Posted on by Peter Rettig

The Berlin Wall and Memories of a Frightened Teenager..

Berlin WallThese past days we've been reminded that the fall of the Berlin Wall (the picture shows the Wall with the infamous "Todesstreifen" ["death strip"]) occurred 25 years ago, with the official celebration on November 9, 2014. For many Germans the Berlin Wall also involves personal memories either directly or through relatives or friends.

When the Wall was built in 1961, it further divided a city which, since 1945, had been living with the division into four sectors: US, UK, French, and Soviet. The “brain” drain through the open border in Berlin caused the East German government (obviously with Russian concurrence and some say, encouragement) to opt for a wall: Too many East Germans (estimated at about 3.5 million) were voting with their feet and sought refuge and freedom in the west sectors before being flown out to West-German.

Ich bin ein Berliner”

The building of the Wall was also seen by many observers at the time as a test of the new American President, John F. Kennedy. Historians seem to be divided over whether and how much the President and the intelligence community knew about the plans for a wall, or if there was even a tacit American acquiescence for its construction.

President Kennedy visited Berlin in 1963 and his speech - with its now famous words “Ich bin ein Berliner” - was credited for giving West Berliners a very needed moral boost. I remember this speech very well as a teenager, and while we may have chuckled a bit (see also our blog post Quick German: “Ich bin ein Berliner”), we certainly understood the significance of the speech.

Memories of Frightened Teenager

West-Berliners were not allowed to visit East Berlin initially. These restrictions were later eased for holidays and other "hardship" circumstances. (And East Germans could only travel to West-Berlin and West-Germany with special authorizations and under tight control in later years). On the other hand, West Germans could usually visit East Germany and East Berlin after obtaining a visa. A trip to Berlin had become a tradition for many senior classes in West-German High Schools and so, in 1965, I found myself on a bus to East Berlin going through the  Wall at Check Point Charlie.

While I do not recall being checked as we entered East Berlin, I certainly remember being stopped on the way out. We all had to get out of the bus and present our passports to an East German border guard. He looked at my passport, then asked me to step into an adjacent room. A grim-looking officer waved the passport in front of my face and said that it was not valid. By that time (and while our teacher and my class mates looked on helplessly through a windowed door) all I could think of saying was “But this is a new passport, I just got it before the trip.” The officer looked me up and down, looked at the picture again and then, reluctantly satisfied and after what seemed like an eternity, finally said: “Then you'd better sign it.”

I still remember now that my legs were shaking when I joined my class again. What seemed like an insignificant and easily corrected oversight was a serious issue in 1965 in East-Berlin (and, with heightened security concerns, maybe it is now again everywhere). Many attempts to escape from East-Berlin were made, through tunnels, through sewers, in cars, by swimming, etc. Over 100 people were killed during such attempts, when the East German Police received shoot-to-ill orders shortly after the Wall was built. And while I, as a West-German, should have had nothing to fear, the climate of intimidation, cold-war press reports, etc. had affected me as well and frightened me.

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

After President Reagan had made another famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, it took a little more than 2 years for the Eastern Block to disintegrate. Historians and politicians may still debate whether President Reagan's or Bush's policies were more responsible for the fall of the Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the countries it controlled or whether such policies just accelerated an inevitable system failure. Hungary and Czechoslovakia had already started to allow East Germans to leave through their countries in mid1989; protests in East Germany culminated in a demonstration of over half a million people on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin on November 4, 1989. And then events further accelerated.Berlin Wall: Border Guard escaping By November 9 the new East-German government saw the handwriting on the wall (no pun intended) and amidst confusion of directives and orders to the border guards by government officials the borders opened up.(This 1961 picture actually shows Conrad Schumann, an East German soldier of the People's Army escaping, just as the Wall was being built, courtesy of Wikipedia)  

The official dismantling of the much-hated Wall only began in mid 1990. On October 3, 1990 the East German state was dissolved and joined the West German state in becoming the reunited Germany. Today, Berlin is again the capital of Germany and, with a population of about 3.5 million, its largest city. It has also regained its status as, arguably, one of the world's top cities for science, culture, media, and politics.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

“1957 in Spanish” and the Torre de Madrid?

