Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

“Gruezi” and Other Swiss German Expressions

Saaner's Loch - Switzerland by Gamesforlanguage.comIn our previous post, we focused on the bilingualism of many Fribourgers. The German spoken in Fribourg is clearly of the Swiss German variety, with a few French expressions mixed in at times.

And while Swiss German is the generic label for the dialect, there are plenty of regional differences that a foreigner would only detect after a while.

When you're traveling in countries where you speak the language, you may notice that both formal and informal greetings often vary from region to region.

For example, when we were traveling in Northern Germany a couple years ago (see our post: From Utrecht to Hamburg: Dialects and Travel Tips in Northern German), we first couldn't make out the informal greeting we heard everywhere: “Moin.” We first thought it was an abbreviation of “Morgen,” as in “Guten Morgen” (Good morning), but it was clearly used all day.

Digging a little further, we found that while “morgen” may be one etymological explanation for “Moin,” another one could be the Dutch, Frisian, and Low German word “moi,” meaning “beautiful” or “good.”

This week we are exploring a few Swiss German expressions we encountered while skiing in the "Berner Oberland". (Above picture of "Saaner's Loch)

Grüezi” and a Swiss German Ear-Worm

To get a little taste of the Swiss German language, The Minstrels singerslisten to this YouTube Video of a popular song by a Swiss group, The Minstrels, from the late 60s.

It was the #1 song in Switzerland in 1969 for 10 weeks, made it to #3 in Germany, and sold over 1.5 million copies in 27 countries.

Even if you know some German, you'll have a hard time understanding the simple refrain. But listening to it a few times, you'll start distinguishing verbs, their grammatical modifications. You'll also pick up a few Swiss German idiosyncrasies.

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa: The Lyrics, Standard German, and Translation

Ja, grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Ja, grüß sie wohl, Frau Stirnimaa
(Hello there, Ms Stirnimaa)

Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie sind sie de so dra?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie sind Sie denn so dran?
(Tell me, how's life, how's it going?)

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie gaht's denn ihre Ma?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie geht es ihrem Mann?
(Tell me, how's life, how's your husband doing?)

Quick note: There is no standard written form of Swiss German. Letters and letter combinations are mostly attempts to express the way words sound.

And while you'll notice how the verb forms and endings are different from Standard German and hear how the “n” and “m” endings are dropped, we won't try to explain much more.

Just listen to the Swiss German language melody.

Swiss German in the Berner Oberland

Swiss Restaurant Terrace with guestsThis week the public schools in the canton of Bern have vacation, and besides a little French, we hear mostly Swiss German in the villages and on the mountain between Zweisimmen and Gstaad.

Even for us German speakers, some of the Swiss German we come across is a little hard to understand.

Briefly: In general, the dialects spoken in Switzerland (collectively called Swiss German) belong to the Alemannic variety of German.

Greetings: “Grüezi” vs. “Grüess eech”

Grüezi is arguably the most well-known Swiss German greeting. It's an abbreviation of “Gott grüez i” or literally in German: Gott grüß euch. (May God greet you.)

A variation of “Grüezi” is “Grüezi mitenand,” with “mitenand” (“miteinander” - together) making it clear that the greeting is for more than one person.

This greeting is used mainly in the Zurich area and in the east of Switzerland.

In the western part, around Bern and Basel, it's more common to hear “Grüss eech,” which also means literally: Gott grüß euch.

Indeed, here in the Berner Oberland, we've been hearing “Grüss eech” or “Grüess eech mitenand,” all over the place: when entering a restaurant, going into a shop, when sharing a gondola or chair lift with others. People even greet you as you're walking in the village.

In a restaurant: the verb “sein” - “sii” and “gsi” (or “gsy”)

Today, we ate on the terrace of a mountain restaurant. After greeting us “Grüess eech mitenand,” our waitress asked: “Was derfs sii?” - Was darf es sein? (Lit: What may it be? Meaning: What can I get you?)

When we finished our meal and she started to clear the table, she asked: “S isch guat gsi?” - Ist es gut gewesen? (Lit: Was it good? Meaning: How was the meal?)

Swiss German uses a shorter and older form of the verb “sein.” Instead of “sein,” it's “sii” and instead of “gewesen,” it's “gsi.”

Meal time: “Ä Guätä!”

It was a beautiful, sunny day and the terrace was A Guätä - Signcrowded. So, as is typical for many European countries, we shared our table with other restaurant guests.

We ordered “Röschti” (Rösti), which are fried potatoes prepared in a typical way in Switzerland. A meal of Röschti comes in all kinds of combinations: with a fried egg, with ham, with vegetables, etc.

Note also: The letter combination “st” (appearing anywhere in a word) is pronounced “sch.” The German word “ist” becomes “isch” (the -t is dropped)

We were served first, and when our meal arrived, our table neighbors wished us “Ä Guätä!” This is literally, “(Have) a good one!” and best translates to “Enjoy your meal!” The equivalent in Standard German would be: Guten Appetit! literally: Good appetite!

When we finished and were ready to leave, while our table neighbors received their meals, we wished them “Ä Guätä!”

Other useful words and phrases we heard

We often heard teenagers saying “Sali” or “Sali mitenand.” - Hallo, alle. - Hi everybody.
“Sali” is less formal than the greeting “Grüezi.” It comes from the French “salut” (hi/hey).

The French “Merci” (thank you) has been appropriated by Swiss German as well, and you hear it alone or also as “Merci vilmals” - Vielen Dank (Thanks a lot).

The German “Auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye) has the Swiss German equivalent of “Uf widaluege,” and means the same, “luege” - sehen (to look).

Probably a leftover from the old telephone technology of bells, if you want to say “I'll call you,” you'd say “Ich lüt dir a.” This literally means: Ich leute dich an, or Ich leute bei dir an (I'll ring you.)

For more Swiss German expressions see also our previous posts Swiss German Language Lessons in Gstaad (1) and (2).

Don't Despair

If you're just learning German and are trying to understand Swiss German, don't despair. Even native Germans have a tough time understanding rapidly spoken Swiss German, even more so speaking it.

But as with any language or dialect you want to learn, there are many ways to do it.

Here are three iPhone apps that will help you: Gruezi Switzerland (free), Schweizerdeutsch Lernen ($0.99), and uTalk Classic Learn Swiss German ($9.99).

We have not tried any of these yet, so let us know what you think below.

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.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language Learning: German & French in Fribourg, Switzerland

Fribourg, Switzerland - Gamesforlanguage.comLanguage Learning in Switzerland  

Visiting the town in Switzerland where I spent several years working in my first job, reminded me of my French language learning days. Fribourg or in German Freiburg (im Üchtland) is a bilingual city, and not to be confused with “Freiburg im Breisgau,” which lies in the Black Forest.

Pure immersion aficionados may well scoff at this: But working and learning French in a town where my native language German was well understood, had many advantages for me.

For one, I could always revert to German when my French instructions to the draftsmen in the structural engineering firm where I worked, were met with a doubtful stare.

Also, when the rapid French in a shop or restaurant was still beyond my listening skills, I could typically get a German, or Swiss-German translation, thereby generating “comprehensible input.”

CANTON FRIBOURG'S ROAD TO OFFICAL BILINGUALISM

The canton of Fribourg is one of three Swiss cantons that are officially bilingual. The other two are the cantons of Bern and of Wallis/Valais.

Fribourg entered the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Throughout the centuries both French and German were spoken in the region. For the canton of Fribourg the road to official bilingualism was a complicated one, with plenty of detours.

Since the early days, there have been various shifts. At first, German was the language used by the government (1483-1798). Fribourg, Switzerland language mapThen between 1798 and 1856, French and German alternated.

From 1857 on, both languages have had official status in Fribourg, but until 1990 only French was legally binding. Since 1991 both languages can be used for a binding contract.

Only the two north/northeast districts of the canton (of a total of seven), are predominantly German- speaking. It's more likely that residents of those districts learn and speak French, than residents of French-speaking districts learn German. (A possible reason? Many French speakers may be reluctant to learn Swiss-German.)

At this time, around 63% of the about 300,000 people in the canton of Fribourg speak French, 21% speak German, and close to 4 % speak Italian (which is not an official language in the canton).

