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.

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.

Posted on by Tarun Reddy

E-Learning Improves Living

e-learning 2018 infographicThe internet has made so many great things possible in our lives. One of them is the ease it has brought to the dissemination of useful information.

Gone are those days when you had to travel to other parts of the world to discover things.

Yes, you can still use your local library to learn things.

But even there, almost any form of knowledge will be at your fingertips as long as you can get access to the internet.

And the internet also brought us electronic learning (or e-learning).

With it, you don’t need to move to San Francisco to get a degree at Stanford University. You can apply for courses online!

e-Learning is applicable to just about anything you need to learn. As long as there is a teacher and a learner, the internet is an able medium of communication.

E-Learning Saves Money and Time

e-Learning has many advantages over conventional methods piggy bank with money and alarm clockof learning. To start with, it saves cost.

You can take courses that are being taught anywhere in the world without leaving your home. This saves you a lot of money on transportation and hotel/hostel bills.

In addition, you’re also not constrained by time as most online courses are asynchronous, which means that they are not ongoing in real time. You can access them whenever you want.

But do note that there are also synchronous courses where the teacher and the student are at different devices at the same time.

As the world is fast becoming a global village, traditions are getting interwoven. More people are learning to speak more than one language.

E-Language Learning

And with e-Learning, you can learn a foreign language without even visiting the country. There are many online platforms that offer training on different languages and in a wide variety of formats.

It doesn’t matter if you prefer learning by talking with a native speaker or you would like to start with learning the alphabets and then sentence structure. Whichever your preference, you’ll find an e-Learning platform that caters to it.

Learn a new language with e-learningSome language learning platforms take even more interesting approaches like building in interactive games and simulations in their training process. This method is referred to as gamification.

It is fast gaining in popularity because research shows that interactive games help learners retain information up to 10 times better.

Udemy alone has well over 700 languages courses focused on different aspects of linguistics and using different models of learning.

E-Language Fluency

Another approach is using social media. In this case, a platform is created where people who speak languages fluently come together.

Take for instance, a Japanese CEO who is trying to polish his spoken English. He registers on this platform as does a native US English speaker. The platform links them so they can make video calls at their convenience and interact in English.

This helps people communicate with native speakers in the language they are interested in learning, thereby helping them speed up their proficiency.

e-Learning has made the acquisition of skill more affordable and accessible. It’s another feather in the cap for human ingenuity and has come to stay.

It will only grow bigger, better and more useful as you will see from the infographics below.

Bio: Tarun Reddy is Digital Marketing Manager at 16best.net, expert in Market Research, SEO, Inbound marketing, content marketing, and lead generation.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with 16best.net or Tarun Reddy other than publishing Tarun's article and infographics.

e-learning 2018 infographic 

URL:  https://www.16best.net/blog/e-learning-in-2018-infographic/

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

20 Ideas to Overcome a Language Learning Block

woman with language learning block(updated 4-18-2018)

You're learning a new language.

You've managed to get a good start, but now you notice that you're struggling to continue.

The learning is just not going smoothly.

You start skipping a day here and there, then you miss a week or so.

Sorting papers seems so much more important than learning and practicing 10 more phrases in your new language.

Language Learner’s Block

Perhaps what you have is Language Learner’s Block.

In many ways it resembles what we call Writer’s Block. writers block

Borrowing and adapting a definition: Language Learner’s Block “is the condition whereby a language learner cannot summon up the will and energy to continue learning a foreign language.” (From Fiction Writers’ Mentor) 

There are all kinds of reasons for feeling blocked.

A major reason is lack of confidence in yourself as a language learner. Constant self criticism may be sapping your motivation.

Maybe it's also frustration with your slow learning progress. You wanted to become fluent - in how many days, weeks, or months?

Or you feel stressed because of too may other commitments. But even people with a busy schedule manage to add a daily item they really want to do.

I'm sure you've heard people say: “If you want to get a job done, find a busy person to do it”.

So, being busy is not a good reason to stop learning a language you really want to learn.

A language learner's block is not foreign to me. I've been there a few times. But I've also found ways to keep going nevertheless. 

Here are a few practical ideas to help you too overcome your Language Learner’s Block. Except for #1 - which is worth looking at anyhow from time to time - the other 19 are in no particular order.

Pick the one(s) that could work for you NOW.  Once you're back in your routine, your confidence and motivation will pick up again, and you can try out some others later.

