Last year my husband and I spent seven weeks in Spain, both to try out our newly acquired Spanish and to retrace the trip of our Spanish 1 traveler "David." We started out in Barcelona (see one of our blogs), and then visited Granada, Sevilla, and finally Madrid. It was great fun to use our Spanish in daily life - shopping at the open market, navigating our way through the city, visiting many of Gaudi's masterworks (see his Casa Milà on the left), making small talk with people we met as we went about our daily activities.
We found that it's fairly easy to acquire new words, especially if they are items you can picture or point to. But it was more difficult to learn and use expressions that have an abstract meaning. And such expressions often include those little connecting words that are called prepositions (eg: to, in, for, by, off, over, about, etc.).
The Challenge of Prepositions
Prepositions sometimes provide a special challenge for language learners. That is because they often have several meanings and don't translate in a logical way into other languages. For example, if you google the Spanish translation of the English preposition "to" in the online dictionary wordreference.com, you'll see that the ten "principal" meanings of "to" require 5 completely different prepositions in Spanish: a, hacia, de, contra, sobre.
Phrases with the English Preposition "to" translated into Spanish
- to fly to Madrid/to Spain - volar a Madrid/a España (a = to)
- to go to the airport - ir al aeropuerto (al = to the)
- to walk to the house - caminar hacia la casa (hacia = until)
- along the way to there - por el camino hasta allí (hasta = until)
- a vote of three to one - tres votos contra uno (contra = against)
- to apply pigment to a canvas - aplicar pigmento sobre el lienzo (sobre = over)
Let me say at this point that it's perfectly okay to make mistakes, and even if you use a wrong preposition, people will usually understand what you're trying to say. In a conversation, folks can easily ask you what you meant and you can quickly correct misunderstandings. And this means you'll have the kind of feed-back that will help you to learn.
How to Micro-Learn
It's a great feeling to master an expression in a foreign language. Once you've got it, it's yours and you can build on it. So it's worth spending a little time learning common expressions that contain prepositions, and there's no mystery about how to do it:
- Tackle each expressions individually.
- Practice saying it until it stays in your ear.
- Write it down, and/or read it, again and again, until you have it in your visual memory.
- Start using it in conversations and in texting and emails.
Your new expression will soon begin to sound and look right. Once that happens, attach a rule to it. For example: in Spanish, going/traveling to a city or country always uses "a." Then, when you try to say, "I'm flying to England" - you'll know what preposition to use: "Vuelo a Inglaterra."
We are often asked why we chose games and a travel story for our language program. We answered this question in a recent article on Omniglot.com and are republishing it here with a few minor edits:
Several years ago, my husband and I prepared for an extended stay in Italy by learning Italian with the three 30-lesson courses of a well-known audio CD program. Arriving in Italy, we could communicate well enough - although not speak fluently. However, we could read Italian only with difficulty, and writing it was a disaster. We kept spelling everything the French way, French being a language which we both speak fluently.
Before our trip, we had also looked at other CD and DVD programs and had tried several, including Rosetta Stone. But as the vocabulary did not match our interests or needs, it was hard to stay motivated and we were quickly bored. For example, in one of the early lessons of RS, we practiced (multiple times) all of the following sentences: the women are eating rice, the girls are reading, the horses are running, the boy is not driving.
Gamesforlanguage was born from of a simple idea: Learn language in a relevant context. If you can repeatedly hear, read, write, and speak the words, phrases, and sentences of a story, you'll remember them more easily, because you remember the context. To learn a new language, you have to connect it to your own experiences. With travel being a common denominator for many language learners, we decided to create a travel story of a young man traveling to the European countries of our four languages we currently offer. The everyday, practical language he experiences on his trip is bound to be relevant to most travelers. (The first 6 lessons of our new course, English for Spanish speakers, are currently available for a free try-out)
Learning with Games
But Gamesforlanguage.com is also offering something still different. Our games are not just individual learning clips, nor are they simply an addition to or an enhancement of a conventional language program. The games ARE the language program. Each lesson of our 36 lesson course is made up of games that practice one or more of the four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Here are some examples:
- Memory Game: Memorize new words and phrases by hearing, reading, and saying them
- Snap Clouds: Practice by choosing the foreign word/phrase, hearing, and saying it
- Balloon Words: Train your ear by identifying the sounds of key words
- Say It: Repeat words and phrases aloud after hearing them (and before seeing them briefly)
- Deal No Deal: Discover the meaning of the story dialogue by simple elimination
- Word Invaders: Build a foreign sentence by clicking on the right words
- Writing Clowns: Translate and spell against time
- Record It: (not really a game) Hear, repeat, and record each sentence of the story dialogue
Other games focus on particular aspects of each language, such as pronouns, articles, adjective endings, basic conjugations, etc.
