Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Memories of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 21, 1968

I recently came across a newspaper clip from September 1968, that I had found among my late father's belongings:

He had published excerpts from my (German) letter to my parents in the “Canada Kurier”, a German newspaper in Winnipeg, Canada under the title: “Erlebnisse und Eindrücke eines Besuches in Prag”. (Experiences and Impressions of a visit to Prague)

In the letter, I wrote how I had experienced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, while in Prague. (I also found a few of my old photographs.)

It may be hard to imagine today why a young Canadian would be scared by such a situation.

But as an Austrian immigrant to Canada, I still remembered the Russian occupation of Vienna after the War. And the Iron Curtain was still a real and psychological barrier for many Europeans at that time.

How I Got to Prague

On Monday August 19th, 1968, an American friend and I arrived in Prague. A student from Canada, I had spent the year as an exchange teacher for English in Freiburg, Germany.

I was off for the summer and in my old Volkswagen Beetle, my friend Harris Ulrike's old VWBeetleand I drove from the Black Forest, to Bavaria and into Austria.

On our way to Vienna, we decided to take a detour to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to see what the "Prague Spring" was actually like.

We had heard that Alexander Dubcek, First secretary of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, had started a reform program to establish "communism with a human face". The period of political liberalization got to be known as the "Prague Spring".

Dubcek had vehemently reassured Moskow that Czechoslovakia had no intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact (a political alliance between the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries, established in May 1955).

We arrived in Prague late afternoon on Monday, August 19th, 1968 and got accommodations at a student residence. There they rented rooms over the summer to tourists. [I don't know if that particular one still exists, but it was located about 4.5 km from the city center.]

The Published Excerpts From My Letter (Freely translated and edited)

Tuesday [August 20th], we toured the city: the Town Hall with its old astronomical clock, the Synagogue, the Castle, Kafka's house, the Charles Bridge. Street art on Charles Bridge, Ptague, August 21, 1968On the bridge, hippies drew modern religious images and Dubcek slogans with chalk onto the sidewalks. Some of the young people were singing folk songs.

In the evening, before returning to the student residence, we strolled by the Vltava river and chatted [in German] with one of the locals. He painted us a rosy picture of growing freedom in his country.

That night I dreamt of grey airplanes in my room but I didn't sleep badly.

The next morning [Wednesday, August 21st], as I was in the women's washroom for a shower, a man rushed in and looked for his wife. He was Italian and kept shouting "russi, russi".

Later, at the reception, we were told that Soviet troops had unexpectedly entered the city with tanks and armored vehicles. It was to be a full fledged occupation.

Our first thought: Let's get out of here. We checked out of the student residence and tried to find gas for the car. But that seemed like a hopeless undertaking. We were told that all gas stations had been out fuel for hours.

So we drove to the train station to call the Canadian and American embassies. But there we encountered Soviet tanks and troops.

We didn't want to leave the car on the street. For now, it seemed best to stay calm, get a place to stay and to wait and see.

Lines in font of food store, Prague August 21, 1968We drove back to the student residence and were lucky to get beds again for the night. We left the car there and walked back into the city center.

In front of the grocery stores, we saw long lines of people hoping to stock up on food.

An open truck drove down our street. On it people were waving flags. A bystander told us that they were chanting "long live Dubcek".

As we got closer to Wenceslas Square, we heard shots. But when we got there, things had calmed down.

A large crowd of people had gathered on the square in passive demonstration.

A little farther on, we saw that the National Museum was riddled with bullets. When we asked a passerby why that building, he said: "Why, yes, why? They are Russians and they don't need a reason. Today, the 21st of August is a historic day for us".

Right then, a huge cloud of smoke rose up and we could smell rubber and gasoline. At the same time we heard the noise of automatic rifles and tank guns. Our passerby told us: "Oh, that's Radio Prague being blown up".

Armored tanks thundered by. The soldiers on them shot periodically into the air. All around, people shouted and cursed, refusing to be intimidated.

Finding the Embassies

When things calmed down again, we took a side street and walked in the direction of the Canadian and American embassies. It seemed like a good idea to register with them.

But the embassies weren't that close. And to get there, we had to cross the Vltava River. The bridges were all guarded by soldiers in tanks. As pedestrians we could still move around freely, but traffic was at a standstill.

We were afraid that once across the Vltava River, we would be cut off from our student residence.

Besides, a large part of the occupying forces were located around the Prague Castle, where Svoboda and Dubcek were being "isolated". The embassies were just around the corner from there.

[Ludvic Svoboda was president of Czechoslovakia from 1968 to 1975. He achieved great popularity by resisting the Soviet Union's demands during and after its invasion of August 1968. (Brittanica)]

Still, we continued on and crossed the Vltava River over the Charles Bridge. Just like the local pedestrians, we zigzagged our way through the rows of armored vehicles that stood guard there.

A group of soldiers called something to a young woman. She swore back at them. They cursed in return. The woman lifted her fist and shouted "Heil Hitler". It wasn't the first time that such a comparison was made. Swastikas had been chalked on some of the walls and we even saw one on the inner side of a tank wheel.

Russian armored vehicle, Prague, August  21, 1968Local Czechs clustered around armored vehicles and spoke with the soldiers. Some even handed out flyers to the troops.

Later, we met an Englishman who told us the following: His girlfriend, who was Russian, had spoken with some of the soldiers. They told her that many of the occupying Soviet or Warsaw Pact soldiers were surprised to be in Prague and not in Poland. Others only knew that they were fighting a "counter revolution". Still others only shook their head and said: "We don't know anything, we only follow orders."

We finally reached both the American and the Canadian embassies and left our names there.

By now it was three in the afternoon and it seemed wise to return to the student residence.

After all, we had a long walk in front of us and who knew what problems we would still encounter. Luckily, going back over the Charles Bridge went without a hitch.

But now all bridges were being guarded even more heavily. On all larger streets stood rows of armored vehicles.

On the public squares you could see an increased number of soldiers, each with an automatic rifle.

It seemed to me, though, that their uniforms looked a little ragged and not really adequate for an occupying force.

Food and Gasoline

The lines in front of the grocery stores had not gotten shorter. We needed bread, but couldn't find any. All we could get was a package of crackers and beer.

A few people carrying flags were still walking around or driving back and forth in small cars. Some of the flags were torn and spattered with blood.

We heard shouts of "Dubcek, Svoboda". But in general, people were passive. Once we arrived at the student residence, we knew we were in for a long evening.

Upstairs while we ate, we discussed our "gas problem". We knew we had enough gas for about 40 km. But the nearest border crossing was at Gmünd into Austria, and that was about 175 km away.

Other border crossings were even farther and we feared running into a blockade or being forced to take detours.

An East German man from Leipzig explained to us how utterly hopeless the situation was. But he mentioned that the only station that still sold gas was only about a kilometer away. We hopped into the car and drove there.

A long line and a long wait, just to get 10 liters of gas. It was not enough to reach the border, but it was something.

Information and Rumors

In the hall of the student residence, the radio brought the news, always the same bad news. Everything seems so unreal.

Waking up in the morning of Thursday, August 22 we heard no airplanes, only the constant noise of Soviet trucks bringing supplies, cannons, and new troops.

In the women's washroom - the place where we got our first information of the day - one rumor had it that it was impossible to leave the country by car.

Nor were there any trains back to the east block countries or to the west.

There were also other rumors:

  • All border crossings were blocked, except the crossing at Gmünd to Austria;
  • or, the best way to leave was via Hungary;
  • or, the only crossing that was open was the one at Waidhaus in the direction of Pilsen;
  • or, the Vtlava River was blocked everywhere, no chance to cross it;
  • or, some tourists had tried to leave the country and were sent back, etc.

People like us were beginning to feel a little desperate.

It was impossible to call either of our embassies, all telephone connections were cut off.

A man who spoke both Czech and German said that the Austrian embassy advised all tourists to leave the country as soon as they could. We knew we had to act.

Being Lucky

We lined up once more at the gas station. With an extra note, we bribed the attendant to go over the usual ration and fill our tank.

An American student, who had no hope of leaving Prague by train, asked to join us.

Together with him, we discussed how to proceed: either via Budweis to Freistadt or to Gmünd, depending on the information we could get.

With some difficulty we got through the city by car. We had to avoid the heavily guarded areas. And even though locals kindly tried to help us, they were too upset to think clearly.

Outside of the cities, we saw confusing road signs. Some of them were obviously turned the wrong way and pointed north to Moskau. Others had different place names written over them.

In the villages along the road people gave us fliers. In one town they tossed flowers to us as we drove by. In many places, the names Dubcek and Svoboda were written in chalk on the road.

About an hour before the border, we came across another gas station and could fill up again.

A woman said we definitely needed to drive to the Gmünd border crossing.

On our way there we caught up twice to a convoy of tanks. It was easy to recognize the Soviet tanks. They had a thick white stripe on their frame.

At the border, there was only a normal line of cars waiting to cross. We didn't see any Soviet vehicles.

Later we heard that Gmünd really had been the only open border crossing at that time. A man we talked to had first tried crossing at three other places and but was turned back by Soviet soldiers.

We also heard that Soviet tanks were supposed to arrive at Budweis at 5 o'clock. Half of them would continue on in the direction of Gmünd to close the border there.

I guess we'd been really lucky. In Viennese, you'd say we had "a Masl".

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below! (And if you'd like to read the original German version, just send us a note to contact.)

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Tips for Your Next Adventure Travel Trip

Travelers discussing planMaybe you're an adventure traveler who likes to explore a country on your own. But traveling to a country where you don't understand the language can be intimidating.

Yes, you can tell yourself, everyone speaks English. But actually not everyone does, and certainly not in areas that are off the beaten track. Or in areas that don't care that much about speaking English.

That last point was driven home to us during our one-month stay in Seville, Spain. One night when we tried to withdraw money from an ATM, the machine went on the blink during the withdrawal.

Our card was withheld, and "for technical reasons" the machine was unable to issue us the cash we had requested (though, as we found out the next day, the money had been withdrawn from our account after all – see for the full story: 5 Tips For Dealing With ATM Troubles Abroad - And At Home).

To our surprise, our several conversations with the bank manager (to get our card and our cash back) had to be done in Spanish. He proudly told us that he "did not speak English". The one employee of the bank who supposedly spoke English, didn't really.

Our Spanish turned out to be much better than his English. Still, using Spanish banking language proved to be quite a challenge and we had to brush up on it quickly.

That kind of experience has taught us a few things about preparing for our trips to foreign countries.

