Does your day look really busy, but you would hate missing your language learning fix? Are you looking to boost one or the other of your new foreign language skills? (Even the Shuttle, left, needed some boosters!)
Learning a foreign language as an adult requires you to find those methods and routines that work best for you and that allow you to apply them - ideally - on a daily basis.
Here are 5 ways you can improvise a quick foreign language learning moment.
READ 3-4 sentences ALOUD - preferably from an ongoing book you've been following. Reading aloud (or even in a whisper) gets you to work on your "mouth mechanics" - the way you need to move your mouth in order to produce the correct sounds. In the meantime, your brain is registering word order and an idiom or two.
Type or WRITE out (copy) a few interesting sentences from a book, magazine, Internet site, etc. Writing out a language is very different from reading it. You become much more aware of structure, spelling, endings, etc.
Take a useful sentence from a book or story, MEMORIZE it, and then write it out from memory. It can also be a famous saying. The sentence can be as short or long as you wish. Do this with 2 or 3 sentences, checking back to see if what you wrote was correct.
Doodle or DRAW 4-5 objects, such as furniture, clothing, fruit, items on your desk. Then write the name of each item in your new language. Maybe you'll have to look up the words. No-one has to see your drawing, unless you're a Picasso. But the act of creating images and labeling them is a great way to engage your brain.
LISTEN for a few minutes to your favorite foreign language song and follow the lyrics closely. Music is a compelling way to experience the rhythm and intonation of a language. (We had posted suggestions for French, German, Italian, and Spanish.)
Any of these 5 quick boosts will keep you learning. For steady progress, nothing can beat a regular learning routine, and these brief techniques can keep you going even in busy times.
During the month of May, GamesforLanguage was running a 6-Day FREE Trial promotion for any (or all) of our four languages: French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
All our users come to our site “organically,” either through a translation search of the indexed words or phrases of our program, by “word of mouth,” or through other site referrals. (We don't run Google ads on other sites.)
We had also sprinkled a few questions among our various games, and here are the results:
How would you rate your language Fluency?
Beginner: 63% Intermediate: 25% Advanced: 12%
How do you rate “Word Invaders”? (a word-order game)
Too Easy: 44% Just right:16% Challenging: 36% Too difficult: 4%
Learning for me with Scene 1 was:
Easy: 39% Hard: 3% Right On: 58%
As the “language fluency” question appeared with the first game, it received the most answers. The “Word Invaders” question appeared in the middle and the final question at the end of the first Scene. Some users either did not complete the first scene or skipped right to the next Scene after meeting their score goal, other players skipped the first game, all of which makes correlating the answers a little difficult.
We are somewhat surprised by the split in the Word Invader question, but are reassured that the majority felt our Scene 1 was “easy” or “right on.” Most of the 63% of the users who came to our site in May and who are beginners found it easy to play and learn with our games.
We also realize that even with a FREE Trial very few users are able to commit the time to learn and practice on a daily basis. The maximum score reached during the six days for one language was 2,355 points in Italian, which brought the player to Scene 4, in Level 2.
We therefore decided to DOUBLE our basic subscription from 1 to 2 months and continue to invite feedback on our program and games.
Recently I subscribed to an online language course that uses an automatic subscription renewal. I subscribed for one month to try out a new language and I set a reminder to cancel the subscription a few days before the automatic renewal. When my reminder alerted me, I started looking and got annoyed when I could not find a place to cancel. I finally found the answer in the FAQs: write an e-mail to sales@company or send a short note via “Feedback” while logged-in to the site. I was promised a confirmation within 48 hours, which indeed arrived just before the automatic renewal date. This experience was similar to ones I had at other automatic renewal sites: Quite easy to subscribe, but time consuming and often annoying to cancel!
Good for the COMPANY...
I have always been wary of automatic renewals, except for certain services, e.g. subscriptions to news, magazines, investment, or other services you need and value on an ongoing basis. And although I understand full well the benefits of automatic renewals - FOR THE COMPANY - I believe users of an online language learning service should at least be given the option at the start. It should not be made obligatory. (I love the picture above, which is part of the automatic renewal plan of the rockymountainrider.com monthly magazine.)
Motivation for the Learner?
