Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Travel Memories 2 - Michael in Heidelberg

Heidelberg mit Neckar und SchlossVisiting Heidelberg? Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with lots of wonderful travel memories.

Our first German Travel Memories post covered Frankfurt a.M., where Michael, the young traveler, is visiting family. He then takes the train to Heidelberg for his second stop in Germany.

We'll follow Michael's explorations of Heidelberg. For those of you who are doing or have done our German 1 course: Michael in Deutschland, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you more about each of the cities of GamesforLanguage's travel-story based courses. We typically use the cities' real street names, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the two other German cities Michael visits, Munich and Berlin. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Italy, Spain, and the U.S.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful travel terms in German.

Quick Facts about HeidelbergHeidelberg view from Castle

The city of Heidelberg lies on the Neckar river, in the south-western part of Baden-Württemberg (one of Germany's 16 federal states).

Because of its stunning location and picturesque cityscape, Heidelberg is a hugely popular travel destination.

A quintessential college town, Heidelberg has a population of just over 150,000, with roughly a quarter of its inhabitants being students.

The city is well known for its university, which was founded in 1386 and said to be one of the oldest in Germany. Over the centuries it has attracted prominent philosophers, poets, and scholars.

In addition, Heidelberg is the location of numerous research institutions, among them four Max Plank Institutes.

After World War II, Heidelberg, which was situated in the American Zone, became the Headquarters of the American forces in Europe.

  • Bundesland (n.) - federal state
  • Lage (f.) - location (of a city)
  • Stadtbild (n.) - cityscape
  • Universitätsstadt (f.) - college/university town
  • Studenten (pl. m.) - students
  • Philosophen (pl. m.) - philosophers
  • Forschung (f.) - research
  • Forschungsinstitut - research institute
  • Hauptquartier (n.) - (military) Headquarters, H.Q.
  • die amerikanischen Truppen - the American forces

Arrival in Heidelberg (the Weststadt Neighborhood)

House Zum Ritter in Heidelberg, GermanyFrom Frankfurt, Michael takes the ICE (InterCity) to Heidelberg, a train ride of less than an hour. (You can also take the S-Bahn, or a regional train.)

Heidelberg has 15 city districts. The Central Railway Station is located in Weststadt, the district next to the historic core of the city (Altstadt). It's also where Michael's friends live: on the Schillerstraße.

Weststadt is a residential district dating back to the 1830s. Starting in the 1870s and continuing into the 20th century (a period which is often called "Gründerzeit"), Weststadt experienced a residential building boom and became a highly fashionble neighborhood.

The "Gründerzeit" (literally, "founders' period") - related to the period when the German national state was consolidated under Chancellor Bismarck - coincided with rapid industrialization and economic growth in central Europe.

The architectural style of that time was eclectic and mixed diverse historical periods. So walking through the Weststadt neighborhood, you'll see buildings in various styles: Italian Renaissance, Baroque Revival, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, etc.

  • Hauptbahnhof (m.) - Central Railway Station
  • Altstadt (f.) - historic city center
  • Wohngegend (f.) - residential area
  • Gründerzeit (f.) - economic phase of rapid development (lit.: "founders' period")
  • Bauboom (m.) - building boom
  • Industrialisierung (f.) - industrialization
  • Wirtschaftswachstum (n.) - economic growth
  • Baustil (m.) - (architectural) style
  • Ritter (m.) knight
  • Friedrich Schiller - German philospher, playwright, poet (1759-1805)
  • nach rechts - to the right
  • nach links - to the left
  • geradeaus - straight ahead

Mark Twain's Travel Memories of Heidelberg

Michael and his friends walk through the historic of Heidelberg ("Altstadt").

One of his friends, Renate, points out a hotel, where Mark Twain supposedly stayed during his visit to Heidelberg in 1878.

In that year, Mark Twain was struggling to finish his novel Huckleberry Finn (as some journalists claim), and went on a Europe tour with his family, as a kind of working holiday.

Mark Twain loved Heidelberg (as you can  read in his Travel Book "A Tramp Abroad") and stayed there for three months. 

Possibly, the hotel that Renate points out, is today's Crowne Plaza, built in 1838 as Hotel Ernst, and located in the Old Town on the Bahnhofstraße. Mark Twain first notes in "A Tramp Abroad": "We stopped at a hotel by the railway-station."

Twain continues:

The weather was growing pretty warm,—very warm, in fact. View from Heidelberg castle where Mark Twain made travel memoriesSo we left the valley and took quarters at the Schloss Hotel, on the hill, above the Castle.

As Twain describes it, the Schloss Hotel provided him with a fantastic view: (see view from Heidelberg castle)

"Now if one turns and looks up the gorge once more, he will see the Schloss Hotel on the right perched on a precipice overlooking the Neckar—a precipice which is so sumptuously cushioned and draped with foliage that no glimpse of the rock appears. The building seems very airily situated. ...

Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers ... It is a fine sight to see the evening sunlight suddenly strike the leafy declivity at the Castle’s base and dash up it and drench it as with a luminous spray, while the adjacent groves are in deep shadow."

Journalists and historians have tried to guess why Mark Twain loved Heidelberg so much.

Was it because "Heidelberg" (short for "Heidelbeerenberg"), in fact, means "Huckelberry mountain" as we speculate in Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg?

More likely, Twain fell in love with the beauty of town itself, and its picturesque riverside setting.

  • Roman (m.) - novel
  • Arbeitsurlaub (m.) - working holiday
  • Heidelbeere (f.) - huckleberry
  • Wetter (n.) - weather
  • Aussicht (f.) - view
  • Schloss (n.) - castle
  • Klippe (f.) - precipice
  • raten - to guess

Twain had a love-hate relationship with the German language and his The Awful German Language - an Appendix to his 1880 book, A Tramp Abroad, is a fun travel memories read for anyone learning German.

Heidelberg University

Heidelberg Universität The founding of the University of Heidelberg (1386) was prompted by a curious historical event. At the time of the Great Schism of 1378 (when two popes - one French and one Italian - were elected after the death of Pope Gregory XI), German secular and spiritual leaders supported the Italian one in Rome.

As a result, German students and teachers at the University of Paris had to leave. But, the Italian Pope, Urban VI, allowed the creation of a university in Heidelberg.

During the years 1804 to 1809, a number of writers who were part of the German Romantic movement, spent time in Heidelberg for teaching and research at the university. They included poets such as Clemens Brentano and Friedrich Hölderlin.

In the 1960s and 70s, Heidelberg University became one of the main centers of left-wing student protests.

Today, Heidelberg University is internationally renowned. Its building are grouped in two main locations. 1) In the Altstadt: the Old Town Campus (for humanities), some of whose buildings reach back to 1712, and the Bergheim Campus (for economics and social sciences). 2) In the district of Neuenheim across the river: The New Campus built during the 1960's (for the natural sciences and life science).

