Learning from mistakes is a well-known teaching tool. And succeeding (winning!) in games is powerful motivation for us to try again and again until we have mastered them. Both aspects of learning play an important role in our Games For Language courses and Quick Games.
Gender of “the tower” in Spanish
This morning I was replaying one of our Spanish 1 Scenes. In the Writing Game, I was asked to write “the tower” in Spanish. Now, I have seen and said the correct translation quite a few times before and I knew the word “torre.” However, I did not recall a rule for nouns ending with “e.” And because in my native language (German), “the tower” is masculine (“der Turm”), I was uncertain for a moment and started out with “e” for “el,” to be reminded immediately by the error warning that I was wrong. While I was annoyed that I got it wrong, I am quite confident that I will know it the next time.
Why? Because now I'll likely remember not only that in Spanish “tower” is feminine (“la torre”), but also that I should have recalled that it's the same word in Italian (“la torre”) and feminine as well in French (“la tour”).
Quite early on in Spanish, we learn a few basic rules: Words ending with “o” are often masculine, those ending in “a”, often feminine, etc. This Spanish language chart which I discovered on the web some time ago, quite nicely summarizes the important Spanish gender rules. (I welcome any information in regard to its author and origin for proper attribution or requests for other grammar charts via contact.)
In the case of “the tower,” my association will be that the Spanish (or Italian and French) word has a different gender from the German one. I realize that English speakers will have other associations for memorizing genders in foreign languages that don't follow the basic rules. It may be the type or shape of the first letter ( “t” for the “l” in “la”), the sound of the word, etc. , or whatever “mnemonic” works to connect to the correct gender of a word. (Just for fun, I entered “la torre” in the Mnemonic Generator and one of the suggestions was “Lame Thor”, just in case this helps you remember the gender and Spanish word for "tower''...)
I don't like to lose games. When I make a mistake and see at the end of a game, e.g. in “Writing Clowns” or “Word Invaders” that I only got 26 of 30 possible points, I'll repeat the game again until I get 30. This is the same motivation which drives Duolingo learners to repeat a lesson: If you make more than 3 mistakes, you lose your hearts, e.g. you are “out” and have to repeat the lesson before you can go on.
Yes, we sometimes make mistakes, just by clicking on the wrong item accidentally or not taking enough time to read all options. But replaying a lesson or a Scene has benefits beyond just “winning”: With words or phrases you already know, you can focus on pronouncing (ideally aloud) before clicking through; and those you missed, you now will be able to correct and remember better next time.
In our “Word Hero” game, you have to pick the correct English translation for foreign words that cascade down. You need to concentrate and for me, once I make a mistake, it's hard to recover. While this game requires you to focus and decide quickly, it also allows you to say the correct foreign word as it comes down, giving you the satisfaction not only of getting the word/phrase right, but also of letting you check immediately whether your pronunciation is close to that of the native speaker.
In the “Word Invaders” or Shootout” games, you have to pick the correct foreign words for the translation of an English sentence. By clicking on the wrong word, gender, or conjugation, you lose points. And, if you want to win 100% of those games, you'll have to correct all the mistakes you made in the first go-around.
Making mistakes and learning from them, as well as devising strategies to avoid traps, gain strength, and acquire assets, etc. are all part of the the ubiquitous video game universe that keep millions of people engaged today. While language learning has come a long way from boring drills and verb conjugations, we still need to progress further to create a “Language Minecraft” type of game that has speaking the language as the ultimate prize!
Once you have mastered more than the basics of any language, listening to radio or watching movies is a great way to expand your vocabulary, and - maybe as important – keeping you interested in learning. (Not to overlook: READING is for many learners the earlier, easier step for building vocabulary. It will be the topic of another post.)
Increasingly, we are finding the use of iPad apps to be quite convenient. (All the apps mentioned below are also available on the Play Store for Android devices, and, I assume, with very similar or even identical features.) Yes, you can connect to many sites on your PC and watch your movies there or connect your laptop to your television, especially if you have newer models with HDMI ports. We've only recently started to use our iPad/HDMI connector and hooked up our iPad to our large flat screen TV. The experience of watching a movie on a large screen with a much better sound is certainly worth it. But whether you're watching a clip or movie on the iPad or on a bigger screen, here are our current app choices:
German iPad Apps
tagesschau – (also: www.tagesschau.de), a free app, the German “tagesschau” is a 15-minute news magazine, which airs daily at 8 PM German time. It also has a 10:15 PM edition called “tagesthemen” as well as a “nachtmagazin,” which airs just past midnight. Note that the shows' titles these days are NOT capitalized, as they should be according to German spelling rules. Maybe this is a nod to being trendy and “cool.” I remember the “Tagesschau” (which could be translated as “Daily View”) from the early days of German television, when the ARD was the only public channel. (”ARD” stands for “Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” - definitely a mouthful. Anybody interested in the legal structure of this “public-law” institution can consult this wiki entry:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARD_(broadcaster)#Name.