Practical Ideas

1. Reassess. Before you tackle the obstacles that keep you from continuing with your language, reassess. Why are you learning your new language? Are you planning a trip?  Do you need it for your career or move to a new country? Are you learning your language as a longer-term hobby? Which of the four skills - reading, listening/comprehension, speaking, writing - will be most useful to you? Which one to practice more?

2. Limit your practice time. Promise yourself that you'll do clock set to 5 to 12 5 minutes a day as a starter. When you've done your 5 minutes, stop. If you keep up this mini-routine even for a couple of weeks, you'll be on your way to creating a language learning habit. It's not how long you practice, it's doing it on a regular basis.

3. Set a daily reminder. Do this for whatever language task you've chosen. Most online programs have that option. Or, if you're like me, put the reminder on your short daily "to do" list and check it off when you're done. Doing something every day creates momentum.

4. Do small tasks. If you're using a program, do short lessons. If you're learning vocabulary, limit the number of words you memorize. If you're listening to a podcast, do the same one several times. Doing small tasks, but doing them every day really adds up to big results.

5. Set up your next task. When you're done for the day, write down a small task for the new material you'll want to tackle next. That'll make it easier for you to get right into it the next day.

6. Reward yourself. When you reach a small milestone - let's say 10 days in a row - treat  yourself to something you enjoy. People have different ideas of a "reward", but for me a new ebook, listening to a song, a piece of chocolate, watching a TV show, all work well.

7. Write a journal. A sentence a day in your target language is great way to start a journal. Just write the way you would talk, and don't worry about making mistakes. No one's going to see it. With time, you'll become familiar with certain phrases and grammar patterns.

8. Try things out. Don't worry about making mistakes. Remember that your native language will interfere powerfully when you speak a foreign language. It takes time to become familiar with a new language. Focus on communicating rather than perfection.

image of "song"9. Listen to songs. Add some fun to your language learning and treat it as a hobby. Songs are a great way to internalize sounds and vocabulary. First listen to a song by following the text, then listen again and again. Try not to translate as you listen. Just focus on the meaning. (Language Zen is a great option if you'd like to learn with Spanish songs!)

10. Watch movies. For your first movies, you'll probably want to see English subtitles. Then, when you're ready, start watching with subtitles in your target language. Again, try not to translate. You'll get many clues to the meaning just from the images themselves.

11. Read easy stories. A good start may be the "easy readers" which include vocabulary and translations of the language you want to learn. (We like Olly Richard's Short Stories, which you can also get with audios.)

12. Find new resources. Adding or switching resources can give you fresh ideas and new energy. Search the internet for materials available in the language you're learning. Join a language forum such as Polyglots, or My Polyglot, etc. to get recommendations from other members. Check out your library, listen to foreign books on Audible, try out a new language app, etc.

13. Add recall. It's better to spend a little time recalling what you've just learned than to cram in more new information. Also, keep in mind, recalling new information from time to time (spaced repetition) will put it into your long-term memory.

14. Memorize a short dialogue. Then, record yourself and play back the dialogue. This also works for practicing a telephone conversation in your target language.  Tell yourself you'll just have to get used to hearing yourself speak in the language you're learning.

15. Practice pronunciation. Get a list and the audio of basic expressions and "listen and repeat" them many times. Record yourself and compare your pronunciation to that of the native speaker. Next time you converse in your target language, you'll be happy you did.

16. Work on Fluency.  One way to improve your fluency is to listen regularly to podcasts in your target language. Or play streamed radio. Do this kind of listening practice whenever you're cooking, walking, exercising, etc. For real fluency, you need to internalize the intonation and rhythm of your new language, and this is a good way to do it.

17. Focus on practical phrases. Mastering greetings and basic conversational phrases is essential in any case. It's especially helpful for travels. If you're going to Paris for a week, it won't be that important to master the subjunctive.

18. Socialize. Language is a fantastic tool for socializing. cheerful friends socializingFind a meetup group, or join an online community to start using your new language to communicate. Rattling off phrases you memorized is very different from the dynamic back-and-forth of a conversation. Believe me, it's really exciting to be able to hold your own in another language.

19. Take on a new personalityThe well-known psycholinguist François Grosjean (author of the blog “Life as a Bilingual”) suggests that we don't really change personalities when we change languages. He states: "Different contexts and domains trigger different impressions, attitudes and behaviors. What is taken as a personality shift due to a change of language may have little, if anything, to do with language itself."

