Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Trivia Quizzes for Language Learning?

Invitation to take a QuizHave you ever thought that Trivia Quizzes could spice up your language learning? Indeed, when you're no longer a beginner, Trivia Quizzes can be a fun way to boost your language skills.

When our Boston-born sons were growing up, we often played the German equivalent of the board game "Trivial Pursuit" - all in German. In German, it was called "Spiel des Wissens" (Game of Knowledge).

For playing this board game, we used set phrases: "Du bist dran." (It's your turn.); "Welche Kategorie?" (Which category?), etc. Then the dice was rolled and the question was read aloud. We all had fun, learned something new, and they were clearly building their German skills.

Trivia games, in many languages, are now all over the internet. They are a huge language learning resource. Such trivia games are sometimes made for school children in their language or for companies as a brand recognition vehicle. And these don't provide translations.

But that means, playing such trivia quizzes will immerse you in your target language. You have to figure out the meaning of words from the context of the question and choose the right, or at least most probable, answer.

Why play trivia quizzes? A good response is that such quizzes challenge you to learn general knowledge about a subject, a specific culture, a country, or the world in general.

On the French site listed below (, it says: "Pour briller en société, il faut savoir argumenter sur tous les sujets. D’où l’importance d’acquérir une bonne culture générale". (To stand out in society, you need the ability to argue about many subjects. That's why it's important to acquire a good foundation in general knowledge.)

What Is Trivia?

A Wikipedia entry traces the word back to the Latin "trivia", plural of trivium (“place where three roads meet”). The term came to be used for any public place, and then for anything commonplace.

The Oxford dictionary defines the word "trivia" as "unimportant matters, details, or information; facts about many subjects that are used in a game to test people's knowledge".

At times the facts asked in a trivia game may be unimportant per se. For example, It may not be essential that you know through how many countries the Rhine flows. The answer is "six", and they are: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, Netherlands.

But, if this question gets you to look at a European map, and perhaps at some point plan a cruise on the Rhine or another European river, the game has had an impact.

Well-designed trivia games can challenge you to think about a wide range of range of subjects: history, geography, science, nature, film, music, literature, etc. And that's not all bad, right?

Playing trivia games in your own language can be hard enough. But when you play trivia quizzes designed for native speakers in another language, you'll find an extra challenge. You have to navigate the language. Plus, what's common knowledge for them may not be common knowledge for you. The bonus? You'll learn interesting things about that country's culture and add to your skills  - as the French put it - to "shine in society"  (“briller en société”).

Some Tips for Playing Trivia Quizzes

Choose the level (easy, medium, hard). If you're playing in a foreign language, kids' quizzes are not a bad place to start.

Choose the content (general culture, music, history, geography, etc.)

Some trivia games are timed. These you'll have to do as quickly as possible. But when you're done, you can usually go over the answers.

Write down some of the words you don't know, and look them up when you're done with the quiz. Then, go back and do the quiz again. It's a good way to recall and review some of the more difficult words and answers you weren't sure about.

A Sample of Trivia Quizzes

Some of the sites I looked at were a little disorganized, hard to navigate, or cluttered by too many disruptive ads. But there are plenty that work well for language learners.

Here are a few free Trivia site suggestions for languages we cover. We are planning to also add a few more Trivia Quizzes on Gamesforlanguage. You'll find the ones we have at the end of each paragraph below.

Bridge in Avignon, FranceFrench Trivia Quizzes is a website with free quizzes "for entertainment and education". You can choose among more than two dozen categories featuring "Actualités, Cuisine, Culture générale, Histoire, Geographie, Monde animal, Musique, Sports", etc.
A good quiz category to start with is "Culture générale".
[The site was created by Telemaque a French company that provides mobile solutions.]

Gamesforlanguage: French Language Game: Trivia Quiz.   French Language Game: Paris Quiz.

Cathedral Bell Tower in Seville, SpainSpanish Trivia Quizzes

¿Cuánto sabes sobre España? (How much do you know about Spain?) This is a 16-question quiz, with photos illustrating the questions.

Going to the bottom of the page, you'll also find quizzes about Soccer, Fashion, Spain's beaches, Nature, Spain's beaches, etc.

Note: All quizzes are free, and you can choose to play them in any of 10 other languages, including French, German, Italian, and English.
[The site is presented by The Portal Oficial de Turismo de España.]

Test de Cultura Española.  These are 30 general culture questions in Spanish about Spain you can try your hand at. You're told at the end which ones are right. (Click/Tap on "Comprobar") However, if you've made a mistake, you won't find out the correct answer there. You'll have to search it yourself.
[This quiz page was created by Enforex, a Spanish language institute.]

Gamesforlanguage: Spanish Language Game: Trivia Quiz.   Spanish Language Game: Madrid Quiz.

Bell Tower of Cathedral in Pisa, ItalyItalian Trivia Quizzes

La sai lunga is a free site with a large number of quizzes and tests to play online "to learn, have fun, and keep your mind active and agile".

The main quiz categories are: Geografia, Letteratura, Cultura generale, Scienze, and for each quiz you see the level: Facile (green), Media (orange), Difficile (red)

At the bottom of the page, you'll find "Il Quiz della settimana" and a few easy and hard quizzes.
[The site was created by a teacher in Italy as an educational resource for schools. You can find out more at]

Gamesforlanguage: Italian Language Game: Trivia QuizItalian Language Game: Rome Quiz.

Die Zeil, famous shoping streetGerman Trivia Quizzes

Fragespiel - Das Quiz im Internet. On this site, you'll find 40 quiz categories and many of those have questions about general knowledge. But there are also: States of the US, and various categories specifically relating to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

You can also play: Frage des Tages (Question of the day.)

The favorite game of all time is "Hauptstädte Europa Quiz". (Capitals of Europe Quiz).
[The quiz site was developed by BAWS Websolutions.]

Gamesforlanguage: German Language Game: 4 CitiesGerman Language Game: Heidelberg Quiz.

English Trivia Quizzes

All The Trivia. The site contains themed quizzes for children, teens, as well as adults "of all stripes". Categories include: Disney, General, Kids, Movies, Music, Sports, etc.

At the moment, the quizzes are in English only, but in the future Spanish quizzes may be added.

You can also print out a quiz sheet and play it online with family and friends.
[The website is provided by PB International, a global entertainment company.]

Clearly, most Trivia Quizzes in another language are not for beginners. You have to know at least some basic vocabulary to understand the questions.

But - if you're bored with your current language program, need more challenges, or just want to try out something new – Trivia Quizzes in your target language are a great way to add fun and substance to your learning.

Disclosure: We have no relationship with any of the sites or companies mentioned on this blog post, other than Games for Language.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Tips to Boost Your Language Listening Skills

GamesforLanguage: Listening SkillsAre you looking for ways to boost your listening comprehension in the foreign language you're learning? Here are 5 ways to try out. They've been part of my language learning routine for quite a while now.

When learning a language, listening comprehension may be the most challenging skill to master. Why not add a little fun and variety to your practice? We all know, if you enjoy something you'll get better at it more easily.

A new language, especially when it's spoken fast, is just a series of incomprehensible sounds, nothing more than gibberish (as we experienced ourselves when we arrived in Rome with little Italian a few years ago).

With time, though, you'll notice that the stream of sounds seems to slow down. You'll start distinguishing individual words, or what the words are that run into each other.

Your goal is to listen and understand without translating. Reaching that moment feels great.

However, getting to that stage takes some practice. And there are clearly steps you can take to help you along.

When I learn a new language, or practice one I want to improve, I first listen and then say out loud what I hear. It's a good way to focus on sound combinations and on the way words blend into each other in a language. The result: I'm more likely to recognize the sound combinations of words when I hear them spoken fast.

1. Use Backward Buildup

As you're starting out: listen and repeat words and phrases until you're familiar with the sound of typical letter clusters and fast word combinations.

I first came across the technique of Backward Buildup while doing a Pimsleur course. It was Russian, a language that has lots of sounds that are different from languages that I know.

In a Pimsleur course you are continually reminded to "repeat aloud" what you hear. This is essential for improving your pronunciation. It's also a great way to become familiar with new sounds.

You can add Backward Buildup when saying any word, phrase, or sentence you find challenging. It's something you can do on your own, with any audio, no matter what program, etc. you are using.