Torre de MadridFor a few months now we have been baffled why certain search dictionary terms are on top of our site's Search traffic. For several weeks now, 1957 in Spanish (mil novecientos cincuenta y siete) has been on top and we can't figure out why. Obviously, one reason is the fact that our Spanish dictionary entry for "in 1957" has a top position in a Google Search. However, it does not explain WHY people are looking for this term in a Spanish translation. It's a puzzle!

Il Torre de Madrid

In Gamesforlanguage's Spanish 1 course, our traveler Marco learns that the Torre de Madrid (Picture by Carlos Delgaso; CC-BY-SA) was completed in 1957. Even now it's still one of the tallest buildings in Madrid. At the time, it actually was the largest concrete building in the world. According to this Wiki entry, the tower also appeared in numerous Spanish movies released in the 1960s, as well as in the 1984 movie The Hit.

As we can't imagine that OUR users are the ones searching for the translation, we can only speculate that people are looking for other events that happened in 1957. A quick Google search for “events in Spanish speaking countries in 1957” surfaces these possibilities:

Seve Ballesteros and Gloria Estefan

Disregarding the first two entries - the 1957 movie “The Pride and the Passion” and the Wiki event listing of 1957 - here are the ones that follow:

Both the late Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros and Gloria Estefan, a well-known singer of the band Miami Sound Machine, were born in 1957. A possible, but not very probable explanation for why people are searching for 1957 in Spanish.

Diego Rivera and The Treaty of Rome

Maybe the life of the famous Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) who appears as the next Google entry, has art students look up the year for a term paper. Or, political science students are researching the Treaty of Rome, which gave birth to the European Union and was signed in 1957. In either case, it seems more likely that the translation of the year is required for a speech or an oral report, and students are checking on the pronunciation.

Asian Flu reports that “the 1957 Asian flu was the second major influenza pandemic to occur in the 20th century; it followed the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 (also know as the Spanish flu) and preceded the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968." Maybe the recent Ebola scare has people looking up such events, as they need to talk about them in training and explanations. That would explain why the Search Traffic for the Spanish translation and pronunciation of 1957 has been increasing since the beginning of October.

Other Reasons?

Many other events happened in 1957 - including the launch of the Russian Sputnik - and one or more of them are causing people to look up the Spanish translation for 1957. What do you think? We are inviting you readers to share your thoughts: Just maybe, one of you has searched or is searching for 1957 in Spanish. We'd love to have you help solve this puzzle!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

“Fluent” - but not “Proficient” in a Foreign Language?

Gamesforlanguage - Fribourg,SwitzerlandCan you be “fluent” but not “proficient” in a foreign language – or “proficient” but not “fluent”? The first is quite common – just consider pre-school children. They'll speak fluently, but with grammar gaps and limited vocabulary and no reading and writing skills as yet.

The second option, “proficient” but not “fluent,” on the other hand, is harder to imagine, as speaking well is considered essential for proficiency. (Picture of Fribourg, Switzerland)

Proficiency Definitions

The U.S. Department of State's Language Proficiency Definitions, however, don't seem to worry about listening/understanding  and writing as they are only defining proficiency criteria for speaking and reading. 

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), on the other hand, has createdGamesforlanguage - ACTFL definitions for 5 major proficiency levels for the four language skills: Speaking, Writing, Listening, and Reading. The graph to the right shows its Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice categories (and subcategories).

These “technical aspects” of proficiency may be important for schools, universities and for professional certifications. But even without such fine distinctions, my wife and I realized during a visit to the French part of Switzerland earlier this year, that we are a prime example of the difference: While she is very “proficient” in French, I am more “fluent.” 

Our French Story 

Although I studied French in school for a about a year (and hated it!), I had to learn French in earnest, when I started to work in Romandie (the French-speaking part of Switzerland). Now, while my comprehension improved quite rapidly together with my ability to read (I also took some evening classes), I did not become fluent in speaking French until - I came to the United States.

How come? As I lived in the US with some friends in a house where French was the language of communication, I had to speak French. Within a couple of months I became quite fluent in the language and could hold my own even in many esoteric conversations.