A YouTube Snapshot
This brief YouTube clip Play n' Learn with Games and a Travel Story gives a snapshot of some of the games in the first Italian lesson. By the time the learner hears the full story dialogue - just before "Record It" - he or she will easily understand it, after having memorized, heard, read, spoken, and written the words and phrases of the story several times. Starting with Level 4 - after 18 lessons - a slight change occurs. Now the story dialogue will occur at the beginning of each lesson, forcing the learner to guess the meaning from the context of the story and before discovering and learning the new words and phrases. This is quite similar to what a traveler will experience when he or she tries to understand a foreign conversation.
Grammar in Context only
In contrast to some other programs, gamesforlanguage.com teaches grammar items only as they come up in the context of the ongoing story. Grammar is not taught in the form of abstract rules.
For example: In the second lesson of our French 1 course, the following sentence is part of the dialogue: "Je suis contente que vous parliez français." We explain the use of the subjunctive form "vous parliez" (instead of the indicative "vous parlez") briefly why it is used: after a phrase expressing emotion ("je suis contente que ..."). That's all. At this stage the learner would be overwhelmed by a more detailed explanation.
Audience & Technology
Gamesforlanguage.com courses may appeal primarily to teenagers and adults. However, we know that children who have just learned to read and write also enjoy the games. The online course works on all modern browsers and, since January 2013, also on iOS6 iPads and iPhones (except for the recording feature, as Apple does not support the Flash Player). We are hopeful that multichannel audio for HTML5 will soon be supported by Android devices as well.
Traveling to France? Preparing for the trip may both heighten your anticipation as well as enhance your experiences there. Travel entrepreneur Rick Steves has called this Prepare for Spontaneity. A basic knowledge of the local language and culture are essential tools for navigating new places and meeting locals.
In our four language courses we are introducing the learner to various particularities of each language or culture. For example in our French 1 course our traveler Daniel learns about the "bouillabaisse". Listen HERE to a conversation between him and his aunt. Maybe your French lets you understand how this traditional French dish got its name. If not, you'd certainly understand it by the end of lesson 33!
The 36 lessons - we call them "Scenes" - take our "hero" Daniel (and, by extension you!) for a three week journey to France, where you'll learn the language of daily French life.
For example, in Paris, you'll visit with relatives, take a walk on a famous square, order "un express" and "une tarte aux fraises" at a café. You'll buy a train ticket to Aix-en-Provence. There, you'll ask directions to a friend's house, and on a walk around the city, learn about Cézanne's occupation before he became a famous painter. In Avignon, you'll take a bus to your hotel, and check in. Later, after dinner, a friend will show you the famous bridge. (Who doesn't know the song "Sur le pont d'Avignon"?) For your last week, you'll return to Paris.
Each of the 36 lessons is based on a dialog and on part of the story. In each lesson, you'll play your way through a series of games, with which you learn and practice vocabulary, train your listening comprehension, practice speaking by recording and playing back your own voice. You'll also get essential grammar and culture tips.
Your goal will be to exceed a target score so that you can move on to the next lesson and hear “the rest of the story.” You'll also be challenged and often able to understand the meaning of the next dialog through the context of the story alone – similar to what you might experience living in the foreign country, or following an original French movie.
So, maybe, next time you're sitting in a French bistro and see the "bouillabaisse" on the menu, you'll give it a try and even know what the name means...
