Recently we came across an online language learning site that has intrigued us. LinguaVille describes its approach as "National Curriculum Language Learning," aligning itself with the national curricula of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and India, as well as the K-12 syllabi across the United States.
We had recently compared Duolingo and Babbel and were interested in finding out how you can learn with LinguaVille.
At this time you can learn six languages: English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, and Spanish. You can set any of these languages as your native language and one of the others as your target language.
When we contacted LinguaVille and indicated an interest in reviewing the program, we were kindly given a free registration and access to Spanish and French, as the target language for English speakers.
I opted for Spanish, since it's the language I'm learning at the moment and the one I'm least proficient in.
The Village Map
You'll find the map by clicking on your name, once you've registered.
This colorful map (see above) lies at the center of the LinguaVille program and shows the language village. Click on the various buildings to get into them.
First, explore what's there: the Library for dictionaries; the Hospital is a helpline for dealing with concerns; the Travel Center for phrases to practice; the Trophy Shop for earned points and awards; the Playground for games. Then, you'll want to head to the School. That's where your structured learning will take place.
Two Introductory Sections:
Class 1: Here, you can learn or review the basics, such as letters of the alphabet, accented letters, numbers, days, parts of the day, meals, clothing, and parts of the body.
Beginners: In this section, you'll find 1000 basic words which you can learn flashcard-style through pictures that are first associated with their sound. You'll then see the written words in your native and target languages. Clearly, you can do this section in stages, and come back any time.
Three Levels of Difficulty/Proficiency
The best way for a self-learner to proceed is to follow the program in the order that it's presented. You can, of course, start from whatever level of proficiency that you have.
In each of the levels - Standard, Intermediate, and Advanced - you'll learn and self-test yourself on material used within the national curriculum. As expected, the content becomes increasingly sophisticated.
What makes this program efficient (I tried out my intermediate Spanish) is that you learn interactively and get immediate feed-back.
Everylevel has a series of fun and challenging target-language exercises. You can do each of these exercises also as a test.
In "Multiple Choice," you're asked a question or given a brief task in your target language. As your response, you click on one of the choices, which are also in your target language. I loved using just Spanish and after a while found that I wasn't translating at all.
In "Word Order," you're asked to rearrange a series of words into a specific order. The order may be written-out numbers from high to low, the days of the week in sequence, events in chronological order, a sequence of phrases to make a correct sentence. Again, the question is given to you in your target language.
The exercise "Fill in the Words" shows you a short text with six gaps. From a group of words below the text, you choose the words that fit into the context. For this, you really have to understand what the short passage is about.
For "Cloze" (or "reading closure"), you again fill in six gaps of a short text, but this time you have to come up with the correct words yourself. You're not given any choices. Needless to say, this is a challenging exercise.
The "Verb" exercise gives you a verb and a paradigm skeleton, which you fill in with the correct tense that's required. The practice is straightforward and very useful. Who doesn't need to review verb forms?
"Text Adventure" shows you a paragraph of text with a brief storyline or scenario. You then select the correct statement that's related to it. To pick the right one, you'll need to read the passage very closely.
Finally, in "Dictation," you'll hear short passages of text, which you then have to write out with correct spelling and punctuation. I found this the hardest exercise of all because the texts are read at normal speed. I had to redo a lot of them.
Travel Center Phrases and Playground
On the central map of the "Village," you can click on the Travel Center to learn and review the phrases of the different School levels in another format. Here, the phrases (over 52, 000 of them) are arranged according to various categories (such as Business Travel, Directions, the Office, etc.), and sub-categories (such as Food, Meal Times, School Subjects, etc.)
Three different exercises (and tests) help you master the phrases. You first learn the meaning, then write the phrase after just hearing it (with correct punctuation and grammar), and finally translate it.
When you click on the "Playground" (see picture), you'll find various games, such as "Beat the Clock," "Anagram," "Matching," "Word Search," etc., to review vocabulary.
Four Things I Enjoy About LinguaVille
Online, interactive learning. I've become an online-learning junkie. I love learning a language by seeing and hearing words and phrases, and practicing speaking and writing. I also enjoy learning and testing myself with a variety of exercises that put language into context and give me immediate feedback.
Extensive, challenging content. With its 1000 basic words, 52 000 practical phrases, text passages that become increasingly more challenging, LinguaVille provides a large amount of structured content. A motivated and disciplined learner can significantly raise his or her level of target-language proficiency.
Doing exercises within the target language. I particularly like the many exercises in the Standard, Intermediate, and Advanced Levels that stay within the target language. They have an immersive quality that is quite effective.
The gamified features of LinguaVille, which include certificates, medals of achievement, and cups that you're awarded as you progress through the program.
Comparison to other online language learning sites
The other sites I know well are GamesforLanguage, Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone.
Compared to these sites, navigating LinguaVille is not simple. In addition, some of the instructions and descriptions seem overly complicated.
Although you're encouraged to follow the progress of exercises and levels at LinguaVille, you can easily skip around - which for some learner might be confusing, but for others a more fun, freer way to learn. Also, it's not entirely clear how the thousands of phrases in the Travel Center are integrated into the learning sequence. They seem to be phrases, passages, scenarios, etc. collected from the entire program. You can study them separately, use them as dictation, or play them as tests.
With GamesforLanguage and Duolingo you have to follow the lesson sequence. You cannot skip ahead. In both programs you can redo past lessons, and in Duolingo you can “practice your weak skills.” Perhaps it's the simple and intuitive design here which gets self-learners addicted.
Linguaville is not a free program. A free trial is available with school membership (or with a voucher or promotion code).
The cost of a single-user subscription for 3 months is US$99, a 3-month family subscription US$198. 1-month, 6-month, and yearly subscriptions are also available. (School subscriptions, which add a Teacher Dashboard and an authoring option, are being priced on request. )
These rates put Linguaville at the higher end of online language-learning subscriptions.
If you're a home user and are motivated and disciplined enough to learn and practice regularly, LinguaVille could well be worth it. With its large number of texts, exercises, and tests, it is a content-rich program that can keep you learning for a good while.
LinguaVille could also be a good program for homeschoolers who have to meet the language learning goals of national curricula. These include proficiency in all four skills, especially communication skills. The national curriculum aims for England can be seen here.
It's good to have a few basic Spanish words and expressions at hand,when traveling to a Spanish speaking country.
In many Spanish travel guides you'll find the translations for greetings, please, thank you, where is the bathroom, asking for directions, etc. Learning a few of these makes interactions friendly - and - they can also help you out in a pinch.
Knowing the basic numbers in Spanish can be especially helpful, when shopping, giving an address to a cab driver, buying a train ticket, or asking for and giving someone a telephone number, etc.
We have found that knowing the basic numbers in any language is one of the most useful things when traveling – and it's often one of the easiest to learn.
Spanish numbers are not difficult for English speakers, if you just memorize a few numbers and some basic rules.