We, at gamesforlanguage.com, have decided to leave it to our subscribers whether they want to renew (and we make this explicitly clear on our subscription page). But maybe we are wrong, and automatic renewals are a good thing for a learner. Learning a foreign language as an adult requires ongoing motivation and encouragement. And, could it be that the automatic renewal charge that appears on your monthly credit card or Paypal statement provides another motivational push to log in again and continue learning?
We'd love to hear some comments and opinions on this question: Are obligatory automatic subscription renewals for online language programs a good thing or do they annoy you?
Recently I started an online Swedish course and was surprised by how difficult the first few lessons were for me, although there were only 7 or 8 new words/expressions in each lesson. Swedish is a Germanic language – and I speak Dutch and German fluently – but it is really quite different from the Romance languages that I speak. As readers may recall from an earlier blog: my husband and I had used our Spanish 1 course in preparation for our stay in Spain last year. But even though Spanish was a new language for both of us, its similarity to French and Italian (languages we know) did not make us real “beginners.”
Based on the feedback from many buyers and users who tried our free demo lessons and promotions (in May: FREE 6-day trial for complete 36-lessons courses of all four languages), we had concluded that our first few lessons were too easy. Maybe some players had come to this conclusion because our games made the beginning lessons indeed seem easy. “I was learning, but it didn't feel like learning” was an early, typical comment.
Expanding Lesson 1
We therefore began expanding the first lesson ("Scene") of our German 1 and our Spanish 1 program, which initially consisted of three foreign dialog lines with about 16 new words. The additional six dialog lines, however, stopped many beginners from progressing to the second Scene. Did they feel that learning a new language was too steep a cliff to climb? We decided to wait for more feedback before expanding the French and Italian scenes.
What makes Gamesforlanguage.com different?
By learning a language (Swedish) that has fewer similarities with languages I already know, I put myself again into a beginner's shoes (for the 5th time, actually). And I experienced first hand the difference between a typical language program and GamesforLanguage:
Rather than teaching and drilling lists of words and short expressions (hello, good-bye, thanks, how are you?, I am fine, thanks, etc., etc.) GamesforLanguage deconstructs, practices, and reconstructs the dialog of a story beginning with Scene 1: Words and expressions, as in the examples above, come up as well, but later and always within the context of "The Story."
Indeed, the learner is immersed in real life, every-day language right from the start. While those with some background in the language will find the program easily accessible, beginners may need a few baby steps to help them get started.
German 1 now starts with “Scene 0”
With German 1, we have therefore added a Scene 0, with simple words and expressions that beginners can practice with our various games (and others, with more language backgrounds can skip). We also are “lightening up” the first few scenes so that players can better ease into “The Story” of our program. We'll be curious to see whether more beginners will “stay the course” in German. If that is the case, we'll then also add a Scene 0 (or even a Level 0) to all courses.
We invite your feedback
We love comments and feedback! So, if you have tried our course or have experience with other language courses, just add your comment below!
In our blog The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1, we describe the key points, approach, and methods of our program. Part 2 describes the various games, the players' activities and how you'll learn with the games.
In the “Memory Game” (left), you'll first see key words and phrases of “The Story.” You then pick a red (English) card and click on the matching foreign word. With this game, you'll acquire new vocabulary for your understanding of “The Story.”
In these games, you'll hear a foreign word (from “The Story”) and then - choosing among 3 similar looking words - click on the word you just heard. Such games (e.g. "Moon Landing," right) train the ear. Your brain is normally tuned to the sounds of your native language. The listening games teach you a new and different correlation between sound and spelling.
In this game, you'll hear and are asked to repeat select phrases of “The Story” before the text appears briefly on the screen. When learning a language, you are challenged to recognize new letter combinations, to pronounce new sounds, and to get the timing of the intonation right. The Say-It games allow you to focus on hearing and reproducing the melody of the foreign language without worrying about meaning. Then, to help you correlate the sound and spelling of a new foreign phrase, it appears briefly before you hear the next one. (This we always felt was missing from audio-only courses!)
Word and Phrase Games
These games, e.g. "Snap Clouds" (left), require you to identify the correct story words in different types of games and settings. By switching between native and foreign translation, you are challenged again and again to produce the right answer. At the same time, you'll assimilate the meaning, spelling, and essential grammar of the foreign words and phrases that you're practicing.
