My (first) retirement is now already a few years behind me. I was very lucky when we were able to sell the consulting firm I had co-founded. I was still in my fifties.
However, while I was looking forward to a less stressful life, I was also aware that retirement can have its own challenges.
I had read the usual books about retirement, how to stay busy, get or continue with a hobby, etc. Yes, I also had the typical list of house projects I never had time to complete earlier.
But during the months leading to the day when I didn't have to go to work anymore, my wife Ulrike and I made plans for an extended stay in Italy.
Preparing for Italy
Both Ulrike and I already spoke several languages: German, English, French, and she also Dutch.
These were languages we had either learned as children or young adults living/working in the respective countries. Italian was to be the first language we were going to learn as mature adults.
A few months before our travels – my wife was working as a development editor at Pimsleur International at that time - we began using Pimsleur's self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, 90 lessons in all.
This was an accomplishment. We felt quite smug about being able to understand basic Italian, but we also knew that the real test would come upon our arrival in Rome.
First Impressions and Lessons
We were picked up at Fiumicino Airport by our landlord's driver. When we tried out our Italian on him it became clear immediately that his English was much better than our Italian.
Our first apartment was in a narrow street above a grocery/bakery in Trastevere (see picture of Romand and Guiseppe), and located just opposite a wonderful little restaurant, Le Mani in Pasta. (This restaurant is now listed on Tripadvisor as #27 of 327 restaurants in Trastevere.)
We became regulars there, and as the owners and waiters spoke very little English, it was great place to practice our Italian.
Seeing “Le Mani” everyday when we left our building, it was easy to remember that “la mano” (the hand) is one of the exceptions in Italian, as most nouns ending in an “o” are masculine.
Other feminine nouns ending with “o” are: àuto (car), mòto (motorcycle), dìnamo (dynamo), ràdio (radio), mètro (subway), libido (libido), etc.
We also quickly realized, however, that we were far from being fluent in Italian. Yes, we had completed maybe 45-50 hours of learning with the Pimsleur audio courses.
While we got compliments for our pronunciation, we still had to rely a lot on pointing and gesturing for buying groceries in our grocery/bakery or local market (see picture).
For several weeks, our vocabulary clearly continued to be insufficient. And to our dismay, the Italian on TV was an incomprehensible garble of words for us.
We were lucky to find a tutor who discovered quickly via a first test that our Italian spelling was atrocious. With Pimsleur's Italian audio course we had not learned how to read and write and our spelling was automatically based on the French we knew.
The daily 2-hour lessons with required homework kept us busy learning for half the day. The other half we spent exploring Rome and its surroundings. We tried out our Italian wherever we could.
After a few weeks, the Italian TV garble dissolved into individual words that we began to distinguish where they started and ended. While we still did not know a huge number of words, we started to guess what words meant from the context. That accelerated our learning further.
Over the next months, as our tutor worked with us and monitored our progress, our confidence grew. We started to understand and enjoy Italian TV and movies, and increasingly conversed with shopkeepers and people we encountered during the day.
Language Learning during Retirement
There have been many research findings about the benefits of mental exercises for older adults. And learning a foreign language is near the top of that list - ahead of playing Lumosity games or solving crossword puzzles.
Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar patterns through practice.
“When younger people are sitting in bars discussion politics, love, and pop music with passion, we are getting ready for bed. Since my wife and I've been married more than fifty years, neither of us can go out and find a lover! In short: The quickest avenues to fluency are now closed to us.”
Acquiring fluency in a foreign language is certainly harder when you don't speak it all the time with your partner. That's true even if you stay in the country where the language is spoken.
If you can take advantage early on of one of retirement's key benefits: Planning your day and doing activities that YOU like – you'll never be bored.
Then, if language learning is on that list, you'll open a new world to explore: articles to read, conversations to have, movies or TV shows to watch, planning a trip to a place where your new language is spoken.
Beyond Retirement – “Un-Retiring”
For me personally, learning Italian (and later continuing with Spanish and Dutch, see my post about P.M Tools.) also led to our starting up Gamesforlanguage.
Using my interest in languages and my project management skills, plus Ulrike's background in teaching and course development has given us a wonderful way of combining our passion with a purpose:
Helping others practice languages we have learned as well, and sharing our experiences about language learning, culture and travel on our Blog.
