Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Uno-Due-Tre: Italian Numbers You Can Learn

numbers 1-10 - Gamesfrolanguage.comReaders of our previous posts on German and Spanish numbers know that we are big fans of at least learning the numbers in the language of the country we want to visit.

To prepare for a five-month stay in Rome, Italy, we spent a several months learning Italian. As this was several years ago and online programs were not yet readily available, we just used CD's. Neither of us had the time nor the patience to work through a textbook.

Once we arrived in Italy, it was clearly helpful to know basic phrases and be able to ask simple questions. In addition, knowing the numbers proved to be essential.

As a matter of fact, numbers were everywhere. We heard and said them when shopping, when paying a bill, or buying tickets; when arranging a time to meet someone, making a restaurant reservation, or asking about bus or train schedules; when hearing or asking about historical dates, or simply chatting with locals about travels in the past.

We were using Italian numbers often during the day and felt pretty good that we had learned them.

Italian pronunciation is quite different from English, so you really have to practice saying the numbers out loud.

The good news is that Italian is largely phonetic, which means that letters or letter groups are nearly always pronounced the same way.

Italian Numbers 1-20

With a couple of exceptions, Italian numbers from 1-10 resemble those in English, and are not hard to learn.

Sometimes seeing them written out helps: "uno" (one), "due" (two), "tre" (three), "quattro" (four), "cinque" (five), "sei" (six), "sette" (seven), "otto" (eight), "nove" (nine), "dieci" (ten). Not to forget that Italian "zero" is "zero."

For the numbers 11 to 16, you combine a mostly shortened form of numbers 1 to 6, with the ending "-dici":

"undici" (eleven), "dodici" (twelve), "tredici" (thirteen), "quattordici" (fourteen), "quindici" (fifteen), "sedici" (sixteen).

Notice the exception: "quindici" (15), where "cinque" (5) becomes "quin-."

For the numbers 17, 18, and 19, the pattern is turned around. You begin with "dici-" and with 17 and 19, you add connecting letters. Italian numbers shootout -

Thus for 17, you add "-as-" to say: "diciassette";

for 18, you say: "diciotto";

and for 19, you add "-an-" to say: "diciannove."

The Italian number 20 is "venti."

Once you've memorized the numbers 1 to 20, you've got a good basis for the numbers that follow.

And practicing is easy, if you just Play Italian Numbers 1-20

Counting by Tens: 30, 40, 50, etc.

The round numbers 30 to 90 are for the most part delightfully regular.

The number 30 is "trenta," but starting with 40, the tens all have the ending "-anta": "quaranta" (40), "cinquanta" (50), "sessanta" (60), "settanta" (70), "ottanta" (80), "novanta" (90).

Italian Numbers 21-99

The other numbers from 21 to 99 should not be too difficult either. (If you know French, you'll probably agree with me.)

The Italian numbers are combined as in English: for example, "ventidue" (twenty-two), "trentasette" (thirty-seven), "quarantasei" (fourty-six), "cinquantatré" (fifty-three) etc. Note that in these combined numbers, "-tré" (-three) has an accent.

Also, all numbers are said, and written out as one word, without a hyphen.

One thing to remember is that in these numbers, you drop the middle "-i" or "-a" when the second number is "-uno" (one) or "-otto" (eight).

So, you say "ventuno" (21) and "ventotto" (28), in contrast to "venticinque" (25), and "ventinove" (29), etc. You do this consistently right through 99: "novantuno" (91) and "novantotto" (98) as opposed to "novantatré" (93) and "novantanove," (99), etc.

The Hundreds from 100-900

The Italian number 100 is "cento." Multiples of a hundred, simply combine the number 2 to 9 with "-cento."

So you have "duecento" (200); "trecento" (300); "quattrocento" (400); "cinquecento" (500); "seicento" (600); "settecento" (700); "ottocento" (800); "novecento" (900).

And practicing is easy: Just play the Italian Quick Game - Numbers 21 and Beyond

Italian Numbers from 101 to 999

The number 101 is simply combined: "centouno," as are all the other numbers to 999. When written out, these numbers are one word.

Here are various number combinations:

"duecentotré" (203), "trecentonovantotto" (398), "quattrocentoventuno" (421), "cinquecentoventicinque" (525), "seicentoottantasette" (687), "settecentouno" (701), "ottocentosessantanove" (869), "novecentocinquantasei" (956).

Italian numbers from 1000 to 10,000

Note that a thousand (1000) is "mille," but a multiple of thousand uses the suffix "-mila": 2000 is "duemila"; 5000 is "cinquemila"; 8000 is "ottomila"; 10,000 is "diecimila." 

Not to forget that Italian uses a period, where US English uses a comma; and conversely, a comma for the US English decimal point. So, in Italy, ten thousand is 10.000 (with a period). On the other hand, for the US English decimal point, as in 10,450.10 - Italian uses a comma and the number is written in Italian as 10.450,10 -  which can indeed be a little confusing.

Italian historical numbers - Gamesforlanguage.comItalian Historical Dates

Historical dates, of course, are rarely written out. But there are conventions on how to say them.

In Italian, unlike in English, you use "thousands" (not hundreds) to say a specific year between 1101 and 1999. Note also, that Italian written numbers can get very long because they are written (and said) as one word.

So, 1829 - should it be written out - would be "milleottocentoventinove."


A point of frequent confusion for speakers of American English are the high numbers that are often quoted in news reports about global finances, as for example, in the recent negotiations between Greece and the European Union regarding Greece's financial obligations.

Italian and English agree on "one million" (1,000,000) - "un milione." (Note that "two million" is "due milioni," for plural agreement.) But, for the US English "one billion" (1,000,000,000), Italian uses "un miliardo"; and the US English "trillion" (1,000,000,000,000) is the Italian "bilione." Some misunderstandings are bound to come up here.

Finding Opportunities...

We've found that there are many opportunities every day to really learn and internalize Italian numbers:

Practicing them when exercising (e.g. counting numbers of repetitions), while waiting (e.g. counting passing cars or people), or even "counting sheep" before falling asleep.

And, just perhaps, the last suggestion may even have you "learn during your sleep." While not quite the same, recent experiments by Dutch researchers  seem to indicate that foreign words heard during nonREM sleep may be recalled better later on.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to gain confidence in speaking and writing a foreign language.

Confidence Sign - GamesforLanguage.comIt is no secret that the key to learning a new foreign language is maximizing your exposure to it.

That's how children learn their first (or second) language.

And, that's why immersion programs - ideally in the country where the language is spoken - are the fastest way for adults to learn a new foreign language.

Yes, for some, total immersion can be stressful, especially at the beginning. But, once you get over the shock of not understanding and not being understood, you'll progress fast.

On the other hand, not everybody has the time or resources to spend several weeks in an immersion course. Besides, once you are out of an immersion situation, you still have to continue to learn and practice your new language by using it as much as possible. Here also applies, as with all learned skills: “If you don't use it, you'll lose it.”

Active vs Passive sign - Gamesforlanguage.comActive vs. Passive – Output vs. Input

Reading and listening, so-called "passive" skills, are very important. They provide you with essential language "input."

So yes, at the beginning you should take courses, online or in-person, learn vocabulary, read in your foreign language, and listen to native speakers as much as you can. This includes audios and podcasts, and films and television programs.

Creating a web-browsing habit, for example, with a Chrome-extension such as, and regularly watching a soap or series on your computer or television are great ways to absorb a language passively.

But, you also need to "do" something with all that input. In my experience, you'll make the most dramatic progress and gain confidence, if you create and maintain a few effective speaking and writing habits.

At different stages of your language journey, you'll want different activities. Here are three suggestions each, for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners.

Beginner - Karate - Gamesforlanguage.comBeginner

1. Learning the numbers, at least to a hundred, gives you a terrific tool for regular practice. Not only are numbers useful for shopping, giving phone numbers to friends or business contacts, paying in a café or restaurant, etc., they are a handy way to practice pronunciation.(You can get started with these number games French, German, Italian, and Spanish)

Use Numbers for anything countable during your day: count out loud as you do your morning exercises; count as you cut the fruit for your cereal; say telephone numbers in your foreign language before dialing. You can probably think of a dozen more ways yourself.