A Delicious & Expensive "Veal Cutlet"
Swiss Pricing & Guest Choices
Beware of "False Friends" & innovative Pricing strategies...
A recent exhibition of Paul Cézanne "The Large Bathers" at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts reminded us that in Scene 4.5 of our French 1 course our traveler Daniel learns about Paul Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence.
We recently put together a YouTube clip Which famous painter lived in Aix-en-Provence (and first worked as a banker)? And as we did in our previous blog Heidelberg & Mark Twain, we believe that knowing more about the context of “The Story”, not only makes learning more interesting, but also more effective: In Scene 4.5 we are practicing the French past imperfect tense with sentences such as “Le peintre Paul Cézanne allait souvent au Café Clément.”, “Oui, et voici la banque où il travaillait jusqu’en 1862.”, “Paul Cézanne était banquier?”, “Ah d’accord, je ne le savais pas!”, “Paul Cézanne aimait vivre à Aix-en-Provence.”, etc. By remembering the context of these sentences, you will be able to recall verbs and forms more easily, and can then apply them as well in different situations.
Paul Cézanne was Fortunate
There is not much mystery about Cézanne's life as a banker's son who became a famous painter and is seen by many (Wiki) “to form the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism.” And “His father, Louis-Auguste Cézanne (28 July 1798 – 23 October 1886), was the co-founder of a banking firm that prospered throughout the artist's life, affording him financial security that was unavailable to most of his contemporaries and eventually resulting in a large inheritance.”
It is interesting, though, that his path was not a straight line either: As pointed out in this Cézanne's biography, his father initially opposed his artistic career; he started to study law, while also enrolled in the School of Design in Aix. The above link continues further:
In 1861 Cézanne finally convinced his father to allow him to go to Paris. He planned to join Zola there and to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts. But his application was rejected and, although he had gained inspiration from visits to the Louvre, particularly from the study of Diego Velázquez and Caravaggio, Cézanne experienced self-doubt and returned to Aix within the year. He entered his father's banking house but continued to study at the School of Design.
The remainder of the decade was a period of flux and uncertainty for Cézanne. His attempt to work in his father's business was abortive, and he returned to Paris in 1862 and stayed for a year and a half. During this period he met Monet and Pissarro and became acquainted with the revolutionary work of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet.
Learning – Rarely a Straight Line
Cézanne was fortunate to be able to pursue his dream, but it's also clear that his life did not always follow a straight path. Learning a language is also a path of many twists and turns. Relating Cézanne's story to learning French: You may have to try out various approaches before you are successful. As banking or law were not for Cézanne, so the current language method or course you are struggling with may not be the right one for you. Give it your best effort, but if it doesn't work, try out others – or learn with several simultaneously!
Recently we put together a YouTube video “Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg?” based on Scene 4.5 of our course and our conjecture that Mark Twain liked the name "Heidelberg" because Heidelberg in English means Huckelberry mountain, (actually Heidelberg is an abbreviation of Heidelbeerenberg [huckleberry mountain].
We found it interesting that Twain had stayed in Heidelberg with his family for several months in 1878. A Wiki entry notes that he had unsuccessfully tried “to learn German in 1850 at age fifteen. He resumed his study 28 years later in preparation for a trip to Europe."
Mark Twain had published his novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in 1876 and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in1884. A little further digging found several German sites which also describe his love of Heidelbeeren. He found them in the forests around Heidelberg and enjoyed Heidelbeerkuchen (huckleberry pie). By the way, the confusion between a huckleberry and a blueberry also exists in German between a “Heidelbeere” and a “Blaubeere” and the difference is well explained here.
So the character of Huckleberry Finn had already been well established by the time Mark Twain arrived in Heidelberg as this link explains further:
“Supposedly looking for a quiet village, where people didn't know him, neither of which fit Heidelberg because it was already home to active American and British communities, he arrived with his family on May 6 for the day and stayed three months.His biographer Justin Kaplan asserts Twain was aware that Heidelberg derived from "Heidelbeerenberg", meaning "Huckleberry Mountain", which may explain his affinity.