A few years ago, the “Day of Bilingualism” (Journée du bilinguisme/Tag der Zweisprachigkeit) was set for September 26 and coincides with the European Day of Languages to foster language learning and bilingualism.

In the public schools of the canton of Fribourg, students learn a second language from grade three on. In communities where German is spoken, students are encouraged to learn French as the second language, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, in spite of such efforts and policies to foster bilingualism, language differences remain a point of discussion and sometimes also of controversy.

THE CITY OF FRIBOURG

The city of Fribourg is right on the language border between French and German. About 40,000 inhabitants live within the city proper. This number increases to 60,000, if adjacent suburbs are included and to nearly 100,000 for the larger metropolitan area.

Fribourg Bridges - Gamesforlanguage.comA few years ago, the completion of a new suspension bridge and the closing of the arched Zähringer Bridge diverted traffic from the neighborhood near the Cathedral and created another Fribourg landmark. (see picture)

Official city statistics mirror the language distribution of the canton as a whole. Still, it seems that there is a greater concentration of bilinguals living in the city, which may be in part because of the university.

The University of Fribourg (created in 1889) is Switzerland's only bilingual university. Both French and German are used as languages for teaching and for the administration.

In 2009, the Institute of Multilingualism was founded, which conducts research of how multilingualism affects education, the workplace, and migration.

Because the two languages intersect throughout the city, you'll find interesting signage in French, German, and also in Swiss-German dialect (which has no standard written form).

During a visit a couple of years ago, Ulrike had a tiny cameo role in a YouTube clip "We are Happy from Fribourg" by a Fribourg film maker. He used the Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" from the movie "Despicable Me 2", similar to what other Swiss cities have done. Maybe you can spot her at ~2.36 minutes into the clip, which also shows many images of Fribourg.

In fact, she was walking through the Farmer's Market where you can always find many delightful language tidbits. This time as well.

FARMER'S MARKET

On Saturday morning, Fribourg has a farmer'sFribourg - Snails for sale - Gamesforlanguage.com market that stretches from the City Hall Plaza down the Grand Rue. Vendors from the region as far as (French-speaking) Lausanne come to sell their wares. When I'm around, I spend an hour or so poking around and I always find some language learning opportunities.

Interestingly, the vegetable and fruit stands seem mostly set up by farmers that speak Swiss German.

For the first time in all the years, I saw a stand that sells snails. The “Schneckenpark” translates into French as “Élevages d'Escargots.” The above picture on the front of the stand explains both expressions: the raised, slanted boards of the snails' park.

Bio-Bread market stand sign - Gamesforlanguage.comAnother stand advertises in typical German compound-word fashion: “HOLZBACKOFENBROT AUS BIO GETREIDE” and with the wordier French: “PAIN FAIT AU FOURNEAU DE BOIS & CEREALES BIO.” Both translate to something like “bread made with organic flour in wood-burning oven.”

Not all stands advertise bilingually. Some have signs that are only in French or only in German. When it's Swiss German, even I sometimes need the help of a local person.

Take this sign of a Swiss-German butcher:Swiss-German Butcher sign - Gamesforlanguage.com The word “Metzger” (butcher) abbreviated to “Metzg” presents no problem. But hey, how about “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's”? To decode that, I had to dig deep into my Swiss-German language memory.

The word “gglùschtig's” means “tasty, a pleasure to eat” - not to be confused with the German word “lustig” (funny). I'm not sure about the double “g” and the grave accent on the “u.” Probably, it's a way to represent Swiss-German pronunciation.

The word “säüber” is as tricky as “gglùschtig's.” One could easily confuse it with the German word “sauber” (clean). But the letter combination “äü” suggests the sound of a word closer to the German “selber” (self).

The word “gmacht's” is easy and just means “made.” The suffix “-'s” (for “Gemachtes”) adds the idea of a “made” product.

So “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's” would best be translated as: “tasty and homemade (or self-made) products.”

LANGUAGE LEARNING WITH FRENCH & GERMAN SIGNS

With its medieval town center and old ramparts, the city of Fribourg is a great place to walk around and explore. When you pay attention to street signs or signs on shops and restaurants, you'll see some interesting words and language combinations.

"Croutes au fromage" sign - Gamesforlanguage.com French sign in a restaurant window: Les croûtes au fromage

These are bread slices dipped in white wine, topped with cheese, (often also with cornichons and tomatoes) and grilled in the oven. The advertised prices and types of preparation indicate a substantial meal.

la croûte – the rind

le fromage – the cheese

Street signs combining French and German.

One of the quarters Chemin de Schoenberg sign - Gamesforlanguage.comof Fribourg is called “Schoenberg,” a German word meaning “beautiful mountain.” (Note that in the French spelling, the German umlaut is replaced by an oe.)

One of the roads leading up to the quarter is called “Chemin du Schoenberg” (chemin – the French word for way, path.)

Not everybody loves this French specialty: Beef Tongue

Rindszunge/langue de boeuf sign - Gamesforlanguage.comGerman/French sign in a restaurant window: Rindszunge/Langue de Boeuf

la langue, die Zunge - the tongue

le boeuf, das Rind - the beef

les capres/die Kapern - the capers 

German speakers may notice a spelling error on the German sign: It should say "Rindszunge IN Kapernsauce"

Strolling through the city streets you'll see many signsRues es Epouses Sign, Fribourg  - Gamesforlanguage.com that make you smile.

A favorite of mine is the one above the Rue des Epouses, which I described in a previous post 11 Language Clues from German and Swiss SignsLook for item#11, if you need a translation of the French or the German, which is on the other side of the sign.

If you ever visit Fribourg and the Cathedral, or are looking for the above sign, you'll also pass by the bookshop Librairie "Bien-être" on one side, and the modern furniture store "Forme + Confort" on the other side of la Rue des Epouses.

In "Bien-être" you'll find all kinds of books (in French) about well-being, alternative medicine, etc. And - you can say hello to my sister Ingrid.

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Italian Travel Memories 1 - Marco in Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa - Gamesforlanguage.comMarco's travels start in Pisa, Italy.

With this post we'll now cover the first city that our Italian traveler Marco visits on his trip through Italy. (Previous posts followed our German traveler Michael in Frankfurt, Daniel in Paris and David in Barcelona.)

The travel stories, which are the basis of our GamesforLanguage courses, use real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc., many of which we visited ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for the other cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

Pisa is Marco's first stop in Italy, a university town with a long history, and known the world over for its Leaning Tower.

Visiting Pisa? Here's a short introduction to this historic Tuscan city. 

We'll follow Marco's discoveries in Pisa, for those of you who have done or are doing our Italian 1 course: Marco in Italia.

In our travel-story course, you learn everyday conversational language. Here, we've listed a few basic terms in Italian that will help you in your travels.

Quick Facts about Pisa

The city of Pisa is located in Tuscany, one of Italy's 20 Regions. Pisa mapIt lies near the mouth of the Arno River, about 50 miles west of Florence and around 5 miles from the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

(Note: Italy is further divided into 96 provinces, with the city of Pisa being the capital of the Province of Pisa.)

Pisa's origins date back at least to the time of the Etruscans, 5th century B.C. Later, it became a Roman colony and rose to the status of an important port city. During the early Middle Ages, the Republic of Pisa developed into a powerful maritime nation, involved in lively trade and power struggles around the Mediterranean.

Pisa's decline was accelerated after the 15th century when the Arno River started to silt up.

Now a quiet university town of around 90,000 inhabitants, the city of Pisa is renowned for its art and architecture.

[Please Note: PISA is also an anagram that stands for The Programme for International Student Assessment. That has nothing to do with the city. PISA is a recurrent study that measures the scholastic performance of 15-year-old pupils worldwide.]

Pisa Airport

Marco Magini is a young student who learned some Italian at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to Italy.

During his flight to Pisa, Marco chats with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him - all in Italian. It's a perfect way for him to practice his language.

His flight lands at the Pisa International Airport, also named Galileo Galilei Airport, and the main airport in Tuscany.

Marco continues to use his Italian as he goes through passport control. He explains to the officer why he is traveling to Italy and how long he'll stay.

