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.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Tips for Restarting a Foreign Language Out-of-School

school-bus - Gamesforlanguage.comHow many of the subjects you learned in school are now on your to-do list again? Not that many, right? But it's not uncommon that out-of-school adults go back to relearning a foreign language that they took in school.

Interest in traveling, foreign friends, trips for work overseas, curiosity about one's heritage, or even just a broader outlook on the world - all these can be reasons for unpacking a language you had mentally stashed away.

However, resurrecting a language that you started in school and building on it needs a little planning.

Here are five tips for easing yourself back into a foreign language.

1. Develop a new mindsetchange your mindset -

When you're no longer in school, time has a way of becoming scarce. Work and/or family life tend to fill our your schedule. And, going to evening or lunch-hour classes may be out of the question. All that makes learning from your home using resources on the Internet a good option.

However, learning from home requires a new mindset. You're now your own boss and in charge of your own learning. It may also be time to reassess your goals. Rather than being anxious about grades and not making a fool of yourself in front on your classmates, you can direct your attention to acquiring practical language skills.

For example, perhaps you never really learned to speak the foreign language when you were in school. That's no surprise given class size and the importance of reading and of written tests. But now, by choosing the right resources, you can easily take your understanding and speaking to a new level.

Give thought to how you learn best. There are many options to consider as you'll see below.

2. Find something that makes re-entry fun in autumn - Gamesforlanguage.cominto the language fun

Instead of worrying about homework and test scores, you can now focus on what you enjoy and find interesting.

It can be anything you like: listening to music, scanning news headlines on your tablet, watching a tv soap, reading an easy ebook, playing language games, etc.

In school, fun is usually not a big factor. But believe it or not, learning a language can be hugely fun. A new language gives you the tools to break out of your routine, to meet new people, to experience a new culture, to engage with locals when you travel.

If you've ever searched the Internet for anything language related, you may have seen that there are lots of language-learning groups, language-exchange sites, Polyglot events and conferences, multi-language forums, just to name a few. Most of the members of these groups and communities love languages and and pursue one or more languages - just for fun.

3. Start putting together your resource list

Everyone's list of resources for learning a language looks different, and yours should too. At best, the list reflects your personality, your learning habits, your language skills, your interests, etc.

making a resource list - Gamesforlanguage.comTake some time to read reviews of different language programs and apps, try out free demos, look at online courses, or consider online tutors, etc.

While many of your resources will probably be online, a well-rounded resource list also contains some hands-on paper grammar books, phrase books, dictionaries, novels, stories, magazines, etc.

Here are some categories of online resources you may want to explore:

- Flashcard programs and apps
- Programs that use and adapt web texts
- Programs that use internet video content
- Comprehensive language programs with apps
- Game-based programs and apps
- Online dictionaries
- Online sites for practicing writing
- Ebooks

Don't let experts or friends talk you into using (or even buying) programs, especially, if they have not used them successfully themselves. Try them out yourself and work with the ones you like. Stay with those that keep you interested and motivated.

(We, personally, like and use GamesforLanguage and the programs and apps of our Partners. However, it's up to you to try out and find the learning tools that motivate and engage you, ideally with daily practice!)

Remember: The "best" program won't help you learn and practice, if you don't use it! 

4. Your most important goal: Do something in Goals - Gamesforlanguage.comyour foreign language (almost) every day.

This is the one goal you should start out with: daily engagement with the language.

Just think: A goal of just learning 10 new words a day, for 300 days, will amount to 3,000 words, sufficient for many conversations!

The amount of time you spend is less important than the daily routine. Try to apply the 20-minute rule. (i.e. Doing something for 20 minutes is manageable for almost everyone.) It works for many people.

If you weren't a big procrastinator in school, this is one school habit that could be helpful now.

And, if you were – now is the time you can acquire a new habit quite easily.

Even though progress may seem slow at times, the benefits of daily practice will also become obvious: things are starting to click; you'll hear sound differences; you'll remember words and phrases; grammar rules begin to make more sense, etc.

Language learning is not a linear process. Think of it more in terms of weaving a rope that consists of many strands. This is an image for language learning suggested by Michael Erard, author of Babel no More and a topic of one of our recent posts: Are You Weaving Your “Language Rope?

Learning to do something regularly is an important habit. If you can learn to use the 20-minute rule for your language, you can apply it to other tasks as well. Not a bad habit to have.

5. Find a native speaker to talk with.

native speaker? - Gamesforlanguage.comAs soon as you can, find someone to converse with. Be it a language-exchange partner in an online community or an occasional tutor on Skype. It could even be someone in your own neighborhood who is eager to speak his or her own language with you.

Your language course in school was probably not an ideal place for learning to speak in a foreign language. You had to compete for air time in class and deal with fears about speaking up.

Learning to freely converse with others in a language you formerly struggled with in school is both a huge achievement and a special pleasure.

So, don't delay. Take charge of your own learning and take advantage of the resources available on the Internet. It's really worth it.

How do I know?

Language have always been part of my life. I'm both a language learner and a language teacher. Once out of school, I continued learning languages on my own; I really enjoy “language hacking” - learning languages quickly and efficiently - to use one of the new terms.

It's been exciting to see the Internet start providing fantastic tools and resources for learning languages.

Benny Lewis, the “Irish Polyglot”, may be on to something, when he invites you to get you started with a FREE week-long email course: Speak in a Week.