But, a different language will often put you into new and different situations, which in turn may change your attitudes and feelings. So, when speaking Italian, become Italian. Add Italian voice drama and characteristic gestures. Tap into your inner actor and explore new ways to express yourself.

20. Work on your attitude. It's easy to say: "Ah, I'll never get it. When I start talking with someone in my target language, my brain freezes up." Scratch those sentences from your inner vocabulary. Instead, tell yourself: "Every time I use my second language, I become more familiar with it, and my brain benefits."

Looking back at my own experience:  I was born in Austria and my native language is German. But when I was nine, my family moved to the Netherlands. Since I attended a local school there, I had to learn Dutch pronto.

Two years later, we emigrated to Canada and this time I had to learn English fast. During high school and college, I added French.

Much later, in my early sixties I started learning Italian and Spanish, and now I'm working on Danish and Portuguese.

Each stage of my life and each language has confronted me with challenges that I've needed to deal with.

I've used each of the above practical ideas at some point in my language learning life. I'd love to hear what works for you.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

 

 

 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Games for Language Learning and “Senior” Adults?

older excited couple with tabletHaving reached the age when younger people kindly refer to us as “seniors”, we sometimes get remarks like this from friends and acquaintances:

“I was never good at learning a foreign language.”

“I'm too old for learning another language.”

“I don't think you can learn a language with games!” or

“I think playing games is a waste of time!”

Overcoming beliefs like that is often hard and we rarely try to convince those who have a set opinion.

But such negative remarks also point to perceptions that make it harder for older adults to learn a new language more rapidly.

To learn a language, you have to be enthusiastic, persistent and confident that you can do it.

Language learning should also be fun and interesting.

That's why listening to stories, watching movies and videos, engaging in one-on-one conversations are great ways to grow your vocabulary and fluency.

But how to get started and why not throw a few language games into the mix?

Simple, interactive games are not only a fun way to learn some language basics but also an easy way to get into a practice habit.

(A recent article of The University Network: Video Games: Not Just Fun And Games, According to SLU Professor describes how video games can be successfully used  in class settings.)

Language Games for Kids

We all know that kids love to play. In fact, most, if not all of their learning in their early years occurs during play.

So it's not surprising that educational games – especially those on kids' tablets, smart phones, etc. are pouring into the market place.

These games combine playing with targeted learning. children playing games for language learningThey include educational topics from geography, math, spelling, science, to native and foreign languages.

There are numerous audio, video, and other “toy based” games and apps, which children play in their native language.

With these, they enhance word recognition, pronunciation, spelling, and writing.

And, games don't have to be on a laptop or tablet. There are blocks with numbers or letters; there are playing cards and board games like KLOO; and there are more and more battery operated toys that combine colors, movements, music, and language sounds into interactive learning centers for young children.

Kids play native and foreign language games - not because it helps them to better communicate with their parents, siblings, and peers - but because they provide interactive fun.

Language games teach them basic vocabulary, often with funny pictures, cute sound effects, and “rewards” for getting it right.

Language Benefits for Younger and Older Adults

In contrast to children, adults typically have a specific plan or need for the particular foreign language they are learning.

Younger adults will learn another language to enhance their career options, or because of friends, family connections, etc. They have to develop the discipline and learning habits to keep going in the midst of work and family commitments and time constraints.

The reasons older adults learn a new language often relate to family, new partners or travels. Many are also becoming aware of new research findings, which show the benefits of language learning for the older brain.

silhouette head with "welcome" in different languagesThe strongest evidence of such benefits comes from a decades-long study of 853 Scottish people, first tested in 1947 at age 11, and then retested in 2008-2010.

Published in the Annals of Neurology in 2014, the study, titled Does Bilingualism Influence Cognitive Aging, the authors discuss the “protective effect of bilingualism against age-related cognitive decline.”

While the study does not make for easy reading, a number of key findings caught my attention:

  • The protective effects are not explained by other variables such as gender, socioeconomic status, or immigration.
  • The benefits appear to be independent of childhood intelligence (CI).
  • Knowing 3 or more languages produced stronger effects than knowing 2.
  • Little difference was found between active and passive bilinguals.

What I found especially interesting was the discussion of the study's limitations at the end of the article:

"Our study has limitations. The knowledge of language was defined by a questionnaire, not proficiency. Only few participants acquired their second language before age 11 years, so we could not study the classical cases of parallel, perfect, early acquisition of both languages. However, this limitation is also a strength. Millions of people across the world acquire their second language later in life: in school, university, or work, or through migration or marriage to a member of another linguistic community. Many never reach native-like perfection. For this population, our results are particularly relevant; bilingualism in its broad definition, even if acquired in adulthood, might have beneficial effects on cognition independent of CI (childhood Intelligence)."

