Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

From Utrecht to Hamburg: Dialects and Travel Tips in Northern Germany

Utrecht Gracht - Gmesforlanguage.comWith our Dutch family reunion near Utrecht behind, (see photo of Utrecht Gracht, left) we headed to Westphalia to visit friends we had not seen in a while. Westphalia also has some special significance for me, as my great-grandfather was born in Werden, Westphalia, 1836.

After deciding that priesthood was not his calling, he packed his bags and became a teacher at a newly created HBS or “Hogere Burgerschool” (which intended to provide a “practically oriented education for higher functions in industry and trade”) in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

I always wondered how my great-grandfather had managed to make such a quick language switch - and that at the ripe age of thirty-one! One of my Dutch cousins explained it this way: “For Germans, Dutch is really easy to learn.”

How close are Dutch and German?

Right! The Dutch have a hard time with German articles, cases, and the many word-ending variations. By comparison, Dutch seems pretty simple to Germans. At the same time, producing authentic Dutch sentences that aren't just German-pronounced-the-Dutch-way is not an automatic skill.

As he described in an earlier blog post, my German-born husband, Peter, has been learning Dutch online – on and off since the beginning of the year. His “proficiency test” came in the form of attending our Dutch family reunion in Utrecht a couple of weeks ago.

No surprise: Peter obviously could not converse fluently in Dutch, but he understood most of the Dutch conversations around him. Also, he could function just fine with basics: greetings, pleasantries, ordering “een biertje,” asking for the check, reading information labels in museums, etc.

The Lure of the North, but the “Ruhrgebiet” First

I spent my childhood in Austria. In my early twenties, I lived and worked for two years in Freiburg, Barge on Dortmund-Ems Canal - Gamesforlanguage.comand from there traveled around southern Germany. However, I never took the opportunity to explore the north.

Peter, too, knows the south of Germany much better than the north. So, after our family reunion was over, we picked up a rental car in Utrecht and headed towards the “Ruhrgebiet,” (Ruhr) where our friends lived. (The Ruhr lies in the center of North Rhine-Westphalia.)

“Das Ruhrgebiet,” named after the river “Ruhr,” had been Germany's industrial coal and steel powerhouse until the early 70s. Duisburg, Essen, Bochum, and Dortmund are the major cities of a very densely populated area of over 8.5 million people.

Somewhat notorious in Germany for the air and water pollution caused by its coal and steel industries, the Ruhr region underwent a radical transformation after the oil crisis in 1973. With coal and steel industries no longer competitive, the Ruhr area went from heavy industry to high tech and service industries. With that, air and water pollution have become a thing of the past.

However, the old industries also caused the area to be crisscrossed by a series of navigable canals (see picture of barge on Dortmund-Ems canal above) that still today link to waterways connecting the North and Baltic Seas, to the Black Sea, and even to the Mediterranean Sea. This obviously requires numerous locks and boats lifts. One of them is our first Travel Tip:

Henrichenburg Schiffshebewerk - Gamesforlanguage.comTravel Tip #1 Schiffshebewerk Henrichenburg

One amazing link in Germany's waterway system is the Schiffhebewerk/Boat lift Henrichenburg near Waltrop. The boat lift facilitates a change in elevation of 42 feet of the Dortmund-Ems-Canal. Built in 1899 and used till 1962, when it was replaced with a new boat lift, this elevator for ships is a marvel of mechanical engineering.

Five giant floats, connected through a massive steel structure were able to lift and lower a basin carrying water and ship weighing over 1,000 tons in only two and a half minutes, much faster than with a typical lock. (Click HERE, if you are interested in more information.)

While the rivers and canals are frequented for recreational boating, there is still a fair amount of barge traffic, mainly for bulk goods such sand, gravel, cement, oil, but also grain, wood, etc.

From the “Ruhrgebiet” to Münster and the North Sea

The north-west of Germany has a number of picturesque university towns. On our way north, we stoppedWattenmeer near Bremerhaven - in the city of Münster, the cultural center of the region called Münsterland. We enjoyed the old city with its medieval and baroque architecture, and lively market-place cafés.

From Nordrhein-Westfalen, we headed up to Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) and visited Wilhelmshaven, Bremerhaven, Cuxhaven, Stade, and finally, the city state of Hamburg.

The “Wattenmeer,” (see picture right) or North Sea tidal flats, are a special experience: Now a national park, reaching from the border with the Netherlands to the banks of the outer Elbe river, they are an amazing eco-system, second only to a rain forest, with nearly 4,000 plant and animal species.

