Posted on by Saumya Tiwari

The Best Ways to Experience the Northern Lights

northern-lights-aurora-borealisSeveral years ago we experienced the Northern Lights when we visited Norway in September. We took a Hurtigruten Ferry from Bergen to Kirkenes.

Our ship, Kong Harald, stopped at various towns along the way, including Ålesund, Trondheim, Tromsø, to finally reach Kirkenes, a town right on the Russian border.

When we crossed the Arctic Circle, we all got a handful of ice down our backs as a gesture of respect to Neptune.

That night, the sky lit up with a beautiful play of northern lights.

It was Galileo Galilei who coined the term "Aurora Borealis" in 1619 after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning.

While he was wrong that sunlight reflected from the atmosphere would cause the streaks of light, the term, or a slight variation of the Latin original, is still used in Romance languages:

Italian: aurora boreale
Spanish: aurora boreal 
French: aurore boréale
Portuguese: aurora boreal

"Northern lights", the more descriptive term, is used in Germanic languages (which includes English).

The Finnish word "revontulet" means "fox's fires" and goes back to the Finnish legend that the northern lights are a reflection of the fox's fur.

What causes the Northern Lights?

Northern lights (there are also "Southern lights") develop when electrically charged particles from the sun - a "solar wind" collide with the gases contained in the earth's atmosphere, especially nitrogen and oxygen.

A good and more detailed description of Auroras can be found in this article of Space.com: Aurora Borealis: What Causes the Northern Lights & Where to See Them.

Some of you would also like to experience these spectacular displays of nature, perhaps.

We are therefore happy that Saumya Tiwari describes seven options for you below:

Where to Find Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are one of the biggest attractions in Northern Europe.

It is natural to regard them as a significant nature’s wonder.

People from around the globe flock to see their glory and beauty from August to March every year depending on the place you’re visiting to witness them.

Also known as Aurora Borealis or the polar lights, this scientific miracle is, if not one of the seven wonders of the world, definitely the eighth.

There are several ways to experience the Northern Lights and bask in the surreal beauty of that region. Let’s dive right in and check out some of the best ways to witness the Northern Lights this year to get a complete experience!

1. Swedish Ice Hotel

The Swedish Ice Hotel is an attractionSwedish Ice Hotel Entrance in itself and a mark of great man-made excellence.

It is constructed every year from scratch and is open for guests from mid-December till March end.

The itinerary of the several tours and trips offered by the hotel also includes a trip to the Aurora Zone to witness this unbelievable spectacle. (picture Source)

In Swedish, "northern lights" is "norrsken".

2. Canadian Snowmobiling

Snow mobiles in Canadian forestAnother way to experience the Northern Lights is by traveling to the Northwest Territories and finding some warmth in the frozen landscapes there.

Between the months of December and April, you can go on a snowmobiling voyage across the Great Slave Lake that is totally frozen during these months. You can rent a remote cabin to see the polar lights from there.

You can also arrive at the Blatchford Lake Lodge by a quick 30-minute seaplane ride to enjoy several activities like ice-fishing and snowshoeing in addition to watching the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)

3. City Tour in Iceland

Iceland has a bustling and busy city life that Reykjavik at nightpresents a lot of exploration opportunities for the tourists.

You can take a package trip to Reykjavik that accommodates you in a four-star hotel. This package includes the Northern Lights.

The hotel takes the guests out on an excursion to witness the Aurora in a super jeep. This natural display can be witnessed by this way between October 1 and April 8. (picture Source)   

In Icelandic, "northern lights" is "nor∂urljós".

4. Norwegian Voyage

Northern light above Hurtigruten shipHow would you feel about not just witnessing the Northern Lights but also learning all there is to know about it?

Hurtigruten, who is a Scandinavian cruise specialist takes you on an Astronomical Voyage of 12 days along with a writer and physicist.

This cruise offers a total of six departures in the months of winter and includes at least four ports of call.

This Scandinavian cruise specialist promises a week-long complimentary voyage if, for some reason, the guests are unable to witness the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)   

In Norwegian, "northern lights" is "nordlys".

5. Greenland Husky Safari

Everyone has heard of the fantastic Siberian Huskies.Husky Safari

Regent Holidays offer a Dog Sledding Expedition from Reykjavik to Greenland for a trip of 11 days.

The entire trip takes place on dog sleds from South-Eastern Greenland, particularly Tasiilaq. Dog handlers or native mushers accompany you to ensure an uneventful and safe journey through the snowy landscapes.

Your 5-day stay there promises you plenty of opportunities to experience the Northern Lights. You can stay in remote and beautiful mountain huts in the middle of nature.

However, this particular voyage would require you to possess a certain level of stamina and physical fitness.(Picture Source)

6. Igloo

Finnland Iglo villageHow romantic would it be to witness the Northern Lights through a glass-roofed igloo?

This would literally entail sleeping under the starry lights to witness one of the biggest scientific marvels on earth.

You get to stay in Finnish Lapland which is a beauty in itself at Kakslauttanen. It’s a 3-day trip so again; there are several chances to see the Northern Lights. You can choose your preferred style of igloos above the Arctic Circle.

All igloos have a thermal and clear glass domed ceiling. They are also thermally insulated for a cozy and serene stay.

They sleep up to six and also offer a very private sauna and open log fires. You will be equipped with all the warmth you will need in there. You can choose to avail this tour from early November to early April. (Picture Source)

In Finnish, "northern lights" is "revontulet".

7. Up in The Sky

How would you like to watch the Northern Lights Northern Lights from airplane windowup in the sky at 40,000 ft.? Aurora Flights UK offers a 3-hour flight from London and other regional airports to view the Northern Lights.

This trip can be pre-booked from early November until late March. This is an excellent way to view the Northern Lights as it also offers the maximum visibility.

You can even enjoy snacks and astronomers onboard to guide you along the way. (Picture Source)

Parting thoughts

Regardless of the way, it is an indisputable fact that Northern Lights are nothing short of a marvel that must be witnessed at least once in a lifetime. Choosing any one of these ways will give you an ultimate Northern Lights experience.

Author’s Bio: Saumya works at The Villa Escape - Norway Northern Lights Tour From India as editor. She is a 20-something fun loving and ambitious female who loves traveling and loves to share her traveling experiences. She loves solo travel trips. If not traveling you can find her behind her laptop playing games.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with thevillaescape.com or Saumya Tiwari other than publishing Saumya's article.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Why Travel is a Great Language Motivator

travel books - Gamesforlanguage.comTraveling can be a great motivator for learning a new language.

As you're making your travel plans, don't forget the language(s) you may encounter.

Obviously this does not work so well for trips such as “Europe: 6 Countries in 7 Days” or similar offerings.

But if your plans include a stay of a couple of weeks or so in one city, or even in one country, learning at least the basics of the local language should be part of your preparations.

(As readers of previous posts will know,  after our [first] retirement we enjoyed longer stays in several European cities and countries, see also Learning Spanish..)