Think about it. You don't even have to speak another language perfectly to acquire the benefits later in life.

This is good news for the many immigrants who have to flee their home countries.

But it's also good news for anybody who is learning another language but may never speak it fluently.

Your brain benefits from your learning effort anyway.

Language Games for Adults

When we started learning Italian in our early sixties and Spanish a few years later, language learning games and gamified language courses or apps were not yet available. This was January 2011. 

We found the The Rosetta Stone courses boring.

Duolingo didn't launch until November 2011 (see some of our Duolingo and Rosetta Stone Reviews) and we felt that Language Games could make learning and practicing a foreign language more fun.

We know from personal experience (and many other language enthusiasts agree) that the key to learning another language is regular - even daily - exposure to the new language.

Short, daily stints are fine. In fact, practicing each day for 20 minutes is much more effective than once a week for 2 hours or more.

But daily practice with boring lessons is hardly a very motivating proposition for a busy adult.

On the other hand, listening to a story sequel in another language appealed to us.

We've always used “easy readers” with accompanying vocabulary or translations. (For example, we love Olly Richard's Short Stories, which are also available as audio books.)

However, for anyone with no or little background in Gamesforlanguage French shootout gamethe new language, we felt that interactive “comprehensible input” was needed. What better way than learning and practicing new vocabulary with language games?

That was our original idea for GamesforLanguage: Learning and practicing a new language “playfully”. Our site went live in September 2011.

Later we added Podcasts of the stories as well as Quick Language Games – over 200 by now – which only take 2-3 minutes to play,

Do we think that one can become fluent in a new language with our Gamesforlanguage courses?

No, we do not.

Becoming fluent requires much more listening and speaking practice than our courses - and most other online programs and apps – provide.

But, if our free courses can engage adults to play just one 15-20 minute travel-story lesson a day for 30 days and more - that may be the start of a learning habit.

The next steps would be to continue with reading and listening to other stories and to start speaking in the language you're learning.

More and more new “senior” adults, the “baby boomers”, are computer- and tablet-literate.

They are beginning to realize that learning a second or third language opens up social opportunities. Plus, they are becoming aware of the benefits another language has for the aging brain.

As the above quoted study shows:

You don't have to speak another language perfectly to acquire the benefits at any time in your life.

So why not start today and give your brain a good workout!

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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Top Reasons for Learning a Language with Stories

Find your stories screen Stories play an important role in our lives. Much of our communication with others is through stories. By exchanging stories with others, we connect with them.

Stories interest us. They tell us about the struggles and achievements of others and help us create our own identity. They are a way of making sense of our lives.

Stories are also tools for processing and remembering information. Narratives help us structure and organize content and give meaning to facts.

That's Why polyglots also use stories for language learning. And here are our 5 reasons why you should do as well. 

1. Stories Boost Your Vocabulary

In a story, words come up again and again, sometimes in various contexts.

Having the context of a story, you can often guess the meaning of new words. Especially when words show up several times in different sentences and combinations, their meaning becomes more accessible.

Each time you see a particular word again, it becomes more solidly lodged in your memory.

Guessing the meaning of words from the context of a situation is a useful skill. If we practice it, we become better at it - something that helps enormously when learning a language.

Yes, you can learn words in a list by repeating and walking up vocabulary stepsrecalling them often enough. But there's a "boring" factor attached to that. It's also frustrating to keep forgetting words because we don't connect them to a memorable context.

A list of words is pure memorization. The words stand in a vacuum. Besides, once you've memorized a word in your new language, you still have to understand and learn how to use it. That happens when you recognize that particular word in context. For that a story is perfect.

Can you learn new vocabulary you going through a series of unrelated sentences? Yes, that can be fun for a while. Each sentence gives you a limited context, which is helpful. But, it's a different kind of challenge for your brain from learning with a story.

The core of Duolingo courses is to translate sentences. For me, the random (often weird) sentences are like "language sudoku".

But I don't use such sentences for communication. For example, I had to puzzle out the following sentence in Danish:

Hun elsker at ve bjørnen lide. (She loves to see the bear suffer.)

I'll never use this sentence in real life.

So, why do I prefer learning vocabulary with stories (rather than with word lists or series of sentences)?

