Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

7 Language Learning Tips from Langfest 2017

Homepage for Langfest 2017 in MontrealLangfest 2017 in Montreal brought together over 300 language enthusiasts from all over the world. Its speakers highlighted many language learning tips that we and others often blog about.

It's the second year of this event, which last year was called “North American Polyglot Symposium” or NAPS .

LangFest is a perfect new name for this three-day event. The conference aims to be inclusive, you really don't have to speak a lot of languages to benefit.  

At LangFest you'll hear many different languages spoken throughout. For most languages, it's typically easy to find conversation partners.  

Again this year, the talks covered a large variety of language topics. Many of the speakers shared ideas on how to make learning a new language more interesting and efficient. 

Learning a language is not a task with a quick recipe. It's a personal process that changes as you go along and as you improve. It involves discovery, commitment, self development, patience, and a type of discipline that you enjoy and can sustain.

We're avid language learners ourselves. Besides running our GamesforLanguage site, we're always eager to learn more about how to learn languages better.

Our participation at LangFest 2017 was a way to spark up our own motivation and to connect with other language enthusiasts. 

The language learning tips below are from the talks we listened to and from our conversations from the speakers we met.

Over the coming weeks, you can go on LangFest's YouTube site where the individual talks will be uploaded. Some of the interviews done at the conference are already available.

If you're using self-teaching language programs, you'll certainly recognize one or more of the names below.

Joey Perugino - Language Learning with Music

Together with Tetsu Yung, Joey Perugino is one of the orJoey Perugino at Langfest 2017: language learning with musicganizers of LangFest Montréal.

In his talk, Relations inter-culturelle - Cross cultural relationships, Joey described how he learned Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese as a child and as a young man.

He listened to songs, read children's books, and watched telenovelas.

A particular fun experience was when he acted as interpreter for his Italian friends on a visit to Cuba.

The key for Joey early on was music. He would listen to songs many, many times. He was especially fond of the Italian pop singer-songwriter Toto Cotugno, the Spanish child actor and singer Joselito, and the Venezuelan singer-songwriter Franco de Vito.

Tip #1: Music is a powerful tool for internalizing the sounds, rhythms, and vocabulary of a new language. 

(For me, pop songs definitely boosted my English, which I learned as a teenager. No wonder then that at Gamesforlanguage, we also advocate learning with songs. Blog posts that review some of our favorite Spanish, French, Italian, and German songs are among our most popular ones. Joey mentioned that he's struggling a little with German. I'm on the lookout for some more catchy German songs for him.)

Last year we came across a program called Language Zen, which uses songs in an innovative and fun way to learn Spanish. (Language Zen is now one of our partner sites.)

Stephen Krashen: Comprehensible Input

Stephen Krashen at Langfest 2017: language learning with comprehensible inputA linguist and Professor Emeritus of the University of Southern California, Dr. Stephen Krashen is the dean of the “input hypothesis” for second language acquisition and headlined the evening session of the first day.

His humorous and informational talk, entitled “Polyglots and the Comprehension Hypothesis” circled around the idea that language acquisition is gradual, and that it requires regular and substantial input.

In his studies about 'comprehensible input', Stephen also found that teaching explicit grammar has limited effect and that using grammar consciously during a conversation is very hard.

Most importantly, input has to be so interesting that you forget you're in another language.

Tip #2: Read and listen to material that really interests you and find a level where you can understand about 80%. Don't agonize about perfection. Note Stephen's quote of Kató Lomb: “Language is the only thing worth knowing poorly."

(GamesforLanguage's travel story courses apply this input comprehension theory for early learners: the initial dialogue of each story-lesson is broken down; unknown words are practiced, so each sentence becomes comprehensible by the lesson's end.)

Mark Pentleton: Start with Short Spurts

The founder of the Coffee Break Conversation series (Coffeebreakacademy.com),Mark Pentleton at Langfest 2017: start language learning with short spurts Mark Pentleton, reviewed the origin of the idea to fit language learning into the short time of a “coffee break”.

Starting in 2006 with the Radio Lingua Network, when podcasts were still not well known and faced technical problems of device memory, bandwidth, etc., Coffee Break Conversations have now come into their own. The format is a short dialogue between a teacher and a student.

Tip #3: Mini-lessons are a great way to get started, and to keep going even if you're too busy for 'real learning.' With mobile technology, we can read or listen to the language we're learning even in chunks of minutes at a time, and that may keep us engaged and motivated in the language.

(For those learners who don't have time for a full lesson, GamesforLanguage's Quick Language Games provide a quick and fun option.)

Steven Kaufmann: Forget and Relearn

Steven Kaufmann at Langfest 2017:language learning with "forget and relearn" Canadian diplomat turned polyglot plus language teaching theorist, and founder of LingQ.com, Steven Kaufmann also insists, like his friend Krashen, that 'comprehensible input' is key. Stories with audio - at the right level - provide excellent materials.

