Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

GamesforLanguage's 12 Top 2015 Blog Posts

2015 composite image2015 has been a fun and adventurous year for GamesforLanguage. We have also realized that many learners use other programs and apps to drill conjugations and grammar rules. They come to us, though, for practicing their language with games and a travel story (and a mystery story for German 2!). 

We've seen an increased stream of steady "players" who've made it a habit to engage with French, German, Italian, or Spanish frequently - to keep their brains buzzing.

Learning a language as an adult is a challenge. But it's one that can give a lot of pleasure and can reap all kinds of extra benefits: when traveling abroad, applying for a job, or finding a new partner.

A key to playing effectively at GamesforLanguage is saying everything ALOUD. When you actually SAY words and expressions - rather than just reading them - you are practicing a physical skill. You make specific movements with the muscles of your jaw, and with your tongue and lips. These mouth mechanics (the topic of one of our most read of 2012 posts) produce the sounds that are part of the foreign language you're learning.

Our Blog posts cover language learning, travel and cultural topics.

Not a surprise: Our 12 most popular posts in 2015 are related to language learning. (Click on the blue titles to read.)

1. How to Gain Confidence Speaking And Writing a Foreign Language  CONFIDENCE

Yes, immersion is the fastest way to learn a language. But who can just pack up to live (and work) in another country? The rest of us have to be more patient and build foreign language confidence step by step, as we make a foreign language part of our life. Get some tips and practical advice here.

2. Duolingo And Babbel: How They Differ

Duolingo (free) and Babbel (fee based) are two popular programs for language learners. We've used both for Dutch, Swedish, and Spanish. Both programs are online and have apps, and both use gamification features. But what are the differences? Here's what we have found.

3. How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety  anxious woman -

One of the most interesting talks at the 2015 Polyglot Conference in New York was by Taghreed Al-Saraj, whose topic was "The Anxious Language Learner - A Saudi Woman's Story." She got us thinking about ways anyone can overcome the fear of speaking up in a foreign language.

4. 20 German False Friends to Watch Out For

False language friends (or false cognates) can be a source for awkward misunderstandings. But they sure are fun to discover. English and German, for example, share many words that have different meanings. The English word "gift" exists in German, but - oops - it means "poison" in German (das Gift). Going to Germany? Be prepared!

5. Two (2) Strategies for Relearning a Dormant Language

Recent brain imaging studies have shown that a second language - even when you seem to have forgotten it - retains a presence in your brain. However, you may want to use different strategies for relearning a language, depending on whether you learned it as a child or as an adult.

6. Are You Weaving Your “Language Skill Skill rope-Michael Erard - GamesforLanguage.comRope”?

Another talk at the 2015 Polyglot Conference in New York we really liked was Michael Erard's "A New Metaphor for Language Learning." We had never before considered why the way we think about language learning is so important. So, how can "weaving a language rope" give you some insights?

7. Beyond “Learning a Language Like a Child”

Kids learn a language fast and painlessly (we think) - and we envy them for that ability. But why is learning a language harder for adults than for children? And how can we as adults overcome those hurdles?

8. My 5 Best Tips for Learning a Foreign hot tips - Gamesforlanguage.comLanguage Online and Offline

Learning beginning Dutch and practicing intermediate Spanish. Here are my 5 best tips for learning a foreign language, based on my own experience.

9. Three (3) Language Learning Pitfalls to Avoid

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? We believe there are three main reasons. Do you agree?

10. 1-2-3-German Numbers Are Easy - Just Know the Basics

When traveling to a foreign country, knowing the numbers is a huge asset. You'll use them for shopping at a market, for addresses and telephone numbers, for making appointments. For practice, we've added links to a couple of fun games. (We also have blog posts and games for numbers in French, Italian, and Spanish.)

11. 5 Quick French Pronunciation Steps: french girl talking - Gamesforlanguage.comMouth Mechanics 101

If you want to improve your French pronunciation, you'll probably need to practice some of the difficult sounds aloud. We've got some tips and games to get you started with the French "r", "u", and "nasal vowels."

(In Frantastique, our partner's French course, you'll hear many different French voices and accents, which will make you aware of the great variation of sounds within the French language. Try it FREE for a week, or longer, if you contact us.)

12. Why Language Games Work for Kids and Adults!

Adults as well as children learn well with games. Though it's unlikely that you'll become fluent just by playing a few language games, you can certainly use games to build basic speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. Besides, if it's fun, you'll stay motivated.

We've come to enjoy writing blog posts on a weekly basis. We now have over 250 blog posts about language learning, travel, and culture. As a result, our readership has increased dramatically.

If our topics of language learning, travel, and culture interest you, you can subscribe to our posts HERE.

Happy New Year and why not make learning a new language one of your 2016 goals!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Spanish Nochevieja: Grapes, recalentado et al in Spain, Mexico, Cuba

Feliz nuevo ano 2 - Gamesforlanguage.comSpanish (or Castilian) is the official language in Spain, Equatorial Guinea, and 19 other countries in the Americas.

It is estimated that about 400 million people speak Spanish as their native language and another 70 million as their second language. This makes Spanish the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin and English (Wikipedia). For a Wikipedia list of countries where Spanish is an official language, click HERE.