  • Universität (f.) - university
  • Gründung (f.) - founding
  • Pabst (m.) - pope
  • Romantik (f.) - Romantic movement in the arts and literature (late 18th-early 19th c.)
  • Dichter (m.) - poet, writer
  • Dichterin (f.) - poet, writer
  • Linker Studentenprotest (m.) - left-wing student protest
  • Ort (m.) - location, site, place
  • Unigelände (n.) / Campus (m.) - campus

Heidelberg SchlossDas Schloss

A Renaissance ruin and well-known landmark, Heidelberg Castle is nestled on the slope of the Königstuhl hill, 300 feet above the city of Heidelberg.

To go up to the castle from near the center of town, you can take a funicular to the Molkenkur station, and from there change to another funicular up to the castle. In all, it's about a 15-minute ride, and the view from the top is fantastic.

First built in 1890, the two Heidelberg mountain railways (Bergbahnen) underwent various building phases, renovations, and additions to meet current safety standards.

  • Ruine (f.) - ruin
  • Abhang (m.) - hillside
  • Wahrzeichen (n.) - landmark
  • Standseilbahn (f.) - funicular (cable car on a slope)

Further sights may interest you:

Other Places to visit in Heidelberg

Studentenkarzer: The Student Prison (part of the old university), which was used from 1778 to 1914.

Philosophenweg: The Philosopher's Walk is a pathway that the university's philosophers frequented. It runs along the side of Heiligenberg and provides spectacular views of the castle and the city.

Alte Brücke: The Karl Theodor Bridge goes over the Neckar river joining the two historic parts of Heidelberg.

Königstuhl: Instead of taking the funicular up to the summit, you can also make the Königstuhl (King's Chair) a destination for hiking.

For anyone interested in poetry, click on Poems about Heidelberg (Heidelberg in der Dichtung) 

Michael's Next Stop

Munich HofbräuhausFrom Heidelberg, Michael takes the Intercity to Munich. There he stays at a hotel, visits the Hofbräuhaus (see picture ), and spends the evening with friends in Schwabing, a lively student quarter.

We'll soon tell you more about Munich in our future post "German Travel Memories - Michael in Munich"

Register or log in again to continue with the German 1 course.


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

Posted on by Maile Proctor

How to Decide Which Foreign Language You Should Learn

foreign language globeAlthough the world’s two billion English speakers span an estimated 57 countries, in our “global” society, the importance of being able to speak a second (or third or fourth) foreign language is more valuable than ever before.

With plenty of opportunities to start learning right away, it’s time to decide which language you want to start learning. There are a lot of factors that can influence this decision.

Some languages are easier to learn than others, some are more widely used, and you may have a vested interest in one language over another based on where you live, your background or any other personal preferences.

If you’re on the fence about which language to learn, here are a few ways to help you decide.

Are You Looking for a New Hobby?

Becoming adept in a foreign language offers numerous personal benefits includingFinding Hobby concept enhanced memory and cognitive function, more confidence in your capabilities and intellect, or even just “bragging rights” to impress friends and family.

If your motivation for learning another language stems from the desire to acquire a new skill or explore a new hobby, consider studying French or Spanish. Both of these languages are widely spoken throughout the world, with French spoken in 32 countries and Spanish in 21.

Given the appropriate time investment—five days per week—you could gain conversational proficiency in six months.

Are You Heading Back to School?

I'm going back to learn it right!Not only does learning a language make you a better student, various scholarships are available to bilingual speakers, especially for graduate program expenses.

If you want to learn another language for educational purposes, consider studying German, which is esteemed in academia.

Also, keep your degree program and major in mind when you select a language. If your degree would benefit from learning one language or another, consider that as well.

You may want to talk to your academic advisor and see what he or she recommends. Having languages skills on your resume can help you land your dream job.

Are You Preparing for a Trip Abroad?

Knowing how to speak the native tongue when traveling allows you to have aforeign travel pictures more authentic and memorable experience.

It also makes you a more self-assured traveler, being able to communicate with locals, read traffic signs, and order from a restaurant menu without mispronouncing the entree.

You will have a much more fulfilling trip and be able to experience more than you would if there was a language barrier or lack of understanding of the local language.

If your motivation for learning another language stems from wanderlust, study whichever language correlates with the region you’re visiting.

Are You Investing in Career Goals?

catapulting your careerKnowing a foreign language can make you a sought-after—perhaps even indispensable—asset on the job market because companies recognize the advantage of global business relations in our modern economy.

Bilingual employees can network with international clients, remain abreast of overseas corporate trends, or even compete for higher-paid positions abroad.

If your motivation for learning another language stems from professional development, consider studying Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken by 1.3 billion people, more than any other language.

Are You Connecting a Foreign Language to Your Roots?

Learning a foreign language promotes awareness of other cultures, how ethnic heritage shapes Family Tree w/ relativesfamily dynamics and rituals, cultural perceptions and beliefs, or even your own life and ancestry.

If your motivation for learning foreign languages stems from an appreciation for where your family originates from, consider studying whichever language reflects that ancestry.

Caucasians often find German or French beneficial, while Hispanics gravitate toward Spanish or Portuguese. Asians might choose Malay or Chinese, while those of Middle Eastern descent likely connect with Arabic.

This is a great way to learn about the history and native language of your spouse’s family as well. You can learn the language together and then plan a trip to visit their family’s home country.

Once you gain proficiency in one language and, therefore, understand how the learning process works, learning more languages over time becomes less intimidating, challenging and time consuming. Decide which language you want to learn, start studying and see where it takes you—who knows, you could end up moving abroad or landing your dream job.

Maile Proctor is a professional blogger and content editor. She writes articles on lifestyle and family, health and fitness, education, how-to and more. Maile earned her Bachelor’s in Broadcast Journalism from Chapman University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking in San Diego, California.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage has no business relationship with Couponbox and Maile Proctor other than publishing Maile's article.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Is GamesforLanguage a “Serious” Language Learning Program?

Gamesforlanguage shoot-out gameAt times we think that the “GamesforLanguage” name has two drawbacks, as some language learners could assume that:

(1)  Language learning games are more for children, or that

(2) Gamesforlanguage.com is not a serious and well-thought-out self-teaching language program.

They could not be more wrong.  

And then we also remember: Adults can't learn a new language as easily as young children do - but at least they can have a little fun playing games while learning and practicing - as children do.

GamesforLanguage's Key Language Learning Features

Our courses are based on our own extensive experience in foreign language learning, as well as a 20-year stint in writing and editing self-teaching language programs.

Each of our courses integrates several key features into one unique comprehensive language learning program:

  • A travel-story sequel of a young traveler visiting Young Friends having funny conversationthe country of his parent's family.
  • Fun games that practice reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
  • Everyday vocabulary, which is introduced, practiced, and then repeated in later lessons.
  • New words and structures introduced in every lesson, and familiar words and structures repeated from previous lessons.
  • Travel-related and culturally relevant vocabulary, dialogues, and expressions that are immediately useful on a foreign trip.
  • Grammar and structures that the learner can discover gradually. Brief comments and tips that clarify aspects of the target language and culture.