In his talk, “Meaningful and Compelling Input, Steven focused on some specific details of how we learn with interesting and understandable materials.

For one, language learning means learning to notice how the same words show up in different contexts and in various grammar patterns. Every time we see the same word or phrase in context, we're relearning it. As a matter of fact we're constantly forgetting and relearning all the time.

For learning a language with comprehensible input, Steven's guideline is 70% audio and 30% reading. Speaking is extra.

Tip #4: It's okay to forget words, and seeing them again and again is a natural (and painless) way to learn. By the same token, reviewing endless lists of words and grammar drills can be boring, which may ultimately be counter productive.

Shannon Kennedy: Use Outside Skills for Language Learning

Saxophonist and singer-songwriter Shannon Kennedy is also a Shannon Kennedy at Langfest 2017:Use outside skills for language learningtraveler and language lover. On her Blog Eurolinguiste.com she shares her adventures and language learning tips.

Shannon's talk Applying Outside Skills in Language Learning was about building on the skills that you know. As a musician, she's used to performing. And quite rightly, she equates conversations in a foreign language with performances.

By the same token, music theory has its equivalent in grammar. Then there's passive and active listening, which applies both to music and language.

If you do sports, you'll know that a little bit of training every day makes a big difference. And, you'll also know that training with others who are better than you will improve your performance.

Parenthood brings with it the skill of approaching things from different angles, and the knowledge that breaks are essential.

Science focuses on testing and fieldwork. A good investor accepts uncertainty, takes calculated risks, accepts mistakes, and does his or her own research. The list goes on.

Tip #5: Because learning a language involves many daily tasks, applying any skills you know well can be very helpful. 

Grégoire Lahaie: Learn Some of the Local Language

Grégoire Lahaie at Langfest 2017A native of the Province of Québec, Gégoire Lahaie is a freelance translator for English-French and Spanish-French.

Grégoire's workshop Atelier sur la langue québécoise - Workshop on Quebec language, was a fun introduction to québécois. He covered pronunciation matters, such as diphtongization ('père' is pronounced 'paèr'); how consonants change before u and i (d is pronounced 'ds-', as in 'dsurant'); and typical contractions ('je suis' is contracted to 'j'su'). He also mentioned a handful of québécismes, and explained a couple of swears.

I speak French, but as I walked around Montreal, it took me a while to get used to the local language. Grégoire's explanations actually helped me understand some of the local pronunciation patterns. I'm not able to speak, but my ear is now better tuned to Québecois.

Tip #6: It's really worth tuning in to the local language of the place you're visiting. You don't need to be fluent. Learning some basic phrases, and learning how to pronounce the language makes a visit so much more enjoyable.

Richard Simcott: Talk to People

A life-long language learner, Richard Simcott is founder plus co-organizer of the International Polyglot Richard Simcott & Ulrike Rettig at Langfest 2017Conference - which is now in its 5th year and is meeting in Iceland end of October.  Richard has done much to bring language enthusiasts together. (Yes, it's Richard and me on this picture.)

In his talk, Language Learning Worlds, he shared stories from his own life and how he discovered his love for languages. Languages, he realized, are what got him up in the morning. 

We all live in many worlds where languages can play an important role: family, friends, city, region, country, continent. Once we open our eyes and hearts, we can find lots of opportunities to bring languages, and friends with them, into our lives.

So far, Richard has studied 40 languages and is fluent in quite a few (find out more on his site, speakingfluently.com). Many of us were able to try out some of the languages with him at LangFest. It was a pleasure to chat with him on several occasions and it was obvious that he had my languages well covered.

Tip #7: Talk to people when you're ready to talk in your new language, and choose low anxiety situations. (That includes LangFest!)

These are just a few insights from some of the talks we attended. But, of course they don't do justice to the richness of ideas and the enthusiasm present at the conference.

During the three days of LangFest and the Sunday night picnic in Parc La Fontaine, we found many opportunities to talk with other language enthusiasts.

We also met many of the speakers in person, and connected with old and new friends, some of whom we had known only online until then.

So we were glad to also connect again with Benny Lewis (fluentin3months.com), Olly Richards (Iwillteachyoualanguage.com), Lindsay Williams (Lindsaydoeslanguages.com), and to meet Kirsten Cable (fluentlanguage.co.uk), and the educator/performer Paulino Brener (paulinobrener.com).

Here I should mention Kendal Knetemann, founder and co-owner of the free language learning site LingoHut.com. We started our collaboration online two years ago and celebrated our friendship in person with a dinner in Montreal!

In all, LangFest was enormously fun and inspiring. And you sure can't beat the setting - the cafés, bars, and restaurants, and hearing French all around.

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

Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep?

Sleeping woman with earphones- language learning? (Updated 9/22/2017)

Have you dreamed about leaning a foreign language during your sleep? I certainly have.

Just imagine, a few electrodes attached to your head will infuse your brain with a new language while you sleep.