As I am wrting this, I can see on the “tagesschau” that the “Rosetta-Mission” landing of a mini-laboratory on a comet has been successful; “Live stream,” “Aktuelle Videos,” and “Tagesschau in 100 Sekunden,” and “Das Wetter” complete the Homepage. For those interested in German Fußball (soccer), a disappointment: Some legal issues apparently doe not allow the “tagesschau” to show any clips of German soccer. Nevertheless, by clicking on the many links, you can find a variety of clips and videos on many national and international topics.
ZDF – (also: www.zdf.de) a free app of the 2nd German channel (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen), which is a German “public-law” institution as well. There is also a news magazine “Heute” which airs in Germany at 7 PM German time. The extensive Menu on the left side takes some time to get used to. For example, under “Rubriken,” and “Film,” you can find “Der Fernsehfilm der Woche” (TV movie of the week), “Ganze Filme im ZDF” (Entire films in ZDF); or under “Krimis” (crime movies), you'll find many popular German series, such as “Kommissarin Heller,” “Der Krimminalist,” etc. If you want to listen to Bavarian dialect, “Die Rosenheim Cops” is a fun show to watch.
DW – (also: www.dw.de ) Deutsche Welle, a free app, is another great resource. You can actually modify several settings on the menu icon, top right: Refresh the content; choose among 6 languages: Arabic, English, German, Persian, Russian, and Spanish; and select the channel to be displayed on the main screen: Germany, Europe, Arabia, America, Latinoamérica. In addition to a number of video clips, there are also many articles to read about the topics of the day. And, if you have trouble reading an article in German, you can get the English version just by switching the language.
TV–Spielfilm – (also www.tvspielfilm.de ) a free app, lets you choose on the Menu button, top left: “Highlights des Tages” (highlights of the day), “TV-Program,” “Tagestipps,” and “Social Ranking.” We found “Mediathek” to be the most useful, with “Spielfilme, Serien, Reportagen, Unterhaltung, and Kinder” (videos for kids). While the “Play arrow” in the middle of the video lets us play many of these, there are some that either give you the message “Der Vorgang konnte nicht abgeschlossen werden” (the event couldn't be completed), or after seeing “Möchten Sie die Seite in Safari öffnen? (Would you like to open the page in Safari?) and pressing “Ja,” we get the message in Safari: “Inhalte technisch nicht verfügbar” (content not available technically) - all of which have caused us some frustration.
French iPad Apps
ARTE.tv - (also: www.arte.tv )is a free app and actually a Franco-German TV network that promotes programming in the areas of culture and the arts and a perfect transition to the French apps.
Clicking on the top left menu, you'll open a number of program choices as well as a “setting” wheel at the bottom that lets choose you the language (German or French) plus a number of other settings, including reminders for certain live shows, email alerts, synchronizing with iCloud, etc.
Back to the Homepage, you see the “Accueil” (welcome) and you can scroll down to see the ARTE +7 choices: “Les plus vues,” “Les plus recentes,” and those soon to be deleted “Dernière chance.” Selecting "Programmes" you'll see the program of the day. Those marked in red +7 can then be either watched, either in a short clip or later, with a note (e.g."Plus que 6 jours") indicating how long it will be available.
Back to the Menu, you'll see a number of other options, all of which will certainly lead you to topics and videos that interest you.
France TV Pro is a free iPad app that lets you watch live TV on many of the French TV channels. It also uses advertisements but has the unusual feature that lets you earn ad viewing points. After accumulating enough points, you can watch programs ad-free for some time. With each viewing you accumulate 500 points and when you reach 20,000 points (40 views!) you, supposedly, can upgrade to the "Pro" version and now watch for free. (We are not there yet, so I don't know whether this works!)