To prepare for our "slow travel" adventures - they include unhurried stays in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Amsterdam - we made sure to learn some language basics and to find out about cultural differences.

1. Practice the Phrases You Might Use

To prepare for speaking the local language on your travels, Practice where you can cartoonyou need to practice. But you need to especially practice words, phrases and sentences that you are likely to use.

Greetings, please and thank you, numbers, question words, asking for directions, language for shopping, - all these are helpful, especially if you go outside of larger cities.

Obviously, you can't prepare for all occasions and emergencies, as we found out in Seville. But it didn't take us long to learn some of the key banking terminology either.

A good part of your language practice can be done on your own. To do that, nothing beats online sites that have audio and text, and which teach you the practical vocabulary you need.

You can pace yourself, you don't have to worry about making mistakes, and you can practice until the phrases you want to learn become automatic.

Words and Phrases

As I'm acquiring a new language right now - Czech - in preparation for a week's stay in Prague, I'm experiencing the challenge of learning totally unfamiliar words and sounds.

I find that it takes persistent practice to learn new words and their spelling with the goal to get them into my long-term memory.

Not only do I repeat the words often, and practice them in a kind of "spaced repetition", I also make sure I recall them frequently.

Learning vocabulary in "chunks" (meaningful phrases) is better than just learning individual words.

Once you have a set phrase, such as asking "Where is ...? or "How much is ...?" or requesting "I'd like ..." or "Please give me ...", you can put in other words to suit different situations.

Numbers

We discovered during trips to Japan and China that the most useful vocabulary we learned were the numbers.

The need to understand and say numbers came up again and again as we visited markets, paid in restaurants, requested tickets, asked for information, etc.

Listening practice

Young women during listening practiceClearly, understanding the rapid speech of native speakers is more difficult than speaking phrases and sentences that you've practiced.

So, learning to listen without translating is also really worth practicing. Especially with the kind of vocabulary that you are learning.

At the very least you'll get the gist of the responses people give you.

Pronunciation

Practicing pronunciation goes hand in hand with learning the words, phrases and sentences you want to use. No doubt, it's your goal to be understood when you speak. It therefore helps to practice out loud.

To get your pronunciation good enough, listen carefully to the native speaker and repeat what you hear. 

Some words and phrases may be easy to pronounce. Others might take a lot of practice because they contain sounds that are not part of your native language. Foreign sounds are a challenge because you may not hear them correctly at first.

2. Learn About Cultural Differences

Interacting with others who are from a different cultural background and speak another language is so much more pleasant when you understand some of the cultural assumptions they may have.

Yes, seeing YouTube videos about the social and cultural gaffes some people commit can be quite funny. And people are often very forgiving.

Still, understanding and respecting the values and traditions of others will help you engage positively with them. It will also make you more confident as a language learner.

Formal and familiar forms of address

English has one word for "you", but many other languages have two or more.

Because of the single "you", English speakers just doesn't have the ear for some of the situational differences that dictate a specific form.

Learning when to use the formal as opposed to the familiar forms of address is a must.

Differences in age, social class, type of business, etc. impact on some of the "rules" for using the formal versus the familiar "you". Also, these rules change over time.

The Internet has added some confusion to the issue since age, profession, or social class are usually not visible for participants in group discussions. Often the familiar "you" (German "du", French "tu", Italian "tu", Spanish "tú") is automatically used by all and feels friendly.

Still, if you're in another country and walk into a shop, you'll certainly want to use the formal, polite "you".

Hand GesturesHand gestures

Becoming sensitive to non-verbal clues in another culture, such as hand gestures and facial expressions, is also important.

While a certain gesture may be respectful in one culture it may be rude in another.

Read more in LingoHut's guest blog post Are There Right or Wrong Hand Gestures? 

Personal Space

When we travel, we often become quite aware of how close people stand to us, including strangers in public spaces.

In some countries, we may feel we are being crowded. For example, people in "contact cultures" (e.g. Southern European countries, South America, Middle East) stand closer and touch more than people in "non-contact cultures" (e.g. Northern European countries, North America, Asia). (Amanda Eriksen, Washington Post) 

Just know that such differences exist and be aware of how you react to a person who handles personal space differently from you.

Sense of Time

Woman showing timeTime is another factor where cultural differences occur. Not understanding them can cause unneeded friction even between people who are well-meaning and friendly.

Countries where public transportation and trains run on a precise schedule give you a different experience, as opposed to places where schedules slide and are unpredictably flexible.

The way we perceive and handle time also affects scheduling personal get-togethers. We all have expectations and reactions regarding punctuality and lateness.

But a people's culture isn't just levels of politeness, the experience of personal space, or the perception of social time. When you visit a country or region, it's also worthwhile to learn about its history and traditions.

No doubt, you can learn about cultural differences without learning a language. But inversely, if you acquire another language, learning about the culture that has evolved with it is a must.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Use the Language You've Learned

Once you're in the country where the language is spoken, it's up to you to find ways to engage in conversations with native speakers.

Of course, such conversations are very different from practicing online or Smiling woman in conversationeven practicing with a tutor (which you obviously could also consider as part of your travel preparations.)

In a conversation so much is going on at the same time. As you listen to your conversation partner and try to understand what the flow of sounds coming at you means, your mind is also working on a possible answer.

It may sound simplistic, but it's true: You can't learn to engage in foreign language conversations unless you do it. Start with baby steps and keep building.

Insist on using the local language at the market, in restaurants and bars, at the bakery, at the supermarket, when asking for directions.

You'll certainly encounter situations when the other person would rather practice his or her English – especially when their English is better than your new language. It's easy to succumb to such an offer, but try to resist.

Such situations are especially true in countries where many speak English. But in rural areas or places off the beaten track you'll certainly have the opportunity to practice what you've learned.

I've always found that locals are very supportive of my attempts at using their language. Often it has led to further conversations about their city, about travels, about my home country, etc.

And if you are also a practitioner of "slow travel" and are staying in a city for a longer period, you may be able to engage a tutor. Or you could personally meet an online conversation partner you found via one of the many language-exchange sites.

Even knowing just the basics of the local language will enhance your travel experience. And being able to listen and participate in conversations will get you to another level.

If you're an adventure traveler who likes to explore a country on your own, learn as much of the local language as you can before you get there. You won't regret it.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's 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 right here!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Italian Travel Memories 2: Marco in Florence

View of Florence and Veccio bridgeIf you're traveling to Italy, you won't want to miss Florence. Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with some wonderful travel memories.

Our first ItalianTravel Memories post covered Pisa, where Marco, the young traveler in our Italian 1 course, visits his aunt and uncle. He then takes the train to Florence where he looks up a friend he met back home. At his friend's place he meets two other students who join him on his walk through the historic center of Florence.

We'll follow Marco's explorations of Florence. For those of you who are doing or have done our Italian 1 course: Marco in Italia, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you a few interesting facts about the cities that are featured in GamesforLanguage's travel-story courses. We typically use the cities' names of the streets, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the other two Italian cities Marco visits, Venice and Rome. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Spain, Germany and the U.S.

In our travel-story course you learn everyday conversational language. In this post, we've listed some additional basic words and phrases in Italian that you may encounter in your travels.

Quick Florence History

The city of Florence (Firenze), considered the birthplace of the Renaissance,Map of Italy and Tuscany  region is the capital of Tuscany (Toscana), one of Italy's 20 regions. It lies in central Italy, about 2 1/2 hours north of Rome by train.

The most populous city in Tuscany, Florence was named a Metropolitan City (città metropolitana) in 2015. This includes the city itself and the large urban sprawl around it.

Early Florence was a Roman city, established in 59 BC by Julius Ceasar as a place to settle his veteran soldiers. Because of its position at the confluence of rivers (the Arno and its tributaries Murgone, Ema, and Greve), this outpost was first named Fluentia. But the name was later changed to Florentia ("flowering").

In the early Middle Ages, Florence was a city state. It had a flourishing textile industry and developed into an important international trade and finance center.

The Medici family held power in Florence for three centuries (from 1434 to 1737). They were bankers to the pope and great patrons of the arts. Lorenzo die Medici 1449-1492 for example, was a poet as well as a statesman, and commissioned works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.

From 1737 to 1859, a number of foreign powers governed Florence (the Austrian House of Lorraine, the Italian House of Bourbon-Parma, Napoleonic France). Then in 1861, Tuscany became a region of the Kingdom of Italy. For six years, Florence was its capital.

Italian Unification (or Risorgimento) was a complicated process that lasted from 1815 to 1871, when Rome finally became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. After unification, the state adopted Italian as the official language.

Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect, which was a literary language spoken by the upper class of Florentine society.

Florence is a beautiful city to discover on foot. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing numerous monuments, art museums and architectural treasures.

Marco's Arrival in Florence

Florence Santa Maria Novella Train StationThe trip from Pisa to Florence takes Marco around an hour by train. He arrives at the Santa Maria Novella Train station in the center of Florence. (see picture)

From there, it takes him ten minutes on foot to arrive at Via Montebello 52, where his friend lives. His place is in the historic center of town (Quartiere 1).

The other four administrative boroughs (quartieri) of Florence lie in a ring around the historic center.

Nearby is the Arno River, which runs through the old part of the city. The best known of the five bridges that cross the Arno is Ponte Vecchio with its gold and jewelry shops.View of Ponte Vecchio and Arno River

  • il tren - the train
  • la stazione ferroviaria - the train station
  • la via - the road, street
  • il quartiere - the district, part of town
  • il centro storico - the historic center
  • il fiume - the river
  • il ponte vecchio - the old bridge

Palazzo Ricasoli and James Fenimore Cooper

Palazzo Ricasoli Hotel in FirenzeOn a walk through the historic district, his friends show Marco the Palazzo Ricasoli, where the popular American writer, James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) lived during his nine-month stay in Florence in 1829. (The Palazzo is now a hotel right in the center of town, where you can stay, see picture.)

Fenimore Cooper's most famous novel, "The last of the Mohicans", was written in 1826. He's also known for a series of adventure stories called the Leatherstocking Tales.

Reportedly, Fenimore Cooper loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Florence. He met and socialized with emigrés from various countries and became a kind of celebrity with travelers on the Grand Tour and with American expatriates.

  • la passeggiata - the walk
  • il soggiorno - the stay, temporary residence
  • il palazzo - the building, palace
  • il scrittore - the writer
  • il romanzo - the novel
  • il emigrato - the emigrant
  • il viaggiatore - the traveler

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio in FlorenceNext, Marco and his friends walk past the Piazza della Signoria and the famous "Palazzo Vecchio" (Old Palace). The palazzo has a long and interesting history.