And when we get a Thank-you note such as this one from a 80+ year old woman, who had completed both our German courses, we also know that it's never too late to learn and practice a new language:
"Thank you for such an interesting way to practice and learn German. I have really enjoyed doing this each day and am hoping to go to Austria in the Fall for a week at a spa. I liked the way you varied the learning process, also that you had a score at the end of each lesson, which, if not good enough, you could redo. Thank you again, M."
So who knows – once you start learning another language during your retirement – you may also discover reasons to “un-retire” again.
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.
Learning a new language is always an exciting project for me. I love trying out different language learning sites.
Lately, I've enjoyed learning Brazilian Portuguese with LingoHut, one of our Partner sites – and like Gamesforlanguage – a completely free language learning site. (Click on the Homepage image, left, and hear Kendal explain LingoHut's mission.)
LingoHut currently offers you twelve (12) different languages. And, if your native language is other than English, you can set the language with which you learn. You have many choices.
The vocabulary of each language is presented by Category and Topic, in the form of Vocabulary Cards, Flashcards, and Games. The words are said and written. There are no pictures.
LINGOHUT'S LANGUAGE LEARNING SET-UP
For Brazilian Portuguese, there are 109 Lessons that contain between 8 and 22 words or phrases each.
The Categories of the Lessons include: Start, Numbers, Directions, Colors, People, Time, Weather and Seasons, Antonyms, Body, Travel, Hotel, Around Town, Sightseeing, Shopping, Restaurant, Food, Beach, Vacation, Health, Office, Employment, Computer.
In each Lesson, you have Vocabulary Cards with Portuguese audio, the written Portuguese word or phrase, and a translation set to your native language.
The Lesson's vocabulary also shows up as a list just under the cards. This list can be downloaded and printed out. For a quick review, you can click on a word on the list to hear the audio again.
The Vocabulary Cards are followed by a Flashcard Game, with which you can practice what you learned and test yourself.
Other games in each Lesson for practice are the Matching Game (where you determine whether words or phrases and a translation match); the Tic Tac Toe Game (where you have to get 3 correct answers in a row); the Concentration Game (a traditional "memory game"); the Listening Game (where you hear, but not see, a Portuguese word or phrase, and then choose the English equivalent).
LISTEN AND SAY OUT LOUD
The Vocabulary Cards are great. You hear each word or phrase three times and are encouraged repeat it out loud. The cards continue to the next automatically. But you can also go back or forward one by one.
A key to learning a new language is listening and saying the words out loud. Because the cards advance automatically, you can close your eyes and just listen and speak, which is a powerful way of focusing on sound.
Another way of practicing could be to let the Vocabulary Cards play, treating this as a dictation, i.e. you write out the words you hear on a sheet of paper. (You can then check back for any corrections.)
THE DRIP FEED
Kendal calls the LingoHut mode of learning "the drip feed." What makes it work is exactly that: You acquire the sound, meaning, and spelling of your target language, gradually, in small steps.
The speaker pronounces each of the words and phrases slowly and clearly. This is perfect for someone who is in the early stages of learning a new language. You can try each word as many times as you want.
Remembering new vocabulary is an issue for everyone. The remedy is frequent exposure to the words you're learning and regular repetition.
A good way to get words and phrases into your longterm memory is to go back and redo earlier Lessons. If you find some words particularly difficult to remember, write them out in a small notebook or on paper flashcards, and review these separately.
LEARN GRAMMAR INTUITIVELY
With LingoHut you learn useful words and phrases that allow you to communicate with native speakers. You do not get grammar explanations.
However, the human brain is wired to recognize and internalize language patterns. With frequent exposure to typical patterns of sound and/or spelling, you pick these up without much thinking about the grammar rules behind them.
By frequently hearing and saying different phrases and sentences in a new language, you become familiar with the wording of commands, statements, and questions, the gender of nouns, adjective-noun agreement, the personal forms of verbs, etc.
Once some of the patterns of your target language are lodged in your mind, you can easily check up on a grammar rule that would explain a structure that baffles you. The internet is a fantastic resource for that. A useful site for basic grammar, for example, is on Learn Portuguese Now. But you can google others, or if you prefer, you can always get an introductory grammar book.
For checking words and idioms, I often use the free Word Reference site, a popular online dictionary. Here is the Portuguese Link.)