Corso Italia and Ponte di Mezzo

Ponte de MezzoMarco's aunt, uncle, and cousin Valeria live on Corso Italia, which leads through the city center, from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II to near Ponte di Mezzo.(see picture)

If you're in Pisa at the end of June, you could watch a traditional spectacle, the Battle of the Bridge (called Gioco del Ponte) which takes place on the Ponte di Mezzo. Two teams battle it out: the Mezzogiorno (the neighborhoods south of the Arno) against the Tramontana (the neighborhoods north of the Arno). It's Pisa's most important annual event. (Find more information HERE .)

The centrally located Ponte di Mezzo takes you over the Arno River to the other side of the city. Standing on the bridge, you get a stunning view of the river bank and the shops and buildings there.

  • la città - the city
  • la bocca - the mouth (of a river)
  • mezzo - central, half, halfway
  • il gioco - the game
  • il mezzogiorno - the south, midday, noon
  • la tramontana - the north, north wind

Piazza dei Miracoli and la Torre Pendente di Pisa

It's just a 15 minute walk from Ponte di Mezzo to the Piazza dei Miracoli - Gamesforlanguage.comPiazza dei Miracoli (also called Campo dei Miracoli).

The Piazza dei Miracoli includes a number of magnificent buildings: The Cathedral (begun in 1063), the Baptistry (built between 1153-1284), the Campo Santo cemetery (started in 1278), and the Leaning Tower (completed in 1350).

The buildings combine Moorish elements (arabesques) with Romanesque colonnading and spiky Gothic niches and pinnacles. [Eyewitness Travel Guides]

Apparently all of the buildings on the Piazza dei Miracoli lean to some extent (which you can see on the picture above). They're constructed on soft soil composed of mud, sand and clay, which started settling soon after building began.

Because of its height, the Tower was most in danger of eventual collapse. It was closed to the public from 1990 to 2001, as an international team of engineers found a way decrease the lean and to stabilize the tower.

  • la passeggiata - a walk, stroll
  • 15 minuti a piedi - a 15 minute walk
  • l'edificio - the building
  • il campo - the field
  • il duomo - the cathedral
  • la torre - the tower
  • pendente - leaning
  • il campanile - the bell tower
  • la terra - the soil, earth

Borgo Stretto

Borgo StrettoOn the way back to Corso Italia, Marco and his cousin Valeria stop at Borgo Stretto, a picturesque street with shops, bistros, and cafés, on the northern side of the Arno. There, Marco buys a travel guide.

Afterwards, they go to a café for an Italian-style coffee and pastry: Marco orders "un macchiato," Valeria "un cappucino," and they both have "una crema di mascarpone con i cantuccini."

  • il borgo - the borough, district (in a town), village
  • stretto - narrow, tightly bound
  • la strada - the street
  • i negozi - the shops
  • una guida turistica - a travel guide
  • un macchiato - an espresso with a "stain" of milk
  • macchiare - to stain, add a splash (of sth)
  • crema di mascarpone - dessert made of Italian cream cheese
  • cantuccini - twice-baked almond cookies, biscotti

Other Places to visit in Pisa

Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights' Square): Historically Arno in Pisathe headquarters of the Order of Knights of St. Stephen, the square is located in Pisa's student quarter.

Banks of the Arno: A walking tour along one of the banks of the Arno River is especially beautiful in early evening.

Mural "Tuttomondo" by the artist Keith Harding: 1989, painted on the back facade of the church of St. Anthony. It shows 30 characters put together like a puzzle, each one representing an aspect of the world in peace.

Museo delle Navi Antiche (Museum of Ancient Ships): Archeological museum of ancient ships with nine well-preserved Roman ships, discovered during an excavation in 1998. 

Marco's Next Stop

From Pisa, Michael takes the train to Florence. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston.

Have you been to Pisa and have some suggestions? We'd love to hear from you!

Register, or log in again and continue with the Italian 1 course.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's 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 right here!

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

Games for Language Learning – 5 Years later

Gamesforlanguage. com HomepageIt's been five years since we went live with our GamesforLanguage site. It's time to step back a little and have a look at how "fun and effective" our games for language learning really are.

GamesforLanguage started out as an experiment and family project: A college language teacher and language course writer/editor, a retired engineer/consultant, a computer programmer (our son) and his graphic designer wife put an idea into action:

Listen, read and repeat story dialogues, learn and practice vocabulary with simple interactive games

We get feed-back that our games are "fun." But how effective are they for learning the 4 language skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing? And how much new vocabulary does a player learn and remember? We'll take a stab at some answers below.

WHO CAN BEST LEARN WITH GAMESFORLANGUAGE?

Language learners are a varied group of people. Players that come to our site (and have told us) range from 14 to 80 years old and come from diverse backgrounds. Some already know other languages, others are learning their first foreign language. And, some are not native speakers of English, but seek to improve their knowledge of English while learning French, Italian, German, or Spanish.

We have players of our courses that come back again and again, schools that have their classes practice with us, and learners that systematically go through all our Quick Games. We also have users that try us a for a bit and then move on.

True Novices may find the entry into and progression through GamesforLanguage a bit hard.

woman with HeadsetLearners who've had some contact with the language before (in school or college, on travels, through self-study) seem to do well.

They want to pick up the language again, practice vocabulary in an engaging way, and improve their listening and speaking skills. (The general range of our users is from beginner to low intermediate; in the Common European European Framework of Reference for Languages that means: A1, A2, B1.)

For adults, learning a language is more about persistence than cramming. We generally recommend that a learner do only ONE NEW lesson (Scene) per day and redo earlier Scenes or Games that have less than a 100% score.

Each of the Story-Courses teaches over 700 new words. Learners that practice fairly regularly and like the game aspect appear to make good progress.

But what kind of learning goes on, and progress in what?

LISTENING COMPREHENSION

man listening GamesforLanguage provides useful tools for building listening comprehension. This may indeed be our strongest feature. We have audio for everything, from individual words, to phrases, to the initial conversations at the beginning and end of the lessons (Scenes).

When training to listen, our brains go into gear to find sound patterns. The more you listen, the better you start noticing the patterns.

You begin to hear what clusters of sound are typical for the language you're learning. You start to notice what sounds go together to make words, where words start and end, where sentences begin and finish.

It's important to hear individual words in isolation, as well as hearing them in the stream of phrases and sentences. When people speak rapidly, the sounds of individual words get "swallowed up", sounds change or simply get lost.

A goal is to understand the meaning of the sounds you hear, which happens German 2 Podcast - Gamesforlanguagebest when you get comprehensible input. Part of that is becoming aware of meaningful grammatical patterns. Are things happening now, or did they happen some time in the past? Is the statement a negation? A question, a request, an opinion?

There are various ways to practice listening with GamesforLanguage. Once you've gone through a Level (6 lessons), you can listen to the Podcast. You'll understand most of it as you've already practiced all the words and sentences. So now you can close your eyes and just listen. This is a powerful way to build listening skills.

Or if you also want to read what is being said, go back and play just the conversations, one after the other. You don't automatically get translations, but you can check, if necessary.

SPEAKING

You won't become fluent just by usingpractice speaking GamesforLanguage. Well, no online program can make you talk like a native. To become a fluent conversationalist, you have to SPEAK with live partners, often, and about a variety of topics.

But GamesforLanguage does give you the tools to get started, to help you work on your pronunciation by having you SAY and MEMORIZE phrases and sentences you can use in daily life.

You're encouraged to repeat everything OUT LOUD, every word, phrase, and sentence. By imitating the pronunciation of the speakers, you begin to attune your ear and work your mouth to make the right sounds.

The clue really is to speak out loud, to repeat, and to repeat again. Sure, there are many ways to learn vocabulary - from using flashcard apps to writing out your own flashcards. These are good ways to review new words on the go, whenever you have a few minutes.

But to practice speaking, you have to schedule some quiet time for yourself and to use that to really focus on the sounds you're making!

Record It - Gamesforlanguage.comOur best tool for learning to speak may be our Recording feature. Each lesson has a "Record It" section that you can access at any time. You hear the conversation of the lesson sentence by sentence. At each sentence you're asked to "press 'Record' and repeat after the speaker." Then, when you press "Replay," you'll hear the speaker and yourself right after. You can do this as often as you want, before going on to the next sentence.