Nobody really knows," writes Werner Pieper in his updated Mark Twain's Guide to Heidelberg , 'what made Mark Twain stay in Heidelberg for such a long time. Maybe he was prompted by old dreams from the times he was passing Heidelberg, Mississippi, while working on the steamships? Did he plan to stay here or did he and his family just fall in love with this city?"
While the above allusion to Mark Twain's passing by Heidelberg, Mississippi during his days as a river pilot may also be compelling, a little further digging causes some doubts: Mark Twain worked on a steamboat, first as an apprentice, then as a pilot during 1857 to 1861. However, Heidelberg, Mississippi was only founded in 1882 by Washington Irving Heidelberg. Twain visited the river a number of times, after his pilot days, most notably in 1882 as he prepared to write "Life on the Mississippi". Maybe that's when he came across the name Heidelberg again.
So whether he already knew the name Heidelberg or whether he related to it as a translation of "huckleberry" we'll never know. But we do know that he liked his three months in Heidelberg, Germany.
And we'll explore in another blog Mark Twain's love-hate relationship with "The Awful German Language" which he published as an Appendix to his "A Tramp Abroad" in 1880.
If you want to learn to speak a foreign language, is it really important to practice aloud? My experience has been that although the benefits of practicing listening, reading, writing, and speaking overlap, each foreign language skill also needs its own practice.
Last year my husband and I spent a month in Barcelona. We had rented an apartment and found this to be a brilliant opportunity to practice our nascent Spanish in daily situations - such as shopping, banking, getting around the city, or socializing with locals in our neighborhood café.
Practicing Reading aloud
But Spanish wasn't the only language we "practiced aloud." One weekend, our nephew, his wife, and their 4 year old daughter Céline came to visit us. They live in Switzerland and are French-speaking, so for three days we conversed only in French. The first night, I was the lucky one to read a bed-time story to Céline. She wanted to hear Raiponce (Rapunzel, in French) and had brought her own book. When I started, it was immediately apparent that Céline was not tired at all and I found myself reading to her aloud for close to an hour. In between bouts of reading, Céline peppered me with questions why Raiponce did this, or Raiponce did that. French is my 4th language and I'm fairly fluent, but let me tell you, discussing the storyline of a complicated fairy tale with a chatty 4 year old can be challenging.
The next day, I felt the effects of my brief but intense immersion experience. My French brain was working in high gear: I found that words came more easily to me and the sometimes awkward French sounds flowed more smoothly.
Producing Foreign Language sounds
Practicing a new language aloud starts with sounding out individual words and phrases, but also includes repeating - aloud - longer sentences. These might not always sound perfect, but the effort to recreate the music and intonation of a sentence is excellent practice in itself. Producing the sounds of a foreign language is in part a mechanical process that involves position of the tongue, movement of the muscles in the mouth, and guiding your breath. Your mouth is definitely multitasking.
There are many audio courses, YouTube clips, etc. that teach pronunciations and the particular sounds of many languages. We find that imitating practice by recording your own voice and comparing it to the native speaker works best for us, and we have included this feature in all our courses. In addition, we often find that we can remember a sound better when we see the written word. That's why we have also a “Say it” section: You hear a word or phrase, are asked to repeat it, then see it written for a moment before you hear the next one.
Reading and listening are great ways to rapidly improve your understanding of a foreign language, but don't forget, practicing and speaking aloud will get you ready for conversations: they may be with kids about a fairly tale, or with peers about anything at all!
GamesforLanguage works on iOS6 mobile devices!
Finally, you can access our four language programs not only on your desktop or laptop but also on your iOS6 mobile devices. Many of our users have been frustrated that while they could access our online program perfectly well from their new iPad, the audio did not work!
With the release of iOS6 (the most recent release of the operating system on mobile Apple devices), Apple iPhones and iPads now support multi channel audio in HTML5. We have now integrated this new technology, called the Web Audio API, into our games.