Construction on the building started in 1299. During the centuries the palazzo was used for various purposes, including a prison. Since 1872 it has served as Florence's City Hall. A replica of Michelangelo's David stands near the entrance.

A tour of the Palazzio Vecchio takes you through several courtyards, Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress with secret routes, beautifully decorated Renaissance chambers, and more.

  • la piazza - the square
  • la prigione - the prison
  • il comune - the city hall
  • la entrata - the entrance
  • le rovine - the ruins
  • la fortezza - the fortress

Piazziale Michelangelo

Finally, Marco and his friends take a 15-minute bus ride to Piazziale Michelangelo, a large square in the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno) district of Florence. From that piazziale (large square) one has a stunning panoramic view of the city.

Marco's Next Stop

From Florence, Michael takes an Intercity train to Venice. There he stays in a hotel he had booked on the recommendation of his friends. To get to the hotel, he has to take the "vaporetto", or water bus. In Venice he meets up with Claudia, one of the students he met in Florence.

Have you been to Florence and want to share some of your suggestions and travel memories? It would be great to hear from you!

Register, or log in again and continue with the Italian 1 course.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's 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 right here!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Time to Recalibrate Your Language Learning?

Calipers and Measuring toolsWith summer just underway and your New Year's resolutions half a year behind you, it's time to recalibrate your language learning routine and give it a quick boost. 

Routines are good because they automatically shortcut any procrastination.

But, switching some of your routine around can do wonders for your motivation.

Ever heard of "interleaving"? This technique is used in various disciplines, such as sports, technology, music, medicine, maths, etc. See, The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning (Scientific American)

Applied to learning a foreign language, interleaving means alternating between related skills, topics, methods, materials, etc. Though, the materials should always be on your level of understanding.

Summer, with the warmer weather, longer days, stronger sunlight and its "school's over" feel is a perfect time for mixing things up a little.

EXERCISE MIXES WELL WITH LANGUAGE LEARNING

It's no secret, exercise is good for the brain, especially aerobic exercise. Woman jogging while listening to language podcast

Simply stated in a Harvard Health Blog post: "Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don't."

Even more interesting are these findings: "A new study reports that working out during language class amplifies people's ability to memorize, retain, and understand new vocabulary."

In summer, it's wonderful to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Great favorites are walking, hiking and jogging, and these activities are perfect for listening to podcasts, audio books and audio courses.

Do you have a friend who's fluent in the language you're learning? Walking and chatting is great way to build your friendship while brushing up your language skills.

On rainy days, you can use the exercise bike, elliptical machine, or treadmill, etc. at your gym, or maybe you even have one at home. Yes, they can be boring. But your thirty minutes go by much faster if you're listening to a interesting podcast or audio book. Make it one in your target language.

MIX SOMETHING NEW INTO YOUR ROUTINE

Have You Tried Shadowing?

shadow of tennis playerDone according to Alexander Arguelles' method, Shadowing is a daunting discipline.

However spelled with a small "s", "language shadowing" works on many levels and in various situations. See our recent Blog post. The key is speaking a split-second behind the native speaker on the audio. It's not hard to do and can easily boost your pronunciation and intonation of a language.

Do you like music?

Find a song you like on YouTube and google the lyrics. Play the song until the tune and the words become automatic. Songs are an effective way to improve your pronunciation and intonation of another language.

Not only that, songs are a fun way to learn idiomatic phrases and grammatical patterns that are typical for the language. And, if you sing along (even silently), all the more power to you.

A sample of popular songs:

Do A Little Binge Watching

Couple watching TV in Living RoomTake a break from memorizing vocabulary (if that's what you do). Find films, or even better, a series in your target language and get into the stories.

Watch without subtitles. Or if it's an option, set the subtitles to the target language or to English. In any case, the context of the story, the background music and the visual clues will all help you to get what's going on.

A sample of series or films:

  • German: Babylon Berlin (Netflix; a period drama based on the novels of Volker Kutscher)
  • French: Les Aventures de Tintin (YouTube; beginners); Un gars une fille (YouTube; advanced)
  • Spanish: Destinos (Annenberg Learner; series created for Spanish learners)
  • Italian: Un posto al sole (Raiplay; soap set in Naples)

(You can also watch many foreign TV programs on the internet for free, especially if you use a VPN.)

SUMMER IS GREAT FOR SLOW TRAVEL

If you're heading out to discover new places abroad, try it the "slow way" - stay a few days, a week, or even longer.

Over the years we've done that in close to a dozen cities all over Europe: Amsterdam, Oslo (a few days); Stockholm, Copenhagen, London (a week); Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Seville (a month); Rome (5 months). 

Staying for a time in one place takes some of the stress out of travel. Nowadays, it's easy to rent an apartment even for just a few days. (See our blog post: about short term stays). Also, it's a relief to not pack in five or more top sights per day.

Trastevere BakeryOne of the true pleasures of lingering in one place is that you can explore the city or neighborhood at your leisure. You also have a much better chance to meet some of the locals in your neighborhood shops, cafés, restaurants, at the open market, etc.

In each of the places we stayed, we immediately found a nearby bakery (to get fresh bread for breakfast), a kiosk (for the local newspaper), a couple of favorite bistros (for lunch or dinner), the local open market and shops (for fruit, cheese, olives, supplies, etc.)

Every occasion gave us the chance to use the local language, which we either spoke or had especially learned for the trip. The effort to use the local language whenever we could clearly made a difference, even though some of my Danish, for example, was a little shaky. In many cases, it broke the ice and people were doubly helpful.

Exploring a city or neighborhood by walking has its own charm. For many cities there are apps for self-guided tours (in English, or in your target language). But just walking the city with a couple of destinations a day is wonderful too.

Some cities offer walking tours organized by local guides. (In London, we took a Shakepeare tour; in Paris we enjoyed a walking tour through the Père Lachaise cemetery, it was called “Assassins et Assassinés”.) These tours are often quite entertaining and you learn some amazing things.

Penichette in the NetherlandsThere are also easy bike rentals for walkers who want a change of pace. And of course, short train and bus trips to nearby towns are always a fun adventure.

One last slow travel summer idea: canal boating. We did this several times in France and in the Netherlands.

Although you don't stay in one place, it's a delightful way to get to know a small part of the country. The good thing is that you take your accommodations with you as you move on. Usually bikes are on the boat so you can go off and explore as you like.

The summer is a perfect time to relax, to change gears and try out a few new things. Think outdoor cafés and long walks, bike rides, interesting audio books and films, listening to music. Sneak your language learning into things that you love to do, and have a great summer!

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 9 – Fribourg: Kaeserberg, Languages, and more...

Upper and Lower City of Fribourg, SwitzerlandYou may never have heard of the chemins de fer du Kaeserberg.

And unless you live in Europe or are familiar with Switzerland, you may draw a blank when you hear the name Fribourg, or its German name, Freiburg (“im Uechtland”).

Perhaps you're more familiar with the city's German cousin Freiburg (“im Breisgau”), a picturesque university town located in Southern Germany's Black Forest.

Well, Fribourg is the capital of the Canton of Fribourg, (see picture above). It is located on the cultural border between German- and French-speaking Switzerland and the seat of the country's only bilingual university.

Every February, for over ten years now, Ulrike and I have visited my sister in Fribourg before heading to the Berner Oberland for some skiing.

While in the city, we always make some new discoveries. This year it was the Chemins de fer du Kaeserberg". And, we always take advantage of learning more about languages and enjoying Swiss food specialties.

Our Swiss experience typically begins in Zurich after an overnight flight from Boston.

Zurich Airport to Fribourg

One of the pleasures of traveling in Switzerland is the ease of train travel.Zurich Airport - Fribourg Map

We now know that there is a direct train from Zurich Airport to Fribourg that runs every hour. We often don't have to wait long after buying our train ticket.

A few years ago though, we didn't have time to buy a train ticket. So we just boarded the train.

The conductor didn't come by until after the next stop, which is Zurich Main Station. We told him that we had boarded the train without tickets at the airport. He sold us the tickets and was nice enough to waive the penalty fee.

You can no longer purchase tickets on the train, and penalties have increased if you're caught without a ticket.

However, if you don't have time to buy a ticket at the counter or ticket machine, you can now easily purchase the tickets online with your smart phone.

Just download the free SBB Mobile app for iOS or Android devices to check time tables, purchase tickets, make seat reservations, etc.

Our 2018 Fribourg Discovery: Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg

Over the years we have visited many of Fribourg's sights, the Cathedrale St-Nicholas, the picturesque lower town you can get down to with a Funicular, the Espace Jean Tinguely-Niki de Saint Phalle in the Musee D'Art et D'Histoire Fribourg, the Musee Gutenberg, etc.

During our visit this year, we spent a whole afternoon in theChemins de fer du Kaeserberg model at night Musee des Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg.

If you're a model railway enthusiast, the railway museum is nothing short of a feast. But anyone from 4 to 90 years old will enjoy this technical marvel.

The model railway was a childhood dream of Marc Antiglio. He had taken over the family construction business as a young man and worked on his dream throughout his adult life.

(I had met Marc over 40 years ago when I worked for a few years in Fribourg as a structural engineer.)

It took Marc 17 years to fully realize his dream: A model railway exhibit on three levels, in a custom-designed, multi-level, state-of-the-art building with solar collectors, a geothermal heating system. All of this was completed just a few years ago.

Built at a scale of 1:87, the model exhibit occupies an area of about 6,500 sf, with currently over 6,000 ft of rails (both H0, 16.5 mm, and H0m, 12.0 mm).

The rolling stock consists of 300 locomotives and 1,650 wagons and cars, many of which are stored and can be accessed on the depot/station, the first level the visitor encounters when entering.

Lake Scene @ Chemins de fer du KaeserbergThe attention to detail in building and landscape design is amazing. The model imagines a Swiss landscape around 1990, with villages, buildings, railway stations, cars, and people, plus circus tents, lakes and ships – so realistic - that you need to look twice to see that they are not real.

Even the background photos of sky and mountains blend in seamlessly.

The introductory video for the visitors we saw was in French with German subtitles. In it, Marc Antiglio recalls how he got fascinated by trains as a little boy. He explains the many challenges he and his team of dedicated professionals and volunteers had to overcome to create the model.

We had a wonderful time watching the many trains going through tunnels, over bridges, stopping at and leaving the stations. In the night mode, the changing lights created magic images.

The exhibit is open to the public at certain days during each week, and private visits can be arranged on other days. Check the website for the opening days and hours.