The Homepage opens up many options: You can watch soaps, news, sports, etc. right there, or click on the Menu button, top left, which gives you many more choices, which include TV VOD, KIDs, Music, Movies, as well as Live Channels, Youtube and more VOD choices. Clicking on "Movies" you'll find 11 more categories, including, "Top", "New", "Comedy", "Drama", etc. One caution: You may not be able to watch all movies listed due to some access restrictions in the country you are watching. For example, clicking on "Freelancers" resulted in: "This video is not available in your country". Also, you'll see some English movies dubbed in French.
Because we mostly watch French movies, I have not explored many of the possibilities. (Of note is that the iPad audio volume button does not seem to work, but there is a on-screen Volume control button, on the bottom left)
20 minutes – (also: www.20minutes.fr) I have enjoyed this app for some time now. (There is another, very similar Swiss app: 20 Minuten (also: www.20min.ch), which is the electronic version of the free “20 Minuten” newspaper that you find everywhere in Switzerland in German, French and Italian language.) Different from the free German apps, this one uses advertisements, (which you can delete right away by clicking on the x on top).
The Homepage gives you a choice of six(6) categories: “Videos, Live, En images, Sport, Actualité, Entertainment, Météo/Horoscope, PDF/Jeux, and Guide TV.” While the other sections also make good reading – and you're sure to find something that interests you – I have used mostly the Videos. At the bottom of that section you'll find 12 subheadings with videoclips, starting with “General” and “Le Rewind” and ending with “Entertainment” and “Actus 20minutes.”
I enjoy “Le Rewind” a lot. The young man who presents and comments on sometimes funny, sometimes bizarre events is hilarious. He also speaks rapid French, so may have to practice a bit before you get all his jokes, but you'll certainly have fun with many of the video clips. Regrettably, I just learned that “le Rewind” will only run until the end of the year.
All the apps mentioned below are also available on the Play Store for Android devices, and, I assume, with very similar or even identical features.
And, please let us know YOUR favorite apps to watch French and German movies and videos.
These past days we've been reminded that the fall of the Berlin Wall (the picture shows the Wall with the infamous "Todesstreifen" ["death strip"]) occurred 25 years ago, with the official celebration on November 9, 2014. For many Germans the Berlin Wall also involves personal memories either directly or through relatives or friends.
When the Wall was built in 1961, it further divided a city which, since 1945, had been living with the division into four sectors: US, UK, French, and Soviet. The “brain” drain through the open border in Berlin caused the East German government (obviously with Russian concurrence and some say, encouragement) to opt for a wall: Too many East Germans (estimated at about 3.5 million) were voting with their feet and sought refuge and freedom in the west sectors before being flown out to West-German.
“Ich bin ein Berliner”
The building of the Wall was also seen by many observers at the time as a test of the new American President, John F. Kennedy. Historians seem to be divided over whether and how much the President and the intelligence community knew about the plans for a wall, or if there was even a tacit American acquiescence for its construction.
President Kennedy visited Berlin in 1963 and his speech - with its now famous words “Ich bin ein Berliner” - was credited for giving West Berliners a very needed moral boost. I remember this speech very well as a teenager, and while we may have chuckled a bit (see also our Quick German No.1: “Ich bin ein Berliner”), we certainly understood the significance of the speech.
Memories of Frightened Teenager
West-Berliners were not allowed to visit East Berlin initially. These restrictions were later eased for holidays and other "hardship" circumstances. (And East Germans could only travel to West-Berlin and West-Germany with special authorizations and under tight control in later years). On the other hand, West Germans could usually visit East Germany and East Berlin after obtaining a visa. A trip to Berlin had become a tradition for many senior classes in West-German High Schools and so, in 1965, I found myself on a bus to East Berlin going through the Wall at Check Point Charlie.
While I do not recall being checked as we entered East Berlin, I certainly remember being stopped on the way out. We all had to get out of the bus and present our passports to an East German border guard. He looked at my passport, then asked me to step into an adjacent room. A grim-looking officer waved the passport in front of my face and said that it was not valid. By that time (and while our teacher and my class mates looked on helplessly through a windowed door) all I could think of saying was “But this is a new passport, I just got it before the trip.” The officer looked me up and down, looked at the picture again and then, reluctantly satisfied and after what seemed like an eternity, finally said: “Then you'd better sign it.”