2. Subscribe to a Newsletter or Blog in the language you're learning, or keep an easy-reader book handy. Several times during the day, take a short break to read a few sentences aloud.

Saying phrases and sentences instead of reading them silently makes a big difference. I read a lot in French, but that doesn't make my spoken French particularly smooth. And although I can speak French quite fluently, reading aloud still works for me now:

A couple of months ago, when visiting family in French Switzerland, I read a bed-time story in French to our nephew's 6 year-old daughter. At first I felt (and sounded) awkward and Céline kept correcting my pronunciation. But after five minutes or so, I got into it. The next day, I noticed that I felt much more relaxed speaking French. The practice I had gotten with reading aloud had boosted my confidence.

3. Copy down phrases that you want to learn. Then, at various times during the day, write these phrases again from memory on a sheet of paper and check against the original for any mistakes.

When we write in a foreign language, we tend to translate first in our head. One way to break this habit, is to practice with idiomatic phrases that don't translate literally. For example,

German: "Das ist mir Wurst!" (literal: 'That's sausage to me!', but meaning: That doesn't matter to me!);

French: "faire la grasse matinée" (literal: 'to make the fat morning', but meaning: to sleep in);

Spanish: "¡A otro perro con ese hueso! " (literal: 'To another dog with that bone!', but meaning: You're kidding me!);

Italian: "In bocca al lupo!" (literal: 'In the wolf's mouth”, but meaning: Good luck!).

(A reader also pointed out the following: "The idiom has a rejoinder namely 'Crepi!', which means 'May [or 'Let'] the wolf drop dead.' It's a typical foreigner's mistake to respond to 'In bocca al lupo' by saying 'Grazie'.")

Karate on the beach - Gamesforlanguage.comIntermediate

1. Whether at home or walking around outside, say (aloud) the name of any items that you can see. This seems to be an exercise for beginners, but you'll be surprised how many names of things or actions you can't remember just off the top of your head.

If you have a place where you can put words into flashcards (such as, write them in and practice them. Otherwise print or write them out and hang the page on your fridge! Needless to say, whenever you practice, say the words aloud.

(With for example, you can get Post-its to stick on the various objects in your home.)

2. Several times during the day, talk to yourself for a few minutes in your foreign language. (Or even better, if you can, talk to a partner.) You can comment on what you're doing just then (organizing, running an errand, eating, cooking, cleaning, etc.), you can talk about what you did earlier, or about any upcoming plans.

Even just the effort of changing to another language and searching for words gets your brain going. And if you do this often enough, it will indeed become a habit.

3. At this stage, you're probably ready to participate in groups or forums to practice your writing. There are plenty of foreign language groups on Facebook or Google+ that you can join. Start writing comments in the language you're learning and don't worry about making mistakes. If you ask people to correct your writing, you may get that too.

Karate experts on the beach - Gamesforlanguage.comAdvanced

1. From time to time, write and memorize a short "lecture" about something that interests you and then recite it from memory, or with the help of a card containing a few key words. Pretend that you have an audience and really make an effort to communicate, convince, or persuade.

If you're so inclined, make a video of yourself and play it back. That kind of feedback could be somewhat painful at the beginning, but also enormously helpful.

2. Suggestion #1 above could be also the preparation for speaking with an online language exchange partner or tutor. There are many to choose from.

We like, and The last one is a new site which lets you find partners with topics of common interest uploaded to the site by its users.

3. Find a “live” partner or tutor to talk with. There's no substitute for having spontaneous conversations on various topics. This will rapidly increase your fluency, but you have to find a way to do this regularly.

I certainly notice that my French fluency always gets a boost when I have my bi-weekly lunches with a French-speaking friend.

Creating a habit is not always easy right away, you have to stick with it, even when sometimes you don't feel like it. Learning to speak and write a language takes time and patience because there are no dramatic results, except for a beginning learner.

Have a look at's 18 tricks on how to stick with a habit. Some of these tricks may well help you.

But above all, have fun and enjoy the new confidence that you're building.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with any of the sites mentioned in the above post. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.


Posted on by Peter Rettig

My Babbel and Duolingo Language Learning Update

update - gamesforlanguage.comAs readers of previous posts know, I am currently learning Dutch. As GamesforLanguage doesn't have a Dutch course yet, I'm using the Dutch courses of Duolingo and Babbel.

I have reached Level 11 and accumulated over 3500 points with Duolingo and am nearing the end of the course. In three weeks, by the end of my 3-month subscription, I'll have Babbel's Beginner Course 4 done as well, and thereby completed a total of 87 lessons and likely several of the Grammar and Extra section lessons.

While my comprehension skills have clearly improved (my principal goal), my speaking attempts with my wife (who speaks Dutch fluently) have just begun and are less successful.

Although I now spend about an hour every day with these two programs, and Dutch has many similarities to my native German, I feel that my progress is slower than it should be.

However, using both programs in parallel also gives me a good opportunity to compare them. And here is my take on – the good, the bad, and the frustrating ...

Good job - Gamesforlanguage.comThe Good

Duolingo - My strongest motivation to continue with Duolingo each day is that I don't want to lose my “Streak” (currently standing at 255 days).

Having acquired this daily “Duolingo habit” (now just 1-2 lessons per day) has also made it quite easy to follow up with several lessons on Babbel.

I also like the standard Duolingo lesson setup, which lets me study the 7-8 new words of each lesson for a minute before I start. In many cases I can figure out the meaning from their Germanic roots.

Translating the words and sentences then seems quite easy.

A feature that works well for me is the sentence dictation: "Type what you hear."

Also, I like it that Duolingo has found a way to often accept a spelling error, as well as (limited) alternate translations.

Removing the “three strikes and you are out” penalty and having you redo any sentences with errors towards the end of a lesson are good moves by Duolingo and enhance learning.

BabbelI like how Babbel first teaches you the 4-8 new words or expressions: you hear them, see pictures and spellings, and then have to complete sentences with them by using the scrambled letters of each word.

The grammar explanations are also very well done, accompanied with simple examples and exercises that let you understand the grammar points.

What I like most, however, are the short stories or dialogs at the end of most lessons. They require me to fill in the words that I learned in the current or in previous lessons. Not only do these sentences make sense, but they also let me hear and see words and expressions that I don't yet know (but may remember for later).

"Bad" stamp - Gamesforlanguage.comThe Bad...

DuolingoI really don't like translating a Dutch sentence into English by typing the English sentence. I feel that I'm wasting my time as I'm not spelling Dutch. I do understand that it's important to translate from Dutch to English translation to fully understand the meaning. However, I find it faster and more practical to get the translation by clicking on the given English words.

But, what I probably dislike the most, are the nonsensical sentences that come up from time to time. I will never have to use, for example, "mijn neushoorn is een manntje" (my rhinoceros is a male) or "de eenden lezen" (the ducks are reading).

A close second is that in a lesson most sentences are totally unrelated and that I therefore forget them quite easily.

Babbel While there are no parts with Babbel that I dislike quite as much, there are a few features that I find frustrating, as described below.

Frustrating... - Gamesforlanguage.comThe Frustrating...

Duolingo - I certainly understand that it's difficult to create a program without any glitches. (We are also fighting those in our Gamesforlanguage courses and Quick Games). I find it frustrating, however, that at times the given translation in a word look-up is then not accepted for the translation itself.

I also find it frustrating that the Duolingo app does not give you any grammar information (at least I have not found it), the way you can get grammar help online on a laptop.

Also, the exercises "How do you say ..." and "Tap the pairs" often ignore the gender or number of a noun, or the form or tense of a verb. At times, the correlations are even downright weird.