PORTUGUESE and other ROMANCE LANGUAGES
If you know one of the other Romance languages, you'll notice that many Portuguese words are quite similar. That, of course, helps you to learn.
However, pronunciation is a different matter. For example, I've reached an upper intermediate level in Spanish. When I see Portuguese words, I can often figure out their meaning from Spanish. But when I hear Portuguese spoken, I have no clue (as yet). The sound of Portuguese is very different from Spanish.
That's why the listening and speaking practice that LingoHut offers is so important.
LINGOHUT'S GLOBAL INITIATIVE
LingoHut's co-founder Kendal Knetemann left Nicaragua at age 13 as a refugee, fleeing the civil war in her country and coming to the United States without her parents.
Her experience as a young refugee and the need to quickly learn a new language inspired Kendal together with her husband Philipp, a software developer, to create a free language learning site with free access to all learners.
As a native Dutch speaker now living in America, Philipp Knetemann has firsthand experience with learning a foreign language. That experience has guided him to build a platform that is user-friendly for language learners.
LingoHut was created in 2012 and since then Kendal and Philipp have been adding numerous lessons in 12 languages. What makes the site particularly useful on a global scale, is that a learner has a wide choice for setting his or her language of instruction. (See the list below)
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 or below.
Disclosure: GamesforLanguage and LingoHut have a non-financial Partner relationship, exchanging language learning ideas and tips. Learning with LingoHut and GamesforLanguage is free.
If you're learning Russian, Pimsleur's Unlimited app is a versatile option to consider.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the then newly-released app for Pimsleur German. Since I'm bilingual in German and English, I couldn't talk about learning German. In that earlier post I described the app and its features. I also talked about the Pimsleur method in general.
This review of Pimsleur Unlimited Russian is a little different. Russian is a new language for me and my first Slavic language. The languages I speak all belong to the Germanic or Romance language families.
The core structure of the course consists of 30, thirty-minute audio lessons, presented as Day 1, Day 2, etc., through Day 30. Each day shows a beautiful picture and gives you some brief cultural information (when you tap on the lightbulb image).
The Audio Lessons are classic Pimsleur: Each unit introduces up to 10 new words, has you practice the pronunciation through backwards build-up, lets you recall what you learned with a built-in spaced repetition system, and sets you up to anticipate new combinations.
Individual lessons start with a 2-minute conversation, which uses new combinations of familiar words. This is followed by a 7-minute review of vocabulary, the introduction and practice of 10 new vocabulary items, plus a final practice exercise.
Using the audio with the app is great. In each audio lesson, you can easily navigate back and forth by sliding the button, which also shows you where you are on the minute-and-second time bar. Plus, there's a 10sec Skip Back and a 10sec Skip Ahead button. That way you can hear and repeat a word or phrase as many times as you want. When you interrupt a lesson, the app automatically puts you back to where you left off.
AM I MAKING PROGRESS LEARNING RUSSIAN?
Language learning is not a linear process. Even with a course that builds vocabulary as slowly and systematically as Pimsleur, someone like me is going to find ups and downs.
I was sailing along beautifully through Lesson 4, when in Lessons 5 & 6, I hit sentences with what I found to be difficult word order. They were sentences with "You would like ...", "Wouldn't you like ...?" and "Where would you like ...?" I've practiced these a lot and I'm still not able to give fast, automatic responses.
In each of those sentences, two particular little words are at a different place. When I need to give the answer, my mind gets stuck on placing those two little words. I know with time even that will become automatic. But it's taking time.
To help me learn difficult words and phrases, I've written up flashcards using 3"x5" index cards. Writing these out by hand helps me to memorize them. They also give me the chance to practice the words in a different way. I've started adding the Cyrillic spelling for the words, which is a good method for practicing the Cyrillic alphabet.
In the next couple of weeks of learning Russian, I'll start looking at some basic Russian grammar. I'll then better understand the word order of some sentences, and why some of the endings change.
There's a tab for Reading Lessons on the audios. There are nine Reading Lessons which can be accessed from Day 2 to Day 10. (No Reading Lessons after Day 10.)
Together, the Reading Lessons take you through 320 Russian words or phrases. The first 200 help you to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, letter by letter, in the context of words and short phrases. The last 120 items are for practice.
The words in the Reading Lesson are not translated and many of them are never taught in the Audio Lessons. However, you hear the correct pronunciation of every word, phrase, and sentence you see and tap on, and thereby learn the correlation between Cyrillic letters and their sound.