Spanish Numbers 1-15
For most English speakers, Spanish numbers from 1 to 15 are not that difficult to learn and remember. Many of the English and Spanish numbers are related, and even though their spelling is different - as in “uno" (one), “dos” (two), “tres” (three), “seis” (six), “siete” (seven), “nueve” (nine) - they should be easy to remember.
For other numbers such as “cinco” (five), “ocho” (eight), “diez” (ten), “once” (eleven) “doce” (twelve), “trece” (thirteen), “catorce” (fourteen), and “quince” (fifteen), you may want to use some mnemonics. If you already know the French numbers, then they'll help you out.
Spanish numbers 16 to 20
Spanish numbers from 16 to 19 use the inverse English model by using the prefix “dieci” in front of the single numbers: “dieciséis” (sixteen), “diecisiete” (seventeen), “dieciocho” (eighteen), “diecinueve” (nineteen).
Note that at times you may also see the old spelling of 16 to19 (“diez y seis,” etc.).
The numbers between 30 and 90 that end in a zero follow the same pattern as in English, by adding the suffix “-enta” (in English “-ty”) to an abbreviated form of the numbers 2 to 9: “cuarenta” (forty), “cincuenta” (fifty), “sesenta” (sixty), “setenta” (seventy), “ochenta” (eighty), “noventa” (ninety).
The one exception is “tre-inta” (thirty), as the first part ends with the letter “e,” and the suffix “-inta” is added.
Spanish Numbers 21 to 29
The numbers 20 to 29 are straightforward, except notice the accent on 22, 23, and 26: veintiuno (21), veintidós (22), veintitrés (23), veinticuatro (24), veinticinco (25), veintiséis (26), veintisiete (27), vientiocho (28), veintinueve (29).
And, you may also see the old spelling: “veinte y uno,” etc., which was replaced by the new spelling above.
Spanish Numbers 31 to 100
Here “treinta,” “cuarenta,” “cincuenta,” etc. are just linked with the separate word “y” (and) to the single digits, e.g. “treinta y uno” (thirty-one), “cuarenta y dos” (forty-two), “cincuenta y nueve” (fifty-nine), and this continues consistently through the nineties.
So, as in English, once you know the Spanish numbers 1 to 9 and 20 to 90, then 21 to 99 are a breeze.
The Spanish number for 100 is “cien,” but combined with another digit, 100 changes to “ciento”: “ciento uno” (101), “ciento tres" (103), etc.
The numbers from 200 to 900 combine similar to English, except that they become one word and add an “-s,” for the plural hundred at the end. Thus you have “doscientos” (200), “trescientos" (300), “cuatrocientos" (400), “seiscientos” (600), “ochocientos” (800).
However, note the slight exceptions for “quinientos” (500), “setecientos” (700), and “novecientos” (900).
By just remembering these three (3) last exceptions, you should be able to count easily to “mil” (1000), as the numbers are otherwise quite regular:
145 - ciento cuarenta y cinco
243 - doscientos cuarenta y tres
329 - trescientos veintinueve
578 - quinientos setenta y ocho
707 - setecientos siete
838 - ochocientos treinta y ocho
999 -novecientos noventa y nueve
Spanish Historical Dates
Historical dates, of course, are rarely written out. But there are conventions on how to say them.
In Spanish, unlike in English, you use “thousands” (not hundreds) to say a specific year between 1101 and 1999.
So, 1829 is “mil ochocientos veintinueve.”
Millions, Billions, Trillions
A point of frequent confusion for speakers of American English are the high numbers that are often quoted in news reports about global finances, as for example, in the recent negotiations between Greece and the European Union regarding Greece's financial obligations.
Spanish and English agree on 1,000,000 - “un millón” (one million). But, for the U.S. English “one billion” (1,000,000,000), Spanish uses “mil millones”; and the U.S. English “trillion” (1,000,000,000,000) is the Spanish “billón.” You can see the problem.
Practicing the Spanish numbers also gives you an opportunity to work on your pronunciation. As in any language, getting the mouth mechanics right is important in Spanish.
The numbers “tres” or “cuatro” do not have the “r” as in the English word “tree”; for the Spanish words, the tongue is in the front of your mouth rather than farther back.
The Spanish “v” as in “nueve,” has a sound between the English “b” and “v.”
In Castillian Spanish the beginning “c” and the “z” at the end of a word, such as in “cinco” and “diez,” are very close to the English “th.” In Latin American Spanish, both letters are closer to the English “s.”
In Seville, Andalusia, we noticed that the “s” endings are often dropped. So you may hear “tre” instead of “tres” or “sei” instead of “seis.
Many Opportunities to Practice
During the day, whether you're commuting to work, noting how many email messages are in your inbox, reading the newspaper, doing exercises, etc., you'll always see numbers.
Pronounce them silently, or out loud, if you can, in Spanish. And you'll be surprised how fast you'll know them!
Adults have to use different strategies and methods than children, but as second language learners all over the world prove: You CAN learn a second language as an adult!
A Second Language For You?
The many benefits of learning another language are well-documented. But adults also have strong reasons for deciding against becoming bi- or multilingual. The reasons English speakers most often use, include:
I do not need to speak second language.
I can get along with my English well enough when traveling.
I am not good at learning a second language.
I don't have time to learn a second language.
What about those adults who began learning a second language, or even continued with a language they had leaned in school, but then stopped?
Why did they give up?
I recently came across this question on Quora from 2012: “What is the success rate of learning a foreign language in the world?” You can find three thought-provoking answers HERE.
I have not been able to find any other credible statistics for the U.S. or other countries than those mentioned in the answers to the above Quora question.
While the anecdotal evidence may point to higher success rates in European countries than in the U.S., the question remains:
Why do so many adults give up on learning a second or third language, even one they learned for several years during school or college?
And what about the astronomical failure rates of students enrolled in language courses, including those subscribing to online programs?
I believe there are three (3) main reasons why adults give up on learning a language:
The “Adabei” Effect - or: No True Reason or Need
There is a wonderful expression in the Austrian/Bavarian dialect for a person who also wants to be part of a peer group. The dialect word is “Adabei,” which in standard German means “auch dabei” (also with it).
In the context of language learning, an “Adabei” would be someone who wants to speak a certain foreign language because his or her friends say it's the “in thing” to do.
A desire to be or do “like the others” can indeed be a strong initial motivator. But it may also be short-lived, once the excitement fades and it becomes clear that substantial effort is required.
Years ago, it was fashionable to learn French, which was then replaced by Russian, and more recently by Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.
On the other hand, Spanish in the U.S. is certainly on the rise and may become not only an “in” language but also a very useful one to learn and speak.
By the same token, a person who lives in an immersion environment - as in a country or region where everybody else speaks another language - is not an “Adabei. ” Rather, such a person is someone who - out of necessity - quickly becomes a very motivated learner!
Marketing Promises and Unrealistic Expectations
Ubiquitous marketing promises, such as “Learn a language in 10 days,” “Learn a language like a Child,” "Guaranteed Success", etc. have raised expectations that many learners are unable to meet.