And while we, like other tourists, explored these and many other attractions, we also paid special attention to the various dialects we heard.

Dutch and Low German

Although standard High German is generally spoken by the people in these regions, and used in the media, local Low German dialects still have a presence. They have left their distinct mark on local everyday language, especially on the sound and intonation of speech.

Low German, also called “Platt,” in fact shares a number of features with Dutch. Most importantly, although they are “Germanic” languages: English, Dutch, and Low German did not experience the “High German consonant shift.” What does this shift look like

Here are three examples of the high German consonant shift:

  1. -k- to -ch-: make (Eng.); maken (Dutch & Low German); machen (High German)
  2. d- to t-: day (Engl.); dag/Dag (Dutch & Low German); Tag (High German)
  3. -t- to -ss-: eat (Engl.); eten (Dutch & Low German); essen (High German)

I had an interesting experience in Hamburg. We happened to be there during their annual “Theater Night” - an evening during which you can go from theater to theater and sample 30-minute performances.

We included the Ohnsorg-Theater, which stages plays in Platt. At first, I understood nothing. But then I said to myself “pretend that it's Dutch.” Once I had tuned my brain to expecting to hear Dutch, I in fact understood quite a bit!

I suspect that my great-grandfather still spoke the local Westphalian (Low German) dialect, and that this had made it easier for him to learn Dutch.

Here's a taste of Münster Platt.

You can compare it to Ina Müler's “De Wind vun Hamburg” in Hamburg Platt.

Travel Tip #2 Emigration Center and Bremerhaven Harbor cruise

Bremerhaven waterfront - GamesforLanguage.comGermany's largest emigration harbor is Bremerhaven. This city, founded 1827, and located at the mouth of the Weser River on the North Sea, was an important link in the Hanseatic Trade routes. (see picture of Bremerhaven waterfront, left).

However, it was also known as the “Brücke nach Übersee” (Bridge to Overseas). Between 1830 and 1974, over seven million emigrants shipped out of Bremerhaven to destinations overseas, with the highest number of people emigrating at end of the 19th century.

The German Emigration Center (“Deutsches Auswandererhaus”) opened in 2005 and has been building a database of information about emigrants that shipped out via the harbor.

On a personal note: It was from Bremerhaven that my family emigrated in the 50ties by ship to Canada.

To get a sense of the importance of the Bremerhaven harbor, a harbor cruise is a must. We were not only amazed by the size of the car carriers, with which thousands of cars are shipped from and to Germany, but also by the way huge container ships are loaded and unloaded.

One gets a sense what a huge economic factor such a harbor is for a city, creating thousands of jobs and business opportunities.

Travel Tip #3: The Old Elbe Tunnel and Lift

When we approached Hamburg, the GPS in our car directed us towards what seemed like a closed street. We searched around for a while (berating the voice on our GPS) until we realized that we had reached the entrance of the (poorly marked) car lift that was to take us under the Elbe River into Hamburg proper.

The car lift and tunnel was build in 1907, and frankly, did not look like it had been renovated much. Old Elbe Tunnel - Gamesforlanguage.comA couple of cars fit into each of the lifts, plus a number of pedestrians and bicycles.

The ride through the tunnel was somewhat nerve-racking. The car lane was narrow, with the car's tires just fitting between the narrow sidewalks on each side. Occasionally, the tires rubbed against the, maybe, three-feet wide side-walk strip on either side, where pedestrians were walking to and fro. We also did not know how to shut off the head lights of our rental car, which we were asked to do in order not to blind the pedestrians.

In any event, the car lift and tunnel provided a memorable way of entering Hamburg, taking us right to the “Landebrücken,” the center of the maritime traffic in Hamburg. Ferries and tourist boats come and go there continuously throughout the day and evening.

The Old Elbe Tunnel has been declared a monument and houses a museum. Thousands of cars, cyclists, and pedestrians use this way to arrive at the Landebrücken part of Hamburg every year.

Hamburg has much to see and admire. The Elbe and the two Alster lakes, the Binnenalster and the Außenalster, give Hamburg its particular flair. You also notice the many green spaces and trees. (A tour guide claimed that Hamburg has so many trees that there are 36 trees for each dog.)

