Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Listening and Speaking: Language Fluency's Key Challenges

man an d woman listening and speakingFor many adults, listening to and then speaking a foreign language remain key challenges. And that may be so even after several years of school and college instruction.

Hearing and producing the new sounds of another language take a special effort. Plus, we may be shy about speaking up, afraid that we'll make mistakes.

A popular marketing promise of some language programs contains some wishful thinking: “Learn a second language like a child.” It implies that by following such program learning will occur as effortlessly as young children seem to learn their first language.

No matter that children spend nearly all the waking hours of their first few years just listening to and then learning to speak the language of their parents and caregivers. Once in kindergarten and school, it'll take them several more years to learn how to read and write.

What we may consider “effortless,” actually involves quite a bit of struggle and effort. As infants, children first learn to understand the meaning of the words, gestures, and expressions others use to interact with them. At the same time, they start using their own vocal chords to replicate the sounds of words they hear. It's only after much trial and error that they can make themselves understood.

Clearly, it takes time and effort to develop good listening and speaking skills in a language. Children learning their first language have the advantage of being immersed in the language on a daily basis. They hear their native language and speak it all the time. (In fact, they can even handle more than one language!)

For adults, who are learning another language, listening comprehension and speaking are important skills to practice. However, many language programs focus more on reading and writing, than listening and speaking – with the exception of predominantly audio programs such as Michael Thomas, Pimsleur, and some others. 

THE IMMERSION TEACHING METHOD

We recently had a conversation with a friend of ours, who spent over head above water cartoon30 years teaching German to English speakers in U.S. colleges, as well as English to German students in high schools in Germany.

He firmly believes that students progressed most in his classes – both in the U.S. and in Germany - when he taught with a method that uses immersion. In particular, he found the Rassias method to be very effective.

John Rassias, former professor of French and Italian at Dartmouth College, believed in the motto: Speak to learn a language, not learn to speak a language. The Rassias method, which continues to be widely used, combines theatrical techniques and rapid-fire drills to fully engage the learner in the target language.

My experience with college language teaching in the U.S. was pretty similar. In a classroom, you can create an immersive environment by staying in the target language and explaining things using gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, pictures, reformulations, etc.

But clearly, getting students to understand and speak in their new language in class does require a lot of extra theatricals and energy. And, no matter what you do, if you have a large class, students won't be speaking much in the target language. 

Teachers at international language schools, such as the Goethe Institute, the Alliance Française, or Berlitz, often create an immersive learning classroom. But unless the school is located in a country where the language is spoken, students rarely use their target language outside of class. 

(Some language schools, e.g. the Middlebury [summer] Language Schools, ask students to sign a pledge to only speak in their target language.)

It seems that one-on-one lessons taken in person or online via Skype may provide the best chance for immersion learning, if you can't be in a country or region where people speak the language. That's especially true if the tutor pushes you to speak a lot.

HOW ABOUT ONLINE LANGUAGE PROGRAMS and APPS?

New technology has made it convenient to learn a language online and doing so has become very popular. But to what extent can online programs and apps provide immersion learning, and with it, fluency in listening and speaking?

Immersion learning, especially for beginners, is not easy to create in an online program. But training listening and speaking in foreign language is a challenge that different programs have attempted to solve in various ways.

Having developed our own GamesforLanguage courses and reviewed a number of other language learning programs, here's a quick snapshot how these programs encourage listening and speaking (in sequence of our development/review).

GamesforLanguage

Each of our course lessons (we call them “Scenes”), start with a dialogue of an ongoing travel story. The learner reads and hears sentences in the target language, which he or she might encounter while traveling, but may or may not fully understand.

New words are then taught and tested with various games in which learners see the words and are encouraged to repeat them. In the listening game Say It, the player hears and is asked to repeat a new word, which then appears for just a moment. In another listening game, Balloon Words, the player hears the word and has to pick the correct one from three words with a similar spelling. In both, no translation is given so that the attention can remain on listening and repeating.

After other translation and writing games, learners can then record the sentences of all story-dialogues at the end of each lesson, as often as needed. This helps to both memorize phrases and expressions, and to get close to the pronunciation of the native speakers.

Rosetta Stone

Are you now thinking, but isn't “Rosetta Stone” total immersion? Yes, there are no English translations and you are indeed “immersed” in the foreign language throughout a session.

I only bought Level 1 of Spanish, quite a while ago, so that's all I can comment on. The four Levels are set up as pictures and short sentences that describe the pictures.

You hear a sentence, identify the corresponding picture, and then are prompted to record your voice. My voice recording often gets rejected even after several tries. But it's not clear why some sentences are accepted and others aren't. Rather than improving, I just get frustrated. 

Is there a boredom factor built into Rosetta Stone? People do seem to give up easily on the kind of "immersion" this program offers. It may be because in each lesson you go through repeating dozens of unrelated phrases and sentences. On top of that, many grammar lessons are in the form of simple pattern drills, where you just click on one word each time. And, because everything is done with pictures, it gets hard to remember what each picture is supposed to mean. (See our 5 Rosetta Stone reviews)

Babbel

This program has a fairly traditional approach: A lesson starts with a flashcard exercise where you are asked to Study the words and their spelling. Then you go through exercises to practice writing, reading, listening, speaking, and basic grammar. Most of the exercises work from translation. Explanations are in English.

For listening practice, I particularly like the dictation exercises (Write what you hear), and the part where you complete the sentences of a conversation by adding a word that cued from the English translation of the sentence. In both of these sections, you see and hear language in context.

Speaking practice is up to you: It's best to repeat words and sentences as much as you can. Most lessons have a section for practicing sounds that are different from English. 

Duolingo

My main beef with Duolingo is that it has me often write English translations, which I find a huge waste of time. I'd rather be writing answers in the target language. I would be learning so much faster. To avoid writing in English, I've set my native language to another language I'm learning.  (I now have an account to learn Italian from Spanish.)

I do like the voice recognition part because it makes me say things out loud, which I sometimes forget to do. (Of course, there is no REAL voice recognition with feedback.)

Duolingo's newest addition are the Chatbots. At this time, they're available for French, German, and Spanish conversations. What you do is chat in your target language with a partner by writing predictable answers to questions and comments, with help from pictures. It's really quite neat.

You hear and see what your Chatbot partner is saying. You can check the meaning of the vocabulary, and get feedback for what you've written. To practice speaking, though, you just have to push yourself to say out loud whatever you hear and see. (see also Duolingo and Babbel: How They Differ)

Language Zen

At the moment, Language Zen is only available for learning Spanish online. The addition of Spanish Music (songs and lyrics) to its courses let's you focus on listening.

In general, you hear a lot of Spanish in this course. You learn new Spanish words and phrases by hearing them (and seeing their spelling and English translation). Next, you hear the Spanish word or phrase and have to identify the correct English translation among five options. When you click on the correct translation, you'll hear it again, see it spelled in Spanish, and are thereby induced to repeat it yourself.

Speaking is an important part of the course. Once you've heard and learned a few words, you are asked to translate an English sentence into Spanish – either by saying it (or by writing it). The voice recognition software is actually pretty good. It has adjusted to my voice, as well as Peter's voice and accent, and writes what it hears.

You can correct any spelling (or hearing) mistake. Click on “Check Answer” and you now hear the correct answer. If you're correct, move on, if not, you have one more chance to say or write the correct Spanish translation.

We very much like the fact that you're encouraged to say (or write) Spanish words and phrases quite often, and that you're not asked to say or write sentences in English. (see also our detailed Language Zen Review.)

SuperCoco

This is a new app for Spanish, created by Larkwire. It can be used hands-free. The program is very well done and clearly focuses on listening and speaking. So far, four (4) Levels have been released, from Beginner to Intermediate (with higher levels to come).

Each lesson (almost 250 to date) has you listen to and repeat individual words and sentences, with an emphasis on individual sounds, intonation, and the rhythm of the language. Since the purpose of the program is to repeat what you hear, that's what you do. English translations are spoken and written, so you do hear lots of English not just Spanish.

Brief pronunciation lessons teach you the basic sounds of Spanish. You're told how to produce the sounds and are given examples. Then you record yourself, play back your voice, and compare your pronunciation to that of the native speaker. This is a great feature. (See also our SuperCoco Review.)

Lingualia

Lingualia is an online program (with iOS and Android apps) to learn Spanish or English. All word definitions, audios, fill in the blank and unscramble exercises, image identification, etc. are in the target language. 

If you want, you can set the interface language to English, Spanish, and now also to German. So, if you're learning Spanish and if you set the interface language to Spanish, everything will be in Spanish.

In the program, you're not asked to do any translations (though translations with google are available).

With Lingualia you can work seriously on your listening skills. The program contains 200 rapidly spoken conversations, one at the beginning of each lesson. You can listen to them as often as you want, with or without seeing the text.

There's less chance for practicing your speaking skills, unless you make a special effort to constantly repeat individual phrases of a conversation as they scoot by. There are no exercises to practice sentences. There's no recording feature to play back your voice. (See also our Lingualia Review.)

Pimsleur

Having worked at Pimsleur both as author of the first three German courses and co-author and development editor of various other courses, I'm both familiar with and fond of the Pimsleur approach. We have not (yet) published a review of this program, which started out with audio tapes and CDs, and now also has MP3 files for download. In addition, there's an interactive product called Pimsleur Unlimited, which can be downloaded on your computer or mobile devices.

With a Pimsleur Audio course, you listen and speak right from the beginning. The Narrator guides you along (first in English and later in the target language) and gives explanations. After you've heard the initial dialogue, you learn new words by hearing and repeating them, usually by building them from the end.

As a lesson progresses, the Narrator gives you the English cues for the words that you've learned, sometimes prompting you to make new combinations. However, the audio lessons are hard to navigate beyond listening in sequence.

Pimsleur Unlimited contains the 30-minute audio lessons, Flashcards and Quick Match to practice new words and sentences, plus a Speak Easy part to practice the conversation. Except for Speak Easy, where you participate in the conversations, everything is prompted from English.

In all, Pimsleur does a great job pushing the learner to say everything aloud. Its particular audio method (backward buildup, anticipation of the answer) is very effective to train the ear and help the learner get a good pronunciation.

THE ONLINE/APP TEACHING DILEMMA

dilemma - Gamesforlanguage.comAs this quick survey shows, none of these programs (including our GamesforLanguage courses) can provide a true immersion experience, the way a live conversation, or online session with a tutor can.

Online courses or apps have to rely on images (e.g. Rosetta Stone, etc.), written text, or English audio to transmit meaning to the learner. A teacher or tutor can do that with gestures, mimic, different sounds, or alternate expressions in the target language, etc., all options that apps or online courses do not have.

The online/app dilemma then is this: Images are rarely sufficient for explaining the meaning of thoughts, feelings, and complex activities, etc. in the target language. You require a teaching language to translate from. (I don't know if Lingualia is an exception for beginners, who may use Google translate in the early stages.)

Translations, however, take the learner away from the the target language. The moment the learner hears or reads the translation in his or her native language (English or otherwise), immersion is interrupted.

THREE POWERFUL IMMERSIVE TECHNIQUES

Still, using online programs and apps to learn can give you a good basis for getting started and progressing in a language, for learning vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation.

My advice: Don't just click on the correct translation or answer. Repeat and speak the words and phrases you hear and learn in such programs. Without speaking and trying out the new sounds you won't become fluent.