Will you become fluent in a week? Clearly not, but changing your School mindset and getting into a daily learning habit with materials that interest you, will get you into “language hacking” in no time...


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


Posted on by Peter Rettig

From Stralsund to Usedom – Exploring 2 German Baltic Islands

Fischland,Darss,Zingst Map - Gamesforlanguage.comLeaving Rostock, we again decided to take the slow road. We had read that three small islands linked to the mainland and each other by bridges - Fischland, Darss, and Zingst – cover a good part of the Baltic coastline between the cities of Rostock and Stralsund.

We had hoped to see some of the 60,000 or more cranes that arrive every fall on the island of Zingst, but the weather did not cooperate: It rained. The long beaches were deserted; the reed fields along the eastern inland coastline of Fischland - which at some parts is only about 600 feet wide - swayed sadly in the driving rain; Ahrenhoop, a favorite of artists since the end of the 19th century, showed no life.

Fortunately, by the time we reached Stralsund, the rain had become just a drizzle.

The second and third parts of this video: Ostsee: Lübeck, Stralsund, Rügen, Hiddensee, from the Mediathek archive of “Das Erste,” the German TV channel, show some wonderful images of Stralsund and the island of Rügen.


Stralsund became an important Hanse city Stralsund Town Hall - from Hamburg to Wismar for more about the “Hanse”) when it joined the League in 1293. Today it has about 58,000 inhabitants.

Together with that of Wismar, Stralsund's historical core is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the many imposing brick gothic buildings still give testimony to the city's former wealth.

The old market square (“Alter Markt”) is surrounded by buildings from different periods: the Gothic Town Hall (13the century), see picture above, the imposing St. Nicholas church (“Nikolaikirche”) completed in the 14th century, and the 18th century Commandantenhus.

Gorch Fock 1 and Rügen Bridge - Gamesforlanguage.comOur walk through the old city core made it clear why Stralsund had been of such strategic importance: It is surrounded by water on three sides.

At the harbor, we admired the Gorch Fock 1, the German Navy's former training ship, which is now a floating museum.

And from the harbor we could also see the new suspension bridge, which has connected Rügen, Germany's largest island, with the mainland since 2007. (see picture)


As the map shows, Rügen is a large island with many coves Island of Rügen - www.welt-atlas.deand lagoons (“Bodden”).

I always wanted to visit Rügen, as I remember my father talking about the island. He had wonderful memories of the vacations he spent there with his family in the 1920ties, at which time they lived in Berlin. I recalled him mentioning the town of Sassnitz, and so we decided to stay there for a few days.


(A linguistic tidbit: When Germany introduced a spelling revision in the early 90's, the original spelling of the town “Saßnitz” was then changed to “Sassnitz” in 1993. This was consistent with changing the “ß” to “ss” after short vowels. So, words that used to be spelled daß, naß, muß, Kuß, etc. changed their spelling to dass, nass, muss, Kuss, etc. The “ß” after long vowels in words such as Gruß, saßen, schließen, etc., were kept.)

Chalk Cliff @ Sassnitz - Gamesforlanguage.comSassnitz, a town with less than 10,000 inhabitants, lies on the northeast corner of the island at the edge of the Jasmund National Park. One of the attractions of the park is the Königsstuhl (king's chair), an over 350 ft high chalk cliff designated as a World Heritage site.

To see the famous chalk cliffs, we chose a boat trip, which took us from Sassnitz north along the coast. We not only saw the Königsstuhl and the adjacent chalk cliffs in the gleaming sunlight, but also heard much about Sassnitz' history.

When a rail link to Bergen, Rügen's main city in the center of the island, was established in 1891, the little fishing village of Sassnitz started growing and the chalk industry expanded. When the beach promenade was built in the early 1900s, tourism grew as well.

Later, during GDR times, the harbor was home to a large fishing fleet and a ferry terminal with service to Russia and Poland.

In 1984, the ferry terminal was relocated a fewMukran Ferry terminal miles south to the subdistrict of Mukran, to operate a railway ferry to the Soviet Union.

Today, the new and expanded ferry terminal in Mukran (see picture) is Germany's most easterly deep water port and has developed into a trading and transport hub for Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltics and former Soviet Union states. Because it is the only port in western Europe with track and transshipment facilities for Russian broad-gauge vehicles, it's often called “the most westerly station on the Trans-Siberian railway.”

However, the relocation of the ferry terminal and the decline of the fishing fleet after reunification, have made the large, well-protected harbor in Sassnitz look quite empty.

Sassnitz pedestrian bridge - Gamesforlanguage.comThe town is making great efforts to attract more tourism. Some of the old hotels have been renovated and a very impressive pedestrian suspension bridge connects the harbor to the upper town (see picture).

We had rented an apartment in the upper part of town in a private residence, whose garden extended to a cliff that dropped directly down to the Baltic sea.

Our landlady lived with her harbormaster husband in the downstairs apartment. We frequently chatted with her; she was very helpful, gave us advice on restaurants and walking tours, and even brought us a plate of homemade “Pflaumenkuchen mit Schlagsahne” (plum pie with whipped cream) on Sunday afternoon.

She also told us a story that still bothers her today – 25 years after the fall of the GDR:

In the mid-eighties, when travel restrictions between East and West Germany were somewhat eased for older people, she wanted to visit one of her sisters, who lived in Hamburg. In order to get the necessary exit Visa she had to go to Stralsund to be officially interviewed.