(If you wonder about the name “Kaeserberg” - it has nothing to do with the German word “Käse/Kaese” (cheese), but is the name of Marc Antiglio's late friend, who was instrumental in supporting Marc's passion.)

More about Fribourg

View of Fribourg upper and lower cityIn the past, the language lines in the city of Fribourg were drawn rather clearly: In the lower town, since the city's founding in the 12th century, people spoke mostly a Swiss German dialect. In fact it was the official language until about 1800.

In fact, today the language spoken on the streets of la basse-ville (lower town) is a mix of Swiss German and French called le bolze. This swissinfo.ch article - Nei, dasch zvüu, tu me connais! - (No, that's too much, you know me!) not only gives some wonderful examples of typical bolze expressions, but also more details of Fribourg's linguistic history. (Sorry, it's in French and does not solve the origin mystery of  French bolze" or German bolz”.)

With the industrialization and the influx of French immigrants, the French population in the upper town became the majority in the 19th century. (see picture of upper and lower town)

By the year 2000, nearly 64% of its 38,000 inhabitants spoke French as their first language, and only 21% German. Italian was third with about 4%.

In restaurants, cafes, and shops, etc. you hear a mixture of French, Swiss German, and Swiss standard German, which curiously is called “Schriftdeutsch” (written German). Increasingly, you also hear other languages. In 2008 nearly 32% of the population were resident foreign nationals.

The term “Schriftdeutsch” - written German - is used to distinguish Swiss standard German from the spoken Swiss German dialect.

Swiss German children learn to speak Swiss German at home. They start to learn “Schriftdeutsch” in first grade and likely French a couple of years later.

That's about the same time that Swiss French-speaking children learn “Schriftdeutsch” as a second language. Also, in many schools children learn English already in fourth grade.

From discussions with family, friends and acquaintances in Fribourg, we've gained the impression that there are more German speakers who are fluent in French, than French speakers who are also fluent in German.

We don't know why that would be. Maybe it's because French speakers are now the majority in Fribourg, or learning French as a third language (after “Schriftdeutsch) is “easier” for Swiss German speakers, or maybe Swiss Germans feel a more personal or economic need to be bilingual than their French speaking compatriots.

A visit to the local market provided a non-representative sample, as most of the Swiss German-speaking farmers easily switched to French, while French-speaking bakers and butchers had more difficulty speaking German.

Language can still be a divisive issue

While the casual observer may be pleasantly surprised by the city's apparent bilingualism, language in Fribourg - as in other Swiss cities and towns that are located on a language and cultural fault line - is often still a divisive issue.

Not much has changed since swissinfo.ch covered this issue in 2004, citing both Biel (where French speakers are the minority of the population, with 28 %) and Fribourg as examples. Family connections, social status, school locations, etc. all influence parents' decisions which language path their children should pursue.

In 2017 the Swiss Bilingualism Foundation awarded Rapper Greis (alias for Grégoire Vuilleumier) that year's “prize for bi- and plurilingualism”. Listen to his “Enfant des Etoiles” song which switches between Swiss German and French.

It certainly seems that in a small country like Switzerland (about 8 million inhabitants), being bilingual or at least being fluent in two of the major languages, German and French, should have great professional and personal benefits.

A couple of years ago just as we were visiting Fribourg, Happy in Fribourg songthe local Newspaper, La Liberté, reported that local film makers had adapted Pharrell Williams' song Happy” from the movie Despicable Me 2” to Fribourg, similar to what other Swiss cities have done. You can watch the YouTube video which shows many images of Fribourg.

(You may recognize Ulrike in one of the video's scenes while she was at the weekly farmer's market.)

Now Our Swiss Tradition: Cheese Fondue or Raclette

Before heading to Gstaad and Schoenried (more about that in a future post), we typically will have a Cheese Fondue or Raclette with our family.

La Fondue (au fromage)

Probably the best-known dish of Switzerland is a cheese “fondue”. The word is French and comes from the verb “fondre” meaning “to melt”. Used as a noun, “fondue” is the feminine form of the past participle “fondu”. (larousse.fr)

Young women eating cheese fondueFondue has a lengthy history in Switzerland. The recipe “Käss mit Wein zu kochen” (cheese cooked with wine) was first mentioned in a Zurich manuscript in 1699.

La fondue” showed up in 18th century culinary literature as “oeufs brouillés au fromage fondu”, scrambled eggs with melted cheese (as noted in the dictionary, Le petit Robert). The dish was particularly popular in the western French-speaking cantons, and there mostly among city dwellers who could afford the rich cheese.

Fondue, as we know it, dates back to around the middle of the 19th century and by 1875, it was named a Swiss national dish. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) used the idea of a national dish for its own marketing purposes. That kind of promotion was continued after WWII.

Fondue was popularized in the US in the 1960s, helped by being showcased in the Swiss Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

The traditional fondue is served in a fondue pot (un caquelon), which is kept warm over a chafing dish (un réchaud). To make the fondue smooth, you add cornstarch to the cheese mixture as it heats. Each one of you gets a long thin fork for spearing chunks of bread (or sometimes potatoes), which you then dip into the cheese. Eating fondue is definitely a social event that also includes plenty of white wine and/or tea.

Various traditions are observed: for example, if you drop your bread into the pot, you pay a round of wine, or a pot of hot tea.

Cheese Fondue Variations

Many of the Swiss cantons have their own version of fondue, using different combinations of cheeses. For those who want to try, this Epicurious post will give you the recipe for making a perfect traditional Swiss Fondue. Being frequent travelers to Fribourg, the two fondues we know best are the Fondue Fribourgeoise, and the Fondue Moitié-Moitié.

Fondue Fribourgeoise

Fondue Fribourgeoise is prepared with 100% local Vacherin Swiss Vacherin Cheesecheese. Vacherin from Fribourg is a medium-firm cheese made from cow's milk, as the name - vache (cow) - implies.

The cheese is melted in a few tablespoons of water over low heat. To our knowledge, this is the only cheese fondue that does not use wine. Often you dip pieces of potato instead of bread.

Fondue Moitié-Moitié

Moitié-Moitié (or half-half), as its name states, uses Gruyère and Vacherin cheese in equal parts. This fondue is made with white wine, (dry and high in acid) and for flavor a shot of kirsch is often added to the mixture. You eat it by dipping chunks of bread.

La Raclette

Traditional Raclette serving Our foray into the world of melted (Swiss) cheese would not be complete without mentioning the “Raclette”. The name is derived from the French “racler”, meaning “to grate or scrape” and that clearly describes the method in which it is served: The melted cheese is scraped off the roasted/heated end of a large piece, most commonly a half a wheel of cheese (as in this picture).

The Raclette Suisse site traces Raclette's origins to the 13th century. In the German-speaking cantons, convent writings mention Bratchäs” (roasted cheese - note the Swiss spelling of Käse”) already in 1291 as a nutritious food for mountain cow herders.

Raclette cheese is made of raw milk and many variations exist. Only the “Raclette du Valais” is a protected brand under Swiss law.

The traditional method melts the half-wheel of cheese, either right at an open fire place, or in restaurants, with an electric heater. The Raclette cook/server scrapes the melted cheese off unto each customer's plate. (see photo above, courtesy of: Grcampbell-Wikipedia Commons).

The modern, self-serve version uses small pans in which Modern Raclette to heat Raclette cheese pieces right at the table with a special gadget (as in this picture).

In either case, “Gschwellti” - Swiss German for potatoes boiled in their skin -  are served with gherkins, pickled onions, and often preceded or accompanied by dried meat, such as “Bündnerfleisch” or “viande des Grisons” or “jambon cru”.

A Raclette evening, during which the meal is served the traditional way to a large table, is a social event that can last for hours.

As with cheese fondue, locals will warn you not to drink cold water. It doesn't mix well with the hot cheese. However, hot tea, a “Kirsch” (cherry), “Poire” (pear), or “Framboise” (raspberry) Schnaps come highly recommended.

Raclette and Fondue (whether the cheese or meat variety) always make for a lively, social dining experience.

Even after the taste and smells of melted cheese have faded in your memory, you'll certainly remember the fun you had with your family and friends sharing such a meal in a warm and cozy mountain hut after a hard day of skiing, snowboarding, or hiking.

The best kind of travels are those where you can linger in a place, make discoveries, learn new things, and try out new tastes.

It's a kind of “slow travel” that lets you soak in some of the local language, history, and customs. You have time to explore different neighborhoods, go to various cafés, bars and restaurants, and visit local shops and markets.

And if you've learned a new language for your trip, you'll have the chance to try out what you've learned. That's one of the great pleasures of travel: Get that sense of accomplishment as you stretch your boundaries.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My Ways to Learn and Sharpen my Languages

pencil being sharpenedAre you looking for ways to sharpen the language(s) you're learning? Seeing yourself getting better at reading, understanding, speaking and even writing a new language makes it all worthwhile.

Languages have always been part of my life. By the time I was eleven, I was fluent in three languages because my family had moved from Austria to the Netherlands and then to Canada. As a student I chose to focus on language study and language teaching later became my work.

Now retired from formal work, I've teamed up with my husband to research and try out various approaches for learning languages. It's been exciting to explore new technologies and resources that are now available to language learners. And with many family connections and friendships abroad, languages have continued to be a big motivator for travel.

Not being monolingual continues to be a source of pleasure and provides us with opportunities to meet new people, discover new places and try out new things.

Here I'd like to share what works for me for my language learning: 

EMBRACE YOUR DIFFERENT LEARNING STAGES

No doubt, our individual personalities and attitudes have an impact on the way we learn. Are you a casual learner or disciplined to the point of obsession? Do you learn on your own or are you part of a group or class? These differences all matter.

Still, you learn differently when you're just starting a new language as opposed to being an advanced beginner, or after you've reached an intermediate level.

For total beginners, the first words and sounds of a new languageMan walking up progress steps may take a lot of time to learn. Just to remember the pronunciation and spelling of 30 new words or so might take a week and require lots of individual repetition.

That's what I'm experiencing right now. I've just started to learn Czech for a stay in Prague in the fall. Going through the early lessons of the Duolingo program has been a real challenge. I'm surprised how long it's taking me to become truly familiar with the meaning of new words and their pronunciation. But it's happening.

Advanced beginners can start building on the basics they've acquired. At this stage, you've learned to notice typical patterns in your target language and  are doing well when pronouncing most words.

That's the stage I'm now at with Danish, the language I started last year to prepare for a trip to Denmark. Learning Danish pronunciation has been difficult, because words are rarely spoken the way they're written. On the other hand, certain language patterns show up again and again, and these definitely help with reading and listening. For example, having the definite article ("en"/"et") attached to the end of a noun: "drengen" (the boy), brødet (the bread).