Such slogans are a symptom of our new technological world, promising instant, effortless results and gratification.
We don't even need to use keystrokes on our smartphone or tablet to immediately get the most esoteric information: We can just ask Siri for it! You can buy almost anything over the phone or web. Amazon will fill your order in a day or two.
Unfortunately, our desire for immediate and effortless results also produce high expectations. For learning a second language, these expectations often lead to disappointment and a sense of failure.
While nobody can learn a foreign language in 10 days, you CAN become fluent in 3 months – but only if that's your main focus during that time.
(In a 2014 post we looked at estimates of how long it takes to achieve mastery in a language.)
But for most learners, the fast and easy path to fluency is an unrealistic expectation.
My own experience is instructive here:
I have been learning Spanish for over a year now, regularly spending 10 to 30 minutes a day with GamesforLanguage, Duolingo, and Babbel courses. I've got good basic listening comprehension and can read quite well.
Since our one-month stay in Sevilla in March 2015, I can also participate in simple conversations (especially when I prepare for them). While I don't speak Spanish fluently yet, I know that I will get there with more conversation practice.
I've also been learning Dutch for several months now, first with Duolingo, and since early June also with Babbel, spending 20 to 30 minutes every day. I don't expect to be fluent, but hope that by the end of August, I'll have made enough progress to understand some Dutch conversations (see my earlier post).
And to put things in context: I'm not a language learning beginner, but speak three languages fluently.
No Long-Term Plan
If you don't have a compelling NEED to learn another language, and no long-term plan that suits your lifestyle and time commitments, then your learning effort made indeed falter soon.
True, classroom or online courses can be a great start for learning a second language.
And not everybody is able to follow Benny Lewis' Fluent in 3 Months time-intensive prescriptions.
“I have no time” is the excuse most frequently used. I suspect that it also hides the true reasons why someone abandons a language learning effort. Priorities change (see “Adabei” above), progress is too slow (because expectations are too high), or there's no long-term plan that integrates your learning into your daily life
Therefore, if you really want to acquire a second (or third) language, you should take a long view and first make a plan that takes into account your available time and resources:
Your learning style, time constraints, and financial means should guide you to select from the wide offerings of free and fee-based resources: online and classroom courses, online and personal tutors, apps and podcasts, library CDs and books, etc.
If you are really serious about learning another language, you have to supplement classroom or online courses with other activities: reading books, newspapers or online articles, listening to podcasts, watching movies, and, if fluency is your goal – having conversations in your new language.
Long-term Engagement: Turning Failure Into Success
Should you be reading this post and wondering whether to continue learning, think again how taking a long-term view could keep you going.
What could make learning fun? How could you incorporate some language learning into your daily life?
A free Duolingo, GamesforLanguage lesson or Quick Game before breakfast?
A Mindsnack game while waiting?
A foreign Neflix movie at night? Or using your Chromecast to watch a foreign TV show?
Listening to a podcast while exercising?
Connecting up with a language partner online?
And, if your life is busy and you can't commit much time to learning another language now, adjusting your plan is still an option as well.
By keeping a long view and calibrating your learning effort to your current situation, you'll maintain your investment and can keep building on it again later on.
A couple of weeks ago, when buying a laptop in one of those trendy stores, we had a typical conversation with a young saleswoman. “Oh, you guys speak German,” she beamed, as she came back from helping another customer. “I thought I recognized the language, all those scratchy sounds.”
She then added: “Well, I took Spanish in school and college. I used to speak it pretty well. But, it's been a couple of years since then. Now I couldn't say anything in Spanish if my life depended on it.”
That wasn't true, of course. My husband immediately tried his Spanish on her, and she responded with a couple of simple phrases. “Okay” she said, “I would need to go to Mexico and live there for a while. I bet Spanish would come back.”
At the moment, it looked like she was busy getting her work life together. She didn't really seem focused on language learning. But she got us thinking again, about how adults can get back a foreign language they once knew.
Relearning a language has to be one of the smartest decisions you can make. There are so many benefits involved. Besides adding a notable skill to your resume, you're giving your brain a fantastic workout.
Also, knowing another language makes traveling much more fun. For more benefits, read lingholic's blog post. Simply said, if you're open to the pleasure of language learning, it's always worth it.
Reactivating a classroom language
When you learn a language in school or college and then stop using it, you may feel after a while that it's “gone.” But is that really so?
As studies have shown (using functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, as described in this academic Sciencedirect.com article): When you learn a new language, your brain undergoes neural changes, which have short and long-term effects on language learning and cognitive control.
From such studies, it becomes apparent that a second language - even when learned as an adult - retains a presence in your brain. This neurological presence gives you a head start on various aspects of the language, ones that a newcomer would have to learn from scratch.
Traditionally, classroom learning has tended to be somewhat heavy on textbook exercises and reading, and (necessarily) a little light on speaking practice. Classroom learners acquire reading and writing skills, and at least a basic understanding of grammar.
Therefore, reading will likely be the most effective way to reactivate a classroom language that you've put aside. Plus, if you liked the writing exercises, you can easily bring this skill to life again by first copying texts and later participating in a language community on one of the social networks.
Some have found that labeling objects in their home with Post-its or FlashSticks, will boost their vocabulary.
A further step would be to try one of the interactive online language programs. In some ways, they are a perfect tool for adults who want to reactivate a language.
Many of the online programs or apps have you learn or review a language in various ways: identify a word you hear, write the translation, repeat after a native speaker, figure out grammar patterns, put together basic sentences, etc.
In this way, you can practice - and relearn - the sounds, spelling, essential grammar, word order, and vocabulary of the language you want to brush up.
All of the above-mentioned ways give you an easy start, and can definitely get you going. To this you'll want to add more reading, and a lot of listening, and as much speaking as possible.
Speaking is probably the hardest skill to acquire for former classroom learners. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for practicing speaking (even if you don't have family members or friends who speak the language you're relearning).
If you're the social type, you'll find plenty of free opportunities with language exchange partners, language communities on Facebook, hangouts on Google+, etc.
Paid options include Skype lessons, online tutors such as Verbling.com, or courses such as Pimsleur audio programs. For the latter, I would suggest starting with Level 2 or 3, because you're not a beginner.
Relearning a childhood language
If you spoke a language as a young child, and then forgot it because it was gone from your life, you may take a different path for reawakening it.
My own experience is informative here:
My first language was German. When I was 9 and 10, I went to school in the Netherlands. Then, after moving to Canada, I had to learn English and had little exposure to Dutch and German.
It was only after the family had settled in and my siblings and I did well in school, that my family started using German and Dutch again at home. It was mostly just by speaking that I kept these languages alive.
Young children learn a language by hearing and speaking it, often during play. At the same time they are learning to make sense of the world around them.
They discover objects and actions, become aware of emotions, and find out how to communicate their needs and wants. The sounds of the words, which they hear and learn to say themselves, become deeply imprinted on their brain. For young children, the spoken word is paramount because it functions as a tool for discovery and survival.