I will never forget this woman” she said. “I come from a large family with four brothers and three sisters, some of them I had not seen in years. She wanted to know why my sister Jutta, who lived near Berlin, had never asked to go to West Germany. How would I know?! This woman knew where all my sisters and brothers, even where my cousins lived and where they had traveled to. She knew more about my family than I did. It was really scary.”


We had never heard of Prora until a Swedish couple Prora aerial we met in Lübeck suggested that we visit the site. Only a short drive south from Sassnitz, we passed the huge new train/ferry terminal of Mukran and then stopped along a long beautiful white beach, which stretches all the way to the next, larger town, Binz.

Prora is one of these gigantic projects that Hitler had started in 1936, but never completed.

As envisioned by him and his planners, this seaside resort for the Nazi organization “Kraft durch Freude” (KDF, meaning Strength through Joy) was intended to accommodate 20,000 vacationers. The complex of buildings stretches for several miles along one of Rügen's most beautiful beaches and can be best appreciated from the aerial photo (right) and other maps and pictures on the Prora website. There you can also learn more details about the gigantic project that sprang out of the ground in only three years.

When the war began, construction was halted and after the war, the buildings were initially used by the Soviet army and later by the East German army.

Prora Condo sign - Gamesforlanguage.comToday, some of the buildings have already been renovated and are used as the Prora Documentation Center, a youth hostel, a coffee shop, and most recently apartments. So, nearly 80 years after construction started, and after decades of inaction and shame about its Nazi past, the “New Prora” complex is gradually being turned into luxury condominiums. (see picture)

After a few days of exploring Rügen – and there are more sights, places, beaches, towns, etc. to explore than we can cover here - we headed further southeast to another island - Usedom.


Usedom is Germany's second biggest island,Usedom - and maybe even more than Rügen, has again become “die Badewanne der Berliner” (the bathtub of Berliners) as it had been during the 1920s and 1930s. (And I, indeed, remember my father reminisce about Usedom as well.)

But I also knew of Usedom as the site of another notorious Nazi installation: Peenemünde. After Hitler came to power in 1933, this place became the world's most advanced center of rocket science research in only a few years.


Peenemünde is located at the northern, narrow tip of the island, separated from the mainland by a wide channel. This very location also explains why the research could be kept secret for so long.

Peenemünde Technical Museum - Gamesforlanguage.comOur visit to the Historical Technical Museum, (watch the video!) located in the observation bunker and former power station, (see picture left) was both interesting and depressing:

Interesting, because the exhibition explained the many stages of rocket development between 1932 and 1945, as well as in later years.

Interesting, because I did not know, for example, how instrumental Wernher von Braun had been not only in the research, but also in the development of the immense research and rocket production center.

Interesting, because I did not realize that, until the start of the war in 1939, scientists and workers from all over Europe were hired and came to Peenemünde.

Interesting, because I wonder, how the “distribution” of the Peenemünde scientists among the four allied powers after the war was still able to give the Soviet Union a head start in the space race - when the US was drafting the top brass;

Depressing, because of the damage and terror the V2 rockets caused, especially in England.

Depressing, because the German scientists,Peenemünde site  Peter Hall (including Wernher v. Braun) were successful in convincing the Nazi leadership after 1933 that more funding of rocket research would have military benefits.

Depressing, because once the war started, Peenemünde became a prison for foreign scientists and workers, and KZ inmates and other prisoners were used as forced laborers.

Depressing, because Allied bomb raids seemed to have killed prisoners and forced laborers rather than destroying the launching facilities, etc. etc.

The scale of the original Peenemünde research and production center can only be understood by looking at maps and aerial photographs. Except for the power station and observation bunker (shown on the picture above and only a small part of the facility), most other facilities were destroyed after the war.


After the interesting but also sobering visit to Peenemünde, we drove south towards the “Dreikaiserbäder” (Three baths of the emperor), the towns of Bansin, Heringsdorf, and Ahlbeck. They were favorites of German emperors until 1918. 

Biking in Heringsdorf - Gamesforlanguage.comAs we were looking for a hotel along the beachfront, we realized that these three towns are actually connected by an over 7-mile-long beach promenade. The beach and “Dünenstraße” (dune road) actually extends beyond the border with Poland, into the former Swinemünde, now Swinoujscie. (After World War 2, the southeast tip of Usedom, including Swinemünde, was awarded to Poland.)

We found a hotel in Heringsdorf, located directly at the promenade and enjoyed the pleasures of beach life for a couple of days. We took long walks along the wide beach. (To do this, we had to acquire a “Kurpass” for 3 euros each). We rented bikes and biked up and down the promenade. We also enjoyed some live evening concerts right at our hotel's beer garden.

At one of these concerts, we shared a table Heringsdorf Strand - Gamesforlanguage.comwith a young couple. (It's very typical in German beer gardens and restaurants to share tables.) We learned that they lived in Lübeck, a city we had just visited. We asked them what attracted them and their two young twin daughters to the Usedom beaches, rather than to the “Timmendorfer Strand,” the well-know beach in Travemünde near their home.

The Timmendorfer Strand is overrun by folks from Hamburg!” they answered. “And the beaches are cleaner and safer here, so our girls can play without us worrying.” (see picture of Heringsdorf Beach)

Their answer provided us with another insight and understanding why the Baltic sea beaches, with their low tides and beautiful white sand, are more attractive to beachgoers than the mudflats of the German North Sea with their 12-16 foot tides.