Pronoun, Verb, Number, et al. games
Here, e.g. "Balloon Shoot" (right), you'll learn and practice particular word categories and/or forms. Each language has its own challenge if you want to master pronouns, gender, verb conjugations, noun endings, etc. These games recall vocabulary as well as the special features of each language.
In these games, e.g. "Deal no Deal" (left), you are asked to choose the correct translation of each of the sentences that form a segment of “The Story.” Quick tips explain relevant points of grammar or culture, providing you with further insights into the new language.
Word Order Games
Here, you are asked to build sentences from “The Story” by clicking on individual words in the correct order. An English translation and specific word choices guide this task (see "Word Invaders," right). Once you've selected a correct word, you'll hear it again.These games draw attention to idiomatic expressions and highlight the difference between English and foreign word order.
Considered often the most difficult task in any foreign language (besides speaking), writing here becomes a fun game. In a race against the clock, you'll translate and write out first simple foreign words, then in later levels, short phrases.
In the recall-games, you'll practice the vocabulary and short phrases you learned in an earlier scene. For example, "Word Hero" (right) lets you review the words and phrases of the previous SCENE, while "Recall and Record" has you recall and speak the words, phrases, and sentences from a scene in the previous LEVEL.
Here (not really a game), you'll hear and see all individual sentences from “The Story” and have the chance to easily record each one in your own voice. A playback button allows you to compare your recording to that of the native speaker. You can do this as many times as you wish. This is a great way to improve your pronunciation, and also an excellent way to internalize and memorize individual phrases and sentences.
The table below summarizes how you learn from each Game/Screen screen and Player Activity. In order to keep you, the learner, both engaged and challenged, the sequence and configuration of the games changes throughout the six levels of each course.
How You Learn
Hear language melody
Guess meaning from context
Listen, see foreign phrases w/optional translation “roll/over”
Identify and memorize key words and phrases
Hear, see, and click on key words
Identify correct word, correlate sound and meaning
Hear, see, and click on key words
Imitate sounds, recognize patterns
Hear, repeat, then see key words & phrases
Identify the meaning and basic grammar of the foreign sentence
Hear, see, and click on translation of foreign sentence
Practice vocabulary, sound, and spelling
Identify, click and hear foreign word
Figure out idiomatic construction, word order, and grammar forms
Word Order Games
Identify, click on, and hear foreign word while building foreign dialog sentence
Recall vocabulary, sound, spelling
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
Practice pronouncing the melody of sentences
Listen & record own voice and compare
Translate and spell
Write foreign words/phrases
Figure out grammar forms
Pronoun, Verb, et al. Games
Click on the right grammar form
Recall earlier scene vocabulary
Hear foreign and click on native word/phrase
We invite any questions about or comments to our program and games!
A recent guest blog for us by Lizzie Davey made me realize that in addition to the many small things that help you learn a language, there is clearly one big thing that helps your new language: READING.
As some may recall from earlier blogs, Spanish was a language I started to learn last year; first with our 36-lesson Spanish 1 course, then during our 2 month stay in Spain, reading newspapers, watching TV shows, talking to the locals in shops and restaurants. And now, I continue to read Spanish articles online and sometimes even watch a soap on our local Spanish TV station.
A few months ago, my wife gave me two books for my birthday: the original Spanish version of Zorro by Isabel Allende and its English translation. (According to Wikipedia, Allende's book represents a prequel to the original Zorro story, Johnston McCulley's 1919 novella The Curse of Capistrano.) I have been reading two to three pages most nights and I am enjoying the book tremendously. Reading a novel is quite different from reading newspaper articles, which often deal with familiar topics. The language of news reports is also easier to comprehend than the literary and sometimes abstract language of a novel. A handy Spanish-English dictionary would help me translate the many new words I encounter. However, having the excellent English translation of the text has several benefits: You start to understand the story much faster; you pick up on the Spanish idioms and expressions as well as their English equivalents; you often experience the "aha" effect that makes learning both fun and effective.