So, what can you add - besides a regular language tutor - to strengthen your immersion experience in the language and become more fluent?

  1. Watch a film or YouTube video in your target language, without English captions (or with captions in the same language).
  2. Listen, with attention, to an audio book. If you can, follow along with the text in your target language.
  3. Listen to a passage from your audio book, and then read and record the same passage. Play back and compare. Do this several times. This is really powerful.

And remember: learning to become fluent in a new language is a long-term project. Use as many different means and methods to read, listen to, or speak the target language every day. Daily “exposure,” if not “immersion,” will get you there.

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

Disclosure: Several of the language learning companies mentioned above are partner sites with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"SuperCoco" - Learning Spanish - A Review

Supercoco - Gamesforlanguage.comBecause I'm interested in everything language learning, I signed up to beta test "a new approach to language learning" in one of my online language groups. This was some time ago.

In the summer, I got an email that I could "test flight" the iPhone app for Spanish and started testing it through its updates. Mid-October 2016, "SuperCoco - Learn Spanish by talking" went live. It's pretty neat.

For many people, myself included, learning to converse with some fluency in a new language is highly challenging. SuperCoco seeks to addresses that issue in interesting ways.

Except for audio programs such as the Pimsleur Language Programs, and more than any other language apps or programs that I've tried, SuperCoco encourages you to SPEAK. The instructions are simple: "When you hear Spanish, you repeat it. When you hear English, you say the Spanish."

Phil Mitchell, who is the founder of Larkwire, the maker of the SuperCoco app, told us:

"SuperCoco was built by people who love language learning. It's the app we wanted for ourselves. Version 1.0 is incomplete, of course, there's lots more coming ... but we'd really love to hear from users about what they like and don't like in the app so far. It's an opportunity for people to get the app that they want."

WHAT YOU LEARN

To date, SuperCoco has four (4) Levels: Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Early Intermediate, Intermediate.

Five (5) more Levels are to come: Advanced Intermediate, Proficient, Advanced Proficient, Near Fluent, Fluent.

Each of the current Levels has 60 or moreSupercoco:Section Screen - Gamesforlanguage.com conversations organized into 4 Chapters. In a Level you'll learn over 1000 sentences, and around 1000 new vocabulary items. (see screen shot: Intermediate Chapter 3)

The conversations are in the form of brief stories, sometimes ending with a humorous or surprising twist. These anecdotes contain cultural information and give context to the language.

You don't learn lists, you always learn words in the context of conversational sentences. That also means you learn grammatical forms as they are used.

Only new words are practiced separately in the Spanish First + words option, which is the initial and default "learning stage." Any words you've had before, are not isolated for practice.

There's a wide variety of topics. They include: Essentials, Food, Shopping, Communications, Transportation, Housing, Health, Social, Entertainment, Sights, Language, Dating, Wayfinding, Family, Work, Culture, School, and others.

LEARNING STAGES

SuperCoco automatically moves you through Learning Stages that are increasingly challenging.

(You could, but don't need to ever touch the Practice Mode button.)

  1. Spanish first + words (Sp. audio - pause - words Sp./Engl. - Sp. audio - pause - Eng. - Sp. written)
  2. Spanish first (Sp. audio - pause - Eng. audio - Sp. audio - pause - Sp. written)
  3. English first (Engl. audio - pause - Sp. audio - Sp. written)
  4. Partner: You take the role of one of the conversation partners (tap to hear Spanish)

Phil Mitchell also explained the following:

"Tracking every word allows the program to do something really neat: if SuperCoco predicts that you can already produce a given sentence, it jumps right into English First mode the first time you see that line. This is very powerful. First, it gives you the chance to produce Spanish that you've never heard before; and second, when you're in the flow of the conversation, you often speak the Spanish without even realizing that it's brand new. You're just speaking Spanish."

HOW YOU LEARN: FIRST LISTENING and SPEAKING

With SuperCoco you learn first and foremost through sound. When you start a lesson, you can go hands free, and just listen and repeat. The lesson continues automatically.

Or if you wish, you can control SuperCoco by voice commands, such as Coco WHAT? (alias: Coco REPEAT?) - to hear a line again; Coco SLOW - to hear the line at slower speed; Coco STOP (alias: Coco PAUSE) - to pause the conversation, etc. Go to the Library (Menu icon) for other voice commands. Note that you can only give commands when SuperCoco is not speaking.

You learn and practice each of the conversations sentence by sentence. You never hear the full conversation just in Spanish. (It is always broken up by English translation.)

After the Spanish audio or the English cue, there's a pause to let you say the Spanish word or sentence.

In the early lessons, coach SuperCoco pops up to give you tips, reminders, and encouragement.

At the end of a conversation, you can rate it: Too hard, Just right, Too easy. This information will go into the algorithm of the program, and determine how soon and how often you'll review that particular conversation.

DO YOU NEED TO SEE THE WORDS?

Supercoco: conversation - Gamesforlanguage.comAs an adult who's been schooled in reading and writing, you may automatically imagine how words in a foreign language are spelled - when you hear them.

Most likely, you'll apply the sound-spelling correlation that you're familiar with, i.e. the spelling of English if that's your native language.

Learning a new language means that you have to learn a new sound-spelling system. You can only do that by seeing how a word is spelled when you hear it, or right after.

SuperCoco gives you that option. You can see the Spanish text after you hear the audio, following a short delay. The brief pause not only lets you repeat what you hear, you can also anticipate the spelling in your mind.

(By the way, that's quite similar to Gamesforlanguage's “Say It” module, which we use in all of our language story-based courses.)

GRAMMAR at YOUR FINGERTIPS (if you want)

Supercoco: Grammar Explanation screen - Gamesforlanguage.comBy tapping on a specific word in the conversation, you'll first see a brief grammar point.

Then, if you tap the capsule, it loads a full explanation. For a verb, it explains the tense or mood and shows shows the conjugation. You'll also see links to related topics.

For example (see screenshot above), you'll see the sentence "¿Por qué ne estás tirando fresas?" (Why are you throwing strawberries at me?)

When you tap on "tirando" and then "fresas" you'll see: tirando (tirar): to throw (verb: gerund); and, fresas (fresa): strawberry (noun: pl f ).

By tapping further, you'll load an explanations of the gerund form, and other related links.

Or, tapping on the imperative form "espere,"  (see screen shot) you'll load an explanation of the form, as well as the (positive and negative) conjugation of the imperative.

NO IMAGES

Very different from picture-heavy Rosetta Stone (and many other popular programs), SuperCoco uses no pictures at all. Interesting!

While pictures can certainly link to the foreign words (or labels) of objects, they can also be a distraction from learning their sounds.

With a picture-driven program you have to constantly figure out what the picture is supposed to represent. Besides, how can one show anything complicated or abstract with a still picture?

THE SKILLS TAB and PRONUNCIATION LESSONS

There are eight (8) Core Skills Lessons which give you one Key Tip in each lesson. Each is about 2-3 minutes long and includes the topics 'How to absorb Spanish faster,' 'What to do when you can't remember,' 'How to find time to practice,' and 'How and when to learn grammar.'

In the Skills Tab, you'll also find 23 excellent short Pronunciation Lessons that cover all the sounds of Spanish, with step-by-step instructions on how to produce the sounds. In each lesson, you can then Listen, Record, and Check your pronunciation. It's a fast track to getting a great accent.

COST

Without a subscription, you are limited to one chapter of conversations -- it can be any chapter.

A subscription to the SuperCoco app Spanish is $4.99 a month in the app store. With a subscription, you have access to all the chapters.

Having a monthly subscription may quite motivating: The serious learner will want to pack in as much as possible into a limited time.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • The focus on listening and speaking is very effective.
  • Seeing the spelling right after the audio is a great option.
  • The stories, which are in conversational format, are humorous and use real language.
  • Understanding the meaning is always part of how you learn.
  • The many different topics cover a wide range of vocabulary.
  • You can find a level that challenges you and you can pick and choose topics.
  • The voice recordings are high quality and easy to understand.
  • You're pushed to translate automatically when you hear an English sentence.
  • You get lots of encouragement.
  • We really like the hands-free part. You can listen while cooking, walking, commuting, etc.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

  • SuperCoco is currently available only for Apple devices with iOS 8.2 or later.
  • There's no setting for listening to a Spanish conversation in its entirety.
  • You cannot record and play back your own voice to check your pronunciation.
  • At this time, there's no reading and writing practice.
  • You don't get alternative translations.

CAN YOU LEARN WITH the APP FROM ZERO SPANISH?

I believe so, but since my Spanish was at an intermediate level before I started testing the app, I don't have an objective answer for that.

In my experience, the combination of hearing, repeating, and understanding the meaning of the foreign words and sentences is essential for learning a new language.

In any case, I can recommend SuperCoco as an excellent resource for learning and practicing Spanish.

In combination with other language courses and sites, including Gamesforlanguage, our affiliates, (Lingualia, LanguageZen, Lingohut, Benny Lewis, Mosalingua), Duolingo or other free or fee-based online courses and apps, you'll progress for sure.

Using more than one resource will help you stay interested and motivated. Once you have progressed beyond the basics, choose articles or books with topics that interest you for reading, podcasts for listening comprehension, language-exchange partners for conversations, etc.

In all, SuperCoco is a powerful learning tool that's fun, versatile, and easy to use. Whether using it alone, or adding it to whatever else you're learning with, you're bound to level up your Spanish.

That's true especially for your pronunciation, your listening comprehension, and fluency in speaking. To be contacted about new levels that are added, write to Larkwire: advanced@supercocoapp.com

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

Disclosure: GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with SuperCoco, except for having participated in some beta testing and receiving the app for free. Certain links above are to affiliates' programs with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"El Perdón" – Learning Spanish With a Song

Nicky-Jam-Enrique-Iglesias-Listening to Spanish songs, first with the lyrics, and then without, is a great way to absorb words, phrases, and even grammatical structures.

In one of our first posts on learning a foreign language with a song, we chose La Paloma, a song which originated in 1861 in Cuba.

Now listen to a much more recent song, "El Perdón," co-written and co-performed by Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias, both popular singers in the Latin pop scene.

"El Perdón" became a smash hit upon its release in 2015. The official Spanish YouTube video has had over 650 million views at this time.

The Creators

Nicky Jam (Nick Rivera Caminero) was born in Boston MA, USA in 1981, but moved to Puerto Rico at the age of ten. For the Wiki-bio in Spanish click HERE.

Enrique Iglesias (Enrique Miguel Iglesias Preysler) was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1975. At age 11, he was sent to live Miami for security reasons. (His grandfather had been kidnapped by the Basque ETA.) See his English Wiki-bio HERE.

You can of course listen to a song in a foreign language and never get the lyrics. That's fine. Music can be enjoyed on its own.

But songs can also be a great language learning tool if you pay attention to the lyrics to understand their meaning. So, what makes music such a powerful way of getting language into your brain? It's because songs combine melody, rhythm, and emotion with language. What's on your side is the "earworm" effect. A good song will continue playing in your head.

Listening to songs in a language you're learning:

  • Improves your pronunciation
  • Has you mimic intonation
  • Helps you memorize vocabulary
  • Familiarizes you with idiomatic phrases
  • Lets you absorb grammar structures
  • Gets you into the rhythm of the language

The Lyrics

Listen to the song again and now follow it by reading the lyrics below. How much can you understand?