I still remember now that my legs were shaking when I joined my class again. What seemed like an insignificant and easily corrected oversight was a serious issue in 1965 in East-Berlin (and, with heightened security concerns, maybe it is now again everywhere). Many attempts to escape from East-Berlin were made, through tunnels, through sewers, in cars, by swimming, etc. Over 100 people were killed during such attempts, when the East German Police received shoot-to-ill orders shortly after the Wall was built. And while I, as a West-German, should have had nothing to fear, the climate of intimidation, cold-war press reports, etc. had affected me as well and frightened me.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
After President Reagan had made another famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, it took a little more than 2 years for the Eastern Block to disintegrate. Historians and politicians may still debate whether President Reagan's or Bush's policies were more responsible for the fall of the Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the countries it controlled or whether such policies just accelerated an inevitable system failure. Hungary and Czechoslovakia had already started to allow East Germans to leave through their countries in mid1989; protests in East Germany culminated in a demonstration of over half a million people on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin on November 4, 1989. And then events further accelerated. By November 9 the new East-German government saw the handwriting on the wall (no pun intended) and amidst confusion of directives and orders to the border guards by government officials the borders opened up.(This 1961 picture actually shows Conrad Schumann, an East German soldier of the People's Army escaping, just as the Wall was being built, curtesy of Wikipedia)
The official dismantling of the much-hated Wall only began in mid 1990. On October 3, 1990 the East German state was dissolved and joined the West German state in becoming the reunited Germany. Today, Berlin is again the capital of Germany and, with a population of about 3.5 million, its largest city. It has also regained its status as, arguably, one of the world's top cities for science, culture, media, and politics.
For a few months now we have been baffled why certain search dictionary terms are on top of our site's Search traffic. For several weeks now, 1957 in Spanish (mil novecientos cincuenta y siete) has been on top and we can't figure out why. Obviously, one reason is the fact that our Spanish dictionary entry for "in 1957" has a top position in a Google Search. However, it does not explain WHY people are looking for this term in a Spanish translation. It's a puzzle!
Il Torre de Madrid
In Gamesforlanguage's Spanish 1 course, our traveler Marco learns that the Torre de Madrid (Picture by Carlos Delgaso; CC-BY-SA) was completed in 1957. Even now it's still one of the tallest buildings in Madrid. At the time, it actually was the largest concrete building in the world. According to this Wiki entry, the tower also appeared in numerous Spanish movies released in the 1960s, as well as in the 1984 movie The Hit.
As we can't imagine that OUR users are the ones searching for the translation, we can only speculate that people are looking for other events that happened in 1957. A quick Google search for “events in Spanish speaking countries in 1957” surfaces these possibilities:
Seve Ballesteros and Gloria Estefan
Disregarding the first two entries - the 1957 movie “The Pride and the Passion” and the Wiki event listing of 1957 - here are the ones that follow:
Both the late Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros and Gloria Estefan, a well-known singer of the band Miami Sound Machine, were born in 1957. A possible, but not very probable explanation for why people are searching for 1957 in Spanish.
Diego Rivera and The Treaty of Rome
Maybe the life of the famous Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) who appears as the next Google entry, has art students look up the year for a term paper. Or, political science students are researching the Treaty of Rome, which gave birth to the European Union and was signed in 1957. In either case, it seems more likely that the translation of the year is required for a speech or an oral report, and students are checking on the pronunciation.
Britannica.com reports that “the 1957 Asian flu was the second major influenza pandemic to occur in the 20th century; it followed the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 (also know as the Spanish flu) and preceded the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968." Maybe the recent Ebola scare has people looking up such events, as they need to talk about them in training and explanations. That would explain why the Search Traffic for the Spanish translation and pronunciation of 1957 has been increasing since the beginning of October.
Many other events happened in 1957 - including the launch of the Russian Sputnik - and one or more of them are causing people to look up the Spanish translation for 1957. What do you think? We are inviting you readers to share your thoughts: Just maybe, one of you has searched or is searching for 1957 in Spanish. We'd love to have you help solve this puzzle!
Can you be “fluent” but not “proficient” in a foreign language – or “proficient” but not “fluent”? The first is quite common – just consider pre-school children. They'll speak fluently, but with grammar gaps and limited vocabulary and no reading and writing skills as yet.