Language Learning Patterns

student in new learning environmentWe know that learning a foreign language as an adult takes motivation, engagement, and commitment.

We also know that self-teaching online language programs are not for everyone.

Recently, a post on another language-learning site analyzed the learning patterns of its users.

It prompted us to look at the learning patterns of our registered users.

We can distinguish a few characteristics, and we are not always "serious"! Some fun also helps learning!

The “0” Points Player

Now and then we see visitors who register and start a course, but then decide on the next screen not to continue.

Maybe they expected another type of course or game, or thought they had to register for the Quick Games. (You don't.)

We are planning a survey of those players to better understand their reasons for registering, but not continuing with a course.

The Nibbler

About 15% of those that started a language course playNibbled apples only a game or two.

As each lesson starts with a story dialogue, they may have listened to the dialogue, but then stopped after the first game screens.

Maybe they expected a different game, pictures, or a video game.

Or they just wanted to see what “GamesforLanguage” was about, without any real interest in learning a language.

We have also noticed that some “Nibblers” come back later to practice or try out another language.

The Voracious Player

Sometimes we see players who - in one stretch, after registering – play an entire level, or six lessons, often just beating the minimum score to move on to the next lesson.

Maybe these players are motivated by the fun aspect of the games to test their knowledge.

However, we also noticed that they are unlikely to come back, to either improve their scores or continue.

The Finisher or Focused Learner

Marathon finish lineThe Finisher plays through all or most of the games of the first lesson, though he or she may skip the Recording (as it requires the Flash Player which is not supported on smart phones or tablets).

Then, having met the score requirement, this learner moves on to lesson #2. These players seem to be interested in one language only.

They may also “nibble” sometimes by trying out another language, but then return to the language of their choice.

These are the learners who are most likely to continue with their course.

Language learning is not a short sprint but more like long-distance running. After you cross the finish line, the feeling of accomplishment is sweet and will stay with you for a long time.

The Polyglot Player

Polyglot players go for at least one scene of two or more languages right away. From his or her scores we can speculate that this player may already know one or more of the languages.

Sometimes Nibblers also try out different languages. When their scores are high enough to let them move on to further Scenes, we can't distinguish them from Polyglots.

The Quick Language Game Player

Since our start, we have added over 200 Quick Language Games, which can be played without registering.

These Quick Games are quite popular. But we don't see the names of individual players, we can only note which games are played and how many times.

How to Play, Learn & Practice

The “serious” learners are more likely to click on “How to Play and Learn” under “New Here?” on the Course Page.

Below are a few key suggestions for effective learning and practice. These apply not only to GamesforLanguage, but also to many other online language learning sites:

  • Play only one (1) NEW lesson per day, and - if you have 20-30 minutes - start by reviewing the PREVIOUS lesson, or at least the Dialogue of the previous lesson.
  • Re-play any of the games of a previous lesson, for which you scored less than 100%.
  • To get into the learning habit, PLAY SOME GAMES EVERY DAY. (Also note that the Quick Language Games can be played without logging in.)
  • Don’t worry, if you don’t know the meaning in the “Balloon Words,” or “Say It” games. Just concentrate on the sounds and the melody of the language, while you repeat what you hear.
  • Repeat the native speaker's words and phrases in any game whenever you can - BEFORE the native speaker, if you can, and AFTERWARDS to correct yourself.
  • Practice your pronunciation with “Record It.” Keep recording and re-recording your voice until you feel that you're getting close to the native speaker's pronunciation.
  • In the games, pay attention to the occasional abbreviations that appear directly behind the English word. They will tell you which form of the foreign word you should use.
  • After completing a Level (six or twelve lessons) listen to the Podcast. If you don't understand a lesson perfectly, replay it.
  • Listen to the Podcast of the next Level and find out how much you can understand or guess, before you start a new lesson.

How About Fluency?

Few, if any, online language programs can make you fluent. The only way to become fluent is to TALK, to engage in as many conversations as you can join.

But online programs can be an excellent preparation. That's why we emphasize REPEATING ALOUD, and making use of the recording feature whenever possible.

Fluency not only requires sufficient vocabulary, but also the ability to combine words into phrases and sentences when talking with others.

Until online programs can truly generate interactive one-on-one conversations, teachers, tutors, language exchange or conversation partners (in-person or on-line) are the best way to become fluent in a new language.

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 Ulrike Rettig

Spanish Travel Memories 2 - David in Granada

Travel memories at ancient fortress of Alhambra, Granada, SpainThe Spanish Travel Memories add to the information that our young traveler David picks up in our GamesforLanguage travel-story courses.

In the courses, we use street names, neighborhoods, hotels, and restaurants - many of which we've explored ourselves - in each of the Spanish cities.

In Spanish Travel Memories 1, we tell you more about Barcelona. After visiting his aunt and uncle there and exploring the city, David heads south to Granada.

If you're going to visit Spain, you wouldn't want to miss Granada. It's a fascinating city with a multicultural history, and certainly a place for travel memories.

We're also listing a few basic words and phrases in Spanish that will help you to communicate locally. The word lists are a combination of words and phrases taught in the course and other useful travel terms.

Just as we did with our post about Barcelona, we'll follow David's discoveries in Granada. For those of you who have done or are doing our Spanish 1 course: David en Españathis may be of special interest.

Quick Facts about Granada

The city of Granada is the capital of the province of Granada, one of the eight provinces in the autonomous community of Andalusia. The city proper has a population of over 236,000.

Granada has a great location. It lies close to the Sierra NevadaGranada with Sierra Nevada in background mountain range, and is only about an hour by car from the Mediterranean coast.

The name "Granada" may come from either the Spanish word for "pomegranate" (granada) or from the Arabic word said to mean "hill of strangers."

In its early history, the region of what is now Granada was the site of an Iberian settlement, Elibyrge, (5th century b.c.), and of the Roman town Illiberis (150 b.c.). During the reign of the Visigoths (500 a.d.), a small community of Jews who had also settled there, named the area Garnata al-yahut.

In 711, a Moorish Caliphate invaded and conquered Granada. After internal conflicts among Arab clans, the Ziries clan created an independent kingdom, which lasted from (1013-1238). It was followed by the powerful Nazrid dynasty (1238-1492).

It was during the reign of the Nazrid kingdom, that the Alhambra fortress and the Generalife palace were built.

Granada was the last Muslim kingdom to be conquered by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

  • the mountain range - la sierra
  • snow-covered, snowy - nevado/a (adj.)
  • the coast - la costa
  • the pomegranate - la granada
  • the settlement - el asentamiento
  • the dynasty - la dinastía
  • Catholic Monarchs - Reyes Católicos

Train to Granada

Barcelona to Granada mapThe distance between Barcelona (located in the northeast of Spain) and Granada (in the south) is 425 miles. Rather than fly to Granada, David chooses the less expensive option. He takes the train, which in his case is the Arco train with a route along the eastern coast.