Our three-week trip to Denmark in 2017 motivated us to learn Danish with Duolingo and Pimsleur. (We'll report about our experiences with Danish in a future post.)

Did You Learn a Language in School?

Learning a language in school is a very different experience from learning one outside of the classroom.

What is a "school subject" on the one hand, becomes a "hobby" when you're no longer in school. It becomes a way of trying new things and discovering new places.

A school subject includes daily homework exercises, classroom lectures and drills, tests, exams, and grades. And who likes to be called on in class? All that can be a chore and may well put a damper on your enthusiasm.

On the other hand, learning a language as a "hobby" puts you in charge of your own learning. It's an adventure. Not only do you learn new skills, you explore other cultures and make new friends. Language learning can be a perfect tool for self-discovery and self-development.

And, who knows what new doors a second language will open in your work life, or even in your planning for retirement?!

A Motivator: Your Imagination!

If you drop the "school-subject mindset", learning a View of Nyhavn in Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comlanguage can be a fresh and fun experience. One way to do this is to tie language learning to planning a trip.

Often, as we plan and organize a trip, we anticipate being there. 

We imagine touring the Reichstag Dome in Berlin; enjoying a caffè macchiato in Trastevere, Rome; strolling through the Marché Mouffetard in Paris; taking a night tour of the Alhambra, in Granada.

Or as we did before our trip through Denmark: picturing ourselves strolling through the streets of Copenhagen, ordering an "øl" in one of the harbor-side bistros on Nyhavn (picture), exploring the Hamlet castle in Helsingør.

We made your imagination the motivator for learning Danish!

In Visitors' Shoes in the US

Language Motivator:bLiberty Statue by Charles DeluvioWhat does knowing the local language matter?

Imagine yourself coming to the US without knowing any English.

You would certainly experience the country and its people as a tourist, from the outside.

Imagine having to ask everyone, every time: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez-vous français? Parla italiano? Or, Habla español?

If you stayed a little longer, you would of course pick up a few words.

But if you had learned some basic English phrases ahead of your trip, your interactions with us locals would be more meaningful. I bet you'd enjoy your stay so much more.

It's the same for us when we travel abroad.

The better we speak the local language, the more deeply we experience the place and its people.

Being able to communicate allows us to go off the beaten track and feel confident about doing so.

We try to go with the idea that not everyone speaks English. It's something we actually have found to be true in many cases, especially if you venture off the beaten track.

The Beginner's Conundrum

However, in countries like Denmark where nearly everybody speaks English, it is often hard to practice your new language: Danish people switch immediately to English when your Danish does not seem to be authentic.

I (Ulrike) was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in a small town, whom I asked (in Danish) for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

However, I also experienced the “Beginner's Conundrum”: When her answer came back in rapid fire Danish, I was lost.

She switched to English, but I just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the Bank with an ATM and could replenish our travel funds.

And if you wonder why we don't like to use an ATM at night or not connected to a bank, read about our experience in Seville, Spain: 5 Tips for Dealing with ATM Troubles Abroad (and at Home).

That early success encouraged us to use our Danish as much as we could: when ordering food, buying tickets, asking for information, etc.

Why Learn Danish at all?

Why did we persist, even though English is so widely spoken and Danes themselves tell us not to learn Danish because it's too difficult. Yes, why?

When you're in another country, you're in a totally new environment. Everything's different, the way people interact, the look of the countryside, the bustle of the towns, the taste of the food, and obviously, the sound of the language.

By using the local language, you're no longer experiencing the country just from the outside.

So, if you have a travel destination on your bucket list, add learning the language to your preparations. Give yourself, let's say three months, like we did with Danish. And then see how much of the language you can acquire in that time.

Use whatever resources you enjoy (flashcards, songs, films with subtitles, etc.) and just keep going, a little bit every day. As an added benefit, you'll sharpen your memory and train your ear.

And when you arrive in the country you're visiting, challenge yourself to speak up whenever you can! Try to experience your visit as a mini-immersion.

Peter's Confession

I have to confess that I have developed a love-hate relationship with Danish.

Even though Danish is a Germanic language and there are many words I can decipher when I READ them, I'm still a long way from SPEAKING Danish, or rather – pronouncing it correctly.

Why is that?

It's because Danish spelling is not phonetic in many cases: Not only are many endings not pronounced at all, but certain vowel and consonant combinations produce very unfamiliar sounds, at least to my German ear.

Examples of pronunciation as I hear them:

  • jeg (I) - <yigh>
  • mad (food) - <melth> and spelled differently but sounding very similar to
  • meget (much) - <melth>
  • det er ikke nogen (there isn't anything) - <de ehr igge noarn>

Nevertheless, I am continuing with Danish using Pimsleur, Duolingo and Memrise lessons at the moment, and hope to be able to listen soon to some LingQ mini-stories. (as Ulrike is already doing).

The Pimsleur audio course for Danish lets me focus more on listening and pronunciation, without getting confused by the non-phonetic spelling.

Why am I continuing with Danish when our travels are behind us?

Because I want to figure out at least the most common Danish pronunciation rules and I won't stop until I do.

What started out simply as preparation for a trip to Denmark now has become a personal challenge as well as a way to keep my brain sharp.

And what keeps motivating me to continue are my memories of our wonderful trip - and my determination to figure out the Danish pronunciation rules.

I'll keep you updated about my success (or failure)!

So, pick a travel destination and, yes, jump into your new language. This too is an exciting adventure.

Do it with enthusiasm and with imagination, and find your motivation to stick with it. Then go there and speak up!

Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

 

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

national flags on TVYou know that you're making progress when you start to pick up language subtleties in the language you're learning.

Language subtleties can be fun or embarrassing, but you'll especially remember the embarrassing ones.

I'm not only talking about “false friends, which are not that hard to check.

For example, my (German speaking) father quickly learned the English word “gift”, as the same word means “poison” in German.

Gift” was also the first entry in our earlier post, 20 German False Friends To Watch Out For.

There are also quite a few such “cognates” in Spanish, as we listed in False Language Friends – Spanish: me despierto et al.

(And, we just realized that we are still to list the major cognates for Italian and French, Gamesforlanguage's other two languages.)

In the meantime, here are just a few language subtleties we came across recently.

German Subtleties

One of our sons told us the other day that during a stay in Germany he responded to a question whether the room temperature was ok: “Ja danke, ich bin warm.” But, the correct German expression for "I'm warm" is “Es ist mir warm.”

He could not understand the chuckle of the family friend he was staying with. The friend explained that “warm sein” in German used to mean to be “gay”, or “schwul”.

Although the above exchange occurred over 15 years ago, our son still remembers the different meanings of the two expressions.

Going back even further, I remember when mymonkey on tricyle cartoon French-speaking brother-in-law, who also spoke excellent German, was puzzled when he heard one of our friends tell us over a glass of beer:

Als ich nach der Party mit dem Fahrrad nach Hause fuhr, hatte ich einen ordenlichen Affen sitzen.” (Literally: When I rode home on my bicycle after the party, I had a substantial monkey sitting.)