At the intermediate level, context begins to play an important role. You're ready to read and listen to longer texts and audios. When you can start guessing the meaning of words from their context, your vocabulary increases dramatically.

For me, Spanish and Italian are at that stage. I'm doing a lot of listening and reading. And although I don't know every word, I'm getting very good at guessing the meaning of words from their context. Also, I've found that when I listen and/or read the same piece several times, things start to click.

For Spanish I have the ebook La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafón on my cell phone and I can listen to the audio on Ivoox.

I sharpen my Italian listening skills by regularly watching a 20-minute episode of the Italian soap "Un Posto al Sole", which is now in its 13th season.

But lots of learners get stuck on the so-called "intermediate plateau". To get beyond this intermediate stage in a foreign language, you need to adapt your learning strategies once again.

French has been a case in point for me. Last year I read all seven volumes of Harry Potter in French. Because of context I needed to look up only the occasional word. But my spoken French was definitely stuck on the "intermediate plateau".

To get unstuck, I've been doing two things: I meet bi-weekly with a French-speaking friend and we converse just in French for a couple of hours.

Secondly, I'm listening to a French Tedx lecture on YouTube and I'm using it as dictation. It may surprise you, but I find dictation a fantastic language learning tool. The lecture is quite interesting for language learners. It's about how children learn their native language: Mais comment font-ils pour apprendre une langue? 

Even when you're fluent in a language, as I'm with Dutch, there may be certain skills that need a little sharpening. I learned Dutch as a pre-teen when I attended school in the Netherlands for two years. I've spoken Dutch all my life - with my mother, with relatives and with friends. But my writing and spelling need some attention. For that I find the Duolingo lessons quite helpful, especially when I need to write things in Dutch.

To make my Dutch vocabulary more sophisticated, I watch the 35-part Video Series called "In Europa", which is based on the book "In Europa: Reizen door de twintigste eeuw" (In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century), by the Dutch journalist and historian Geert Mak.

Last but not least, though German is my first language, I've been living in the U.S. for some years now. To stay current with German, we often travel to Germany and Austria and we watch German news and TV programs almost on a daily basis. 

If you understand that each learning stage has its own challenges and ways to overcome them, you'll continue to move along nicely on your language journey.

MAKE TIME YOUR FRIEND

sporty woman with earphonesLife is busy. Daily commitments for work, family, friends, etc. sometimes leave little time for hobbies and special projects.

How often do you run out of time in the evening and are too tired to even think about language practice?

There are two ways to easily add language learning to your days:

1. Use waiting time, travel time, any kind of in-between time.

Look over the few words you have just learned when you started a new language. Go through some flashcards (electronic or paper), to learn new words or recall vocabulary. Play a free Quick Language Game, a Duolingo, or Lingohut lesson, or one of the many other online or app choices.

Or if your listening skills are already good enough, listen for a few minutes to a podcast, to songs, or to an audio book on your phone.

Read blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts or an ebook in your target language.

Keep a small notebook with you to write about your day in your target language. Send yourself an email with a few sentences that you can check later.

2. Add your new language to things you do anyway.

Do you keep up with the news? Read some headlines in your target language, or even a whole article. Besides language practice, you'll get a different perspective on events.

Do you listen to music? Add a song in your target language, play it over and over and sing along. Songs have a unique way of teaching you the sounds, rhythm and intonation of a language. You'll also pick up some words and phrases, especially the ones that are repeated throughout the song.

If you have an exercise routine, or if you're a runner, listen to podcasts or an audio book. An added benefit: moving around while you're leaning strengthens your understanding and retention of new vocabulary.

Do you read before you go to sleep? Look over the new vocabulary or read a few pages in your target language. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that learning new information before falling asleep helps retention. (Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep?)

LOOK FOR LANGUAGE PATTERNS

Grammar is the way in which words are put together to form proper sentences. patterens in sandIf you like working through grammar exercises like you did in school, good for you!

But some of us aren't grammar heroes. Many grammatical terms are abstractions. Besides, learning a grammar rule doesn't mean you'll automatically apply it when you're in the thick of a conversation.

On the other hand, becoming aware of patterns in the target language will help you internalize "the way words are put together" without getting hung up on grammar rules.

For example, here's a typical French language pattern for expressing negation.

  • Je ne connais pas ce livre. - I don't know this book.
  • Je n'ai pas faim – I'm not hungry.

Or, a typical word-order pattern in simple German and Dutch sentences. (Note the position of the verb):

  • Heute bin ich zu Hause. - Vandaag ben ik thuis. - Today I'm at home.
  • Morgen bin ich nicht zu Hause. - Morgen ben ik niet thuis. - Tomorrow I won't be at home.

Once you've noticed a pattern, you'll start seeing or hearing it again and again. Then, if you do look up the grammar rule behind it, it won't see quite as abstract any more.

DON'T AGONIZE ABOUT REMEMBERING WORDS

learning vocabularyAnyone learning a language is on the lookout on how to best memorize words.

If you're disciplined enough, spaced repetition, or recalling words at increasing intervals, is a good way to get words into your longtime memory. It does mean you have to stick with your schedule and stay on top of the system.

Others, which includes me, just read and listen a lot to things that interest me. When words are in context, you're able to guess the meaning of many. Also, words tend to come up again and again and each time you see or hear a word or phrase, it becomes more deeply embedded in your memory.

Still, whatever method you use, it's inevitable that you'll keep forgetting words.

In a talk Steve Kaufmann gave at LangFest last August (2018), he said something that I've also noticed: "Language learning is a continual process of learning, forgetting, and relearning."

Just accept that forgetting is just part of learning. It's the "relearning" that's so important. If you keep engaging with your target language - by reading, listening, watching, talking, writing - remembering the words will eventually become second nature.

BE CREATIVE

Try out new ways to use the apps, courses, texts, podcasts, etc. that you have. Creative ideaYou can do this at whatever level you've reached in your target language.

For example, instead of just repeating words, phrases and sentences after the speaker, try speaking them along with, or "shadow" the native speaker.

Use audio (that matches your level) as dictation - by going back to replay sentences and writing down what you hear.

Do you like to draw? Create images for words you're learning or cartoons for basic conversations in your target language.

Do you play the guitar? Learn and sing songs in your target language.

We too found a fun and creative way to learn and practice languages. Our tech son built the site gamesforlanguage.com, we found native speakers to collaborate, and since then we've done some of our learning by playing our own courses and games. It's been a fun way to get to the intermediate level of Spanish and Italian.  

Ask yourself what makes learning a language fun for you! Plan and go on a trip, watch films, reread a favorite book in your target language, write short anecdotes.

Another language opens up your world, gives you new ideas, a fresh point of view, the opportunity to be a world citizen.

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

Posted on by Peter Rettig with Yogi and Sucha

The Essentials for Backpacking in Europe

Young backpacking taveler in ParisAs our readers know, we typically like to stay in a city for more than a few days, as we did last fall in Copenhagen. We still travel with little luggage, but now mostly with rolling carry-ons.

Recently our sons reminisced about their backpacking days, when they crisscrossed Europe during one long fall after college.

They both had backpacks. When they met their friend Chris at the airport, they were surprised however, by his large rolling suitcase. (Memories differ as to whether it was the friend or his mother who had felt that a backpack could not hold all his “essentials”.)

In any case, they all three still chuckle how Chris lugged his suitcase through the cobble-stoned streets of Munich, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, etc. being embarrassed by the noise and by not looking cool.

So when Yogi and Suchna of The Backpacker Co. suggested a post about backpacking in Europe, we thought that their experience could be helpful to our younger readers.

Find out what Yogi and Suchna consider the “Essentials for Backpacking in Europe” below:

All set for your European trip? If yes, you've probably arranged your backpacking items laid aout items lodgings for the first few nights and may have sipped a few “going away drinks“ with your friends. But understandably, you may still be agonizing about what to pack!

Believe me, figuring out the perfect backpacking list is a daunting task indeed, especially if you're doing it for the first time. Quite a few first-timers make the mistake of carrying too much gear and that makes their travel tiresome. It's difficult for them to keep track of their belongings and it can leave them at the mercy of thieves as well!

But don't worry! Our tips regarding essentials for backpacking in Europe will guide you through this stressful time and will help you decide what type of things you should carry and how to pack light.

Travel light

Our most important tip is to ensure that you travel light. Nothing will make your travels more uncomfortable than having to carry an incredibly heavy backpack along winding streets in Europe. We would recommend that you keep the weight of your backpack ideally under 10 kilos (or 22 lbs) or at the most, under 15 kilos (or 33 lbs).

Besides, if the weight of your luggage is over 10 kg (roughly, 22 lbs), you may run the risk of exceeding the weight limit set in budget airlines such as RyanAir.

  • You'll surely acknowledge that your clothes make up most of the weight in your backpack. If you can, stop yourself from buying too many things as most inexperienced travelers do. Just remember that it makes little difference whether you pack for a fortnight or for a couple of months. You'll be able to do laundry almost every week of your stay in Europe.
  • Think of dressing in layers rather than carrying a few bulky coats. A combo of thermal inside base, full-sleeve shirt or T-shirt, sweater or fleece jacket is a much better option. You can add or subtract layers as needed.
  • As a backpacker, there will invariably be limited space in your travel bag. So, don't carry an outfit you're going to wear only once, no matter how fashionable it may look. Carry some simple clothes that will make you look good when worn together and which are appropriate for multiple uses.

backpack with compartmentsPack your backpack to maximize space

How you actually keep your belongings inside your backpack is another important thing to consider.

You may think of a number of techniques to maximize the space inside your bag, such as rolling your clothes, keeping undies in your shoes, stuffing your socks etc.

Backpacks with compartments or use of packing cubes is an excellent idea to remain organized and save space at the same time. These are durable yet lightweight and are good companions for any traveler.

It will take some experimentation until you find the best way to pack all that you want to take with you. And that often requires some hard choices.

