Pull down English, and save by clicking on “Salve le modifiche” (Save the changes). “Annulla” means “Cancel.”

Facebook - managing your pages in Italian - Gamesforlanguage.comSETTING YOUR iPHONE/iPAD OR ANDROID DEVICES

On an iPhone or iPad, you have to set the language by going into your iPhone or iPad Settings and change your iPhone/iPad Language. You cannot do it just for your Facebook app, etc. (I imagine that it's similar for Android phones and Tablets.)

Click on Settings, General, Language & Region, and change your iPhone/iPad language to Italiano.

Setting your language back to English:

Go to “Impostazioni” (Settings), then “Generali” (General), “Lingua e Zona” (Language & Region), “Lingua iPhone/iPad” (iPhone/iPad Language), and finally, “English/inglese.”

THE FAMILIAR “TU” FORM

To interact with you, Facebook uses the friendly, familiar “tu” form. For example, “Your pages” is “Le tue pagine.”

Or, see the familiar imperative form. “Describe who you are” is “Descrivi chi sei.” The polite forms would be: “Le sue pagine” and “Descriva chi è.” (See more about the familiar imperative forms below.)

FACEBOOK VOCABULARY

The vocabulary you'll learn by navigating your Facebook page in Italian is both sophisticated and generally useful. Besides, you can learn some basic grammar forms pretty painlessly, simply by seeing them over and over again in a functional context.

Cerca persone, luoghi, e cose - Search persons, places, and things

Trova amici - Find friends

Diario - Timeline (“diary/log”)

Informazioni - About (“informations”)

Altro - More (“other”)

In the Profile (Profilo) section: 

In breve - Intro (“briefly”)

Descrivi chi sei - Describe yourself (“describe who you are”)

Home: (Home)

Modifica Profilo - Change your Profile

Lingua - Language

Preferiti - Favorites

Notizie - News

Pagine - Pages

Gruppi - Groups

Applicazioni - Apps

Seeing a Post and reacting to it:

Reacting to post - Facebook Gamesforlanguage.com

X ha aggiunto - X has added

X ha condiviso - X has shared

X ha aggiornato - X has updated

Mi piace - Like (“I like it/It pleases me”)

Commenta - Comment

Scrivi un commento - Write a comment

Condividi - Share

Rispondi - Reply

Visualizza traduzione - Show translation

Creating a Post:

A cosa stai pensando? - What's on your mind? (“What are you thinking about?”)

Avvenimento importante - Life Event (“important event”)

Managing your Pages:

Le tue Pagine - Your Pages

Crea una Pagina - Create a Page

Gestisci le Pagine - Manage the Pages

Crea un gruppo - Create a group

Nuovi gruppi - New groups

Impostazioni - Settings

Esci - Log out (“leave”)

Centro assistenza - Help (“help center”)

EXPRESSIONS WITH “PIACERE”

To translate “Like,” Italian uses the verb “piacere” for the idiomatic expression “Mi piace” (I like it/I enjoy it, or more literally: It pleases me).

You often hear “mi piace” and variations

“ti piace” (you like),

“gli piace” (he likes), etc. in conversational Italian.

The word “piacere” is also a masculine noun and used in common expressions such as

“per piacere” (please);

“con piacere” (with pleasure/gladly);

“che piacere vederti” (great to see you);

“è un piacere conoscerla” (pleased to meet you);

“fare un piacere a qn” (to do sb a favor), and others.

(Our Italian Quick Game “Mi dispiace” (I'm sorry/I regret) let's you practice a few of the “piacere” variations.)

TWO USEFUL GRAMMAR FORMS

Familiar Imperative Forms

For commands like “find, search, comment, share, view, write, log out” etc., you can learn the Italian familiar imperative forms. It's a fun and easy way to get these forms firmly into your mind.

These take an - a ending (which is also in the infinitive ending):

trovare - trova (to find - find! fam.)

cercare - cerca (to search - search! fam.)

commentare - commenta (to comment - comment! fam.)

creare - crea (to create - create! fam.)

visualizzare - visualizza (to view - view! fam.)

These take an -i ending (with verbs that have infinitive ending of -ire or -ere):

condividere - condividi (to share - share! fam.)

gestire - gestisci (to manage - manage! fam.)

risponere - rispondi (to answer - answer! fam.)

scrivere - scrivi (to write - write! fam.)

uscire - esci (to log out - log out! fam.)