BabbelDifferent from Duolingo, any spelling error during a translation or dictation results in a mistake. You don't have a second try. Moreover, there is only ONE accepted correct translation, which can also be frustrating at times. (This is a technical issue that we can appreciate in our courses as well!)

When I can't remember a word during “fill-in” exercises when using the iPad app, I sometimes wish for a clue, maybe a first letter, etc. (The online/laptop version gives scrambled letters with the “Help” function.)

A final beef that I have with Babbel is the voice recognition feature on the app. It sometimes takes me multiple tries to get the program to accept my pronunciation. My best solution has been to turn this feature off.

I had started learning Dutch mainly to understand Dutch conversations at my wife's family reunion in the Netherlands later this month.

Starting with 1 Duolingo lesson per day in January 2015, then increasing it to 1-2 lessons per day in May, I added the 3-month Dutch Babbel course in early June.

Adding up the time that I spent on all lessons to date, I arrive at a little less than 100 hours. While this still seems quite a bit of time, it also is clearly not enough to become fluent in a language (not even to speak about mastery...)

I am encouraged, however, that when my wife speaks Dutch with me these days, I'll understand most of it – although my responses are still halting and incomplete. We are now making an effort to speak as much Dutch as we can during the day. I'm curious to find out when that is going to make a significant difference in my fluency.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with other than for its founders having purchased a 1-year subscription to the Spanish course and a 3-month subscription to the Dutch course.  No business relationship exists either with Duolingo, except GamesforLanguage's founders are learning several languages with its free courses. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Humor and Language Discoveries in Corsica

A few years ago, my wife and I were staying in Ajaccio, Corsica. We had just arrived by ferry from Sardinia and on the drive from Bonifacio to Ajaccio noticed many road signs that did not look French. We had read up on the island by using the Lonely Planet's excellent guide Corsica  and were aware of its colorful and dramatic history.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio in 1769,  just a year after France had acquired the island from the Republic of Genoa. And although this eventually created a strong link to France, we had also heard from French friends that tensions with Paris still existed regarding autonomy, culture, language, economic development, etc. More about that and the Corsican language later.

During a late afternoon walk, while exploring the neighborhood around our hotel, we came by a movie theater and were intrigued by the title of the advertised movie.

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tisBienvenue Chez les Ch'tis

The French movie playing there was “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.” We weren't familiar with the movie and didn't know what “les Ch'tis” meant.

At first blush, we thought it referred to a phrase in Corsican. I did, however, recognize the name of the actor, Dany Boon, who is also the director of the film.

On the spur of the moment, and although the movie had already started, we decided to purchase two tickets.

Groping for our seats in the dark in a nearly empty theater, we just arrived at the scene in which the new director of the local post office, played by Kad Merad, arrives in town during a rainy, miserable night. He almost runs over the other main character with his car, the local letter carrier, played by Dany Boon, who is to show the new boss his apartment.

The dialog that then develops had us soon laughing ourselves to tears: Boon's character tries to explain to his boss that there was no furniture in the apartment because it had all belonged to the former occupant: “c'était le sien” - it was his (furniture). However, in the dialect of the “Ch'tis,” it sounds like “c'était le chien.” (it was the dog)

Even if you don't understand much French yet, the following YouTube outtakes (“le bêtisier”) video will also make you laugh with the actors who are clearly having a hilarious time with the language.

The video shows the “sien/chien” scene right at the beginning of the clip, and there are quite a few other scenes in which the actors get tangled up in speaking "ch'ti" and have to do the scene again.

And maybe you feel intrigued and want to watch the whole 2008 movie, as we did again a few days ago. The movie is not available on Netflix, but I discovered that you can get it on Amazon either as an instant download or as DVDs in original French, with English subtitles.

How wrong we were...

It was a few years later that we saw the actual beginning of the movie with the set-up of the postal director's involuntary transfer. We had, of course, realized even in Ajaccio, that the movie isn't set in Corsica, but rather in the northern part of France.

When you watch the movie from the beginning, you learn right away how this region is perceived in the south, and why being sent there is seen as punishment. The region, especially the Nord-Pas-de-Calais - quite undeservedly - has a reputation of not only being cold and inhospitable, but really being “in the sticks.”

However, a little “googling” also educated us about the fact that the “chti” or “chtimi” languages are part of the “Picard” group of languages, spoken in the far north of France and parts of Belgium.

A Language or a Dialect?

Picard, is one of the “langues d'oïl,” or “Old French” and belongs to the Gallo-Roman family of languages.

Interestingly, Belgium's French Community has recognized Picard as a regional language. France, insisting on the other hand on linguistic unity, only recognizes one official national language.

If you are interested to learn more about the Picard languages, the different spellings and pronunciations, consult this Wikipedia entry, which I also used for much of the “Picard” information.

You will also quickly see from the few examples below why the “ch” and “s” sounds can be confusing:




Thank you



I am sorry



How much does it cost?

Combin qu'cha coûte?

Combien ça coute?

The Wikipedia article further notes:

Today Picard is primarily a spoken language. This was not the case originally; indeed, from the medieval period there is a wealth of literary texts in Picard. However, Picard was not able to compete with the inter-regional literary language, which French became, and was slowly reduced to the status of a 'regional language.'

A more recent body of Picard literature, written during the last two centuries, also exists. Modern written Picard is generally a transcription of the spoken language. For that reason, words are often spelled in a variety of different ways (in the same way that English and French were before they were standardised). One system of spelling for Picard words is very similar to that of French. This is undoubtedly the easiest for French speakers to understand, but can also contribute to the stereotype that Picard is only a corruption of French rather than a language in its own right. Various spelling methods have been proposed since the 1960s to offset this disadvantage, and to give Picard a visual identity that is distinct from French. At the present time, there is a consensus, at least between universities, in favor of the written form known as Feller-Carton (based on the Walloon spelling system – which was developed by Jules Fellerand adapted for Picard by Prof. Fernand Carton).”

In the book When Languages Collide,  Brian D. Joseph et al. note on page 161: “In the French linguistic tradition Picard has been labeled a dialect.” But one of the editors then says: “Given that Picard is not a dialect of French, as it evolved side by side with French rather than out of French, I prefer to use the label language to refer to Picard.”

Linguists may argue whether Picard is a dialect or a language, but for those learning French, this distinction is irrelevant. If you're a learner, you're just trying to figure out the meaning of what you hear.

So, if you happen to be in a region where “old French” is spoken, familiarize yourself with some of the basic pronunciation differences to standard French, and you at least, will not confuse “sien” with “chien.”

The Corsican Language

During our stay in Corsica, we learned about Corsican history and culture: Its Italian heritage in medieval times, with Tuscany and then Pisa gaining control. In 1282, the island became part of Genoa until 1768, when it was sold to France. An Italo-Dalmatian Romance language, Corsican became “gallicised” after France's acquistion.

While the Corsican language appeared to be in serious decline for many years, in the 1980s the French government reversed its unsupportive stand and initiated some strong measures to save it.

Although Corsica is a small island, its geography may have encouraged the formation of different dialects: Supranacciu, spoken in Bastian and Corte and generally in the north; Suttanacciu, spoken in Sartène and Porto-Vecchio and generally in the south; the dialect spoken in Ajaccio; the dialects of Calvi and Bonifacio, which resemble the dialect of Genoa; the local dialect of the Maddalena archipelago. A Corsican dialect is also spoken in the norther part of Sardinia. 

We found this corsica-isula web site especially helpful and interesting, as it not only provides an introduction to the Corsican language, but also links to other sites and Corsican dictionaries.

Corsican also has a rich tradition of writers and poets. To find out more, click here.

We have to confess that in spite of speaking French quite fluently and understanding Italian well, we were never able to understand Corsican conversations in bistros or cafes, maybe also because of the various dialects. We certainly felt that our Italian helped us more than French for picking up a word here or there.

However, the bilingualism of Corsicans is impressive, and we never had any trouble conversing in French.