Side Note: Obviously, train schedules and routes change over time. The Arco train to cities in Andalusia, operated by RENFE (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles), has been replaced by their AVE trains with somewhat different routes. The map above shows the driving options, which also mirror the train routes quite closely. The train route via Madrid may be faster. 

Once he arrives in Granada, David asks for directions to “la calle Reyes Católicos,” the street where his friend Daniel lives, in the center of town. From the train station it's about a three-mile walk. (There's also an easy bus connection.)

  • the train station - la estación de tren
  • the distance - la distancia
  • the train schedule - el horario de trenes
  • the train ticket - el billete de tren
  • the (train) track - la vía
  • to wait - esperar
  • a seat by the window - un asiento en la ventana
  • Is this seat available? - ¿Está este asiento todavía libre?

Washington Irving and the Alhambra

Washington Irving Statue in Alhambra, Granada, SpainThe Alhambra ("the red" in Arabic) is a spectacular palace and fortress built between 1238 and 1358 during the Moorish Nazrid dynasty. It stands on a plateau overlooking the city of Granada. You can read up more on its history HERE.

We were surprised to learn that the American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859) had actually lodged in a room in the Alhambra palace for three months in 1829. During that time he began his "Tales of the Alhambra," a colorful mixture of local history and legend. There's a plaque in the room where he stayed.

On the way down through the gardens, you can see a statue of Irving, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of his death. Downtown, there's also a street named after him.

  • the palace - el palacio
  • a palatial complex - un complejo palaciego
  • the writer (m/f) - el escritor, la escritora
  • the tale, story - el cuento
  • the plaque - la placa
  • the garden - el jardín
  • the statue - la estatua

Side note: The city of Alhambra in California is reportedly named after the "Tales of the Alhambra." In 1874, the daughter of Benjamin Wilson, a wealthy developer, was reading the book and encouraged him to use the name for his new suburban development in Los Angeles County.

University of Granada

Founded in 1531 by emperor Charles V, the University of Granada is one of the oldest in Spain and continues a long educational tradition that goes back to the time of the Moorish epoch.

With over 50,000 students in Granada alone (and seven campuses, five in Granada, and two in Spanish territories in Northern Africa), the University of Granada is the one of the largest in Spain.

The university is also highly popular with students of Erasmus, a program adopted by the European Commission in 1987, to encourage and support student exchanges throughout the European Union.

Side Note: The Erasmus Program was named after the Dutch philosopher and scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536). At the same time, ERASMUS also stands for: European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.

Mirador de San Cristóbal

The San Cristobal Viewpoint is in the picAlbaicin neighborhoodturesque Albaicín neighborhood of Granada. From the viewpoint you have a stunning panoramic view of the city, including a side view of the Alhambra and the snow-peaked mountains behind.

El Albaicín has maintained the narrow winding streets and the architecture of its Moorish past. It was declared a world heritage site in 1984, together with the Alhambra. 

(We recently came across this Post "Ask an Expat: Living in Granada, Spain" by Nina Bosken, who describes her experience teaching and living in Granada. And to fill out the picture of Granada, read this New York Times Travel Dispatch In Spain, Secrets and a Possible Betrayal!)

David's next Stop (and future Spanish Travel Memories 3)

From Granada, David takes the train to Seville for more travel memories. There he checks into a hotel his friends had recommended to him.

He explores the Toro del Oro and the Almohad Tower, called La Giralda. Together with Ana and some of her friends he spends an evening in Triana, the neighborhood known for flamenco dancers and singers.

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

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 below or with contact. 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language Learning During Retirement? It Worked for me!

Retirement dreams...My (first) retirement is now already a few years behind me. I was very lucky when we were able to sell the consulting firm I had co-founded. I was still in my fifties.

However, while I was looking forward to a less stressful life, I was also aware that retirement can have its own challenges.

I had read the usual books about retirement, how to stay busy, get or continue with a hobby, etc. Yes, I also had the typical list of house projects I never had time to complete earlier.

But during the months leading to the day when I didn't have to go to work anymore, my wife Ulrike and I made plans for an extended stay in Italy.

Preparing for Italy

Both Ulrike and I already spoke several languages: German, English, French, and she also Dutch.

These were languages we had either learned as children or young adults living/working in the respective countries. Italian was to be the first language we were going to learn as mature adults.

A few months before our travels – my wife was working as a development editor at Pimsleur International at that time - we began using Pimsleur's self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, 90 lessons in all.

This was an accomplishment. We felt quite smug about being able to understand basic Italian, but we also knew that the real test would come upon our arrival in Rome.

First Impressions and Lessons

We were picked up at Fiumicino Airport by our landlord's driver. WhenRoman and Guiseppe in Trastevere bakery we tried out our Italian on him it became clear immediately that his English was much better than our Italian.

Our first apartment was in a narrow street above a grocery/bakery in Trastevere (see picture of Romand and Guiseppe), and located just opposite a wonderful little restaurant, Le Mani in Pasta. (This restaurant is now listed on Tripadvisor as #27 of 327 restaurants in Trastevere.)

We became regulars there, and as the owners and waiters spoke very little English, it was great place to practice our Italian.

Seeing “Le Mani” everyday when we left our building, it was easy to remember that “la mano” (the hand) is one of the exceptions in Italian, as most nouns ending in an “o” are masculine.

Other feminine nouns ending with “o” are: àuto (car), mòto (motorcycle), dìnamo (dynamo), ràdio (radio), mètro (subway), libido (libido), etc.

Fluency Realities

Trastevere vegetable standWe also quickly realized, however, that we were far from being fluent in Italian. Yes, we had completed maybe 45-50 hours of learning with the Pimsleur audio courses. 

While we got compliments for our pronunciation, we still had to rely a lot on pointing and gesturing for buying groceries in our grocery/bakery or local market (see picture).

For several weeks, our vocabulary clearly continued to be insufficient. And to our dismay, the Italian on TV was an incomprehensible garble of words for us.

We were lucky to find a tutor who discovered quickly via a first test that our Italian spelling was atrocious. With Pimsleur's Italian audio course we had not learned how to read and write and our spelling was automatically based on the French we knew.

The daily 2-hour lessons with required homework kept us busy learning for half the day. The other half we spent exploring Rome and its surroundings. We tried out our Italian wherever we could.

After a few weeks, the Italian TV garble dissolved into individual words that we began to distinguish where they started and ended. While we still did not know a huge number of words, we started to guess what words meant from the context. That accelerated our learning further.

Over the next months, as our tutor worked with us and monitored our progress, our confidence grew. We started to understand and enjoy Italian TV and movies, and increasingly conversed with shopkeepers and people we encountered during the day.

Language Learning during Retirement

There have been many research findings about the benefits of mental exercises for older adults. And learning a foreign language is near the top of that list - ahead of playing Lumosity games or solving crossword puzzles.

Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar patterns through practice.

And yes, we also experienced – although still far away from a Golden Anniversary - what a friend described facetiously in a guest post, French in Dijon: Fluency Realities with no "Lover Option".