Noun Plurals

Masculine nouns ending in -o:

il gruppo - i gruppi (group)

il commento - i commenti (comment)

il luogo - i luoghi (place; note the plural spelling)

Masculine nouns starting with a vowel:

l'amico - gli amici (friend, m.)

l'informazione - gli informazioni (information)

l'impostazione - gli impostazioni (setting)

Feminine nouns ending in -a:

la persona - le persone (person)

la lingua - le lingue (language)

la pagina - le pagine (page)

la cosa - le cose (thing)

This is just some of what you can do. There are lots more tabs you can pull down, for example the “Informazioni” (About) or the “Altro” (More) tabs.

Or click on other options in “Impostazioni,” (Settings), such as “Notifiche” (Notifications), or “Persone che ti seguono” (Followers/Persons who follow you). One click leads to another and to more Italian.

Since the language is functional and you may already know the English for many of the terms and sentences, you'll be able to easily guess what the Italian means.

Whatever you don't know, you can quickly check against your English Facebook page, or look up online.

Have fun! It's a taste of what immersion in Italian may feel like.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Learning and Practicing Spanish – Language Zen Update

Language Zen home pageRecently, Ulrike reviewed Language Zen - one of our partner sites for learning Spanish. While I had also used it intermittently, I really got into practicing with it during the last several weeks.

I also discovered a few features that are really helpful, but that I had not paid much attention to before.

“Literally” vs. "Meaning”

For translating a sentence, you often have the option to select “literally” vs. “meaning.”not a single man knows it - alternative Spanish translations - Language Zen & Gamesforlanguage.com

For example, to translate “Not a single man knows it.” I was very tempted to start with something like: No un solo hombre ...

However, when I clicked on the “literally” option, it suggested I say: “Not it (male) he knows not one man,” for my translation into Spanish.

And, as ningun had been introduced previously, I remembered that it was the translation for not one. Thus I was able to translate the sentence correctly. Then, when I confirmed my response, I was given the other possible correct answers, i.e. I could also have used “señor” and a different word order.

Using the“Try Again” Option

Earlier, I'd been frustrated when I made a mistake or could not remember a word or form. I finally discovered the benefits of the “Try again” link. Not only can I correct a mistake, but by retyping it correctly (or saying it again, see below) it helps me to remember it better. It also improves my accuracy score.

That woman has something in her hands - Spanish translation - Gamesforlanguage.comA case in point would be translating the following sentence: That woman has something in her hands.”

Using the “literally” option, I see that in Spanish you would not say “her hands” but “the hands.” However, I had forgotten that the Spanish word for “hand” has a feminine gender – although it ends with an “o.”

As I check my answer I both HEAR the correct translation and am informed of my mistake: los is crossed out, and I read las is missing from your answer.

I can now rewrite (or say) the sentence with the correct female pronoun “las.” Not only has it now cemented the correct gender for “la mano” in my mind, but I am also are credited for the correct answer in the progress chart. (Love that!)

Translation Alternatives

As I pointed out above, one other translation alternatives - Language Zen and Gamesforlanguage.comfeature I find particularly helpful is getting translation alternatives for many English sentences. In many other online programs there is often only ONE possible correct answer.

Language Zen gives lots of translations alternatives both for the vocabulary as well as for the word order of a translated sentence.

The screen shot (on the right) for the translation of “Can you (formal) tell me what happened?” shows a whole series of options, including different verb options for  tell, and happened, different word order, etc. 

(You'll also note that I did not conjugate the verb pasar correctly - or, the voice recognition did not like my pronunciation and I failed to correct the shown spelling.)

Lesson Accuracy and Progress

Language Zen accuracy chart - Gamesforlanguage.comOne of the motivating factors for me is the “lesson accuracy” at the end of each lesson. See the screenshot of my last lesson: 98%. I just hate it when I can't get close to a 100%, i.e. a perfect score.

My score tends to slip when I lose concentration and get tired. That is also a good reminder that it's time to stop and do something else.

Under “View Progress,” you'll see the words that I've practiced multiple times (green) Language Zen Progress Chart - Gamesforlanguageand the new words (blue) that were recently introduced.

Clicking on the “View Progress” tab lets me see several other learning metrics and also check how I'm doing in several categories: words, phrases, facts and meanings.