Corsican Impressions

Corsica Street sign - Gamesforlanguage.comOne of the strong impressions of our 7-day drive through the island - from Bonifacio, to Adjacio,Corsica - through the middle of the island, Corte, and on to Bastia and Calvi - was this: Corsicans are proud of their land and their language. Nearly all road signs we saw, either had the French name painted over and often, obliterated by bullet holes as in this left picture

While Corsicans are pleasant and accommodating to tourists like us, they don't particularly like foreigners buying land or even condominiums. While we were in Ajaccio, a small bomb exploded (nobody hurt) at the front door of a condominium, which had just been purchased by a German.

We heard stories about the ill-fated French government's efforts to re-settle people who were called “pieds noirs.” They were French citizens who had lived in Algeria, but fled after the country became independent in 1960. A good description of this period (and many other facts about Corsica) can be found on page 197 in the Lonely Planet's Corsica.

The unrest of the seventies and eighties seems to have abated (but, as the bombing incident mentioned above indicates, it's not quite finished).

Bonifacio, Corsica - Gamesforlanguage.comWe found Corsica a wonderful island to visit. We had lots of great experiences: our arrival in Bonifacio, a small town, perched on a limestone pedestal (see picture left); the capital of Ajaccio with its connection to Napoleon; the rugged landscape and the snow-covered mountain tops in April, while we were driving across to Corte on excellent roads (see picture above).

In a museum in Corte we discovered a hand-drawn language atlas which showed linguistic boundaries of individual words, tracing them from the island's south to the north.

And we did not even take advantage of the many great beaches, and the snorkeling and diving opportunities that fill the guidebooks.

Just watching “Bienvenue Chez le Ch'tis” again the other day brought back many memories from that trip and made us think again how powerful and ultimately wrong some misconceptions about people, their languages and pronunciations can be.


Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

LinguaVille - an Option for the Motivated Language Learner?

LinguaVille-Gamesforlanguage ReviewRecently we came across an online language learning site that has intrigued us. LinguaVille describes its approach as "National Curriculum Language Learning," aligning itself with the national curricula of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and India, as well as the K-12 syllabi across the United States.

We had recently compared Duolingo and Babbel and were interested in finding out how you can learn with LinguaVille.

At this time you can learn six languages: English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, and Spanish. You can set any of these languages as your native language and one of the others as your target language.

When we contacted LinguaVille and indicated an interest in reviewing the program, we were kindly given a free registration and access to Spanish and French, as the target language for English speakers.

I opted for Spanish, since it's the language I'm learning at the moment and the one I'm least proficient in. 

The Village Map

You'll find the map by clicking on your name, once you've registered.

This colorful map (see above) lies at the center of the LinguaVille program and shows the language village. Click on the various buildings to get into them.

First, explore what's there: the Library for dictionaries; the Hospital is a helpline for dealing with concerns; the Travel Center for phrases to practice; the Trophy Shop for earned points and awards; the Playground for games. Then, you'll want to head to the School. That's where your structured learning will take place.

Two Introductory Sections:

Class 1: Here, you can learn or review the basics, such as letters of the alphabet, LinguaVille Curriculum - GamesforLanguage Reviewaccented letters, numbers, days, parts of the day, meals, clothing, and parts of the body.

Beginners: In this section, you'll find 1000 basic words which you can learn flashcard-style through pictures that are first associated with their sound. You'll then see the written words in your native and target languages. Clearly, you can do this section in stages, and come back any time.

Three Levels of Difficulty/Proficiency

Linguaville Exercises - GamesforLanguage ReviewThe best way for a self-learner to proceed is to follow the program in the order that it's presented. You can, of course, start from whatever level of proficiency that you have.

In each of the levels - Standard, Intermediate, and Advanced - you'll learn and self-test yourself on material used within the national curriculum. As expected, the content becomes increasingly sophisticated.

What makes this program efficient (I tried out my intermediate Spanish) is that you learn interactively and get immediate feed-back.

Every level has a series of fun and challenging target-language exercises. You can do each of these exercises also as a test.

  • In "Multiple Choice," you're asked a question or given a brief task in your target language. As your response, you click on one of the choices, which are also in your target language. I loved using just Spanish and after a while found that I wasn't translating at all.
  • In "Word Order," you're asked to rearrange a series of words into a specific order. The order may be written-out numbers from high to low, the days of the week in sequence, events in chronological order, a sequence of phrases to make a correct sentence. Again, the question is given to you in your target language.
  • The exercise "Fill in the Words" shows you a short text with six gaps. From a group of words below the text, you choose the words that fit into the context. For this, you really have to understand what the short passage is about.
  • For "Cloze" (or "reading closure"), you again fill in six gaps of a short text, but this time you have to come up with the correct words yourself. You're not given any choices. Needless to say, this is a challenging exercise.
  • The "Verb" exercise gives you a verb and a paradigm skeleton, which you fill in with the correct tense that's required. The practice is straightforward and very useful. Who doesn't need to review verb forms?
  • "Text Adventure" shows you a paragraph of text with a brief storyline or scenario. You then select the correct statement that's related to it. To pick the right one, you'll need to read the passage very closely.
  • Finally, in "Dictation," you'll hear short passages of text, which you then have to write out with correct spelling and punctuation. I found this the hardest exercise of all because the texts are read at normal speed. I had to redo a lot of them.

Travel Center Phrases and Playground

On the central map of the "Village," you can click on the Travel Center to Linguaville Playground - Gamesforlanguage reviewlearn and review the phrases of the different School levels in another format. Here, the phrases (over 52, 000 of them) are arranged according to various categories (such as Business Travel, Directions, the Office, etc.), and sub-categories (such as Food, Meal Times, School Subjects, etc.)

Three different exercises (and tests) help you master the phrases. You first learn the meaning, then write the phrase after just hearing it (with correct punctuation and grammar), and finally translate it.

When you click on the "Playground" (see picture), you'll find various games, such as "Beat the Clock," "Anagram," "Matching," "Word Search," etc., to review vocabulary.

Four Things I Enjoy About LinguaVille

  1. Online, interactive learning. I've become an online-learning junkie. I love learning a language by seeing and hearing words and phrases, and practicing speaking and writing. I also enjoy learning and testing myself with a variety of exercises that put language into context and give me immediate feedback.
  2. Extensive, challenging content. With its 1000 basic words, 52 000 practical phrases, text passages that become increasingly more challenging, LinguaVille provides a large amount of structured content. A motivated and disciplined learner can significantly raise his or her level of target-language proficiency.
  3. Doing exercises within the target language. I particularly like the many exercises in the Standard, Intermediate, and Advanced Levels that stay within the target language. They have an immersive quality that is quite effective.
  4. The gamified features of LinguaVille, which include certificates, medals of achievement, and cups that you're awarded as you progress through the program.

Comparison to other online language learning sites

The other sites I know well are GamesforLanguage, Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone.

Compared to these sites, navigating LinguaVille is not simple. In addition, some of the instructions and descriptions seem overly complicated.

Although you're encouraged to follow the progress of exercises and levels at LinguaVille, you can easily skip around - which for some learner might be confusing, but for others a more fun, freer way to learn. Also, it's not entirely clear how the thousands of phrases in the Travel Center are integrated into the learning sequence. They seem to be phrases, passages, scenarios, etc. collected from the entire program. You can study them separately, use them as dictation, or play them as tests.

With GamesforLanguage and Duolingo you have to follow the lesson sequence. You cannot skip ahead. In both programs you can redo past lessons, and in Duolingo you can “practice your weak skills.” Perhaps it's the simple and intuitive design here which gets self-learners addicted.


Linguaville is not a free program. A free trial is available with school membership (or with a voucher or promotion code).

The cost of a single-user subscription for 3 months is US$99, a 3-month family subscription US$198. 1-month, 6-month, and yearly subscriptions are also available. (School subscriptions, which add a Teacher Dashboard and an authoring option, are being priced on request. )

These rates put Linguaville at the higher end of online language-learning subscriptions.

Final Thoughts

If you're a home user and are motivated and disciplined enough to learn and practice regularly, LinguaVille could well be worth it. With its large number of texts, exercises, and tests, it is a content-rich program that can keep you learning for a good while.