The next leg of our northern Germany trip will take us to Lübeck and near the border to Poland - but more about that in a later post: From Hamburg to Wismar

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.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon, Royalty and a Family Reunion

Language Learning - Gamesforlanguage.comTravels in Europe always present a wonderful opportunity for us to refresh our historical knowledge as well as practicing a language or two. During a recent stay in the Netherlands, I also learned a few facts that I had either forgotten or, more likely, never knew.

My Dutch Experiment

Readers of a previous post may recall that I had started to learn Dutch around the beginning of 2015. Starting with one daily Duolingo lesson in January 2015, then increasing it to 1-2 lessons per day in May, I added the 3-month Dutch Babbel course in early June, while continuing with 1-2 daily Duolingo lessons. I had completed the Babbel Dutch course by the end of August.

In early September, our family reunion in Utrecht gave me an opportunity to listen to a lot of Dutch; I also knew (from my speaking practice with my wife) that I was not yet ready to participate in a fast-moving Dutch conversation.

However, I was quite pleased that I was not only able to follow most Dutch conversations, but also to read and understand the Dutch-only explanations in the various museums we visited.

Dutch is probably one of the easiest languages to learn for a German speaker. Nevertheless, it's good to remember that the 100 hours I invested in Duolingo and Babbel will not produce fluency. For that I'll clearly need more speaking practice.

The Pyramid of Austerlitz

When a Dutch cousin wanted to take us to the “Pyramide van Austerlitz,” near Utrecht,Austerlitz pyramid I was somewhat baffled: A “pyramid” and “Austerlitz” in the Netherlands? Wasn't Austerlitz located in the Czech Republic, where Napoleon had won a crucial battle?

Yes, certainly, I remembered correctly, but there was also a surprising explanation:

In 1804, a General Marmont of the French army commanded about 18,000 men. They were stationed in an encampment on the heath between Woudenberg and Zeist (two small villages near Utrecht).

Six years earlier, Marmont had accompanied Napoleon on a military campaign to Egypt and was quite impressed by the pyramids.

As he needed something to do for his soldiers, he ordered them to build a pyramid of sand and turf from the heath, with the hope that the pyramid would carry his name for all eternity.

Unfortunately, two years later, Napoleon's brother, King Louis Bonaparte, renamed it “Pyramide van Austerliz” in honor of Napoleon's victory over the Austrian and Russian armies in 1805.

The transient nature of the pyramid soon became apparent, as it started to succumb to erosion and the pyramid's straight lines turned to a conical hill. In 2007 it was restored, with its stone obelisk now firmly in place.

Napoleon _ Gamesforlanguage.comThe French Era and Napoleon's Continuing Legacy

As with many other countries in Europe, Napoleon's influence can still be felt in the Netherlands today.

I did not know, for example, that Napoleon was responsible for the Netherlands to become a unified state and a kingdom. Here is a summary from the Austerlitz Pyramid brochure by Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht (which also provided much of the information above):

In 1806 he installed his brother Louis Bonaparte as king of Holland and turned our country into a kingdom. Louis committed himself to defending the interests of our forefathers, even if it went against the interests of France. This displeased Napoleon immensely, and he took measures that made it impossible for Louis to reign any longer. In 1810, Louis abdicated, and our country became part of France.

National service was implemented and French legislation was introduced. Napoleon's campaign to Russia, however, meant the beginning of the end of the Napoleonic era. The French army was defeated at Leipzig, and Napoleon was banished to Elba. In 1814, William I became king.

Even though the French Era lasted less than 20 years, it greatly influenced the Dutch society. Our country had become a unified state and a kingdom, and there is no doubt that the positive experience with Louis Bonaparte played a part in it. It was also a first step to becoming a parliamentary democracy.

Laws that were made in 1814 were based on the French legislation introduced in the Netherlands during the French Era.

As a result, the Netherlands became a modern constitutional state, and everyone became equal in the eyes of the law: a radical change from the situation before 1795.”

Clearly in the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, a king was still seen as a unifying force and therefore a necessity. (During our visit to Norway, a few years ago, we had learned that Norway, when it separated from Sweden in 1905, decided by plebiscite that it still needed a king, and it selected a Danish price. See our post : Language Politics...)

Visiting Paleis Soestdijk and Learning about Dutch RoyaltyPaleis Soestdijk -

During our family reunion, we all visited Paleis Soestdijk, which is also located near Utrecht in the municipalities of Soest and Baarn. Built originally as a hunting lodge between 1674 and 1678, the palace was significantly expanded with two wings by 1821, after the Netherlands had become a kingdom.