My wife, on the other hand, had 8 years of French in school and college. She has always read extensively in French (most recently, several Harry Potter novels) and so she has very good comprehension, as well as a large vocabulary. But she never had the chance to be engaged in the kind of immersive conversations that I was thrown into. Still, while her French fluency is still lacking, she is improving steadily by following the four simple ways below.

How can you improve your fluency?

There is only one way to do it: You have to speak the foreign language! Learning vocabulary is great and necessary, but it is not enough to help you speak. There a four simple tips:

  • Practice by reading aloud.

  • Chose language programs that encourage you to repeat phrases and sentences, not just words. (and don't just click on the correct word or phrase, but repeat it aloud!)

  • Record your voice and compare it to that of a native speaker. 

  • Find a native speaker with whom you can practice, either in person or via some of the social/language networks. 

Language fluency is acquired by speaking - the more the better. Your pronunciation may not be perfect (Did this prevent Henry Kissinger from being understood?) and your grammar may be a work in progress. But, if language fluency is your goal then: Just do it - and speak! 

Our earlier post, The Three S's of Language Fluency, expands a little more on the four tips above and the importance of speaking as much as you can.

(Note: This post is an expanded version of “Fluency vs Proficiency – a Case History...”, which first appeared on on March 20, 2014)

Posted on by Ulrike & PeterRettig

3 Essential Tips for Re-starting Your Language Learning

You had started learning the foreign language in school, but never got very good at it (ok, you even hated it!) But now - a new boy/girlfriend, an exciting travel destination, a foreign job opportunity – suddenly got you interested again. Maybe you also saw some slick advertisements by Rosetta Stone, heard about the free Duolingo, GamesforLanguage and other language courses.

So, how do you get back?

The simple answer is: You first have to find a way to develop a daily habit, even it it's just a few minutes a day.

  1. Set a modest, attainable short term goal, for example 15 minutes a day for 21 days. Then set a new goal.
  2. Schedule a daily reminder on your PDA, Phone, Laptop, Mac/PC for a time when you can actually spend those 15 minutes.
  3. Identify the skills you need to work on especially, and focus on these. Learning a foreign language means that you are working on several skills at the same time. You are training your ear to distinguish between sounds that may be foreign to you; you are intuitively processing grammar structures; you are training your mouth to produce sounds that may be unfamiliar; you are learning a new spelling; you are challenging your brain to make new associations between sound and meaning, etc.

As we had suggested in 3 Tips for Adult Language learners – Part 1: Beginners, you quite likely will also have to “test materials/systems/programs that fit your learning style” and the skills you want to improve. But, as important as finding the “perfect" language learning program for improving your language skills, remember this: No matter what you want to become proficient in: math, reading, yoga, karate,football. basketball shooting, writing, meditation ... the key seems to be - any way you goggle it:  "Daily, Steady Practice."

And once you have gotten into the habit of learning and practicing again, there are many ways to keep going. You'll find a few ideas for "non-beginners"  in Part 2. But you won't make much progress, until you develop a daily habit with your new language - whether looking up a grammar question in a book, doing a lesson online, reading a foreign newspaper article, or a chapter of a book, watch a foreign movie or video, participate in an online community, or best: listen to and talk with somebody in the foreign language. 



Posted on by Peter and Ulrike Rettig

Learning German with a Story: "Blüten in Berlin?"

Berliner Morgenpost - First Page - November 9, 2013Blüten” in German means “blossoms,” but in colloquial language the word also means funny money. Our German 2 course uses a story that appeared in the Berlin newspaper in 2013, as shown in this excerpt on the left. Note the admonition that “Blüten müssen umgehend der Polizei gemeldet werden.” (Funny money has to be reported to the police right away.)

Language Magazine October 2014

The write-up on page 44 of Language Magazine's online October edition (see screenshot below, right) describes how this narrative is used in's German 2 course to teach and practice real and useful German phrases and sentences. The first three Levels (36 lessons/Scenes) of our German 2 course are online and ready to be played. Those who completed the German 1 course will recall why Michael Mueller is visiting Berlin again. More lessons are being added as they are being completed.