LinguaVille could also be a good program for homeschoolers who have to meet the language learning goals of national curricula. These include proficiency in all four skills, especially communication skills. The national curriculum aims for England can be seen here.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with LinguaVille other than having received free subscriptions to its English, French and Spanish courses  No business relationship exists either with the other language learning apps mentioned,  Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and Babbel.   See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Uno-dos-tres: Spanish Numbers Are Easy

Spanish numbers 123 - Gamesforlanguage.comIt's good to have a few basic Spanish words and expressions at hand, when traveling to a Spanish speaking country.

In many Spanish travel guides you'll find the translations for greetings, please, thank you, where is the bathroom, asking for directions, etc. Learning a few of these makes interactions friendly - and - they can also help you out in a pinch.

Knowing the basic numbers in Spanish can be especially helpful, when shopping, giving an address to a cab driver, buying a train ticket, or asking for and giving someone a telephone number, etc.

We have found that knowing the basic numbers in any language is one of the most useful things when traveling – and it's often one of the easiest to learn.

Spanish numbers are not difficult for English speakers, if you just memorize a few numbers and some basic rules.

Spanish Numbers 1-15

For most English speakers, Spanish numbers from 1 to 15 are not that difficult to learn and remember. Many of the English and Spanish numbers are related, and even though their spelling is different - as in “uno" (one), “dos” (two), “tres” (three), “seis” (six), “siete” (seven), “nueve” (nine) - they should be easy to remember.

For other numbers such as “cinco” (five), “ocho” (eight), “diez” (ten), “once” (eleven) “doce” (twelve), “trece” (thirteen), “catorce” (fourteen), and “quince” (fifteen), you may want to use some mnemonics. If you already know the French numbers, then they'll help you out.

Spanish numbers 16-20

Spanish numbers from 16 to 19 use the inverse English model by using the prefixSpanish 17 - “dieci” in front of the single numbers: “dieciséis” (sixteen), “diecisiete” (seventeen), “dieciocho” (eighteen), “diecinueve” (nineteen).

Note that at times you may also see the old spelling of 16 to19 (“diez y seis,” etc.).

The Spanish number “twenty” is “veinte.”

In this Quick Spanish Numbers game on your right, you can practice the Spanish numbers from 1 to 20:

Counting by Tens: 30, 40, 50, etc.

The numbers between 30 and 90 that end in a zero follow the same pattern as in English, by adding the suffix “-enta” (in English “-ty”) to an abbreviated form of the numbers 2 to 9: “cuarenta” (forty), “cincuenta” (fifty), “sesenta” (sixty), “setenta” (seventy), “ochenta” (eighty), “noventa” (ninety).

The one exception is “tre-inta” (thirty), as the first part ends with the letter “e,” and the suffix “-inta” is added.

Spanish Numbers 21-29

The numbers 20 to 29 are straightforward, except notice the accent on 22, 23, and 26: veintiuno (21), veintidós (22), veintitrés (23), veinticuatro (24), veinticinco (25), veintiséis (26), veintisiete (27), vientiocho (28), veintinueve (29).

And, you may also see the old spelling: “veinte y uno,” etc., which was replaced by the new spelling above.

Spanish Numbers 31-100

Spanish number game - Gamesforlanguage.comHere “treinta,” “cuarenta,” “cincuenta,” etc. are just linked with the separate word “y” (and) to the single digits, e.g. “treinta y uno” (thirty-one), “cuarenta y dos” (forty-two), “cincuenta y nueve” (fifty-nine), and this continues consistently through the nineties.

So, as in English, once you know the Spanish numbers 1 to 9 and 20 to 90, then 21 to 99 are a breeze.

The Spanish number for 100 is “cien,” but combined with another digit, 100 changes to “ciento”: “ciento uno” (101), “ciento tres" (103), etc.

In this Spanish Quick Game - 21 and Beyond above you can practice some of these Spanish numbers. 

Spanish Numbers by Hundreds from 100-10,000

The numbers from 200 to 900 combine similarly to English, except that they become one word and add an “-s,” for the plural hundred at the end. Thus you have “doscientos” (200), “trescientos" (300), “cuatrocientos" (400), “seiscientos” (600), “ochocientos” (800).

However, note the slight exceptions for “quinientos” (500), “setecientos” (700), and “novecientos” (900).

By just remembering these three (3) last exceptions, you should be able to count easily to “mil” (1000), as the numbers are otherwise quite regular:

145 - ciento cuarenta y cinco

243 - doscientos cuarenta y tres

329 - trescientos veintinueve

578 - quinientos setenta y ocho

707 - setecientos siete

838 - ochocientos treinta y ocho

999 -novecientos noventa y nueve

Spanish Historical Dates

Historical dates, of course, are rarely written out. But there are conventions on how to say them.

In Spanish, unlike in English, you use “thousands” (not hundreds) to say a specific year between 1101 and 1999.

So, 1829 is “mil ochocientos veintinueve.”

Millions, Billions, Trillions

A point of frequent confusion for speakers of American English are the high numbers that are often quoted in news reports about global finances, as for example, in the recent negotiations between Greece and the European Union regarding Greece's financial obligations.

Spanish and English agree on 1,000,000 - “un millón” (one million). But, for the U.S. English “one billion” (1,000,000,000), Spanish uses “mil millones”; and the U.S. English “trillion” (1,000,000,000,000) is the Spanish “billón.” You can see the problem.

Practicing Pronunciation.

Practicing the Spanish numbers also gives you an opportunity to work on your pronunciation. As in any language, getting the mouth mechanics right is important in Spanish.

The numbers “tres” or “cuatro” do not have the “r” as in the English word “tree”; for the Spanish words, the tongue is in the front of your mouth rather than farther back.

The Spanish “v” as in “nueve,” has a sound between the English “b” and “v.”

In Castillian Spanish the beginning “c” and the “z” at the end of a word, such as in “cinco” and “diez,” are very close to the English “th.” In Latin American Spanish, both letters are closer to the English “s.”

In Seville, Andalusia, we noticed that the “s” endings are often dropped. So you may hear “tre” instead of “tres” or “sei” instead of “seis.


Many Opportunities to Practice

During the day, whether you're commuting to work, noting how many email messages are in your inbox, reading the newspaper, doing exercises, etc., you'll always see numbers.

Pronounce them silently, or out loud, if you can, in Spanish. And you'll be surprised how fast you'll know them!

(And once you know the Spanish numbers, learning the Italian numbers will be easy for you. You can read more about them in our post "Uno - due - tre..." - and you can already see the similarities with the first three!)

Posted on by Peter Rettig

3 Language Learning Pitfalls to Avoid

Pitfalls - Gamesforlanguage.comIn a earlier post, Beyond Learning Language like a Child, I reviewed some of the reasons why adults can't learn a second language like a child.

Adults have to use different strategies and methods than children, but as second language learners all over the world prove: You CAN learn a second language as an adult!

A Second Language For You?

The many benefits of learning another language are well-documented. But adults also have strong reasons for deciding against becoming bi- or multilingual. The reasons English speakers most often use, include:

  • I do not need to speak second language.
  • I can get along with my English well enough when traveling.
  • I am not good at learning a second language.
  • I don't have time to learn a second language.

What about those adults who began learning a second language, or even continued with a language they had leaned in school, but then stopped?

Why did they give up?

Inconclusive Data

I recently came across this question on Quora from 2012: What is the success rate of learning a foreign language in the world?” You can find three thought-provoking answers HERE.

I have not been able to find any other credible statistics for the U.S. or other countries than those mentioned in the answers to the above Quora question.

A recent Pew Research report looked at the foreign language requirements in Europe.

While the anecdotal evidence may point to higher success rates in European countries than in the U.S., the question remains:

Why do so many adults give up on learning a second or third language, even one they learned for several years during school or college?

And what about the astronomical failure rates of students enrolled in language courses, including those subscribing to online programs?