For example, take the French word: lendemain:

• Say the full word "lendemain", even if you just mumble it.
• Say the ending: "-main"
• Add the middle part: "-demain"
• Say the first part: "len-"
• Put it together: "lendemain".

If you're more advanced, you can even do this with a couple of sentences together, breaking them into longer chunks.

2. Write What you Hear

Gamesforlanguage: Listening and writingListen to a phrase or sentence spoken in your target language. (If needed, close your eyes so you don't see the words.) Try to think of the meaning without doing a word-by-word translation. Say the phrase or sentence aloud. Then write it down and check if it's right. At first it may be hard to get it all. But with practice, your listening comprehension will clearly improve.

You can do this kind of dictation practice on your own, using all kinds of different programs.

A good program for dictation practice is Duolingo, which I've been using for Swedish and Portuguese. You're asked to "Write what you hear". When you're done, you can check the answer.

A program like Glossika, which I'm using to improve my spoken French and Spanish, gives you the translation and answer right away. But I close my eyes when listening, and then I say and write down the sentence from memory.

3. Try a Game or a Quiz

time to play clockInteractive games are a fun way to boost your language skills. It's popular to use target-language games in the classroom: Tell me what you see; Build on the Story; I see what you don't see; Quizzes about movies; etc.

But there are also numerous listening games online, using flashcards, matching games, fill the gap, etc. Many of these are for kids.

An online listening game that's fun for teens and adults is Quotey.  The game is particularly clever and versatile. The quotes come from pop culture.

You can set the speed and loudness of the voice, and you play any quote as many times as you want.  To check your understanding, you'll see the English equivalent for each.

There are lots of things you can do with it.
•  On the Quotes Tab: You set the language (one of eleven major languages). Customize the category (TV series, movies, songs). Choose the difficulty (easy or hard). Then guess the quote. To go on, you click on New Quote. If you want, you can also hear that same quote in any of the eleven languages.
• On the Languages Tab: You'll hear a quote, and guess the language it's in.
• On the Accents Tab: You'll hear a quote English, and guess what accent the person has.

(Please note that we have no relationship with Quotey (Quotey McQuoteface) other than having used their free games.
Also, there's no connection of the game Quotey McQuoteface with the Australian game show of the same name.)

4. Watch Films with Subtitles

Commisario MontalbanoTV series or films in your target language are an entertaining way to improve your listening comprehension. In many cases, you can watch a foreign film either on your computer or on TV, and often you'll have a choice which subtitle language to see.

Read the plot ahead of time. This will help you make sense of what's going on. Don't hesitate to replay any of the scenes as often as you want.

There are so many choices! But below are some of the detective series we've enjoyed watching, some of them on MHz, some of them just using a VPN.

• Italian: Il Commissario Montalbano. (An Italian series based on the detective novels of Sicilian author Andrea Camilieri, see image above)).

• French: Murder In ... (A French series of murder mysteries set in various picturesque regions of France).

• Spanish: La Casa del Papel. (A Spanish heist crime drama series mainly filmed in Madrid).

• German: Commissario Brunetti. (A German series based on the crime novels of Donna Leone, and set in Venice). 

5. Listen to Podcasts

Foreign language podcasts have become very popular. Many of them are free, or use the Patreon Membership Platform. Podcasts come is various levels of difficulty and lots of them cover interesting topics. I listen on my phone, often while preparing lunch, going for a walk, etc.

Below are three podcast series I've enjoyed.

Spanish Language Coach: Intermediate Spanish (available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, plus more).

Inner French: Intermediate French Podcast (available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, plus more).

NRC Vandaag: Podcast (Dutch, available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and NRC Audio App. Dutch is a language I learned as a preteen).

Unless you're a total beginner as an online language learner, you've probably discovered that many language-learning apps and online programs let you be quite creative in how you use them. With a little inventiveness, you can figure out all kinds of ways to make listening comprehension more efficient and fun.

We would be amiss if we didn't mention our Gamesforlanguage podcasts which complement our courses. Each podcast contains six lessons of the 36-lesson Travel Story.

If you are more advanced you can also listen to each podcast's Story first. And if you don't understand all of it, you can always brush up on your vocabulary by doing some of the lessons.

There are currently six (6) podcasts for French, Italian, and Spanish, twelve (12) for German, and one (1) for Inglés.

If you have trouble finding a podcast for the language you are learning, drop us a note at and we'll try to help.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Easy German Language Games for Fun Learning

Gamesforlanguage Writing ClownsHave you started to learn some German?

Here are 6 Easy German Language Games for fun learning AND building your basic German vocabulary. (The image left shows our earlier Writing Clowns Game)

These German Language Games are set up as simple Quizzes.

Each one focuses on 4 to 8 vocabulary items and one related grammar point.

Recall and practice are part of each Quiz. As an added bonus, you'll sharpen your German pronunciation.

You'll hear the key words (nouns, verbs, etc) right at the beginning in the Car Race, without translation. Just focus on listening and repeating each word aloud.

Then you're asked to choose the correct translations.

Please note that you'll have to guess some words from context. Playing a game more than once will certainly help you remember any new vocabulary!

Gamesforlanguage: Car Chase Game8 Nouns

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #1 or on the left image.

In English all nouns have the (definite) article "the". But German has different words for "the", depending on the noun, and how you use it (eg. as subject, object, etc.)

The reason: in German, there are 3 grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

For example: masculine - der Apfel (the apple); feminine - die Schule (the school); neuter - das Haus (the house).

While the gender of persons, such as “die Mutter” (the mother) and “der Vater” (the father), etc. is obvious in German, the gender for most other nouns seems a little random.

However, don't despair, there are a few rules that can help. Check out 10 Easy Rules to Help Your German.

It's best to learn the article together with the noun, that's what native speakers do automatically when they learn their language.

Nouns that you hear, see or speak a lot, will become automatic for you too.

(You'll see the score when you click the “Continue” arrow.)

Gamesforlanguage Snap Clouds Game8 Regular Verbs

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #2 or on the left image.

For building sentences you need verbs, and in German, verbs have personal endings that you have to know.

In English you say: I do, you do, he does, we do, they do. Only the third person singular - he, she, it - deviates from the pattern.

In German you say: ich mache, du machst, er macht, wir machen, ihr macht, sie machen. That gives you four different verb endings. On top of that, you have three ways to say "you": du machst (familiar, singular), Sie machen (formal, singular and plural), ihr macht ("you-all"- familiar, plural).

Fortunately, many German verbs are regular in the present tense. The pattern is quite easy to learn.

Do you know the endings of present tense verbs?

Test yourself in this Quiz. If you miss a couple of answers the first time, play the game again until you get the hang of it. The verbs in Quiz #2 are all regular and the endings all follow the same pattern.

And while you're focusing on the endings, you'll probably learn a few new verbs as well.

Gamesforlanguage Shootout Game8 Easy Sentences with Direct Object Nouns

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #3 or on the left image.

Even as a beginner, it's not that hard to put together sentences to say what you want to express.

In a German sentences, it's important to put a noun into the right case.

The German language has 4 cases: Nominative (subject), Accusative (direct object), Dative (indirect object), Genitive (possessive).

For English speakers, this can sound complicated. But when you learn to use them step by step, they' don't seem quite as daunting.
This Quiz tests you on masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns as direct objects.

Starting out with 8 different Nouns and their articles, you'll put together simple sentences at the end of the Quiz.

Pay attention to the gender of the nouns when they come up. When you know the noun gender, the short sentences in the Word Invader game will be easy.

GamesforLanguage Word Invaders Games8 Verbs in Sentences

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #4 or on the left image.

Now it gets a little more challenging: Not only do you need to recall the correct gender of the nouns, but you have to apply the correct verb endings.

As in the previous games, you'll also have to pay attention to different verb endings with German “sie” or “Sie”, as in “sie begrüßt uns” (she greets us), “sie erklären” (they explain), and “Sie denken” (you [formal] think).

This Quiz tests you on 8 Verbs used in simple sentences with nouns and pronouns as directs objects.

Play it several times until you get a 90% score! (You'll see the score when you click the “Continue” arrow.)

Gamesforlanguage Deal-No Deal Game4 Separable Prefix Verbs

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #5 or on the left image.