With our stay in Heringsdorf, we've come to the end of our trip along the German Baltic coast. The next destination, Berlin, will be the topic of our next travel post.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety

anxious woman - Gamesforlanguage.comDo you ever get a little anxious when speaking a foreign language? Foreign language anxiety knows no age and can bubble up in anyone. It doesn't matter whether you're speaking formally in the classroom or office, on the telephone with someone you don't know, or informally "on the street." 

So, why do some of us get anxious when speaking to someone in a foreign language?

Well, we sometimes imagine all kinds of mishaps. The thoughts are all in our head but the fears feel very real. We worry about:

  • making a fool of ourselves
  • saying an utterly wrong thing
  • being badly misunderstood
  • making mistakes
  • being embarrassed

On top of that, our anxiety itself may have all kinds of effects on us:

  • we blank out in the middle of what we're saying
  • we forget words and phrases that we thought we knew well
  • we start to stutter or get visibly flustered
  • we start to feel nauseous or otherwise physically uncomfortable

Worst case scenario: As a result, we avoid situations in which we could use our foreign language. Ultimately, we find it hard to continue learning the language.

But it doesn't have to go that way!

A second or third language is a huge personal and professional asset. If you want to make that new language your own, it's totally worth dealing with your anxieties.

Below are 3 situations in which the fear of speaking in a foreign language often pops up, even in people who are outgoing and used to being assertive.

SPEAKING UP OR PRESENTING IN anxious student in front of blackboard - Gamesforlanguage.comCLASS, or in another formal context

Holding your own in a foreign language when you're being evaluated by a teacher, a superior, or even peers can be particularly anxiety-provoking. Before and during your speech, all kinds of additional emotions may come up, including jitters about standing in front of a group.

  • You may feel anxious about:
  • looking foolish
  • not being prepared
  • suddenly losing concentration
  • feeling self-conscious and shy
  • feeling unable to explain your ideas
  • getting stuck and/or losing your thread
  • going completely blank

Dealing with anxiety about speaking in front of a group starts the moment that you know you'll be doing it. But curious as it may seem, you have quite a bit of control over such an event.

Because you're anxious, it's easy to avoid thinking about the presentation. Thinking about it also means worrying about it. However, the key is to start early and not to procrastinate.

A Few Tips For Acing That Speech

  • Put your speech or presentation together as soon as you can, and don't try to make it perfect.
  • Practice your speech out loud, in front of a mirror, and if you can, before a partner or friend. Practice again and again until you have your speech pretty well memorized; then write down a few key words, and practice your speech again, this time talking more freely.
  • Look up and write down a few phrases that you'll need when you should lose your thread during your presentation, phrases such as: "what I meant to say ...", "okay, that's not right", "let's go back", etc.
  • Practice your speech, this time "blanking out" a couple of times. Use your phrases to get back on track. Don't forget to chuckle at yourself as you do this.
  • During your presentation, focus on the here and now. Find a kind-looking face in the middle or back of the room and from time to time use that person as a focus.

woman speaking on phone - Gamesforlanguage.comSPEAKING WITH SOMEONE ON THE TELEPHONE, or Skype, camera off

If you cannot see the other person, you don't get important visual clues from the other person. So, you have to focus exclusively on the person's voice.

This makes a telephone call in a foreign language with someone you don't know or don't know well, particularly difficult and anxiety-provoking.

In such a situation, you may be be concerned about:

  • misunderstanding what the other person is saying
  • not being able to formulate what you want to say
  • sounding scared rather than confident
  • saying something stupid
  • starting to stutter
  • having the other person hang up in exasperation

As with a presentation, preparing yourself is crucial. Even if your language learning goal has been only to "speak" in the foreign language, it's worth mastering some writing skills.

The good thing about speaking with someone on the telephone, is that you can have your "cheat sheet" right in front of you to help you along. If you're polite, relaxed, and smile as you talk, you'll be just fine.

A Few Tips For Dealing With Telephone Anxiety

  • Write out a couple of typical phrases for greeting someone on the telephone, and for starting and concluding a conversation.
  • List the items of information that you want to ask or to communicate.
  • Write down how to ask questions politely and how to confirm, "yes, that's it."
  • Learn typical phrases to help you get through the conversation, such as "Sorry I didn't understand," or "Could you repeat that, please?" or, "Did I get that right?"
  • Practice your phrases out loud, several times.
  • On the telephone, always repeat the information the other person gave you, just to make sure you fully understood.

SPEAKING WITH SOMEONE IN PERSON, woman speaking - Gamesforlangiage.comalso on Facetime, or Skype, camera on

Let's say you're lucky enough to know native speakers you can chat with in person. Or, also nice, you're in the country or in a region where your new language is spoken. All I can say is, go for it!

While having a real conversation may seem a little scary, you have the huge advantage of getting immediate feedback beyond the other person's responses and tone of voice.

You also get lots of visual clues: gestures, body language, and his or her facial expressions - especially the eyes. 

When talking with native speakers you know or meet, you would typically talk about yourself, your interests, things that you do, and ask about the other person.