So, it's especially language as sound which imprints itself on a young child's brain and leaves a "permanent" mark, as this Guardian article explains.
Thus, for adults who spoke another language as a child, reactivating native pronunciation and sentence intonation will come pretty easily. Listening to songs and stories has proven to be a good first step to getting back a “lost” childhood language.
Even more effective would be having conversations with a friend or family member. If he or she can gently correct your mistakes, all the better.
Then, there are other skills to learn. You may have to learn a new spelling and writing system from scratch, as well as essential grammar rules, if you had no formal instruction before. Though a child may have acquired a good-sized vocabulary, the adult has to learn grown-up, formal, and specialized language.
If you're interested in new discoveries about bilingualism and language acquisition, look at François Grosjean's book Bilingual: Life and Reality or check out his Psychology Today blog“Life as a Bilingual: The reality of living with two (or more) languages.”
Make a Plan
Once you've made up your mind to get a (somewhat) forgotten language back into your life, it helps to make a project out of it. Be clear in your mind why you want to relearn the language. Then set some goals and decide on a daily schedule that you can easily stick to.
As readers of a previous post know, I am currently learning Dutch, while continuing to improve and practice my Spanish.
As German is my native language, Dutch shouldn't be that difficult for me. And indeed, the many similarities between both languages make it much easier both to listen/understand and even to read Dutch.
However, speaking and writing continue to be quite challenging. There are several sounds that don't exist in German and that I have difficulties in reproducing. Then there are words that sound similar to German but are spelled quite differently in Dutch.
My Spanish is better and more fluent than my Dutch and that has led me to use different learning tools for each.
My Learning/Practicing tools
For Dutch, I am currently using Duolingo and Babbel (with a 3-month subscription). For about a month, I did two Duolingo lessons per day.
Now I am down to one Duolingo lesson per day, plus 1 to 2 daily Babbel lessons.
For Spanish, I am currently using our Gamesforlanguage Spanish 1 course and Quick Games, Duolingo, Babbel (with a 1-year subscription), Lingua.ly, and the Drops app.
And in the evening, I am rereading a couple of pages of Isabelle Allende's original Spanish edition of “Zorro.”
Last year when I first read the Spanish edition of Zorro, I used the English translation along with the Spanish original. I reported about my experience in this post.
In addition, my wife and I listen to Spanish news and, once or twice a week, we watch a soap or movie in Spanish.
For Dutch, I'll practice speaking with my wife (who is fluent in Dutch), but I still need to increase my vocabulary for a real conversation. Right now, short sentences about daily life is all I can manage.
My 5 Language Learning Tips
Maximizing your exposure to the language you are learning is clearly key for making progress.
If you observe how much time young children spend daily on listening, repeating, and trying out their first language, you realize that for an adult 1 to 2 hours per week of learning a new language will not be enough.
The trick is to find ways to build language learning into your daily life, in the morning, on your commute, during a lunch or coffee break at work, or in the evening at home.
There are so many ways you can do that and for each person it will be somewhat different. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting a little creative.
Here are the five learning tips that are working for me:
1. Limit the number of NEW Foreign Words per Day
I have found that I can't handle more than about 20 NEW words per day. The key here is “new.”
It's very tempting, once you are on “a roll,” to do several lessons a day with an online course. This is especially the case when you did well in a particular lesson.
However, rather than continuing with new lessons, I have found it more effective to redo a previous lessons or to review my errors.
With Duolingo, after 2 to 3 lessons (with 3 to 8 new words per lesson), I reach my limit and then choose to “Practice Weak Skills.”
Similarly, with Babbel (where you learn 3 to 6 new words per lesson), you can review your errors or redo a previous lesson.
With Gamesforlanguage (which teaches 16 to 18 new words per lesson), you can redo any of the games, starting with the ones in which you score less than 100%.
I'm using the new iOS app “Drops” for Spanish every day. Five minutes are free, and while I know many of the words, I like the fun app. It provides a great way to recall words.
2. Don't be afraid of making mistakes in your online courses
I have found that making mistakes helps me remember better.
Duolingo has recently changed the “penalty” for mistakes. You do not have to redo a lesson if you make more than three mistakes. You just have to get 20 correct answers. Sentences in which you made mistakes, reappear later in the lesson so that you can get it right.
Babbel's Review Manager lets you review your vocabulary with writing, speaking, or with flashcards. In the PC version, you can also replay the errors of your lesson (but not in the iPad app).
With Gamesforlanguage, you can just replay each game, until you get a perfect score.
3. Repeat Words and Sentences Aloud
With all three online programs, I often find myself forgetting to repeat a word or sentence aloud. Trying to emulate the native speaker is essential both for pronunciation and intonation. So, it's worth making the effort.
GamesforLanguage has a “Say it” game, in which the learner is asked to repeat a word or phrase before it appears.
With Duolingo you really have to remember to repeat sentences aloud.
Babbel, on the other hand, has a “Listening and Speaking” section in the full Spanish course, which lets you practice both skills. (A "Listening and Speaking" section is not yet available in the Dutch Beginner's course.)
I find the voice recognition option of both Duolingo and Babbel often more frustrating than helpful. When after a third or fourth attempt my voice still gets rejected, I turn it off.
Actually, I prefer the recording feature of Gamesforlanguage for Spanish 1 to voice recognition in the other two programs. When I play back what I recorded, I can clearly hear when my pronunciation does not match the native speaker's. The good part is that I can keep trying until I get it somewhat right. (Unfortunately, recording still only works on PC and Laptop).
When reading Zorro, or now my Dutch reader, I read aloud whenever I can.
4. Learn & Practice Daily
This may be the hardest task to accomplish in our busy everyday lives. However, if practicing becomes a daily routine like brushing your teeth, you've got it made!
I have to give credit to Duolingo for keeping me motivated with its “streak” concept.
I am now on a 214-day streak for Spanish and Dutch. And, as I hate losing my streak, I am likely to continue practicing every day until I've aced the programs. I know that the prospect of losing my streak motivated me several times to complete at least one Duolingo lesson late at night.
(We are working on adding a streak reminder for GamesforLanguage as well.)
You obviously can set yourself reminders on your phone or tablet.
With Babbel you have the option for daily progress reminders and GamesforLanguage currently sends reminders Wednesdays and Sundays.
However, with the proliferation of emails ending in a junk folder, such reminders appear less and less effective.
Therefore, another motivator – such as losing a “streak” - definitely works for people like me.
Yes, my goal for September - to understand Dutch conversations during a family reunion in The Netherlands - is a motivator as well. However, it would not be enough to keep me practicing daily.
The threat of losing my “Streak” however, does!
(With Duolingo you can also choose to compete with others for a weekly point score, but my competitive spirit has not gotten excited about this one.)
5. Use different programs and other tools to learn and practice
I find it very important to use various modes to learn and practice.