I just find that seeing and hearing words and phrases in the context of a narrative helps me remember them. I can picture a situation or an event and that will trigger my memory.

2. Stories Make Grammar Intuitive

Grammar is the glue that holds language together. But for most people grammar rules are not that memorable.

I'm not at all opposed to learning grammar.

I taught college German for a number of years and the textbooks I used had plenty of grammar.

But that's not what got my students excited. What they loved was to use German as much as possible and figure out patterns.

When I learn a new language, I feel the same way. I look up a grammar issue only when I want to figure out how the language works.

grammar types compositeWhen I started with Danish, I quickly understood that there are two noun genders (common and neutral) and that the definite article is normally attached to the end of the noun (rather than stand in front of it).

But understanding a grammar rule is quite different from really knowing how it works.

It took me some time to internalize that a Danish word like "katten" means "the cat" and not "cats" (whereas in German "die Katze" multiplies to "die Katzen").

As we become more and more familiar with a language, we get good at recognizing such "grammar elements". Not to forget, though, that seeing a grammar pattern is a different skill from hearing it.

When we communicate, we use a variety of sentences. Each is made up of various grammar elements.

Depending on our message or narrative, we resort to simple statements, questions, requests, commands, and if necessary, different kinds of complex sentences.

The sentences are, of course, not in a random sequence. They are connected in a meaningful way.

Conjunctions and other connecting words are important elements in a narrative. Beyond "and" and "but", there are other useful words and phrases that link actions, events, ideas, etc.

To name but a few in English: "if, because, however, in case, in spite of, even, even though, neither nor".

Stories are a good tool for understanding the different ways actions and ideas connect.

By paying attention to how a narrative unfolds, we train our mind to pick up and internalize such grammar clues.

Beyond gender, case, and connecting words, there are other grammar elements in a language that carry meaning. Just think of pronouns, including formal and familiar forms of address, prepositions, and negation.

And, just as you can guess the meaning of words, you can also internalize grammar patterns from the context of a story.

The more you read and listen to stories, the more you become aware of the characteristic patterns of the language.

3. Stories Teach You About Present, Past and Future

Drilling verb forms is always quite boring, and then you still have to learn how to apply them.

In some languages this can get pretty complicated. When, for example, do you use the simple past versus the present perfect? Not to mention the conditional, or the subjunctive mood.

Yes, there are rules. But they don't help much unless Present - Past - Future dicesyou've already internalized some verb patterns in a meaningful context.

Stories help. They move back and forth easily between present, past and future actions and events.

Context provides you with various time markers and clues. As you follow a story, you remember earlier events or what was said previously and how this fits into the present situation, etc.

You also notice how future events are anticipated and talked about.

Your brain is constantly figuring out what's going on, the causality of events, when something happened in the past, or what future possibilities are triggered by present actions.

That's what our brain does in everyday life: We remember thoughts and actions, we make decisions about what actions to take, and conjecture about the future.

Why not practice doing this in the language we're learning?

4. Stories Help You to Stop Translating

People often ask me: How do you stop translating when you hear, read or speak another language?

Yes, it's a dilemma. When you're beginner at your target language, you need to know what words and expressions mean in your native language.

Pictures can help. But learning a language just with pictures doesn't get you very far.

So, in my mind it's okay to build one's basic vocabulary with translations as they are needed.

But it's easy to get into the habit of translating everything.

That's where stories come in. They can teach you to stop translating.

Stories (even brief anecdotes) have a narrative sequence with meaning.

silhouette head with "welcome" in different languagesAt first you may need some help with translation, but the meaning itself will stay in your mind.

So, by listening to a story several times, you can train yourself to get the meaning without translation. By doing this often enough, you can create a new habit: understand what you see and hear without translating it.

I'm currently listening to Luca Lampariello's travel stories in Italian on LingQ to keep up my Italian. (You may be able to listen to his Viaggio in Russia if you register for free on LingQ).

Luca reads the stories himself and his natural speed is very fast. So fast, in fact, that there's no way I can do any translation at all.

While my Italian is good enough that I don't have to look up many words, this is not the case with Danish.

Listening to Danish stories on LingQ, I do read through the text one time (after listening a couple of times) and click on any words I don't know. But then I listen to the story several more times and make a point of not translating. Each time I understand the story better just by hearing it.

As with any skill, you have to practice, and with regular practice you get better.

5. Stories are a Creative Tool You Can Individualize

Stories give you a lot of material to work with as you're learning a new language.