If, however, you are visiting or living in a country where the language is spoken,
you'd have additional opportunities for applying your new language with daily tasks:

  • buying something at an outdoor market
  • asking for directions
  • ordering in a restaurant
  • asking for the check
  • purchasing a train ticket
  • looking for a specific item in a store
  • resolving an ATM issue in a bank (see our experience in Seville)
  • starting up a conversation while waiting in a line
  • making small talk at a social gathering

These kinds of language interactions are not quite as limited in scope as the others. Still, they are a great way to confront your foreign language anxiety in relative safety.

As a starter, you could preface any of these encounters by saying that you are just learning the language and that you're eager to put it into practice.

A Few Tips for Conversations

  • Prepare by writing down some of the words and phrases that you'll need, skyping - Gamesforlanguage.combe it for the task you'll undertake or the kind of conversation you're expecting.
  • Memorize and practice these aloud.
  • Write down questions you want ask, and phrases to help the conversion along, such as: "I didn't understand," "Can you repeat that," "What does X mean?", etc.
  • Take a piece of paper with you with a list of words. It can't hurt.
  • When you're in a conversation, pay attention to the filler words or sounds, "uhm", "hmm", "eh," etc. Use them, but cautiously at first. Used correctly, they can help you sound more like a native.
  • Be aware of the cultural context in which you find yourself. Become alert to what is appropriate, what is not. This is often learned through conversation, by asking questions, and yes, also by making mistakes.

When speaking a foreign language, the cultural context is highly important. In her timely talk - based on her book, The Anxious Language Learner: A Saudi Woman's Story - which Taghreed Al-Saraj gave at the 3rd Polyglot Conference in New York (October 10-11, 2015), she stressed how important a role culture plays in communication and behavior.

It also means that the person learning a language is adopting "a new identity ... (and) is learning a new way of doing things. ... What's normal in one culture differs from what's normal in another culture."

Should you indeed say something silly or make a cultural faux pas - you'll probably know this from the other person's immediate, verbal and/or non-verbal responses. When it happens, it's best to learn how to laugh at yourself, say you're truly sorry, and chalk it up to language-learning experience.

Just remember, a little specific preparation can make it easier to speak up in the foreign language you're learning. It's been proven that practice reduces anxiety. Then, when you are involved in a conversation, know in your mind that it's okay to make mistakes and to feel somewhat uncomfortable. With time and practice, you'll gradually learn to deal with your fears.

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 Peter Rettig

From Wismar to Rostock – Travels along the Baltic Coast

windturbines - Gamesforlanguage.comLeaving Wismar (see our previous post: From Hamburg to Wismar for more about this city), we kept close to the  Baltic coast line and continued to be surprised by the number of windmills, which were everywhere. 

Germany seems to be serious about its plan to generate nearly all its electricity from renewable sources and virtually eliminate its use of fossil fuels by 2050.

We then came across two fantastic finds: the historic beach resort of Heiligendamm and the magnificent old city of Rostock, with its seaside town Warnemünde.

We had read in our Marco Polo Travel Guide “Ostseeküste,” that the “Badeleben” (life at the seaside) had started in the seaside resort of Heiligendamm in the 18th century, and we were intrigued.

What we always found surprising: After driving through a pristine landscape with narrow, tree-lined roads, fields of yellow rape-seed with wind turbines, as in the picture above, and no road-sign advertising, we found ourselves suddenly in a lively beach town, this time Heiligendamm.


Heiligendamm is actually part of Bad Doberan, the former summer residence of the Dukes of Schwerin. (The German prefix “Bad” is the official designation that a city or town is a health spa, because it has a natural resource - mineral rich water, hot springs, salt water, clean air, etc. - thought to have health benefits.)

In 1793 Duke Friedrich Franz I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin built some bathing facilities after taking his first bath in the Baltic Sea on the advice of his “Leibarzt” (personal physician). That year is generally seen as the birth of German beach culture, which thereby followed the English example.

Between 1793 and 1870 several German architects created the unique classicist Grand Hotel Heiligendammresort complex of Heiligendamm. Read more about its history here.

Duke Friedrich reigned from 1785 to his death in 1837, right through the Napoleonic wars. During his reign, Heiligendamm developed into an exclusive seaside resort. The European high aristocracy, including the German emperors and the Zsar family, regularly stayed there during the summer.

Interesting trivia tidbit: In 1823 the first horse-race track on the European continent was opened between Heiligendamm and Bad Doberan.

In 1862 a narrow-gauge railway (now called “Molli”) was built to connect both cities. We watched the steam-driven train pass by as we entered Heiligendamm.

The resort has been called “die weiße Stadt am Meer” (the white city by the sea) because of its white buildings. Until the 1930s Heiligendamm remained the vacation spot of choice for many prominent figures, film stars, politicians, etc. But during the communist era most of the structures fell into disrepair.

After Germany's reunification in 1990, investors bought and renovated many of the buildings. The Kempinski Grand Hotel, including the original “Kurhaus” (Spa) building, opened in 2003. (see picture above)

The 5-star Grand Hotel Heiligendamm hosted the 33rd summit of G8 leaders in 2007. (We could see how the somewhat remote location had helped to keep the reportedly over 20,000 protesters at bay!)

Heiligendamm mansions - Gamesforlanguage.comDuring our brief visit we enjoyed a walk along the wide beach promenade which runs in front of the row of white classicist-style mansions - several still undergoing renovations. (see picture left)

Clearly, the resort has not reached its prior prominence, but gated entrances and security add to the exclusive feel that the new owner of the hotel and the developer of the mansions want to foster.