When younger people are sitting in bars discussion politics, love, and pop music Friends discussing in coffee housewith passion, we are getting ready for bed. Since my wife and I've been married more than fifty years, neither of us can go out and find a lover! In short: The quickest avenues to fluency are now closed to us.

Acquiring fluency in a foreign language is certainly harder when you don't speak it all the time with your partner. That's true even if you stay in the country where the language is spoken.

However, there are also many opportunities today to Progress Faster to Language Fluency.

If you can take advantage early on of one of retirement's key benefits: Planning your day and doing activities that YOU like – you'll never be bored.

Then, if language learning is on that list, you'll open a new world to explore: articles to read, conversations to have, movies or TV shows to watch, planning a trip to a place where your new language is spoken.

Beyond Retirement – “Un-Retiring”

For me personally, learning Italian (and later continuing with Spanish and Dutch, see my post about P.M Tools.) also led to our starting up Gamesforlanguage.

Using my interest in languages and my project management skills, plus Ulrike's background in teaching and course development has given us a wonderful way of combining our passion with a purpose:

Helping others practice languages we have learned as well, and sharing our experiences about language learning, culture and travel on our Blog.

And when we get a Thank-you note such as this one from a 80+ year old woman, who had completed both our German courses, we also know that it's never too late to learn and practice a new language: 

"Thank you for such an interesting way to practice and learn German. I have really enjoyed doing this each day and am hoping to go to Austria in the Fall for a week at a spa. I liked the way you varied the learning process, also that you had a score at the end of each lesson, which, if not good enough, you could redo. Thank you again, M."

So who knows – once you start learning another language during your retirement – you may also discover reasons to “un-retire” again. 

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

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Language Learning - LingoHut Portuguese – A Review

Lingohut Homepage with Youtube ClipLearning a new language is always an exciting project for me. I love trying out different language learning sites.

Lately, I've enjoyed learning Brazilian Portuguese with LingoHut, one of our Partner sites – and like Gamesforlanguage – a completely free language learning site. (Click on the Homepage image, left, and hear Kendal explain LingoHut's mission.)

LingoHut currently offers you twelve (12) different languages. And, if your native language is other than English, you can set the language with which you learn. You have many choices.

The vocabulary of each language is presented by Category and Topic, in the form of Vocabulary Cards, Flashcards, and Games. The words are said and written. There are no pictures.

LINGOHUT'S LANGUAGE LEARNING SET-UP

For Brazilian Portuguese, there are 109 Lessons that contain between 8 and 22 words or phrases each.Lingohut learning options

The Categories of the Lessons include: Start, Numbers, Directions, Colors, People, Time, Weather and Seasons, Antonyms, Body, Travel, Hotel, Around Town, Sightseeing, Shopping, Restaurant, Food, Beach, Vacation, Health, Office, Employment, Computer.

In each Lesson, you have Vocabulary Cards with Portuguese audio, the written Portuguese word or phrase, and a translation set to your native language.

The Lesson's vocabulary also shows up as a list just under the cards. This list can be downloaded and printed out. For a quick review, you can click on a word on the list to hear the audio again.

The Vocabulary Cards are followed by a Flashcard Game, with which you can practice what you learned and test yourself.

Other games in each Lesson for practice are the Matching Game (where you determine whether words or phrases and a translation match); the Tic Tac Toe Game (where you have to get 3 correct answers in a row); the Concentration Game (a traditional "memory game"); the Listening Game (where you hear, but not see, a Portuguese word or phrase, and then choose the English equivalent).

LISTEN AND SAY OUT LOUD

Lingohut Portuguese Vocab CardThe Vocabulary Cards are great. You hear each word or phrase three times and are encouraged repeat it out loud. The cards continue to the next automatically. But you can also go back or forward one by one.

A key to learning a new language is listening and saying the words out loud. Because the cards advance automatically, you can close your eyes and just listen and speak, which is a powerful way of focusing on sound.

Another way of practicing could be to let the Vocabulary Cards play, treating this as a dictation, i.e. you write out the words you hear on a sheet of paper. (You can then check back for any corrections.)

THE DRIP FEED

Kendal calls the LingoHut mode of learning "the drip feed." What makes it work is exactly that: You acquire the sound, meaning, and spelling of your target language, gradually, in small steps.

The speaker pronounces each of the words and phrases slowly and clearly. This is perfect for someone who is in the early stages of learning a new language. You can try each word as many times as you want.

Remembering new vocabulary is an issue for everyone. The remedy is frequent exposure to the words you're learning and regular repetition.

A good way to get words and phrases into your longterm memory is to go back and redo earlier Lessons. If you find some words particularly difficult to remember, write them out in a small notebook or on paper flashcards, and review these separately.

LEARN GRAMMAR INTUITIVELY

With LingoHut you learn useful words and phrases that allow you to communicate with native speakers. You do not get grammar explanations.

However, the human brain is wired to recognize and internalize language patterns. With frequent exposure to typical patterns of sound and/or spelling, you pick these up without much thinking about the grammar rules behind them.

By frequently hearing and saying different phrases and sentences in a new language, you become familiar with the wording of commands, statements, and questions, the gender of nouns, adjective-noun agreement, the personal forms of verbs, etc.

Once some of the patterns of your target language are lodged in your mind, you can easily check up on a grammar rule that would explain a structure that baffles you. The internet is a fantastic resource for that. A useful site for basic grammar, for example, is on Learn Portuguese Now. But you can google others, or if you prefer, you can always get an introductory grammar book.

For checking words and idioms, I often use the free Word Reference site, a popular online dictionary. Here is the Portuguese Link.)

PORTUGUESE and other ROMANCE LANGUAGES

If you know one of the other Romance languages, you'll notice that many Portuguese words are quite similar. That, of course, helps you to learn.

However, pronunciation is a different matter. For example, I've reached an upper intermediate level in Spanish. When I see Portuguese words, I can often figure out their meaning from Spanish. But when I hear Portuguese spoken, I have no clue (as yet). The sound of Portuguese is very different from Spanish.

That's why the listening and speaking practice that LingoHut offers is so important.

LINGOHUT'S GLOBAL INITIATIVE

LingoHut's co-founder Kendal Knetemann left Nicaragua at age 13 as a refugee, fleeing the civil war in her country and coming to the United States without her parents.

Her experience as a young refugee and the need to quickly learn a new language inspired Kendal together with her husband Philipp, a software developer, to create a free language learning site with free access to all learners.

As a native Dutch speaker now living in America, Philipp Knetemann has firsthand experience with learning a foreign language. That experience has guided him to build a platform that is user-friendly for language learners.

