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.
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.
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.
We 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.)
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?
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.
Learning 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.
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 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here.