This means you don't need to go through the Apple store to use GamesforLanguage. You would want to have a good Wi-Fi connection. Just open your Safari browser and login to our site and start playing and learning. While for us the screen on the iPhone is too small for certain games, Memory Game, Snap Clouds, Shootout, etc. may still work for some users. We prefer the regular iPad and iPad mini.
One caveat though: As Apple does not support the Flash Player either, the recording functions, both in “Record it” and “Recall and Record” (which starts with Level 2) do not work on the mobile devices.
(As there may still be some bugs to resolve, we'd appreciate, if you would let us know of any that you encounter and we'll be happy to add/extend a FREE monthly subscription.)
At this point we don't know yet when we can make Games4language also work on Android mobile devices. Android does not yet support the technology that now enables multi-channel audio to work on Safari in iOS.
Those of you who replayed some earlier Scenes may also have noticed the following changes:
- An expanded Story dialog for the first Scene of German1 (with the other languages to follow).
- All Scenes have lengthened games for more playing practice.
- “The Story” now appears at the end of each Scene by which time it will be easily understood (until level 4, when it switches to the beginning).
- Quick, short games teach articles, pronouns, noun genders, etc. right from the start, and in the later levels we added other fun games such as Whack-a-Zombie, Falling Apples, Moon Landing, etc. (above).
In fact, you will find that many of the games are even more fun to play on a tablet, as you can just touch the screen for the correct word or phrase.
A few years ago when I retired, my wife and I decided to head to Europe for an extended stay. Both of us had been born in Austria. My wife had childhood memories of the Italian Alps and Venice, but it had been over 30 years since our last visit to Italy as young adults. Although neither of us spoke any Italian, we decided to spend five months in Rome and take trips from there. We prepared with Italian CDs, (my wife was still working as a free-lance editor for Pimsleur Language Programs), rented an apartment in Trastevere online and were off in September.
Rome and Surroundings...
We enjoyed Rome very much, improved our Italian by taking daily lessons with an Italian tutor, and explored the city and its surroundings on foot, by bus, and by train. We came to realize that staying in a foreign place for more than a few days has many benefits. Not only can you visit the “must see” attractions (view from St. Peter's right) at your leisure, but even more importantly, you can start to experience the “vibes” of the city: the daily bustle on the streets and in the markets ; the atmosphere in the neighborhood cafés and restaurants; the conviviality of the Romans' habitual late afternoon stroll; the pleasurable local night scene: in movies, theaters, concerts, bars; the activities at neighborhood squares and parks that function as community centers...
And as in most European cities, you can visit many places just using public transport. From Rome, we enjoyed easy day trips by bus or train to Castel Gandolfo, Ostia, Frascati, Tarquinia, Civitavecchia, Villa d'Este, Hadrian's Villa, and others. Still starting from Rome, several overnight train trips - to Pompei, Naples, Capri, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast - rounded out our Italian experience at that time.
Getting to Know a City...
We still travel by car from time to time (e.g. see our blogs on our recent trips to Barcelona w/ Gaudi's Sagrada Familia left, Southern Spain, Cornwall and London, Brussels. etc.). However, we really like to stay in a place for at least a month, especially when we are in a larger city. Besides our stay in Rome, we have also stayed a month each in Paris, Berlin, and Barcelona. Recent one-week visits to Madrid and London were pleasant and filled with many activities, but they didn't allow us to absorb each city's character in a leisurely way. We know Vienna, Amsterdam, Munich, Zurich and Brussels quite well, but there are still many other European cities on our current list, such as Dublin, Prague, Budapest, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, etc.
And When You Have Time...
So, if you have time on your hand, love other cultures and languages, and can afford it - you may want to forgo the “5 countries in 7 days” kind of trip. You may rather want to choose a country or even just a city to get to know in more depth. Regarding “affordability”: We have found that renting an apartment is not only more economical than staying in a hotel in most cases, but also gives you more space and flexibility. And, in our case, it often provided an opportunity to invite friends and family for a visit! (For the more adventurous travelers, there are also apartment/house exchanges, etc).