While most of the"Nochevieja" (old night) traditions also apply to the other Spanish-speaking countries, we'll mainly focus on Spain, Mexico, and Cuba


New Year celebration in Spain starts with a family dinner, which often takes place in a restaurant that also offers live music. Towards midnight, many Spaniards go into the streets and to public squares to meet with friends and clink glasses to ring in the new year.

New Year's celebrations are lively, with mostly private fireworks and all kinds of noisemakers. In the town hall, sparkling wine and grapes for good luck are distributed.

In Madrid, people flock to Puerta del Sol for the city's big communal street party.

In Barcelona, Placa Catalunya in the heart of the city, is the place to be.


But no matter where they live, Spanish people share the custom of the twelve luck-bringing grapes: at each of the twelve strikes of the midnight clock (the Puerta del Sol clock is televised), you eat one grape and make a wish. At strike 12 all grapes must be gone or else you risk getting bad luck.

The strikes of the town hall clock are 3 seconds apart, so the official countdown starts 36 seconds before the hour. Throughout the country, everyone can watch the countdown on television.

It is said that the custom of the 12 grapes goes back to 1909. In that year grape holderthe grape harvest was overly plentiful and someone had the idea to use up the excess grapes in this way.

I just came across this post which traces the origin of the custom back to 1882 and the mayor of Madrid. (As so often happens, taxes may have had some unintended consequences to create the "grapes-at-midnight" tradition...) 

There are even special 12-grape holders as shown in the picture above.

Red Underwear

Spaniards also believe that wearing red underwear on the last day of the old and the first day of the new year brings the wearer luck, health, and love. Importantly, the undergarment should have been given to you by somebody else. 

I've read that this custom goes back to the Middle Ages when people did not wear red garments. The color of blood was associated with the devil, witchcraft, and evil forces. Women (of pleasure?) who wore red underwear on New Year's Eve, however, were said to find love the following year. They would be lucky in their relationships, attract wealthy men, get married, etc.

(Recently, I learned that the Chinese also believe in the magic powers of the red color. Red underwear is one of the most popular gifts that sweethearts exchange around the Chinese New Year. In 2016, it falls on February 8, when the Year of the Monkey begins. So, just maybe, it was Marco Polo, who brought this superstition to the west around the 1300s...)


In Mexico, a family dinner, either at home or at a special restaurant is at the center of New Year's celebrations. Tradition has it that the meal should start with a bowl of lentils, a symbolic promise of wealth and prosperity.

Grapes and Red (& Yellow) Underwear

The preferred drink is often tequila. Shortly before midnight grapes are handed out for the traditional luck-bringing ritual. As in Spain, you should eat a grape and make a wish at each of the twelve strikes of the clock at midnight. The grape tradition seems to have migrated to most other Spanish-speaking countries as well.

Also, in Mexico there is a slight "refinement" from Spain's tradition. Mexicans have to choose what is more important to them: Wearing red underwear lets the owner be lucky in love, wearing yellow underwear makes the owner wealthy in the New Year.

Mayan & Aztec Traditions

This post by Angelica Galicia from 2013, Celebrating New Year's Eve in Mexico, also lists a number of other end-of-the-year traditions dating back to the pre-Hispanic times.

(And, if you'd like to practice your Spanish, you can click on the "Spanish" link, right on top of the text.)

And as Angelica explains:

"...Most assuredly, the custom called el 'recalentado' (the 're-heated') is a long-standing tradition rooted throughout Mexico, quite in keeping with the festive and generous character of the Mexicans and also with the abundant and delicious national gastronomy. It consists simply of sharing the next morning what was left over from the dinner with either the same or other guests. It is said that the recalentado is even more delicious than the dinner itself …"


Cubans also continue with the Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes before midnight.

But they added others that are to give the New Year a fresh start: The Año Viejo doll - burning of a doll, is meant to help forget (burn!) the bad things that happened in the past; and throwing water on the street (watch out!), similarly, gets rid of bad memories and/or drives out bad spirits.

Many Spanish-speaking countries and communities have added other traditions. However, the grape-eating ritual before midnight seems to be quite universal.

But wherever you are, from midnight on, it's time for toasts, hugs, and well-wishing, champagne, cider (Cuba) or other libations, and often noisemakers and fireworks!


Posted on by Peter Rettig

Red Underwear and Italian End-of-Year Traditions

pope sculpture - Gamesforlanguage.comBesides Italy, Italian is also an official language in Switzerland (Ticino & Graubünden), San Marino, and Vatican City, and a second language in Malta, Slovenia, and Croatia, but we know little about particular end-of-year traditions in these regions or countries.­

The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.

Italy, where San Silvestro died, obviously has a special relation to the Saint and uses the term "Notte di San Silvestro" (as well as "Vigilia di Capodanno") as names for New Year's Eve.

There are some particular Italian Notte di San Silvestro traditions that you may not know about:

Red UnderwearRed Underwear Christmas Present

The most curious one must be to wear red underwear during the last day of the year. It is supposed to bring you luck, health, and love. Importantly, a piece of red underwear should have been given to you as a present, for example for Christmas, and you'd be wearing it for the first time on New Year's Eve. This centuries-old custom, originally just observed by women, is now also being adopted by men! Anything for luck, health, and love, right? 

Lentil Stew & Pork Sausage

Lentils and sausages - Gamesforlanguage.comThe San Silvestro dinner, eaten with family and friends, varies quite a bit from region to region, but it often includes fish and seafood. At midnight when the bells ring, a traditional lentil stew is often eaten, one spoonful per bell, served together with "zampone" (pig's trotter, stuffed with spicy ground-up pork, usually dried and cured) or "cotechino" (a rind-and-pork-meat sausage). The round lentils, representing coins, are supposed to bring wealth and good fortune.