Language Magazine - Blüten in Berlin

Changed Lesson Format

Anyone with basic knowledge of German can jump in at German 2 (finishing German 1 is not a prerequisite). German 2 builds your mastery of idiomatic language, helps you understand and use those hard-to-pin-down filler words (ja, schon, noch, doch, denn, eigentlich, mal etc.), and has you practicing "conversational past" and "simple past" verb forms. 

Returning players will notice a change in our lesson format: Each of the six levels of German 2 now have 12 lessons or Scenes, for a total of 72 . Each Scene has two parts; and various games have now been combined in “Memory,” “Listen & Write,“ and “Deal No Deal” games to make learning and practicing even more fun and effective.

And those learners who complete “Blüten in Berlin” can also speculate what our German 3 course will be all about.

In the coming months, look for French 2, Spanish 2, and Italian 2 courses with a similar mystery story.


Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Grammar – The Crabgrass on Your Lawn of Language Learning?

crab grassI recently read again that the “Grammar Translation Method” was first used in teaching Greek and Latin before being also applied to modern languages. It worked a bit like this:

Listen and then repeat after me
Let's look at this sentence and find the grammar rule
Do the exercise on page 43 of your Grammar/Text Book
Memorize the vocabulary list
Translate the first paragraph on page 45
Where do you see the grammar rule X applied in this paragraph

Maybe that's why many (including myself) have such bad memories of their language learning days in school...

Our First Language

We certainly don't learn to speak our first language from a grammar book. We learn our first language and its grammar – the rules by which the language works – mostly just by listening to and imitating other speakers. Research suggests that our brains are wired to do this. (Multiple Brain Regions Wired For Language, Study Finds). We seem to grasp the grammar idiosyncrasies of our first language without much effort early on and then learn the rules in school later. However, grammar rules themselves are not set in stone. Many of them even change over time and people often argue about them.

Our Second (or Third) Language

Learning a second or third language typically starts in school - for most of us and excepting children who grow up bilingual - after we have acquired the basics of our first language. And here the teaching methods (such as the “Grammar Translation Method”) may have a lot to do with how children or teenagers, and for that matter, even adults learn a foreign language.

Knowing certain grammar rules is obviously an essential part of mastering a language. But consciously learning grammar rules is a different type of activity from engaging in a language. Grammar rules are memorized and applied. Engaging in a language means actively using it, starting with listening/understanding, then reading, speaking, and writing it.

We agree with Ron Davidson's Making a Game of Education where he argues that “games and education are a natural fit.

Language Games and Grammar

The question is how one can teach grammar with language games. For now, we go as far as adding brief grammar “tips” in a translation game. But mostly we set up the language games in such a way that the player makes grammar connections intuitively. In fact, a recent article When It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learning reinforced our idea that games make language learning more effective: Learning can occur "playfully" rather than "with effort." 

When you get curious enough about a grammar point, it is interesting to check up on it. Sometimes that's the only way that you can figure out the meaning of something. But while you're talking or listening to someone talking to you, it's not usually possible to say “Hey, let me look that up.” Language games intend to put you right into the flow of understanding and using a language. That's not a bad skill to practice.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Why Worry About Your Accent? Speak as much as you can!

Gamesforlanguage - People talking Reading William Alexander's very enjoyable "Flirting with French - How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart," I was reminded again how difficult it is indeed for adults to become fluent in a foreign language. Yes, I still believe that using every opportunity to SPEAK ALOUD is key. (The topic of: The Three S's of Language Fluency). Mr. Alexander's many hilarious anecdotes also make it clear that there are many obstacles to overcome before an adult can speak a foreign language fluently. However, he also found that the process of learning French has its own rewards.

Listening and Understanding

When my wife and I arrived in Italy several years ago, after having studied Italian with the 90 lessons of three Pimsleur Italian courses, we felt quite confident. Watching a television show the first evening quickly destroyed our illusion. We could barely distinguish words, even less understand what seemed to us to be just rapid-fire Italian. After a couple of weeks of watching and listening, however, and doing the homework that our tutor gave us, we started to hear individual words. And sometimes we guessed the meaning from the context of the show or movie.