One of our young users learning Italian complained that she "hated to hear" her own voice. We agree, it does take getting used to hearing one's own voice, especially in another language.

It's worth overcoming your reluctance. You can improve your spoken language noticeably, just by spending 20 minutes, recording your own voice and playing it back. For example, do a sentence five, six times, and try to capture the melody of what's being said rather than saying each word distinctly, etc. To boot, close your eyes while you listen and talk. It really helps.

READING

Since everything is in written form, GamesforLanguage gives learners a way to Laptop reading cartoonstart connecting sound to spelling. With time, you'll start noticing patterns in how words are spelled in relation to their sound. That's just a start, though. Next, you'll need to find a way to continue to read texts that are increasingly challenging.

Learning to read in a foreign language is a wonderful achievement. It's a way to learn a ton of vocabulary. Once you know the written language, you have access to many resources in the form of books, stories, articles, comments, letters/emails etc. printed or online.

Most importantly, you can now chose, what really interests you, a key for staying engaged and motivated.

Vocabulary is often taught in groups of topics: Greetings, food, animals,Story Dialogue - Gamesforlanguage.com body parts, professions, etc. GamesforLanguage introduces words and phrases in context by using a STORY. It's a different way of getting into a language.

While it's important to learn specific vocabulary, we've always found that we remember words, phrases, and sentences better when we hear them in the context of a conversation or a story. That's why our lessons are, in fact, Scenes of an ongoing travel story. (Our German 2 course "Blüten in Berlin?" is a mystery-story sequel to the German 1 travel-story.)

WRITING

Shootout Game - Gamesforlanguage.comUnless you keep a notebook on the side or create your own written flashcards with phrases and sentences, you won't learn much writing with GamesforLanguage.

We do have a short writing game in each lesson, but it's mostly just spelling practice for words.

Two of our games - Word Invader and Shootout - ask the learner to build sentences word by word.

These require the player to choose the correct grammatical form for each word, such as feminine vs. masculine, the verb with the right personal ending, a present or past tense form, subject or object form, etc. 

When playing, you also practice word order. Some sentences in other languages follow the English, many do not. German is a case in point, but Romance languages also have their word-order idiosyncrasies.

MEMORIZATION

Programs with Spaced Repetition Systems (SRSs) have become very popular. Word Hero Italian - Gamesforlanguage.comAn algorithm keeps track of what words you learn and what mistakes you make. You're are asked to recall the words at a specific time. The goal is to get the words into your long-term memory.

GamesforLanguage does not (yet) have an SRS. We do have several memorization and built-in recall games, but the spacing is not personalized.

To really memorize new words, you have to do more than just play through a game once or twice. You have to make new words your own and start using them actively.

The vocabulary of our early lessons is on Quizlet, for those who like to practice vocabulary more intensively.

Another good method for remembering new words is to write them out (either in a notebook or on small flashcards). 

In "Fluent Forever," Gabriel Wyner suggests that by writing out your own flashcards, you'll have a much easier time remembering words. He also says that he reviews his flashcards, in increasing intervals, for a full year before he stops completely. Even Polyglots need to review multiple times.

PARTNER SITES

We know that no program can be everything to everyone. We also use other sites to learn and practice our languages. With some sites we have established partnership arrangements.

With other free sites like Lingohut we share blog posts and tips. Our revenue-share arrangements with selected fee-for-service sites or apps, which we mention in our Dictionary and Quick Games, give us a (small) benefit. They help keep our site otherwise add-free and provide our users with learning options that we use and like ourselves.

PAST AND FUTURE GAMES FOR LANGUAGE LEARNING

GamesforLanguage is a labor of love and totally free. For us, working on the site is a way to learn, discover, and do what we enjoy. It keeps us in touch with new insights about language learning for grown ups that we can share with others. 

Right from the beginning, we've been working with a wonderful team of native-speaker collaborators.

Since our early days, we've added a language-learning Blog that now has weekly posts, as well as Podcasts of the stories, and over 200 Quick Language Games.

We've also continuously tweaked our Travel-Story Courses following input from users.

We decided early on to forgo the development of a GamesforLanguage app. Instead, we're relying on the increasing availability of free WiFi and the mobile-friendly design of our web-based program.

Still to be solved is making the recording feature work on mobile devices and replacing the Flash-Player that is currently necessary.

Much remains to be done: Our French 2 course has to be recorded, the Spanish 2 and Italian 2 courses have to be written and recorded.

Other ideas for improvement and new content are waiting in the pipeline.

And while we're always thinking about ways to enhance language learning, we also believe that Gabriel Wyner is correct when he notes in "Fluent Forever":

"No one can give you a language; you have to take it yourself. You are rewiring your brain. To succeed, you need to actively participate. Each word in your language needs to become your word, each grammar rule your grammar rule."

We hope that our GamesforLanguage site is a fun and useful resource for anyone who wants to learn and practice French, German, Italian, and Spanish for free. We always welcome feedback and suggestions for improving and expanding our site, so leave a comment right here!

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.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travel 4 – From Utrecht to Lake Constance

German Intercity TrainTraveling to and exploring Lake Constance 

In an earlier post, I wrote about Dutch Canal Boating. After a fun trip around Dutch rivers and canals, we said goodbye to our American friends. We then began the next stage of our European travels.

In the Dutch city of Utrecht, we boarded one of the fabulous European Intercity trains. It took us through Cologne and along the Rhine River to Basel. There we changed to a regional train.

In Basel, the Rhine bends sharply to the east and for long stretches makes a natural border between Germany and Switzerland.

Initially, the train tracks follow the Rhine River Valley. At dusk we passed the well-known “Rheinfall of Schaffhausen” - the waterfalls of the Rhine at the Swiss town of Schaffhausen. (German students, don't forget to note the spelling of “Rheinfall” versus “Reinfall”! The latter means “letdown, failure, flop, disaster.” It is often used in wordplays with its sound-alike cousin.)

Überlingen at Lake Constance

Our destination that day was the city of Überlingen, located on Ueberlingen - St Nicolaus Cathedralone of the two major arms of the “Bodensee” (Lake Constance). (In Überlingen we met up with my sister, who had come from Switzerland.)

I had last been in Überlingen as a young boy with my parents. And while there was little that I recognized from that time, I vividly remembered climbing the bell tower of the St. Nikolaus Cathedral with my father. (see picture) As we neared the top, the huge bells suddenly started to ring, scaring me both with their powerful sounds and the vibrations they generated in the tower.

A good part of the city, including our hotel, is located on a sandstone cliff overlooking the lake. The 100 steps of the “Teufelstreppe” (Devil's Stairs) made it less than a 10 minute walk down to the lake. There, we found a “Promenade,” a wide walkway along the lake, leading to the town center with its restaurants, cafés, ship wharves, etc.

We were told that Überlingen has become one of Germany's favorite retirement destinations. That also makes it one of the oldest cities in Germany (in reference Ueberlingen wharfto the age of its inhabitants). The “seniors” we saw strolling down the Promenade, sitting in cafés, riding their bikes, or waiting to board a ship, all looked fit and active to us. (see picture)

While we were sitting in one of the cafés, we were surprised to see many bikers board a ship. We found out that there are several bicycle organization that organize tours along the “Bodensee-Radweg” (Lake Constance-bicycle path). It calls itself “Europa's beliebtester Radweg” (Europe's favorite bicycle path).

We often took advantage of the wonderful, warm fall weather and enjoyed people-watching while sitting in one of the many outside restaurants. There, we couldn't help but overhear conversations in various German dialects spoken at nearby tables.

Some German Dialects

Überlingen is located in Baden-Württemberg, the third-largest German state, German dialect mapwhich has close to 11 million inhabitants. Stuttgart is its capital and largest city.

Two distinct dialects are spoken in the state, with various variants: the Alemannic dialect of Swabian and Franconian. Swabian is spoken in the southern part of Baden-Württemberg, up to the border of the neighboring state, Bavaria. Franconian is spoken in the west/northwest along the Rhine including in Mannheim and Heidelberg.