My brother-in-law laughed as heartily as all the others, but later he asked me: “Why did he have a monkey sitting on the bicycle with him?”

As many other languages do as well, German has many ways to express being tipsy or drunk, for example:

  • einen sitzen haben
  • einen Affen sitzen haben
  • einen Schwips haben
  • einen im Tee haben

And in the various German dialects there are quite a few more.

This brings me to German words with more than one meaning.

For example, “einen Kater haben” could mean “owning a male cat”. But more likely – and you would know from the context – it would mean “having a hangover”.

In German, there are plenty of words with more than one meaning. There is no way around learning them. Examples are:

  • Linsen” are “lentils”, but also lenses of cameras
  • ein Gericht” could be “a court of justice”, or a meal
  • die Wirtschaft” could mean “the economy” or the local pub
  • ein Bienenstich” is a German cake specialty, made with yeast dough, filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds, but it also simply means “the sting of a bee”. I still have no idea how this cake got its name.

You can sometimes guess the meaning of a word from the context, but that is often harder for idioms.

Spanish Subtleties

The other day I was again reviewing the use of “estar” and “ser” in Spanish.

One of the explanations of the difference between both is the following:

Think about “ser” as a “passive” verb, something “being” that way permanently, e.g. describing a personal trait; “estar”, on the other hand, is a more active verb describing a (temporary) condition.

In the examples below the use of either “ser” or “estar” changes the meaning of the adjective.

Bored woman ignored by her dateFor example:

The young woman in the picture certainly would NOT want to say:

“Soy aburrido” which means “I am boring”,

when she really wants to say: “Estoy aburrido” (I am bored”) - hopefully only a temporary condition with her date!

Similarly, when you tell somebody that you are not ready, say

“No estoy listo” and NOT “No soy listo”. The latter means that you are not intelligent or a quick thinker.

Also:

  • vivo/a is alive with estar, but clever with ser
  • cansado/a is tired with estar, but tiring with ser

Remember as well that “estar” is used to indicate your location, as in “Estoy en casa” (I'm at home), but “ser” is used to indicate your origin, e.g. place of birth, “Soy de Austria.” (I'm from Austria.)

And just when I thought I had understood the differences well enough, I was reminded of a few major exceptions:

  • Está muerto” (he is dead) seems to be quite a permanent condition, but uses “estar” to indicate that somebody is dead.
  • On the other hand “ser” is used to indicate time as in “Son las tres de la tarde” as in “It's 3 PM”, which seems quite transitional.

As with German, Spanish also has words that have more than one meaning:

  • piso: can mean “apartment” or “flat” but also is used for a building's “level” or “floor”
  • gato: “cat” is the translation I know, but apparently it is also a “car jack”
  • tiempo: can mean “time” or “weather”
  • techo: can mean “ceiling” or “roof”

As Spanish is spoken not only in Spain but also in the Americas, it's not surprising that there are quite a few words that have acquired various meanings in different countries.

A few examples include:

  • fresa: a “strawberry” in most Spanish speaking countries (but “frutilla” in Argentina); in Mexico it's also a slang term for a spoiled, egocentric, wealthy youngster
  • coche: a “car” for Spaniards, but a slang term for “pig” in Guatemala (maybe from French “cochon”?), or a babystroller in Chile
  • torta: a “cake” in most Spanish speaking countries, it also translates as “a punch in the mouth” in Spain

This iTalki post has quite a few more Spanish words with different meanings in different countries.

Only the context of a sentence lets you sometimes figure out the meaning.

But because Spanish has phonetic spelling, it is much easier than French with its many homophones, as we'll see below.

French Subtleties

As with German and Spanish above (and most languages), some French words have two or more meanings.

For example, voler can mean either to fly or to steal. (Maybe the image with the seagulls below will help you remember the two meanings).   seagulls trying to steal food on beach

But with nouns, often the article changes, and that can alert you to which meaning is used.

  • la tour (a tower), le tour (a trip)
  • la poste (the post office), le poste (a position)
  • la mémoire (the memory), le mémoire (the essay)

I'm doing a lot of listening at the moment (on LingQ) to get my French up a notch for an upcoming trip to French Switzerland.

One feature that makes spoken French particularly tricky are its many homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

Here are a few examples:

  • fin (end), faim (hunger)
  • verre (glass), vers (a verse, or towards), ver (worm), vert (green)
  • vin (wine), vain (in vain), vingt (twenty), vint (came)
  • saut (jump), seau (bucket), sot (dummy), sceau (seal)
  • maire (mayor), mer (sea), mère (mother)
  • c'est (it is), sait (knows), s'est (reflexive pronoun + est)

Not to mention the various personal verb endings that get swallowed in spoken French.

  • (il) est, (tu) es
  • (je) parle, (tu) parles, (ils) parlent

You have to pay special attention to the context to get the right meaning and spelling.

Idioms

Idioms pose their own challenge as the literal meaning is often quite far from the idiomatic meaning.

A couple of my favorites are:

  • poser un lapin à quelqu'un - to put a rabbit to someone (to stand someone up, not show up for a date)
  • faire la grasse matinée - to do the fat morning (to sleep in)
  • faire le pont - to make the bridge (if Thursday is a holiday, you may as well not work Friday either and take a nice long weekend)

If you like French idioms, check out our post on Other Cats to Whip? The Book of French Idioms. It's a collection of funny idioms with delightful illustrations.

Québecois

Last August, we spent several days in Montreal to attend LangFest 2017. The conference is a popular annual language gathering that attracts language enthusiasts from all over the globe.

We really enjoyed being in a French environment, but it took us a few hours to attune our ears again to the melody and expressions of Québecois, the local language spoken there.

One of the first workshops at LangFest was a quick overview of Québecois by translator and editor Grégoire Lahaia. This was really helpful for us. Lahaia pointed out three major characteristics of how Québecois is pronounced:

1) Dipthongization of long vowels (also called vowel breaking)

  • père - paèr
  • rêve - raève
  • fort - faort

2) The consonants t/d are pronounced ts/ds before the vowels u/i

  • tu - tsu
  • tuer - tsuer
  • tirer - tsirer
  • durant - dsurant

3) Many words are contracted

  • tu es - t'es
  • sur la - s'a
  • il aime - y'aime
  • je suis - j'su

It made us realize again how important it is to listen to different regional accents of a language to train your ear to understand variations beyond standard pronunciation. 

Italian Subtleties

Besides watching the TV series Un posto al sole, I'm doing some reading in Italian these days. I'm noticing that many common words seem to have cognates in English, but there's been a shift in meaning.

False Friends

a cat and a mouseYou think you understand the meaning of a word, but it doesn't seem to quite fit the context. So at times it's a good idea to double check.