Understanding is obviously crucial - without it, there is no conversation. Listening/understanding is considered a passive activity, but it's importance should not be underestimated. When we marvel at the ease children learn a language, we should not forget that their listening already starts before they are even born and it still takes them several years before they can speak fluently.

Daring to Speak

Overcoming the fear of speaking a foreign language is a big step for many adults. There are no shortcuts to speaking. You have to do it as often as you can, starting with reading aloud, repeating, recording your voice, etc. What only could be done in "language labs" in schools and colleges in the past is now possible with many CD or online language courses.

In learning Italian and Spanish I have found that recording myself and comparing my pronunciation to that of the native speaker works best for me: I begin to hear the sound differences and while I'm often not successful in imitating the native speaker completely, I seem to get a little closer with every try. (And voice recognition programs just frustrate me!)

But speaking as part of a conversation obviously requires more than just pronouncing words more or less correctly. You have to recall vocabulary, consider word order, tenses, conjugations, and other grammatical idiosyncrasies to form sentences in a particular language. And, you have to do it in "real time."

Now, while learning vocabulary is essential, it's been our own experience that we recall words much better if we learn them in context, i.e. with phrases and sentences we would use ourselves. (That is also the idea of the travel story approach of!) When you recall and adapt phrases and sentences that you have heard and memorized, you have to think much less about word order, conjugations, endings, etc.

Yes, some apps and translation gadgets may help you look up a forgotten word or two, but for a real one-on-one conversation they are also a distraction.

We now know that, as we grow up, we lose our ability to distinguish certain sounds. Asian language speakers find it difficult to distinguish "l" and "r" sounds, as they don't exist in their languages. English speakers have trouble with French nasal sounds, German speakers with the English "w." While certain sounds can be learned with a focus on the mouth mechanics (a previous post), chances are that an adult will rarely speak a newly acquired foreign language completely without an accent.

But stop worrying about your accent and start speaking. You will never become fluent in any language, if you don't start speaking. And once you start speaking, you'll also find out that there are quite a few words that you are missing. This will give you an incentive to use one or two of the many apps that help you learn and memorize new words.

We especially like, which let's you read articles and collect the words you don't know into a vocabulary list. You can practice those words later and then delete those you now know. In addition to the Apple and Android apps, there is also a Chrome extension, which you can apply to any document you read online.

A new very slick iOS app is Drops, available in the App Store, which is a lot of fun! They currently have 5 languages (English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish) You can play 5 minutes for free every day (for additional minutes you either have to pay or watch a commercial.)



Living with a Foreign Accent

I have been in the United States for quite a few years, but I still have a German accent. As I can't eliminate it, in spite of earlier "accent reduction" tutoring, I'll just live with it. And I do speak English quite fluently - maybe better now than French, which I had learned in my twenties while living and working in Switzerland.

I have been told that my accent in French is not quite German (maybe Swiss German?), but I can clearly hear my German accent when I record myself while learning and improving my Italian and Spanish.

I recently heard Henry Kissinger on a TV show. His German accent is certainly much stronger than mine, but nobody would argue that he does not speak English fluently.

My point is: Once you dare to speak, you can always work on improving your accent. But do not let your accent be the reason for not speaking.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

No sabía - Language Learning in Catalonia: Castilian vs. Catalan (Part 2)

GamesforLanguage-school childrenSabía (I knew) - that Scotland recently voted to stay part of Great Britain. It should have given Madrid some confidence that letting the democratic process play out may in fact be the right idea. (Or maybe Madrid already "knows," (sabe) how Catalonia would vote, if they were allowed to do so.) A recent article in The New Republic, Spain is Learning All the Wrong Lessons from Scotland's Referendum, analyses Madrid's position and actions.

In an earlier post we had excerpted a portion of our friend Jordi's e-mail in which he traced the political conflict back to 1714. Here is Part 2, in which he describes his view of the ongoing language struggle.