You can create your own stories in a target-language journal. Make up stories or write about thoughts, experiences, or encounters in your daily life.

Stories for language learning have become very popular. You can find stories for various levels and in many languages (on Amazon, on Pinterest, on LingQ, etc.).

Take a simple story and retell it from another point of view (first- or third-person), with other details (a different setting, place, people etc.), or change the time (from past to present).

Tell the story aloud or write it out. Brave souls share your story sign with iconscan make a video of themselves and post it in a social media language group.

I used stories a lot to teach our sons German. When they were very young, I recorded little stories I made up and played them when the boys were falling asleep at night.

When they were a little older, I read stories to them in English, with certain words and phrases repeated in German. Later, I read stories to them, and translated every sentence into German.

Finally, I just used German, or we played German stories in the car: Tim und Struppi (Tintin), Asterix und Obelix, or the popular stories of Enyd Blyton: Fünf Freunde (the "Famous Five" series).

For ourselves as adult learners, we had another idea. We love to travel, and especially like traveling in a country where we know the language.

Because we were eager to spend time in Italy and Spain, we wanted to learn Italian and Spanish. To get us started, one of our sons set up a site for us, which we called GamesforLanguage.

Together with a team of native speakers, we created simple, gamified travel stories. These we then used to learn our two new languages.

(You can listen to our Story Podcasts, play our Quick Language Games or read our Blog posts without registering.)

It's been great to combine language learning with travel. Our Spanish course writer and speaker lives near Seville. We had found him online.

Once our course was done and we had used it for learning and practicing Spanish, we traveled to Barcelona and Seville. We stayed in both cities for a month. And we met our course writer in Seville in person, over a wonderful lunch of special local dishes.

We love to tell our story of why and how we created GamesforLanguage.

It works in every language that we know.

What is your story?

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 7 - From Sylt to Zealand

Map with travel route Sylt to FynshavAfter a few days on the North Frisian island of Sylt (see also European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt), it was time to move on and head north to Denmark and its largest island, Sjælland, or Zealand.

(We were going to fly home from Copenhagen. Our travel planning would have been greatly facilitated by a new service we just learned about: Airwander. We'll be sure to use them on our next trip with multi-day layovers or multiple flight legs!)

Readers of a previous post may recall that we had begun to learn Danish a few months earlier with Duolingo and Pimsleur Language Programs. We were, however, under no illusion that we could speak Danish fluently.

A Little Recent Danish History

Travels often inspire curiosity about a country's history. Also for us. From the historic town of Westerland on Sylt, we took the car train shuttle back to Niebüll on the German mainland.

(We also continued to really appreciate our pocket WIFI, mywebspot, which allowed us to make our ferry, B&B and hotel reservations from our car.) 

And from there, we made our way north to cross the German-Danish border. As with most other inner European borders, there are no longer any check points.

Road signs with different coloring will let you know, Border sign at German-Danish Borderin case you missed the large border sign, that you are now in Denmark.

Still, we were surprised that there were no border controls, as Denmark had reinforced its borders with Germany a few years ago to stop the inflow of illegal goods and immigrants.

Denmark applied to join the “European Economic Community” (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, in 1961, shortly after the UK had done so.

But, the veto of then President Charles de Gaulle in 1963 against the UK's membership affected Denmark as well. With the UK being Denmark's main customer for its agricultural products, Denmark did not want to join without the UK.

After more negotiations and with a new French President, both the UK and Denmark (as well as Ireland) finally joined the EEC in 1973.

Danes are somewhat “reluctant” Europeans. Denmark still uses the krone (crown) as its currency and has not accepted the euro.

Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands are probably the three countries most affected by the impending Brexit as they are still heavily dependent on trade with the UK.

However, as we learned during our trip to Denmark, there are currently no plans for Denmark to follow the UK's example.

Ferry from Fynshav to Bøjden

Fynshavn-Bøjden FerryWe slowly made our way on excellent roads through the Danish countryside toward the town of Fynshav at the Lillebaelt-Arhus Bugt.

As we didn't have any Danish kroner, we were looking for an ATM. This gave us our first opportunity to practice our Danish by asking for directions to a bank.

Ulrike was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in Augustenborg, whom she asked for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

Not surprisingly though, Ulrike also experienced the “beginner's conundrum”: When the answer came back in rapid-fire Danish, she was lost.

But she persisted. And when the woman switched to English, Ulrike just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the bank with an ATM and now had Danish kroner.