Grapes and dried fruit are traditionally served at the end of the dinner. Preserving grapes for the Capodanno dinner - rather than eating them earlier - means that you have willpower and are a frugal person. Everybody at the table eating the grapes will therefore be frugal and wise with their wealth.

Throwing out old "Stuff"

Throwing out of the window unused or unusable stuff - pots, pans, clothes, and kitchen utensils - will "clear the deck" for next year. While few Italians still seem to practice this tradition - it was more prevalent in southern Italy in the past - you may still want to watch you head when celebrating New Year's Eve in Naples and further south.

At midnight, fireworks are also displayed across much of the country and the first day of the year, "Capodanno," is an official holiday in Italy as in many other parts of the world.

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre in France

Bonne Année - Gamesforlanguage.comFrench Speaking Countries

French is the second most widespread language worldwide after English, as only these two languages are spoken on all five continents. French is an official language in 29 countries, most of which form la francophonie (in French), the community of French-speaking countries.

French is spoken as a first language in France, southern Belgium, western SwitzerlandMonaco, and the province of QuebecIt is also an official language in the province of New Brunswick, and spoken in other communities in Canada. French is also spoken in communities in the U.S. states of LouisianaMaineNew Hampshire and Vermont, as well as among educated classes in North AfricaHaiti, French Polynesia and in various communities elsewhere. [Wikipedia]

While particular end-of-year traditions exist in most of these countries, we'll just focus here on France.


In France, huge municipal firework displays were not the customary way to usher in the New Year. This has changed however in recent years, and the Eiffel Tower fireworks and light shows in Paris have become quite spectacular. 

Nevertheless, French people tend to take things more quietly and celebrate with friends at home or in a restaurant. These New Year's Eve celebrations - le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre - traditionally are a feast that includes plenty of champagne and foie gras or oysters, symbols of prosperity and good fortune.

As in many other countries, the last day of the year in France is named after the fourth-century Catholic pope and saint. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of Saint Sylvestre's death in 335.

[You say "la" Saint-Sylvestre because it's short for "la fête de Saint-Sylvestre."] 


In Paris, the city ofEifel tower New years eve lights, New Year's Eve becomes a visual feast: from many vantage points in the city you can see the iconic, illuminated Eiffel Tower.

And, you'll find the biggest New Year's party on the Avenue de Champs Elysées, where hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate, wish each other "Bonne année" (Good year), and exchange "bises" (kisses on the cheeks) at the stroke of midnight.

In 2014, Paris added a first-time spectacle before the final countdown: a 20-minute video show projected on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting the Parisian "art of living." This RTL clip lets you practice your FrenchArc de Triomphe listening skills and you'll learn that not everybody was happy with the show. 

If you click on the image on the left you can watch a YouTube clip of the 2014 light show and fireworks.

Due to the recent terror attacks, there is some question about the extent of the official New Year's celebrations in Paris this year. 

A Less Joyous New Year Tradition...

Even in previous years there were some clouds on the New Year horizon:

In 2013, the New York Times wrote about France's Less Joyous New Year's Tradition and in 2014 France24's English site reported as France's odd New Year tradition: Counting torched cars. It noted:

"The infamous custom can be traced to the northeastern city of Strasbourg that straddles France’s border with Germany.
Strasbourg, which hosts thousands of tourists who flock to the city for its renowned Christmas market, first began to be blighted by holiday season vehicle arson in the late 1980s. But the phenomenon exploded to alarming levels during the 1990s."

Le Réveillon du Nouvel An

Nevertheless, in spite of such statistics and recent events, I'd be very surprised if the French were not on the streets and celebrating le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.

Update: This France24 article of December 28, 2015 confirms that the celebrations will indeed take place in Paris, although under heightened security. The Arc de triomphe light show will be reduced to 10 minutes.

On New Year's Day, it's the tradition to have a large family dinner and to give presents to the children as a way to celebrate the arrival of the new year.

The King's Cake

The New Year holiday season comes to an official end on January 5th, Epiphany, the day when it is believed that three wise men presented their gifts to the baby Jesus.

The French celebrate by making a unique kind of cake, the "Galette des rois." In many regions the "galette des rois" is a flat layer of puff pastry filled with almond cream, in other communities, e.g. in the south of France, the "gâteau des rois" is a round brioche with candied fruits and sugar, shaped like a crown. 

Common to all versions of the King's Cake, is a small trinket, a plastic or porcelain figurine of the baby Jesus hidden in the cake. The one who finds it (watch out to not swallow or bite on it!) is the king for the the day (and can wear the paper crown, often sold with the cakes).

Young kids obviously love this tradition and families use various rules to ensure a fair distribution of the cake to all. (Wikipedia)




Posted on by Peter Rettig

Silvester Traditions in German Speaking Countries

Frohes Neues Jahr - Gamesforlanguage.comGerman is the only official language in Austria, Germany, and Lichtenstein.

It is the "majority" language, and shares official status with the other languages, in 17 cantons of Switzerland.

It is the co-official language in Luxembourg and Belgium, as well as in another four (4) Swiss cantons and the Italian Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, where it is also the majority language.