At the end of the post we have the English translation, so you can check.

El Perdón

Dime si es verdad
Me dijeron que te estas casando
Tú no sabes como estoy sufriendo
Esto te lo tengo que decir

Cuéntame
Tu despedida para mi fue dura
Será que él te llevo a la luna
Y yo no supe hacerlo así

Te estaba buscando
Por las calles gritando
Eso me está matando oh no

Te estaba buscando
Por las calles gritando
Como un loco tomando

Es que yo sin ti
Y tú sin mi
Dime quién puede ser feliz
Esto no me gusta
Esto no me gusta

Es que yo sin ti
Y tú sin mi
Dime quién puede ser feliz
Esto no me gusta
Esto no me gusta

Vivir si ti, no aguanto más
Por eso vengo a decirte lo que siento
Estoy sufriendo en esta soledad

Y aunque tu padre no aprobó esta relación
Yo sigo insistiendo a pedir perdón
Lo único que importa está en tu corazón

Te estaba buscando
Por las calles gritando
Esto me está matando oh no

Te estaba buscando
Por las calles gritando
Como un loco tomando oh

Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi
Dime quién puede ser feliz
Esto no me gusta
Esto no me gusta

Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi
Dime quién puede ser feliz
Eso no me gusta
Eso no me gusta

Yo te juré a ti eterno amor
Y ahora otro te da calor
Cuando en las noches tienes frío oh oh, oh

Yo sé que él te parece mejor
Pero yo estoy en tu corazón
Y por eso pido perdón

Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi
Dime quién puede ser feliz
Esto no me gusta, oh no

Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi
Dime quién puede ser feliz
Esto no me gusta oh yeah, oh

Dicen que uno no sabe lo que tiene hasta que lo pierde pero
(Yo sin ti) Vale la pena luchar por lo que uno quiere
(No puedo vivir así) Y hacer el intento
(No quiero vivir así)

Refreshing a Few Grammar Points

1. Gerundio - the progressive form of a verb describing an ongoing action.

te estas casando - you are marrying (inf. casar)
estoy sufriendo - I am suffering (inf. sufrir)
estaba buscando - I was looking for (inf. buscar)
me está matando - it's killing me (inf. matar)
sigo insistiendo - I keep on insisting (inf. insistir)

2. Adding object pronouns to imperative and infinitive forms.

dime - tell me (imperative form of "decir")
cuéntame - tell me (imperative form of "contar")
hacerlo - to do it (infinitive)
decirte - to tell you (infinitive)

3. Preterito - simple past form of verbs.

fue - it was (inf. ser)
supe - I knew (inf. saber)
aprobó - he approved (inf. aprobar)
juré - I swore (inf. jurar)

Voices and Dialects

Another benefit of using songs is that different singers expose you to different voices, accents, or regional pronunciations. Spanish, especially, has many regional dialects. Interesting reference: 10 Spanish Dialects: How Spanish is Spoken Around the World 

Why would it be important to hear different voices, accents, and dialects in the language you're learning?

Think about it: You're probably never going to speak only with people who sound exactly like the person on in your language program.

Both Enrique Iglesias and Nicky Jam are bilingual, with Spanish first and English learned at the age of 10 or 11.

Comparing Enrique's and Nicky's Spanish, you'll notice some differences in pronunciation.

The Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico is part of "Caribbean Spanish," which also includes the Spanish of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and regions along the East coast of Mexico and Central America.

These are popular destinations both for Americans and many Europeans. Caribbean Spanish "is characterized by elided middle consonants and omitted final consonants, as well as an aspirated ‘r’ that is pronounced like the Portuguese ‘x.’." [10 Spanish Dialects: How Spanish is Spoken Around the World]

You'll definitely hear some of that in Nicky Jam's singing.

English Translation of “El Perdón” - Forgiveness

Tell me if it's true
They told me you are marrying
You don't know how I'm suffering
This I have to tell you

Tell me
Your goodbye was hard for me
Is it that he takes you to the moon
And I didn't know how to do it like that

I was looking for you
Crying out in the streets
This is killing me oh no

I was looking for you
Crying out in the streets
Like a crazy drunk

It's just that me without you
And you without me
Tell me who can be happy
I do not like this
I do not like this

It's just that me without you
And you without me
Tell me who can be happy
I do not like that
I do not like that

Living without you, I can't do it anymore
So I came to tell you how I feel
I'm suffering in the loneliness

And even though your dad didn't approve of this relationship
I'll have to keep asking for forgiveness
All that matters to me is in your heart

I was looking for you
Crying out in the streets
This is killing me oh no 

I was looking for you
Crying out in the streets
Like a crazy drunk oh 

It's just that me without you
And you without me
Tell me, who can be happy
I don't like that
I don't like that 

I promised you eternal love
And now another man gives you warmth
when you're cold at night oh oh

I know he seems better to you
But I'm in your heart
So I'm asking for forgiveness 

It's just that me without you
And you without me
Tell me, who can be happy
I don't like this oh yeah... 

(You without me)
They say you don't know what you have until it's gone but...
(Me without you) It's worth it to fight for what you love
(I can't live like this) And make an effort
(I don't want to live like this)

If you like learning and practicing Spanish with songs, we'd suggest that you try out for FREE Language Zen, a great Spanish language learning site, which uses Spanish songs and their lyrics as part of their program.

You won't find "La Paloma" and "El Perdón," but many contemporary songs on Language Zen. Also read our post "Language Zen" - Learning Spanish - A Review.

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

Disclosure: Language Zen is a partner site with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Speed up Your German Learning With Social Media

Pretty woman holding mobile phoneIt's an open secret that increasing the exposure to the language you want to learn, will speed up your learning.

Setting your phone or tablet to your target language is an easy way to do just that.

Often learners are reluctant to make the switch because they're afraid that getting back to English will be problematic.

In earlier posts we discuss social media terms for French, Italian, and Spanish.

Here we'll explain how you can get some moments of mini-immersion when you set your electronic gadgets to German. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll get to understanding and using these terms.

German social media terms are made up of vocabulary that is sophisticated and generally useful. Using them, you can also learn some basic grammar forms.

If you're a Facebook user, that's a good place to start. 

SETTING YOUR iPHONE/iPAD OR ANDROID DEVICES

On an iPhone or iPad, you have to set iPad language change screen - Gamesforlanguage.comthe language by going into your iPhone or iPad Settings and change your iPhone/iPad Language. You cannot do it just for your Facebook app, etc.

Click on "Settings," "General," "Language & Region," and set your iPhone/iPad Language to "Deutsch/German." (see screenshot)

On Android phones and tablets, also go to "Settings," then scroll down to "Personal," and click on "Language and input."

On Peter's Galaxy S7, he only sees the selected English and choices for Spanish, Vietnamese and several other "preloaded" Chinese/Asian languages. He has not been able to add other languages yet and is looking for help to add Italian and Dutch. 

One word of caution: On Android devices, be careful with languages with a non-western writing system and, at least, remember the small icon in front of "Language and input," in case you want to get back to English!

(On your laptop or PC, you could change the language only on Facebook, etc., or in one of your browsers, or even set your preferred language for the computer in "Language & Region.")

Setting your language back to English:

On your iOS devices, click on the "Einstellungen" (Settings) icon, then go to "Allgemein" (General), "Sprache & Region" (Language & Region), "iPhone/iPad-Sprache" (iPhone/iPad Language), and finally, "English/Englisch."

  • "Abbrechen" means Cancel;
  • "Fertig" means Done;
  • "Fortfahren" means Continue.

WAIT! THERE'S GERMAN ALL OVER MY DEVICE

Don't Panic. The icons on your gadget give you lots of help. And here are a few initial terms to get you going:

  • Zum Entsperren Home-Taste drücken - Press home to unlock
  • Wiederholen - Try again ("repeat")
  • Nachrichten (f.) - Messages
  • Uhr (f.) - Clock
  • Seitenmanager (m.) - Pages ("page manager")
  • Notizen (f.) - Notes
  • Erinnerungen (f.) - Reminders
  • Einstellungen (f.) - Settings
  • Flugmodus (m.) - Airplane Mode
  • WLAN - Wi-Fi
  • Mitteilungen (f.) - Notifications
  • Nicht stören - Don't disturb

GERMAN FACEBOOK TERMS

Happy man using digital tabletTo interact with you, Facebook uses the friendly, familiar "du" form. For example, the familiar imperative form of "describe yourself" is "Beschreibe dich." (The polite form would be "Beschreiben Sie sich.")

To translate "Like," German uses the verb "gefallen" for the idiomatic expression "Gefällt mir" (I like it, or more literally: It pleases me).

For forms like "Comment, Share, Show, Log out" etc. (which could be both infinitive and imperative), German uses infinitive forms: "Kommentieren, Teilen, Zeigen, Abmelden" etc.

Words and phrases that you keep seeing on your device are bound to end up in your long-term memory. You'll probably never forget them.

Here's a list of 20 or so you'll see on your iPhone or iPad:

On your Profile Page:

  • Suche nach Personen, Orten und Dingen - Search Persons, Places and Things
  • Bearbeiten - Edit ("work on")
  • Gemeinsame Freunde - Mutual Friends
  • Neuer Beitrag (m.) - New Post
  • Profil bearbeiten - Edit Profile
  • Mehr - More
  • Profilbild auswählen - Upload Profile Picture ("choose Profile Picture")
  • Foto hochladen - Upload Foto
  • Info (f.) - About
  • Fotos (n.) - Photos
  • Besuche (m.) - Check-Ins ("visits")
  • Lebensereignis (n.) - Life Event
  • Beschreibe dich - Describe who you are ("describe yourself")

Reacting to Posts:

  • Gefällt mir - Like ("pleases me")
  • Gefällt mir nicht mehr - Unlike ("doesn't please me any more")
  • Traurig - Sad
  • Wütend - Angry
  • Kommentieren - Comment
  • Teilen - Share
  • Geteilt - Shared
  • Aufrufe (m.) - Views
  • Mehr anzeigen - Show more
  • Beitrag speichern - Save post

Posting on Facebook:

  • Was machst du gerade? - What's on your mind? ("What are you doing right now?")
  • Öffentlich - Public
  • Freunde (m.) - Friends
  • Enge Freunde - Close Friends
  • Freunde außer Bekannte - Friends except acquaintances
  • Benutzer (m.) - User(s)
  • Freunde markieren - Tag friends

Managing your Facebook Page:

  • Einstellungen (f.) - Settings
  • Profilbild (n.) ändern - Change profile
  • Titelbild (n.) ändern - Change Cover
  • Seite erstellen - Create Page
  • Netzwerke (n.) - Networks
  • Hilfe und Unterstützung - Help and Support
  • Ein Problem melden - Report a Problem
  • Abbrechen - Cancel
  • Abmelden - Log Out

GERMAN FACEBOOK GRAMMAR:

Certain social media terms can help you absorb some basic grammar structures. It's an easier way to learn grammar than to memorize rules.

1. Compound Nouns

In German compound nouns, it's the second (or last) noun which gives you the gender.

  • das Profil + das Bild = das Profilbild
  • der Titel + das Bild = das Titelbild
  • Some compound nouns take a linking "s."
  • das Leben + das Ereignis = das Lebensereignis

2. Verb Prefixes: "an" and "ab"

Many German verbs can take different prefixes, which change the meaning of the original verb.