The screenshot on the right shows how my recent re-engagement with Language Zen is reflected in those categories.

Courses – Watching Sports

With the Olympics recently happening, I thought I would check out the “Courses” and the “Watching Sports” topic.

screenshot: which channelIndeed I was learning much relevant vocabulary, e.g. “partido,” “canal,” “defender,” “boletos,” etc.

For the translation of “On which channel is the game?” I had neglected to use the “literally” option (On what channel they GIVE the game?) and promptly made a mistake. Let's hope that I now remember to use “dar” and translate: “¿En qué canal dan el partido?

I also learned that “One has to defend well” translates to “Hay que defender bien.” Again the “literally” translation option (“There is that to defend well”) had given me the clue to avoid a mistake and pick up this idiomatic expression.

Using the Microphone

I'm also using the microphone more often now to enter myLanguage Zen screenshot translations. This is only practical when you are by yourself without much background noise.

The voice recognition is not always perfect as this screenshot (right) shows – it understood my “tienes” as “quieres,” but that is also easy to correct.

I noticed that the system appears to be getting used to my still imperfect pronunciation. Either the system's improving with time, or I'm getting better (or maybe both ...)

In any case, having the translation transcribed speeds up the practice, even considering the necessary corrections. It also lets me do more translations within my daily time quota, currently set to 3 hours per week. (I plan to double this time once I have again completed my 2 daily Scenes of our GamesforLanguage Spanish 1 course.)

At the moment, the transcription of dictated translations does not work on my iPad. It does work in my Android phone and tablet with the Chrome browser. We understand that Language Zen is working on an app, which should fix that issue. 

Learning with Songs

Language Zen song - Julieta VenegasThe idea of learning with songs attracted us first to Language Zen. I have just started taking full advantage of this feature by playing Julieta Venegas' wonderful song Eres para mí (You are for me).

It's not only a great way to learn a Spanish song, but the repetition of phrases and sentences certainly makes you remember certain expressions. 

For example, it will be hard to forget the refrain Eres para mí and its expansion to  eres para  yo soy para ti.

The song feature lets you listen to the song, see the lyrics either in Spanish or in English. (You can switch between either as the song plays.) Then you can click on Start lesson on the lyrics.tus ojos mirandome - Language Zen

After that, you're asked to translate the English words, phrases and sentences of the song into Spanish. Again you can use the microphone and when you check your answer you'll often hear the fragments of the song again.

For example, in Your eyes watching me you'll pay attention the the gerund of mirar and in this, as in many other instances, how Spanish words are linked: mirándome.

I especially like songs with a memorable refrain and melody. Language Zen's selection is still limited, but you may well find a song that you like and that you'll want to learn. And when you do it with the Language Zen song feature, you'll not only learn the song, but also improve your Spanish skills at the same time.

In taking advantage of the various options Language Zen provides, I'm not only enjoying the lessons more, but with my increased accuracy percentage I can also see that I am getting better!

Realizing that I am making progress is definitely an important motivator to continue learning and practicing.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Language Zen is a partner site with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Why Context is Essential for Language Learning

Languages GlobeRecently I read again Steve Kaufmann's post Meaningful Context in Language Learning. He tells the story of a Chinese family.

The family immigrated to Canada 12 years ago when the daughter was 4 years old. She is now 16 and speaks English fluently, while her parents still have great difficulties and can't speak English well at all.

Steve traces their lack of English language skills to the fact that English is not very important to them. [...] They don’t have a strong sense of wanting to participate in an English-speaking society so there isn’t that context of wanting to participate in the language, but context goes beyond that.”

Clearly, lack of exposure to the new foreign language – as so often happens in immigrant enclaves in all countries – may well be the main reason the parents in Steve's anecdote never learned to speak English fluently.

In their daily lives, English did not occur in a “meaningful context for them,” and that may explain why they were not motivated to learn.

Why immigrants learn or do not learn the language of their new country is a complicated question. It involves issues of time and money, stresses of daily life, problems with assimilation, integration into the local community, the language used at work, availability of resources, etc. All or any of these may hold a person back from becoming functionally fluent in a new language.

Comprehensible Input

Steve Kaufmann argues that to get beyond just the basics of ahand on laptop - Stock Unimited language, a learner has overcome personal hurdles and also learn with interesting comprehensible input.