In France, the German spoken in the Alsace and Moselle regions is deemed a "regional language," and German speakers (who are often bilingual) also live in the border areas of Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. 

With the pockets of German-speaking communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and even parts of Africa, it is estimated that about 10 million people speak German as a second language.

GermanyBerlin Feuerwerk -

New Year's Eve in German-speaking countries is also called "Silvester," as December 31 is St. Silvester (or Sylvester) Day. The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve.

This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.

(Not only the German-speaking countries, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Israel all use a variant of Silvester's name as the preferred name for New Year's Eve.)

St. Silvester, Germanic Gods, and other Superstitions 

Watch out for fish bones - St. Silvester had a frightening reputation: It was said that non-believers would suffocate in his presence. As he died on December 31st, superstitious Germans are very careful when eating fish on the last day of the year.

No laundry - The superstition not to wash and hang up any laundry for drying around New Year's Eve, traces back to the German god Wotan. This custom is said to keep Wotan happy who, together with his buddies, supposedly roams through the gardens on the night of Silvester.

No work - At the end of each year, the gods let the wheel rest to which the sun is attached. Mankind should therefore follow suit and let all work rest on the last day of the year.

Northern Germany

RummelpotlaufenIn Germany's northern state Schleswig-Holstein, quite a few old traditions survive:

"Rummelpottlaufen," quite similar to Halloween in the U.S., sees costumed children with a self-made music instrument (a can covered with pigskin or thin leather, pierced by a willow-stick, which when turned and rubbed makes hollow and scary sounds), going from door to door on New Year's Eve, singing old tunes and being rewarded with candies and sweets.

Berlin is the site of Germany's biggest New Year's Eve party, which takes place around the Brandenburg Gate; "Berliner" (jam-filled doughnuts) are a particular favorite in Berlin, as in many other German-speaking countries during Silvester.

Southern Germany

In the southern parts of Germany, originating from Austria and Switzerland, a cheese Fondue or Raclette is often also a typical New Year's dinner.

At midnight a "Feuerzangenbowle," a punch made with red wine, orange peels, cinnamon, cloves, and poured over a burning sugar cone supplements or even replaces the German "Sekt" (sparkling wine).


In Austria, Vienna clearly holds the top spot for New Year's Eve celebrations. Bleigießen:Leadpouring

Before midnight, small marzipan or chocolate "fortune gifts" (figures of chimney sweeps, little fortune piggies, four-leaf clover, etc.) are exchanged.

As in many other German-speaking regions, "Bleigießen" (lead pouring) - the melting of small pieces of lead, dropped into cold water - results in a popular, fun game: the various forms of the the hardened lead pieces let the participants speculate what a person may experience in the coming year.

This YouTube video of an ARTE.TV video (see also our post on how to connect to  ARTE.TV) explains to a French audience (in German) how "Bleigießen" is done.

Impressive fireworks are part of the Viennese tradition as is a glass of champagne. After the midnight countdown, the Danube waltz plays on all radio and tv stations.


In Switzerland there are many different and often quite curious traditions. We can only highlight a couple here:

"Altjahresu" - Schwarzenburg (Canton Bern)

altjahresu - Gamesforlanguage.comIn this small town near Bern, about 40 participants dress up as various characters for the "Altjahresu" (old-year-donkey) performances: the donkey guide, the musicians, the priest, the devil, the barrel carrier, the newlyweds, the mailman, etc.

They go from bistro to bistro with their donkey, the musicians play, the newlyweds dance, the mailman distributes the old year's newspaper, the barrel carrier collects white wine in his wine barrels, etc.

At the end of the day, around  9:30 PM, the priest then reads his "sermon" at the town center to the great amusement of all spectators. Some pictures from last year above and the 2015 event HERE.

"Harder-Potschete" - Switzerland's longest Silvester in InterlakenPotschen - Interlaken

The Silvester celebrations end in Interlaken only on January 2. Until 1956 the "Potschen," scary- looking figures with masks - representing dead people - were roaming the streets, screaming at spectators and pulling them along.

That often got out of hand. So, in the late fifties, a new custom was added to tone down the rowdiness. It combined the legend of a delinquent monk marooned on the "Harder," Interlaken's town hill, with that of the masked characters. The scary masks are still there but the celebrations are not as wild as before. See last year's masks in the picture on right above.

I'm not aware of any particular Silvester traditions in Lichtenstein and Luxembourg that differ from those in the other German-speaking countries and regions. (If you do, please let me know!)

Family Traditions

As countries and regions have developed particular traditions and celebrations, so have many families. We are now continuing a tradition with our extended family here in the U.S. that started with my father's family in Berlin, Germany:

The after-midnight snack is "Heringssalat," a Scandinavian/Northern Germany specialty that has many recipe variations. It is served with "wieners" or "frankfurters." The herring, potato, apple, and pickle combination makes a welcome change after the sweet treats of the Christmas season. 

And strangely enough, it even goes well with a glass of champagne!

Parts of this post were in included in the December 2014 post Molten lead, Red Underwear, Grapes and other End-of-Year Traditions...

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Why Worry About Your Language “Learning Style”?

questions - Gamesforlanguage.comSo, you're learning a second language. Are you agonizing about which language program or method would be best to become fluent in French, German, Korean, or even in Mandarin? And with that, are you thinking about your “learning style?


The concept of individual learning styles became popular in the 1970s and continues to endure. The impetus behind it is the idea that each person learns a little differently. It's an idea that's hard to argue against.