I believe there are three (3) main reasons why adults give up on learning a language:

The “Adabei” Effect - or: No True Reason or Need

There is a wonderful expression in the Austrian/Bavarian dialect for a person who Want vs. Need - Gamesforlanguage.comalso wants to be part of a peer group. The dialect word is “Adabei,” which in standard German means “auch dabei” (also with it).

In the context of language learning, an “Adabei” would be someone who wants to speak a certain foreign language because his or her friends say it's the “in thing” to do.

A desire to be or do “like the others” can indeed be a strong initial motivator. But it may also be short-lived, once the excitement fades and it becomes clear that substantial effort is required.

Years ago, it was fashionable to learn French, which was then replaced by Russian, and more recently by Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.

On the other hand, Spanish in the U.S. is certainly on the rise and may become not only an “in” language but also a very useful one to learn and speak.

By the same token, a person who lives in an immersion environment - as in a country or region where everybody else speaks another language - is not an “Adabei. ” Rather, such a person is someone who - out of necessity - quickly becomes a very motivated learner!

Marketing Promises and Unrealistic Expectations

guaranteed success - Gamesforlanguage.comUbiquitous marketing promises, such as “Learn a language in 10 days,” “Learn a language like a Child,” "Guaranteed Success", etc. have raised expectations that many learners are unable to meet.

Such slogans are a symptom of our new technological world, promising instant, effortless results and gratification.

We don't even need to use keystrokes on our smartphone or tablet to immediately get the most esoteric information: We can just ask Siri for it! You can buy almost anything over the phone or web. Amazon will fill your order in a day or two.

Unfortunately, our desire for immediate and effortless results also produce high expectations. For learning a second language, these expectations often lead to disappointment and a sense of failure.

While nobody can learn a foreign language in 10 days, you CAN become fluent in 3 months – but only if that's your main focus during that time.

(In a 2014 post we looked at estimates of how long it takes to achieve mastery in a language.)

But for most learners, the fast and easy path to fluency is an unrealistic expectation.

My own experience is instructive here:

I have been learning Spanish for over a year now, regularly spending 10 to 30 minutes a day with GamesforLanguage, Duolingo, and Babbel courses. I've got good basic listening comprehension and can read quite well.

Since our one-month stay in Sevilla in March 2015, I can also participate in simple conversations (especially when I prepare for them). While I don't speak Spanish fluently yet, I know that I will get there with more conversation practice.

I've also been learning Dutch for several months now, first with Duolingo, and since early June also with Babbel, spending 20 to 30 minutes every day. I don't expect to be fluent, but hope that by the end of August, I'll have made enough progress to understand some Dutch conversations (see my earlier post).

And to put things in context: I'm not a language learning beginner, but speak three languages fluently.

No Long-Term Plan

If you don't have a compelling NEED to learn another language, and no long-term plan  that suits your lifestyle and time commitments, then your learning effort made indeed falter soon.

True, classroom or online courses can be a great start for learning a second language.

But unless they are high-intensity, immersion-type courses - such as the Defense Language Institute, Concordia Language Villages, Middlebury Language Schools in the US, and many other schools worldwide offer - even a daily one-hour class, 3 to 5 days a week for several semesters won't make you fluent. Many school and college students experience that fact.

And not everybody is able to follow Benny Lewis' Fluent in 3 Months time-intensive the long view - Gamesforlanguage.comprescriptions.

I have no time” is the excuse most frequently used. I suspect that it also hides the true reasons why someone abandons a language learning effort. Priorities change (see “Adabei” above), progress is too slow (because expectations are too high), or there's no long-term plan that integrates your learning into your daily life

Therefore, if you really want to acquire a second (or third) language, you should take a long view and first make a plan that takes into account your available time and resources:

Your learning style, time constraints, and financial means should guide you to select from the wide offerings of free and fee-based resources: online and classroom courses, online and personal tutors, apps and podcasts, library CDs and books, etc.

If you are really serious about learning another language, you have to supplement classroom or online courses with other activities: reading books, newspapers or online articles, listening to podcasts, watching movies, and, if fluency is your goal – having conversations in your new language.

Long-term Engagement: Turning Failure Into Success

Should you be reading this post and wondering whether to continue learning, think again how taking a long-term view could keep you going.

What could make learning fun? How could you incorporate some language learning into your daily life?

  • A free Duolingo, GamesforLanguage lesson or Quick Game before breakfast?
  • A Mindsnack game while waiting?
  • A foreign Neflix movie at night? Or using your Chromecast to watch a foreign TV show?
  • Listening to a podcast while exercising?
  • Connecting up with a language partner online?

And, if your life is busy and you can't commit much time to learning another language now, adjusting your plan is still an option as well. 

By keeping a long view and calibrating your learning effort to your current situation, you'll maintain your investment and can keep building on it again later on.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with other than for its founders having purchased a 1-year subscription to the Spanish course and a 3-month subscription to the Dutch course. No business relationship exists either with the other language learning apps mentioned, including Duolingo, except GamesforLanguage's founders are learning several languages with its free courses. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

2 Strategies for Relearning a Dormant Language

young woman - Gamesforlanguage.comA couple of weeks ago, when buying a laptop in one of those trendy stores, we had a typical conversation with a young saleswoman. “Oh, you guys speak German,” she beamed, as she came back from helping another customer. “I thought I recognized the language, all those scratchy sounds.”

She then added: “Well, I took Spanish in school and college. I used to speak it pretty well. But, it's been a couple of years since then. Now I couldn't say anything in Spanish if my life depended on it.”

That wasn't true, of course. My husband immediately tried his Spanish on her, and she responded with a couple of simple phrases. “Okay” she said, “I would need to go to Mexico and live there for a while. I bet Spanish would come back.”

At the moment, it looked like she was busy getting her work life together. She didn't really seem focused on language learning. But she got us thinking again, about how adults can get back a foreign language they once knew.

Relearning a language has to be one of the smartest decisions you can make. There are so many benefits involved. Besides adding a notable skill to your resume, you're giving your brain a fantastic workout.

Also, knowing another language makes traveling much more fun. For more benefits, read lingholic's blog post. Simply said, if you're open to the pleasure of language learning, it's always worth it.

Reactivating a classroom language

When you learn a language in school or college and then stop using it, you may feel after a while that it's “gone.” But is that really so?

As studies have shown (using functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, as described in this academic article): When you learn a new language, your brain undergoes neural changes, which have short and long-term effects on language learning and cognitive control.

This Guardian article explains what happens to the brain when you learn a language in a less scholarly way.

From such studies, it becomes apparent that a second language - even when learned as an adult - retains a presence in your brain. This neurological presence gives you a head start on various aspects of the language, ones that a newcomer would have to learn from scratch.

Traditionally, classroom learning has tended to be somewhat School children in classroom - Gamesforlanguage.comheavy on textbook exercises and reading, and (necessarily) a little light on speaking practice. Classroom learners acquire reading and writing skills, and at least a basic understanding of grammar.

Therefore, reading will likely be the most effective way to reactivate a classroom language that you've put aside. Plus, if you liked the writing exercises, you can easily bring this skill to life again by first copying texts and later participating in a language community on one of the social networks.

Some have found that labeling objects in their home with Post-its or FlashSticks, will boost their vocabulary.

A further step would be to try one of the interactive online language programs. In some ways, they are a perfect tool for adults who want to reactivate a language.

Many of the online programs or apps have you learn or review a language in various ways: identify a word you hear, write the translation, repeat after a native speaker, figure out grammar patterns, put together basic sentences, etc.

In this way, you can practice - and relearn - the sounds, spelling, essential grammar, word order, and vocabulary of the language you want to brush up.

All of the above-mentioned ways give you an easy start, and can definitely get you going. To this you'll want to add more reading, and a lot of listening, and as much speaking as possible.

Speaking is probably the hardest skill to acquire for former classroom learners. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for practicing speaking (even if you don't have family members or friends who speak the language you're relearning).