Here are a few examples of false friends (and we'll have more in a soon-to-come blog post):

  • accomodarsi - to sit down (to accommodate - alloggiare)
  • baldo - courageous (bald - calvo)
  • bravo - good, clever (brave - corragioso)
  • fattoria - farm (factory - fabbrica)
  • proprio - one's own, typical (proper - appropriato, giusto)
  • questionare - to argue, quarrel (to question - interrogare)
  • parenti - relatives (parents - genitori)

The verbs essere vs stare

Even if you've figured out the difference in Spanish between estar and ser, the Italian verbs stare and essere will provide you with a new challenge.

In general essere means to be, and stare means to stay. But in some contexts stare also means to be.

As a starter, it's useful to learn a few basic phrases, so you don't have to think about what to use with these.

Use essere:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.

  • Sono italiano. - I'm Italian.
  • Sono insegnate di francese. - I'm a French teacher.
  • La casa è di Carla. - It's Carla's house.
  • Il tavolo è negro. - The table is black.

For condition or emotion.

  • Sono malato. - I'm sick.
  • Sono felice. - I'm happy.

For Date and Time.

  • Sono le dieci. - It's ten o'clock.
  • È lunedì. - It's Monday.

Use stare:

For precise location (but in some cases, you can also use essere)

  • La sedia sta/è in cucina. - The chair is in the kitchen.
  • Lui sta da me. - He's at my place.

For certain idiomatic expressions.

  • Sto bene. - I'm well.
  • Come stai? - How are you?
  • Sto male. - I'm feeling bad.

For the continuous tense:

  • Sta piovendo. - It's raining.
  • Sto mangiando una pizza. - I'm eating a pizza.

The little word ci

The two-letter word ci pops up a lot in conversational Italian. You'll see it on its own and also attached to the end of a verb.

It helps to learn basic phrases, but more importantly, just become aware of it as you read or listen to Italian.

With time, you'll learn to recognize the various meanings of ci.

Personal pronoun ci = us/to us/ourselves

  • Marco ci ha invitato a cena. - Marco has invited us to dinner. (direct object)
  • Ci l'hanno dato. - They gave it to us. (indirect oject)
  • Ci siamo divertiti molto. - We enjoyed ourselves a lot. (reflexive)
  • Ci vediamo là? - We'll see each other there? (reciprocal)

Demonstative pronoun ci = about it/on it

  • Non so che farci. - I don't know what to do about it.
  • Ci penserò. - I'll think about it.
  • Ci puoi contare. - You can depend on it.

Adverb ci = here/there; there is/there are; it is/they are

  • Qui non ci ritorno più. - I'm not coming back here again.
  • Conosco Roma perché ci ho abitato. - I know Rome well because I lived there.
  • Ci sono 30 kilometri. - It's (there are) 30 kilometers.
  • C'è nessuno in casa? - Is there anybody at home?

Verbs with ci

A number of verbs change meaning by adding ci”. The meanings have to be learned in context. Here are a couple of examples: 

  • pensare - to think
  • pensarci - to think/take care of sth; ci penso io (I'll take care of it)
  • stare - to be, stay
  • starci - to be up for it/to fit in it; non ci sta (it doesn't fit in it)
  • credere - to believe
  • crederci - to believe it; non ci credo (I don't believe it)

We obviously could only touch the surface of the four languages' many subtleties.

But once you start paying attention to them, you'll be a step closer to mastering the language you're learning. The proof will be when you recognize some of the expressions in conversations and can use them yourself.

Posted on by Peter Editor

"Lea-Knows" - Easy Flashcards - A Review

Lea-knows - flashcard icon of appDo you sometimes wish that Google would automatically create easy Flashcards for foreign words you look up on the net?

Well, here's an app that does exactly that. It's called Léa-Knows and is now available in the iOS and Android app stores.

The app is (still) free, easy to use, and has a number of features that I really like.

But first a quick look at the story behind the application in the words of its creator, Sébastien Marion, a French tech entrepreneur:

"This app was really created as a result of frustration. When I arrived in Spain, I would constantly type things into Google Translate and then forget them a minute later. In this way, it becomes hard to improve. The alternative of copying words inside a flashcard is too impractical and time-consuming when in the middle of a real conversation.

So LéaKnows is really ideal for these situations: it works just like Google Translate (even uses the GT API), but the kicker is that it creates flashcards out of every search and you can practice these flashcards with ease when you have some free time.

The app is named after my daughter Léa, now 20 months old who is growing up with a French father, a Taiwanese mum (speaks Chinese), parents that communicate between them in English, living in Barcelona where the official languages are Catalan and Spanish. I thought that it would be fitting to name it after her."

TRANSLATIONS

Lea-Knows lets you use Google Translate for numerous languages, I counted over a hundred. You pull down one Tab for the language to translate from, and another Tab for the language to translate into.

On the Tabs, you'll find English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese on top.Lea-knows - translate screen The rest of the languages from Afrikaans to Zulu follow in alphabetic order.

To see what one can do with Lea-Knows, I tried out some translations for languages I know well and also for languages that I don't know well yet.

Words, phrases, as well as shorter sentences seem to work well.

Some examples:

  • Italian: pomeriggio - French: après-midi
  • German: nicken - English: nod
  • Dutch: levenslang - Spanish: durante todo la vida
  • French: trouver - Catalan: trobar
  • English: lunch - Danish: frokost
  • English: Hello, how are you? - French: Salut comment allez-vous?
  • Spanish: creo que no - French: je ne crois pas
  • French: le petit garçon - Italian: il ragazzino
  • Italian: la Pianura Padana - English: the Po Valley
  • German: ich möchte eine Tasse Tee - Swedish: Jag skulle vilja ha en kopp te

In some cases, you just have to say "Okay I get the meaning", even if the translation is a little off.

  • Italian: sfortunato - English: bad lucky
  • German: Nachbesserungsbedarf - English: imperfections (but literally: the need to improve)

EASY FLASHCARDS

Lea-knows Menu screenshotThe Flashcard function is cool!

At this time, you get just the translation, no audio yet. (We understand from Sébastien that audio should be added soon.)

So for now, you'll need to find other ways to hear how the languages sound.

Every word you look up automatically creates a Flashcard that is saved in the app.

A quick tap on a Flashcard shows the translation. Slide the Flashcards to go through them.

You can easily customize how you want to see these Flashcards again.

  •  Add a star to put the card into a group you can practice separately.
  •  Add a color (there are 6) to sort by language, or to create your own recall system.
  •  Archive the card to practice at a later date.
  •  Trash the card.

You can review, relearn, and test yourself whenever you have a few minutes.

USING THE APP

Google Translate has become an automatic habit for many polyglots. Lea-knows all flashcards Steve Kaufmann, who runs a language site and is learning his 17th language, agrees: "I think Google Translate is a tremendous resource and not only for language learners."

With the added function of creating automatic Flashcards, the application Lea-Knows makes Google Translate a convenient language learning tool.