In the 1970s and 80s, the theory of individual learning styles served as a way to get beyond traditional methods of teaching that were textbook-based and heavy on rote memorization. Even now, the theory of learning styles continues to play a role in educational policy. Where it is applied, classroom teachers are encouraged to adapt their materials to what is assumed to be the learning style(s) of their students.

Though there are various learning-style models, these are the three basic learning styles that are often cited. They define how people PREFER to take in information:

1. “aural” (using sound and music)aural -

2. “visual” (using pictures, images, spatial understanding)

3. “kinestetic” (using touch, manipulation, gestures)

To these three basic styles, four more have been added:

4. “verbal” (using primarily words)

5. “logical” (using logic, reasoning, systems)

6. “social” (learning with other people, in groups)

7. “solitary” (learning alone, by self-study)

If you're a self-learner, you too may stumble across sites or blogs that encourage you to identify “your learning style.” You're typically told: “That way, you'll learn faster.”

find the same picture - Gamesforlanguage.comA BEST LEARNING STYLE FOR LEARNING A LANGUAGE?

We don't all learn a foreign language the same way. That's absolutely true. There's a myriad of reasons for this. They include our background, knowledge, interests, experience, abilities, lifestyle, etc.

There's also no question that we as individuals have different preferences. And yes, we have different strengths and weaknesses that impact on learning a foreign language. But should we just learn with our strengths?

It may surprise you that the answer is “No.” Each of the 7 learning styles mentioned above applies itself very well to foreign language learning. But - think about it - learning and using a language involves ALL of the above ways of acquiring information.


I do agree that it's probably a good idea to get started intouch a thorn - a language by learning in a way that you prefer. If you favor a certain way of learning (with videos, audios, flashcards, by talking, or by writing, etc.), it may be the best way to get going in your language. However, it's not a good strategy for really learning a language in the long run. Just think about the answers to the following questions:

  • If you just use pictures to learn vocabulary, then how will you master abstract concepts in a foreign language?
  • If you just listen to the language, how will you learn how to read and write it?
  • If you just study alone, how will you build your social skills in your new language?

talking teens - Gamesforlanguage.comIn short, the idea of using just your strong learning style(s) ultimately doesn't make much sense when you're learning another language.

Consider this: “Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we learn.”  (See Overview of learning-styles)

What you really want is involve as MANY of your “learning styles” as you can to fully engage your brain.

It comes down to this: To function well in a foreign language, you need to learn and use a broad variety of skills.

BUT IF ALL I WANT IS TO LEARN TO puzzle - Gamesforlanguage.comSPEAK, NOTHING ELSE?

What if you just want to be able to speak, to converse in the language you're learning. That's all. Okay, you don't want to read, you don't care about grammar rules, you're not interested in writing in the foreign language.

Fair enough. But to have a good conversation, you still need to use several “styles” of taking in and processing information.

group learning - gamesforlanguage.comYou need to be able to decode the stream of sounds that you're hearing. You have to take in and understand the visual signals that you see, interpret your conversation partner's facial expressions and any gestures he or she is making. And finally, you have to use correct body language, appropriate facial expressions, and gestures yourself.

Even by just speaking with someone, you're covering all three basic learning styles: aural, visual, and kinesthetic. Plus, you're also being social, verbal, and logical (I hope). If you've practiced and can use all of these skills, your conversation will go much more smoothly.


When learning a language - even just for learning student - gamesforlanguage.comspeaking it - don't just focus on your preferred learning style. A much better approach is to see language learning as a process that involves learning and practicing multiple skills.

Michael Erard, author of “Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners” suggests that language learning is very much like “weaving a rope” that consists of several skill-strands. By weaving them together, you strengthen the rope (or language ability) as a whole.

In his own words: “Ropes, as everybody knows, are made up of multiple strands, and language skills, like other skills, are made up of cognitive, social, and emotional components. Learners have to have those strands modeled, and they also have to be given opportunities to practice weaving those strands together.”

(Also see more about language rope weaving in a recent post.)


Rather than worrying about which program or method fits best with your “learning style,” chose the one that engages and motivates you the most. But then try to maximize your exposure to the target language in as many ways as you can, ideally every day. That is the key to rapid progress.

So, try out and then choose a program that is fun to do and to practice with – even if it does not conform with the way you think you're supposed to learn. 

And remember: The “best” program is useless, if you don't use it!

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



Posted on by Kendal Kneteman

Are There Right or Wrong Hand Gestures?

Hands - Andrea Jacobs

(Image by Andrea Jacobs

Remember what your mom would say, actions speak louder than words, she was right. From eye contact to posture, nonverbal details reveal who we are and impact how others see you.

Is non-verbal communication important in a conversation? Absolutely, words are important, but it turns out, we communicate most of the meaning of our conversation via body language and gestures.

The way you move, the way you stand and the way you listen tells others whether or not you care about what they are saying. When your words match your body language, they increase trust, clarity and rapport.When they don’t, they trigger tension, distrust and confusion.

Unfortunately, many people send negative and confusing nonverbal signals without even knowing it when speaking with someone from another country. When this happens, both clarity and rapport may be irreversibly damaged.

To become a better communicator, it’s important to become sensitive not only to the nonverbal cues of others, but also to the nonverbal cues you may be sending.