DO THE READING LESSONS WORK?
I did all the Reading Lessons in two days (about an hour each day). By the time I reached the practice lessons, I was pretty good at sounding out most of the words. My pronunciation wasn't perfect, but it was close.
I was amazed how quickly I could figure out the sound of individual words I had never seen before. It's also been fun to see a familiar word here and there and go "Aha - that's how it's written!"
That doesn't mean that I can now read texts in Cyrillic. Reading for meaning is a whole different world. It's the next step and something I'll need to practice a lot.
FLASH CARDS, QUICK MATCH & SPEAK EASY
Each lesson has three specific review exercises, Flash Cards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy. You can do any of the review exercises whenever you want.
For the Flash Cards, you hear the audio and see a written version of the new words and phrases of the lesson. At the bottom of the card, you have the option to check "Show Transliteration" (which shows you the words in romanized spelling). Otherwise, you'll see the words written in Cyrillic. (You can even go back and forth between Transliteration and Cyrillic script on each card.)
In the Quick Match exercises you get an English sentence, audio and written. You then choose the correct match for the Russian, either in Transliteration or in Cyrillic. (If you wish, you can toggle between the two.) Once you tap on an answer (even if it tells you it's incorrect), you'll hear the audio.
In the Speak Easy exercises you practice and engage in the conversations of each lesson, by listening, reading, and finally taking the role of one of the speakers. The conversation lines are in Cyrillic, and you can add the Transliteration.
Together, these exercises help you memorize the words and practice your pronunciation. Once you've done the Reading Lessons and know the Cyrillic alphabet, the Flash Cards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises are a great way to start practice reading for meaning.
I like all of these exercises. They give a quick review, they're fun to do, and are a way to stay engaged.
LEARNING ON THE GO
Playing your language program while you're doing something else: driving, running, cooking, washing dishes, etc. is definitely convenient.
I sometimes listen to Italian or Spanish while cooking, now that I'm on an upper intermediate (B2) level in those languages.
But when I start out with a new language, I have found that I do my best learning when I'm alone, when I've put time aside, and can really focus on the learning itself.
I can listen without distraction, repeat words aloud as many times as I want, stop and write myself notes, create my paper flashcards, etc. This is where I'm now with learning Russian.
Then, once the words and sounds are in my brain, playing them again while my mind is half on something else will be okay too.
I also know that I'm still a long way from being able to understand Russian conversations. So for now, I have to listen and learn with focus wherever I can find some quiet time with my app.
CAN YOU DO 30 LESSONS IN 30 DAYS?
Maybe I could, if I were relearning a language I had taken in school or college. But for Russian, I've not been able to do a new lesson every day. I've had some interruptions (holidays, travel, flu). More importantly though, I've found the need to go back to earlier lessons and review sentences that I find hard.
The key to learning Russian, or any other language for that matter, is doing something every day. It could be redoing a lesson, or part of one. Or it could be going back and playing some of the Flash Card, Quick Match, or Speak Easy exercises.
I have now finished just over half of the course. I feel I'm well-launched into learning Russian. My pronunciation is pretty good, I know the Cyrillic letters, I'm starting to recognize some words, and I can automatically recall some of the basic words and phrases.
Most of all, I continue to feel motivated. The more I'm learning, the more I'm getting excited about learning more.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Pimsleur language courses are not inexpensive. You can currently purchase each of the 3 levels of the Pimsleur Russian Unlimited Software online for $135 (as CD or Download), or all three levels for $315. One MP3 audio lesson can be downloaded for free. You may find lower prices on Amazon for new or used CDs.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook,Twitterand Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.
Disclosure: Ulrike Rettig was the Development Editor/Author of Pimsleur's German Levels 1, 2 and 3, written during the time she worked for Pimsleur Language Programs (owned since 1997 by Simon & Schuster Audio). She left Pimsleur in 2010. GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with Simon & Schuster Audio, other than receiving the German and Russian Unlimited apps for free.
2016 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.
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.
This 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!
The 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.
If 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.
If 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?
There 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 onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any comments right here.
2017 is approaching fast. Will learning a foreign language be one of your 2017 goals?
January is definitely a key month. And there's some good news: A survey published by the Boston Globe in 2014 showed that 76% of the people who keep their resolutions through February 1, will keep going.