Are you getting the hang of picking the correct regular verb endings? Now you can challenge yourself with separable prefix verbs, a typical feature of many German verbs.

What makes separable prefix verbs somewhat tricky, is that they require a very specific word order. In English, phrasal verbs are similar, but the word order there is more flexible.

For example: anrufen - to call, call up

You can say: I'm calling up my brother. Or: I'm calling my brother up.

In German, only one word order is possible for this sentence: “Ich rufe meinen Bruder an.” The separable prefix "an", goes to the end of the sentence.

This Quiz will test you on 4 different separable prefix verbs as part of short sentences.

And again, click the “Continue” arrow to see your correct answer percentage. Aim for at least 90%!

Gamesforlanguage Car Race Game4 Modal Verbs

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #6 or on left image.

Modal Verbs give you important tools for expressing yourself. You'll need them for almost any conversation, to express what you want, what you can or have to do, what you would like, etc.

Unfortunately, even in the present tense form German Modal Verbs follow a different pattern from regular verbs.

In this Quiz, you'll test yourself on the basic forms of 4 Modal Verbs: können (can), wollen (want), müssen (must), and the subjunctive form of "mögen", as in "ich möchte" (I would like).

As modal verbs come up frequently in everyday conversations, we recommend that you play this quiz several times, until you get the pattern down cold.

If you're learning German as an almost-beginner, these six Quizzes will test some basic German vocabulary and certain elementary points of grammar.

But they'll also encourage you to learn new words, try new sentences and to practice your pronunciation.

Learning a language does take effort and practice. If it's just a chore for you, you're not going to get very far.

Find ways to enjoy learning and practicing. These games will add a little fun and you'll feel good when you see the 100% after you finish the Shootout and Word Invader games!

More Than a German Language Game

Don't forget: You can practice German online for FREE with our 36-Scene German 1 Story: "Michael in Deutschland" and our 72-Scene German 2 Mystery Story Sequel: "Blüten in Berlin?".
(If you already know that "Blüten" means blossom in German - you'll learn that Blüten has still another meaning...).
Just login HERE.
And, if you have any language questions  - don't hesitate to contact us!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 13 - Rotterdam memories and Jeff Bezos

Koningshaven Bridge, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsLately, our Rotterdam memories were rekindled by news about Jeff Bezos' new Super Yacht.

Several international newspapers, including the New York Times and The Guardian as well as Boat International reported on it.

The Dutch shipyard where the Yacht is being built is located just a few miles upriver on the Nieuwe Maas/Noord. The builder reportedly asked Rotterdam officials to be allowed to temporarily dismantle the historic Koningshaven Bridge.

It's the only bridge before the open sea that does not open completely and does not have enough clearance for larger sailing vessels with their masts up. (Setting the masts AFTER passing the bridge was certainly discussed, but apparently not found practical by the shipyard.)

Here is the excerpt from the Times:

“The city of Rotterdam’s decision to remove part of the bridge was reported on Wednesday by a regional Dutch public broadcaster, Rijnmond. Boat International, which publishes articles about the superyacht industry, reported that the 417-foot sailboat is set to become the largest sailing yacht in the world when it is finished later this year, surpassing the Sea Cloud, a 360-foot sailboat built in 1931 and owned by the Yacht Portfolio, an investment company based in Malta.”

The reported displeasure by the public and some activists about the - even temporary - dismantling of a landmark for the benefit of a rich man's pleasures, may continue to keep this story alive for a while.

Another Dutch Family Reunion

Lift Bridge on Canal near AmsterdamThe news clip about the Koningshaven Bridge brought back memories of our Dutch Family Reunion in Rotterdam a couple of years ago and canal boating in the Netherlands (when we passed under similar lift bridges, see picture left).

The city is wonderful to explore on foot, and you can get around easily by tram. While Amsterdam is overrun by tourists in the summer, Rotterdam is off the beaten path for many, and well worth a visit.

Rotterdam is located in the province of South Holland, at the mouth of the "Nieuwe Maas" Channel which connects to the Rijn-Maas-Scheldedelta at the North Sea. (in English: Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta)

As the name Rotterdam suggests, the town goes back to the construction of a dam along the Rotte river (built in 1270), one of the delta rivers then. Rotterdam was granted city rights in 1340.

In discussions at the family reunion with Ulrike's older Dutch cousins, we heard accounts of the German bombings of May 14, 1940.

The center of Rotterdam was almost completely flattened. The destruction caused by the bomb raid lead to the capitulation of the Netherlands the following day. (In some historic accounts, communication errors in the German air force may have prevented the transmission of the raid's stop order.)

Different from many German cities that were destroyed during the war and were rebuilt quickly – often with poor city planning and cookie-cutter buildings – Rotterdam took its time.

This gave architects and planners opportunities to design avant-garde structures and expand the harbor for the 21st century. That kind of city rebuilding is still happening today.

Here are just a few sites that are worth seeing and exploring:

Rotterdam Central Railway StationRotterdam Centraal Station

When you arrive at Rotterdam's railway station – Rotterdam Centraal - you're immediately struck by the design of the large entrance hall. Subway, buses and and trams are right there for you. (Download the RET Barcode app and you can buy tickets online for the entire system.)

Erasmus & Koningshaven Bridges, RotterdamErasmus Brug and Hotel New York

Walking from Rotterdam Centrum across the Erasmus Brug (a combined cable-stayed and bascule bridge, completed in 1996), you'll see the Koningshaven Bridge to your left. (in background in picture left)
Then turning right after the bascule bridge to get to the Hotel New York, you'll pass the new Cruise Ship Terminal.

Hotel New York was the former headquarters of the Holland America line. From where the cruise ships now dock, the Ocean liners of the Holland-America line used to leave for the New World. (Ulrike and her family left from there on their emigration voyage to Canada.)

There's a pleasant Garden Cafe in front of the Hotel now. We enjoyed a "vers fruit sorbet" (fresh fruit sorbet) during a sunny afternoon while watching the river traffic.

In late afternoon, we would sit in a beer garden right below the Erasmus bridge and enjoy watching the many barges go up and down the Maas river.

Rotterdam Cube Houses Cube Houses & Market Hall

You'll certainly want to visit the Cube Houses. Designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, they are based on the concept of "Living as Urban Roof": high density housing with sufficient space on the ground level, since its main purpose is to optimize the space inside. The homes are literally cubes, tilted over by 45 degrees.

You can visit one of the cubes – the other units are occupied - and decide whether living in one of the 38 cubes would be for you! (The original group of 18 cube houses was built in 1977 in Helmond in the southern part of the Netherlands.)

Rotterdam Market HallThe new Market Hall (opened in 2014) is just across the square from the Cube Houses and features another innovative design: It is the country's largest indoor market and includes a multipurpose retail and residential development.

Besides the large Market Hall, the complex houses 228 apartments, over 40,000 sq ft of retail space, 8 restaurants and a 4-story underground parking garage with a capacity of 1200+ cars.

Food lovers will find all kind of international and Dutch food specialties in the large hall, which will overwhelm you by its sheer size and the colored murals!

Kunsthal Rotterdam - Art Museum

Joana_Vasconcelos_Exhibit_Kunsthal_RotterdamAnother discovery was the Kunsthal Rotterdam. Built by the architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA in 1992, and located in Rotterdam's Museumpark, the Kunsthal itself is stunning in its use of space.

During our visits, we saw two amazing exhibits: “I'm your mirror” by Joana Vasconcelos and “Street Dreams: How HipHop took over Fashion”.

Joana's installations surprised you by the materials she used and assembled. Can you tell what was used for the one on the picture above?

The Street Dreams exhibit traced the fashion trends in the HipHop community from the late 1970s to now, and how they impacted on the culture of mainstream fashion.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Art lovers will enjoy the works of many Dutch painters from the 14th to the 16th centuries. There are paintings by Rembrandt and Bruegel, van Eyck and Hieronymos Bosch. But beyond that, you'll also find works of Monet and Gaugin, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso.

Rotterdam Maritime Museum exhibitMaritime Museum

For ship and boat lovers, the Maritime Museum is a must. There are ships and barges for you to visit in the water right at the museum.