As you can imagine, communicating with someone from your own culture can be challenging but when speaking with a foreigner it can perplexing. Nonverbal communication gestures do not translate across cultures easily and can lead to serious misunderstanding.

While translation systems are available for verbal communication, translators for nonverbal communication do not exist.

Nonverbal communication is composed of facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, eye contact, touch, space and voice. We must appreciate and identify that in one country a respectable gesture may mean something completely different in another country. In this article we will focus on 5 different hand gestures that are commonly exchanged:

  • Ok” sign
  • Thumbs up
  • Finger snap
  • Beckoning sign
  • Corona

Understanding the different meaning these signs may have in other cultures, will not only enhance your conversation but may keep you out of trouble while talking to someone from another part of the world.

OK signOK Signs

In the US, we use it to convey agreement, it assures people things are fine or when everything is perfect. In Brazil, Greece and Spain it conveys a different meaning! This sign is used to call someone an a**hole. While visiting Brazil in the 1950’s, Richard Nixon flashed the OK sign to the crowed and they responded with boos! In Turkey and Venezuela the sign is used as an insult toward gay people. In France and Australia it means zero or worthless. Lastly, in Japan this gesture means money.

Thumbs UpThumbs up

We use this gesture a lot in the US it means it is all great. But I recommend you do not use it among Middle Easterners and people from West Africa. People from Bangladesh, Australian and South Americans also find this gesture hideously offensive. It is assumed to mean that you want the receiver to stick it where the sun don’t shine, up yours or sit on it.

Finger SnapFinger Snap

Where I am from in Latin America, snapping your finger meant to hurry up. In the US and Great Britain, it usually is used when someone remembers something or gets an idea. In some cultures it used to get someone’s attention but in many cultures it is just rude.

So, to keep it safe, snap your fingers for the same reason the Ancient Greeks did -- to keep the rhythm set by musicians and dancers

Beckoning sign (come here)Beckon Hand

In the Philippians the beckoning sign is impolite and can be a cause for being arrested. In the USA it is used often to call someone over here. Careful by using this gesture in Japan. It is very rude and only fit for a dog and or other animal. In Singapore, beckoning is an indication of death.

the coronaThe Corona

This gesture has been adopted by rockers and it is a sign of approval “rock on” for most Americans. Except in Texas, where football fans use it as a sign representing the horns of a bull. In other cultures, this is not the horn of a bull but instead of the devil and representing evil. In Buddhist and Hindi culture, it means the Karana Mudra which is used to dispel the evil. Watch out making this gesture in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Spain, Portugal and Italy since it is known as the 'Cuckold' and is used to tell a man that other men are enjoying his wife. In 1985, following the news that Texas Longhorns football team won the football game, five Americans were arrested in Rome for using this gesture outside the Vatican.

We might not have translators for nonverbal communication but we have our phone or computers at our hands to learn and understand the meaning of the gestures we use. So remember before jumping to conclusions about the meaning of a gestures, consider the person’s cultural background. Embarrassing moments can happen as a result of ignorance and by misinterpreting a gesture.

It is always ok to ask people from different countries and cultures about the meaning of rituals, mannerisms and gestures. It is a great topic to discuss with a friend from another country over a cup of coffee and a yummy pastry. There are no wrong and right gestures, only cultural differences.

This post first appeared at LingoHut and Parrot Time Magazine.

Bio: Kendal Knetemann is the founder of  LingoHut where free language lessons, activities and articles are making language learning uncomplicated. Communication is our thing!!!  Like us on our Facebook page.

Posted on by Joan B.

How to make Language Learning Easier and Faster

Language Learner TypeIn a previous post we gave some tips for adults who want to restart with a foreign language they abandoned after leaving school.

But even restarting can be tough -- it takes time, energy, practice, and commitment. And even more though, when you are starting with a completely new language.

So why make it harder on yourself than it needs to be?

One simple strategy can make learning feel much simpler, and it begins with taking a look at your learning style, as well as your overall goals. While there are certainly overlaps in what you'll need to learn, the idea is to prioritize what you're learning to make it the most effective for you.

Think about it: what vocabulary do you need to learn first if you're heading overseas on vacation? How about if you want to communicate with clients in your industry? Different goals, different priorities.

To help you get started thinking about your goals, and how those can affect how you study the language, TakeLessons' Joan B. put together this primer.

It also includes a helpful Learning style Quiz, just in case you don't know already!

So go ahead, check out this Guide with Language Learning Tips and other articles on the TakeLessons blog!


Disclosure: has no business relationship with other than having exchanged guest blogs. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Peter and Ulrike Rettig

Black Friday: Great Deals, Partnerships, and Changes

Black Friday cartoon With Black Friday, the Christmas Shopping season starts in the U.S. Many companies, including language learning sites, are offering great deals.

GamesforLanguage is a completely free site already, so we can't offer any special deals!

Over the last year, we have been making a few bucks (really few!!) with Google Ads. However, the Google ads that you see on our site pages are typically not related to language learning (unless YOU searched for them).

We therefore have decided to limit Google Ads to our dictionary pages.

We plan to partner with language learning companies we like and whose approaches and philosophy are similar to ours.

These may be companies and sites that offer free and/or fee-based services or products.

When we mention, review, or recommend such a company or site, we will always let you know whether we have a financial relationship with them. Look for our disclosure at the bottom of any of our posts.