That means being exposed to language materials that are relevant, that “resonate” with a person's interests.

With all the technology available these days, you can be pretty much in control of your own language learning, though sometimes this may be a hit-or miss process to find your level.

To get the right kind of exposure to your new language, you can set up the right context for learning your new language by reading books and articles, listening to audios, watching films and videos that genuinely interest you.

But just LISTENING alone will not let you learn a new language unless you have a way of figuring out what the sounds and words of the new language mean. Whatever you're listening to has to be comprehensible - language that you understand, at least about 80% of it.

The Story” and Games

French Dialogue screenshot - Gamesforlanguage.comOur approach at GamesforLanguage is one way of providing “comprehensible input.” We teach vocabulary and grammar structures with short games and “The Story” - a sequential and connected series of dialogues and short narratives that tell of a young man's travels in one of four European countries.

While the different games help the learner to practice all four skills (listening, reading, writing, and speaking), the dialogues and narratives introduce and repeat grammatical structures, which he or she will recognize and/or, at times, be alerted to.

For example, already in the second Scene (lesson) of our French 1 course, Deal no Deal screenshot - Gamesforlanguage.comwe bring in the subjunctive, with the sentence “Je suis contente que vous parliez...” in our dialogue (above left). 

We then briefly explain the form “vous parliez in our “Deal no Deal?” game (see right). Twenty Scenes later, the expression “je suis contente” is used again, but with the subjunctive of another verb.

Will we teach all subjunctive forms of these particular verbs? No, but the learner is alerted to the context in which such forms are used and will soon start to recognize new subjunctive forms as they come up.

The Limitation of Flashcards

I love flashcards and we use them in our games. Learning vocabulary is clearly necessary and flashcards are a great tool for that.

But simply memorizing lists of words is not enough to really understand and speak a foreign language. Individual words are the building blocks. But you need to know how to build sentences with them and how these relate to each other in a conversation. 

The goal is to internalize how the language works for communication, in other words, the grammar rules that govern speech. That is best done in context. In addition, you have to understand what language fits into the given context.

Why Context Matters - An Example for French

Taking a sample French “core conversation,” in our French 1 course, I'd like to show how learners would focus on different aspects of the language at different stages of their learning, and why context is important:

In this short dialogue, a young man, Daniel, is at the home of a friend. There he meets Mathilde for the first time.

woman shaking hand - Gamesforlanguage.comDaniel: Bonjour Mathilde, enchanté de faire votre connaissance.
Virginie: Daniel, ne sois pas si formel. Vous pouvez vous tutoyer!
Daniel: Ça ne te dérange pas, Mathilde?
Mathilde: Bien sûr que non.

Hello Mathilde, delighted to meet you.
Daniel, don't be so formal. You (two) can say tu to each other!
You don’t mind, Mathilde?
Of course not.

Initially you may mostly focus on:

  • individual words and phrases
  • learning their meaning, practicing their pronunciation and spelling
  • finding a way to practice the sentences (Speak them aloud to whoever is willing to listen, type or write them out, hang the page up in the kitchen or your office.)

Soon, you may also want to know:

  • basic conjugations of the verbs used: faire, pouvoir, déranger, tutoyer, être
  • negation in French with ne ... pas: ne sois pas; ça ne dérange pas

Replaying this dialog again later on, you may discover and understand:

  • sentence structure: the form of a statement, a command, a type of question
  • other grammatical forms: the imperative of être: ne sois pas [tu]; a reflexive verb with a reciprocal meaning: vous pouvez vous tutoyer

Key Points to consider:

What is important about the context the dialog provides?

  • the age of the people (here they are students in their twenties)
  • how well people know each other
  • the circumstance of the conversation

Why take a conversation rather than individual phrases or sentences?

  • you'll better remember the words/phrases related to the context
  • you'll pick up cultural information (i.e. students say “tu”)

What will you have learned initially, and later on, either explicitly or intuitively?

  • 20 useful words, in a meaningful context
  • negation with ne ... pas
  • 5 verbs and a conjugation of each (Conjugations are shown in the game: Deal no Deal?)
  • 3 types of sentences
  • an imperative form of être and a reflexive form of se tutoyer

Once you've absorbed a few dozen conversations and acquired more than friends in a coffee house conversation - Yay Images500 content words, you're probably ready to engage in relevant, personal conversations with others.

