Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German Subtleties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Subtleties

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

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

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

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

Bored woman ignored by her dateFor example:

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few examples include:

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

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

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

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

French Subtleties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few examples:

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

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

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

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

Idioms

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

A couple of my favorites are:

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

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

Québecois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Many words are contracted

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

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

Italian Subtleties

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

False Friends

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

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

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

The verbs essere vs stare

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

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

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

Use essere:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.

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

For condition or emotion.

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

For Date and Time.

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

Use stare:

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

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

For certain idiomatic expressions.

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

For the continuous tense:

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

The little word ci

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

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

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

Personal pronoun ci = us/to us/ourselves

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

Demonstative pronoun ci = about it/on it

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

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

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

Verbs with ci

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Lea Knows" - Easy Flashcards - A Review

Lea-knows - flashcard icon of app(Updated 4/15/2018)

Do you sometimes wish that Google would automatically create easy Flashcards for foreign words you look up on the internet?

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

I was happy to hear that the Léa Knows app was upgraded in February 2018 to include support for translations by Linguee - an online editorial dictionary, and search engine that indexes international websites. 

I've been using the app for several months now, at home when reading (in one of my 6 European languages) and when traveling abroad (lately to French Switzerland). When I write in a new word, the app automatically creates a Flashcard. I can then review words and phrases whenever I want to.

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

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

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

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

TRANSLATIONS

Léa Knows uses GoogleTranslate for numerous languages. Linguee seems to be more limited. But for the translations it has, Linguee gives you more information. 

For Google, I counted over a hundred languages and it looks like Google cross-translates between all of them.

And, the translation function seems to be improving. As the New York Times reported on December 14, 2016, GoogleTranslate's machine-translation service had "suddenly and immeasurably improved" with Google's introduction of Neural Machine Translation (NMT).   

Linguee supports translation between seven European languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Polish, and the list is growing.

The advantage of Linguee is that you'll get more than just one translation, plus grammatical information (noun gender, adjective forms, etc.). For example, the English word "street" will give you for French: rue (f), route (f), ruelle (f).

You can easily switch back between Google and Linguee. To reset for both options, tap the yellow Tab after you've cleared the "Enter text" space.  

For a translation on Léa Knows, you pull down one Tab for the language to translate from, and another Tab for the target language. 

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

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

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

Some examples:

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

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

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

Linguee can sometimes be a "hit-or-miss affair". Of the above Google translations, only the first German-English one produced a translation on Linguee. However, it may be just a matter of time until Linguee's webcrawler finds the appropriate bilingual texts to add all of those to its database, and many more.

EASY FLASHCARDS

Lea-knows Menu screenshotThe Flashcard function is cool!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USING THE APP

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

With the added function of creating automatic Flashcards, the application Léa Knows makes GoogleTranslate and Linguee convenient language learning tools.

There are all kinds of ways to use the app so that you can learn words and phrases you encounter throughout the day.

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

I bet you can think of more ways yourself.

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

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

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Which Foreign Language should I learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

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

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

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

1. Find a fun entry into language learning 

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

It should also be affordable for you.

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

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

2. Practice frequently

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

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

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

3. Repeat words and phrases often 

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

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

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

4. Listen to songs you like

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

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

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

(Language Zen lets you learn Spanish with music.)

5. Start reading things that interest you

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

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

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

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

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

6. Boost your learning with things you enjoy

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

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

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