Past Reviews and Relationships

We noted in our past reviews or mentions of Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Duolingo, Linguaville, Lingua.Ly, LingQ, Digital Dialects, Quizlet, Eduxeso, Speaklikethem, etc. when we either used free or purchased/subscribed courses.

For the review of the book of French idioms: Other Cats to Whip” we had received a free e-book.

And, we are currently working with a free 3-month subscription of's Dutch course, as well as a free 3-month subscription of Lingualia's Spanish course for future reviews of these sites.

We will continue to mention and comment on courses, apps, and sites as we learn about them and try them out ourselves.

Current Affiliations

As you've seen over the past months, we have not only mentioned some companies in posts, but also in some of our Quick Games.

Our Languages

French: We are adding links to our French Quick Games for Frantastique, a fun and very effective site for French non-Beginners. They offer a free 1-week try-out.

Spanish: We have added links to our Spanish Quick Games for Lingualia, a site which we are currently using ourselves to improve our Spanish. Try it out for free and see whether you like it as much as we do.

German: There are links in some of our German Quick Games for and its free Language Learning Magazine. 

Italian: In addition to, we also have links in our Italian Quick Games for Luana's free Italian Video Lessons

Inglés: We will be adding links to our Inglés Quick Games for Gymglish (a sister company of Frantastique), as well as Lingualia, both of whom provide excellent English courses for Spanish speakers.


Lingohut - With Lingohut, also a free language learning site, that offers brief lessons for 10 languages, and ESL (English as a Second Language) courses, we have been in a partnership for several months. We exchange guest blogs, information etc.

Fluent in 3 Months - We recently joined the affiliate program of Benny Lewis (whom we met during the Polyglot Conference in New York in October). His Fluent in 3 Months Premium program is being offered at a 51% discount until Monday 11/30/2015. We admire his enthusiasm and dedication to language. We believe that anybody who wants to boost his or her motivation and language learning will greatly benefit from his method and many practical tips!

More Changes to GamesforLanguage

We continue to work on improving our courses. Starting with German, we have been streamlining the “Memory Games” and “Snap Cloud” sequencing, adjusted the Word Hero's speed, and added more Vocabulary Quizzes and Quick Games.

We also continue to publish blog posts weekly on one of our three topics: Language Learning Culture and Travel.


Disclosure: Certain links above are to partners' programs with revenue sharing, should you decide to subscribe or purchase.

Posted on by Peter Editor

Berlin, Germany – Memories and New Discoveries

Hackeschen Höfe - Gamesforlanguage.comReaders of my recent post From Stralsund to Usedom, know that since Germany's Reunification in 1990, Usedom has again become “die Badewanne der Berliner” (the bathtub of Berliners). This is not surprising, as it took us less than two hours to drive from Heringsdorf to Berlin.

We rented an apartment in “Berlin-Mitte” near the Alexanderplatz and the Hackeschen Höfe (see picture left), a neighborhood we had gotten to know well during our stay there in December 2005.

This time, however, instead of Christmas markets, we frequented outdoor restaurants and cafés.

Berlin – Memories of Past Stays

I had been in Berlin several times before. My first visit, I described in The Berlin Wall and Memories of a Frightened Teenager. Even now, I remember those events quite clearly.

Berlin September 2001

A later visit - this time together with my wife Ulrike - will likely stay with us forever: When we checked in at our hotel late morning on September 11, the hotel clerk seemed preoccupied. He suggested that we turn on the TV in our room, as “something's happening in New York.”

Then, just when we turned on the TV, we saw the plane hit the second tower ...

Needless to say, except for our memories of witnessing Weihnachtsmarkt Berlin 2005 - Gamesforlanguage.comthis horrific event on TV, we remember very little from that stay.

Berlin December – January 2005/2006

Our month-long stay, from early December 2005 to early January 2006, was to make up for the ill-fated visit in 2001. And, we certainly made the most of it:

We enjoyed the wonderful Christmas markets (picture right), visited museums and churches, attended opera and theater performances, watched German movies, went up on the TV Tower at the Alexanderplatz, strolled down Kurfürstendamm, Berlin's premier shopping street, explored the Nikolaiviertel, etc.

On New Year's Eve, after a performance of the “Merry Widow” operetta, we experienced the wild firework celebrations around the Brandenburger Tor.

Hackesche S-Bahn Station - Gamesforlanguage.comBerlin September 2015

As we walked around the neighborhood, we recognized many of the stores and cafés around the Hackesche Markt S-Bahn station. We found our favorite bakery and movie theater. Both hadn't changed much. We also went back to the “Sophieneck” restaurant, our favorite hangout from before - which now was even better because it has become smoke free.

On Saturday we strolled through the familiar Antique Berlin Flea market - Gamesforlanguage.comand Book Market at the Bode Museum. (This flea market - see right picture - plays an important role in our German 2 course, “Blüten in Berlin?”). Lunch in the “Pergamon Keller” didn't work out, though. The restaurant (also featured in our course) was closed that day.

Berlin - New Discoveries

Wannsee sailboat - Gamesforlanguage.comThe pleasure of visiting Berlin again allowed us to catch up on a few experiences that we had missed before.

One of them was a visit to Potsdam via a boat trip on the Wannsee.

Berlin is surrounded by lakes and waterways. You can actually get by boat to the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, even the Mediterranean, from Berlin.

My father had owned a small sailboat on the Wannsee during his student years and always talked about it.