  • The verb "melden" (as in "ein Problem melden) means "to report."
  • "Abmelden" means "to log out" or "sign out."
  • "Anmelden" means "to log in" or "sign up."

To say that you want to register, you would use the reflexive form: "sich anmelden."

  • Ich möchte mich bei Facebook anmelden. (I want to sign up for Facebook.)

The verb "brechen" means "to break"

  • "Abbrechen" means "to cancel" (break off).

3. Separable Verb Prefixes:

The prefixes "ab" and "an" are a separable prefixes.

  • In the present tense, the prefix "ab" goes to the end of the clause: Ich melde mich ab. (I'm signing out.)
  • In the conversational past, "ab" is separated by "-ge-": Ich habe mich abgemeldet. (I signed out.)
  • In the future tense, the prefix stays: Ich werde mich anmelden. (I'll sign in.)

4. Inseparable Verb Prefix: "er-" and "be-"

The inseparable verb prefixes "be-" and "er-" always stay as part of the verb and thus don't use "-ge-" in the conversational past. 

The verb "stellen" means "to put" or "to place." ("auf den Tisch stellen" - to place on the table)

  • The verb "erstellen" means "to create" or "to make." ("Seite erstellen" - create a page)
  • Ich erstelle eine Seite. (I create a page.)
  • Ich habe eine Seite erstellt. (I created a page.)
  • Ich werde eine Seite erstellen. (I'll create a page.)

The verb "schreiben" means "to write." ("einen Brief schreiben" - to write a letter)

"Beschreiben" means "to describe" or "to depict." ("Beschreibe dich" - Describe yourself)

  • Ich beschreibe mich. (I describe myself.)
  • Ich habe mich beschrieben. (I described myself.)
  • Ich werde mich beschreiben. (I'll describe myself.)
5. German does not have a "continuous" verb form:

In English, you can say "I'm editing" to mean that you're doing it right now, or that you're in the process of doing it (at this time). German does not have a verb form for that. Instead, you would either add an adverb, such as "gerade"  (just now) or reformulate: "ich bin dabei, ... zu bearbeiten" (I'm in the process of ...) to get the same meaning across.

The verb "arbeiten" means "to work."

"Bearbeiten" means "to edit" or "work on."

  • Ich bearbeite mein Profil. (I'm editing my Profile.)
  • Ich bearbeite gerade mein Profil.
  • Ich bin dabei, mein Profil zu bearbeiten. 

As you've probably guessed, immersion works best if you have a basic understanding of the language that's being used. Just seeing unknown words and phrases (as I would, if I set my devices to Polish, for example) would be a little scary.

Still, if you're used to navigating the apps on your iPhone and are familiar with the icons on it, you can figure out what many of the foreign words and phrases mean.

Changing the language on your devices lets you try out new things and use context to guess new vocabulary. That's a good way to learn.

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

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 3: Dutch Canal Boating

Pénichette 1020FB layoutIf “fietsen” (bicyling) is a Dutch favorite, “bootjevaren” (boating), which includes “zeilen” (sailing), is certainly another.

With about one third of the Dutch mainland BELOW sea level and another one third very close to it, it's no wonder that the Dutch have a special relationship with water.

Yes, Italy has Venice, which has romantic canals but also more frequent flooding. Venice also needs to worry about its future as it is slowly sinking into the Adriatic Sea.

On the other hand, Amsterdam with its many “grachten” (canals) is a vibrant international city that has well adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the ever present water.

And, the canal network in the Netherlands is nothing but astounding. It's a great way to explore the country.

For the fun of it, we'll sprinkle in a few Dutch words. Because Dutch is a Germanic language just like English and German, you may find some cognates.

 

  • het land - the country, land
  • de stad - the city
  • de fiets - the bicycle
  • het water - the water
  • de gracht - the canal (in a city)
  • het kanaal - the canal (outside of a city)
  • de rivier - the river
  • de zee - the ocean, sea 

Dutch Canals and Rivers

Traveling by boat on a canal or river lets you experience the countryside in a different way Dutch windmill along canal - Gamesforlanguage.comthan driving through it. At 7 to 8 miles per hour, you can observe your surroundings in a leisurely way.

You'll notice the different designs of houses and various building methods, admire beautiful gardens, wonder what crops are growing in the fields, what type of cattle is grazing on the pastures.


Often the canals are higher than the adjacent pastures, as water is pumped continually from the lower lying fields into the canals.

While most pumps in the Netherlands are now electrically operated, there are still old windmills that are doing the job. We certainly observe more and more of the modern wind turbines every time we visit.

The ABC of Dutch Canal Travel

Operating a motor boat on Dutch canals is not really
difficult, although sometimes when in tight quarters, you have to keep calm and go slowly. 

You don't need a license. If you haven't sailed or operated a motor boat before, don't worry. The charter company will instruct you in how to handle the boat.

Obviously, prior boating experience helps, not only for operating a boat, but also for knowing a few basic facts:

  • Boats have no brakes
  • Boats are affected by wind and current
  • Boats have various electrical and plumbing systems
  • The forward/backward gear of boats is operated with a throttle
  • Larger boats respond more slowly to throttle and steering commands
  • A “bow thruster” greatly helps maneuvering in tight quarters
  • Locks” connect waterways with different water level elevations
  • The lower the boat, the more bridges you can pass (without their opening)

Our 2016 Charter Choice

For our previous three canal cruises in the Netherlands, we had chartered from different local charter companies. This time we selected Locaboat, a multinational charter with locations in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, and the Netherlands.

Pénichette 1020FB layoutTheir location in Loosdrecht, just north of Utrecht and close to the Dutch family reunion we attended, as well as our good experience with them during a charter in France a few years earlier, made them an easy choice.

Péniche” is the French word for a barge. A “Pénichette©”, Locaboat's trademarked name for its motorboats, is therefore a small barge.

We selected a “Flying Bridge Pénichette© 1020FB, which had two cabins with toilets and showers, just right for our American friends and us.

The “Oude Rijn” (the old Rhine), as our mini barge was called, had inside and outside steering – perfect for either rainy or sunny weather – a bow thruster, and the two bicycles we had reserved.

With its 10.20 meter length (about 34 feet), it suited us fine.
The midship saloon and steering station provided a great view during any meal. The compact kitchen (galley) had a refrigerator, a two-burner stove and oven, and all the pots, pans, and dishes we needed.

I noticed several improvements since the last time we had chartered from Locaboat:

  • The bow thruster
  • Electric instead of pump toilets
  • No switch to change from inside to outside throttle operation
  • A spacious refrigerator working well either on motor or shore power
  • An easily operated diesel heater for the hydronic heating system

Dutch canal chartThrough the charter company we had ordered some basic supplies from the local grocery store, such as water, beer, etc. These arrived shortly after we boarded.

After reviewing our intended itinerary, (see map) learning about the boat's systems, and a quick test-outing into the canal with me backing into the slip, we started our trip.

It was late afternoon and we had to pass one lock and bridge before starting our round trip as shown on the chart.

  • de winkel - the shop
  • de boot - the boat
  • de sluis - the lock (on a waterway)
  • de brug - the bridge
  • het dorp - the village, town
  • het huis - the house
  • de tuin - the garden, yard
  • de boerderij - the farm

Locks

In a lock adjusting lines - Gamesforlanguage,comShortly after leaving the Marina, we encountered the Mijnden Sluis, the first of the few locks that we had to pass on our trip.

When approaching a lock, you'll know from the position of the gates (open or closed) and the red or green lights - whether you have to wait (red) and possibly tie up, or whether you can enter (green).

Once in the lock, your crew loops a couple of lines around the bollards and holds on to them. But they should NOT TIE UP.

As the lock gates are closed and the water level rises and falls, the crew adjusts the lines so the boat glides along the lock walls, protected by its fenders. (In this picture our friends are adjusting the lines in the biggest lock we encountered, behind a large commercial barge.)

As the lock gates open again, you motor out the other side to a different water level.

In the Dutch inland canals, such level differences are often only a foot or two.

(In French canals, we had encountered a level difference of 10 feet or more in many locks. Also, in an earlier blog post, we describe how the boat lift in Henrichenburg, Germanyovercomes a 42 feet level difference.)

Bridges

We had chartered a motor boat for the first time in the Netherlands, over 20 years ago in Utrecht. Our teenage sons loved it right away. At that time, a few of the bridges still had to be opened manually. The boys had to jump ashore, open the bridge, let us pass, close the bridge, and then hop on board again.

This time, we were told that we would not have to open any bridges ourselves on our trip.

The moving bridges we encountered, called “Beweegbare Bruggen,” and labeled “BB” on the chart, were operated as follows:

  • By an operator at the bridge or a person who monitored it remotely via cameras
  • By a push button, typically located on a piling before the bridge
  • By phone call to an operator or on an automated line

Many bridges opened as we approached, adding a yellow light to the red light before it turned green. Sometimes we called. (Telephone numbers were on a sign at the bridge. In addition, nearly all bridges had a telephone number listed in the boat manual or in the chart app on my tablet.)

More instructions were provided in the boat's handbook, but Ulrike's command of Dutch was clearly helpful for the third option.

under fixed bridgeThere are only very few bridges left where the operator collects a fee with a wooden shoe on a long pole. We passed only two.

In towns and cities, operating hours often consider morning and evening traffic rush hours. Commercial vessels always have priority over recreational boats and you learn to be patient.

Your chart tells you the passing height of each bridge. Our “Oude Rijn” was listed as 2.92 m. Passing under a 3.00 m bridge left only 8 cm or a little more than 3 inches – and when steering and sitting outside on top of the upper deck we certainly had to duck. (In the above picture there were only a few inches to spare...)

Mooring Sites

The waterway chart (as well as the Dutch app for my tablet I
had downloaded) not only shows all the locks and bridges, but also the marinas and mooring sites that one can tie up to. Some of the mooring sites in small towns are free.

At others, you can replenish your water or hook up your shore power (for a fee). We only did this a couple of times. 

However, you're not limited to the designated mooring sites. Especially in the countryside, you can just hammer in two steel spikes ashore and tie up your boat along the canal bank.

No Hurry

After passing through the Mijnden lock, we turned north and were immediately faced with our first challenge.

The bridge operator of the first moving bridge we were to pass in Loenen, informed us that the next bridge had mechanical problems and could not be opened. He thought it could be fixed in an hour or two and suggested we should just tie up. 

We did and explored the little town of Loenen, with its narrow cobble stone streets and its two picturesque bridges across the river Vecht. We also found a bakery and stocked up on fresh bread and pastries.

Bridge opening in LoenenThis short delay taught us again not to be in a hurry. Canal traveling has to be done leisurely.

Yes, we would not get very far this first day, but no matter. Waiting for bridges or locks to open is as much part of canal travel as finding a nice restaurant for lunch or dinner or a good mooring spot for the night.

Indeed, when the bridge operator told us that the problem was fixed, we continued north on the Vecht. (see picture above)

As it was soon going to get dark we made fast near the small town of Overmeer.

After a 10 minute walk we found a very pleasant restaurant for our first dinner ashore.

Returning a few hours later to our “Oude Rijn,” we were glad that we had not forgotten the flashlight to unlock the door.

We had a quiet and peaceful night and the next morning greeted us with sunshine and ducks and other birds in the water around us.

Sightseeing

The Netherlands is very densely populated country. In traveling
along the small rivers and canals, we passed through cities and towns, as well as commercial and industrial areas. But we also came through long stretches of farm land and pastures.