[Note also: The Swiss German language is another variant of the Alemannic dialect. And, Franconian can also be heard in the northern parts of Bavaria [Germany's largest state], around Nuremberg, Bamberg, etc. The most recognizable dialect of the state of Bavaria is Austro-Bavarian, spoken in the southeast of the state and reaching beyond the border into Austria in a continuum of local and regional variants.]

We also heard the very distinct Saxon dialects from regions around Leipzig and Dresden.

And how could I forget the Hessian dialect, spoken around Frankfurt and Bad Nauheim (the city where I spent most of my school years, and subject of an earlier post: Where “Bad” does not mean “bad”...)

You can see the various German dialects on the chart.

Der Bodensee

The Bodensee, or Lake ConstanceLake Constance is the largest lake in Germany and Austria. It is only a little smaller than Lake Geneva, the largest lake located on the border of Switzerland and France.

Lake Constance is also the huge water reservoir which feeds the Rhine, the second largest European river after the Danube.

The Rhine River begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, enters Lake Constance at its eastern Swiss/Austrian border and then leaves it again near Konstanz from the Lower Lake. (Note: It's the town of Konstanz/Constance which gave the Bodensee its English name.)

I have fond memories of the Bodensee, where I started first grade in the town of Friedrichshafen. It was in there that Ferdinand von Zeppelin established the first factory to build his famous dirigibles, the Zeppelins, around 1900.

I remember going fishing on the lake with my grandfather. Later,Sailing with alps in the background a sailing trip on the lake with my father, as we ghosted by the Mainau (see below) at night, made me fall in love with sailing. On clear days you can see the Alps in the background, as in this photo.

This time, Ulrike and I took advantage of sunny weather and took several trips with the Bodensee's “Weiße Flotte,” the White Fleet of motor ships, with which you can explore the lake.

There are also two car ferries to take you across the lake: (1) Between Meersburg and Constance and (2) Between Friedrichshafen and Romanhorn (Switzerland). On this Bodensee-Schifffahrt site – yes, the word is spelled with three “f's” - you can download the “Fahrplan” (schedule) for the various seasons.

Our first lake trip took us to the Island of Mainau.

The Mainau

I visited the island first as a young teenager and remember thatisland of Mainau I was fascinated by its history. The island has changed owners many times over the centuries.

In early years, it belonged to the Order of Teutonic Knights. Then, after falling into private hands, it was purchased in 1853 by Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden to serve as a summer palace.


Later, through inheritance, the island fell to the Swedish Prince Wilhelm, who in 1932, gave it to his only son, Lennart Bernadotte. He then owned it until 1974, when he transferred it to a foundation.

Currently, Lennart's oldest daughter Sonja and her brother Björn Bernadotte are managing the property.

The island is a flowering paradise. Over 30,000 rose bushes Mainau flowersof more than 1,200 varieties grow there, as well as 20,000 dahlias of 250 varieties, and many other kinds of flowers.

We were there at the time of a dahlia exhibition. Walking through the gardens, we saw stunning arrangements by local garden shops, which where competing for the exhibition honor roll.

The island attracts more than 1 million visitors a year and it serves as a favorite destination for weddings. You'll find more information on the island's website.

Another car trip took took us to the town of Meersburg.

Meersburg

Meersburg - Old CastleMeersburg is located on the eastern shore of Lake Constance, at the midpoint between Überlingen and Friedrichshafen.

We visited the Old Castle, which towers over the town, and learned that it is still the oldest inhabited fortress in Germany. (There is also a Baroque New Castle.)


The guide, dressed in a medieval costume, took us through the part of the castle that is open to the public and now a museum. It included the Knight's Hall (see picture), the Arm's Hall, the dungeon, etc.

She told us much about the castle's history and the various legends surrounding it. The castle dates back to the 7th century and the Merovigians under King Dagobert I.

In 1268, it became the seat of the Bishop of Constance until Knights Hall - Meersburgthe bishops built the New Castle at the beginning of the 18th century.

The Old Castle then came under the control of the Grand Duchy of Baden. The collector and business man Joseph von Laßberg purchased it in 1838.

For German language enthusiasts, the castle is also noteworthy as the sister of Laßberg's wife, the famous poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, lived there the last 8 years of her life.

In 1877, Karl Mayer von Mayerfels purchased the castle and established the Medieval Museum. His descendants still live in the building during the summer months.

As in many of the towns along the Bodensee, there is a Promenade along the lake with pleasant cafés and restaurants. The small streets and squares bustle with boutiques, shops, and street merchants.

We just happened pass through when grapes were unloaded at the local winery. That was a colorful spectacle.

Other Sights along the Bodensee

There are many other places along the Bodensee that are worth a visit.

I still remember the little town of Unteruhldingen where I visited the Unteruhldingen Stilt Houses - Gamesforlanguage.com Pfahlbaumuseum” (Stilt-House Museum) during my childhood. The stories the guides told at the time were fascinating. This time, we did not visit the rebuilt village, but we could see the stilt houses from the ship as we docked (see picture).

I've already mentioned Friedrichshafen. While more of an industrial city (heavily bombarded during World War II because of its airplane and bomb factories), the modern Dornier aerospace museum shows the various Dornier airplane models, engines, satellites, and products of the Airbus Group.

Lindau Harbor ENTRANCEThe historic town of Lindau is located on a small island connected by a dam to a strip of land that allows Bavaria access to Lake Constance. The Lindau harbor entrance with the light house and its Bavarian Lion statue (see picture) is a beautiful sight. I remember it well from my youth when we entered or left the harbor on one of the white ships.

Traveling just a few miles further southeast, you'll enter Austria and will have reached the end of the lake in Bregenz, the capital of the Austrian state of Vorarlberg.

If you are an opera lover and happen to be there during the months of July and August, be sure not to miss the Bregenzer Festspiele. Most memorable will certainly be a performance on a floating stage in the open-air amphitheater. (But be sure to reserve your tickets early!)

On the other side of the lake, right on the border to Switzerland, lies KonstanzBlick auf Konstanz (Constance), a lively university town and for over 1200 years the seat of Catholic bishops. (See photo of Constance, with a view of the "Untersee" and continuation of the Rhine)

The city has an interesting history. Konstanz was refused entrance into the Swiss Confederacy in 1460, then joined the Swabian league and became part of the German Empire in 1871.

The city avoided being bombed during World War II by a clever ruse – it left the lights on and allied bombers could not distinguish it from neighboring Swiss towns. The large and well-preserved “Altstadt” (Old town) is dominated by the “Münster” (Cathedral).

Our stay in Überlingen and our various excursions along the lake brought back many vivid memories from my childhood and later vacations at the Bodensee. We can see why this region has become a favorite place in Germany for retirees. Austria and Switzerland are only a boat ride away. The cultural offerings in the nearby towns and cities are amazing. There are many things to see and do in each of the seasons.

If you are interested in more photos, see our Niume picture gallery: Überlingen and Lake Constance

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Language Learning: From Pimsleur Audio to Unlimited

Pimsleur German Unlimited screenshotPaul Pimsleur developed his language learning method over 50 years ago. And, if you read on, you'll understand why taking a look at Pimsleur Unlimited is feeling a little bit like "back to the future" for me.

If you've ever used Pimsleur audio lessons for learning a language, you'll know how deeply the sound of words and phrases embed themselves in your brain with this program. 

Young children also learn their first language through sound. They hear (and repeat) their caregivers' words, phrases, and sentences numerous times, begin to absorb the patterns of the language, and put all of this together to say what they want, and to understand others.

The Adult's Conundrum

When you learn a new language as an adult, you're in fact learning a new sound system, which runs parallel to the one of your native language (or to a second, or third, etc., if you speak more languages).

A problem for adults is that they may find it difficult to hear some of the sounds in a new target language. Why is that so?

Very early on, children's brains make it possible for them to hear ANY children playing - Yay imagessounds of ANY language. As they focus on learning their first language, this ability narrows down to the sounds they listen to and use in their daily life.

This narrowing down of sounds heard continues through adolescence and adulthood and can be traced to the growth of our “categorical perception.” (We described this phenomenon in an earlier post: “Beyond Learning a Language Like a Child”.)