Even though many Danes speak English, they'll love you for trying to use Danish at the start of any conversation. So before you go, learn greetings and some basic phrases. Here's a short list: (To learn how to pronounce them, try Memrise.)

  • Goddag/Hej - Good day/Hi
  • Godmorgen - Good morning
  • Vær så venlig - Please
  • Tak - Thanks
  • Ja/Nej - Yes/No
  • Undskyld mig - Excuse me (to get attention)
  • Jeg forstår ikke. - I don't understand.
  • Jeg taler ikke godt dansk. - I don't speak Danish well.
  • Taler du engelsk? - Do you speak English?
  • Farvel - Goodbye

The 45-minute ferry crossing from the town of Fynshav to Fyn (Funen), the second largest Danish island, was uneventful.

We enjoyed hearing Danish spoken all around us and tried some “Danish pastry”, which in Denmark is called "wienerbrød" (Vienna bread). Was it a Viennese pastry chef who brought pastries to Denmark?

In Bøjden (on Fyn) we found the B&B we had reserved: a Danish farmhouse which had been converted by a Dutch woman into a cozy Bed and Breakfast residence.

She recommended that we forgo a visit to Odensee, the island's largest city. Instead, she suggested that we visit the town of Faaborg, the Valdemars Slot on the island of Tåsinge in the south, and the town of Nyborg to the north.

Faaborg

Faaborg (or Fåborg), just a 15-minute drive from Bøjden, Faaborg Bell Toweris a picturesque little town of about 7,000 people.(see Bell tower)

It has an interesting history. The town celebrated its 775th anniversary in 2004 and thereby the year in which King Valdemar II gave Faaborg (and a good portion of the south of Fyn) as a wedding gift to his daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Portugal.

One of the finest buildings in town, “Plougs Gaard” was built in 1790 by Jesper Ploug, who reportedly made his fortune in shipping during the American War of Independence.

Once an important harbor for trading with Sweden and Norway and later with England and Germany, services and tourism are now the town's dominant industries.

Faarborg Marina at sun setWhile commercial and fishing traffic in the harbor have decreased, we were told that over 15,000 pleasure boats, vintage ships and yachts of all sizes visit the port each year.

There is also regular ferry service to the adjacent islands of Søby, Avernakø, Bjørnø and Lyø.

During this second week of September, there were few tourists who, like us, wandered through the narrow streets and admired the historic mansions and town houses.

We had an excellent dinner in Det Hvide Pakhus, right at the harbor and pleasure boat marina. The cheerful waitress explained that after schools start in early September tourist traffic drops off significantly.

We were surprised, however, how quickly the large restaurant filled up during the early evening hours. It's obviously popular with locals.

Valdemars Slot

Picture of Valdermars SlotThe next day, we drove to Valdemars Slot (Valdemar's castle) on the nearby island of Tåsinge.

We arrived during a rain storm. After buying our tickets in the gift shop located outside the castle, we walked up the stairs to the main doors. (see picture)

We left our raincoats and umbrella in the entrance hall and not seeing any other visitors, personnel or guards, we went ahead and followed the visit schedule outlined in the little guide book we had received.

While the outside architecture is not as impressive as some of the other Danish castles, the castle's interior provides a unique experience:

As the guide book notes:

Valdemar's Castle is a special kind of museum. The visitor will find no impeding ropes surrounding valuable objects of art and old furniture, and small things are not placed in exhibition cases. We want everything to be seen in its proper place and so – we believe – the special air and atmosphere of the house will manifest itself to the visitor. Some rooms are decorated in such a way that in spite of the years passed one might feel that the owner has just left....”

Indeed, in the various rooms recent photos of the current owners were on display. It reinforced our feeling that the owners were still living in the castle from time to time.

The guide also explains:

The castle is private property, and sole owner today is Alexander Fleming, 12th generation of the Juel dynasty, son of Caroline Fleming, born Caroline Juel-Nrockdorff, who descends in direct line from naval hero Niels Juel. Valdemar's Castle has been open to the public since 1974. It is still used as a private home by the owner and family.

If you have never heard of Niels Juel, you are not alone. Neither had we.

But the history is quite interesting:

The original castle was built in the years 1639 to 1644 by the Danish King Christian IV for his son, Count Valdemar Christian (thus the name!) However, Valdemar never lived in the castle. Seeking adventure abroad, he died on the battlefield in Poland in 1656.