LingoHut was created in 2012 and since then Kendal and Philipp have been adding numerous lessons in 12 languages. What makes the site particularly useful on a global scale, is that a learner has a wide choice for setting his or her language of instruction. (See the list below)

Screenshot of Lingohut's Teaching Languages

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

Disclosure: GamesforLanguage and LingoHut have a non-financial Partner relationship, exchanging language learning ideas and tips. Learning with LingoHut and GamesforLanguage is free. 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travel 5 – Discoveries in Austria

Beer Garden in Austria with "Grüass Eich God" sign - Gamesforlanguage.comAustria always holds new things for us to discover. After a week in Überlingen, Germany, where we explored sights along Lake Constance, we picked up a rental car in Friedrichshafen and headed to Austria.

And we were happy to still have our Webspot Pocket WiFi with us, which we had first used while canal cruising in the Netherlands and during our train trip from Utrecht to Lake Constance. This way we could easily google information about the towns and sights we passed by. (Returning the pocket WIFI was also easy: Later in Vienna, we just dropped it off at a Post office in its metal case and prepaid envelope!)

In Austria

Our car's navigation system led us easily around Munich and, it being a Saturday, we didn't encounter any of the notorious Munich traffic jams.

Soon we found ourselves on Austrian territory. (There are open borders between Germany and Austria, so we had no wait at the border. This is one advantage of the “Schengen Agreement” for tourists and travelers.)

At noon we stopped in a little town. The warm and sunny September weather allowed us to enjoy our lunch in a typical Austrian beer garden.

We watched as the restaurant became busy and the tables all got occupied.

We picked up pieces of Austrian conversation here and there, and as is customary in Austria, we were not surprised when another couple joined us at our table.

We enjoyed a delicious meal. As we wereBeer Garden sign: "Pfüad Eich God" leaving, we chuckled when we noticed the sign over the entrance to the garden restaurant:“Grüass Eich God” (see above left) and on the other side of the sign, when leaving: “Pfüad Eich God” (see right).

The first one is a local form of “Grüß Gott” meaning “May God greet (or bless) you. ”The second translates as something like “Be well with God,” meaning “Goodby.”

Both Austrian/Bavarian versions would be pretty well incomprehensible to a German learner. (Now you also know what “Pfüad di” means?)

Wels, Austria

A little more than an hour later, we arrived in Wels where one of Ulrike's Austrian cousins lives with his family. His son now manages the family business, the Hotel and the Gasthof Maxlhaid, located on the outskirts of Wels.

Wels, the seventh-largest city in Austria with 60,000 inhabitants, lies at the Traun River, about 20 miles from Linz.

It was my first visit to Wels and I was eager to learn more about its history.

Important during the Roman age, prosperous during the Middle Ages, devastated during the 30 Years' War, Wels became an important manufacturing center during the industrial revolution.

In World War II, Wels saw heavy destruction, and only a few historic buildings have remained. However over the years, new industries have settled there and the city has also gained prominence with its trade fairs and congresses.

The Saturday we arrived happened to be the Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of the Museums). For a small fee, people could visit any of the area's participating museums, many of which stayed open until midnight.

We took advantage of that opportunity and visited several museums in town, including the City Museum.

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels GardenThe City Museum is located in a castle, which for centuries belonged to the Habsburg family. (see the castle gardens left) The castle was rebuilt between 1504 and 1514 by emperor Maximilian I in late-Gothic style.

Many artifacts from that time are exhibited, together with documents, models, and audio-visual presentations of the city's and area's history.

One exhibit shows the many different bread forms bakers have used over time. Another one shows the various tools and machines the agricultural industry had developed in Austria.

In another display, we were fascinated by several maps that show the German enclaves in what used to be called the “German-Austrian empire” before 1918.

Our understanding of the Upper Austrian dialect was also tested (we passed!), when we watched museum staff perform several humorous sketches about Wels personalities.

Pferdeeisenbahnmuseum in der Maxlhaid

At the end of the night, Ulrike's cousin gave us a private tour of hisHorse railway map Budweis to Gmunden own horse railway museum, which is located in a large barn behind the hotel. The museum, a longterm hobby, is his love and passion.

The history of the horse railway is quite interesting. The Italian Franz Zola, (father of the French writer Émile Zola, 1840-1902) was an engineer/surveyor during the construction of the first continental horse railway between Budweis (now Czech Republic) and Linz (Austria).

That was the northern route of the horse railway, which opened in 1832.

Franz Zola received a license from Emperor Franz in 1828 to continue the southern route from Linz to Gmunden. However, when his financing fell through, Zola left for the Foreign Legion and settled later in France.

Subsequently, the southern route of the railway was completed by others in 1836. The 123 miles of track from Gmunden to Budweis could then meet their real purpose: transporting goods, especially salt from Gmunden to Bohemia.

The station Maxlhaid, at the location of the current hotel, was one of several stations where horse changes occurred and a tavern already existed there in 1835.

By 1855, however, steam engines replaced the horses and the horse railway became history. (See the map above and the German Wikipedia entry for further details of the Budweis-Gmunden horse railway).

Linz, Austria

The next day, we visited Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It is Austria's third-largest city with a population of over 200,000.

Linz is only 19 miles from the Czech border. Founded by the Romans and called “Lentia,” Linz was the most important city in the Habsburg Empire, but lost its status to Vienna and Prague after the death of Emperor Frederick III in 1493.

Today Linz remains one of Austria's main economic centers. Its harbor on the Danube (one of four in Austria) attracts logistic and trading enterprises as well as manufacturing plants along the river banks.

"Winged Piano" in Linz, AustriaFrom the Pöstlingberg, a 1700-foot hill on the left bank of the Danube, we had a wonderful view of the city.

We were intrigued by “Höhenrausch 2016,” an exhibition now in its ninth year, with always changing art. This year angels were the main topic.

The “Höhenrausch” tour takes you through large rooms of the Ursuline Church, the top of a parking garage and terraces with various sculptures. It was all both fun and instructive. We learned about the history of angels in different religions, and in literature and art.

We were amused by various interactive exhibits (click on the picture above or this YouTube clip to see a piano with wings).

The views across the roofs of Linz from one of the wooden towers were spectacular.

Our short stay did not allow us to visit any of the many museums along the banks of the Danube, for example, the Schlossmuseum, the Lentos Art Museum, the Ars Electronica Center, but we got a glimpse of them during our walk through the city and along the Danube.

The Danube

Seeing the Danube wind its way through Linz Map of Rhine - Danubeprompted me to look a little further into this great European river.

Indeed, with a length of about 1785 miles, the Danube is the second longest European river after the Volga.

And, as no other river in the world, it touches 10 different countries on its way: From its source in the Black Forest in Germany, it flows through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldavia, and Ukraine, where it empties into the Black Sea.

With the completion of the Main-Danube Canal (Main-Donau Kanal) in 1992, linking the Rhine with the Danube, a waterway connection between the North Sea and the Black Sea was established.

Thereby even more European states were linked through their own connected waterways. (On the map above, the Rhine and Main are shown in green, The Main-Danube Canal in red, and the navigable stretch of the Danube in blue.)