So, adults have to re-learn how to hear and produce sounds that are not part of the language(s), they use in their daily life. It can be done, but they have to focus and practice.

Before you read on, you may want to read my disclosure at the bottom. For these reasons I can't really provide an objective review of the German course(s). But by starting to use the Pimsleur Unlimited Russian app, I'm able to judge how the app works for a language that I don't know.

What I know well: Pimsleur German Audio CDs

Obviously, I'm well familiar with the features that make a Pimsleur German audio effective:

  • Each unit's initial conversation has only one new word or phrase.
  • Later in each unit, new words are introduced in the context of what you know.
  • You hear and repeat new words, with backward buildup. (Singers call it "back-chaining.")
  • Comments on pronunciation issues are given as they come up.
  • A “spaced” recall schedule helps you move words from short to long-term memory.
  • You learn to make new combinations following a familiar pattern.
  • The speakers pronounce clearly, with a standard German accent.
  • You learn the sound system of German.
  • You learn basic German sound-spelling correlation in the Reading sections.
  • The units are downloadable. You can play them on your computer or mobile device.

But, no course can be everything to everyone. People have asked about these points:

  • There's no systematic introduction to grammar. There are only brief explanations.
  • Not enough vocabulary. Each unit introduces about 10 new words.
  • Most cues are in English, so you hear a lot of English.
  • You don't learn the spelling of the German words and phrases you hear.

Pimsleur audio does a very good job teaching the sounds and pronunciation to adult beginners. And most importantly, it asks the learner to SPEAK, REPEAT, and IMITATE. Good pronunciation can become a habit. Pimsleur gets you into the good pronunciation habit.

User comments, competition, online/app progress, etc. were certainly reasons for expanding the Pimsleur method, first to downloadable software, and now also to mobile apps.

What I'm discovering: Pimsleur Unlimited

Pimsleur App pageTo try out Pimsleur's "Unlimited" mobile app, I used the iOS app for German. To its traditional audio course, Pimsleur has added Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises. (To date, Pimsleur has 8 languages in its Unlimited mobile edition: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian.)

The core of the program is still the audio lesson, as described above. The added feature for "Unlimited" is that you can easily pause, skip back and skip forward when doing the audio. You can keep redoing a short (or longer) segment until you've got it.

With the Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises you have new and different tools for quick practice and recall of what you've learned.

Listening + Reading

Besides, you're learning to hear and understand, to say, and to READ words, phrases, and sentences in context. By learning to read beyond basic sound-spelling correlation, you're acquiring a powerful language learning tool.

Yes, children learn languages without first learning to read. By age three to three and a half, many children are highly conversant in their native language. However, they then spend years in school to learn to read and write fluently.

For adults, reading and writing in one's native language is part of daily life. When you learn new words in a foreign language, you automatically imagine how they are spelled. Without other information, you'll apply your own native-language, or other familiar spelling system.

By learning how German words sound and are written, you're training yourself to become a reader of German texts.

German is plentiful on the Internet in the form of news stories, social media streams on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (to name the most popular), ebook readers you can download, etc. Once you make a habit of reading German on a daily basis, your vocabulary will grow exponentially.

My Tricks With Russian

I'm a native speaker of German and taught college German for a number of years in the U.S. Right now I'm learning Russian from scratch with Pimsleur Unlimited. In general, my tricks for using the program with Russian are also applicable for German, or any other language. (I'm planning a more detailed review of Pimleur's Unlimited Russian for later.)

Whenever I start with a new online program or app, it takes me a couple of weeks to get into it and figure out ways I can optimize the resource.

The Pimsleur Unlimited mobile app is very easy to navigate, so you can hop around. Besides learning daily with new material, I go back and review. I love it that you can pick and choose what chunks to redo.

I go back a lot and replay parts of the course. For example, I replay the five last conversations, one after the other, just the conversations. Or I listen to one conversation again and again, until I've memorized it.

I replay an earlier Quick Match or Speak Easy, or several of them in a row.

A small notebook for each language is a constant companion for me. Pimsleur User Guide - Gamesforlanguage.comIn it, I write down words and phrases, as well as brief grammar explanations that come up.

Even if I never check back to those particular notes, just the act of writing something out by hand, helps me to remember better. Writing out also makes me literate right from the beginning and teaches me the new spelling system as I go along.

From time to time during the day, I recall in my mind - without the app - the words or phrases I learned the day before. There always are a few moments of down time to do this. My little notebook helps me if I need a prompt.

I certainly follow Paul Pimsleur's Golden Rule for Success #4: "Daily exposure to the language is critical to your success, but don’t attempt to do more than one 30-minute Audio Lesson per day. You may repeat a lesson more than once if you find it helpful." (You'll find these rules in the downloadable PDF of Pimsleur Unlimited User Guide, see screenshot above.)

How Fast Can You Learn German (or Russian)?

Learning a language takes time and effort. (Whew, how many times have I said this in my life?) Becoming fluent in a new language as an adult cannot happen just like that in 10 days. Three months of total immersion, with an excellent tutor on the side, may do it. At least that was my experience when I learned Dutch, and later English.

Learning a language as an adult with a job, a family, and a social life means you have to squeeze language learning in whenever you can. And you have to keep your motivation up.

With Pimsleur you can get a good start and keep going. Most of all, you'll build some confidence in speaking. For many, having the courage to speak in a new language is the hardest part.

As you need them, add other resources, such as a basic grammar book (to figure out what some of the underlying patterns are), podcasts or audio books (to learn listening to rapid German), a browser extension, such as Lingua.ly (to help you read many different types of texts), or a flashcard program, such as Memrise (to practice various types of vocabulary).

Finding a language exchange partner, or a tutor via Skype can also be a powerful motivator. If you can, travel to a country or region where the language is spoken.

Putting in the effort is really worth it. Most of all, have fun! Viel Spaß!

Let us know your comments 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: 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, other than receiving the German and Russian Unlimited apps for free.

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

GamesforLanguage's 10 Top 2016 Blog Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

red numbers This post was our #10 in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They deviate from the English model and invert the digits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. La Paloma Lyrics – Learning Spanish With a Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. My 12 Best Habits For Learning Foreign Languages

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Why Polyglots Also Use Stories For language Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep

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

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

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

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

7. How to Progress Faster to Language Fluency

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

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

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

8. Three Tips to Spark Your Language Learning Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

9. Reaching Language Fluency: My Experience With Spanish

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

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

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

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

10. Do You Need a Language Time-Out?

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Why You Need More Than Words For Language Fluency

body parts - Yay ImagesWords are important building blocks of languages. Without knowing them you cannot achieve conversational fluency in any new language you are learning.

So it's no surprise that people often ask: How many words do I need to know to become conversationally fluent?

This question comes without a precise answer, because it depends on the language, and to an extent on your life situation, your personal, and professional interests.

Still, there are estimates. For example, the linguist and polyglot Alexander Argüelles apparently believes that the 2000 most frequent words are those that let you express everything you could possibly want to say, although often by awkward circumlocutions.

A Lingholic blog post suggests:

"When you learn 90-95 % of commonly used words, you'll understand practically all everyday conversations. The last 5-10% you'll be able to guess just from the context."

Then looking at the size of foreign dictionaries and the claims of a number of studies, the post notes:

“A vocabulary of about 3000 words (not counting for inflexions, plurals, etc.), then, would be the number necessary to efficiently learn from context with unsimplified text.” 

Of course, having a precise number is nice. But, how do I know how many words I've learned? Perhaps the reverse is true: When I understand most of everyday conversations and texts in a foreign language, I probably know between 2000 and 3000 words.

Knowing frequently-used words is essential and will help you understand, as does the context in which you're having the conversation.

And yes, knowing at least some of the 13 body parts, shown on this drawing above, in your target language will be useful. You'll certainly come across many of them in your studies.

But if you're learning a new language, you've probably realized that “communicating,” i.e. participating in a conversation, is not that easy, even if you've practiced tons of words: You have to be able to LISTEN and COMPREHEND and then also to SPEAK.

LISTENING COMPREHENSION

Listening comprehension is learned with what Steve Kaufmann of LingQ calls listening tolistening attentively - Yay images “comprehensible input.” A lot of it.