Keeping close to the coast, our next stop was the seaside resort of Warnemünde, which, as we learned later, is actually a part of the city of Rostock.


Students of German may have guessed that the similarity of the names of “Travemünde” Warnemünde Beach - our previous travel post: From Hamburg to Wismar) and “Warnemünde” has a reason: Each city lies at the mouth of a river, in German “Mündung,” a word derived from “Mund” (mouth). The “Trave” river runs through Lübeck to Travemünde and the “Warnow” river runs through Rostock for 7 miles to Warnemünde.

In Warnemünde we admired a long white beach from the top of the accessible light house, right at the mouth of the river. (see picture)

The long promenade behind the beach was busy with bicyclers and and walkers, and we found Warnemünde quite a bit livelier than Travemünde had been.

The reason? Many cruise ships now stop in Warnemünde, with arranged tours by boat or train into Rostock. Villas, big hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, boutiques, etc. make this seaside town a destination for many.

Rostock mit MarienkircheRostock

With around 200,000 inhabitants, Rostock is still the largest city in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and this in spite of the over 50,000 people who moved west after Germany's reunification in 1990.

During the prime time of the Hanseatic League in the 14th century, Rostock was an important member and a seaport city with major ship-building facilities. And, by incorporating Warnemünde into the city limits already in 1323, Rostock also secured its access to the Baltic Sea. (Something Lübeck failed to do with Travemünde.) An S-Bahn now also connects both parts of the city.

Because of its strategic location, Danes and Swedes fought for and occupied the city during the 30-year war. The French under Napoleon held the city for nearly a decade at the beginning of the 19th century.

In the 20th century, important aircraft factories opened up in Rostock and Warnemünde. Rostock City gate - Gamesforlanguage.comThe world's first jet plane was built at the Heinkel factory towards the end of the second World War. With the allied bombing of those factories much of Rostock was also destroyed.

During the communist area of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Rostock became again a major industrial and ship-building centre. A significant portion of the city center was faithfully rebuilt, thereby restoring much of its historic character. New buildings were constructed with vertical brick ribs and in a style that brought to mind the Hanseatic League's red brick Gothic architecture.

In 1989, Die friedliche Revolution in Rostock was an incubator of East German workers' dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the political situation, travel restrictions, etc.

We got a glimpse of that when talking to the lighthouse cashier in Warnemünde. When we told him that we lived in Boston, he told us that he “nearly” visited Boston in 1984 when he was on a fishing trawler off the Boston coast. But the “political minder” who accompanied their ship on each trip would not let them dock.

Today, Rostock is a vibrant and thriving city. Similar to Wismar, its inner city bordering the harbor has been further restored. Our minibus tour took us through narrow streets and many of the city's sights: St. Petri Church, with its over 350 ft tower a landmark for fishermen and sailors; Stone Gate, a magnificent city gate with inscription, seal and coat of arms of the city council; Abbey of the Holy Cross, the former Cistercian convent, founded by the danish Queen Mary in 1270, St Marien Church, which took 400 years to complete, with it astronomical clock; the University of Rostock, founded in 1419, and Germany's third oldest.

We also learned that the headquarters of the AIDA cruise ship line are in Rostock, in fact, occupying an imposing building right at the harbor. This may also explain why many cruise ships have switched from Travemünde/Lübeck to Warnemünde/Rostock.

We enjoyed walking along the city harbor and though the old city. We climbed up one of the remaining gate towers, lingered in several of the many outside cafes, watched a dog having fun with water fountains (see video) and did all the other things that tourists typically do.

Our next destinations would be Stralsund and the island of Rügen

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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Are You Weaving Your “Language Skill Rope”?

language skill rope - Michael ErardIn mid-October 2015, we attended the 3rd international Polyglot Conference in New York City. It was great! More than 400 language aficionados were there to mingle with. There were also a number of interesting talks on a wide range of language-related topics.

One talk I enjoyed a lot was by Michael Erard, the author of Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners and other books about language and learning. He spoke about “A New Metaphor for Language Learning.”

According to Erard, a metaphor can shape the way you think and talk about a set of skills. For example, it can be helpful to:

  • explain abstract or complex concepts
  • conceive solutions to problems
  • foster communication
  • create familiarity
  • trigger emotions

I also did not know that metaphors can actually be “designed.” It was fascinating to hear Erard talk about his five-year experience as a full-time metaphor designer at the FrameWorks Institute, a Washington think tank. Curious about that, and how the skill-rope metaphor was developed? You can find out more: Frameworks Research Report “Weaving Skill Ropes”

According to Erard, the metaphor of “weaving ropes” works well for learning language skills, specifically.

While the idea of a language learning metaphor did not resonate with me initially, I've since warmed up to it. I now find the “rope” metaphor actually quite useful. It's put my language skills into a new light. It also helps me understand how my awareness of language learning has changed since my childhood.

Language Learning from Child to Adultkids playing -

At different stages of life, we learn language differently - and also think about language learning differently.

As children, we typically learn to speak our first (or second) language “naturally,” just by imitating our parents, caregivers, and friends and getting corrected by them. Watching my own and other children, it's obvious to me that they don't think much about what and how they're learning.

When we start with reading and writing in school, it becomes clear that we have to put in some effort to learn these skills. Besides, it begins to dawn on us that there are others who can speak, read, and write better (or worse) than we do. Whether it's a chore, a pleasure, and/or a competition with others, we have to learn how to read and write in our own language. It's essential to function socially.