We would be amiss if we didn't mention the poster child of German compound words:

Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitän (Captain of the Danube Steamship Company)

(However, it even pales against this one which contains 79 letters and, reportedly, holds the 1996 Guinness Book of World Records. Click HERE for the translation and history:) 

Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft,

Vienna, Austria

Austrian National Library: Prunksaal - Gamesforlanguage.comA few days later found us walking through the streets of Vienna, a city we both know well. But you can always find something new to do in Vienna!

This time we happened to walk by the Austrian National Library and were attracted by the exhibition about the life of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was held in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of his death in 1916.

Franz Joseph's long life (1830-1910) made him the “ewige Kaiser” (eternal emperor) to many Austrians. He reportedly was the most painted and photographed person of the 19th century.

The exhibition described his life from young child to teenager, young man, media star, and statesman, with portraits, letters, news reports. It was was set up in the Library's grand “Prunksaal” (State Hall).

The Austrian National Library is not only the largest library in Austria with 7.4 million books, but the “Prunksaal” of the old imperial library takes your breath away.

It forms part of the Hofburg Palace and everywhere you look, there are sculptures, frescos, marble statues, and paintings.

So next time you go to Austria, consider going a little of the beaten track. And don't forget, when you come to Vienna, take a look at the Austrian National Library.

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

Pimsleur Unlimited – Learning Russian – a Review

Learning Russian with Pimsleur UnlimitedLearning Russian with Pimsleur Unlimited

If you're learning Russian, Pimsleur's Unlimited app is a versatile option to consider.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the then newly-released app for Pimsleur German. Since I'm bilingual in German and English, I couldn't talk about learning German. In that earlier post I described the app and its features. I also talked about the Pimsleur method in general.

This review of Pimsleur Unlimited Russian is a little different. Russian is a new language for me and my first Slavic language. The languages I speak all belong to the Germanic or Romance language families.

AUDIO LESSONS

The core structure of the course consists of 30, thirty-minute Pimsleur Russian Day 1-3audio lessons, presented as Day 1, Day 2, etc., through Day 30. Each day shows a beautiful picture and gives you some brief cultural information (when you tap on the lightbulb image).

The Audio Lessons are classic Pimsleur: Each unit introduces up to 10 new words, has you practice the pronunciation through backwards build-up, lets you recall what you learned with a built-in spaced repetition system, and sets you up to anticipate new combinations.

Individual lessons start with a 2-minute conversation, which uses new combinations of familiar words. This is followed by a 7-minute review of vocabulary, the introduction and practice of 10 new vocabulary items, plus a final practice exercise.

Using the audio with the app is great. In each audio lesson, you can easily navigate back and forth by sliding the button, which also shows you where you are on the minute-and-second time bar. Plus, there's a 10sec Skip Back and a 10sec Skip Ahead button. That way you can hear and repeat a word or phrase as many times as you want. When you interrupt a lesson, the app automatically puts you back to where you left off.

AM I MAKING PROGRESS LEARNING RUSSIAN?

Language learning is not a linear process. Even with a course that builds vocabulary as slowly and systematically as Pimsleur, someone like me is going to find ups and downs.

I was sailing along beautifully through Lesson 4, when in Lessons 5 & 6, I hit sentences with what I found to be difficult word order. They were sentences with "You would like ...", "Wouldn't you like ...?" and "Where would you like ...?" I've practiced these a lot and I'm still not able to give fast, automatic responses.

In each of those sentences, two particular little words are at a different place. When I need to give the answer, my mind gets stuck on placing those two little words. I know with time even that will become automatic. But it's taking time.

To help me learn difficult words and phrases, I've written up flashcards using 3"x5" index cards. Writing these out by hand helps me to memorize them. They also give me the chance to practice the words in a different way. I've started adding the Cyrillic spelling for the words, which is a good method for practicing the Cyrillic alphabet.

In the next couple of weeks of learning Russian, I'll start looking at some basic Russian grammar. I'll then better understand the word order of some sentences, and why some of the endings change.

READING LESSONS

Pimsleur Russian Reading Lesson Day 6There's a tab for Reading Lessons on the audios. There are nine Reading Lessons which can be accessed from Day 2 to Day 10. (No Reading Lessons after Day 10.)

Together, the Reading Lessons take you through 320 Russian words or phrases. The first 200 help you to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, letter by letter, in the context of words and short phrases. The last 120 items are for practice.

The words in the Reading Lesson are not translated and many of them are never taught in the Audio Lessons. However, you hear the correct pronunciation of every word, phrase, and sentence you see and tap on, and thereby learn the correlation between Cyrillic letters and their sound.

DO THE READING LESSONS WORK?

I did all the Reading Lessons in two days (about an hour each day). By the time I reached the practice lessons, I was pretty good at sounding out most of the words. My pronunciation wasn't perfect, but it was close.

I was amazed how quickly I could figure out the sound of individual words I had never seen before. It's also been fun to see a familiar word here and there and go "Aha - that's how it's written!"

That doesn't mean that I can now read texts in Cyrillic. Reading for meaning is a whole different world. It's the next step and something I'll need to practice a lot.

FLASH CARDS, QUICK MATCH & SPEAK EASY

Pimsleur Russian Flashcard screenshotEach lesson has three specific review exercises, Flash Cards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy. You can do any of the review exercises whenever you want.

For the Flash Cards, you hear the audio and see a written version of the new words and phrases of the lesson. At the bottom of the card, you have the option to check "Show Transliteration" (which shows you the words in romanized spelling). Otherwise, you'll see the words written in Cyrillic. (You can even go back and forth between Transliteration and Cyrillic script on each card.)

In the Quick Match exercises you get an English sentence, audio and written. You then choose the correct match for the Russian, either in Transliteration or in Cyrillic. (If you wish, you can toggle between the two.) Once you tap on an answer (even if it tells you it's incorrect), you'll hear the audio.

In the Speak Easy exercises you practice and engage in the conversations of each lesson, by listening, reading, and finally taking the role of one of the speakers. The conversation lines are in Cyrillic, and you can add the Transliteration.

Together, these exercises help you memorize the words and practice your pronunciation. Once you've done the Reading Lessons and know the Cyrillic alphabet, the Flash Cards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises are a great way to start practice reading for meaning.

I like all of these exercises. They give a quick review, they're fun to do, and are a way to stay engaged.

LEARNING ON THE GO

Playing your language program while you're doing something else: driving, running, cooking, washing dishes, etc. is definitely convenient.

I sometimes listen to Italian or Spanish while cooking, now that I'm on an upper intermediate (B2) level in those languages.

But when I start out with a new language, I have found that I do my best learning when I'm alone, when I've put time aside, and can really focus on the learning itself.

I can listen without distraction, repeat words aloud as many times as I want, stop and write myself notes, create my paper flashcards, etc. This is where I'm now with learning Russian. 

Then, once the words and sounds are in my brain, playing them again while my mind is half on something else will be okay too.

I also know that I'm still a long way from being able to understand Russian conversations. So for now, I have to listen and learn with focus wherever I can find some quiet time with my app.

CAN YOU DO 30 LESSONS IN 30 DAYS?