There are all kinds of ways to use the app so that you can also learn what you're googling:

  • While traveling, learn the meaning of new words you see or hear.
  • Check on the meaning of words in a foreign article or book.
  • Look up words as you're writing an email or text in a foreign language.
  • Create a list of words for items you want to learn.
  • As you're talking with someone, do a quick check for a word you forgot.
  • Type in unknown words you hear as you're watching a foreign film.

I bet you can think of more ways yourself.

And, you can always choose what to keep and review, and what to discard.

This app is definitely a step into the future. Have fun, and keep learning!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. 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 or below. 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Which Foreign Language should I learn?

World Language with Globe, flags and young woman"Which foreign language should I learn?" is not a question many adults ask themselves.

Learning another language for most is more likely not a choice but a necessity.

The need to learn may be driven by a new job or career choice, a stay in another country or the desire to better communicate with your partner and his or her family.

Yes, there are others who don't NEED, but just WANT to learn another language. There are so many unique and beautiful languages.

We recently came across a fun quiz that TakeLessons created to help you decide which one to learn.

It will let you consider which foreign language suits you best, depending on your interests and personality. 

Now, we can't guarantee that learning that language will be easy, but it may very well be the language you'll love to learn!

Whether it’s to enhance your career, make travel to a foreign country more enjoyable, or simply as a hobby to keep your grey cells in top condition, learning a new language is an excellent endeavor.

The biggest challenge, though, can be choosing just one to begin with!

 
Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

Student drawing - GamesforLanguage.com(updated 1-10-2018)

Learning a foreign language is for many a necessity - for others a way to expand their horizons, enhance their travel experiences and sharpen their communication skills.

But if you just WANT to learn a new language - even if you don't NEED to - here are six common-sense tips that will make you progress faster:

1. Find a fun entry into language learning 

Learning a new language should be a fun adventure, not a tedious chore.

It should also be affordable for you.

If you like games, we obviously recommend our games and courses as a fun (and completely free) way to get started - but there are lots of good materials on- and offline.

For many, Duolingo or Lingohut are easy - and also free - ways to start a learning habit.

2. Practice frequently

As with any new skill that you're trying to learn, your best progress comes with regular and focused practice. A good daily routine is 15-20 minutes a day.

If you can build a habit by doing your practice always with your morning coffee or on the way home from work, all the more power to you.

Your smart phone with earbuds is a great tool for listening to podcasts or even do a course lesson or two while waiting or commuting!

3. Repeat words and phrases often 

Focus as much as you can on “real” language. The phrases and sentences you learn and practice should be useful and become part of your foreign-language conversational toolbox.

"Listen and repeat" is a tried and true technique for practicing pronunciation and trying out speaking. To record and play back your own voice, use the recording program "audacity."

At first you may feel that you're way in over your head, but you'll be surprised how quickly you improve.

4. Listen to songs you like

As soon as you can, sing along. In her article "Language Learning Tip: Use Music to Learn a Foreign Language" Susanna Zaraysky explains:

“The neurological links between language and music are vast but the basic thing to remember is that music activates more parts of the brain than language does, on both the right and left sides of the brain. So if you remember something to a tune, you are more likely to recall the information than if you just read it or heard it spoken..”

With songs you not only learn and remember words and phrases, you also internalize intonation, language patterns, and specific grammar points (such as the right article, a specific case form, or a type of contraction). 

(Language Zen lets you learn Spanish with music.)

5. Start reading things that interest you

Follow Facebook or Twitter posts in the language you're learning. Find online news texts or get news alerts from a foreign newspaper. 

Reading is a powerful way to boost your language learning. Often you can guess the meaning of new words from the context of a story or report. Because many words get repeated again and again, they become lodged in your memory.

(Google now has an instant translation service for any text. The translation may not always be be perfect, but you'll certainly get the gist of the meaning.)

If you can also listen to the audio as you read the text, you'll get a double benefit. 

LingQ has tons of materials to hone your listening and reading skills, and build your vocabulary.

6. Boost your learning with things you enjoy

Watch a movie from time to time, with or without subtitles. Find YouTube videos or Ted Talks on interesting subjects. Follow the news or listen to audio books in your new language.

Try out one of the many social networking sites and find a language-exchange partner. Conversations via Chat or Skype are a great way to stay motivated. 

These tips are not just for beginners, but they work really well when you're a beginner with a realistic approach to learning a language.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Silvester Traditions in German Speaking Countries

Frohes Neues Jahr with fireworks (Updated 12-28-2017)

In 2015 we first started this post about Silvester Traditions in German speaking countries.

German is spoken in many parts of the world.

German is the only official language in Austria, Germany, and Lichtenstein.

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

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

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

There are about 95 million who speak German as their first language. With the pockets of German-speaking communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, U.S., South America, and even parts of Africa, it is estimated that about 10 million people speak German as a second language.

In the U.S., communities of Amish (see Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”), Mennonites and Hutterites speak German dialects. The Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate New Year with a traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut.

GermanyBerlin's "Langer Lulatsch" with Fireworks"- Gamesforlanguage.com

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

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

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

St. Silvester, Germanic Gods, and other Superstitions 

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

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

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

Northern Germany

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

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

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

Southern Germany

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

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

Austria

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

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

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

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

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

Switzerland

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

"Altjahresu" - Schwarzenburg (Canton Bern)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Traditions

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Listening Practice Tips for my Seventh Language

man-listening-to-big-blue-speakerUntil recently, I did not focus much on deliberate listening practice for the languages I learned in the past.

I said “deliberate”, because I must certainly have listened when I learned my first language growing up in Austria. We now know that babies spend most of their first year just listening and then trying out some basic sounds.

And anybody who has watched babies knows that they pick up the meaning of gestures, names of objects, etc., long before they can even pronounce their own name.

When I learned my second language, Dutch, while attending school in the Netherlands, I must also have listened to the language around me. Within three months, I was fully participating in my 4th grade class.

The same was probably the case when I picked up English in Canada as a young teenager.

French, my fourth language, I learned in high school and college. While I remember the required “language labs”, I did not enjoy them because they consisted mostly of grammar drills. I speak it quite fluently by now, only because I often have to speak French when we visit my husband Peter's family.  

Italian and Spanish I started to learn as an adult, just a few years ago. And so, I'm discovering that focused listening practice with audios and videos can make a huge difference.

The Beginner's Dilemma

You may have been learning a language for several weeks or months. You feel good about your ability to understand most of what you read or hear in your course lessons.

Perhaps you feel confident that you'll be able to order a meal in a restaurant or make yourself understood buying this or that, and even negotiating a price.

Then you travel to a place where the language is spoken and are eager to jump into conversations with locals.

It doesn't take long for you to realize: The other persons may understand what YOU say, but you don't understand them, unless they speak slowly and with simple sentences.

It's hard to have a real conversation that way.

Active Listening Practice in Rome, Italy.

During a five month stay in Rome, my Peter and listening practice of couple-watching-movie-on-television-in-living-roomI faced the “beginner's dilemma” certainly more than once. But we also noticed that our listening skills improved dramatically.

In the evening we often watched TV.