So far, we have limited our extended stays to European countries, but we are eager to extend our reach. Still, unless we stay in countries where we speak the local language, it would mean that we should start learning another language. And that will be another project (and story)...
If the number of promotions and discount offers by language learning companies around year end is any indication - 2013 should indeed be a banner year for learning a foreign language.
While nobody knows how many such offers have been accepted world wide, we can safely assume that there are indeed many who have made learning a new foreign language their New Year's goal.
There is no lack of research and literature that analyze and describe the challenges of achieving our goals. I recently came across a post from 2008 on zenhabits.net. Here are some suggestions how this blog can be applied to language learning:
- Start small. Many language programs overwhelm a learner with too many options and choices. We, at Gamesforlanguage.com, add 15-20 words with each lesson. The phrases of each lesson are part of an ongoing travel story. Learning these words and phrases should take about 20 minutes. If you get into a daily habit of committing those 20 minutes, you'll have made a great start. You can always add more time later.
- One goal. Focus on one achievable and realistic goal. No, you will not speak a new foreign language fluently in a year - unless you are willing and able to commit considerable time and energy. Learning a new foreign language as an adult requires discipline and sustained effort. Completing the course you have purchased, subscribed to, or enrolled in may be your one realistically achievable goal.
- Examine your motivation. Write down the reasons you want to learn a new foreign language. Maybe you plan to travel to a foreign country, you have a friend, spouse or relatives you want to communicate with, or your education or business interests motivate you.
- You have to really, really want it. The above reasons have to be strong enough for you to commit the energy and time needed to make real progress. If you can stay excited about your choice long enough to reap some benfits, e.g. reading an article or a book, watching a foreign movie or video, chatting with a friend, etc., your feeling of succes and accomplishment will then carry you along. But if you have just been “seduced” to learning a new language by an unrealistic promise such as “Speak a language in 10 days,” or other slick marketing ads, think again. You have to stay excited about your goal and continuously fuel your enthusiasm.
- Commit publicly. Today there are many ways to do that. Many online language programs let you post your progress scores on your Facebook page. If you are into blogging, you can report your experience and progress. You can tell your friends. And, especially if you have friends that speak the language you are learning, let them know.
- Get excited. See also 4. above. The more you learn, the more opportunities will open up for you, whether reading on-line blogs or articles, watching foreign movies or videos, linking up with online chat rooms, or preparing for your trip. You need to find your way of visualizing the benefits of achieving your goal.
- Build anticipation. You may want to start today: Buy that CD course you saw in the mall, enroll in the Adult Ed course your local college promotes, or subscribe to an online course you saw advertised. But hold it! First do some homework: What is your learning style? Are you a visual or an aural person? Where and when can you commit the time? Before work? After hours? At home? In a class setting? At work?, e.g. during a lunch break? What is your budget? Think it through, take some time and make your choice deliberate.
- Print it out, post it up. (Right from the blog): “Print out your goal in big words. Make your goal just a few words long, like a mantra (Exercise 15 mins. Daily.), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and at work. Put it on your computer desktop. You want to have big reminders about your goal to keep your focus and to keep your excitement going. A picture of your goal also helps,” e.g. a picture of you friend, spouse or relative, or of the foreign country you want to visit, etc.
Even if you have followed all the above tips and have carefully set your goal, you'll need to find ways to keep going when your enthusiasm starts to wane. In several of our future blogs, we'll apply the "20 ways to sustain motivation when you are struggling" to learning a foreign language.
- 4 Skills
- Adult learning
- Context learning
- Interactive Learning
- Learning with Games
- Memory Training
- Mobile Devices
- Online learning
- Quick French
- Quick German
- Quick Italian
- Quick Spanish
- Rosetta Stone Blog
- Social media
- Teaching Tools
- Training the Ear
- The Flamingo Path to Language Learning
- DECEMBER 2013 NEWSLETTER: A Crazy NEW Idea?
- 7 Key Ingredients of a Foreign Language Practice Plan
- Learning Grammar in Context
- Fluency vs. Proficiency in Foreign Language Learning
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