In addition to the many small towns and villages we came across and explored, the major cities on our itinerary were Amsterdam, Gouda, and Utrecht.

We've written a blog post about Amsterdam, as we stayed there before getting on the boat. But visiting Amsterdam by boat is even more fun.

You can easily get to the marina in the center of town from where you'll explore the city on foot. There are a few more marinas in the outskirts, but then you have to find a way to get into the city.

Gouda is a wonderful town with a stunning 15th-centuryGouda City Hall - Gamesforlanguage.com city hall (see picture) and a spacious market place, where during the spring and summer a traditional cheese market is held every week (Thursday mornings).

You can actually moor right in the center of town, but we chose to tie up and stay overnight on the Hollandsche IJssel, just south of the city.

When we came to Utrecht, it was not possible to go through the town with our Flying Bridge Pénichette, as the many arched bridges of the Vecht were too narrow and low for the “Oude Rijn.”

However, mooring in the “Singelgracht” close to the center of town, allows you to explore the city easily on foot.


Along the Vecht, there are many restaurants tourists and locals alike seemed to enjoy on a late summer day. 

The town has over 20 museums, ranging from the Aboriginal Art, to the National Military, the Railway, and the Waterline Museum Fort Vechten. 

This is often one of the major benefits of sightseeing from a boat: You can moor in or near the center of a town or city (where finding a parking space for your car may often be difficult).

  • het stadhuis - the city hall
  • het centrum - the center (of town)
  • de jachthaven - the marina
  • de buitenwijken - the outskirts (of town)
  • de marktplaats - the market
  • de kaas - the cheese
  • de Noordzee - the North Sea
  • de Oostzee - the Baltic Sea

The European Canal system

While we traveled mostly on small canals and riverscontainer barge on canal - Gamesforlanguage.com (such as the Vecht and IJssel), there were also a few stretches where we encountered commercial traffic.

When a large container-laden barge is heading towards you (as on this picture), you realize how important the waterways are still for the European economy.  You also do your best to keep out of  the way! 

Leaving Utrecht and before we could re-enter the
Vecht near Maarsen, we had to travel on the wide Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. This canal serves as an important commercial link between Amsterdam and the Rhine.

Indeed, barges can make it up and down the Rhine all the way to Basel, Switzerland, or via the Main river, the Main-Danube Canal, and the Danube to Budapest, Vienna, and the Black Sea.

No wonder, traffic is heavy and recreational boats like ours have to keep well out of the way.

The European canal system not only connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, but barges and boats (even sailboats with a lowered mast) can find their way into the Mediterranean Sea, via the Mosel and the Rhone.

Breukelen

Our last overnight stop before returning to our base was Breukelen. Breukelen, by the way, gave New York's Brooklyn its name.

We again were moored right in the center of town, behind a typical old-style bascule bridge and several restaurants. In one of them we ate dinner.

There we met the Dutch artist, Toos van Holstein, who was elected the Netherland's “Briljanten Kunstenaar 2016” (Dutch Brilliant Artist of 2016). She had just organized a special art event “25 Karaats Briljant” at the gallery Peter Leen, which is adjacent and connected to the excellent Thai Same Same restaurant.

Traveling on Dutch canals leaves you with many
impressions, memories and pictures, certainly more than we can relate here.

On our last evening we could again enjoy a spectacular sunset across the huge Dutch sky - a fitting end to our canal cruise.

If you're interested in trying it yourself in the Netherlands or France and have more questions, drop us a line via contact and we'll be happy to help.

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

French Travel Memories 1 - Daniel in Paris

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

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (You'll find our first German post by clicking on: German Travel Memories 1 – Michael in Frankfurt)

Daniel's first stop is in Paris, France's cosmopolitan capital.

We'll follow Daniel's discoveries in Paris. For those of you who have done or are doing our French 1 course: Daniel en France, this post provides some local color. Others may discover some new things about Paris and perhaps get inspired to dig deeper.

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

Visiting Paris? To many of you, Paris doesn't need much of an introduction. Besides, there are plenty of sites that can fill in any gaps. We'll just mention a few quick facts and list some basic terms in French that will help you in your travels.

A FEW QUICK FACTS ABOUT PARIS

Paris was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Celtic people called Île de la Cité and Notere Damethe Parisii, who gave the city its name. They settled on Île de la Cité (see photo), an island in the middle of the Seine river and located on an important north-south trade axis.

(The well-known Cathédrale Notre-Dame, seen on the photo was later located there.)

In 52 BC, the Romans set up camp on the Île de la Cité and (temporarily) renamed the city Lutetia.

By the end of the 12th century, Paris had become the largest city in the western world, and the political and economic capital of France.

By the 17th century, Paris was an important center of finance, commerce, science, fashion, and the arts in Europe. It continues to play that role today.

It was interesting to read why Paris is called The City of Light (La Ville Lumière).

For one, Paris played an important role during the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that championed the concepts of reason, liberty, and the scientific method, seeking to illuminate man’s intellect.

For another, Paris and London were two of the early cities to adopt gas street lighting.

Since the late 19th century, Paris has also been known as Panam(e) (pronounced: [panam]) in French slang.

The city of Paris (also called the Commune or Department of Paris) now has a population of over 2.2 million people. The urban area of Paris is estimated to have a population of 10.5 million.

Île-de-France, also called “région parisienne” is one of the 18 regions of France. It includes Paris as well as 7 other administrative departments. The Île-de-France region has a population of over 12 million inhabitants.

la capitale - the capital
la ville - the city, town
la lumière – the light
Île de la Cité – an island in the Seine, within the city of Paris
la commune - the town, municipality
l'arrondissement – city district
le fleuve – the river (flows into the sea)
la rivière - the river (flows into a lake or another river)
l'aire urbaine (f) - the urban area
la banlieue – the suburbs (autonomous administrative entities outside of the city of Paris)
Île-de-France – one of the 18 regions of France

PARIS CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT

Daniel is a young student who learned some French at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to France.

On his flight to Paris, Michael chats in French with the flight attendant and with the woman who's on the seat next to him.

He arrives at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is Europe's 2nd busiest airport in Europe, after London.

As Daniel goes through Passport Control, he continues to speak French. Responding to the standard questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to France and how long he will stay.

le vol - the flight
l'hôtesse de l'air/le steward - the flight attendant f/m
l'aéroport (m) - the airport
le contrôle des passeports - the Passport Control
Êtes-vous ici pour affaires? - Are you here on business?
affaires has multiple meaning: affairs, matters, business
Combien de temps? - How long?
un bon séjour - a good stay

PARIS NEIGHBORHOODS

Paris arrondissments mapParis is divided into 20 arrondissements, or administrative districts, arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral (snail shell) starting from the middle of the city, the first being on the Right bank (north bank) of the Seine, the 20th being on the outer edge. (Plan by ThePromenader http://www.paris-promenades.com
with numbers in map.)

Most of the districts have their particular brand of Parisian identity and atmosphere. A brief description of each arrondissement can be found HERE. You can click on the number of a particular district to see the streets, metro stops, monuments, etc.

RUE LA FAYETTE

Daniel's aunt and uncle live in the 9th arrondissement, on Rue La Fayette (which also continues through the 10th district). Rue La Fayette is two miles long and an important axis on Paris' Right Bank.

The 9th district is a lively and diverse residential area, with many boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Historically, the fashionable, the moneyed, and the artistic mingled there.

In the 9th you'll find the Paris Opera and the neighborhood of Pigalle, home of the cabaret Moulin Rouge. The painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec had his studio there, and Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh lived near Place Pigalle.

You'll also find the famous department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in the 9th.

The Galeries Lafayette are a chain of upscale department stores. The famous flagship store on 40 Boulevard Haussmann had its early beginnings in 1893 with a small fashion shop located at the corner of rue La Fayette and rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin. The shop founders were two cousins from Alsace, Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn.

In the next couple of decades, Bader and Kahn added adjacent buildings, with the goal to transform the whole complex into something of a luxury bazaar.

The architect Ferdinand Chanut “called upon great artists from the École de Nancy to decorate this magnificent building in the style of Paris Art Nouveau. ... The dome, rising to a height of 43 metres, soon became the iconic symbol of Galeries Lafayette. Master glass-maker Jacques Gruber was responsible for designing the Neo-byzantine style stained glass windows.”

The store was inaugurated in 1912. You can read more HERE.

SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRÉS

Saint-Germain-des-Prés is an administrative quarter in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This quarter has a large number of bookstores and publishing Place Saint-Germain-Des-Préshouses, and several famous cafés including Les Deux Magots (where Daniel has “un verre” with his aunt when he returns to Paris.)

As you can see on the image on the right, the number of the arrondissement is shown on all signs of streets and squares.

In the middle of the Twentieth century, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter was the center of the Paris Existentialist movement (associated especially with the writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir).

The church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the oldest churches in Paris. Originally a Benedictine Abbey, it was founded in the 6th century AD.

Historically, Saint-Germain-des-Prés square was an important marketplace thanks to its annual fair.

The Foire Saint-Germain, which dates back to 1176, attracted merchants from all over Europe throughout the centuries. It lasted generally three to five weeks around Easter.

Today, there's a covered market on the square.

la place – the square
le marché – the market
la librairie – the bookstore
l'éditeur – the publisher
la maison d'édition – the publishing house
la foire – the fair, trade fair
un verre - the glass
prendre l'apéritif – to have an aperitif (pre-dinner drink)

RUE DE GRENELLE

Hotel Lutetia - ParisDaniel returns to Paris at the end of his trip and stays for a few days with his aunt Juliette, who lives on Rue de Grennelle, in the 6th arrondissement.

On his way to Rue de Grenelle, Daniel passes Hôtel Lutetia, located at 45 Boulevard Raspail (see picture). It was built in 1910 in the Art Nouveau style and was named after the early Roman town Lutetia.

The interiors of the hotel are in the somewhat later Art Deco style. During Nazi occupation of France, the hotel played an important role as a shelter for refugees.

Over the years, the hotel was visited by guests such as Picasso, Charles de Gaulle, James Joyce (who wrote part of his novel Ulysses here), Peggy Guggenheim, and Josefine Baker.

Rue de Grenelle is a funky street lined with stunning 17th and 18th century mansions, charming bars and restaurants, and interesting shops. Somewhat off the tourist route, rue de Grenelle is a great place for a stroll. Nearby, on Boulevard de Grenelle, you'll find one of Paris' best street markets (Wednesdays and Sundays). The Eiffel Tower is just a short walk away.

LE TROCADÉRO and LA TOUR EIFFEL

After dinner, Daniel and his aunt Juliette take an evening stroll to the Trocadero - ParisTrocadéro, a 20-minute walk away, and located in the 16th arrondissement.

A hill and esplanade with a magnificent view over the Seine to the Eiffel Tower, it's the site of Palais Chaillot, built for the 1937 Paris Expo. (For more info click HERE.)

Sloping down towards the Eiffel Tower are the Gardens of the Trocadéro, also built for the 1937 Paris Expo. The gardens are a beautiful open space with a large water basin called the Fountain of Warsaw, and lined with numerous statues and smaller fountains.

The Eiffel Tower (7th arr., on the Champ de Mars) was erected for the 1889 World's Fair on the centennial of the French Revolution.