The second option, “proficient” but not “fluent,” on the other hand, is harder to imagine, as speaking well is considered essential for proficiency. (Picture of Fribourg, Switzerland)
The U.S. Department of State's Language Proficiency Definitions, however, don't seem to worry about listening/understanding and writing as they are only defining proficiency criteria for speaking and reading.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), on the other hand, has created definitions for 5 major proficiency levels for the four language skills: Speaking, Writing, Listening, and Reading. The graph to the right shows its Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice categories (and subcategories).
These “technical aspects” of proficiency may be important for schools, universities and for professional certifications. But even without such fine distinctions, my wife and I realized during a visit to the French part of Switzerland earlier this year, that we are a prime example of the difference: While she is very “proficient” in French, I am more “fluent.”
Our French Story
Although I studied French in school for a about a year (and hated it!), I had to learn French in earnest, when I started to work in Romandie (the French-speaking part of Switzerland). Now, while my comprehension improved quite rapidly together with my ability to read (I also took some evening classes), I did not become fluent in speaking French until - I came to the United States.
How come? As I lived in the US with some friends in a house where French was the language of communication, I had to speak French. Within a couple of months I became quite fluent in the language and could hold my own even in many esoteric conversations.
My wife, on the other hand, had 8 years of French in school and college. She has always read extensively in French (most recently, several Harry Potter novels) and so she has very good comprehension, as well as a large vocabulary. But she never had the chance to be engaged in the kind of immersive conversations that I was thrown into. Still, while her French fluency is still lacking, she is improving steadily by following the four simple ways below.
How can you improve your fluency?
There is only one way to do it: You have to speak the foreign language! Learning vocabulary is great and necessary, but it is not enough to help you speak. There a four simple tips:
Practice by reading aloud.
Chose language programs that encourage you to repeat phrases and sentences, not just words. (and don't just click on the correct word or phrase, but repeat it aloud!)
Record your voice and compare it to that of a native speaker.
Find a native speaker with whom you can practice, either in person or via some of the social/language networks.
Language fluency is acquired by speaking - the more the better. Your pronunciation may not be perfect (Did this prevent Henry Kissinger from being understood?) and your grammar may be a work in progress. But, if language fluency is your goal then: Just do it - and speak!
You had started learning the foreign language in school, but never got very good at it (ok, you even hated it!) But now - a new boy/girlfriend, an exciting travel destination, a foreign job opportunity – suddenly got you interested again. Maybe you also saw some slick advertisements by Rosetta Stone, heard about the free Duolingo, GamesforLanguage and other language courses.
So, how do you get back?
The simple answer is: You first have to find a way to develop a daily habit, even it it's just a few minutes a day.
Set a modest, attainable short term goal, for example 15 minutes a day for 21 days. Then set a new goal.
Schedule a daily reminder on your PDA, Phone, Laptop, Mac/PC for a time when you can actually spend those 15 minutes.
Identify the skills you need to work on especially, and focus on these. Learning a foreign language means that you are working on several skills at the same time. You are training your ear to distinguish between sounds that may be foreign to you; you are intuitively processing grammar structures; you are training your mouth to produce sounds that may be unfamiliar; you are learning a new spelling; you are challenging your brain to make new associations between sound and meaning, etc.
As we had suggested in 3 Tips for Adult Language learners – Part 1: Beginners, you quite likely will also have to “test materials/systems/programs that fit your learning style” and the skills you want to improve. But, as important as finding the “perfect" language learning program for improving your language skills, remember this: No matter what you want to become proficient in: math, reading, yoga, karate,football. basketball shooting, writing, meditation ... the key seems to be - any way you goggle it: "Daily, Steady Practice."
And once you have gotten into the habit of learning and practicing again, there are many ways to keep going. You'll find a few ideas for "non-beginners" in Part 2. But you won't make much progress, until you develop a daily habit with your new language - whether looking up a grammar question in a book, doing a lesson online, reading a foreign newspaper article, or a chapter of a book, watch a foreign movie or video, participate in an online community, or best: listen to and talk with somebody in the foreign language.
“Blüten” in German means “blossoms,” but in colloquial language the word also means “funny money.” Our German 2 course uses a story that appeared in the Berlin newspaper in 2013, as shown in this excerpt on the left. Note the admonition that “Blüten müssen umgehend der Polizei gemeldet werden.” (Funny money has to be reported to the police right away.)