When I started to read the Spanish version first, I quickly became discouraged. There were many words I did not know and I became lost in the events of the story. But then, when I began reading the English translation, the history of Zorro's beginnings - which I certainly did not recall from the movies and which, I assume, Isabel Allende invented - became interesting and intriguing. And, when I went back to the Spanish version, words and phrases became clear and obvious and became further proof of one of our gamesforlanguage key credos: Once you understand the context, you can more easily decipher sentences and structures. For several chapters I continued with this approach: I read a paragraph or two first in English, then I switched to the Spanish version.
After several chapters, I experimented reading the Spanish version FIRST. Not surprisingly, I was already able to read much further along before starting to "lose it" and having to switch to the English version for a quick "context refresher." As I continue to read about Diego de la Vega's early life - his childhood, his travel to Barcelona, and his life in Spain - his later life as "Zorro" starts to make sense. I discover, for example, the significance of the name "Zorro", meaning "fox" in English, as well as his reasons for wearing a mask! The narrator tells us: "... era todavía un mozalbete de orejas salidas, ..." (he was still a stripling with protruding ears). "... El problema de las orejas fue la razón por la cual se le ocurrió la idea de usar un máscara,..." (The problem of the ears was the inspiration for wearing a mask). Isabel Allende was able to create an image of the young fictional Zorro in which is both plausible and fun to read!
A (Big) Language Tip
There are "Easy Readers" and "Dual Language Readers" that work quite well for many learners. But, if you have already mastered some of the basics of your new language, want to expand your vocabulary, and challenge yourself, get the foreign and English versions of books that interest you. Your new language will grow in leaps and bounds!
Self-teaching language programs are available as books, CDs, DVDs, and direct downloads. Some well-known names are Assimil, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Fluenz, Michael Thomas, Busuu, Rocket Languages, and recently Duolingo. While all programs help motivated learners improve their language skills, not all are equally effective for learning to understand, speak, read, and write a foreign language.
The GamesforLanguage learning Program has been designed to teach all four (4) language skills. Games are a way for making language learning more fun. But games - with their special ways to engage your brain - can also make learning more effective, as shown by researchers that study how people learn. For example, see Kathy Sierra’s Crash course in learning theory.
Entertaining digital games have auditory features (spoken language, sounds), visual components (text, colors, images, design), as well as kinesthetic elements (writing against the clock, clicking on moving images, etc). By engaging multiple senses, digital games enhance a learner’s ability to recall and retain new words and expressions. Language learning is about message decoding and communication, and this is not a straightforward process. Learning a language involves trial and error, a certain amount of confusion, but also plenty of insightful “aha!” moments.
Three important points guide our development of the GamesforLanguage Learning Program:
Adults can learn a second language more rapidly online when they can relate words, phrases and grammatical structures to their native language. In this way their learning experience is quite different from that of children, who are able to acquire their first language without even knowing how to read and write. This notion is supported by observations of other learners and our own experience.
Learning with the help of a story allows you to identify with situations and circumstances you will encounter yourself. This makes the acquired vocabulary not only immediately relevant and useful, but also helps you to memorize it more easily.
Learning foreign languages as an adult requires an effort. Playing language games will make this effort fun. Memorizing vocabulary, phrases and sentences, identifying grammar rules and structures all occur "playfully," as you can test and improve your language skills during increasingly more challenging games.
The GamesforLanguage Learning Program may appeal primarily to teenagers and adults. However, we know that children who have just learned to read and write also enjoy the games. Our courses work for beginners without any prior knowledge of the foreign language, as well as for learners with some language background. While beginners will spend more time on each scene, advanced players may be able to move through the scenes more rapidly. Throughout each of the courses, you'll accumulate up to 12,000 points by playing various language games. At the same time you'll acquire a working vocabulary of close to 700 essential words and many idiomatic expressions. At the end of a course, you'll also be able to read and understand the entire travel story, which consists of over 2,000 words.
Each course consists of 6 levels, with 6 lessons (we call them “scenes”) per level for a total of 36 scenes. So far, the most effective approach has been for learners to do one scene per day (which should take around 15 minutes) and to review an earlier scene for extra recall. Each lesson builds on the previous one and adds between 16-20 NEW words to your vocabulary.