The tower was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower (and also created, among other monuments, the metal structure of the Statue of Liberty). The Eiffel Tower continues to be the tallest structure in Paris at 324 meters (1,063 ft.). To get to the top, a visitor can take one of the 5 elevators, or walk up 1665 steps.

Every evening since 1985, the Eiffel Tower is lit up, and sparkles for five minutes at the beginning of each hour.

QUARTIER LATIN and DEUX MAGOTS

Les Deux Magots - ParisAfter visiting the Eiffel Tower, Daniel and his aunt Juliette walk over to the Latin Quarter (6th & 7th arr.) known for the Sorbonne and other educational institutions and lively student atmosphere.

Called “Latin” quarter because Latin was the language of learning in the Middle Ages, its winding streets are the home of quirky second-hand bookshops, and hip cafés and bars.

At the café Les Deux Magots, Daniel and his aunt enjoy a glass of wine to finish the evening. Located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the café was a popular meeting place for intellectuals, writers, and artists.

Besides Beauvoir and Sartre, its patrons have included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Albert Camus, Bertolt Brecht, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Julia Child, and others.

Since 1933, the Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded every year to a new French novel that is a little off-beat and non-conventional. The writer who received the prize in 2016 was Pierre Adrian for his novel La Piste Pasolini (published by Les Équateurs).

BOAT TOUR ON THE SEINE

Near the end of his visit, Daniel and his aunt take a river cruise on the Seine. It's his chance to see many of Paris' monuments one last time.Gamesforlanguage Facebook page

A boat tour on the Seine during a sunny day with the “Bateaux Parisiens,” “Bateaux Mouches,” or “Vedettes de Pont Neuf” is indeed a great way to enjoy many of the Paris sights. You'll glide under quite a few of the 37 bridges and learn about the Paris history.

(Click on the image of our Facebook page for our French Quick Game: Paris Quiz!)

A boat tour on the Seine also passes by the new buildings of the National Library.

France's national library dates back to the 14th century. First located at the Louvre Palace, the collection of book grew dramatically over the centuries and was moved again and again into more spacious housing.

The latest expansion, which included new construction, was initiated by President François Mitterrand. The 4 angular towers of the Mitterrand Library - which suggest four open books - were built on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 13th district and opened in 1996.

Controversial since its inception, the new facility had its share of design and construction problems as this article Books Under Glass: the Bibliotheque Nationale de France confirms.

A dinner cruise at night may not be the gourmet highlight of a Paris visit, but lets you experience why Paris is “la Ville Lumière.”

Daniel's travels in France take him also to Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. You'll read about these two cities in a future blog post.

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My 5 Top Tips For Speaking More Fluently

River in NorwayHow fluent are you in the language you're learning? Can you read and understand spoken language pretty well? But your ability to give "quick responses in conversations" is lacking?

There's definitely a way to learn and practice to speak more naturally.

I have a very particular reason for wanting to work on speaking more fluently. It's for French. Curiously enough, it's not that my French is particularly bad, but ... Well, I talk more about it at the end of this post under the heading: My Own Project for Speaking More Fluently

1. LISTEN AND REPEAT, PUSHING YOUR BOUNDARIES

Whatever level you're at and using resources you like, start listening to phrases Speaking and Listeningand sentences, and repeat them aloud whenever you can.

Learning how to say things with some fluency is not a one-time practice. Rather, it's best to go back to working on the same phrases, sentences, or even conversations again and again. That way, your pronunciation will get closer to that of a native speaker.

Close is good. If you're learning a language as an adult, perfect native pronunciation may take much longer, or may not happen at all.

In most languages, when words are used in expressions or in a sentence, they become part of a stream of sounds. Letters are dropped, stress changes, there are contractions, etc. This has to be practiced.

It also helps to memorize short conversations and repeat them to yourself when you're in the shower, as you prepare breakfast, or while jogging, etc.

Online language programs are perfect for practicing natural, rapid speech because you can try as many times as you want. Frequent repetition is key.

2. INTERJECTIONS

exclamation mark signInterjections are short words, usually said at the beginning of a sentence, that express strong emotions.

They can be learned together with vocabulary and practiced as part of conversations.

Common interjections in English are "hey" "oh" "good!" "right!" "now way!"

Some common French interjections would be: "Ouf" (Whew), "Zut !" (Darn), "Mais/Bah oui !" (Why yes!), "Quoi !" (What!), "Allez !" (C'mon!)

Common Spanish interjections: "¡Ay!" ( Oh), "¡Ojalà!" (I hope so ), "¡Vaya! (Wow!), "¡Claro!" (Of course!), and mostly in Spain: "¡Guay!" (Cool), "¡Vale!" (Okay!)

Common Italian interjections: "Magari!" (I wish!, If only!), "Bravo! (Well done!), "Dai!" (Come on!, Come now!), "Boh! (No idea!), "Basta!" (Stop!), "Peccato!" (Too bad!)

Common German interjections: "Aha!" (I get it), "Hä?) (I don't understand), "Also..." (Well...), "Wau!" (Wow!), "Ach nee!" (I knew it!), "Klar!" (Of course!)

The best way to learn to notice and use interjections in a language you're learning is to watch films or TV series. You can do this online, which also gives you the chance to repeat snippets of language aloud without annoying others.

Repeating aloud is absolutely essential for learning to say interjections. Seeing and hearing them as part of conversations puts them into context and shows you their exact meaning.

3. PAUSES AND FILLERS

Besides interjections, you can learn to add pauses and fillers to your speech.Pause Icon Fillers are sounds, or words and phrases that are an essential part of conversational speech, but don't have much meaning in themselves.

They mark a pause when someone's speaking, or a moment of hesitation, as the person is considering what to say next. They help to keep the conversation going.

Speech fillers have to be practiced, since they impact on the intonation and rhythm of spoken language.

There are three good reasons why you should learn to use fillers in the language you're learning.

For one, it'll help you navigate better through a conversation. For example, if you just can't find the word you're looking for, you won't be stuck in an awkward silence. Instead, you can use some "hesitation sounds" of a few filler words, as you think about how to reformulate or how to get onto another topic.

Secondly, it will help you keep conversational contact with the person you're speaking to. With fillers, you can keep your own part of the conversation going, or indicate interest in what the other person is saying.

Thirdly, it will make you sound much more like a native. Most native speakers of a language don't hold conversations in full, perfect sentences all the time. They hesitate often enough, break sentences off, change topics as new ideas occur to them, etc. The fillers will help you do that too, without feeling like you're stumbling.

Fillers in American English that I hear a lot in conversations are: "uuh" "uhmm" "err" "well..." "yeah" "like" "right," or the phrase "you know."

French conversational fillers (mots de remplissage, mots bouche-trou): "euh" "bah" "hein" "bon" "ben" "alors" "bah" "eh bien."

Spanish conversational fillers (muletillas): "eh" "este" "pues" "bueno" "mira" "ya" "vale" "¿no?"

Italian conversational fillers (riempitivo, parole superflue): "mm" "mh" "e(eee)" "tipo" "ecco" "

German conversational fillers (Füll-Laute, Verzögerungslaute, Pausenlaute): "äh" "ähm" "mhh" "so" "tja" "halt" "oder" "gelt"

To find YouTube videos with TV series, romantic or action films you can watch, do a search, for example, "youtube serie tv français" "youtube series tv español" "peliculas en español youtube" "peliculas completas en italiano youtube" "deutsch filme youtube komplett" - and so on.

4. LISTEN, RECORD, AND REPLAY YOU OWN VOICE

young man with laptopYes, it's hard to listen to your own recorded voice. I used to try to avoid it as well.

But, recording and listening to your voice and comparing your pronunciation to that of a native speaker is a very powerful technique for improving.

Start with words or short phrases, then work yourself up to full sentences. You have a lot to listen for: individual sounds, rhythm, intonation, the flow of what you're saying.

In different languages, stress is used differently. Listen for it and try to imitate.

In different languages, the same letters that we have in English may have a similar sound, but are pronounced less or more distinctly or explosively.

And, when you are recording yourself, you can practice difficult word combinations, saying them faster and faster.

5. RELAX and MUMBLE

You will unlikely hear this tip from a language teacher: In conversations don't worry about mumbling some of the words, especially their endings.

In casual conversations, most native speakers don't use the enunciation of a TV announcer. Especially when they speak in a local dialect, they talk quickly, mumble, mutter, ramble, blurt out things, drop endings. 

In German, "to mumble" is called "nuscheln." In French, you'd say "marmonner." In Spanish, it's "mascullar." And for Italian, the equivalent seems to be "borbottare."

The huge advantage when you learn to mumble a little in a language you're learning, is that you can slide over some of the tricky grammatical parts. It's especially good for endings that are supposed to change in different grammatical context. A neutral mumble can easily suggest the right ending.

All my reading - dozens and dozens of classic and modern novels in college and later on, and more recently, all of the Harry Potter novels in French - did not make me conversationally fluent in French. For sure, I have all the vocabulary that I need, but now I must practice the skill of speaking fluently.

I am fluent in Dutch, though I've done very little reading in it. What I have done for years and years is speak with others and imitate their natural conversational speech.

Repeating normal- and fast-speed sentences, adding interjections, pauses and fillers, and finally recording yourself and playing back your voice - all these together are bound to increase your ability to give "quick responses" in a conversation and become more fluent.

MY OWN PROJECT FOR SPEAKING MORE FLUENTLY

What I need to work on is relaxing when I speak so that I don't over-pronounce each individual word. Not just in French, but in all languages that I speak and am learning.

What's wrong with my French? Not that much really, except ... Well, let me back up a little. I learned French in a classroom setting: in grades 4 & 5 in the Netherlands, then from grades 6 on through grade 11 in Canada, followed by a French Honors university program.

At the end of my studies, I had great reading skills, a large vocabulary, and adequate writing skills. But my listening skills were lacking. I could understand the news (local French Radio) and formal lectures in French, but I could not follow fast conversational French. I also could not hold my own in natural, fast conversations with French speakers.

Later, when we started to regularly visit family in French-speaking Fribourg, Switzerland, my listening and speaking skills had already improved a lot. But even now, when I participate in conversations, my contributions are nicely constructed sentences, painstakingly pronounced. I resemble an announcer, who interrupts a group of people who are pleasantly chatting away.

My goal for further improvement is to be ready for our visit to Switzerland next year. With a French friend and with my husband I'm now practicing to not over-pronounce, to speak faster, to add interjections and fillers, and to “mumble” here and there.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

U.S. Presidents and Foreign Languages

Presidential electionFour years ago, we published a post titled Wonks, Foreign Languages and Presidential Politics.

In it we linked the NPR opinion article by Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

In rereading our post and Professor Walt's full article, which had appeared in www.foreignpolicy.com on August 23, 2012 as The Top 10 Things that Would-Be Foreign-Policy Wonks Should study, we realize that Professor Walt was right in labeling “History” as #1.

In Professor Walt's words:

1. History. Trying to understand international affairs without history puzzle pieceknowing history is like trying to cook without knowing the difference between flour and flounder.

Not only does history provide the laboratory in which our basic theories must be tested, it shapes the narratives different peoples tell themselves about how they came to their present circumstances and how they regard their relationship to others.

How could one hope to understand the Middle East without knowing about the Ottoman Empire, the impact of colonialism, the role of Islam, the influence of European anti-Semitism and Zionism, or the part played by the Cold War?