Real conversations are often unpredictable in content. So listening to various kinds of topics you're interested in will help prepare you. With time, you'll start noticing and assimilating certain language patterns, even if there's a great variety in vocabulary.

Also, when you first start listening it will appear that the sound stream goes too fast. It's an experience most language learners share. 

I still remember arriving in Italy some years ago. Even after having completed three Levels of the Pimsleur Italian audio program (90 lessons), I could not distinguish individual words while watching Italian TV.

After several weeks, the rapid-fire Italian seemed to slow down for me. I was more and more able to distinguish individual words, then sentences, and finally to understand the context and meaning.

If you're a novice practicing listening comprehension, start out slow, with individual words, phrases, then sentences. Short audio stories are a good next step. Make sure you know the meaning of what's being said.

For the more popular languages, there now are free podcasts and YouTube videos available. Many of the free or fee-based online language programs have podcasts or videos as well (including GamesforLanguage).

LEARNING WORD ORDER and GRAMMAR FORMS

crisis center cartoon - Yay imagesWhen you learn a foreign language, you're learning how to combine words in a new way that is meaningful in your new language. In other words, you're learning a second (or third, etc.) word-order system.

You're also learning grammar forms that don't exist in your own language. In English, you don't have noun gender, for example. French, Spanish, and Italian have two: masculine and feminine, German has three: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

Or, the language you're learning has a different way of forming a question. A case in point: French has three ways to ask a question, and none of them follow the pattern of English. That means you're learning two different grammar systems that your brain will alternate between.

Dealing with two (or more) grammar systems makes a teenager or adult different from young children learning their first language. Between the ages of two and three or so, toddlers go from one- or two-word “sentences” to quite sophisticated ways of asking questions, saying what they want, telling you what they saw, repeating what they heard, teasing you, etc.

Despite some hits and misses, children seem to catch on quickly which words go into what order, and what grammar forms to use. Most amazingly, often what they say are new combinations, and not just sentences they've heard and are repeating.

Children are able to do that because of their brain's powerful “learning mechanisms,” which allow them to assimilate patterns of usage though listening.

Pattern learning also holds for adults learning other languages. The more we're exposed to the patterns of usage of a language, the better we'll acquire them. However, compared to children learning their native language(s), adults' exposure to a new language - in a class, online, reading, or listening - is typically more limited. (Unless, you're “immersed” in the language in the country or community where it is spoken, etc.)

For becoming conversationally fluent, you need to develop two skills: understand what's being said and create speech that is meaningful and relevant.

READING

You don't directly need reading for becoming conversationally fluent. Children man reading a book - Yay imageslearn to speak in sentences years before they learn how to write them. And in many countries there are still adults who can't read or write.

In fact, I was shocked to read the following, when googling for “U.S. illiteracy rate”:

According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can't read. That's 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can't read.”

(No wonder then that learning a second language is more difficult for many U.S. adults. If the world's literacy interests you, you may be surprised by the countries at the top of this World Factbook list compiled by the CIA.)

Adults don't NEED reading to become conversationally fluent. But for most, reading is still the most practical way to accelerate their learning in class, with exercises and apps, or with online programs.

Furthermore, as soon as you're able to read news articles, blog posts, even books in your new language, you have several potential benefits:

  • For one, reading is another way to assimilate the word-order and grammar patterns of a language.
  • Also, reading will expand your vocabulary and teach you how to guess meaning from context.
  • Finally, by reading you acquire ideas and facts about topics you want to talk about. Everyday conversations don't stop at questions such as “Where are you from?” “What work do you do?” They are also very much about ideas, events, and if you're brave, about history and politics.

SPEAKING

girl on laptop skyping - Yay ImagesI very much like the motto of the late Dartmouth Professor John Rassias, a effective promoter of the immersion teaching method: “Don't learn to speak a language, speak to learn it.” Speaking fluently can only be learned by actually speaking.

You won't learn to speak automatically just by doing lots of reading or listening. Yes, both will expose you to the characteristic word-order and grammar patterns of the language. Listening will train your ear to the language's sounds, which is essential when the sounds are quite different from your native language.

But, speaking a foreign language involves transforming your thoughts into specific sounds by training your vocal chords and moving your mouth in a certain way. It also means creating a stream of sounds that has the particular rhythm, pitch, and intonation, etc. of the language.

All of that has to be practiced aloud, typically by imitating native speakers. A teacher or tutor will be able to correct your pronunciation and point out different ways the tongue or mouth can produce the desired sounds.

Apps or online programs that have recording features are quite effective for improving your pronunciation. By playing back your own recordings and hearing how you sound next to the native speaker, you can work on making changes.

As a novice, start out slowly. Listen and repeat as often as you can. Don't be discouraged when you hear yourself for the first time. Memorize conversations, even act them out, mimic the native speakers – have fun sounding like a native!

FROM REPETITION to SPEAKING FREELY

It's very hard to have a genuine conversation just with sentences that you've memorized.

So how does one progress from a “low intermediate” level - where youconversation with friends - Yay Images can ask and answer basic questions - to speaking freely about everyday topics?

Certainly, repeating words and sentences aloud, and learning them by rote are essential techniques for a beginning learner.

But then, conversations with friends or exchange-partners who are native speakers, or a tutor who only uses the target language are the best way to improve your conversational skills in your target language.

Talking with someone is a complicated back and forth that creates a context for words and sentences. With talking come all kinds of “filler words and sounds” that are normal for a casual conversation.

Participating often in such open-ended conversations will expose you again and again to the typical patterns of the language you're learning and prompt you to use these patterns yourself.

So yes, learning 90-95% of words commonly used is an excellent language learning goal. And if you learn them in context, rather than as words in a list, you'll be building conversational skills.

Even if you understand all the words, you still have to decided whether someone is asking for something or telling you what you should do. You have to figure out how to formulate a question, express a reasoned opinion, or how to comment to a fast-moving conversation of your friends or family.

Getting to that level of fluency takes more than just words, it also takes much listening and many conversations on a variety of topics. And it takes friends and conversation partners to practice with. 

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.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

5 Tips for your 2017 Foreign Language Learning Goal

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

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

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

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

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

For many language learners that may even be an understatement.

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

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

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

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

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

Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #5 - Set some reasonable expectations

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some realistic goals that may work for you:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Spanish Travel Memories 1 - David in Barcelona

W-Hotel at Barcelona Beach - Gamesforlanguage.comThe travel stories in our Gamesforlanguage courses use real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc., many of which we visited ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (You'll already find posts on Frankfurt and Paris.)

David is our traveler to Spain. His first stop is Barcelona, often named as one of the top ten travel destinations in Europe. (And no, the photo above is not Dubai, but of the W Hotel right at the beach in Barcelona.)

Visiting Barcelona? Here's a short introduction to this lively, bilingual port city. We'll also list a few basic terms in Spanish and Catalan that will help you in your travels.

We'll follow David's discoveries in Barcelona, for those of you who have done or are doing our Spanish 1 course: David en España.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational Spanish. The Spanish vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms. We've also added Catalan equivalents.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Barcelona Novels

We wish we had read these books before or during our stay in Barcelona in 2012. Zafon's novels El Juego del Ángel (The Angel's Game),  La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind),  and El Prisionero del Cielo ( The Prisoner of Heaven), all are set in Barcelona. They are a combination of mystery and adventure tales. (Reading them in Spanish - maybe with the English translation beside it - will advance your Spanish quite a bit!)

The first published novel actually includes a “Walk in the Footsteps...” to “give a flavor of the setting for 'The Shadow of the Wind', and can be used as a starting point to explore more of the world of the novel, many of the locations and sceneries.”

Many places that we're familiar with and our traveler David visits as well, are described in the novels which span the first half of the 20th century.

The Catalan language

Because our course teaches Spanish, we don't include information about the Catalan language. However, the city is clearly bilingual. Catalan is a language spoken in three regions of Spain: Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as just across the border in southern France and a small community on Sardinia, Italy. It's also the official language of Andorra. 

While 98% of Barcelona's population speaks Castilian Spanish, a majority, around 60%, also speaks Catalan. You'll hear Catalan spoken as you walk around town and you'll see many signs in both languages. You'll notice that many of the names of streets, parks, villa, museums, etc. on your street map will be in Catalan.