You have at least a three-in-four chance to reach your goal by year end. So, what should you be taking into account?
“Learning a Language isn't always easy...”
Languages Around the Globe blogger Brian Powers recently pointed out in a post with the above title that “for most of us learning a language from scratch isn't always a walk in the park.”
For many language learners that may even be an understatement.
Based on school experiences, some may feel that they are “just not good at learning a foreign language.”
Others get discouraged when they don't progress fast enough.
And some just give up because they get bored and can't stay engaged.
While you may have some strong beliefs about learning a foreign language, you should keep the following in mind:
If you were able to learn your native language, why shouldn't you be able to learn another language?
Were your expectations for fast progress unrealistic?
Couldn't you overcome boredom with more interesting and engaging methods?
Surveys show that “keeping up the motivation” and “not enough time” are the two principal difficulties that learners list when learning a foreign language.
The excuse that there's “not enough time” may also hide other reasons. Most adult learners are usually quite motivated at the outset, only to realize that real progress is slow and takes more time and effort than they had anticipated.
Also, there are different levels of motivation. The need to understand and speak a new language may be different for someone who has a new job assignment and career in a foreign country, than for someone who intends to travel there for a short vacation. But “keeping up the motivation” is certainly a difficulty that cannot be underestimated.
There are few things (if any) in life we can learn half-heartedly. As children we seem to learn many things playfully. Still, it takes us quite a few years to fully acquire our first language. The same is true for complex skills such as playing an instrument or doing various sports.
One's motivation to learn is likely both genetic (“wired” for language, music, walking, running, winning, etc.) and environmental (copying, competing with, encouraged by siblings, friends, parents, teachers, etc).
As adults, the goals and challenges we set ourselves arise from various sources, family, friends, jobs, as well as our own feelings, interests, desires, fears, etc.
Being aware of our motivation for achieving a goal is often not as simple as it sounds. But for any long-term project - as learning a new language clearly is - knowing your motivation is essential.
If you want to “spark” your language learning motivation, have a look at an earlier post of ours HERE.
What does “engagement” mean in this context? To be “engaged” implies that you do more than just attend a language class once a week, listen to a couple of CDs, take online lessons once or twice per week, or open a vocabulary app or a course book from time to time.
It means that you have been hit by the language bug and are getting involved with the new language in many different ways. Maybe at the start, you'll watch a foreign movie with subtitles or read dual-language books. Then you'll graduate to reading newspaper articles and books on topics that interest you. You'll watch TV and movies (without subtitles!), regularly listen to audios and podcasts, and meet people to talk to, either in person or online.
(Talking with native speakers is really the best way, and many believe the only way, to practice speaking and to improve your fluency.)
There are lots of ways to make language learning more interesting. If you're planning a trip to a country or region where the language is spoken, you can start learning about its culture, history and politics. If you love the country's food and wine, great – there's another entry point for making new discoveries.
Just think how engaged you are with any activities you enjoy. The more you can connect the target language with those aspects of life that are fun to you or you feel passionate about, the more engaged you'll be, and the more fuel you'll add to your motivation.
If you've read this far, you may already know what my five tips are about:
Tip #1 - Know exactly, WHY you want to learn a new Language!
The reason for learning a foreign language has to be strong enough to keep you going when things get tough, as they invariably will. It's no secret that the stronger the need, the stronger the motivation to keep learning.
So take a good look at WHY you really want to make it a 2017 goal. Write down the reasons and the benefits and attach them to your fridge or somewhere else where you can see them daily.
People's reasons are always quite personal. They differ from individual to individual: A job opportunity and/or moving to another country, a new partner or family member, exotic travel plans, etc. all will bring different urgency and time considerations with them.
Tip #2 – Determine what engages – or what bores you!
Determining what engages or bores you is essential. This has both to do with the way you learn and with what keeps you interested.
For some, attending live language classes, being motivated by peer pressure, etc. is the way to go. Others learn well on their own, with language books, CDs/DVDs, apps, online programs or tutors.
The earlier you find ways to connect your learning and practicing method with your areas of interest, the better. That's also why the first few months of learning will be the hardest. Without knowing the language basics and having sufficient vocabulary, your choices will be more limited.
Finding the right venue or program will take some careful consideration and will also depend on #3 and #4 below.