Similarly, how could one grasp the current complexities in Asia without understanding the prior relations between these nations and the different ways that Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, Pashtuns, Hindus, Muslims, and others understand and explain past events? 

But don’t just memorize a lot of names and dates: Seek out teachers who can help you think about the past in sophisticated ways.

Among other things, it’s useful to know how other societies see the past even if you don’t agree with their interpretation, so make sure you read histories written by citizens of other countries.

And if you’re studying in the United States, don’t just study 'Western Civilization.' The world is a lot bigger than that.

How could one argue with the above advice?

In the 2016 Presidential elections, U.S. voters will also decide whether knowing history and understanding the complexities of the modern world are important. Their choice may well affect many foreign countries and shape our future.

The Language Skills of U.S. Presidents

Wikipedia table: US Presidents' Language skillsIn reviewing this Wikipedia entry (see excerpt of Wiki table, left) and overview of the language skills of the U.S. Presidents, it becomes clear that the early U.S. Presidents from John Adams (#2) to John Quincy Adams (#6) had superior foreign language skills to most of their successors.

The indicated language skills in the Wikipedia table may not all be completely accurate. For example, by his own account, (as he wrote in an April 12, 1817 letter) Thomas Jefferson was able to read “Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English of course, with something of it's radix the Anglo-Saxon.”

Although he learned French as a student, he only acquired some fluency after spending time in France.

Thomas Jefferson and Spanish

Jefferson already recognized, however, that speaking Spanish Thomas Jefferson on 2 Dollar billwould be beneficial to U.S. politicians in the future. In 1785 he wrote in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr:

...Our future connection with Spain renders that [Spanish] the most necessary of the modern languages, after the French. When you become a public man, you may have occasion for it, and the circumstance of your possessing that language, may give you a preference over other candidates.”

In this excerpt from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation about Jefferson's French language quotes, you can also read how he changed his mind about his nephew Peter Carr learning Spanish instead of Italian.

1785 August 19. (Jefferson to Walker Maury). “My intention had been that he [Peter Carr] should learn French and Italian, of the modern languages. But the latter must be given up (for the present at least) and Spanish substituted in it’s place.”

Foreign Languages in recent Presidential Campaigns

Franklin Roosevelt stampIt has been 84 years since the U.S. elected a President who spoke another language than English fluently. Franklin Roosevelt was taught French and German from childhood on.

He even went to school briefly in Bad Nauheim, Germany - the town, in which I grew up. See my post: Where “Bad” does not mean bad...

(While Presidents Carter and George W. Bush speak some Spanish, Clinton some German, and Obama some Indonesian, they are certainly not fluent in those languages.)

Some of you may remember that John Kerry downplayed his knowledge of French in 2004.

President Obama got a lot of flak in 2008 when he regretted:

I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing ... It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?” (CBS News 7/11/2008)

In 2012, a candidate for the Republican nomination, Jon Huntsman, had been U.S. ambassador to China. He was attacked for speaking fluent Mandarin, called “China Jon” and “Manchurian candidate,” implying that voters should be suspicious of him.

And Mitt Romney quickly learned that speaking French was no advantage either.

Foreign Languages in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

Republicans' Candidates

Spanish was the one foreign language that acquired some prominence in the Republican primaries.

There are several YouTube videos ob Jeb Bush doing interviews in Spanish, showing that he is quite fluent in Spanish.

Jeb Bush or Senator Marco Rubio (who grew up bilingual) would have beenCruz -Rubio debate  exchange the first U.S. President with a command of Spanish beyond a high-school level. (Senator Ted Cruz also speaks some Spanish.)

There was a somewhat funny exchange during one of the Republican debates when Marco Rubio stated that Ted Cruz did not speak Spanish, and Cruz challenged him in Spanish.

This February 14, 2016 article in The Washington Post, titled What that Cruz-Rubio ‘He doesn’t speak Spanish’ thing was about, provides an interesting perspective on this event and opens with the following:

There is a dark period in American history. It's one to which some Americans seem eager to return. It's one when people were barred, shamed or even punished for speaking languages other than English. That was especially true outside the home.

Speaking a foreign language or limited English was very widely believed to be an indicator of suspect national loyalty, limited intelligence or ability. Speaking a foreign language simply was not regarded as a useful skill.

The Republican Candidate, Donald Trump, doesn't speak (or read) a foreign language, which makes him somewhat of an exception in his family:

  • His mother, Maryanne, was reportedly from a village on the Isle of Lewis and spoke Scottish Gaelic as her first language.
  • His paternal grandparents were German-born, but it's unclear whether his father actually spoke German.
  • His first wife, Ivana, was Czech; his current wife, Melania is Slovenian and most of his children are multilingual.

Trump's Vice-President choice Mike Pence does not seem to speak another language, either.

Democrats' Candidates

Bernie Sanders does not speak any foreign languages, but he learned enough Spanish to confirm in one of his Spanish campaign ads that he “approves this message.”

A 2008 New York Times article indicates that Hillary Clinton does not speak any foreign languages. (Visiting over 90 countries doesn't do it; and whatever language courses she may have taken at Wellesley apparently had no lasting effect!)

Tim Kaine's Senate speech in SpanishThis leaves Tim Kaine, Clinton's choice for Vice President as the only remaining candidate in 2016 who speaks a second language.

He acquired his fluency in Spanish, while working and teaching in Honduras when he took a year off from his studies.

In 2013 Senator Tim Kaine made history by giving a speech in the Senate (see clip above) in support of immigration reform entirely in Spanish. It was an impressive performance by a politician who did not grow up bilingual, but learned Spanish as a young man.

It's not surprising that Spanish has risen in importance in the U.S.: The U.S. Census estimates the Hispanic population in 2014 as 55 million, or 17% of the nation's total population.

By 2060, the Hispanic population in the U.S. is projected to increase to 119 million or  nearly 29% of the total population. 

Will 2016 be the year when speaking Spanish as well as English will not be seen as a disadvantage for politicians?

The Importance of Foreign Languages

Professor Walt had listed “Foreign Languages” as #3. Here is his reasoning:

If you grew up outside the United States and are headed for college, you probably already speak more than one language.

If you're an American, alas, you probably don't. You should.

I know that everyone is learning English these days, but learning at least one foreign language provides a window into another culture that you can't get any other way, and also provides a sense of mastery and insight that is hard to achieve otherwise.

I'm not particularly good at languages, but I'd gladly trade my mediocre abilities in French and German for real fluency in one of them (or many others). Don't make my mistake: get to the language lab and acquire some real skills.”

I would just add, that if you want to speak fluently, but can't live for a while in the country where your target language is spoken, don't have a partner with whom to practice, or don't have access to a language lab, you have more options today: 

Join one of the local language groups, online language exchanges, immersion sites like fluentu, get a tutor on italki, etc. or practice on other similar online sites.

There is no way around it: To become fluent in a foreign language you have to start SPEAKING it.

Thomas Jefferson would certainly have agreed...

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

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language

Dutch windmillIn our previous post, European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”, we described a few of our observations in the Netherlands at the start of our visit this year. (Read also about our canal boating!)

The Netherlands is a great country to visit. It has bucolic scenery, picturesque towns, and a rich tradition of art and intellectual life. Plus, there's Amsterdam. Who can beat that?

Most Dutch people speak English quite well, so it's not necessary to speak any Dutch to get around.

Still, knowing a few phrases of the language can be the passport to a more genuine experience of the Netherlands and its people.

DUTCH - THE NETHERLANDS - HOLLAND

To clarify:

  • English speakers may learn “Dutch,” while Dutch people (Nederlanders) speak “Nederlands” or "Hollands."
  • “The Netherlands” is made up of twelve (12) provinces, plus three (3) Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten) and three (3) municipalities (Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius), also in the Caribbean.
  • “Holland” consists of the two provinces, North Holland and South Holland, therefore just describes a part of the Netherlands. However, "Holland" is often used by German speakers when talking about the Netherlands.

Last year's post, 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion, includes a snapshot of Dutch history.

Map of the NetherlandsWe should also point out, that the new Dutch kingdom, established in 1815, lost its southern half in 1830, when that became part of Belgium. William Z. Shetter in The Netherlands in Perspective describes the reasons this way:

“The North had had centuries of independence and prosperity while the South had been a remote province of the Spanish and later Austrian Empires. The constitutional provision for equality of religion had not changed the fact that Protestantism was dominant in the North and Catholicism in the South.”

Dutch language (Nederlands) is spoken in the Netherlands and in Flanders, northern Belgium, (the Dutch kingdom's former southern half) where the language is called Flemish (Vlaams). Flemish is also spoken in the French region Nord-Pas-de-Calais, bordering Belgium.

Dutch is also spoken in the Republic of Suriname (located in South America, north of Brazil). In addition, Dutch has official status in the three countries and three municipalities in the Caribbean.

Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch, is one of the official languages of South Africa. Dutch and Afrikaans are mutually intelligible.

SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORD "DUTCH"

In the Brittanica you'll find this explanation:Dutch language

"In the Middle Ages the language of the regions was called Dietsc, or Duutsc, historically equivalent to German Deutsch and meaning simply 'language of the people,' as contrasted with Latin, which was the language of religion and learning. The form Duutsc was borrowed into English and gives modern 'Dutch.'

The official name of the language is Nederlands, or Netherlandic. In the Netherlands it is also called Hollands (Hollandish), reflecting the fact that the standard language is based largely on the dialect of the old province of Holland (now North Holland and South Holland)."

For a more detailed account of the history of the Dutch language, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_language.

DUTCH IS BETWEEN ENGLISH AND GERMAN

German-UK flagsLearning some Dutch is a fun adventure, especially for someone who speaks English and German. This is because Dutch is closely related to both English and German. One could say that it is between them.

On the one hand, Dutch resembles English in that it has no umlaut, doesn't use the subjunctive, and does not use case endings for adjectives, etc.

On the other hand, Dutch resembles German in that it has three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), a similar word order, and uses modal particles (those little hard-to-translate words used in spoken language that reflect the attitude of the speaker). Also, Dutch and German vocabulary often show great similarity.

Below is a sampler. (To learn and practice Dutch words and phrases with audio for free, go to Lingohut.com)

THE NUMBERS 1-14 (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • one, een, eins
  • two, twee, zweipool balls
  • three, drie, drei
  • four, vier, vier
  • five, vijf, fünf
  • six, zes, sechs
  • seven, zeven, sieben
  • eight, acht, acht
  • nine, negen, neun
  • ten, tien, zehn
  • eleven, elf, elf
  • twelve, twaalf, zwölf
  • thirteen, dertien, dreizehn
  • fourteen, veertien, vierzehn

QUESTION WORDS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • where, waar, woquestion words
  • what, wat, was
  • when wanneer, wann
  • why, waarom, warum
  • These two are a little confusing:
  • who, wie, wer
  • how, hoe, wie

BASIC NOUNS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • street, straat, Straße
  • house, huis, Haus
  • bridge, brug, Brücke
  • way, weg, Weg
  • money, geld, Geld
  • check, rekening, Rechnung
  • table, tafel, Tisch
  • weather, weer, Wetter

COMMON ADJECTIVES (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • now, nu, jetzt
  • later, later, später
  • bad, slecht, schlecht
  • good, goed, gut
  • small, klein, klein
  • big, groot, groß
  • new, nieuw, neu
  • old, oud, alt
  • low, laag, niedrig
  • high, hoog, hoch

DUTCH SAYINGS

One characteristic of the Dutch language is that it's full of colorful sayings that are sometimes pretty hard to figure out. But they sure are entertaining. Here are a couple:

1. De hond in de pot findendog in flower pot

Literal: To find the dog in the pot
English equivalent: All the food has been eaten

Ze kwam zo laat thuis dat ze de hond in de pot vond.
She came home so late that all the food had been eaten.