Maybe I could, if I were relearning a language I had taken in school or college. But for Russian, I've not been able to do a new lesson every day. I've had some interruptions (holidays, travel, flu). More importantly though, I've found the need to go back to earlier lessons and review sentences that I find hard.

The key to learning Russian, or any other language for that matter, is doing something every day. It could be redoing a lesson, or part of one. Or it could be going back and playing some of the Flash Card, Quick Match, or Speak Easy exercises.

I have now finished just over half of the course. I feel I'm well-launched into learning Russian. My pronunciation is pretty good, I know the Cyrillic letters, I'm starting to recognize some words, and I can automatically recall some of the basic words and phrases.

Most of all, I continue to feel motivated. The more I'm learning, the more I'm getting excited about learning more.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

Pimsleur language courses are not inexpensive. You can currently purchase each of the 3 levels of the Pimsleur Russian Unlimited Software online for $135 (as  CD or Download), or all three levels for $315. One MP3 audio lesson can be downloaded for free. You may find lower prices on Amazon for new or used CDs.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, 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 Audio, other than receiving the German and Russian Unlimited apps for free.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

The Other Swiss Languages: Italian and Romansh

Swiss map with CantonsBesides German and French, there are two other official Swiss languages: Italian and Romansh. (See also our previous post: Language Learning: German and French in Fribourg, Switzerland)

Like German and French, Italian has full official status on the federal level in Switzerland: all laws and official documents have to be written in these three languages.

Romansh has "partial" official status, i.e. it is used on the federal level when needed for communication with Romansh speakers.

However, each Swiss canton and, generally, even each community can choose which language to use for its own official communication.

Italian is the only official language of the Canton of Ticino and one of the three official languages of the Canton of Graubünden.

Romansh is recognized as an official language only in the Canton of Graubünden, (the largest Swiss canton, but with less than 200,000 inhabitants, also the canton with the lowest population density).

According to an article about Swiss languages published in July 2016 by swissinfo.ch, German (both High German and Swiss German) is spoken by about 63% of the population, French by about 23%, Italian by about 8%. Romansh is spoken by less than 1% of the total population.

The Third Swiss Language: Where Italian is Spoken

Swiss Italian is the Italian spoken in the Canton of Ticino and in the southern part of the Canton Graubünden. Ticino on Swiss map(see map of Ticino, right and map of Graubünden below)

The territory of present-day Ticino was annexed from Italian cities in the 15th century. With the creation of the Swiss Confederation in 1803, the lands were named Ticino, after the largest river in the area. To read up on the history of Ticino: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ticino

The official name of Ticino is Repubblica e Cantone Ticino (Republic and Canton of Ticino). Because of historical ties, the people of Ticino have a strong cultural affinity to their Italian neighbors.

Ticino is the only canton where Italian is the sole official language. Over 87% of the people speak Italian as their native language, around 666,000 according to Ethnologue. (About 10% speak German, and about 5% speak French.)

In the Canton of Graubünden about 15% of the population speaks Italian (just under 30,000). 

Please note: The numbers and percentages I'm quoting show some variation in the French, German, English, and Italian articles I consulted about Swiss languages.

Swiss Italian - Svizzero Italiano

Over the centuries, the Swiss Italian language has been influenced by the local Ticinese dialects and the other national languages, French and German. There are Helveticisms (words typical for Switzerland), differences in idiomatic usage and syntax, and loan words (not known in Standard Italian). 

Here are a few loan words that come from French or German:

To book, reserve (a room or table)
Italian: prenotare.  Swiss Italian: riservare.  French: réserver.

Change, money back
Italian: resto.  Swiss Italian: ritorno.  French: retour.

Sticker (for car)
Italian: bollino.  Swiss Italian: vignetta.  French: vignette.

Discount
Italian: sconto.  Swiss Italian: ribasso.  German: rabatt.

Blind, roller shutter
Italian: taparelle.  Swiss Italian: rolladen.  German: Rollladen. (yes, 3x "l")

Here's a nice little YouTube podcast in Italian about the Swiss Italian language. 

More Swiss Languages: Ticinese

In addition to Swiss Italien, a part of the population of Ticino speaks Ticinese, which is a group of dialect varieties of the Lombard language. For many Italian speakers, Ticinese is difficult to understand.

Ticinese has now been named an endangered language. (According to Ethnologue, there are 303,000 speakers of Ticinese in Switzerland.)

The Lombard language is also spoken in the Northern Italian regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, and Trentino. https://www.ethnologue.com/country/CH/languages

The Fourth Swiss Language: Where Romansh/Rumantsch is Spoken

Graubünden on Swiss mapThe Romansh language is spoken primarily in the southeast of Switzerland, in the Canton of Graubünden, where it has official status alongside German and Italian. (Besides the two spellings above, there are a number of other ways to spell the language.)

Romansh is a descendant of Vulgar (or spoken) Latin. In 2012, it counted just over 36 thousand people who called it their main language. At 0.9% of Swiss citizens makes it the least spoken of the four official Swiss languages.

The spoken Romansh language is generally divided into 5 dialect groups, which together form a continuum. Still, there are recognizable differences even from village to village. The most widely spoken dialect is Sursilvan, which is used by more than half of the speakers of Romansh. In addition to the 5 major dialects, there are a number of other recognized dialects.

Although they are closely related, the Romansh dialects are not always mutually comprehensible. For that reason, when speakers of different varieties talk with each other, they tend to use Swiss German rather than their own dialect. Apparently for Romansh speakers, identity is tied largely to the local dialect region.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, grammar and spelling guidelines were developed for the regional written dialects. Now, each of the 5 Romansh dialect varieties has its own standardized written language. Romansh is taught in some of the local schools.

In 2000 a bilingual high-school diploma was introduced in Graubünden. Since then, if they wished, students have been able to follow studies and graduate in Romansh/German or in Italian/German. 

Pan-Regional Rumansch Grischun

There were attempts to create a unified written Romansh language in 1867, and again in 1958, but these did not gather much support during the early days. A main criticism was that such a created language would be artificial and destroy the Romansh cultural heritage.

Nevertheless, attempts to introduce the standardized Rumansch Grischun in local schools have continued. Finally, in 2015, a hesitant compromise was reached: This unified version of the language is not to be introduced before grade 7. As expected, both supporters and opponents are unhappy.

How do the Swiss Manage?

In researching this topic, it became clear to me that accommodating these four languages and various dialects remains a challenge for Swiss communities and their government.

Resentments between language groups continue to exist. And still Switzerland, a small country of only 8.5 million inhabitants, is somehow managing.

One key may be the autonomy that the individual cantons and communities have in choosing their official language(s), and how and where the languages are taught, etc.

Maybe direct and frequent voting gives the citizens a sense of control? Maybe becoming bilingual by the time they get to school let children become more tolerant towards other languages?

Whatever the reasons, it seems to work. And it reminds me that South Tyrol may have emulated the language success of its neighbor, as we wrote in a previous post: South Tyrol – A Multicultural Success Story.

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 below!

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.

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