The Netherlands has a special relationship with the sea – about a third of the country lies below sea level. And as a premier trading nation for many centuries, the Netherlands had developed a special expertise in ship building.

The museum takes you through the country's maritime past and explains in many - also interactive - exhibits how to tackle the new challenges of maritime construction with climate change and rising sea levels.

Rotterdam Port

SS Rotterdam HotelOne of the special memories from our family reunion was the harbor tour. This included sailing by the SS Rotterdam, one of the older Ocean liners which is now permanently moored. It has been repurposed as a hotel and you can access it also via water taxis as shown in the picture. (You can book rooms there directly or via most of the popular travel sites.)

However the real highlight was the tour of the Europort Rotterdam which is not part of a typical harbor cruise. It was organized by one of the family members who had special contacts. We had our passports and identities verified, then transferred to a bus and were driven through what is now the largest port in Europe.

Munich Maersk in Europort RotterdamConstruction of this deep-water port started in 2008, Phase 1 opened in 2014, Phase 2 will only be completed in 2035.

We stopped at one of the docks and saw how one of the largest container ships of the world, the Munich Maersk, was being unloaded.

Driver-less container carts at Europort, RotterdamOf the about 23,000 containers only a few thousand were to be unloaded. They were placed on electric, driver-less carts and driven to a storage location.

Others were loaded and driven back to the ship. There were many of these driver-less carts picking up and delivering containers.

Several cranes were operating along the 400m (1200ft+) ship loading and unloading.

Nearby we saw containers being placed directly unto a canal barge.

It was all an amazing spectacle – nearly ghost-like: This is what harbor logistics looks like in the 21st century: loading and unloading 24 hours, 7 days a week with very few hands-on workers needed.

Indeed Rotterdam would probably not have become the largest European port without the Maas River and its connection to the Rhine. With the Main-Danube canal, barges can travel to and from the Black Sea and the European canal system allows access to/from the Mediterranean Sea via the Rhone river.

Maas River Storm Surge Barrier

Maas Storm Surge Barrier Closing in 2019During our Europort visit on a Saturday we learned that the Maas storm surge barrier (“Maeslantkering”) would have its annual maintenance operation that same afternoon.

The river traffic was interrupted for several hours for the closing. Our group joined the many onlookers to watch how the gigantic gates (see picture) slowly closed.

After its completion in 1997, the Maas storm surge barrier was first tested during the November 8, 2007 storm and prevented, together with two other surge barriers the flooding of the entire Dutch coast.

See a description of this engineering marvel, one of the largest moving structures on earth, in this Wiki entry. You can also find further details for a visit at the Keringhuis website.

Walking Around

Last but not least, we also enjoyed just walking around, e.g. in the Delfshaven district, one of the few areas which were spared during the WWII bombing. You can have a beer at the brewery De Pelgrim or visit the Pilgrim Father's Church.

Or just walk through Rotterdam Centrum and study the many different building with their unusual angles and facades.

You can always find a park bench, or an outdoor cafe or bistro where you can sip your favorite beverage and people watch.

And if you liked Rotterdam, you may even want to learn more about the Netherlands and the Dutch Language.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Easy French Language Games

Merci - Thank you - Speech BubblesAre you just beginning to learn French?

Here are 5 Easy French Language Games that make practicing some essential French words fun.

The games also help you build some basic vocabulary and sharpen your pronunciation.

And if you learn to pronounce "Merci" correctly (hint: not like mercy!),  you might even get a smile from the French person who is helping or serving you!

French is an official language in 5 European countries: France, Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco, and Luxembourg. It is also spoken as an official language in 24 other countries worldwide.

For English learners, French pronunciation can be a little hard.

That's especially true for French nasal sounds and certain other sound combinations that don't exist in English. But practice will help.

French is a beautiful, melodious language and worth every effort.

Even just some basic French will make you feel more confident when traveling and engaging with French speakers.

To get you in the French language mood, you can start below with a game that reviews common greetings and polite expressions.

When you play, you need to say the French out loud. Just remembering the words silently won't do the job.

Focus on the sound of a word and let it soak in, then see if your own pronunciation gets close.

You can play these games as often as you like.

They are free – as are all our games and courses – and you'll not be bothered by Google ads either.

Just play, have fun and learn!

Hello-Goodbye Game screenshot1. Hello Goodbye

When in a French-speaking environment, using greetings and polite phrases is a friendly and respectful way to interact with others.

Throwing out "hi" or "hello" to a waiter who comes to your table, or when buying in a shop, getting tickets, etc, is really not the way to go.

Say "bonjour" in your best French. If you then have to switch to English, it's okay.

Click on the French Language Game: Hello Goodbye.

Play the game a couple of times, and then play it again a few days later to review what you've learned.

The words and phrases are short, but they contain typical French sounds that need practice.

French Question Words Language Game screenshot2. French Question Words

Question words are an efficient way to get information, ask about cost, set up appointments, ask for directions, etc.

It's empowering to be able to understand and say them. The words are short, but it takes a little practice to make them automatic.

Click on the French Language Game: 8 Question Words.

Below is a list you can check before you start:
• qui ? - who?
• que ? - what?
• quand ? - when?
• où ? - where?
• comment ? - how?
• pourquoi ? - why?
• combien ? - how much?
• est-ce que ? - question phrase [is it that?]

Family,Relatives French Quick Game screenshot3. Family and Relatives

The French words for mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandfather, cousin, are nice to know.

They also provide a good opportunity for pronunciation practice.

In the game you'll focus on the vowels "è" (père, mère); "oeu" (soeur); nasal "a + n" (tante, grand) and "o + n" (oncle); as well as be aware of silent "e" (père, mère, frère, tante).

And, with these words you can easily practice French noun gender.

In English, we have one definite article that goes with any noun: "the".

It's the same word for singular and plural nouns: the father, the mother; the fathers, the mothers.

In French, a noun is either masculine "le père" (the father); or feminine "la mère" (the mother).

If a noun starts with a vowel, then the article becomes "l' ": l'oncle.

The French word for "the" with plural nouns, masculine or feminine, is "les".

Click on French Language Game: Family and Relatives

The words for family members are easy to learn.

And with our Shootout game, it's fun to review and practice the French masculine and feminine articles for "the" and for the possessives "my" and "your".

Easy French Verbs Quick Game Screenshot4. Easy Verbs - Present Tense

Verbs are important building blocks for making sentences, even short and easy ones.

You need verbs to talk about actions, thoughts, feelings, states of being - yours and those of other people.

With French verbs, a good place to start is with regular "-er" verbs. More than 80% of French verbs belong to this group.

Using personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, etc.) with many English verbs is easy.

In the present tense you just have to remember that the 3rd person sing (he, she, it) takes an -s.

However, French verbs have more complicated conjugation rules.

Even regular -er" verbs have 5 different endings that go with the respective pronouns.

Click on French Language Game: 8 Easy Verbs

With this game you'll learn 8 common French "-er" verbs and their present tense endings.

Once you get the pattern down, you can apply pattern of endings to any regular "-er" verb.

Here's a list of the verbs you'll learn.
• chercher - to look for
• demander - to ask
• donner - to give
• habiter - to live (reside)
• montrer - to show
• parler - to speak
• penser - to think
• regarder - to look at

Easy French Adverbs Quick Game screenshot5. Easy Adverbs

Finally, with an adverb you can add more information, i.e. where, when, why, how, or how often something happens.

Click on French Language Game: 8 Easy Adverbs.

Here's a list of the adverbs you'll learn and practice.
• enfin - finally
• plus tard - later
• toujours - always
• tout de suite - right away
• très bien - very well
• souvent - often
• un peu - a little
• vraiment – really

Will these games alone make you become fluent in French? Not likely.

But play these and the many other games on our site regularly, especially when other courses become too tedious and boring.

And always say the French out loud.

This way you won't give up learning and practicing.

Remember: learning a new language takes time and persistence.

If you can find ways to make learning and practicing French a daily habit, you'll be on a good path to language fluency.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

7 Easy Spanish Language Games

Hablas Español signIf you've always wanted to learn some Spanish, our 7 easy Spanish language games can give you a fun start.

Spanish is a wonderful language to learn. It's spoken as an official language in 20 countries, and for many travels it's a great language to communicate and connect.