Each scene has a dialogue or narrative of 8-16 lines, which we call “The Story.” For the first 3 levels, or 18 scenes, “The Story” appears at the END of each scene. When you get there, you'll have learned the words and phrases in the various games, and understanding “The Story” will now be easy. Beginning with level 4, “The Story” appears at the BEGINNING of each scene, requiring the learner to guess the meaning, based on the (English) introduction and context. This is quite similar to what you would experience when arriving in a foreign country with some language background. (For the impatient player, a roll-over option provides the full translation right away.)
The 36 scenes of a course tell the story of a young man who travels to France, Italy, Spain, or Germany. From talking with his neighbor in the airplane, greeting his aunt who picks him up at the airport, asking for directions to a friend's house, to ordering food and drink, and chatting with friends, the vocabulary is a great start on learning how to communicate. The travel story engages the learner, provides relevant vocabulary, and creates a framework that ties everything together.
A next blog will describe the various games we are using in our program. Our games are not just individual learning clips, nor are they simply an enhancement of a conventional language program. The games ARE the language program. We'll add a summary table that shows the specific skills each game teaches.
We are following up on our recent guest blog on GEOS Languages Plus: LEARNING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE LIKE A CHILD in which we argued that adults learn a second (or third) language differently from the way children learn their “mother tongue.” The difference arises from the fact that children begin to memorize the names, or “labels” of objects, actions, emotions, etc. at the same time they grasp the “concepts” behind such expressions. An apple is a good example to illustrate the relationship between “concept” and “label.”Children learn at an early age that a real apple and a picture of it have the same "label" attached to it.
First books for young children are mainly picture books that show people, animals, fruits, cars, trains, clothes, etc. By relating these pictures to items around them, and hearing their names (or "language labels") repeated again and again, children begin to understand the “concepts” that unite real objects and their pictures; they begin to internalize the names/labels and eventually they will start to repeat them aloud.
New “Labels” for known “Concepts”
Now let's consider how adults learn a second language. They have already acquired the names (language labels) of the “concepts” in their mother tongue. So, when they learn a second language, they have to learn NEW labels for the same concepts. Plus, they have to learn how to pronounce these new labels and how to connect them in a correct grammatical way so that they can communicate.
In other words, a young child learns its first language by first understanding and speaking, and only later reading and writing. For older children and adults learning their second language, the sequence often changes: Reading goes hand in hand with understanding, speaking, and writing.
The “Learn a Foreign Language Like a Child” Fallacy
You may or may not be familiar with those hardcopy foreign language courses that contain lots of pictures. They were replaced by DVDs, and now, increasingly, by online courses and mobile applications. But even these online courses often use pictures, so that you can "learn a foreign language like a child.” In our mind that claim is a fallacy.
We're not arguing AGAINST using pictures to memorize new foreign language “labels,” as there is certainly evidence that pictures can help memorization.
We would argue that for adults - who want to express more abstract ideas - PICTURES of objects are less important than learning foreign words and expressions in the context of a useful conversation or a narrative. In that way, you can establish a direct connection between the "concept" of what you want to say, and the new foreign language words/labels.
In our experience, one can best achieve such a connection by learning foreign words (i.e. linking labels with their abstract concepts) in the expressions of everyday language, or in the case of gamesforlanguage.com in the form of a story.
An Apple is not Enough
To illustrate again: you know the label for this concept in English: apple. In the four languages of our program we have learned: ein Apfel (German), une pomme (French), una manzana (Spanish), and una mela (Italian).
To express the concept of “I would like an apple” it will be more helpful to remember expressions and context than pictures.
Ich möchte (gerne) einen Apfel. (German)
J'aimerais (bien) une pomme. (French)
Me gustaría una manzana (Spanish)
Vorrei una mela. (Italian)
You'll be more likely to remember the concept of “I would like” (which a picture may only express with difficulty) and use it to ask for different items, if you recall the context where you heard, read, wrote, or said it. Ideally, such a context would be part of a real-life experience, and next best, part of a story.
To learn a new language and communicate effectively, you'll have to remember and apply hundreds (even thousands) of expressions such as "I would like." And when you do, you may even not be conscious of just having used a conditional or a subjunctive form...
PS: German readers may enjoy Peter Bichsel's short story Ein Tisch ist ein Tisch. He humorously explores what happens when we start to "re-label" things.