Different online courses teach different words and sentences. Or, the same words appear in different contexts. All of this goes to reinforce your understanding and retention.
There are lots of language apps to add to your toolbox, such as the new iOS app “Drops” that I mentioned above. Others that have been around for a while are Mindsnacks, Word Dive, or Memrise. Old or new, use these apps to add fun and variety to your practice.
Recently, I've been hooked on a fun Android app called “Spanish Injection.”
Once you've got a basic understanding of your new language, start to read things you enjoy, such as stories, novels, news articles, blogs, Twitter or Facebook feeds. For reading online articles, Lingua.ly (as an app or a Chrome extension) is an excellent tool.
And obviously, listening to radio and watching TV not only helps your listening skills, but can keep you learning while hearing things that interest you.
To become fluent in any language you have to start speaking it. If a friend or lover cannot give you foreign language practice, or if a teacher or tutor is not in your budget - then language exchange sites provide another free or low-cost alternative.
In any event, before you're really able to participate in a conversation in your new language, you'll have to start learning and practicing.
There are many online and offline opportunities to do that: By using those that work best for you and by heeding the Nike slogan "Just do it" - you can DO IT as well!
When learning Germanic and Romance languages, English speakers are fortunate to find many “friends” or true cognates. These make memorization certainly a much easier task.
On the other hand, there are also “false friends,” or words or expressions that look (and maybe sound) alike, but mean something else.
When the meanings are quite different, they can put you on a wrong track entirely. However, this very fact - once you realize your mistake - will also help you recall them better later on.
The “false friends” that sound alike in German as in English (even if spelled somewhat differently) pose a particular problem during conversations. You don't have much time to figure out their meaning from the context. When you read a text, on the other hand, you can look up the meaning at your leisure..
If you're traveling to Germany or meeting up with German-speaking friends or business partners, a quick look through the list beforehand may prevent some misunderstandings.
There are quite a number of inexpensive “false friends” books on Amazon, just in case you'd like to discover more.
Here are twenty common German words and their English counterparts:
Identical Spelling – Different meaning
You'll notice that some words are pronounced exactly, or nearly, the same in English and in German - gift, mist, handy, spot, chef, rock - while others are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently - taste, rat, bad, etc.
das Gift (poison) - gift (das Geschenk)
Die Polizei fand Gift im Wandschrank.
(The police found poison in the wall cupboard.)
der Mist (dung, junk) - mist (der Nebel)
Räum doch gefälligst deinen Mist auf.
(If you don't mind, clean up your junk.)
das Handy (cell phone) - handy (praktisch)
Hast du mein Handy gesehen?
(Have you seen my cell phone?)
der Spot (TV ad, spotlight) - spot (der Fleck, der Ort)
Hast du den neuen Spot von Apple gesehen?
(Did you see the new Apple TV ad?)
der Chef (boss) - chef (der Küchenchef)
Heute war unser Chef gar nicht im Büro.
(Today our boss wasn't in the office.)
der Rock (skirt) - rock (der Fels)
Meine Tochter hat sich einen neuen Rock gekauft.
(My daughter bought a new skirt for herself.)
die Taste (key [piano/computer]) - taste (der Geschmack)
Du musst diese Taste drücken.
(You have to hit this key.)
der Rat (advice, council) - rat (die Ratte)
Ich brauche deinen Rat.
(I need your advice.)
die Wand (wall) - wand (der Zauberstab)
Stell doch den Stuhl gegen die Wand.)
(Go ahead and put the chair against the wall.)
das Bad (bath) - bad (schlecht)
ein Zimmer mit Bad
(a room with bath)
der Stock (stick, floor level) - stock (der Vorrat)
Ich wohne im vierten Stock.
(I live on the fourth level.)
herb (dry, tart) - herb (das Kraut)
Das ist ein richtig herber Wein!
(That's a really dry wine!)
Modified Spelling – Changed Meaning
Even with different spelling, but similar sound, some German words can put you on the wrong track.
The first one (“eventuell”) has definitely tripped up plenty of English and German speakers alike and caused confusion and misunderstandings.
And if you are trying to practice your best German by asking: “Das Menü, bitte,” you may just wonder why the waiter suddenly brings you the daily special and not the menu!
eventuell (maybe) - eventually (endlich)
Ja gut, das werden wir eventuell machen.
(Fine, maybe we'll do that.)
das Menü (daily special) - menu (die Speisekarte, das Menü [computer])
Zweimal das Menü, bitte.
(Two daily specials, please.)
aktuell (current, topical) - actual (wirklich)
groß (big, tall) – gross (ekelhaft, grob)
Die Frau dort drüben ist sehr groß!
(The woman over there is very tall)
brav (well-behaved) - brave (tapfer)
Die Kinder waren heute sehr brav.
(The children were very well-behaved today.)
das Lokal (pub, bistro) - local (einheimisch)
Warst du schon mal in dem Lokal dort drüben?
(Have you been to that pub over there?)
das Gymnasium (high school) - gym (die Turnhalle)
Mein Sohn geht ins Gymnasium.
(My son attends high school.)
die Rente (pension) - rent (die Miete)
Mein Vater geht in Rente.
(My dad's retiring.)
When you're taking part in a conversation, language seems to race by at high speed. German, especially, poses a challenge because of its word order. You're often waiting for the verb at the end of a sentence to make sense of what was just said. (With German double-digit numbers, you also have to wait, and listen for the second digit before you know what the number is.)
In a stream of words, familiar-sounding ones always provide momentary relief. However, when a word has a vastly different meaning from what you think, then what follows may not make much sense at all.
English and German have plenty more false friends (also called “false cognates”) than the ones listed above. With time you'll get to know many of them.
A good strategy is to always pay attention to the context. You may identify a word as a false friend, if it just doesn't seem to fit the context at all. And don't hesitate to ask for the meaning of a word, when it doesn't make sense to you!
German and English also share a large number of “true cognates” - words that are similar in form and meaning and have the same root.
When you google “English German cognates,” you'll find lists with hundreds of items. Even when there's been a sound shift, cognates are easy to recognize, such as: “das “Brot” (bread), “der Kuss” (kiss), “das Netz” (net), “das Papier” (paper), “der Stuhl” (stool), “das Haus” (house), most of the numbers, and many more.
And paying attention to both true and false cognates can provide you with an easy tool for memorizing German vocabulary.
Tom gives a engaging quick overview of the various language learning theories that are popular today.
He uses the example of how difficult it is for English-speaking adults to distinguish between a “p” and a “ph” sound. Hindi language speakers apparently learn this distinction as children.
Tom concludes that “categorical perception” may be one explanation for the difficulties that adults have in learning a second language.
Categorical perception (CP) was actually a new concept for me and I wanted to understand it a little better.
Here is what I have learned so far about CP.
R.Goldstone and A. Hendrickson, in a 2009 paper, define “categorical perception" as “the phenomenon by which the categories possessed by an observer influences the observers perception.”