Spanish is a phonetic language, and is easy to pronounce for English speakers. Plus, Spanish shares many cognates with English and does not have a difficult word order.

Give a couple of these easy Spanish games a try. You can start with a few common greetings and expressions. Even if you speak only some basic phrases, making the effort will help you connect with Spanish speakers. And remember, in other-language countries, people don't always speak perfect English. They are sure to appreciate your efforts.

When playing a game, repeat the words of the speaker - out loud.
Just thinking about what to say in Spanish is not enough. Your mouth needs the practice to sound out the words. I call that "mouth mechanics".

1. Hello, Goodbye, etc.

Hello-Goodbye screenshot with "Hola"Greetings and polite phrases belong into your language tool kit. They are a friendly and respectful way to interact with others.

Play the game again a couple of days later to review what you learned.
You'll definitely feel more confident when you're in a Spanish-language setting when your responses are automatic and sound "like a native".

Click on our Spanish Language Game: Hello, Goodbye, etc. to learn and practice 10 must-have words and phrases.
Here's what you'll learn in Game 1:
• Hola - Hi
• Buenos días - Good morning
• Buenas tardes - Good afternoon
• Por favor - Please
• Gracias - Thanks
• De nada - You're welcome
• ¿Qué tal? - How are things?
• Lo siento - I'm sorry
• Momento - Just a moment
• Adiós - Goodbye

2. Spanish Numbers 1-20

Numbers 1-9Learning the Spanish Numbers 1-20 is a practical next step.
Numbers are used in many different situations: at a market, for getting directions, for phone numbers, addresses, fixing the time for an appointment, etc.

Once you're happy with your pronunciation, numbers are easy to practice throughout your day.
You could start counting the number of reps in your exercise routine in the morning, or the steps as you're walking to get your coffee.

Click on our blog post Uno dos tres, Spanish Numbers are Easy, where you'll find a link to our Language Games for Spanish Numbers 1-20, as well as another game for Spanish Numbers 21 and beyond.
You'll be learning and practicing the numbers out of order and by doing easy additions and substractions.

3. Spanish Question Words

Spanish Question Words compositeQuestion Words are useful when asking for information, even if your Spanish vocabulary is limited.
You'll use question words for asking what something means, for making appointments, paying for a purchase, asking for directions, etc.

The words are short and not hard to pronounce, but sometimes it's easy to mix them up.

Click on our Spanish Language Game: 8 Question Words.
This is what you'll learn in Game 3:
• ¿Dónde? - Where?
• ¿Cuándo? -When?
• ¿Cuánto? - How much?
• ¿Cuál? - Which?
• ¿Quién? - Who?
• ¿Cómo? - How?
• ¿Por qué? - Why?
• ¿Qué? - What?

(With Spanish 2 for Travel on our - also completely free - sister site,, you can learn and practice 12 practical questions - quite useful when traveling and looking for directions.)

4. Present Tense of "hablar" - to speak

Gamesforlanguage Game with Spanish "hablar"Learning the present tense forms of "hablar" is useful in two ways.
1.You'll be able to express what language(s) you speak or don't speak.
2. You'll learn how to conjugate a regular Spanish verb that ends in -ar.

Click on our Spanish Language Game: Hablar - Present Tense
Here's what you'll learn in Game 4:
• yo hablo - I speak
• tú hablas - you speak (familiar)
• él/ella habla - he/she speaks
• Usted habla - you speak (formal)
• nosotros/as hablamos - we speak (m/f)
• vosotros/as habláis - you (pl. m/f) speak [Spain]
• Ustedes hablan - you (pl.) speak [Latin America]

Besides learning the verb forms, you'll also practice using them in a few easy sentences.

5. Present Tense of  "estar" - to be

Gamesforlanguage screenshot of "estar" Quick Game Spanish has two words that mean "to be", but they're used in different contexts.
This game includes a couple of easy practice sentences for each of these contexts.
Basic uses of "estar":
1. express a condition or state  "Sí, lui está cansado!" (Yes, he is tired!)
2. indicate a location
3. form the progressive tense

Note that in Spanish, personal pronouns (I, you, he, she etc.) are often left out unless they are needed for context or clarity.
The pronouns are included at first in the Shootout game, then dropped in some of the easy Word Invader practice sentences.

Click on our Spanish Language Game: Estar - Present Tense
Here's what you'll learn in Game 5:
• yo estoy - I am
• tú estás - you are (sing. familiar)
• él, ella está - he, she is
• Usted está - you are (formal)
• nosotros/as estamos - we are
• vosotros/as estáis - you (pl.) are [Spain]
• Ustedes están - you (pl.) are [Latin America]
• ellos/as están - they are

The Spanish present progressive tense

Note that the present tense forms of "estar" are used to form the "present progressive", the Spanish tense you use to talk about an action that is going on as you speak.

For example: "Estoy buscando la calle Reyes Católicos." (I'm looking for Reyes Católicos street.) Or "Ellos están caminando por el casco antiguo" (They are walking through the old town.) In Spanish, the progressive forms emphasize the continuing nature of the action. 

6. Present Tense of  "ser" - to be

Gamesforlanguage screenshot of "Ser" Quick Language GameNext, is a game to learn and practice the present tense of "ser" - to be.
Some basic uses of "ser":
1. indicate origin, identity
2. time, days, dates
3. indicate essential characteristics - "Sí, ella es alta!" (Yes, she is tall!) 
Note that you would use "estar" to say that you are tired - a condition, not a characteristic.

The game includes a few easy sentences for practice.

Click on our Spanish Language Game: Ser - Present Tense
This is what you'll learn in Game 6:
• yo soy - I am
• tú eres - you are (familiar)
• él, ella es - he, she is
• Usted es - you are (formal)
• nosotros/as somos - we are
• vosotros/as sois - you (pl) are [Spain]
• ellos/as son - they are
• Ustedes son - you (pl) are [Latin America]

You can find a more detailed explanation of the uses of "ser" by ThoughtCo HERE

7. Present Tense of  "tener" - to have

Gamesforlanguage screenshot of "tener" Quick Language GameFinally, a game to learn and practice the present tense of "tener" - to have.
Again, the personal pronouns are included at first and then dropped in some of the easy practice sentences.

Click on our Spanish Language Game: Tener - Present Tense
Here's what you'll learn in Spanish Language Game 7:
• yo tengo - I have
• tú tienes - you have (familiar)
• él, ella tiene - he, she has
• Usted tiene - you have (formal)
• nosotros/as tenemos - we have
• vosotros/as tenéis - you (pl) have [Spain]
• ellos/as tienen - they have
• Ustedes tienen - you (pl) have [Latin America]

Clearly, a few fun language games won't get you to speak the language with any fluency. But they can put you on the track to learning Spanish, and learning a language is a great life-long hobby.

We have dozens more Spanish games on our site, plus a gamified travel story that will get you familiar with the the sounds of Spanish and basic beginner vocabulary in context. Just a few minutes a day of Spanish adds up very nicely over time.

Apparently, there's a Chinese proverb that says: "Learning a language is a treasure that will follow you everywhere". That has definitely been my experience.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Easy Italian Language Games

Woman writing: "Parli Italiano?"Here's a fun way to learn some Italian words and phrases with 5 easy Italian language games.
Italian is such a beautiful, melodious language, and learning some basic vocabulary and pronunciation is not that hard at all.
Try a couple of these easy Italian games. You'll become familiar with some typical Italian words and sounds, and you may well end up falling in love with the Italian language.

A good place to start are a few common greetings and expressions. Even if that's all you know, it's a great way to engage with Italian speakers, and locals if you're traveling in Italy.
When you play the game, imitate the pronunciation of the speaker - out loud. It's all about "mouth mechanics".
Just thinking the words in Italian won't make you them sound them out right in Italian.

Italian Hello/Good Bye: Ciao1. Hello, Goodbye, etc.