Even though we had prepared ourselves with Pimsleur audio courses before our arrival, the fast Italian on TV just came at us like a stream of rapid-fire sounds.

After a couple of weeks of daily listening practice, the stream started to slow down.

I started to recognize some words, and could hear when the words started and ended.

After a while, I also began to understand phrases and short sentences.

I certainly knew then that practicing listening is essential for understanding conversations.

So now I'm making a deliberate effort to practice listening with Danish, my seventh language.

These are the six (6) techniques that I use and recommend:

1. Do a lot of "listen and repeat" with words containing sounds that are difficult for you.

Babies are born with the ability to hear all sounds and they start learning their first (or second) language by just listening.

French girl talkingBy the time we're adults, we can hear mostly just the sounds of our own language or the languages that we hear in daily life.

However with focused listening practice, adults can both learn to hear and to produce sounds that are not familiar.

Sometimes it helps to understand how the sound is produced.

Although Danish is a Germanic language there are certain sounds that don't exist in German, Dutch or English.

A good example for Danish is the soft "d" sound, as in the words "mad" (food), "flød" (cream), "rød (red). At first the final soft "d" sounded like an "l" to me.

But while we were in Denmark a woman explained that it's actually like a very soft "th". She showed me that you can make the sound by putting your tongue against your front teeth. Once I knew that, I even heard the sound better. (Go figure.)

Some time ago we wrote a post about "Mouth Mechanics", and for many languages learning HOW to produce certain sounds is essential.

2. Pick a Level of difficulty that challenges you, but not too much.

A good guideline is that you'll want to understand at least 80% man climbing wallof what is said.

In order to make progress, start out at a level that's right for you. Then keep building on the vocabulary and grammar patterns that you know.

If an audio is too difficult and keeps sounding just like gibberish, it's easy to get discouraged and give up.

Finding the right level is not always easy. It will take a little experimentation and trying out different sources.

For some beginning learners, Slow German, Slow Spanish, etc. is helpful. But you should listen to natural speech as soon as you can.

For German, French, Spanish, and Italian, GamesforLanguage has natural-speed audios of each lesson, and Podcasts of each level. We recommend that you listen to the audio AFTER each lesson or level you completed and challenge yourself by listening to the podcast of the NEXT level.

Also, Steve Kaufmann's LingQ has many excellent audios of different length and difficulty.

3. Start with short audios and build up to longer ones.

stack of golden coins on whitePracticing sounds and individual words, of course, is not enough. Speaking is a stream of sounds, and you need to practice by listening to words-in-a-stream.

Start with (very) short audios. As you increase the difficulty and length of the clips, you'll also increase your vocabulary.

When you listen to full-length audio books, you'll hear the same vocabulary and grammar patterns come up again and again.

Each time they'll lodge a little deeper in your memory. A great source for foreign-language audio books is Audible.

(And, yes, it's like putting money in your language bank...!)

4. Listen to topics that interest you.

Why would you want to listen to something that does not interest or hobby icons on whiteconcern you? You don't have to, once you have gone beyond the basics of a new language and have acquired enough vocabulary.

There are two important reasons why finding topics that interest you is important:

  1. When you choose topics you know and like, you'll be motivated to listen often.
  2. The familiar context will make it easier for you to guess the meaning of unknown words.

If you have many interests, your vocabulary and listening comprehension will grow exponentially.

5. Listen to audios more than once.

9 Repeat iconsThis works best, of course, with shorter audios or with passages from longer ones. I have found that every time I re-hear a clip, I understand more.

Sometimes I "shadow" what is said, i.e. repeat what I heard just a second or so behind the speaker.

If there's an option, listen to a slow and a fast version of the audio. This is also a good practice technique. I like it because it makes me more keenly aware of the sounds, and how the isolated sounds (slow) become part of the natural sound stream (fast).

6. Listen to the audios WITH and WITHOUT reading the text.

When you listen without text, you're totally focused on sound and smiling man with tablet and earphonemeaning. That's like being in a conversation where you can only hear what is being said.

When you see the text as well, you are also aware of the spelling of words and how they look. For me, hearing and seeing the text helps me to remember the words and phrases.

For languages that have phonetic spelling, seeing and hearing reinforce each other. I'm thinking of German, Spanish, Italian.

Danish, on the other hand, is phonetically quite challenging. So it takes extra effort to correlate sound to text.

As English speakers, we often forget that the relationship between sound and spelling in English also has its challenges.

Understanding without Translating?

When I listen to a passage in French, or even Italian, I'm aware that I'm not translating at all. I just understand what is said. That's my goal also for Danish, but I'm not there yet.

I'm actually not sure whether that can be practiced or if you just automatically stop translating when the language becomes familiar enough.

I'd be interested in the thoughts of anyone who has experienced the same.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. 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 or below.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig with Ugur Cirak

SpeakMates: From Online to Offline Language Practice - A Founder Interview

Speakmates.com logoAs longtime advocates of online language learning and practice, we have also experienced the benefits and advantages of offline language practice.

A few years ago, after retiring, we adjusted our travel habits a bit: We would rent an apartment in a European city that we wanted to explore a little further.

In some cities we stayed for at least a week, in others for a month or longer.

We did so in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Seville, Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen in 2017.

Readers of our previous blog posts know that we often combined these stays with learning or practicing new foreign languages.

We had no language issues in Paris and Berlin, as we both speak French and German quite fluently.

Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Danish, however were new languages that we started learning more recently.

During our one-month stays in Barcelona and Seville, we were able to set up language exchanges with locals.

It took some work and coordination to arrange face to face meetings for our language practice . We would have loved to participate in Spanish language meetups, but could not find any.

A short time ago we came across a new website, SpeakMates.com, an offline language practice platform, still in its Beta stage. It helps language learners and native speakers find each other to meet in small groups.

We spoke with SpeakMates' founder Ugur Cirak and were intrigued by his story.

Here are his answers to some of our questions:

What gave you the idea for SpeakMates.com?

I worked as a Corporate Finance person for about 20 years. Last year I decided to quit my job and move to Japan.

Why Japan? Because my wife is Japanese. We had met in Pennsylvania, got married in Kyoto, and lived in Istanbul for 15 years.

We decided that the moment had come to spend some time in Japan. So we moved to Japan about a year and a half ago.

Initially I spent a lot of time traveling around the country, learning about the technology and startup ecosystem of Japan.

I always had a dream of having my own company, so my eyes were open for any opportunity.

We live in Sapporo which is the capital city of Japan’s Northern Island of Hokkaido. Friends socialzing in Café

When we moved there, I realized there was not much going on with startups, so I decided to organize “Startup Sapporo Meetups” through meetup.com.

Ever since then, I've been organizing this meetup. And thanks to it, I've been able to make many friends.

One of the Japanese participants has been organizing English speaking meetups as a hobby every week for the last six years, and I was invited to one of his meetups.

There were four Japanese participants, one (American) native speaker, my friend and myself.