Used by Princess Juliana (Queen of the Netherlands from 1948-1980) and Prince Bernhard as their official residence until both their deaths in 2004, it is an interesting example of a palace with neoclassical furnishings as well as modern features, used until 10 years ago by a citizen-monarch.

In discussing the king/queen situation, we found great support for the constitutional monarchy both with young and old family members. The new king, Willem-Alexander and his Argentina-born wife Maxima seem to be well liked. They are seen as staying above the political fray on one hand while representing the Netherlands very well abroad on business and cultural matters.

Speaking English, German, (a little) Dutch, and Spanish

At my wife's Dutch family reunion, with family members attending from the US, Canada, Mexico, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, the three main languages were clearly Dutch, English, and German. Switching between different languages during a conversation, when others join, is quite common. It also gives everybody a good language workout.

I am always amazed how well the Dutch speak English, which many indeed prefer to German, with its three genders (Dutch only has two), its cumbersome endings, and declinations. The Dutch heritage as traders and merchants, and their English school classes, starting even before high school, may explain why over 90% of Dutch people speak English as a second language. Only 70% speak German.

Also, movies are typically not dubbed in Dutch and many are shown in the original language, often English.

These family reunions in the Netherlands are always a wonderful opportunity to connect with family members we have not seen in a while and - for us language lovers - also a chance to practice our languages. I still have a way to go with Dutch, but with more Dutch speaking practice with my wife, I am now confident that next time I'll be able to hold my own...

The Travel continues...

And after our stay near  Utrecht we began a three-week trip through northern Germany, an area we did not know very well. The first stage we called From Utrecht to Hamburg

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 Kendal Knetemann

The ‘Big Bang’ Investment…Capturing the Hispanic Market.

Spanish assimilated family-Lingohut.comOne out of every six Americans is Hispanic. Professionals in the workforce need to know how to interact positively with this rapidly growing population.

Traditionally, law enforcement departments, hospitals, school districts and organizations have offered Spanish training to their employees in the form of a 2 to 5 day seminar.

Providing only 16 - 20 hours of classroom-style language training which has proven to be ineffective. No one can learn a new language in days. While the training might be top-notch and feedback might be great, if people can't apply what they learn on the job, then the training will not stick and will ultimately fail to produce long-lasting results.

The method organizations use today to train needs to be revisited, since ever tightening budgets are forcing organizations to flush many valuable programs ‘down the commode.’ Ten years ago e-training was a novelty, but today e-training is becoming the norm as organizations experience greater ‘bang’ for each buck invested.

Learning online is a very effective method of studying Spanish. Online training gives the learner access to practice and repetition (the keys to success in learning a new language) anytime, 24x7. Instead of a one-shot seminar, the flexibility and lower costs of online learning are ideal to implement at any type of organization.

Spanish e-training is a big bang investment for organizations.

First, the scheduling and implementing is less time-consuming than planning and running day seminars.

Second, the training takes place in the convenience of the employee’s space, eliminating travel expenses and other expenses associated with seminars.

Third, online training can holds employees more accountable than a traditional seminar because attendance, assessment scores, activities, course completions, and participant progress can be monitored and immediately reported through learning management systems. Most important, online training allows organizations to provide a dependable, consistent and high quality training experience for every employee.

When selecting a Spanish training program, organizations need to consider a few core components including the cost, program content, program restrictions and requirements. There are additional concerns to consider when evaluating an e-training program. These other considerations include the method of teaching, the availability of teachers for live support, and how the online platform engages the learner.

In my 25 years of teaching Spanish, I have found the most effective method of studying and learning a new language is by using the spacing effect also referred to as “drip approach” method. Imagine a dripping faucet, where each drop will collect to form a puddle that keeps expanding. Similarly, this method focuses on learning the language in small increments. Think of each word as a drop, phrases and sentences as small puddles which becomes a large pool of Spanish knowledge providing success with language learning.

As you review different programs ask and ask questions. Questions that should address your concerns in implementing the appropriate Spanish program within your organization.

Here are 10 sample questions you could ask when evaluating an online Spanish training program:

  • What learning approach is used in the online program?
  • What styles of learners does it address?
  • Does the program offer individual and group accounts?
  • What is the cost per seat?
  • Is there a way an administrator could monitor the training?
  • How long does the employee have to view all material and complete the training? (Many programs lock you out once the lesson is complete.)
  • Is there a contractual agreement to sign?
  • Does it provide live teacher support? If not, how can a student ask questions about the training?
  • Is the program available on a mobile device?
  • How does a student review his/her progress?