Once we're teenagers or young adults and have added a foreign language to the skills we want to acquire, things really change. We think about why we learn another language. We may even have some kind of learning-metaphor in mind. We also become keenly aware that learning another language means focusing on the individual skills of listening/understanding, reading, speaking, and writing. And, to get “proficient” in one or all of the four skills, we have to work at it and practice a lot.

We also now know that there are reasons why, as adults, we cannot learn a foreign language the way a child does. For one, our ability to hear (and reproduce) certain sounds decreases in our teenage years. (See my earlier post Beyond 'Learning a Language Like a Child')

One popular metaphor for language learning is “long-distance running” (in contrast to a “quick sprint”). But the long-distance metaphor only speaks to the timespan required to become proficient in another language. It does not, for example, address how we acquire or develop the four skills, how the skills are related, etc.

blue ropeThe Skill Rope of Language Learning

In his post Language Learning is Weaving a Rope published on Schwa Fire, his online magazine on “language and life,” Erard explains why the metaphor of “learning skills as weaving ropes” works well for language learning:

"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.

Some of the cognitive strands are given because you’re born with them (and they include working-memory capacity, brain processing speed, and general plasticity factors), while others are more plastic and can be enhanced.

The social and emotional strands involve activities like dealing with boredom, staying focused on tasks, doing fun things, dealing with errors, social anxieties, and seeking out opportunities to use a new language.

All these strands are related to each other, and the rope as a whole needs all these strands to be as strong as they can be."

Thus, we can think of each language that we speak, as a separate rope consisting of, say, three main strands, our cognitive, social, and emotional skills. We may all differ in such skills. But by weaving a strong “language rope,” we can take advantage of the reality that we can compensate for the weaker skills.

Keeping the “Skill Rope” in Mind

One may ask how learners can benefit from the skill rope metaphor or image. I believe that keeping the rope-weaving metaphor in mind has several benefits:

  1. Weaving means “doing” something active. - Yes, we have to memorize vocabulary, try out unfamiliar sounds by saying them, learn certain idioms and phrases, pay attention to grammar rules, find others to speak with, and many other tasks we have to organize and do. Only by being engaged with the new language as much as possible and in many different ways, will we progress.
  2. Weaving combines strands to increase the strength of the rope. - You may already know how you learn best. If memorizing vocabulary is your Achilles heel, find ways to compensate – try Mnemonics, use vocabulary apps or flash cards. If you're a very social person, you may weave your skill rope more successfully in a class with peers than alone at home with an online course.
  3. Weaving takes patience. – Making a strong skill rope of different strands takes time. There are ups and downs in how we learn. Sometimes we stop learning/weaving for a time, but we can always take up our learning again. Just imagine: the rope is still there and you can just pick up the strands again and continue learning/weaving.

Language Skill Ropes of Different Strengthsthree ropes -

The skill-rope metaphor makes it easy to imagine one's own proficiency in a language. Even the most accomplished polyglots at the conference – and we met quite a few in New York - will acknowledge that they don't speak every language equally well.

I have started to imagine that each of the three major strands - cognitive, social, and emotional - contain sub-strands of all or parts of the four language skills, listening, reading, speaking and writing.

My own language skills I therefore now see in this way: My German and English skill ropes are quite strong, my French one a little weaker (while I speak French fluently, my grammar and writing skills need work).

Italian and Spanish I imagine as still thinner ropes that need more weaving.

My “Dutch” probably is still the weakest rope. But I continue weaving on my Dutch by doing LearnwithOliver's Daily Dutch Exercise and speaking Dutch with my wife from time to time. 

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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with other than having received a free 3-month Premium account for Dutch. See our Privacy Policy and  Terms of Use for further details.


Posted on by Peter Rettig

Un–deux–trois: Some French Numbers Are Tricky Beyond 69...

French flight announcement - Gamesforlanguage.comFrom my school days, I remember French numbers with horror: the many nasal sounds and especially the numbers from 70 to 99.

But while traveling in French-speaking countries, I also realized how important it is to both understand and pronounce the numbers, such as when flight numbers are announced in French (see picture, above) and you, maybe, missed the English.

And, adding French numbers to your bag of basic words and expressions, such as bonjour, au revoir, s'il vous plaît, merci, etc., will make shopping in small stores or local markets both more pleasant and effective.

If we are traveling to a country whose language we don't speak, we now make it a habit to study at least its numbering system and memorize the basic numbers of 1 to 100.

We clearly benefitted from knowing the numbers when we arrived for a stay in Italy (See our previous post) and then again on trips to China and Japan. Of all the words we had learned to prepare ourselves - the numbers proved to be the most useful.

Most numbers that you see and write are in the form of digits. You rarely need to spell them.

But you do need to understand them when they're spoken. So to learn them, it helps to see them written out.

French Numbers 1 to 20French number 14 -

For most English speakers, French numbers from 1 to 9 are not that difficult to learn and remember.

Most of the French 1 to 9 numbers show some similarity to English, though the pronunciation may be quite different: zéro (zero), un (one), “deux”  (two), “trois” (three), “six” (six), sept (seven), huit  (eight), and neuf (nine).

Only quatre (four) and cinq (five) are totally different.

The French number ten (10) is dix.