Greetings and polite phrases should definitely be in your language kit.
They signal respect and friendliness.
Click on Italian Language Game: Hello, Goodbye, etc., to learn and practice these essential words and phrases.
They'll become automatic in no time, you'll see.
Being able to say them "like a native" will definitely boost your confidence when in you're in an Italian setting.
Here's what you'll learn in Game 1:
• Ciao - Hi
• Buongiorno - Good morning
• Benvenuto - Welcome
• Per favore - Please
• Grazie - Thanks
• Prego - You're welcome
• Bene - Okay
• Mi scusi - Excuse me
• Arrivederci - Goodbye

Italian Numbers 1-202. Italian Numbers 1-20

Italian Numbers 1-20 are a good next step.
Not only do numbers contain typical Italian sounds, they are really easy to practice even when you're doing something else.
Count steps when you walk, count pushups or weight reps when you exercise, count when you're cutting your veggies, the list can go on.
Click on Uno-Due-Tre: Italian Numbers You can Learn, where you'll find Language Games for Italian Numbers 1-20, as well as another game for Italian Numbers 21 and beyond
This is what you'll learn in Game 2:
• 1 uno
• 2 due
• 3 tre
• etc.

Italian question word game screen3. Italian Question Words

Question Words are the language tools you need for getting information, even if your Italian is limited.
You'll use them for shopping, finding your way, getting together with others, learning what a word means, fixing the time when meeting someone, etc.

Click on Italian Language Game: 8 Question Words.
They are easy to pronounce, but to keep them apart you'll need a little practice. Give them a try!
Here's what you'll learn in Game 3:
• quando - when
• quale - which
• quanto - how much
• come - how
• dove - where
• chi - who
• perché - why
• che cosa - what
(With Italian 2 for Travel on our - also completely free - sister site,,   you can learn and practice 12 questions with “Mi scusi, dov'è...? [Excuse me, where is...? ] - quite useful when traveling and looking for directions.) Italian "essere" game screenshot 4. Present Tense of  "essere" - to be

As a next step, you may want to learn the present tense forms of the irregular verb "essere" - to be.
Note that in Italian, personal pronouns (I, you, he, she etc.) are often left out unless they are needed for context or clarity.
We include them at first in the game, then drop them in some of the easy practice sentences.
Click on the Italian Language Game: Essere - Present Tense.
Here's what you'll learn in Game 4:
• io sono - I am
• tu sei - you are (familiar)
• lui/lei è - he/she is
• noi siamo - we are
• siete - you are (plural)
• loro sono - they are

Passato prossimo with the present tense forms of "essere":

Note that the present tense forms of "essere" are also used to form the "passato prossimo", the Italian tense you use to talk about past events and actions that are finished.
"Essere" as an auxiliary verb is used mainly with verbs of motion, those expressing change, or verbs that are intransitive.
Examples: lui è arrivato (he arrived, he has arrived); noi siamo andati (we went). Italian "avere" Quick Game5. Present Tense of  "avere" - to have

Finally, here's a game to learn and practice the present tense of "avere" - to have. Again, the personal pronouns are included at first and then dropped in a couple of the easy practice sentences.
Click on the Italian Language Game: Avere - Present Tense.
Here's what you'll learn in Game 5:
• io ho - I have
• tu hai - you have (familiar)
• lui/lei ha - he/she has
• noi abbiamo - we have
• voi avete - you(pl) have
• loro hanno - they have

Passato prossimo with the present tense forms of "avere":

Note that the present tense forms of "avere" are also used to form the "passato prossimo", the Italian tense you use to talk about completed past events and actions.
"Avere" as an auxiliary verb is used with most verbs (besides movement verbs, verbs expressing change, and intransitive verbs).
Examples: io ho mangiato. (I ate, I've eaten); noi abbiamo comprato (we bought, we've bought).

A few easy language games, even if they're fun, won't make you fluent. But they're a start.
And if they've put you on the language learning road, it's a good thing.
Learning new skills, discovering new places, making new, international friends, is an exciting part of being alive, right?

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Language Tips Before Traveling Abroad

Travel and ContinentsIf traveling abroad is on your horizon, these 5 language tips will make you more confident when you get there. Travel is slowly coming back. Now is the time to start getting ready.

No, these 5 language tips won't make you fluent or have you really SPEAK the foreign language. But just learning to UNDERSTAND and SAY some essential words and phrases will make your trip much more enjoyable.

Anticipating a new travel adventure can be very sweet. It's a lot of fun to figure out where to go, where to stay, and what to see. Plus, it's smart to learn a few expressions so that you can pronounce them well and use them easily.

The benefits of doing so are huge: not only will you feel more confident, you'll also find it much easier to make contact with people there locally.

5 Language Tips Before Traveling Abroad to Build Your Confidence

Colorful numbers1. Make a list of words and phrases

• Think about past travels and try to remember what kinds of words and phrases you had come across and wished you had learned.
• Make a list. It should certainly include greetings, polite phrases, and basic numbers.
• Put these on Flash Cards that you can glance at from time to time.
• If you're are already using a language program or app look for travel-related lessons.

2. Practice pronouncing them

Search online

You can google for help with pronunciation. For example, type in: "how to pronounce X in French" (using either the English or the French word or phrase you're looking for). Google has a surprising number of "translate audio" examples online.

Consult language learning sites

You can also go to various basic language learning sites, but they may teach vocabulary in specific sequences. Just think of Duolingo, Memrise, etc.
You might try, however, our free Partner Site LingoHut. Its lessons are organized by topic and you can access any lesson, any time.
Or, start out with our free sister site, Lingo-Late with its 12 European languages. Our lessons list essential words and phrases. These you can practice in any sequence, including recording yourself and playing back. You'll also find language tips there.

Practice Speech Cartoon3. Set up an easy practice routine

Set small goals

Set yourself goals you can easily meet, and learn your list of expressions in baby steps. No need to rush, you can give yourself all the time in the world.

Practice regularly

If you can find a way to practice 10-15 minutes every day, regularly, you'll make good progress. One way is to add your practice to something you do every day, like having your morning coffee.

4. Engage with the language

Hearing and seeing the language will help you internalize the sounds. You'll also acquire some new vocabulary without even trying.

Watch movies

Watch foreign TV series or movies with subtitles. They should be fun and interesting, something you genuinely enjoy. During the Covid time-out last year we discovered the MHz channel, which we subscribe to via Amazon Prime. It has movies and TV series in a number of languages with English subtitles. We enjoyed the entire Italian Commissario Montalbano series, as well as German, French and Spanish series and movies.

Listen to songs

Listen to songs as you're preparing a meal, or going on a walk. Songs are a great way to learn sounds and words of a language, especially if you sing along. (We suggest songs for German, French, Italian and Spanish on our site. They also include some language tips.)

Read easy texts

It's easy to find posts, texts, etc. online in a language you're focusing on. If you don't know a word or phrase, just google it for the translation, or consult an online dictionary such as Word Reference.
For paper reading, there are plenty of dual language texts available for total beginners.

Play language games

Play some language games. See links to a few of ours below.
Plus, a site with games in many languages is Digital Dialects.
We've also enjoyed the game-oriented app Mindsnacks.
Another interesting app that includes games is Mondly. It has a VR (virtual reality) program, and an AR (augmented reality) version.

Clock5. Learn about typical cultural norms

Read up a little on social behavior in the country or region you're visiting. Cultural norms are often reflected in a country's language. For example:
• Are there formal and familiar forms of address and when do you use these?
• What are the local attitudes to time (Are you expected to be punctual or not)?
• How would you politely strike up a conversation with a stranger?
• What are some typical interjections and which are okay to use?
• How do people regard personal space when you talk with them?
• What are the customs for tipping?
• Also: Are there right or wrong hand gestures?

How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety

It's very common to feel anxious about speaking another language, especially if you've only learned the basics. But there are ways to overcome this anxiety. These are some tips I like to use:

1. Keep your flash cards with you.

Do this before your travels and also when you're there. Know you can consult them any time.

2. Practice in front of a mirror.

You'll get used to seeing yourself speak in the language. Doing this often enough may well dispel any awkwardness you feel when jumping into a foreign language.

3. Record yourself and play back.

You'll get used to hearing your own voice speaking the words and phrases you're learning. Many people find it strange listening to their own voice, even when speaking in their native language. But doing it often enough will make it feel less weird.
(For twelve European Languages you'll find greetings, polite phrases, and more on our sister site Lingo-Late. There you can practice them with Quizlet flashcards and record yourself as well.)

Why make the Effort?

The reasons for making an effort to learn some language basics for traveling are both personal and practical.

You won't feel like an idiot.