There is no problem with the level of the Spanish/Castilian language in Catalonia. All the statistics show that the current Catalan educational system - which is in fact bilingual - provides the students with a higher knowledge of both languages - Catalan and Castilian - than the monolingual Spanish system.

The knowledge of Castilian in Catalonia is above the average in Spain and even higher than in many parts of Castilia itself. There is not a single person in Catalonia that knows only Catalan and not Castilian. However, for many residents of Catalonia, the opposite situation is true. What the people that ask for "more Spanish” really want is "less Catalan" in Catalonia, asserting "the right” to be ignorant of the language of the country they are living in. In fact, they deny the existence of Catalonia as a country.

On the other hand, it is worth knowing is that, for the period of 2013-2014 only five (yes, 5) families asked for an education in "Spanish only" - in a population of about 7.5 million people. For the current period of 2014-2015, there is not a single family yet asking for "Spanish only" education. This, in spite of the fact that Mr. Wert, the Minister of Education in Madrid, has decreed that the Catalan Government will pay for "Spanish only" education of students that ask for it.

In the Valencian County, thousands of families have been asking the Government for new schools where the functional language would be Catalan, which is their mother tongue. The response of Minister Wert has been to close many of the Catalan schools and to increase the number of schools in “only Castilian.” There have been many demonstrations against that decision but the policies of education don’t change.

In the Balearic Islands, where there is the same system of immersion in Catalan as in Catalonia, a new law allows schools to hold only 30% of the classes in Catalan. There has been a long strike of about two months, in which more than the 90% of teachers, and children with their families, participated. Eventually the teachers decided to return to work but not abide by that rule.

So, as a matter of conclusion, I would say that there is no "language problem" in Catalonia, but only policies for the “cultural genocide” of Catalonia that Spain tries to implement.

These are strong words born out of frustration with the often heavy-handed educational policies decreed by Madrid.

We recently met a Spanish college professor who has lived in the US for many years, but is following the events in Spain with great interest. Growing up in the northwest of Spain with a Basque father and a mother from Catalonia, she knows the language issues well. She told us that her nieces and nephews in Catalonia are all participating in the many demonstrations for a referendum. And while they all support the independence of Catalonia from Spain they also are quite pessimistic about the outcome of a vote - assuming that Spain's Supreme Court would even allow such a referendum to proceed in the first place.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Where “Bad” does not mean “bad” - Franklin Roosevelt in Germany...

Bad Nauheim- SprudelhofKen Burns' documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History: Get Action (1858-1901)” brought back childhood and school memories. As the narration turned to Franklin Roosevelt's stay in Germany, I immediately recognized the spa where he had stayed with his parents four times during 1891-1896. His father had sought the water cure there for his heart condition and Franklin even went to the town's public school for 6 weeks. While not identified in the documentary, the spa was located in Bad Nauheim.(Photo of Sprudelhof, Bad Nauheim, by Hiltrud Hölzinger.)

A Well-Known Spa and Famous Visitors

For 13 years I passed the “Sprudelhof” - as the square around the fountain in Bad Nauheim was called (see picture) - every day on my way to and from school. Now the complex of buildings surrounding the fountain is also recognized as one of the largest examples of Art Nouveau in Germany.

The mineral waters, which were believed to benefit various heart ailments, made Bad Nauheim a well-known spa between the second part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century.

Three empresses stayed there: Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria and Hungary, in 1898, Czarina Alexandra Feodorowna of Russia, in 1910, and Auguste Viktoria - Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia, in 1912. As a child, I was greatly impressed by the story that a special railway station was built for the Czarina, so she could step from her private railcar directly into her carriage. And the German newspapers began to call Bad Nauheim the “Drei-Kaiserinnen-Bad” (three-empresses-spa).

Other royalty and famous people also sought the mineral water's curative power: Otto von Bismarck, Mark Twain (see also  our Heidelberg & Mark Twain post), Richard Strauß, Albert Einstein, Edvard Munch, William Randolph Hearst, Anwar Al Sadat, Zarah Leander, and many others.

George S. Patton and Elvis Presley

George Patton only stayed for a short time in Bad Nauheim, the headquarters of the Fifteenth Army, to which General Eisenhower assigned him in October 1945. (General Patton died in December 1945 in a car crash on his way from Bad Nauheim to Mannheim.)