Potsdam and Sanssouci

Taking advantage of the warm late-summer weather, we set out to explore Potsdam and Sanssouci. We took the S-Bahn to the Wannsee station. (S-Bahn means “Stadtschnellbahn,” but depending on whom you ask, the “S” stands for “Stadt” (City) or “schnell” (fast)!)

Boat trip to Potsdam

At a Wannsee dock, we joined a few other passengers on a boat to Potsdam. We all sat on the sunny deck as our boat made its leisurely way onto the Havel River, into connected lakes, and past various islands.

The ship's captain entertained us with Pfaueninsel Lustschloss - Gamesforlanguage.commany interesting tales about the islands, buildings, monuments, and sites we passed.

The Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) in the Havel River, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, was a favorite of Prussian King Friedrich II, who had a little “Lustschloss” (pleasure castle) built on it for himself and his mistress, in the mid 1790s. (see picture)

His successor, Friedrich III, turned the island into a model farm and zoo with exotic animals, in the early 1820s. He even allowed access for the people of Berlin. The people's interest led Friedrich IV to transfer all the animals to the first German zoo, the Berlin Zoo, in 1844.

Glienicke Bridge - Gamesforlanguage.comTo create a real “beach” for the nearly one-mile-long “Freibad” Wannsee in 1908, many loads of beach sand were brought in from the Baltic Sea.

The Cecilienhof, on the shore of the Jungfernsee was the site of the Potsdam conference in July 1945, nine weeks after Germany's unconditional surrender in May 1945.

The Glienicke Bridge, (see picture) under which we passed, connects the state capital of Potsdam with the federal capital of Berlin. It became known during the Cold War as the point where secret agents were exchanged. The bridge also appeared often in novels and movies (e.g. John le Carré's 1979 novel “Smiley's People,” and Spielberg's 2015 movie “Bridge of Spies.”)


Potsdam was important in German history. St. Nicholas' Church - Potsdam - Gamesforlanguage.comAs the residence of Prussian kings and the German emperor until 1918, it developed into a major center of culture and science in the 19th century.

Potsdam was inside the Russian zone after 1946 and therefore, after the wall was built, separated from West Berlin.

Today it is again the capital of the state of Brandenburg. Heavily damaged during World War II, many of Postdam's historic buildings were torn down during GDR times. We could admire several of the buildings that were reconstructed after Reunification, for example the City Palace and the St Nicholas' Church. (see picture above)

Sanssouci, Potsdam - Gamesforlanguage.comSanssouci

French speakers will immediately understand that the name “Sanssouci” means “without worries.” It was indeed the palace that Frederick the Great (1712-86) enjoyed the most. The palace was completed in 1747 and became his private residence, where he could relax in the company of people he liked.

With its Rococo style, Sanssouci (picture left) is often called the German Versailles. However, the palace is unusual because it is a one-story structure connecting a row of 10 rooms. These face south and overlook a terraced vineyard and a large park.

Some 20 years later, Frederick had the much biggerNeues Palais, Potsdam - “Neues Palais” (New Palace) built on the west side of the park (picture right). Although he always preferred to live in Sanssouci, he apparently felt the need to show off his power and might with a more pompous palace.

His son, Frederick III, who succeeded him in 1797, preferred the “Pfaueninsel” (see above), and did not spend much time in Sancoussi.

You can easily fill a whole day exploring the extensive Sanssouci park with its various buildings and structures: the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, the Wind Mill, the Orangerie, the Chinese House etc.

(In 1990, Sanssouci with its gardens became a UNESCO world heritage site. You can find more information in this English Wiki.)

Bauhaus, Berlin - Gamesforlanguage.comBauhaus Museum

When we were in Berlin in 2005, we missed the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum because it was being renovated.

This time we made a point to go there. It is highly interesting to see the many examples of modern design in architecture, furniture, ceramics, metal work, painting and graphics art.

Works of Bauhaus Founder Walter Gropius (who also designed the Berlin facility, which opened in 1979) and famous teachers and artists such as Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and others are exhibited.

Also, we were reminded that the Bauhaus, which operated from 1919 to 1933 in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin counted among the 20th century's most important schools of architecture, design and art.

Potsdamer Platz

The “Potsdamer Platz” is a major public square and Brandenburger Tor before 1990 intersection located less than a mile south of the Brandenburger Tor. During Word War II, it had been completely destroyed. Bisected by the Berlin Wall after 1961, it remained a desolate wasteland until Reunification. Then, it became Europe's largest building site.

In the picture, the guard is looking across the Brandenburger Tor towards the Potsdamer Platz!

Potsdamer Platz 2015 - Gamesforlanguage.comBy 2005, major structures of the masterplan had already been erected, e.g. the Sony Center. Now in 2015, even more buildings, hotels, office towers, and a complex of buildings by the Italian architect Renzo Piano have been completed.

In one of Piano's shopping arcades, we discovered a fascinating exhibition documenting the 25 years since the fall of the wall. In addition to the historic pictures and mementos, there were pieces of the notorious wall, as well as an old “Trabi” (the East German 2Trabi _ Safari - cycle engine Trabant”). We later saw (and smelled) more Trabis on Berlin's streets as "Trabi-Safaris" have now even become a tourist staple!

Berlin is today still one of our favorite cities. We hope to be back soon to further explore the city and again make some new discoveries.

< <    1 .. 3 4 5 6 7 .. 29   > >