In my opinion, one last component the e-training must have to be successful are games and activities to make the learning experience fun and educational.

When employees are engaged in their learning, they take greater ownership. Most of us agree that games are a great way to engage in learning and improve retention. It takes time to become confident in a language, games make the learning process fun, interactive and rewarding. Besides engaging, their knowledge increases, performance improves as well as their confidence to communicate in Spanish.

It is estimated the Hispanic community will increase by 24 percent by 2050 in the United States. Employers including Spanish training in the annual training budget will with no doubt see top-line growth.

Mini Bio: Kendal Knetemann is a cross cultural communication consultant, a language blogger and Spanish instructor. You can read more about her at LingoHut where you’ll find free language lessons, activities and articles on how to make language learning easier, or visit LingoHut’s Facebook page. First appeared in Parrot time

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Uno-Due-Tre: Italian Numbers You Can Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italian Numbers 1-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

for 18, you say: "diciotto";

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

The Italian number 20 is "venti."

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

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

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

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

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

Italian Numbers 21-99

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

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

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

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

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

The Hundreds from 100-900

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

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

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

Italian Numbers from 101 to 999

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

Here are various number combinations:

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

Italian numbers from 1000 to 10,000

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

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

Italian historical numbers - Gamesforlanguage.comItalian Historical Dates

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

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

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


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

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

Finding Opportunities...

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

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

And, just perhaps, the last suggestion may even have you "learn during your sleep." While not quite the same, recent experiments by  seem to indicate that foreign words heard during nonREM sleep may be recalled better later on. We looked into this research later on in Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep? 

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.


Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginner - Karate - Gamesforlanguage.comBeginner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karate on the beach - Gamesforlanguage.comIntermediate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karate experts on the beach - Gamesforlanguage.comAdvanced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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


Posted on by Peter Rettig

My Babbel and Duolingo Language Learning Update

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

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

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

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

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

Good job - Gamesforlanguage.comThe Good

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

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

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

Translating the words and sentences then seems quite easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Humor and Language Discoveries in Corsica

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

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

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

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tisBienvenue Chez les Ch'tis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How wrong we were...

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

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

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

A Language or a Dialect?

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

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

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

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




Thank you



I am sorry



How much does it cost?

Combin qu'cha coûte?

Combien ça coute?

The Wikipedia article further notes:

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

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

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

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

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

The Corsican Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corsican Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Ulrike Rettig

LinguaVille - an Option for the Motivated Language Learner?

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

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

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

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

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

The Village Map

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

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

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

Two Introductory Sections:

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

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

Three Levels of Difficulty/Proficiency

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

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

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

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

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

Travel Center Phrases and Playground

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

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

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

Four Things I Enjoy About LinguaVille

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

Comparison to other online language learning sites

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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.

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Uno-dos-tres: Spanish Numbers Are Easy

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Numbers 1-15

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

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

Spanish numbers 16-20

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

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

The Spanish number “twenty” is “veinte.”

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

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

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

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

Spanish Numbers 21-29

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

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

Spanish Numbers 31-100

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

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

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

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

Spanish Numbers by Hundreds from 100-10,000

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

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

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

145 - ciento cuarenta y cinco

243 - doscientos cuarenta y tres

329 - trescientos veintinueve

578 - quinientos setenta y ocho

707 - setecientos siete

838 - ochocientos treinta y ocho

999 -novecientos noventa y nueve

Spanish Historical Dates

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

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

So, 1829 is “mil ochocientos veintinueve.”

Millions, Billions, Trillions

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

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

Practicing Pronunciation

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

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

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

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

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

Many Opportunities to Practice

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

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

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

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.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

3 Language Learning Pitfalls to Avoid

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

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

A Second Language For You?

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

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

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

Why did they give up?

Inconclusive Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing Promises and Unrealistic Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My own experience is instructive here:

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

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

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

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

No Long-Term Plan

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

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

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

And not everybody is able to follow Benny Lewis' Fluent in 3 Months time-intensive the long view - Gamesforlanguage.comprescriptions. However, his Speak in a Week Free language course may be just the encouragement you need to get started. (And no, you won't be speaking fluently after a week!)

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

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

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

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

Long-term Engagement: Turning Failure Into Success

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

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

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

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

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

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 for its founders having purchased a 1-year subscription to the Spanish course and a 3-month subscription to the Dutch course. No business relationship exists either with the other language learning apps mentioned, except for the Benny Lewis affiliate links. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

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