Language Magazine October 2014
The write-up on page 44 of Language Magazine's online October edition (see below) and in the Magazine's Materials section, describes how this narrative is used in Gamesforlanguage.com's German 2 course to teach and practice real and useful German phrases and sentences. The first draft lesson of the German 2 course is already online. Those who completed the German 1 course, will recall why Michael Mueller is visiting Berlin again. More lessons will be added as they are being completed.
Changed Lesson Format
Returning players will also notice a change in our lesson format: Each of the six levels will now have 12 lessons or Scenes, for a total of 72 . Each Scene has two parts and various games have now been combined in “Memory,” “Write & Listen,“ and “Deal No Deal” segments to make learning and practicing even more fun and effective.
And those learners who complete “Blüten in Berlin” can also speculate what our German 3 course will be all about.
In the coming months, look for French 2, Spanish 2, and Italian 2 courses with a similar mystery story.
I recently read again that the “Grammar Translation Method” was first used in teaching Greek and Latin before being also applied to modern languages. It worked a bit like this:
Listen and then repeat after me Let's look at this sentence and find the grammar rule Do the exercise on page 43 of your Grammar/Text Book Memorize the vocabulary list Translate the first paragraph on page 45 Where do you see the grammar rule X applied in this paragraph
Maybe that's why many (including myself) have such bad memories of their language learning days in school...
Our First Language
We certainly don't learn to speak our first language from a grammar book. We learn our first language and its grammar – the rules by which the language works – mostly just by listening to and imitating other speakers. Research suggests that our brains are wired to do this. (Multiple Brain Regions Wired For Language, Study Finds). We seem to grasp the grammar idiosyncrasies of our first language without much effort early on and then learn the rules in school later. However, grammar rules themselves are not set in stone. Many of them even change over time and people often argue about them.
Our Second (or Third) Language
Learning a second or third language typically starts in school - for most of us and excepting children who grow up bilingual - after we have acquired the basics of our first language. And here the teaching methods (such as the “Grammar Translation Method”) may have a lot to do with how children or teenagers, and for that matter, even adults learn a foreign language.
Knowing certain grammar rules is obviously an essential part of mastering a language. But consciously learning grammar rules is a different type of activity from engaging in a language. Grammar rules are memorized and applied. Engaging in a language means actively using it, starting with listening/understanding, then reading, speaking, and writing it.
The question is how one can teach grammar with language games. For now, we go as far as adding brief grammar “tips” in a translation game. But mostly we set up the language games in such a way that the player makes grammar connections intuitively. In fact, a recent articleWhen It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learningreinforced our idea that games make language learning more effective: Learning can occur "playfully" rather than "with effort."
When you get curious enough about a grammar point, it is interesting to check up on it. Sometimes that's the only way that you can figure out the meaning of something. But while you're talking or listening to someone talking to you, it's not usually possible to say “Hey, let me look that up.” Language games intend to put you right into the flow of understanding and using a language. That's not a bad skill to practice.
When my wife and I arrived in Italy several years ago, after having studied Italian with the 90 lessons of three Pimsleur Italian courses, we felt quite confident. Watching a television show the first evening quickly destroyed our illusion. We could barely distinguish words, even less understand what seemed to us to be just rapid-fire Italian. After a couple of weeks of watching and listening, however, and doing the homework that our tutor gave us, we started to hear individual words. And sometimes we guessed the meaning from the context of the show or movie.
Understanding is obviously crucial - without it, there is no conversation. Listening/understanding is considered a passive activity, but it's importance should not be underestimated. When we marvel at the ease children learn a language, we should not forget that their listening already starts before they are even born and it still takes them several years before they can speak fluently.
Daring to Speak
Overcoming the fear of speaking a foreign language is a big step for many adults. There are no shortcuts to speaking. You have to do it as often as you can, starting with reading aloud, repeating, recording your voice, etc. What only could be done in "language labs" in schools and colleges in the past is now possible with many CD or online language courses.
In learning Italian and Spanish I have found that recording myself and comparing my pronunciation to that of the native speaker works best for me: I begin to hear the sound differences and while I'm often not successful in imitating the native speaker completely, I seem to get a little closer with every try. (And voice recognition programs just frustrate me!)
But speaking as part of a conversation obviously requires more than just pronouncing words more or less correctly. You have to recall vocabulary, consider word order, tenses, conjugations, and other grammatical idiosyncrasies to form sentences in a particular language. And, you have to do it in "real time."