My friend would facilitate the discussion while the native speaker and the Japanese participants would exchange ideas and talk about a topic.

I realized that this meetup was very effective in several ways:

  • it provided real, face to face communication and language practice ;
  • it was possible to learn from peers as well as from the native speaker;
  • it was inexpensive since the cost was shared;
  • it had a very relaxed and cozy atmosphere since it was held in a café;
  • having known each other for some time, the group had become a small but powerful community.

I thought that this context for language learning could be scaled through the internet and that a world-wide community could be possible. This is how I got the idea for SpeakMates.

Who would most benefit from SpeakMates?

Speakmates sign up landing pageAnyone who wants to improve or brush up her or his language speaking abilities could make use of SpeakMates to find like-minded people and good Mentors (see sign up landing page left).

Since SpeakMates is a meeting point to find OFFLINE language meetups. It is also a great way to make new friends in your neighborhood.

Our current customers include students, office workers, businessmen, professional women, housewives, and seniors.

Some of them have been abroad as expatriates and would like to keep and practice their language skills.

Others have never been abroad and are trying to improve their speaking abilities for future travel plans.

Everyone has her or his own story of coming to a meetup. I've been holding English meetups myself and it is really fun to meet all these people from very different backgrounds.

What are your specific goals for SpeakMates?

I would like to help people who are able to speak a language fluently to make money wherever they may be. The added benefit for Mentors is that this way they can also make friends in their neighborhood.

There is no License or Certification requirements to become a Mentor since we are trying to provide a real-world communication environment.

You don't get to speak only with people who have teaching licenses in the streets, right? 

Moreover, I would love to see SpeakMates become known as a worldwide venue where local language enthusiasts, learners and native speakers can meet and practice.

How is Speakmates.com different from meetup.com?

Meetup.com is a great company. I personally used it for some time and I'm still a member.

On the other hand, meetup.com is a very broad site, with many different categories other than language.

SpeakMates.com is kind of a language-specific meetup.com. Being language specific brings a lot of advantages.

For example, we provide predefined topics and topic materials for language meetups, blog posts about language learning, some fun tools to improve vocabulary such as songs and lyrics, etc.

We are working on additional features to streamline fun sharing of language-related pictures, texts, videos, audios and more.

We are all about languages, and offline language practice meetups are our core-value proposition.

In which countries do you see the most opportunities for SpeakMates?

Currently we have meetups in Tokyo, Sapporo, and Istanbul, Speakmates meetup paneland have registered Mentors from Japan, France, Slovenia, Turkey and South Korea.

We only have a history of three months with our Beta product release, but we're already seeing registrations from many different countries without specific marketing efforts.

This encourages us to scale up to more countries once we complete our Beta period.

Which languages have been most popular so far?

Although we're trying to promote all languages equally, the most popular meetups are in English.

From time to time, there are some meetups created in German, Japanese and Turkish as well.

We're hoping that as our brand builds we will be a hub for all languages.

What feedback are you getting from your Mentors and Mates?

We're trying to get as much feedback as possible from both sides.

We've already made some changes to our Beta version based on feedback from Mentors and Mates (our term for the learners).

For example, we made pricing, meeting duration and group size more flexible. Such meetup parameters can now be decided by Mentors.

We fine tuned our cancellation policy based on the feedback of some participants.

But generally speaking, we're getting very positive reactions to our idea and initial product.

What are your plans for developing SpeakMates?

This is a long journey and we're just at the beginning. Currently we are financing ourselves and trying to test the product-market fit.

As we see more traction in our platform, we're planning to raise funds and increase our capabilities by building a larger team.

We have product, marketing and scaling road maps and we continuously listen to our Mentors and Mates.

All this is making our road maps even better.

What are some of the site features that you are working on?

Currently we are working on adding the review feature to our site where both Mentors and Mates will be able to make public and private ratings and reviews for those who were in the same meetup. This is important for us as it will help to create and keep a safe and great community.

We're also working on making an online payment option available. Currently the only payment option is cash.

Another feature we're excited about is the “Activity Stream”: It will allow both Mentors and Mates to share language related pictures, texts, videos or audios in their timeline, follow each other and create useful content to stimulate language learning and practice.

We're planning some other features as well such as live chat, online practice, dynamic decision for the language level of the meetup and more.

What are your biggest challenges for the future?

We would love to create a great community for language practice.

So I think this is our biggest challenge; creating a great community and keeping it great.

If you are a native speaker or want to practice a new language, check out Speakmates.com. Maybe Speakmates can help you organize and/or become part of a new language meetup in your community.

Bios: Ugur Cirak is the Founder of SpeakMates.com, an Offline Language Practice platform that helps language mentors and people who want to practice speaking a Language find each other and meet in small groups in cozy locations. Before founding SpeakMates.com Ugur worked as corporate finance professional in multinational companies for 20 years. He is married with two children and speaks Turkish, English and intermediate level Japanese. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”

Amish Horse and carriage in Pennsylvania Dutch countryRecently, after attending a family wedding in Virginia, we drove back to Boston via Pennsylvania Dutch country.

We knew that the Amish and many Mennonites speak German dialects, but otherwise knew little about the history and language of these groups.

(If you read our posts about Northern Germany, or Seville, Spain, you know that we enjoy learning about dialects.)

Yes, we also saw several of the black Amish buggies (see picture), but we wanted to look especially into the language angle.

Passing through Lancaster county, we stopped off at the Mennonite Information Center to learn about the Pennsylvania Dutch language (also known as Pennsylvania German).

At the Center, we saw a film about the history and culture of the Amish, and we bought a book "Speaking Amish" - A Beginner's Introduction to Pennsylvania German, by Lillian Stoltzfus, which I'll review briefly below.

In her introduction, Stoltzfus explains: "Pennsylvania German is spoken throughout the United States and Canada. Although people from each region can understand each other, each region speaks it a little differently."

What surprised us was to learn that most Pennsylvania Dutch speakers are ethnically Swiss.

A Little History: Why Swiss?

2017 is the year that Protestants are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther posting his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany.

It was in Switzerland that the Anabaptist movement originally began in the 1520s, as a radical offshoot of Ulrich Zwingli's Reformation in Switzerland.

The movement slowly spread through western Europe.

In Switzerland, the Anabaptists were persecuted for their beliefs. Many fled to the Palatinate, a region in the southwest of Germany. The Palatinate (historically, "die Rheinpfalz") lies west of the state of Hessen and northwest of Baden-Württemberg.

As time went on, Anabaptist followers picked up the name "Mennonite", Mennonite & Amish migration mapafter Menno Simons, a Friesian religious leader, who was active as a religious leader from 1537 to 1561.

The "Amish" were named after Jakob Ammann, a Swiss leader of the Anabaptist movement from 1680 to 1712.

From the late 1640s on, numerous Anabaptist families (who first called themselves "Swiss Bretheren") arrived in Pennsylvania as a result of William Penn's experiment in religious tolerance. Amish and Mennonite families followed in the early 1700s.