Tips for Backpacking in Europe

Clothing

Socks and undies
  • Consider carrying good quality and comfortable ones as you'll be wearing these close to your skin.
  • You'll probably need to do a lot of walking and thus will sweat a lot. Buy moisture–wicking socks, which will keep your feet dry and save you from blisters.
  • Get socks and undies that dry overnight.
Shirts /tops
  • Avoid those that need high maintenance.Backpacker hiking uo a rocky mountain
  • Get dark-colored ones, as most Europeans prefer these and thus will help you blend in well with the locals. Also, they'll hide stains better.
  • Choose wrinkle-free fabrics.
  • Go for the easily washable ones.
  • Pack casual yet versatile ones that would go equally well when you visit churches, cafes, museums or bars.
Pants
  • Dark-colored jeans will match well with almost everything. Also, you can wear them without washing them too often.
  • You could opt for light-weight chinos in case you're not accustomed to wearing heavier denim.
  • It's not very common for European adults to wear shorts. Avoid wearing these if you want to blend in better with locals and don’t want to be pegged as a stereotypical American tourist.
Shoes  

While traveling in Europe, you're bound to be on your feet quite a lot. It's thus imperative to have a sturdy, yet comfortable pair of shoes for sightseeing.

  • If hiking is part of your agenda, make sure to take along hiking shoes with water-proof and all-terrain soles.
  • If you want to go to beaches, rubber flip flops will do the job for you.
  • If you're in Europe in spring and summer, a pair of sturdy walking sandals will do a world of good as you won't have sore feet even after walking all day long.

marketplace in EuropeElectronics

  • Europe has a lot to offer. Make sure to carry plenty of extra memory cards for your digital camera.
  • Have your phone unlocked to make it compatible with any European SIM cards.
  • Carry universal plug adapters for all European countries.

Miscellaneous

  • Microfibre towels
  • Small first-aid kit
  • Wet wipes
  • Keychain flashlight
  • Small notebook
  • Swiss Army knife (if you don't check your backpack check with your airline)

A backpacking list for Europe never seems to be complete. We have simply tried to list the things you just cannot afford to travel without.

Enjoy your travels in Europe!

Bio: Yogi and Suchna believe in taking the road less travelled and stumbling upon some hidden gems along the way! For over a decade, they've mapped their way across various continents, sniffed out unusual routes, discovered new flavours and stayed at quirky hostels. TheBackpackerCo is their expression of soul travel. You can catch up with them at The Backpacker Co - Backpacking Through Western Europe.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com and I have no business relationship with The Backpacker Co or Yogi and Suchna other than publishing what they consider the "Essentials for Backpacking in Europe".  See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Will “Language Shadowing” Work for You?

Businessmen pushing Shadow lettersWhen I first came across the language learning technique called “Shadowing”, I was intrigued.

In crime novels "to shadow" someone means to follow closely behind the person, watch what they do, where they go. Generally speaking, the idea is to gather some kind of information about the person or activity.

I had previously described 6 Listening Practice Tips for my Seventh Language.  In "Language Shadowing", however, gathering information to better imitate what you hear is taken to the next level.

Language Shadowing Explained

It was the linguist Alexander Argüelles who in the 1990s developed Shadowing as a systematic technique for learning and practicing a language. He first used it for German and Korean and then for a number of other languages.

Argüelles has made three videos demonstrating and explaining Shadowing. They can be viewed directly on YouTube, or via his LinkedIn profile.

Video Number 1 (2008)

This short video is just a minute long and shows Argüelles Argüelles walking on bridge Language Shadowing Shadowing Chinese while walking back and forth on a bridge. Here the three obvious features of his technique are:

1) listening and immediately repeating aloud

2) walking briskly outside at the same time

3) looking at the text intermittently

Video Number 2 (2009)

In this 13-minute video, Argüelles answers some questions viewers have asked about his first Language Shadowing video. For example:

  • Does one need to walk back and forth and turn rapidly on a bridge? - His answer is "no". You can do it on a treadmill, but it's more pleasant to walk outside on a trail. The basic idea is to combine exercise with learning.
  • Are the speed and motion necessary? - His answer: It works best for him. Moving about swiftly encourages you to say focused and maintain good posture. It's no mystery that correct posture and articulation are important for speaking well.
  • Do you have to do Shadowing in public? - His answer: It's actually not ideal to practice it in public because one may feel self-conscious about walking around speaking aloud. And, people do come up to ask what you're doing. Still, he suggests it's not a bad way to deal with self-consciousness.
  • How is it possible to say the foreign language "at the same time" as the native speaker? - His answer: You need to practice doing this. Repetition helps a lot and with time you'll get better. The goal is to listen and repeat a split second later as best as you can. (In the next video, Argüelles also calls this technique "echoing".)

Video Number 3 (2009)

In the third video, which is just under an hour long, ArgüellesAlexander Argüelles in viedo #3 goes over his Shadowing technique step by step and in considerable detail.

As a number of language teachers and learners have pointed out, the technique of "listening and repeating" to learn a language is not an innovation made recently.

Children do it naturally when they learn their first language.

As a technique, listening and repeating (also called "parroting") became part of language teaching decades ago, before the internet popularized it with easily accessible audio.

However, Alexander Argüelles shaped the technique of Shadowing into a formal method with specific steps that he used to achieve his language learning goals. Early in the video he explains:

"Listen to [the audio] very closely through ear phones and make the sounds that you hear as soon as you hear them. ... You have to talk on top of the voice as you hear it coming. ... This will give you feedback. ...

[Shadowing] proved for me to be the best ... means of starting to learn a language, of taking a language that you don't know and planting it, literally planting it inside your brain so that it can grow there."

Below is a brief outline of the steps or stages he describes. However, to really understand his method, you should look at the video Argüelles made.

To learn by using Shadowing, you need a set of recordings with no pauses and a book that is bilingual with the text on opposite pages. The lessons should be short.

To prepare for any Shadowing exercise, think in the language as best as you can.

As I understand them, there are eight (8) Stages to learning a language with Shadowing:

Stage 1: Blind Shadowing (15-20 min) of a lesson or lessons. This means repeating almost simultaneously even if you don't understand what's being said.
Stage 2: Do Shadowing while looking at the text of the teaching language.
Stage 3: Do Shadowing of the same text while looking back and forth between the teaching language and the target language to check the meaning.
Stage 4: Do Shadowing of the text while looking at the target language only.
Stage 5: Do Shadowing with brisk walking.
Stage 6: Sit down, look at the lesson(s) without audio and compare the texts in the two languages. Read the text aloud. Write the text of the lesson(s) out by hand.
Stage 7: Once you've finished the whole book, type out the entire text double-spaced. Read the text and fill in the meaning of words you don't know. You can do that several times. Add some grammar exercises.
Stage 8: Take the audio for a walk and Shadow it from start to finish.

Argüelles is quick to say that Shadowing is not the only technique or method he uses for learning and practicing a language. He has used and uses other techniques: reading, regular listening, listening while running, grammar practice, translation.

I should add that Argüelles is not your "regular" language learner. Often, he'll study many hours a day. He says he knows around 50 languages, and is featured in Michael Erard's book: "Babel No More. The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners".

You can read about the extensive language learning experiences of Alexander Argüelles on his web page.

Experiences and Opinions

Looking for feed-back about Language Shadowing on the internet from other learners, I found a few voices and opinions (Several of them are in the answers to the question on Quora: "How effective is the shadowing technique to learn languages".)

Voices "For" Shadowing

  • Richard deLong (on Quora) states that it helps intonation, pronunciation, and is good for "getting your mouth and brain back into the language."
  • Phil Crimmins (on Quora) claims that you learn to mimic the emotional content of what is being said. It's like going to the gym for training your mouth muscles.
  • Ivan Ottinger (on Quora) says it improves reaction speed for speaking.
  • Alexandra Edlinger (on Quora) suggests that you can use it effectively for preparing specific situations, such as job interviews.
  • A person with the name "clever clogs" (on LingQ Forum) finds that it helps to develop more natural rhythm and pace.

Voices "Against" Shadowing

  • Steve Kaufmann (on LingQ Forum and YouTube video) clearly does not like the method. He says that it detracts from his enjoyment, that he doesn't like walking around briskly outside reciting what he's listening to, etc.
  • Judith Meyer (on Quora) doesn't use Shadowing. The technique may "burn certain words or sentence structures into your mind" but she finds it less effecient than Spaced Repetition. She even doubts that Shadowing helps at all with fluency.

My Opinion

To follow Argüelles' method exactly seems like lot of hard work and not everybody has the commitment and discipline that he has. He says himself that it takes weeks to get the method down correctly.

I have not used Language Shadowing as a daily formal technique, though I have been doing "shadowing" (lower case) to improve my fluency in French, Spanish, and Italian.

Repeating what I hear almost simultaneously and at conversational speech helps me to speak more naturally.

Argüelles uses the analogy that Shadowing is similar to a "video game", where you repeat many steps many times before you get to the next level. In his words: "You listen and speak many times, and do this again and again".

He also suggests that once you've got the method down, you can experiment with it, and use it in a way that it works for you.

For me, using bits and pieces of the technique is a productive way of adding variety to my language practice. It's also a way I can really push myself to speak fast and at length.

I'd love to hear about your take on Language Shadowing!

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Posted on by Lysha Rohan and Peter Rettig

Short Stay Apartments are Always a Great Option

Short Stay Apartment sample - PixabayIn our last post we briefly mentioned that we had stayed in a wonderful apartment during our visit to Copenhagen.  (picture left)

We've said in previous posts that we prefer to rent an apartment whenever we stay longer than a few days in a city.

We did so in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Seville and Madrid, all cities that a worth exploring for more than a day or two.

So when Lysha contacted us to write a post about short stay apartments, we thought it might interest readers who are considering this option.

Lysha emphasizes the many advantages short stay apartments have over hotels - and we agree and like those as well. We would be amiss, however, not to also mention a few drawbacks we have encountered ourselves in the past.

Depending from whom you rent the short stay apartment, from an individual owner, a real estate company, online sites such as VRBO, WIMDU or Airbnb (all of which we have used in the past), how to get the keys to the apartment is often the major coordination challenge right at the beginning. Different from a hotel, there is typically no receptionist. That means you have to make your arrangements beforehand for access to the apartment.

Due diligence is especially required when renting from individuals, who require a deposit. Many online sites provide guarantees or offer cancellation options.

Apartments can also differ greatly in accessibility (e.g. no elevator to get to fourth floor), furnishings and equipment (e.g. kitchen utensils and cook ware), cleanliness, etc.

In general, you get what you pay for. Online sites today provide pictures and lists of the major amenities. Nevertheless, you would do well to confirm that those which important to you are indeed there.

During one of our stays in Rome, more than ten years ago, we were in contact with the apartment owner, who confirmed that "internet access was available".

However when we got there, we realized that a modem and router were installed in the upstairs apartment that he also owned, but not in ours. "Internet available" clearly meant something else to this owner.