Tip #3 – Research what's offered online and in your neighborhood
What is offered in your neighborhood or community in language learning resources will depend greatly on where you live. Live language courses will often only be available for certain languages, but you may be able to find private tutors if you can't find any courses.
Many public libraries have language courses on CDs or DVDs, or they may have online courses for download.
Even many fee-for-service online programs have free trial offers. Take advantage of them until you find a program that's a good fit for you.
One note of caution: Don't get caught by the marketing hype. Learning a new language as an adult takes work and effort. But the right teachers and tutors can make a huge difference in how you learn. That's also true for online learning programs that keep you learning and practicing.
Take your time, if you can, and find one that keeps you going and engaged.
Tip #4 – Determine the time/resources you can commit
If you're setting a goal for 2017, you may already have a deadline or a commitment. You may even have a budget and/or time allocated for learning.
If you can spend 3-4 weeks in an immersion-style course in a language school, good for you. You'll make great progress.
If you learn best in language classes and you can find one in your community, great as well. (You'll certainly want to figure out what extracurricular language activities you should add.)
If you're a self-learner with a limited budget and/or time, you should plan when and how you're going to learn.
Experience has shown that daily exposure to the target language is key: 15-20 minutes every day will be more effective than 2 hours once a week.
So, whether learners are taking classes or using CDs, DVDs, apps or online programs, they should allow for daily connection with the language they are learning.
During the early stages, this may be just learning 5-10 new words a day, playing a language game (such as GamesforLanguage offers), doing a lesson, reading a page in a book (ideally aloud), listening to a song, recording yourself reading, etc.
Later, with the basics behind you, you can plan reading online articles, books, and watching movies and videos, etc. of topics that interest you.
Tip #5 - Set some reasonable expectations
Depending on the language you're learning, basic fluency should take between 500 and 1000 hours of study. This is according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). For further opinions, read up on a discussion on Quora.
So, unless you plan to study 10 hours a week for the easiest language, you're not likely to reach conversational fluency by the end of the year.
What about Benny Lewis' promise “Fluent in 3 months?” The answer is: if you use his single-minded approach and immersion strategies, you could get there.
And indeed, all of his techniques and hacks are very useful – IF YOU PRACTICE THEM REGULARLY AND CONSISTENTLY.
However, most of us will not be able to do so. We therefore need to set more realistic expectations and goals.
Here are some realistic goals that may work for you:
Take a class and complete it, with all the required homework, etc.
Learn with an app or online course, and plan the number of lessons you want to complete each week, and the number of words you want to learn and review daily.
Read an easy novel in your target language after three or four months.
Be able to watch and understand a foreign movie without English subtitles after 9 months.
It's very easy to be too optimistic at the beginning. Don't overestimate the time you have available or are willing to commit. Start slowly and get into a learning habit. Then add practice time.
Eventually you want to do something in your target language DAILY - learn/review vocabulary, play a language game, do a course lesson, read a chapter of a book or article, listen to a podcast, watch a movie, etc. - anything that really interests and engages you.
And, if you do so, your language skills will certainly grow (as the acronym above implies!)
Learning a foreign language as an adult is a big challenge. You need to stay motivated and put in the time.
Your efforts will show best if you have regular and frequent exposure to the language. To do that, engage with the language in as many ways as you can. Start making it part of your life!
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
For 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 30 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).
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.)
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 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.)
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
As 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.), writtentext, 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?
Watch a film or YouTube video in your target language, without English captions (or with captions in the same language).
Listen, with attention, to an audio book. If you can, follow along with the text in your target language.
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 onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any commentswithcontact.
Disclosure: Several of the language learning companies mentioned above are partner sites with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.
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 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.
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
To 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
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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
How 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 and 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.
Interjections 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. 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."
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
Yes, 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.
As 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) pull 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.”
SETTING 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.)
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”)
Modifica Profilo - Change your Profile
Lingua - Language
Preferiti - Favorites
Notizie - News
Pagine - Pages
Gruppi - Groups
Applicazioni - Apps
Seeing a Post and reacting to it:
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):
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.)
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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Recently, 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.”
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.
A 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!)
As I pointed out above, one other feature 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
One 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) and 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.
Indeed 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 my 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
The 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 “Túeresparamíyosoyparati.”
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.”
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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Disclosure: Language Zen is a partner site with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.