The highly technical paper notes that “cross-cultural evidence suggests that the learning of a particular language influences the pattern of discriminability between speech sounds.” In other words:
Once you have learned your native language(s) (yes, many children learn more than one), then the sound categories you have acquired as a child make it difficult for you to hear (and learn) the sound differences of other languages as an adult.
In the YouTube video linked above, Tom Scott cites the example of the “p/ph” sound difference that English speakers can barely hear.
Similarly, speakers of Chinese and Japanese have difficulty hearing and pronouncing the difference between the “l” and “r” sounds.
Practically all foreign languages have certain sounds that do not exist in one's native language. Some we may be able to recognize and reproduce easily. Others we may never learn completely.
Color categories are another famous example. Which shades will look alike to you, or which you will perceive and name as different colors, depends on the language you speak and in which culture you have grown up.
The concept of CP suggests that as adults we have already categorized the world around us. And CP may therefore provide ONE explanation, why adults have more difficulty in learning a second language than children.
Listening and Speaking
The examples cited above relate to listening. Once we have acquired the sounds of our native language (and “categorized” them) as children, we seem to start tuning out the sounds of other languages.
Let's not forget though that it takes children more or less the first 2 years of their life with constant listening and practicing to remember and internalize these sounds.
It takes them additional time before they can speak in full sentences.
Speaking requires children to both listen and imitate the sounds they hear. Once we have learned to produce the sounds of our native language as children, we find it harder as adults to reproduce the sounds of other languages.
The ability to discern different sounds and reproduce them automatically diminishes with children between the age of 8 to 10 years. Apparently, by the time they are teenagers that automatic ability all but disappears.
But with deliberate practice adults can still make progress. Attention to “mouth mechanics” can be very helpful, as we point out in a recent post. When we understand and practice how to produce a “foreign” sound, we can often get pretty close to native pronunciation. With time, we also begin to hear the differences.
When looking into the various theories of second-language acquisition, I found that they fall into either a linguistic or a psychological camp. Just check out this Amazon page and you'll see many well-known names in those fields.
While these books make interesting reading for the language aficionado, they probably help you little in learning a second language faster.
There does not seem to be any general agreement on the best method by which adults can learn a second language.
And, because of the changes our brain goes through as we grow up - think CP - there is NO method that lets adults learn exactly like a child, whether it's languages, mathematics, science or anything else for that matter.
What is helpful, however, are descriptions by people who themselves have successfully learned foreign languages, as adults. Opera singer and polyglot Gabriel Wyner's “Fluent Forever”, for example, combines useful learning tips with explanations of how our memory works. It's an engaging and worthwhile read for serious learners.
Interestingly enough, Wyner does not seem convinced that the children's language “learning machine” disappears in adults.
He traces a child's learning advantage over an adult to his or her longer exposure to language in their early years. Adults can typically commit only limited hours when learning a second language.
Benny Lewis, "the Irish Polyglot", in Fluent in 3 Months describes his own strategies and experiences in learning a dozen languages or so after he turned 21. His tips and techniques to become fluent make interesting reading and are a great resource and motivator for many committed learners.
Common to both books is this: Using various strategies, methods and techniques can accelerate your learning quite a lot. Key is using them often and consistently, always remembering the Nike tag line: JUST DO IT!
The Good News for Adults
Even if we, as adults, cannot commit the same amount of time to language learning as children, we have other advantages: We can already read and write our native language, we can devise learning strategies, use various learning resources, see grammar patterns etc.
And if we accept findings that CP will make listening and producing new sounds more difficult, we also know that we can learn to overcome such shortcomings.
A personal experience can illustrate how important it is to listen a lot to a foreign language. When I started to learn Italian a few years ago, (even after having completed all 90 lessons of the three (3) Italian Pimsleur courses), I only seemed to hear gibberish when listening to fast-talking Italian radio or TV programs. But after a couple of weeks of daily listening, I started to discern distinct sound clusters and words. After a while, I began to understand some of the words, then entire sentences.
The same happened recently again with Spanish.
No question, Spanish and Italian sounds are easier for English speakers than those of Asian languages, but the point holds: We can learn to distinguish foreign sounds with practice and effort.
So yes: Learning a second language for adults requires time and effort. However, with the right tools and strategies, adults can make good progress and achieve a high level of understanding, and - with enough conversation practice - even fluency.
As with the word "à," the accent grave on "ù" only serves to distinguish between words otherwise spelled identically. In fact there is only one word you need to remember, but the difference is important:
"où" means "where," while "ou," written without the accent, means "or."
The circumflex accent is used on top of any of the vowels (â, ê, î, ô, û).
Most commonly, it indicates that historically a letter had fallen away, most often a missing "s."
In many cases the circumflex accent minimally affects the pronunciation of a word.
Common words with the circumflex accent:
"bâtiment" (building) - "théâtre" (theater)
"prêt" (ready) - "être" (to be)
"connaître" (to know/meet) - "le dîner" (the dinner)
"l'hôtel" (the hotel) - "tôt" (early),
"bien sûr" (of course) - "ça coûte" (that costs).
The c-cedilla "ç" mark under the "c" - when it is followed by an "a" or an "o" - shows that the "c" is pronounced like an "s" instead of a "k."
Common Words with a "ç":
"ça" (that/this/it) - "français(e)" (French)
"glaçons" (ice cubes) - "garçon" (boy, sometimes still used to call the waiter).
Note: "ça coûte" (this costs). The word "ça" starts with an s-sound; "coûte" starts with a k-sound.
Starting to learn a foreign language as an adult can be boring. Over the years, I've used various methods from books to CDs and have more recently added apps and online courses.
I've always found the early stages of learning a language somewhat frustrating. You mostly just plow through basic vocabulary and grammar.
However, once you've mastered the essentials of a language, continuing to learn becomes much more enjoyable. Things start to click. You begin to see patterns, get grammar points, understand idioms.
You can start reading articles and stories, listen to podcasts, watch videos and movies. In real life, you start having conversations that work.
As I described in a previous post, I am currently learning Dutch (from scratch) with Duolingo, while continuing with my (intermediate) Spanish with a Babbel course.
This presents me with an excellent opportunity to look at and compare the two programs.
There are other reviews of both programs. The Economist did one in 2013, which - due to to the improvements of both sites - is already somewhat dated.
A more recent one by Angel Armstead for Fluent earlier this year, describes well both programs' different approaches, but Fluent's Kerstin Hammes was also quite critical of Duolingo in her subsequent March 2015 post.
I started Dutch with Duolingo just a few months ago. Also, I had used Duolingo for several months for continuing with my Spanish.
With Duolingo, you follow a nicely laid-out lesson sequence with various categories or topics: Basics, Phrases, Food, Animals, Clothing, Plurals, Possessives, Adjectives, Indefinite & Definite Pronouns, etc.
You do one lesson after another. That means, you can “unlock” the next lesson only after you've completed the previous one.
One way to move faster is to “test out” of all the lessons in a category or topic. That's only possible if you already know the words, of course. (Note that during a test, you “can't peek” at the translation.)