It took us several days of insistence and follow-up phone calls to get some action. Finally, I helped the owner drill through thick masonry walls and sneak a cable from upstairs to our apartment. (This was before WIFI became popular.)

In spite of that and other "adventures" we've been very happy with our short stay apartments so far. We have already reserved one for our next European stay in Prague later this year.

Lysha's take on Short Stay Apartments

Short Stay Apartment sample - PixabayShort stay apartments, otherwise known as ‘service apartments’ are a great accommodation option for all kinds of travelers. Cities, in general, are filled with such short stay apartments. (see example right)

As a traveler, you have so many options to choose from that you're sure to find one that fits your budget.

Travelers today have a lot more options to choose from than those who followed this passion years ago. They are faced with making choices everywhere: type of trip, lodging, food, gadgets, clothing, etc.

Thus, decision making has become all the more important now. In order to make the right decisions, one needs to have access to correct and helpful information. This article focuses on the benefits of using short stay apartment for travel.

Short stay apartments are a great accommodation option, especially for certain destinations. A stay in an apartment is different from staying in a hotel. Here are the main differences that I see:

Short Stay Apartments

Hotels

1. Offer a greater degree of privacy.

Because of the hustle and bustle that hotels generate, privacy is somewhat compromised.

2. Prove to be more economical.

Because of the services offered, they are often more expensive.

What is a short stay apartment and what can you expect when you stay in one?

  • Short stay apartments are designed for people who are looking for accommodation for short periods of time.
  • Generally speaking, the rates are fixed on a weekly or monthly basis and are sometimes negotiable, depending on the apartment.
  • Short stay apartments, just like hotels, offer different types of rooms. Most such apartments have a single room or a double room. But you can also find studio apartments with kitchen or apartments with multiple bedrooms (2+). These obviously work well for families.
  • Most service apartments have the basic amenities that travelers consider to be a must. In particular, you can expect to find Wi-Fi services, equipped kitchens, TV sets, laundry facilities and security services. Some also offer other more hotel like amenities, such as housekeeping, room service etc.

Obviously, short stay apartments don't work for travelers who insist on hopping from city to city. But they are ideal for "slow travel". Spending a week, a fortnight or even a month in a place allows you to soak up the local atmosphere, learn the language a little, and explore the city on foot or by bike.

Here are the reasons why many "slow" travelers choose short stay apartments for their lodging.

1. EconomicalPiggy Bank - yellow - pixabay.com

The right kind of short stay apartment can be quite economical and give you good value for your money.

Such apartments are generally less expensive than hotels that provide services which you don't need or offer amenities you don't use, such as swimming pools, tennis, exercise rooms, etc.

Therefore, by choosing to stay in such apartments, travelers can save on lodging expenses. That money they can then spend on experiencing other interesting things or exploring an additional city!

2. Privacy

Hands with keys - PixabayPrivacy is another reason why short stay apartments are gaining popularity with travelers, especially those of the younger generation.

You'll not find a reception area or anything of that sort in these apartments, which means that no one keeps an eye on your movements.

For the time that you occupy the room, you can expect to come and go as you wish. But it also means that you have to make arrangements with someone ahead of time to get your key, etc.

3. Amenities

kitchen utensilsShort stay apartments offer most of the basic amenities that a traveler would need. And unlike in hotels, these amenities are typically available at no additional cost.

They normally include Wi-Fi, refrigerator, electric kettle, coffee maker, toaster, cookware, access to washer and dryer, etc.

4. Homey Environmentwarm and cozy: popcorn in front of fireplace  Pixabay

If you're looking for a homey environment when you travel, a homestay would probably be your best option.

But short stay apartments rank a close second. That is because you can come and go freely and have access to the kind of amenities you enjoy at home.

You are free to prepare breakfast, cook for yourself, make your own bed, do your own laundry and stay comfortably in privacy, just like you do back at home. Being able to do all this can surely add to the enjoyment of your travels.

5. Flexibility in Stay

Flexibility is another great feature of short stay apartments. Although the name implies that these apartments can be booked only for short periods of time, in reality, that’s not how it works.

Such apartments have been designed to meet short-term needs but when necessary, one can often extend one’s stay somewhat, or even arrange to stay for longer periods of time.

6. Spacious

Most short stay apartments offer rooms that are more spacious than an average hotel room.

And let’s face it, with all the travel gear along you don't want a cramped room. Having more space makes people happier, more comfortable and more relaxed.

In all, there are a lot of reasons why short stay apartments are a great lodging option for travelers. The apartments are perfect for business as well as vacation travelers. They are usually located in many parts of the city, so that more often than not you can find an apartment in the location of your choice.

To get a perfect stay for your trip, you'll have to be clear about your priorities. If you’re looking for a luxurious stay then you may want to consider other lodging options. However, if you're on a budget and want to spend most of your money on meaningful experiences, you can comfortably stay at a short stay apartment.

If you’re taking a business trip for an extended period of time and don’t want to spend unnecessarily on your stay, consider living in a short stay apartment.

It’s not just another lodging option for you, but can prove to be a home away from home!

Author’s Bio: Lysha works at Lalco Residency - Apartments In Mumbai For Short Stay and she loves her job. Helping clients and monitoring the progress of business strategies along with her leadership skills makes her perfect suit for Hospitality services. You can catch up with Lysha at Lalco Residency in Mumbai.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com and I have no business relationship with Lysha, Lalco Residency other than publishing Lysha's post, nor with the sites mentioned above: VRBO, WIMDU or Airbnb, other than having used and paid for their services in the past. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 8 – Denmark: Zealand and Copenhagen

Kronborgslot in Helsingør, DenmarkThis continues our European Travel 7 post From Sylt to Zealand.

Before heading into Copenhagen, we wanted to explore the northern part of the island of Zealand. There was one castle in particular that interested us.

Kronborgslot

Kronborgslot, a 16th century castle, located at the very tip of Helsingør and overlooking the Øresund across to Sweden, may very well be Denmark's most famous castle.

It's the castle that Shakespeare called Elsinore in his play Hamlet.

Since 1816, every year in August, and only interrupted by World War II, the Hamlet festival attracts not only thousands of visitors, but also the world's greatest actors.

While we regretfully missed the festival, we were surprised how many names of actors we recognized in the Festival's “Hall of Fame”.

They include Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Gustaf Gründgens, Kronborgslot courtyard n Helsingør, DenmarkSir John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, Richard Burton as well as Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law, and other more recent ones.

Since the year 2000 Kronborg Castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been called one of the most important Renaissance castles of northern Europe.

In 1574 King Frederick II started construction to transform the Krogen (the castle's original name) into a Renaissance castle, which was finished in 1585.

A tour of the grounds and through the building let us appreciate its strategic location, as well as its significance as a sign of the power and wealth of King Frederick II.

When a fire destroyed a large part in 1629, King Christian IV had it rebuilt. Besieged and captured by the Swedes in 1658, the castle also lost many of its art treasures. For close to 150 years it was used to house the army and only in 1923, after a thorough renovation, it was opened to the public.

The Maritime Museum of Denmark

Martime Museum of Denmark courtyardOn our way from the parking lot to the Kronborg Castle, we came by what looked like, and indeed was a former dry dock: the Maritime Museum of Denmark.

We have to admit that it wasn't on our museum list, although it should have been. As we learned from the website:

In 2014 the museum was listed as one of The New York Times’ recommended ‘52 places to go in 2014’ and voted the best cultural building worldwide by archdaily.com – the world’s most visited architecture website. In October 2014, BBC made a list of the 8 greatest new museums in the world which featured the Maritime Museum of Denmark. In January 2015, National Geographic listed 10 structures that it recommended traveling to for the design alone, and the Maritime Museum of Denmark was one of them.

inside Maritime Museum of DenmarkIndeed, the museum is not only an architectural delight, but for an avid sailor and fan of everything nautical like myself, I probably enjoyed this visit even more than walking through any castle.

I have been to many maritime museums, visited old sailing ships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, battle ships and submarines. But, never have I seen the maritime history and life on sea as comprehensively depicted and exhibited. The whole experience was stunning.

Walking down the sloped exhibition floors and taking in the various exhibits with great sound and video effects was informative and fascinating.

(There is a discount if you visit both the Kronborg Castle and the Maritime Museum the same day.)

As we continued to explore the countryside of northern Zealand with its green pastures and little villages, we could not forgo visiting another important castle and museum.

Frederiksborgslot

Frederiksborgslot isFrederiksborgslot with lake another picture-perfect Danish Renaissance castle which also houses the Danish Museum of National History.

From Kronborg Castle it's only a half hour drive (or 17 miles) to Hillerød where Frederiksborg Castle faces the town across a small lake.

King Frederick II acquired the original castle in 1560 and gave it its name.

King Christian IV, in the early decades of the 17th century, substantially expanded and made it the largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia. (You may remember from above that Christian IV was also responsible for rebuilding Kronborg Castle after a fire had destroyed a large part it.)

The castle was used as a main royal residence for the first 100 years. It later fell into disuse until Frederick VII began to occupy it again in 1848.

After a fire in 1859 destroyed much of the interior and roofs, its fate was uncertain, until Jacob Christian Jacobsen, the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries, restored it. In 1877, he proposed to make it the home of the Danish Museum of National History.

A branch of the Carlsberg Foundation, to whom Jacobsen bequeathed his fortune, still runs the museum and castle today.

Our tour through the museum took us through Frederiksborgslot Great Hallseveral hundred years of Danish history from the Middle Ages to the 21st century.

We could fully appreciate the size of castle property by looking from the castle across the lake to the Barock garden, with its terraces, trees, hedges, and fountains. (see picture)

We also became aware of an interesting tradition for choosing the names of Danish Kings, which started in the 16th century:

After Christian II (1513 –1523) - and until Margrethe II became Queen in 1972 - Danish kings were called either Frederick or Christian. Curiously enough, no one could explain to us the tradition's origin.

And – a little more Scandinavian royal history – the son of Fredrick VIII (1906-1912), Prince Carl of Denmark, became one of the few elected monarchs in modern history. Norway recruited him and, King Haakon VII, he became the first king of Norway after the 1905 dissolution of Norway's union with Sweden.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Louisiana Museum Sculpture parkFrederiksborg Castle and the Museum of National History were just the first examples of philanthropic endeavors we encountered in Denmark. We saw several more in Copenhagen. And, the Louisiana belongs in that group as well.

We had heard about the museum as a must see when in the Copenhagen area. Its name already intrigued us and we soon found out from the guide book:

The name Louisiana, pleasant and lilting in Danish, has a curious story in its own right: the original villa (a 19th century country house) was named for its first owner's marriages to no fewer than three women named Louise.”