A large number of Anabaptist followers came from the Palatinate (to where the Swiss had fled), and a smaller number from Alsace and Switzerland.

The map above from the Mennonite Information Center shows the migration of the Amish and Mennonites through the centuries. (Black lines: Amish to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, other colors: Mennonites' migrations.)

The Palatinate Dialect

The German spoken in the Palatinate (i.e. "Pfälzisch") is the linguistic ancestor of the Pennsylviania Dutch dialect. Palatine German belongs to the West Franconian group or dialects.

Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. Pennsylvania German) is the primary language of most Amish and conservative Mennonite communities living in the United States today.

Why Pennsylvania "Dutch"?

A possible explanation for the use of "Dutch" (to mean German) is that in the English of the 18th and 19th centuries, the term "Dutch" included what we now call Dutch, Flemish and German.

At that time, you distinguished between "High Dutch" (German) and "Low Dutch" (Dutch, Flemish).

Germany did not become a country until 1871. There were only Hessians, Prussians, Bavarians, etc. , citizens of the many kingdoms and duchies that eventually became part of the German nation.

For English speakers they were all “Dutch"!

Quick Review of "Speaking Amish"

Speaking Amish Cover photoLillian Stoltzfus' book is a delightful introduction to Pennsylvania German and includes suggestions on how to best study.

The book is made up of 25 short lessons, each with five to ten new words that are shown together with a picture to help memorization.

In the lessons you get clear and practical Phonetic, Grammar and Culture Tips.

There are also short exercises, with the answers given in the back.

The audios for each lesson are between one and two minutes long and spoken naturally by two children and as well as Lillian Stoltzfus herself.

At the end of the book, there are several Verb Charts and a Phonetics Chart for reference.

The Pronunciation of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD)

Every dialect of a language has its characteristic pronunciation. The CD that comes with "Speaking Amish" is really helpful.

But for me it's hard to describe pronunciation without audio.

Still, for anyone who knows some Standard German (SG), here are 3 characteristics of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD).

1) PD has no umlauts: no "ä", "ö", "ü", and also no "äu"/"eu".

To produce the equivalent sounds in PD, you "unround" your lips (pull them apart):

For example:

SG "dünn" - PD "dinn" (rhymes with "thin")
SG "Löffel" - PD "Leffel" (vowel as in "left")
SG "Deutsch" - PD "Deitsch" (vowel as in "hi")

2) In PD "ch" usually has a "sch" sound:

For example:

SG "ich" - PD "isch"
SG "du bist" - PD "du bischt"
SG "richtig" - PD "rischtisch"

3) Sounds at the end of a syllable or the end of words are often dropped:

For example:

SG "haben" - PD "hann"
SG "Hunde" - PD "Hunn"
SG "müde" - PD "miid"

Daily Vocabulary

The vocabulary lists below are all taken from "Speaking Amish". As Lillian Stoltzfus explains in her introduction, the words she teaches in the book are all from Pennsylvania German spoken in Lancaster county, or even more specifically from those spoken in her family.

Speakers from other regions in the U.S. or Canada, may have different words and various pronunciations.

Commonly used Nouns

Pennsylvania German uses three articles for "the":

der (with masculine nouns), die (with feminine nouns, es (with neuter nouns)
die Schprooch - SG "die Sprache" (the language/dialect)
es Ess-sach - SG "das Essen" (the food)
die Kich - SG "die Küche" (the kitchen)
die Schtubb - SG "die Stube" (the room)
der Gaarde - SG "der Garten" (the garden)
die Arwet - SG "die Arbeit" (the work)
der Nochber - SG "der Nachbar" (the neighbor)
der Bu - SB "der Bub" (the boy)
es Meedel - SB "das Mädel" (the girl)
die Gmee - SG "die Gemeinde" (the church)

Commonly used Verbs

Pennsylvania German has these pronouns that combine with personal verb forms:

ich (I), du (you), er (he), sie (she), es (it), mir (we), dir (you pl.), sie (they)
hawwe - SG "haben" (to have)
gewwe - SG "geben" (to give)
schreiwe - SG "schreiben" (to write)
gleiche - SG "mögen" (to like)
schaffe - SG "arbeiten" (to work)
laafe - SG "laufen" (to walk)
duh - SG "tun" (to do)
hocke - SG "sitzen" (to sit)
butze - SG "putzen" (to clean)
wuhne - SG "wohnen" (to live)

Words similar to English

Not surprisingly, English words have become part of Pennsylvania Dutch: 

die Schtori - SG "die Geschichte" (the story)
der Boi - SG "der (Obst)kuchen" (the pie)
der Daett - SG "der Papa" (the dad)
schmaert - SG "klug" (smart)
die Dallbopp - SG "die Puppe" (the doll)
der Pickder - SG "das Bild" (the picture)
die Gwilt - SG "die Steppdecke" (the quilt)
der Schtor - SG "der Laden" (the store)

Do Native Germans Understand Pennsylvania Dutch?

In Germany itself, there are a large number of dialects, and not every German speaker understands all of the other dialects of Germany really well. It generally depends on where a person is from and what experience with German dialects he or she has had.

Under the YouTube video: Lillian an Daniel Stoltzfus Lancaster County, which shows some interviews in Pennsylvania Dutch, there are a few of comments by native German speakers.

  • "I am from the south-west of Germany and I understand the most. It is more the dialect of this part of Germany where I live. (Ich komme aud dem Süd-Westen Deutschland und ich verstehe das meiste. Es ist mehr der Dialekt von diesem Teil Deutschlands wo ich wohne.)"
  • "Sounds almost like Palatinate German mixed with American English. Many Pennsylvanian families come from the region here. So, it wouldn't surprise me. [In Palatinate dialect]: (Klingt fascht wie Pälzisch mit Amerikanisches Englisch gemischt. Viele Pennslyfaanischi Familien kumme aus der Geschend hia. So es werd mich nit überrasche.)"
  • "I speak German and Dutch fluently. I understand them perfectly as weird as it is, a funky old Swiss German accent mixed with yank English. None of it sounds Dutch."

Is Pennsylvania Dutch a "dying language"?

According to a SwissInfo article, it is estimated that there are about 300,000 to 350,000 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch in 31 states of the U.S., mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada.

There are also some Amish groups that speak Alsacian German and Swiss German (both Alemannic dialects). These number about 14,000 together.

Experts such as the German linguist Guido Seiler and Mark Loudon, a professor of German at Wisconsin-Madison, claim that the Pennsylvania Dutch and Alemannic German dialects spoken in the U.S. are anything but "dying languages".

In fact, the number of speakers is constantly increasing because of large families and because 90% of the youth stay in their traditional communities.

I have not touched on the religious differences between the Amish and various Mennonite groups. Those interested in finding out more can find ample information on the web or by contacting the Mennonite information Center.

"Shunning" is one of the differences. "The Shunning" is also the title of a book by Beverly Lewis and a 2011 movie. 

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. 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 or below. 

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