Duolingo's set lesson sequence has several advantages:
Beginners can build up their skills slowly but surely.
Lessons build on each other. Earlier words show up again and again to be recombined.
You don't have to make any choices about what to study until you've finished your “skill tree.”
The Duolingo Method
With the Duolingo system, you learn mostly new words by first correlating them to pictures. Some of the more abstract words, you'll guess from the context of a sentence. If you're not sure, you can always check the translation by tapping/clicking on the English.
New words are the practiced in various ways. For me, it's the variety of tasks which makes the learning engaging. There's plenty of hit or miss involved. But hey, making mistakes is all part of the learning process.
You translate the words you just learned back to English, together with other familiar words. You write what you hear and learn spelling as you do it. You fill in missing words in a sentence, or select the correct translation from three options.
There's also a sort of pronunciation check, which seems to respond more to the cadence and intonation of your voice than to correct pronunciation. (I once used the wrong language but still my voice was accepted.)
A recently added feature to the app asks you to “tap the pairs,” which are simple correlations of English and foreign words.
Early on with Duolingo you could only make 3 mistakes before you had to replay the lesson. But now, both in the app and on the PC, a mistake just sets you back a little. You can continue until you complete 20 items correctly.
At the end of the lesson, you're awarded 10 points and you can then continue to the next one. Once you've completed all the lessons of your “skill tree,” you can go back to any category or topic to “strengthen your skills.” Apparently, you can do this until you've reached Level 25!
My Frustrations with the Nonsense
While I like Duolingo very much, I often get annoyed when I have to learn Dutch words such as “schildpadden” (turtles), “eenden” (ducks), “konijnen” (rabbits) etc., all words that I'm unlikely to use in a conversation in the foreseeable future.
And while the lessons get a little more interesting as your vocabulary expands, the ducks and turtles reappear in different variations. The often nonsensical sentences – try: “the ducks are reading the newspapers” - may sometimes be funny and teach you some grammatical points, but I find them mostly frustrating.
No doubt, the simplicity of the Duolingo approach, with its variety of tasks, keeps you engaged and on your toes.
I just wish that the program would replace the random and often nonsensical sentences that I have to read, pronounce, translate, and write, with real-life dialogs or at least with more useful sentences.
Duolingo's Gamification and Metrics
The various “gamification” features of the program do provide some incentive. For example, points are added to your total with each completed lesson, and you receive “lingots” to redeem in the “lingot store.”
I find the daily “streak reminder” to be a good motivator to keep learning. I'm adamant about not breaking my ever growing streak (which currently stands at day 184).
For Spanish, which I did earlier, I see a Fluency Score (currently 47%), based on the 5900 points, and Level 13 completed to date.
For Dutch, with 2,625 points and level 10, there is no Fluency level yet.
I think that I'm making progress. I've reached level 10 in Dutch so far and I continue to do 2-3 lessons every day.
Babbel's courses are structured differently from Duolingo's. You see immediately that you're not required to proceed in sequence through all the lessons. At any point, you can choose with which lesson to begin or at what lesson to continue.
In the Spanish program, there are 6 Beginner's Courses (each with 18-22 lessons); 4 Intermediate Courses (with 19-20 lessons each); 6 Grammar Courses (with 12-21 lessons each); and 6 Listening and Speaking Lessons (with 8-10 lessons each).
There are also plenty of lessons in other sections such as, Reading and Writing, Countries and Traditions, Specials (where you find such topics as False friends, True Friends, Numbers, Spanish idioms). And, the “Words and Sentences” section covers over 30 different topics.
The Babbel Method
Lesson 1 of Beginner Course 1, called “¡Mucho gusto!Part 1,” starts with four basics: Hello!, yes, thank you, Bye!
You first hear and see both the English and the Spanish Word and a picture that expresses its meaning. You then find the Spanish translation by spelling each of the words with letters that are provided.
The next step is to practice these four words again, this time as part of a simple dialogue, which includes phrases that you'll learn in the next lesson.
As I already knew some Spanish, I jumped right to the Refresher Course 1 (called, Upper Beginner's Level). The lessons have a similar structure to those in the Beginner's Course. You're taught four words or phrases in each lesson.
At this stage, a basic knowledge of the language is required. Spelling becomes harder, as you have to use the keyboard without any hint of which letters to use. Plus, exercises for word order and specific grammar points are added.
At the end of a Refresher Course lesson, you typically insert the newly-learned Spanish words into phrases that are part of a short dialog or story around a specific topic, e.g. “At the shop,” “Daily Routine,” “Vacation,” “Leisure activities” etc.
Babbel also has a voice recognition feature. But I don't use itvery often because it's hard to get the pronunciation exactly the way it's required.
If you are indeed a beginner, you can choose to follow the sequence of the lessons and move from the “Beginner's Courses,” to the “Refresher Courses” and then on to the “Intermediate (in-depth) courses.”
Babbel's Other Options
After my Refresher Course, I stopped with Spanish for a few weeks, but then started up again. I redid a few previous lessons and tried out some other sections, for example “Other Verb Forms,” such as the “pretérito perfecto.”
I also tried “Countries and Traditions” where I selected “Spanish for Everyday Life.” This section has several short lessons, such as “Ir de compras” (shopping), “En el restaurante” (in the restaurant), etc.
These lessons contain a combination of exercises. You complete sentences with missing words followed by vocabulary and word order exercises all related to a specific topic.
The many lessons in “Grammar” (92), “Listening and Speaking” (46), “Countries and Traditions” (53), and the over 500 lessons in the sections “Specials” and “Word and Sentences” give learners loads of options.
Besides, you can review the vocabulary covered in the lessons at any time, either with Flashcards of by writing or speaking them. (in the case of my Refresher Course, these were mostly sentences.)
Babbel's Gamification and Metrics
Babbel's gamification features are straightforward. There are no badges or “lingots” as with Duolingo.
You have a progress bar at the top, and your score pops up at the end of the lesson, let's say, 22 out of 29.
You have the option to review and correct the errors you made. Even if you do, the guilty sentences get added to your personal vocabulary list. You can review them then at you leisure.
In the app and on the PC you can see the current total count of the vocabulary list and the count of those still to review. (On the PC you can also see how many times you reviewed each.)
It's a good way to keep track of what you're learning.
Duolingo and Babbel: A Comparison
I like the simplicity of the Duolingo approach. However, I keep getting annoyed that new words often appear and are recombined in random, unrelated, nonsensical sentences.
In contrast, new words with Babbel are typically taught as part of a useful dialogue or short scenario. The words make sense in the context in which they are set and this helps me to remember many phrases and sentences.
Once you've become familiar with the Duolingo system, you know exactly what to expect.
You see the 7 or so new words in each Duolingo lesson box before you start.
You also know that you'll be using quite a bit of English when you translate from the foreign language. If you type or spell quickly, you can be penalized for typos in English.