The Louisiana was already a different type of museum when Knud W. Jensen founded it and opened its doors in 1958.

When we visited it now nearly 60 years later, the setting overlooking the Sound, was still amazing. The various galleries meander through the garden and sculpture park.

The architecture by Danish architects Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo was clearly inspired by the German Bauhaus (a school founded by the architect Walter Gropius, in 1919 in Weimar).

Jensen, we understood, was very much the third architect and he kept expanding and building until his death in 2000.

The result is a structure that creates wonderful exhibition spaces for modern art collections of photography, paintings, sculptures, videos, etc.

The Giacometti Gallery with its many sculptures and reflectionsLouisiana sculpture from the lake below is one of the highlights.

There are Picassos and Warhols, Lichtensteins, and works by Ai Weiwei, and Danish artists we were not familiar with.

Special exhibitions of international and Danish artists change periodically.

During our visit we experienced the first major retrospective presentation of the controversial body and performance artist Marina Abramovic.

Even if modern art is not your thing – experiencing the Louisiana should be on your Copenhagen itinerary.

(It's 25 miles north of Copenhagen. If you don't have a car: On the Danish State Railway (DSB), the Sound coastal route takes about 35 minutes from Copenhagen’s Central Station and 10 minutes from Helsingør. From Humlebæk Station, it is a 10-minute walk to the museum. You can buy e-tickets in advance on the site link above.)

Copenhagen

After traveling for over 10 days by car (from the Netherlands to Lüneburg and Sylt ), we looked forward to staying in one place for a while.

We had rented an apartment in Copenhagen and easily found it upon arrival.

Returning the rental car (and mailing back the mywebspot pocket WIFI, which had served us well on the road), gave us an opportunity to explore Copenhagen's transit system and the neighborhood of Fredericksberg, where our apartment was located.

First metro car in Copenhagen driverless subwayThe subway into town (and to the airport) was only a 4-minute walk away and we discovered that the M2 metro back to our apartment was not only driver-less, but ran like clockwork, every 2-6 minutes during the day (every 15-20 minutes at night).

The first two metro lines were completed between 2003 and 2007. A city loop is expected to open in 2019 and more extensions in the following years.

The metro system supplements a very effective S-train rapid transit system, and a bus network, both of which we also used during our stay.

The wonderful apartment – with modern Danish furniture - had WIFI, maps and city guides.

We first familiarized ourselves a little more with the city's history.

A Little Copenhagen History

Getting its start as a Viking fishing village in the 10th century, Copenhagen became Denmark's capital in the 15th century. With a population of over 700,000, it's also the country's largest city today.

And, it was again Christian IV, who between 1588 and 1648, was most responsible for Copenhagen's growth and building boom.

He initiated a number of building projects, including the Copenhagen Google mapStock Exchange, the Rosenborg Slot and the district of Christianshavn (see later) with canals and ramparts.

The city's fortifications, however, proved no match for the British attack in 1807 when most of the city was destroyed.

Nevertheless, after the war, and inspite of Denmark declaring bankruptcy in 1813, Copenhagen underwent a period of rebuilding and intense cultural activity, also known as the Danish Golden Age.

Nyhavn

View of Nyhavn in Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comNyhavn (new harbor) was originally constructed in 1670 by Christian V, as a gateway from the sea to Kongens Nytorv (King's Square) to handle cargo and fishermen's catch.

Today with its colorful buildings, dockside cafes and restaurants looking onto classic sailing ships and pleasure boats, Nyhavn has become one of Copenhagen's top tourist spots, great for people watching or just enjoying the scenery.

Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish fairy tale writer lived here for over twenty years at Nyhavn, when the harbor side was still a sailor's delight.

I was especially intrigued by the sliding pedestrian/bicycle bridge ("InderInderhavnsbroen, Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comhavensbroen") which spans the harbor to Christianshavn.

Having gone under many fixed and opening bridges during our canal travels in France and the Netherlands (see European Travels 3: Dutch Language and Canal Boating) I've never encountered such a design.

The bridge design is controversial to say the least. If you're interested, this article explains both the design and issues of the “Kissing Bridge”. I personally found it quite elegant and watched it open and close several times.

Hey Captain

Copenhagen Harbor and Canal Tour with Hey CaptainRight below the “Kissing Bridge” we met the boat for our harbor cruise. (We saw on the website that the departure has now moved across to the Ofelia Plads.)

Rather than touring the harbor in one of the giant Canal Tour boats, we preferred the Hey Captain option with the yacht-club-type launch and a maximum of 12 guests (and including a complimentary drink).

Maybe because it was a mid-September Monday with rain in the forecast, but our tour included only one other guest from the US. So it was quite “private”.

Captain Mathias - who works as a ski instructor in South Tyrol during the winter – spoke excellent English and skillfully took us through the harbor. The tour went through the canal along Freetown Christiana (more about that below), the Frederiksholms Kanal by the Christiansborg Palace, etc.

He interspersed his explanations of the historic sites with little gossip tidbits of the current life in Copenhagen.

From the water we had a wonderful view of many Copenhagen Opera House - Gamesforlanguage.comof the signature buildings on both sides:

The spectacular new Opera House on the Christianshavn side, (see picture), the Royal Danish Playhouse just across on the city side, the “Black Diamond” as the modern waterfront extension of the Royal Library is called. As we sailed by we indeed saw the glass facade sparkling glass like a diamond.

We really enjoyed the very informative 60 minute tour.

Palaces and Museums

After having visited several castles and palaces during our travels already, we decided to skip the Rosenborg Slot and the Amalienborg Slot, the seat of the Royal family.

As the flags were flying, we understood that the Queen was in residence and we witnessed the changing of the guard – enjoyed by school children and adults alike.

Two Museums we liked in particular:

SMK Museum, Copenhagen  Gamesforlanguage.comThe SMK (Statens Museum for Kunst), the National Gallery of Denmark, is Denmark's largest art museum and houses collections of mainly Danish (but also international) artists of the past seven centuries.

The original museum building of the 1890s has been expanded by a new addition in 1998 which holds the modern collection.

When old and modern structures are joined (see picture) not everybody likes the result. But we did.

We also visited the David Collection, a fascinating collection of Islamic, European, and Danish Art.

Housed in a building once occupied by the museum's founder, a prominent Copenhagen attorney, the extensive collection of Islamic Art is the most important one. It “encompasses exquisite decorative art from the 7th century to the mid-19th century from an area that extends from Spain in the west to China in the east, from Uzbekistan in the north to Yemen in the south.”

Bicycling and Segway

There are several ways you can do sightseeing in Copenhagen: In addition to typical bus tours, there are boat tours, kajak tours, bicycle tours and Segway tours and obviously – our preferred way, just walking.

We rented (electric) bicycles several times to explore thePracticing for Segway Tour in Copenhagen, Gamesforlanguage.com neighborhood of Frederiksberg where our apartment was located, as well as Christianshavn, (see below) and loved the ubiquitous bike paths. However, we at first shied away from doing so in the middle of the city.

Therefore we felt quite brave when we decided to sign up for a Segway tour downtown.

We had always wanted to try out a Segway and now had an opportunity to do so.

After about 15 minutes of instruction and tryout in the company's offices and on the street, our group of 12 riders assembled to follow the guide.

Through our helmet speaker, we heard his instructions and off we went onto the next bike path.

As bikers dashed by us we made our way slowly but surely through the city.

Once at the harbor promLittle Mermaid - Copenhagen- Gamesforlanguage.comenade in front of the spectacular Skuespilhuset, the Royal Danish Playhouse (see picture above), we all felt that we had mastered the most difficult part of the Segway trip.

We circled around the Amalienborg courtyard (where we had been before) and zipped through the Kastellet, one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. Finally, we stopped at the “Lille Havfrue”, the Little Mermaid, for more pictures:

Indeed, the Little Mermaid - as both our Boat Captain as well as our Segway Tour Guide stressed - must be the world's most overrated tourist attraction from any vantage point. But we still took a picture just like everybody else!

It was amazing how much distance we covered in 90 minutes and how much information we absorbed during that time.

Christianshavn

The boat tour had taken us through Christianshaven Canal - Gamesforlanguage.comthe canals of Christianshavn and our Captain had told us various stories about this part of Copenhagen. (Our Segway Tour did not go over bridge.)

Developed in the early 17th century by Christian IV as part of the city's fortifications, and then as a merchants' town inspired by Dutch city planners, it became a working class neighborhood in the 20th Century with military housing.

In the 70s it developed a bohemian reputation and became a favorite of students, hippies and artists.

Freetown entrance - Gamesforlanguage.comWhen the military left the Christiania area, students called out the “Fristaden Christiania”. Drugs and crime became a problem in the 80s. We were told that police now stay mostly away and self-government by the resident tries to keep the peace.

While the many types of cannabis that are openly sold are technically illegal, the law is not enforced and the situation is tolerated.

We bicycled through the Freetown on a Sunday morning. A sign at the entrance proclaimed: “You are now leaving the European Union”.

Many stands that sold cannabis, colorful jewelry and clothes old ship hull in Christianawere just being set up.

By midday the area was filled with families on a stroll, joggers, bicyclists and tourists like us.

We heard some noises coming from the partial and overturned hull of an old wooded vessel, right alongside the shore of the Freetown's “marina”, and so we stopped:

A young man was busy cleaning out the inside. He was clearly stoned and explained that this was going to be his new home. He invited us to come and visit him once it was finished.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens - Gamesforlanguage.comA visit to Copenhagen wouldn't be complete without a visit to Tivoli, the famous amusement park.

Opened in 1843 by its founder Georg Carstensen, on land leased from King Christian VIII, it must have been a model for the Disney Parks over 100 years later.

We did not take any of the many offered rides on roller coasters, or other contraptions like the “Vertigo”, a looping plane ride, or the “Zamperla”, a giant swing a spinner with 4G forces, or even the newest “Fatamorgana”.

Leaving these to younger folks, we enjoyed walking around the gardens. Tivoli at night - Gamesforlanguage.comWe watched a ballet performance, listened to a concert and had a delicious dinner in one of the numerous restaurants.

In the evening, the many lights with the fireworks at the end created a magical atmosphere.

There are so many places to see and experience in Copenhagen, that even a week was not enough. You'll have to consult your travel guide to decide what to see and do.

If you have even less time than we did, this April 2018 New York Times article will give you some excellent suggestions: 36 Hours in Copenhagen

We certainly enjoyed our time in Copenhagen and Denmark.

Bio: 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.

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