If you'd like to know more about the Catalan language and why one should not consider Catalan a melting pot of Spanish, French, and Italian, read this excellent post by the Spanish Linguist. 

The Autonomous Community of Catalonia

Catalonia has been in the news of late because of aSpain's autonomous areas map - recent vote by the Parliament of Catalonia for its secession from Spain. (See also our previous post: Spain and Catalonia – Not Just a Language Conflict)

The territory of Spain, according to its constitution of 1978, is organized into 17 autonomous communities, and 2 autonomous cities. (see map)

In its second article, the constitution recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all. [Wikipedia]

While the “autonomous” label and “self-government” language in the constitution would indicate a substantial degree of independence of many communities, the tax levies and its distribution by the central government in Madrid remain an area of contention for many, not only for the proponents of secession in Catalonia.

A referendum in 2006, gave Catalonia an higher degree of autonomy than stated above. But a wish for more independence has obviously remained. And language has long been part of politics, with some bitterness on both sides.

Quick Facts about Barcelona

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is a cosmopolitan port city located on the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast of Spain. It is the second largest city in Spain, with over 1.6 million inhabitants. Its metropolitan area has a population of over 4.6 million.

The history of Barcelona appears to go back over two thousand years, though details of its founding and early times remain elusive.

Ruins from Roman Barcelona (then called Barcino) date back to the 1st century AD. These can be visited in what is now the gothic part of the Barcelona's medieval city. In his Blog, the travel writer Richard Varr describes the site as The world's most Extensive Underground Roman Ruins.

Barcelona belongs to the world's major global cities and has been called one of the world's leading tourist, economic, trade fair and cultural centers.

Catalan Art Nouveau architecture, called Modernisme, developed between the years of 1878 and 1910, and was an expression of Catalonia's striving for its own national identity. Barcelona claims to have the greatest collection of Art Nouveau Buildings of any city in Europe.

Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics, which revamped the harbor area and many buildings, and created a several mile-long beach area with cafés, restaurants, promenade, etc.

David arrives at Barcelona's El Prat Airport

David is a young student who learned some Spanish at home and later studied it in school. His father is from Spain and his mother from Mexico. This will be his first visit to Spain.

On his flight to Barcelona, Michael chats in Spanish with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him.

He arrives at the busy International El Prat Airport, which is located 12 miles from the center of the city. (Visitors using certain discount airlines may also arrive at the Reus and Girona airports, which are about 60 miles from Barcelona, so watch out!)

David's aunt picks him up. Otherwise, he would have gotten into town by taxi, bus, or train.

As David goes through passport control, he continues to use his Spanish. Responding to the standard immigration/passport control questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to Spain and how long he will stay. Following the Spanish, you'll see the Catalan equivalent in parentheses.

the flight - el vuelo (el vol)
the flight attendant - el auxiliar de vuelo (el auxiliar de vol)
the airport - el aeropuerto (el aeroport)
the passport control - el control de pasaportes (el control de passaports)

Districts of Barcelona

Districts of BarcelonaDavid's aunt and uncle live on Carrer de Mallorca (Spanish: Calle de Mallorca). This large street runs through the neighborhood (Spanish: barrio) of la Dreta de l'Eixample, and is close to Plaça de Cataluña and el Passeig de Gràcia.

Barcelona is divided into 10 administrative districts, which consist of 73 barrios. Each of the 10 districts is referred to by number and a name. (see map)

The old town stretches mostly across districts 1 (Ciutat Vella) and 2 (Eixample). It's in the latter where the barrio Dreta de l'Eixample is located.

Again, some relevant vocabulary, first Spanish, then Catalan in parentheses. 

the street - la calle (el carrer)
the neighborhood - el barrio (el barri)
the square - la plaza (la plaça)
the promenade - el paseo (el passeig)
the district - el distrito (el districte)
the old town - el casco antiguo (el nucli antic)
the city - la ciudad (la ciutat)

La Sagrada Familia

David and his cousin María walk over fromLa Sagrada Familia 2012 - Gamesforlanguage.com Calle Mallorca to Antoni Gaudí's spectacular church La Sagrada Familia.

Begun in 1882, the project became Gaudí's life work. At his death in 1926, only part of the church was finished. Construction resumed after the Civil War (1936-1939) during the reign of Franco, and continued after Franco's death (1975). The building is now projected to be finished in 2026.

La Sagrada Familia has been called the most unconventional church in Europe. Gaudí used the natural world and its curves for his inspiration and avoided straight lines and angles as much as he could.

For his constructions, he developed his own architectural techniques. Some of these are on display in the museum of the church as well as in the Casa Milà Exhibits (see below).

the church - la iglesia (la església)
the Civil War - la Guerra Civil (la Guerra Civil)
the nature - la naturaleza (la naturalesa)

El Paseo de Gracia (Passeig de Gràcia)

Paseo de Gracia from Predrera RoofAs they walk through their neighborhood, his cousin María asks David if he wants to join her for some shopping on the Passeig de Gràcia.

The Passeig de Gràcia is a wide avenue with shops and businesses that leads from Plaça Cataluña to the neighborhood of Vila de Gràcia. (The photo left is taken from the roof of Gaudí's Casa Milà, see also below)

A little history: Originally, Passeig de Gràcia was called Camí de Jesus and connected the city of Barcelona to the nearby town of Gràcia. With time, small houses, cafés, restaurants, shops, theaters, and dance halls were built along the stretch.

In 1897, the town of Gràcia was formally annexed by Barcelona. It became fashionable to live on the Paseo and to have one's house build in the Modernist style, by architects such as Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and others.

Today, the Passeig de Gràcia has retained its appeal. Most of the older buildings have been restored; villas, shops, and fashion houses have multiplied. Along the avenue, which is lined with trees, there are street lamps and benches. 

Here is a link to more history and a walking tour along the Passeig.

On the Passeig de Gràcia there are also many restaurants and cafés. In Spain, a café is called una cafetería. David and María order una horchata (a tiger nut milk drink; in Catalan: orxata), un cortado (espresso with a dash of mik; in Catalan: tallat), and magdalenas (small cupcakes).

Parque Guëll 

In 1900, Count Eusebi Guëll, a wealthy and influential CatalanParque Guell - Gamesforlanguage.com owner, bought land in Gràcia. He employed his friend Antoni Gaudí to design an estate for the rich. The park was built between 1900 and 1914. Gaudì's imaginative designs and architectural solutions were inspired by natural organic shapes.

Only two houses were built, though neither was by Gaudì. Because the project was not commercially successful, the family Guëll gave the land to the city in 1923 as a public park. It officially opened in 1926.

Gaudì lived in the park between 1906 and 1926 in a house built by the architect Francesc Berenguer.

In 1984, the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

the park - el parque (el parc)
World Heritage - Patrimonio de la Humanidad (Patrimoni de la Humanitat)
to design - diseñar (dissenyar)

Other Places to visit in Barcelona

The Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys): Built for the 1929 International Exhibition, the stadium was renovated in 1989 for the 1992 Summer Olympics. It is located on Montuïc, a hill in Barcelona that overlooks the harbor. 

Gaudí's Casa Milà 2012 - Gamesforlanguage.comCasa Milà  (picture left) popularly known as La Pedrera was Antoni Gaudì's last civil work and built from 1906 to 1912. It is an apartment building located around an inner court yard and incorporates many innovative features of its time.

The gallery in the building's attic exhibits many examples of Gaudi's design and engineering concepts. From the top you get a stunning view of the city. (see photo)

The building is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso): The museum opened in 1963 and houses an extensive permanent collection of Pablo Picasso's works presented in five medieval palaces. 

Joan Miró Foundation (Fundacío Joan Mirò): A collection of Miró's art, exhibitions of contemporary art, and Espai 10 and Espai 13, a Laboratory for Contemporary Art - where artists have the right to fail. 

David's next Stop

From Barcelona, David takes the train to Granada. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston.

(Going from Barcelona to Granada by train, is a nearly 600-mile trip. Taking the train is the most inexpensive option, and the trip can take between 8 to 12 hours. You can, of course, also fly to Granada, which takes about an hour and a half.)

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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.

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