During the war with Sweden (1657-60), the castle was occupied and badly damaged. When Admiral Niels Juel defeated the Swedish in the famous sea battle in the Bay of Køge, he also captured a large number of Swedish ships. This entitled him to one-tenth of the value of the ships – an amount the Danish King was unable to pay to his Admiral.

Instead, the Danish King handed over the crown lands of Tåsinge, including the castle, to Niels Juel. The Admiral not only substantially renovated the castle, but added gatehouses, the coach and stable wings and a graceful tea pavilion at the end of an artificial pond. The aerial photo shows it all.

We enjoyed a leisurely walk through the many open rooms, The King's Room with many portraits of the Danish kings, the Empress Room, named after the beautiful portrait of Empress Eugenie of France, the bedrooms, guestrooms, and others. It was also interesting to see the photos of current family members and royal visitors.

What was especially notable was the lack of any guards (though there were cameras).

While we were walking through the various rooms, over old wood floors and antique carpets, we suddenly noticed that other visitors were wearing blue protective covers over their shoes. We realized we had missed the sign and the bin with the covers in our eagerness to start the tour.

But nobody had stopped or admonished us, Aerial View of Valdemar's Castleso we quickly corrected our oversight.

We visited Valdemars Slot on a rainy weekday and saw few other visitors. But on better days, the castle also seems to attract families who can rent bikes, Segways, kayaks, or go to the nearby beach.

As we toured the castle and learned about the Danish monarchy, we also became aware of a Danish curiosity:

Beginning in the 16th century, after Christian II was deposed in 1523, all Danish kings were named either Frederick or Christian – until 1972, when for the first time a woman, Margrethe II, daughter of King Frederick IX, became Queen.

Nyborg

Nyborg castle across pondOur next stop was Nyborg, which is located on the east side of Fyn. 

Nyborg, today a town of about 16,000 inhabitants, housed the “Danehoffet”, the country's legislative and judicial assembly from 1183 to 1413.

In the 17th century, Nyborg was one of only three fortified towns in Denmark (together with Frederica and Copenhagen).

Nyborg Castle is considered one of the most important heritage monuments from Denmark's Middle Ages. It currently is being restored and more information about the project can be found HERE. Nyborg medieval weekend with archers

We toured the museum and found ourselves carried back in time.

A lively market in the middle of town with Danish folk musicians on Saturday morning started a medieval weekend with archers and jousting. (see picture)

We also visited the Nyborg's Historical Museum, which encloses the Borgmestergåarden (Mayor's Yard) with its distinctive red painted half-timbered buildings.

Walking on the uneven floors of this well-preserved merchant house, we felt we were back in the 17th century. In one of the workshops we watched a blacksmith at his trade.

The Storebaelt Bridge

Suspension bridges have always fascinated me. The Great Belt Bridge from the air

So, I was excited when a few days later, we crossed from Fyn to the island of Zealand (Sjaelland) on the Storebaelt Bridge (the Great Belt Bridge).

With a main span of 1,624 meters (5,328 feet), its the world's third-longest suspension bridge.

Only the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan with 1,991 meters and the Xihoumen Bridge in China with 1,650 meters are longer.

The total distance between the two islands and length of the bridge is about 18 km or 11 miles, and we were driving across on a beautiful blue-sky September day.

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

Map Nyborg to RoskildeOnce across the Great Belt Bridge, we were on the island of Zealand, the largest Danish Island.

It didn't take us much more than an hour to reach Roskilde.

During a Hurtigruten cruise along the Norwegian coastline a few years ago, we had learned much about the Vikings.

While one often associates Norwegians (and Swedes) with the Vikings, the Danes were certainly a key member of the Viking's Scandinavian homeland.

We visited the wonderful Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, just when one of the Viking longboats returned from an outing. (see picture) Roskilde's Viking Museum: Longboat

The museum owns five “Skuldelev” which were built in the museum's workshop with copies of Viking age tools and corresponding materials and techniques.

The reconstructions are based on hull shapes of ships that have been found but the museum also cautions that they are not “definitive truths”. They represent “suggestions on how the ships may have looked 1,000 years ago.”

We only regret that we didn't have the opportunity to join one of those Viking ship's outings.

Now a business and educational center with a population of about 50,000 people, Roskilde then was the hub of the Viking land and sea routes 1,000 years ago. And, from the 11th to the 15th century it was the country's capital.

In late afternoon, we lingered at a café on the grand square of Roskilde and soaked up the atmosphere of this historic town.

There were more sights to explore on Zealand before heading to Copenhagen, but we'll report about them in a future post.

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.

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