The numbers 11 to 16 have their own pattern. They combine a form of the prime numbers with the suffix -ze: onze (eleven), douze (twelve), treize (thirteen), quatorze (fourteen), quinze (fifteen), seize (sixteen).

The numbers 17, 18, and 19 use the combination dix-sept (as in ten-seven), dix-huit (as in ten-eight), and dix-neuf (as in ten-nine).

To practice those French numbers, just click on the game screenshot above or on Play French Numbers 1-20

Counting by Tens: 20, 30, 40, 50, 60

The French number 20 is vingt.

The numbers from 30 to 60 that end in a zero add the nasal ending -e/ ante to a form of the numbers 3 to 6: trente (30), quarante (40), cinquante (50), soixante (60).

French Numbers 21 to 69

The numbers 21, 31, 41, 51, and 61 are like English, except that the word et" (and) is inserted. According to the spelling reform 1990, they can be spelled without a hyphen vingt et un (twenty-one), trente et un (thirty-one), etc., or with a hyphen, vingt-et-un (twenty-one), trente-et-un (thirty-one), etc.

With those exceptions, all the numbers from 22 to 69 follow the English model: vingt-deux (twenty-two), all the way up to soixante-neuf (sixty-nine).

French Numbers 70 to 79 Get Tricky

Here the fun begins:

70 is 60+10: soixante-dix (as in sixty-ten);

71 is 60 and 11 (as in soixante et onze” or soixante-et-onze);

72 is 60+12 (as in soixante-douze);

73 is 60+13 (as in soixante-treize), etc.

up to 79, which is 60+19 (as in soixante-dix-neuf).

French Numbers 80 to 99: A Challenge for Some

French number 89 - Gamsforlanguage.comThe French number 80 is 4x20: quatre-vingts (four twenties). This provides the basis for the numbers 81 to 99 (except that you write quatre-vingt-xx without the -s when another number follows).

Once you've understood that the numbers from 81 to 99 all start with quatre-vingt- xx, all you need to do is add the appropriate number from un (one) to dix-neuf (nineteen). It's a fun way to give your math mind a little workout!

So, from quatre-vingt-un (81), over quatre-vingt-dix (90), to quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (99), the numbers are all consistent.

Mastering numbers well enough so that you can easily pay at a market, understand an address, or take down a telephone number can indeed be a challenge.

Click on the screenshot above or on Play French numbers 21 and beyond to practice.

Telephone Numbers

In France, telephone numbers are normally given as a series of two-digit numbers.

For the number 05 32 77 42 98, you'll hear: zéro cinq, trente-deux, soixante-dix-sept, quarante-deux, quatre-vingt-dix-huit.

To avoid confusion you may need to ask for each digit separately. Or at least, read the numbers back to the other person to make sure they are right.

French Numbers from 100 to 10,000 (10.000 in french)

For the numbers from 101 to 1999, simply add the hundreds to the numbers you already know. (Seeing these numbers written out is pretty rare. But, according to the 1990 spelling reform, the numbers are all connected with a hyphen, as we've written them here. You may also see them without a hyphen.)

Thus, 101 is “cent-un, 125 is cent-vingt-cinq, and 175 is cent-soixante-quinze.

The number 200 is deux-cents, with a silent -s for plural agreement. In writing, the -s is dropped when another number follows. So, 201, is deux-cent-un, 238 is deux-cent-trente-huit, and 296 is deux-cent-quatre-vingt-seize.

French Historical Dates

You rarely see historical dates written out, but there are conventions on how to say them.

In French, you start with mille (thousand) to say a specific year between 1101 and 1999.

So, 1323 (thirteen hundred twenty-three) would be mille-trois-cent-vingt-trois in French, and 1889 (eighteen hundred eighty-nine) would be mille-huit-cent-quatre-vingt-neuf.

You do the same for the current century. (Note that mille is invariable.)

The year 2000 is deux-mille; 2015 is “deux-mille-quinze.”

With this Quick French Game, you can practice some of the French numbers between 21 and 100 and beyond.

Millions, Billions, Trillions, etc.

A point of frequent confusion for English speakers may be the high numbers that are often quoted in news reports about global finances.

French and English agree on 1,000,000 - “un million” (one million).

But, for the US number “billion,” (thousand million), the French say “milliard, and for the US number “trillion,” the French say “billion.” You can see the problem.

Swiss French (and Belgian French)

In Swiss French (suisse romand), a different and simpler form is used for the numbers from 70 to 99. The number 70 is septante, 80 is huitante or octante (depending on the canton), and 90 is nonante. It goes without saying, that it's a breeze to combine these round numbers with the single digits: for example, 74 is septante-quatre, 86 is huitante-six, and 98 is nonante-huit.

Belgians will also count with “septante” and “nonante,” but still use the French “quatre-vingts” and the combinations up to quatre-vingt-neuf.

Pronunciation Practice

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

You can practice the French r by clicking on this Quick Game or on the screenshot.the French "r" -

Many of the French numbers have a nasal ending with silent letters, depending on whether another vowel follows. In vingt, the g is silent and the t is spoken; in cent, the t is silent; but in trente, the t is spoken because of the silent “-e at the end.

Click on Vowels and accents, if you want to practice those.

During the day, when you're commuting to work, noting how many email messages are in your inbox, reading the newspaper, doing exercises, etc., you'll always see or count numbers. Pronounce them silently, or out loud if you can, in French. And you'll be surprised how fast you'll know them!

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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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