When you arrive in a country where you don't speak the language, you won't feel like an fool. When people greet you, you'll know how to greet them back. You'll have a few polite phrases at your fingertips, including "excuse me", "yes", "no", and "I'm sorry".

You show respect.

Your language efforts are a sign of respect for the country and its language. Often this can open all kinds of wonderful opportunities you would otherwise not experience. You may find that people are eager to share tips on what to do or see locally. In any case, a few expressions will help you start a conversation, even if you then have to switch to English.

You'll benefit your brain.

A benefit you may not have thought about is that learning and speaking another language clearly benefits your brain. As Sanjay Gupta MD says in his book "Keep Sharp. Build a Better Brain at Any Age " (2021): "The complexity of a new skill is critical. You need to use your mind in a manner that gets you out of your comfort zone and demands more long-term memory."
Using a foreign language locally in a country where it is spoken is definitely a complex skill and surely will take you out of your comfort zone. Plus, the new experiences that your contacts with locals make possible, will help to "rewire" your brain and make it more resilient.

Additional Readings

5 Reasons for Learning a Language before you Travel 
How to Relearn a Dormant Language

Four Fun Language Games to Play Before You Travel

Spanish: Practice Numbers, Question Words, Common Adverbs, Everyday Phrases with 4 Fun Spanish Language Games
German: Practice Question words, Basic Phrases, Numbers, Buying a Train Ticket with 4 Fun German Language Games
French: Practice Everyday Phrases, The Verb "être", Numbers, Practice French Sounds with 4 Fun French Language Games
Italian: Practice Basic Phrases, Question Words, Numbers, Making a Phone Call with 4 Fun Italian Language Games

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of 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 Peter Rettig

European Travels: Canal Boating on the Canal Latéral à la Loire

Docked @ Canal Latéral à la LoireI recently remembered our canal boating trip on the Canal Latéral à la Loire of a few years ago. A friend had just come back from a trip in the Bourgogne in early August and had shared with us the good and the bad. (His experience prompted me to write about Chartering a Canal Boat in Europe on our sister site Lingo-late.)

Chartering a boat on the Canal Latéral à la Loire was our second canal boating experience in France. We had previously cruised the Canal de Nivernais from Corbigny to Joigny. (see Locaboat map below)

This time we were going from Decize to Briare on the Loire, or as we quickly found out, actually on the Canal Latéral à la Loire. On that stretch, the Canal Latéral à la Loire counts 23 locks (écluses) on a length of 132 km (or 82 miles). Our trip took one week.

Choosing a Canal Boat and Route

Locaboat map Decize to BriareAs always, organizing a canal cruise takes a bit of planning.

I like one-way or round-trip cruises, so you get new impressions and vistas every day. As we only had one week, though, we also needed to be aware of the distance and number of locks and bridges that had to open.

I first contacted Locaboat (we'd had a good experience with them before) for a one-way cruise from Dompiere to Briare, or vice versa.

However, for our time period (early September), they did not have a boat with three separate cabins. But we were lucky. For a one-way trip from Decize to Briare the first week of September, we found the perfect 3-cabin boat with Crown Cruise Lines (now part of Le Boat).

Our chart showed us that the “Tirant d'air” (T.A.), or bridge clearance was 3.50m (11.5 ft) and the “Tirant d'eau”(T.E.) or maximum draft was 1.80m (5.9 ft), both no problem for our boat.

Crusader 54The Crusader-type boat is popular because of its 3 cabin/3 head layout (see picture) and worked really well for us. It had an upper deck and could also accommodate the five bicycles for the five of us.

And, always an issue on one-way trips, the charter company would (for a fee) drive our car to Briare, so we had it available when we arrived.

We knew that the Loire was only navigable for a short stretch from Nantes to Angers. The river however feeds the adjacent Canal Latéral à la Loire which was constructed between 1827 and 1838. It links the Canal de Briare - which connects to the Seine and Paris - to the Canal du Centre.

Indeed, the French waterway network is quite extensive: From the Mediterranean Sea you can reach Le Havre or Dunkirk on the French Atlantic Coast. And, continuing via several canal options to the Rhine, you can even get to the Netherlands and Germany's Baltic coast.

Getting to the Boat

Crew on Canal Boat in MarinaWe set off from Fribourg, Switzerland, where Ulrike and I were visiting my sister Ingrid. She had been a regular crew member on many of our sailing trips along the US Coast and the Caribbean, and would join us this time as well.

Our friends Candy and Bill had flown in from Boston a few days earlier. We picked them up at their hotel in Geneva on our way into France on Saturday morning.

By 4 PM we were in Decize. We completed the charter formalities, checked out the Crusader 54, and happily settled into our new home for a week.

We were able to purchase all we needed for next day's breakfast and had a delicious dinner at Brasserie Maxime's terrace near the river.

On previous canal trips, we typically had breakfast and often lunch on the boat. For dinner, we usually found a local restaurant near the canal or river. And as it turned out, this was going to be the case this time as well.


The first night, we stayed in the Marina, and the next day we were eager to get going.


We left the Marina in the morning after breakfast.

In Fleury-sur-Loire, lock #18, the lock-keeper had flowers galore all around the lock. We tied up and then walked up to the village with its Romanesque church (late 11th century) and low old houses. In fact, we were delighted to discover that this middle part of the Loire Valley has many village churches that have survived through the centuries, some even from Romanesque times. Because there was an open door policy for visitors, we were able to look at quite a few of them.

Lunch on sun deck @ UxeloupAt noon, we enjoyed lunch on the upper sun deck under a beautiful blue sky near Uxeloup, lock #19.

It didn't take us long to learn that lunch hour is sacred for French lock-keepers. Even our chart advised: “Soyez aimables de laisser aux éclusiers le temps de dejeuner entre 12h30 et 13h30; ils sont à leur poste 10h à 13h par jour, selons les saisons.” (Be nice and allow lock-keepers time for lunch between 12:30 and 13:30. They are on duty for 10-13 hours, depending on the seasons,)

Around 4 PM, we arrived in Plaigny and tied up in the marina. We took our bikes, rode the 3 miles into Nevers and did some sightseeing. The Cathedral St Cyr-et-St Julitte, bombed during WW2, now has beautiful, contemporary stained-glass windows by Gottfried Honegger.


on the Pont Canal du GuétinAfter breakfast in the Café du Canal, we were on the way again. In the afternoon, we crossed the Allier River via the Pont Canal du Guétin, an “aqueduct” or canal bridge. Rather than staying in the little village with its auberge and restaurant near the bridge, we pushed on.

We were certain that we would again find a little restaurant for dinner near the canal. However, this time we struck out. By 19:30, lock closing time, we were still in the middle of nowhere. A few phone calls later, however, the owner of “La Bonne Franquette” came to pick us up in his car, and we had an excellent dinner in the restaurant's pretty courtyard.


In lock unloading bikesIn Marseilles-les-Aubigny after Lock #25, Ulrike, Ingrid and Candy decided to ride along the Canal on their bikes and do some shopping. Bill and I stayed on the barge and continued on.

When they joined us again at Lock #30, in Herry, they had a few fun stories to tell. Their shopping in French had gone great, they had visited a couple of Romanesque churches, and discovered a fine little art exhibition. We all had an excellent dinner at the restaurant L'Atalante near the canal.


The next morning, we left Herry around 9:30 AM and the women again decided to explore the area on their bikes. They bought some charcuterie and baguettes in one of the villages and joined us for lunch in Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre, where we decided to stay overnight.

View of sancerre from Gitton vinyardIn the afternoon, we visited the Gitton vinyard. Pascal Gitton spoke excellent English, as well as German, Spanish, Bulgarian, etc. He was a real character, had many stories, and showed us the old and new barrels, his bottling plant, etc. We tested four wines, 3 Côtes de Duras and 1 Sancerre, and bought several bottles.

From the Gitton vinyyard we had a great view of Sancerre (see picture above)

At night, we had another wonderful dinner, at Le Floroine right at the Canal. Here we tried “crottin” (goat cheese) in all its stages.


Talking to lock keeperWe continued to Bannay, Lock #34, where I had my usual chat with the lock-keeper (see picture.)