If you're the social type, you'll find plenty of free opportunities with language exchange partners, language communities on Facebook, hangouts on Google+, etc.

Paid options include Skype lessons, online tutors such as, or courses such as Pimsleur audio programs. For the latter, I would suggest starting with Level 2 or 3, because you're not a beginner.

Relearning a childhood language

If you spoke a language as a young child, and then forgot it because it was gone from your life, you may take a different path for reawakening it.

My own experience is informative here:

My first language was German. When I was 9 and 10, I went to school in the Netherlands. Then, after moving to Canada, I had to learn English and had little exposure to Dutch and German.

It was only after the family had settled in and my siblings and I did well in school, that my family started using German and Dutch again at home. It was mostly just by speaking that I kept these languages alive.

Young children learn a language by hearing and speaking it, oftenchildren playing - during play. At the same time they are learning to make sense of the world around them.

They discover objects and actions, become aware of emotions, and find out how to communicate their needs and wants. The sounds of the words, which they hear and learn to say themselves, become deeply imprinted on their brain. For young children, the spoken word is paramount because it functions as a tool for discovery and survival.

So, it's especially language as sound which imprints itself on a young child's brain and leaves a "permanent" mark, as this Guardian article explains.

Thus, for adults who spoke another language as a child, reactivating native pronunciation and sentence intonation will come pretty easily. Listening to songs and stories has proven to be a good first step to getting back a lost childhood language.

Even more effective would be having conversations with a friend or family member. If he or she can gently correct your mistakes, all the better.

Then, there are other skills to learn. You may have to learn a new spelling and writing system from scratch, as well as essential grammar rules, if you had no formal instruction before. Though a child may have acquired a good-sized vocabulary, the adult has to learn grown-up, formal, and specialized language.

If you're interested in new discoveries about bilingualism and language acquisition, look at François Grosjean's book Bilingual: Life and Reality or check out his Psychology Today blog Life as a Bilingual: The reality of living with two (or more) languages.

Make a Plan

language learning schedule - GamesforLanguage.comOnce you've made up your mind to get a (somewhat) forgotten language back into your life, it helps to make a project out of it. Be clear in your mind why you want to relearn the language. Then set some goals and decide on a daily schedule that you can easily stick to.

One way to start is to Build a Habit with the 20 minute Rule.

The “20 minute Rule” is based on the idea that you can do anything for twenty minutes, even if you find the activity hard to get into.

So, don't think too much about it. Nike's right: Just Do It.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

My 5 Best Tips for Learning a Foreign Language Online and Offline

Helpful tips - GamesforLanguage.comAs readers of a previous post know, I am currently learning Dutch, while continuing to improve and practice my Spanish.

As German is my native language, Dutch shouldn't be that difficult for me. And indeed, the many similarities between both languages make it much easier both to listen/understand and even to read Dutch.

However, speaking and writing continue to be quite challenging. There are several sounds that don't exist in German and that I have difficulties in reproducing. Then there are words that sound similar to German but are spelled quite differently in Dutch.

My Spanish is better and more fluent than my Dutch and that has led me to use different learning tools for each.

My Learning/Practicing toolslearning tools -

For Dutch, I am currently using Duolingo and Babbel (with a 3-month subscription). For about a month, I did two Duolingo lessons per day.

Now I am down to one Duolingo lesson per day, plus 1 to 2 daily Babbel lessons.

And I have just started with "First Dutch Reader for beginners: Bilingual for speakers of English" (by Aart Rembrandt), which exists in a paperback and a Kindle edition on Amazon.

For Spanish, I am currently using our Gamesforlanguage Spanish 1 course and Quick Games, Duolingo, Babbel (with a 1-year subscription),, and the Drops app.

And in the evening, I am rereading a couple of pages of Isabelle Allende's original Spanish edition of “Zorro.”

Last year when I first read the Spanish edition of Zorro, I used the English translation along with the Spanish original. I reported about my experience in this post

In addition, my wife and I listen to Spanish news and, once or twice a week, we watch a soap or movie in Spanish.

For Dutch, I'll practice speaking with my wife (who is fluent in Dutch), but I still need to increase my vocabulary for a real conversation. Right now, short sentences about daily life is all I can manage.

My 5 Language Learning Tips

Maximizing your exposure to the language you are learning is clearly key for making progress.

If you observe how much time young children spend daily on listening, repeating, and trying out their first language, you realize that for an adult 1 to 2 hours per week of learning a new language will not be enough.

The trick is to find ways to build language learning into your daily life, in the morning, on your commute, during a lunch or coffee break at work, or in the evening at home.

There are so many ways you can do that and for each person it will be somewhat different. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting a little creative.

Here are the five learning tips that are working for me:

1. Limit the number of NEW Foreign Words per Day

20 words limit - Gamesforlanguage.comI have found that I can't handle more than about 20 NEW words per day. The key here is “new.”

It's very tempting, once you are on “a roll,” to do several lessons a day with an online course. This is especially the case when you did well in a particular lesson.

However, rather than continuing with new lessons, I have found it more effective to redo a previous lessons or to review my errors.

With Duolingo, after 2 to 3 lessons (with 3 to 8 new words per lesson), I reach my limit and then choose to “Practice Weak Skills.”

Similarly, with Babbel (where you learn 3 to 6 new words per lesson), you can review your errors or redo a previous lesson.

With Gamesforlanguage (which teaches 16 to 18 new words per lesson), you can redo any of the games, starting with the ones in which you score less than 100%.

I'm using the new iOS app “Drops” for Spanish every day. Five minutes are free, and while I know many of the words, I like the fun app. It provides a great way to recall words.

2. Don't be afraid of making mistakes in your online courses

I have found that making mistakes helps me remember better. right or wrong -

Duolingo has recently changed the “penalty” for mistakes. You do not have to redo a lesson if you make more than three mistakes. You just have to get 20 correct answers. Sentences in which you made mistakes, reappear later in the lesson so that you can get it right.

Babbel's Review Manager lets you review your vocabulary with writing, speaking, or with flashcards. In the PC version, you can also replay the errors of your lesson (but not in the iPad app).

With Gamesforlanguage, you can just replay each game, until you get a perfect score.

3. Repeat Words and Sentences Aloud

Talk aloud - Gamesforlanguage.comWith all three online programs, I often find myself forgetting to repeat a word or sentence aloud. Trying to emulate the native speaker is essential both for pronunciation and intonation. So, it's worth making the effort.

GamesforLanguage has a “Say it” game, in which the learner is asked to repeat a word or phrase before it appears.

With Duolingo you really have to remember to repeat sentences aloud.

Babbel, on the other hand, has a “Listening and Speaking” section in the full Spanish course, which lets you practice both skills. (A "Listening and Speaking" section is not yet available in the Dutch Beginner's course.)

I find the voice recognition option of both Duolingo and Babbel often more frustrating than helpful. When after a third or fourth attempt my voice still gets rejected, I turn it off.

Actually, I prefer the recording feature of Gamesforlanguage for Spanish 1 to voice recognition in the other two programs. When I play back what I recorded, I can clearly hear when my pronunciation does not match the native speaker's. The good part is that I can keep trying until I get it somewhat right. (Unfortunately, recording still only works on PC and Laptop). 

When reading Zorro, or now my Dutch reader, I read aloud whenever I can.

4. Learn & Practice DailyDaily practice -

This may be the hardest task to accomplish in our busy everyday lives. However, if practicing becomes a daily routine like brushing your teeth, you've got it made!

I have to give credit to Duolingo for keeping me motivated with its “streak” concept.

I am now on a 214-day streak for Spanish and Dutch. And, as I hate losing my streak, I am likely to continue practicing every day until I've aced the programs. I know that the prospect of losing my streak motivated me several times to complete at least one Duolingo lesson late at night. 

(We are working on adding a streak reminder for GamesforLanguage as well.)

You obviously can set yourself reminders on your phone or tablet.

With Babbel you have the option for daily progress reminders and GamesforLanguage currently sends reminders Wednesdays and Sundays.