Now, while learning vocabulary is essential, it's been our own experience that we recall words much better if we learn them in context, i.e. with phrases and sentences we would use ourselves. (That is also the idea of the travel story approach of gamesforlanguage.com!) When you recall and adapt phrases and sentences that you have heard and memorized, you have to think much less about word order, conjugations, endings, etc.
Yes, some apps and translation gadgets may help you look up a forgotten word or two, but for a real one-on-one conversation they are also a distraction.
We now know that, as we grow up, we lose our ability to distinguish certain sounds. Asian language speakers find it difficult to distinguish "l" and "r" sounds, as they don't exist in their languages. English speakers have trouble with French nasal sounds, German speakers with the English "w." While certain sounds can be learned with a focus on the mouth mechanics (a previous post), chances are that an adult will rarely speak a newly acquired foreign language completely without an accent.
Living with a Foreign Accent
I have been in the United States for over 40 years, but I still have a German accent. As I can't eliminate it, in spite of earlier "accent reduction" tutoring, I'll just live with it. And I do speak English quite fluently - maybe better now than French, which I had learned in my twenties while living and working in Switzerland.
I have been told that my accent in French is not quite German (maybe Swiss German?), but I can clearly hear my German accent when I record myself while learning and improving my Italian and Spanish.
I recently heard Henry Kissinger on a TV show. His German accent is certainly much stronger than mine, but nobody would argue that he does not speak English fluently.
My point is: Once you dare to speak, you can always work on improving your accent. But do not let your accent be the reason for not speaking.
Sabía (I knew) - that Scotland recently voted to stay part of Great Britain. It should have given Madrid some confidence that letting the democratic process play out may in fact be the right idea. (Or maybe Madrid already "knows," (sabe) how Catalonia would vote, if they were allowed to do so.) A recent article in The New Republic, Spain is Learning All the Wrong Lessons from Scotland's Referendum, analyses Madrid's position and actions.
In an earlier post we had excerpted a portion of our friend Jordi's e-mail in which he traced the political conflict back to 1714. Here is Part 2, in which he describes his view of the ongoing language struggle.
There is no problem with the level of the Spanish/Castilian language in Catalonia. All the statistics show that the current Catalan educational system - which is in fact bilingual - provides the students with a higher knowledge of both languages - Catalan and Castilian - than the monolingual Spanish system.
The knowledge of Castilian in Catalonia is above the average in Spain and even higher than in many parts of Castilia itself. There is not a single person in Catalonia that knows only Catalan and not Castilian. However, for many residents of Catalonia, the opposite situation is true. What the people that ask for "more Spanish” really want is "less Catalan" in Catalonia, asserting "the right” to be ignorant of the language of the country they are living in. In fact, they deny the existence of Catalonia as a country.
On the other hand, it is worth knowing is that, for the period of 2013-2014 only five (yes, 5) families asked for an education in "Spanish only" - in a population of about 7.5 million people. For the current period of 2014-2015, there is not a single family yet asking for "Spanish only" education. This, in spite of the fact that Mr. Wert, the Minister of Education in Madrid, has decreed that the Catalan Government will pay for "Spanish only" education of students that ask for it.
In the Valencian County, thousands of families have been asking the Government for new schools where the functional language would be Catalan, which is their mother tongue. The response of Minister Wert has been to close many of the Catalan schools and to increase the number of schools in “only Castilian.” There have been many demonstrations against that decision but the policies of education don’t change.
In the Balearic Islands, where there is the same system of immersion in Catalan as in Catalonia, a new law allows schools to hold only 30% of the classes in Catalan. There has been a long strike of about two months, in which more than the 90% of teachers, and children with their families, participated. Eventually the teachers decided to return to work but not abide by that rule.
So, as a matter of conclusion, I would say that there is no "language problem" in Catalonia, but only policies for the “cultural genocide” of Catalonia that Spain tries to implement.
These are strong words born out of frustration with the often heavy-handed educational policies decreed by Madrid.
We recently met a Spanish college professor who has lived in the US for many years, but is following the events in Spain with great interest. Growing up in the northwest of Spain with a Basque father and a mother from Catalonia, she knows the language issues well. She told us that her nieces and nephews in Catalonia are all participating in the many demonstrations for a referendum. And while they all support the independence of Catalonia from Spain they also are quite pessimistic about the outcome of a vote - assuming that Spain's Supreme Court would even allow such a referendum to proceed in the first place.