Then, in Belleville-sur-Loire, a small farming village, we had lunch while waiting for the lock to open. Across from us, directly at the Loire, we saw the big nuclear Power plant, (reminding us that France derives 70% of its electricity from nuclear power today.)

We stayed the night in Beaulieu-sur-Loire, where we took a tour through l'Église St. Etienne. The church building reflects the evolution of architecture over the centuries: Built in the 11th century, it has a Romanesque nave, a Gothic transept and choir, and a Baroque altarpiece, where later some Neo-Gothic elements were added.


After breakfast, we biked over to the Château Courcelles Le Roi, now an inn, surrounded by parklands and ponds. Not surprising that it has become a picturesque place for weddings. We then continued on the Canal to Châtillon-sur-Loire, which also got us closer to the Loire River again. There, we strolled around the little town, visited a bookshop, had lunch.

Entering the Pont de BriareAfterwards, it was on to our last stretch on the Canal to Briare. There were no more locks and we looked forward to crossing the famous Pont de Briare, another aqueduct, or canal bridge, this time indeed crossing the Loire.

Arriving late afternoon in the Marina, we cleaned the boat, walked around town and concluded our very successful canal trip with a dinner at Auberge du Pont Canal.

A wonderful Trip

With good company and friends, we had also been very lucky with the weather: Sunny skies all week with pleasant temperatures at night, no trouble with the boat, and passing through wonderful little villages and landscapes.

The bike rides along the canal through little villages kept the women busy and entertained, while the men enjoyed piloting the boat, talking with the lock-keepers, and enjoying a beverage or two on the sun deck.

We found our car easily and a few hours later we were all back in Switzerland.

And if you are interested in canal boating in the Netherlands - fewer locks, more bridges - check out this post: European Travels 3: Dutch Language and Canal Boating. And for those who might even consider buying a river barge for a life-time adventure on the European waterways, Eurocanals is the website to consult.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Italian Travel Memories 3 - Marco in Venice

Gondolas in Venice, ItalyDo you have Italian travel memories or are you dreaming about visiting Venice? Exploring this romantic and historic city will leave you with lots of wonderful memories.

Our first Italian Travel Memories post covered Pisa, where Marco, the young traveler in our Italian 1 travel-story course, visits his aunt and uncle. He then takes the train to Florence, and Venice is his third stop in Italy.

In this installment - Marco in Venice, we'll follow Marco's explorations of Venice. For those of you who are doing or have done our "Italian 1 course: Marco in Italia", these additional details will complement those in the course.

Our series of Travel posts tell you about our own travel as well as more about each of the cities of GamesforLanguage's travel-story based courses. We typically use the cities' names of the streets, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In our free travel-story courses you learn everyday conversational language. Here, we've listed a few additional basic words and phrases in Italian that will help you in your travels.

Brief Facts about Venice

The city of Venice is located in the northeast of Italy. It is the capital of the Veneto, one of Italy's 20 regions (regioni). Venice is also a Metropolitan City (città metropolitana), which includes the city of Venice and 43 other municipalities (comuni).

Venice's origins are traditionally said to date back to the dedication of its first church, San Giacomo in 421 A.D. The name Venice may be derived from the ancient Veneti people who lived in the region many centuries earlier.

Early on, the area of Venice was a Roman/Byzantine outpost. From the 9th to the 12th century, Venice developed into a city state (the other three being Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi).

With its strategic position at the head of the Adriatic, Venice became an international trade and finance center with considerable naval power.

From the late 7th century until the end of the 18th century, Venice was ruled by a Doge, who was elected for life by the city's aristocracy. The word "doge" is the Venetian dialect version of the Latin "dux" (leader) and related to the English word "duke".

After the Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna (1815), Venice was annexed by the Austrian Empire. Italy was unified in 1861. In 1866, Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy. In 1946 Italy's monarchy was abolished by a constitutional referendum.

Because of its rich cultural heritage and unusual urban layout, Venice has become one of Europe's most popular tourist destination. The city stands on an archipelago of 118 small islands that are connected by 400 foot bridges and 170 boat canals.

The lagoon and the historic part of the city are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Marco's Arrival in Venice

Vaporetto on Venice LagoonMarco's train trip from Florence to Venice takes him two hours or so. He arrives at Venezia Santa Lucia, Venice's main train station.

From there, he takes the Vaporetto - water bus - on the Grand Canal to his hotel Antica Locanda al Gambero, located on Calle dei Fabbri, just a few minutes from the Rialto Bridge. (Going to the hotel on foot would have taken him about 20 minutes.)

The historic city of Venice is divided into 6 administrative districts called "sestieri". They are: Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Marco, and Castello.

The hotel Al Gambero is situated in the small, historic quarter (sistiere) of San Marco, where many of the city's landmarks are. He checks in, gets a key, and finds out how he can connect to the hotel's Wi-Fi.

Useful Italian Vocabulary

• il vaporetto - the water taxi
• il sestiere - district, quarter, neighborhood
• prenotare - to make a reservation
• l'albergo - the hotel
• una camera - a room
• il passaporto - the passporto
• la chiave - the key

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco, Venice, ItalyNext day after breakfast, Marco walks over to the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square). It is usually just called "la Piazza". That is because all other squares in Venice are called "campi" (fields), with the exception of Piazzale Roma. A "piazzale" is a large, open square, and Piazzale Roma serves as the main bus station for Venice and major entrance to the city.

Piazza San Marco (Photo by Francesco La Corte on Unsplash) is named after Venice's patron saint, San Marco, who received that honor in the middle of the 9th century. It was an assertion of the city's independence, and soon after, the building of the basilica began.

For a narrative of the eventful history of la Piazza, see this Wiki Link.

Piazza San Marco is a beautiful square, beloved by visitors and locals alike. At one end stands the stunning Basilica San Marco. Around the other sides of the grand square you'll find many shops, restaurants, and cafés. As you sit and sip your aperitif, it's always fun to watch what's going on: street musicians playing, kids chasing the pigeons, people hurrying about. It's a great place to linger and meet others.

Useful Italian Vocabulary

• il giorno dopo - the next day
• camminare - to walk
• la piazza - the square
• il piazzale - the (large, open) square
• il campo - the field (in certain cities: square)
• l'autostazione - the bus station

The Doge's Palace

Marco has a wonderful time strolling through the Palazzo Ducale, which is also located in the sestiere San Marco. Dating back to the 14th century, the Palazzo Ducale is considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with layers of building elements added over the centuries.

Read up on its history HERE.

The inside rooms and corridors of the Palazzo Ducale are lavishly decorated and filled with collections of paintings and with statues.

Marco is especially interested in the wall and ceiling paintings of Jacopo Tintoretto (1518/19–1594) a master of the Venetian School.

Campo Santa Margherita

In the evening, Marco gets together with Claudia, a student he had met, and some of her friends. They have dinner at the storied Caffè Florian on Piazza San Marco. Then they walk to Campo Santa Margherita, which is located in the sestiere of Dorsoduro.

Originally an industrial area, Dorsoduro is now an artsy, bohemian neighborhood with museums, galleries, palazzos, churches, bars, restaurants, and of course, "gelaterias" (ice-cream parlors). Since the 18th century, Dorsoduro has attracted painters, sculptors, writers, collectors, etc. It's a great place to spend an evening and is frequented by local students and art lovers alike.

Useful Italian Vocabulary

• il pittore - the painter
• lo scrittore - the writer
• un palazzo - a large building
• una chiesa - a church
• una gelateria - an ice-cream parlor
• lo studente - the student (m)
• la studentessa - the student (f)

Saint Mark's Campanile

On Marco's last day in Venice, Claudia suggests they go up Saint Mark's Bell Tower, il Campanile di San Marco. At 98.6 meters high (323 ft), the bell tower offers a gorgeous view of Venice and the Venetian Lagoon.

Have you been to Venice? We'd love to hear some of your suggestions and travel memories!

Marco's Next Stop

From Venice, Michael flies to Rome, the last stop on his Italy trip. That's our last Italian travel memories post. From the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, he finds his way by train and tram to the historic Trastevere neighborhood, where his aunt Grazia lives. As a welcoming meal, she makes "saltimbocca". After dinner, they take a little walk (una passeggiatina) to the Colosseum. The next day, they visit the famous Piazza Navona and afterwards go to a wine bar on Campo de' Fiori.

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