However, with the proliferation of emails ending in a junk folder, such reminders appear less and less effective.

Therefore, another motivator – such as losing a “streak” - definitely works for people like me.

Yes, my goal for September - to understand Dutch conversations during a family reunion in The Netherlands - is a motivator as well. However, it would not be enough to keep me practicing daily.

The threat of losing my “Streak” however, does!

(With Duolingo you can also choose to compete with others for a weekly point score, but my competitive spirit has not gotten excited about this one.)

5. Use different programs and other tools to learn and practice

program and app options - gamesforlanguage.comI find it very important to use various modes to learn and practice.

Different online courses teach different words and sentences. Or, the same words appear in different contexts. All of this goes to reinforce your understanding and retention.

There are lots of language apps to add to your toolbox, such as the new iOS app “Drops” that I mentioned above. Others that have been around for a while are Mindsnacks, Word Dive, or Memrise. Old or new, use these apps to add fun and variety to your practice.

Recently, I've been hooked on a fun Android app called “Spanish Injection.”

Once you've got a basic understanding of your new language, start to read things you enjoy, such as stories, novels, news articles, blogs, Twitter or Facebook feeds. For reading online articles, (as an app or a Chrome extension) is an excellent tool.

And obviously, listening to radio and watching TV not only helps your listening skills, but can keep you learning while hearing things that interest you.

To become fluent in any language you have to start speaking it. If a friend or lover cannot give you foreign language practice, or if a teacher or tutor is not in your budget - then language exchange sites provide another free or low-cost alternative. 

In any event, before you're really able to participate in a conversation in your new language, you'll have to start learning and practicing.

There are many online and offline opportunities to do that: By using those that work best for you and by heeding the Nike slogan "Just do it" - you can DO IT as well!


Disclosure: has no business relationship with other than for its founders having purchased a 1-year subscription to the Spanish course and a 3-month subscription to the Dutch course.  No business relationship exists either with the other language learning apps mentioned, including Duolingo, except GamesforLanguage's founders are learning several languages with its free courses. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

20 German False Friends To Watch Out For

female friends - GamesforLanguage.comWhen learning Germanic and Romance languages, English speakers are fortunate to find many “friends” or true cognates. These make memorization certainly a much easier task.

On the other hand, there are also “false friends,” or words or expressions that look (and maybe sound) alike, but mean something else.

When the meanings are quite different, they can put you on a wrong track entirely. However, this very fact - once you realize your mistake - will also help you recall them better later on.

The “false friends” that sound alike in German as in English (even if spelled somewhat differently) pose a particular problem during conversations. You don't have much time to figure out their meaning from the context. When you read a text, on the other hand, you can look up the meaning at your leisure..

If you're traveling to Germany or meeting up with German-speaking friends or business partners, a quick look through the list beforehand may prevent some misunderstandings.

There are quite a number of inexpensive “false friends” books on Amazon, just in case you'd like to discover more.

Here are twenty common German words and their English counterparts:

Identical Spelling – Different meaning

You'll notice that some words are pronounced exactly, or nearly, the same in English and in German - gift, mist, handy, spot, chef, rock - while others are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently - taste, rat, bad, etc.

das Gift (poison) - gift (das Geschenk)poison bottle image -

Die Polizei fand Gift im Wandschrank.

(The police found poison in the wall cupboard.) 

der Mist (dung, junk) - mist (der Nebel)

Räum doch gefälligst deinen Mist auf.

(If you don't mind, clean up your junk.)

das Handy (cell phone) - handy (praktisch)cell phone - iPhone  -

Hast du mein Handy gesehen?

(Have you seen my cell phone?) 

der Spot (TV ad, spotlight) - spot (der Fleck, der Ort)

Hast du den neuen Spot von Apple gesehen?

(Did you see the new Apple TV ad?)

Octoberfest girl spreading her skirt -

der Chef (boss) - chef (der Küchenchef)

Heute war unser Chef gar nicht im Büro.

(Today our boss wasn't in the office.)

der Rock (skirt) - rock (der Fels)

Meine Tochter hat sich einen neuen Rock gekauft.

(My daughter bought a new skirt for herself.)

die Taste (key [piano/computer]) - taste (der Geschmack)

Du musst diese Taste drücken.

(You have to hit this key.)

der Rat (advice, council) - rat (die Ratte)giving advice -

Ich brauche deinen Rat.

(I need your advice.)

die Wand (wall) - wand (der Zauberstab)

Stell doch den Stuhl gegen die Wand.)

(Go ahead and put the chair against the wall.)bathroom interior -

das Bad (bath) - bad (schlecht)

ein Zimmer mit Bad

(a room with bath) 

der Stock (stick, floor level) - stock (der Vorrat)

Ich wohne im vierten Stock.

(I live on the fourth level.)bottle of white wine

herb (dry, tart) - herb (das Kraut)

Das ist ein richtig herber Wein!

(That's a really dry wine!)

Modified Spelling – Changed Meaning

Even with different spelling, but similar sound, some German words can put you on the wrong track.

The first one (“eventuell”) has definitely tripped up plenty of English and German speakers alike and caused confusion and misunderstandings.

And if you are trying to practice your best German by asking: “Das Menü, bitte,” you may just wonder why the waiter suddenly brings you the daily special and not the menu!

eventuell (maybe) - eventually (endlich)

Ja gut, das werden wir eventuell machen.

(Fine, maybe we'll do that.)lunch special -

das Menü (daily special) - menu (die Speisekarte, das Menü [computer])

Zweimal das Menü, bitte.

(Two daily specials, please.)

aktuell (current, topical) - actual (wirklich)

aktuelle Nachrichten

(current news)tall attractive woman -

groß (big, tall) – gross (ekelhaft, grob)

Die Frau dort drüben ist sehr groß!

(The woman over there is very tall)

brav (well-behaved) - brave (tapfer)

Die Kinder waren heute sehr brav.

(The children were very well-behaved today.)

das Lokal (pub, bistro) - local (einheimisch)German barmaid serving beer -

Warst du schon mal in dem Lokal dort drüben?

(Have you been to that pub over there?)

das Gymnasium (high school) - gym (die Turnhalle)

Mein Sohn geht ins Gymnasium.

(My son attends high school.) 

retirement - Rente sign -

die Rente (pension) - rent (die Miete)

Mein Vater geht in Rente.

(My dad's retiring.)

When you're taking part in a conversation, language seems to race by at high speed. German, especially, poses a challenge because of its word order. You're often waiting for the verb at the end of a sentence to make sense of what was just said. (With German double-digit numbers, you also have to wait, and listen for the second digit before you know what the number is.)

In a stream of words, familiar-sounding ones always provide momentary relief. However, when a word has a vastly different meaning from what you think, then what follows may not make much sense at all.

English and German have plenty more false friends (also called “false cognates”) than the ones listed above. With time you'll get to know many of them.

A good strategy is to always pay attention to the context. You may identify a word as a false friend, if it just doesn't seem to fit the context at all. And don't hesitate to ask for the meaning of a word, when it doesn't make sense to you!

True Cognates

German and English also share a large number of “true cognates” - words that are similar in form and meaning and have the same root.

When you google “English German cognates,” you'll find lists with hundreds of items. Even when there's been a sound shift, cognates are easy to recognize, such as: “das “Brot” (bread), “der Kuss” (kiss), “das Netz” (net), “das Papier” (paper), “der Stuhl” (stool), “das Haus” (house), most of the numbers, and many more.

And paying attention to both true and false cognates can provide you with an easy tool for memorizing German vocabulary.

You Want to Learn German Fast?

Not everyone will agree with Benny Lewis', the Irish Polyglot's statement "Why German is easy!".But, if you are serious about learning German - and even before you buy or subscribe to any expensive courses (except's German 1 and German 2 courses obviously, which are FREE!) you may want to learn more about Benny's approach. 

Disclosure: The link above is to a partner's program with revenue sharing, if you decide to buy or subscribe.


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