For each lesson, Babbel typically introduces +/-4 new words, which you then practice. Once you've learned the words, you'll hear them as part of a dialog or brief story and write them into the provided blank spaces. You always hear the full sentence that includes the new word(s).
Most importantly, in Babbel there is no writing or spelling in English.
Both courses don't require you to use the accents (for accented letters). Duolingo allows slight misspellings of foreign words, while Babbel only accepts correct spellings.
Both Duolingo and Babbel give you the correct answer after you've made a wrong entry and both tell you where you've made the mistake.
Duolingo allows you to set goals for yourself, ranging from the “casual” learner with 10 points or 1 lesson per day, to the “insane” with 50 points or 5 lessons per day. Such daily reminders to maintain one's streak have been a good incentive for me!
There are no specific goals or targets with Babbel, but you can ask for daily reminders in Settings.
A daily Dulingo lesson or two can easily become a daily habit, especially if you care about not breaking your learning streak.
Once you get going with Babbel - and pay attention to the daily reminder - the same can happen.
My frustrations with Duolingo - its nonsensical sentences, words I could do without, and lots of English sentences to type - these I don't experience with Babbel.
In fact, I like Babbel's dialogs. I enjoy the little scenes that incorporate the new words, the many Spanish sentences you hear and read, especially when you are reviewing your mistakes again.
Its many lessons, topic categories, and options make it an excellent course for learning a language.
Still, Duolingo's simplicity, also the fact that it's completely free for unlimited time, makes it a compelling choice for many learners. They may also overlook some of its shortcomings as I do.
No question, I'm continuing with Dutch on Duolingo for now, but may still subscribe to Babbel's Dutch course. I've got a Dutch family reunion to go to in the fall.
Update: On 6/4 I subscribed for 3 months to Babbel's Dutch course. My goal now is 1 Duolingo and 1 Babbel lesson per day!
A recent article in the New York Times (May 16, 2015) by David Kohn “Let Kids Learn Through Play” pointed out that formal didactic instruction of young children should be reconsidered. He writes:
“A growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.”
But kids love to play, in fact most, if not all their learning in the early years occurs during play.
So we wonder whether “educational” games - including those on tablets and smart phones – are not a way for kids to still learn, but let them do so through self-directed play.
These games combine playing and educational topics from geography, math, spelling, science, to native and foreign languages.
WHY LANGUAGE GAMES WORK FOR KIDS
There are numerous audio, video, and other “toy based” games and apps, which children play in their native language.
With these, they enhance word recognition, pronunciation, spelling, and writing, etc. And they don't have to be on a laptop or tablet either. There are blocks with numbers or letters; there are playing cards and board games; and there are more and more battery operated toys that combine colors, movements, music, and language sounds into interactive learning centers for young children.
Kids play native or even foreign language games - not because it helps them to better communicate with their parents, siblings, and peers - but because they provide interactive fun.
Kids' language games teach basic vocabulary, often with funny pictures, cute sound effects, and “rewards” for getting it right.
They feature droll or adorable characters, catchy music, bright colors, and require the young player to swipe, click, or move a word or image in order to progress.
“BRAIN GAMES” for Adults?
Games and play are not just for kids, though. Adults also learn well with games. Just think of Scrabble, a game that challenges adult and children.
A well-established segment is the field of Brain Training and there are plenty of brain games/apps available.
A few years ago Nintendo DS developed a series of Brain Age Games but they did not seem to catch on.
But since then, Lumosity has surged to becoming the dominant online brain game presence.
There's also research being done in the area of cognitive improvement, especially related to the effect of video games on the brains of older adults. (See our blog post on language learning and memory)
FOREIGN LANGUAGE GAMES for Adults?
In 2007 Nintendo DS started a series of language games (My Spanish Coach, My Japanese Coach, My French Coach, etc.) and again these did not appear to be very successful.
Around the same time, Craig Gibson launched Digital Dialects, a website with simple, animated games for learning vocabulary in 30+ languages (at that time). Also then, Word Dive, a vocabulary/spelling game appeared on the scene.
Mindsnacks with its language learning app for learning and practicing vocabulary appeared in 2010 and added gamification (rewards, badges, etc.) and humor to its games.
When in 2012, Duolingo, a gamified “crowd-sourced text-translation platform” (Wikipedia) took the Internet by storm, it became clear that language learning games for adults are here to stay.
Sites that use games just for vocabulary acquisition come in various guises and continue to be popular. Word Bucket (2013) lets you save words in your “bucket” and the learn and play them in a word-playing game.
We recently discovered and like an interactive iPhone app called Drops (2015), a colorful “timed repetition” game, you can also play on an iPad.
An interesting and different site for learning vocabulary is Influent (2011), which is a “3D Language Learning Video Game” that you need to download. Once inside the game, you click/tap on objects to hear and see what they are, learn to say them and create a gamified list to further learn them.
And, many online language programs, such as Transparent Language and Babble, and language learning communities such as Busuu, Mango Languages, and Rosetta Stone's Live Mocha are now adding various language games to their lessons.
WHY LANGUAGE GAMES WORK FOR ADULTS
As language games for adults become more numerous and go mainstream, they join the “learning revolution,” which Markus Witte (Founder and CEO of the language learning site Babbel) talks about in this Wire Magazine post: The Learning Revolution: It’s Not About Education. In his words: “A new trend is initiated by a whole new breed of learning technology start-ups that set out to make learning easier for everybody.” Why not jump on this trend and play a few language games?!
In contrast to children, adults typically do have a specific plan or need for the language they are learning (be it for work, travel, friendship, personal satisfaction, etc.).
Moreover, adults not only have to develop the discipline and learning habits to keep going in the midst of their many other commitments and time constraints, but they also have to find ways to stay motivated.
Games can therefore be an effective addition to any language learning program, especially because they are interactive and fun. Being engaged while learning can be a powerful boost to a learner's motivation.
Because of their interactive nature, games are very versatile. They can easily combine humor and serious learning. (Think of the Duolingo Owl, or the Rhinos of the Mindsnacks games.)
Plus, games are nonlinear and dynamic, features which help in the acquisition of language as a complex tool for communication.
When learners make a mistake or need to figure out a grammar point, they can easily replay a segment and get immediate feedback. Games can also interweave a story line - which provides context - with vocabulary and grammar practice, while keeping the learner interactively engaged (a main feature of Gamesforlanguage).
Moreover, by involving multiple senses - visual, auditory, and touch - games stimulate association and sharpen memory.
Last but not least, games are relaxing because they are fun and engaging. And who would not want to learn in such a way?
A Word of caution
As wonderful as gamified online courses and apps are for learning and staying engaged, they are also unlikely to get you to become fully fluent in a foreign language:
For that, you have to start speaking and have conversations in the foreign language.
Maybe in the not-too-distant future you can have such conversations with your PC, tablet or smart phone.
But until then, your best bet is to find real-life conversation partners. If these are hard to locate for the language you are learning, start speaking online with language exchange partners. Your speaking skills will greatly benefit!