Based on our own experience of learning several foreign languages as adults, we know that we can best retain and apply words and phrases when they relate to objects, actions, feelings, etc. that we encounter in our own life. (That's why we chose a travel story.)

We have found that it's best to learn a language in the context of a topic that interests us. It lets us recall words and phrases as part of meaningful statements, questions, etc. Moreover, when we use them in new sentence combinations, applying the grammar rules becomes much easier.

Discovering grammatical structures in context during the learning process is rewarding and more effective than drilling conjugations, tenses, etc.

Once we're out of the basics in a language, it's helpful to get more detailed grammar explanations. Sometimes though, explanations are just confirmations of our own discoveries.

There are plenty of ways to get comprehensible input” for many of the more popular languages. The extensive offering of free or inexpensive apps and online courses will allow you to choose and combine different approaches that fit your needs and learning preferences.

Real Conversations

People in Sevilla - Gamesforlanguage.comFinally, practicing your language in real conversations is a must!

As the Finnish born linguist Dr. Marjo Mitsutomi describes in Some Fundamental Principles of Language Teaching and Learning, you need interaction with others (speaking and writing) about topics that are relevant to you.

She argues: “mere exposure is not sufficient … interaction in the language is needed in order for the learner to communicate personal meaning in the target language. [...] Language practice which takes place in relevant context will then result in the acquisition of the language.”

Or, said in a different way: If your goal is to engage in relevant, personal conversations with others – the “context approach” is a good way to get there. 

As the Language Lizard Blog stresses, the value of context should be remembered even when teaching language to young children: “We use language for communication and therefore it is best learned in its natural form: through discussions, conversations, and stories.”

Yes, certainly, gestures, pointing to objects, repeating, etc. are all ways children learn to speak their native language(s). But from very young on, language for children is also a back and forth between them and others.

Adults who live in an immersive language environment can improve their new language skills tremendously if the language engages them in the context of their daily lives (and, in addition, if they practice speaking, and study reading and writing, as children have to do as well).

The Process of Communication

When you speak with someone in a foreign language, many things communication - Jay Imageare happening all at once. This involves multiple skills.

You need to follow the stream of sounds, catch where words start and end, interpret what the words mean, and create responses.

As far as it's important to the meaning, you have to figure out the essential grammar. (Is the verb in the present, past, or future? What pronouns or personal verb endings are used?, etc.) You also have to understand what kind of sentence it is. (Is it a question, a statement, an exclamation, a request or command?)

On top of this, it all has to make sense in the context of the situation. At the same time, you have to keep up your side of the conversation. Your brain has to construct meaningful responses, and you have to produce the right kind of sound stream to be understood.

That's a lot going on at the same time. All conversations from basic to advanced take place in a specific context.

Sounds are key. We know that imitating and producing sounds starts early in childhood. Learning to hear and say sounds forms part of a child's brain development.

However, as we grow up, we lose our ability to HEAR and DISTINGUISH sounds that don't exist in our native language (See our post: Beyond "Learning a Language Like a Child"). While this also makes it harder to sound like a native, it does not prevent adults from becoming quite fluent in a second or third language.

If you're not in the country and don't have a live community that speaks your new language, you should head to one of the virtual “language learning communities,” which Kirsten Winkler, Founder and Editor of EDUKWEST, calls Pubs of the Global Village. There, you can practice what you know and you'll continue to learn and improve your vocabulary and pronunciation - until you sound (almost) like a native.

We like italki a lot and use it ourselves to practice some of our languages. But there are many other language exchange sites such as Speaky, HelloTalk, WeSpeke, Tandem, etc. where you can find conversation partners.

It may take a little time, but you are likely to find someone with whom you can talk in your target language about topics that interest both of you. 

And that's when your language studies really start to pay off: When you can have an interesting conversation and are really communicating with another person in their language.  

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.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Traveling and Language Learning – They Go Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Latitudes and Captain Cook...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traveling Today – an Opportunity to Learn

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

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

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

School Memories?

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

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

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

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

A Running Start

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

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

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

New Ways to Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Why Polyglots Also Use Stories for Language Learning

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

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

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

What are “Polyglots”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

Why Stories from the Start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Polyglots Learn With Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Learning With What's Engaging and Interesting to YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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