I still remember the stir that Elvis Presley's stay in Bad Nauheim created. He served his military service at the US garrison in Friedberg, a neighboring town, between 1958-1960, but was allowed to live off base. He initially stayed in the Park Hotel in Bad Nauheim, but after complaints from other guests, he moved to the house on Goethestrasse 14. (On a visit to Bad Nauheim several years ago, we noticed that his memory was still being kept alive with a small shrine and fresh flowers.)

Bad” Changes...

The German word “Bad” can both mean bath and spa. Towns that have “Bad” as a prefix, such as Bad Nauheim, Bad Vilbel, Bad Homburg, etc. are spa towns, which is an official designation for towns where cures for certain ailments are offered. Using this prefix in Germany requires governmental authorization.

Until Germany's Universal Health System clamped down on the free/paid-for stays in the “Sanatoriums” of German spas in the 1980s, towns like Bad Nauheim benefitted greatly from Europe's popular spa culture.

Today there are still over 150 towns in Germany with the “Bad” prefix. The suffix “bad/baden” can also appear in town names such as “Wiesbaden” or “Marienbad” or make up the whole name as in “Baden-Baden,” arguably Germany's most famous spa town.

But while the heydays of German spa visits may be in the past, German spa towns (“Kurorte” or “places for a cure”) still attract affluent and famous personalities that do not have to rely on their health insurance.

More on Franklin Roosevelt's German Experience 

Michael Beschloss, in his ebook The Conquerors - Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Germany, 1941-1945, writes that Years later, as President, Roosevelt liked to believe that his early German experience gave him a special understanding of German politics and psychology. The second chapter of his book gives a fascinating glimpse at how Roosevelt's German experience may have influenced his views and political decisions later on. 


Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Learning Languages Online With a Mystery Story... lifelong language learners - by necessity and passion - we have used many different methods for learning a new language:

  • English and French classes during our school years in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada

  • Assimil records, tapes, and books

  • Berlitz and other classroom courses to learn/improve French

  • Immersion French courses in France

  • Pimsleur CDs to learn Italian and Chinese

  • Various CD and online courses, including Babbel, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, our Gamesforlanguage, etc. to learn Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.

  • Books and dictionaries for the above and other languages

Classroom courses also involved reading novels and newspaper articles (activities that online add-ons such as can now also make more accessible for more advanced learners.) And for us, a story or interesting text made language learning both relevant and effective. 

Overcoming Boring and Frustrating Beginnings

But beginning to learn a new language with CDs or online was often boring and frustrating: Many courses start out by teaching vocabulary and word combinations that seem useless and nonsensical. (Even Duolingo, a program we like a lot ourselves, started out with strange sentences, but is now constantly improving!) While various grammar points, word order, etc. can obviously be practiced with out-of-context sentences, it's been our experience, that we recall vocabulary much better, if (a) we learn vocabulary in context and (b) we learn useful, everyday language.

With our Gamesforlanguage courses we are using a travel story right from the start: The vocabulary grows from a few simple words in an airplane to phrases and sentences that describe a young man's experiences as he travels through various European cities.

A Mystery Story for Non-Beginners

For our German 2 course, ( the full 76-lesson course is online and can be played for Free with simple registration), we are using a mystery story. Michael, the young traveler from our German 1 course, returns to Berlin. The young woman who sits beside him in the airplane gives him a book, “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” which she does not want to finish. Without giving away too much, let's just say that this book plays a key role in the story.

Each lesson is built around 4-8 dialog or story sentences, which are broken up into words and phrases - then heard, read, practiced and, re-assembled again, and finally recorded by the learner. German 2 will add another 700 NEW words to the 700 words of German 1, many of which will be recalled in various games of German 2.

Learners will again have to exceed certain point thresholds with each lesson, before they can unlock the next one. We believe that getting “to the end of the story” will not only be a worthwhile incentive to learn, but will also make learning more fun AND effective. We are planning to add French 2, Italian 2, and Spanish 2 courses with a similar mystery story in 2015.

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