2. De aap komt uit de mouw

Literal: The monkey comes out of the sleeve
English equivalent: Truth will come out

Als hij binnekort voor de rechter staat, komt de aap uit de mouw.
When he soon stands in front of the judge, truth will come out.

3. Iets op eigen houtje doenwood carving

Literal: To do something on one's own piece of wood (or carving stick)
English equivalent: To do something on one's own

Hij is geen groepsmens, hij doet dingen het liefst op eigen houtje.
He's not a group person, he prefers doing things on his own.

WHAT ABOUT “FIETSEN"?

Woman with bicycle in Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.com“Fietsen” is a word you may hear a lot, as its seems that everybody does it in the Netherlands: Bikes are everywhere; in Amsterdam, along the canals, on bridges, etc.

The words “bike" (English), “fiets" (Dutch), and “Fahrrad" (German) don't seem to be at all related.

The English terms "bike" or "bicycle" are derived from the Greek (bi- "two" + kyklos "circle, wheel"). The German word "Fahrrad" is simply a "riding wheel." Thus, these words make etymological sense.

But, the origin of the word “fiets," so central to daily life in the Netherlands, has long puzzled linguists.

One long-held conjecture was that the word "fiets" was a corruption of the French word "vélocipède" (as "fielsepee") and originated in 1870 in the town of Apeldoorn. (dr.j.devries etymologisch woordenboek, 1973)

Another popular possibility was that "fiets" came from the name of the bicycle merchant E.C. Viets (V pronounced as F).

Or, that it's a corruption of the French word "vitesse" (speed).

Or, that it comes from the southern Dutch word "vietse," meaning "to move quickly."

Most recently, two Belgian linguists suggested that "fiets" comes from the German "Vize-Pferd" (substitute horse) (Linbkhttp://www.24oranges.nl/2012/02/23/etymology-of-dutch-word-for-bicycle-cracked-after-140-years/)

However, the suggestion that "fietsen" is a German loanword was quickly and thoroughly criticized online in the electronic magazine for Dutch language and literature, by the linguist Jan Stroop in his 2012 post, Ga toch fietsen. (The article is in Dutch, but you can easily get a Google translation, which gives you the basic idea.)

Stroop ends his argument with the sentence: "Fiets" een Duits leenwoord? Bike rider in Holland Ga toch fietsen. ("Fiets" a German loanword? - Go take a hike., i.e No way! )

So, the origin of "fiets" remains a riddle.

For anybody visiting the Netherlands "fietsen" is a must activity. Weaving your way through traffic and busy pedestrian passages may take some practice and not be for everyone.

But in all cities and towns, you'll also find bicycle lanes you can ride on comfortably and safely "Dutch style," sitting erect and leisurely enjoying the surroundings...

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

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”...

European travels Traveling to Europe after Labor Day can only be recommended. The trains are not as crowded and the interstate roads - while always busy – don't have the massive tie-ups that often occur during the main travel months in the summer.

We are lucky to be members of an international family that gets together once a year, in late summer or early fall. The reunions take place mostly in cities or villages in the Netherlands, but we've also attended gatherings in Werden, Germany, and in Brugge, Belgium.

These reunions (see last year's 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion) are not only an opportunity to touch base with family members, but they also give us the chance to use and practice our languages.

Frankfurt - Amsterdam

Our flight from Boston to Frankfurt am Main was eventless. As usual, it was easy to pass throughFernbahnhof sign - Gamesforlanguage.com passport control, pick up our luggage, and walk over to the “Fernbahnhof” (long-distance train station) to board our train to Amsterdam.

Frankfurt has another train station, this one for local trains, as the signage makes quite clear. It's the “Regionalbahnhof,” in case you just want to head into the city. (If you do, our blog post about Michael's visit to Frankfurt may interest you.)

The ICE trains are pleasant and convenient. We learned from one of the daily papers that they are now already in their 4th model series. Normally we like to select a “quiet” compartment after arriving from Europe so we can pick up on some lost sleep. (A quiet compartment is marked by a sign with a man saying Psst and a second one that has a cell phone with a line through it.) 

Here's a quick explanation for the three terms mentioned above:

Fernbahnhof - station for long-distance trains

Regionalbahnhof - station for regional trains

ICE  - Intercity-Express (high speed trains that run through Germany and surrounding countries)

Amsterdam

Amsterdam Centraal Station - Gamesforlanguage.comA few hours later when exiting the Centraal Station” (see left) in Amsterdam, we stepped into bright sunshine and 80 degrees weather. Amsterdam's central train station is an imposing building sitting right on the banks of the Ij river.

The station was designed in the Gothic/Renaissance Revival style by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers (1827-1921) and first opened in 1889. Cuypers is the same architect who also designed the building of the Rijksmuseum.

In front of the train station, you're immediately faced with crossing a busy street that takes you over a canal. Our Airbnb was located in the center of Amsterdam, so that's where we needed to go.

Our quarters were only a 12-minute walk from the train station. Our host must have heard our approach as he greeted us before we could ring the bell.

The room was in a typical Dutch row house and situated below street level, along one Amsterdam  B&B at Canal - Gamesforlanguage.comof the typical Amsterdam canals. With big windows and a glass door opening to the sidewalk and street, it looked very inviting. The inside was attractively furnished and well equipped.

Our host gave us detailed instructions: how to use the coffee maker, get Internet access, etc. He also explained that the shower and toilet had to be pumped up to the sewer line and that the water level of the canal was less than one foot below our room floor. He hastened to assure us: “Don't worry, it's safe, this building has been here for over 200 years.”

A bottle of red wine was waiting for us as a nice welcome gesture and we enjoyed our two nights there.

Amsterdam is a great city for walking. From Centraal Station to the Rijksmuseum, which is at the other end of the historic center, it's only about a mile.  

Dutch bike sign - Gamesforlanguage.comBut - you have to really watch out to avoid the bike riders, who seem to attack you from all directions as you try to cross the street. They are clearly a privileged class in the Netherlands. 

One-way streets? They are one-way just for cars. Bikes or mopeds are not shy about taking them in either direction, even with cars heading their way. Often there are signs that expressly make bikes and mopeds the exception,” as on this typical one-way sign, uitgezondered (except) for bikes and mopeds, which can still come towards you.

We had been in Amsterdam some years ago. This time we stayed only one dayAmsterdam:Eye Film Museum - Gamesforlanguage.com in the city as we were familiar with many of the sights and had done the must-do activities, a canal cruise, the Anne Frank house, Rembrandt House, etc.

Our host suggested that we take the free ferry across the Ij river, just on the other side of Centraal Station. We did so the next morning under blue skies, together with a crowd of pedestrians, bikes, and scooters.

The spectacular structure of Amsterdam's Eye Film Institute certainly invited a look, and anyone interested in the cinema and its history will enjoy spending time in there.

Rijksmuseum

We spent the afternoon in the famous RRembrandt's "Nightwatch" - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.comijksmuseum, which had been closed for several years during extensive renovations. We went straight to the Honor Gallery with its masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age by Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael, and others.

We spent quite a bit of time with Rembrandt's “Nightwatch,” one of the most prominently exhibited paintings.

From the available information sheet, we became aware of a lot of details that the casual observer would miss: the chicken hanging from a young girl's belt, the mascot of the guard unit, or Rembrandt's face peering out from behind one of the soldiers. The claws of the dead chicken on the girl's belt represent the “clauweniers” (arquebusiers) and the dead chicken suggests a defeated adversary.

A Family Reunion and a Roman Castellum 

Soest, a small town east of Utrecht was again the location of our Dutch family's reunion. Communication is not a problem because all members speak English and often one or two other languages to boot. We always have fun distinguishing the various German, Austrian, and Swiss or the British, Canadian, and U.S. accents.

One of Ulrike's distant cousins had just moved with his wife and young child from Mexico to Amsterdam, the Netherland's capital city. While both their English was excellent, they spoke no Dutch (yet) and it'll be interesting to see their progress when we see them again. (Maybe next year?)

While my Dutch had improved substantially and I could follow many Dutch conversations, speaking fluently remains a challenge. Nearly all of the Dutch relatives' English is better than my Dutch. Besides, they're eager to practice their English.

We always learn something new about the area or city where the reunion takes place. Castellum Hoge Woerd, Netherlands - Gamesforlanguage.comThis time we all went on an excursion to the Castellum Hoge Woerd, in De Meern, near Utrecht. This is a replica of a Roman fort with an exhibit of a recently discovered Roman river barge (below). It took us back to the time the Romans ruled in the area. (see also: http://www.castellumhogewoerd.nl)

Roman barge - Gamesforlanguage.com The museum is brand new, with free entrance. Interactive displays of Roman life and culture added to the interesting stories of our guide: He imagined what could have caused the sinking of the over 90 feet long barge as the Roman skipper was guiding it down the river. (The river since then has changed its course, and is now called the Oude Rijn.)

The river's mud had preserved both the hull and the skipper's tool chest quite well for nearly 2000 years. It made this an extraordinary find and allowed for many speculations about the skipper (a veteran Roman soldier?), his skills as a carpenter, the load the barge might have carried, and his likely connection to the leader of the Roman Castellum. (Did he know him from serving with him earlier?) The barge was found close to the location of the original castle, of which only foundations remained. It was part of the Roman fortification line, the limes that stretched across Europe.

These excursions always present wonderful opportunities to talk with family members in the bus, during a coffee break, or when looking at something of common interest!

Fietsen” (biking) to the Dunes

Soest Dunes - Gamesforlanguage.comSoest lies about over 80 miles inland from the coast. Discovering large stretches of sand dunes during a bike trip therefore was quite surprising. (If you are interested in the origin of "fietsen", read our next post: European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language)

The dunes were created by heavy westerly winds during the second to last ice age. (see: “Soester Duinen” Dutch Wikipedia) Later, woods and heath grew around it. The area is now a nature reserve and a popular place for bike and walking tours. It is also a beautiful spot to just sit and enjoy the stunning natural landscape. Families with children used a brilliant Sunday afternoon to enjoy the beach-less dunes, as you see on this picture.

The Dutch have developed extensive, numberedsenior bikers in the Netherlands - Gamesforlanguage.com bike networks, for which already many apps exist. I downloaded the Android app “knooppunten” (junctions). It lets you plan your trip, provides a map with the bike path and numbers, and gives you various statistics.

On this Sunday afternoon, we saw a wide range of bikers on these bike paths: Families with young children on the parents' bikes or riding in front of them; groups of seniors on a leisurely outing, (see picture right) riding high on their typical Dutch bikes; teams of quite determined looking men in full gear on their racing bikes.

What was quite noticeable for citizens of the U.S.: Except for the men with their racing gear, (and maybe a few of the younger children), none of the bikers wore a helmet!

Canal Cruising

The next stage of our Europe trip this year was a week on the Dutch canals with friends from the U.S. This was the fourth time we were canal cruising in the Netherlands.

Gliding through the country side at about 8 miles/hour lets you take in many sights you'll miss when traveling by car – and you can read about it in this post...

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

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