Unfortunately, it's still science fiction stuff: A nice idea, but clearly not yet realistic at this time!

On the other hand, Swiss scientists have proven with a number of tests that you can indeed enhance your vocabulary retention during sleep. At least it's a start!

I first found this on PsychCrunch's podcast Episode 5: How to Learn a New Language, which includes an interview with Professor Björn Rasch from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

I contacted Professor Rasch and he was kind enough to send me three articles, the latest one titled: “The beneficial role of memory reactivation for language learning during sleep: A review,” authored by him and Thomas Schreiner. (The article is available now on Elsevier.com's “Brain and Language” and can also be obtained via ScienceDirect.)

Language Learning Stages

I found the Schreiner/Rasch article fascinating because it examines the close tie between language learning and the basic processes of memory. As you learn words in a new language, you go through three core stages: encoding, consolidation, and retrieval.

Encoding

When we first hear new words (also called labels) for objects, human brain encoding imageactivities, feelings, etc. in a foreign language, our brain has to encode them. That means, we change the information into a form that our memory can cope with.

There are three main ways in which information can be encoded: with a picture (visual), with sound (acoustic), and with meaning (semantic). For example, to learn the German word for “dog,” you could use an image of a dog plus the audio and/or written text “Hund.” That's the encoding.

The authors remind us that, “during encoding, new and initially labile memory traces are formed that are still highly susceptible to interference.”

Nevertheless, such “memory traces” are no longer just conjecture. They can be made visible today with MRI brain scans.

Consolidation

During this stage, the newly encoded memories are “stabilized and strengthened” and “gradually integrated into pre-existing knowledge networks on the cortical level for long-term storage.”

This must be the stage where practice and interactive learning comes into play. Whether by associations with images or feelings, repeating and saying aloud, spaced-recall exercises, writing, or other drills - consolidating new memories is essential for learning a foreign language.

It's especially at this stage that sleep is key. Before reading the article, I was not aware of how important sleep is for memory functions.

Schreiner/Rasch note: “While encoding and retrieval are clearly tied to wakefulness, sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of newly encoded memories.

There is a vast amount of research that documents the beneficial effects that sleep has on memory.

Retrieval

dog cartoon with big bone In this third stage, memories can be accessed and are available for active use. We know what that means when we start practicing a foreign language: We not only understand the meaning of the foreign words, we can also use and apply them when listening, reading, speaking, or writing.

Understandably, the memories stored in our brain are more like a collage, or even a jigsaw puzzle, than a series of lists. And thus, associations (helped by context, specific questions, or other cues) play an important role in the retrieval of information.  

(I was recently made aware of an article, 4 Crazy Things We Misunderstand About Human Memory, which is quite relevant to this subject. In fact, many of the article's conclusions - how to better remember things - we also advocate and can help your language learning: writing words down, making audio recordings, creating visual prompts with Post-It notes, associating things with imagery. )

Sleep/Language Study Set-up

A group of Germans was given 120 Dutch-German word pairs to study before 10 PM.

Then, half of the group, the “Sleep Group,” slept for three hours, while the other half, the “Control Group,” stayed awake.

The Sleep Group heard a portion of the words - referred to as “cued” words - during their sleep, but during their “Non -rapid eye movement” (NREM) sleep, which typically occurs during the first few hours when you do not dream.

The same words were replayed to the Control Group. After three hours both groups were given tests. The Sleep Group had better recall of the (“cued”) words they had heard during sleep than the Control Group who had listened to them while awake

Schreiner/Rasch Test Setup

The image A above shows the set-up and when the Sleep Group heard the “cued” Dutch words.

Graph (B) shows that in the Sleep Group, recall for the GermanSchreiner/Rasch Graph B translation of the cued Dutch words (black bar) was significantly improved when compared with uncued words (white bar).

In the Control Group, there was no significant difference between the recall of cued and uncued words.

There are more study details and observations by the researchers than can be discussed here (including the cueing timing and intervals).

The study seemed to confirm that verbal cues – e.g. replaying during sleep a list of foreign words that had been learned earlier – can reactivate the memory of those words.

In other words, hearing vocabulary during our sleep could greatly enhance the “consolidation stage” of our memory and thereby the language learning process.

Conclusions

The authors note that “the findings reviewed above demonstrate the crucial role of sleep in language and specifically word learning.

It has been shown that sleep promotes divers aspects of language learning, from word learning to the abstraction of grammar rules (Batterink et al., 2014; Henderson et al., 2012) and possibly constitutes an ideal state in order to facilitate and accelerate distinct learning processes.

In this vein, evidence that foreign vocabulary are capable of inducing such reactivation processes and thereby enhance subsequent memory performance critically broadens the scope of cued memory reactivations during sleep.

Open Questions

Schreiner/Rasch also acknowledge a number of open questions. Among them:

  • What would be the consequences when the word cues were heard during REM sleep (vs. NREM sleep)?
  • Do closely related languages (e.g. Dutch/German) make cueing during sleep more effective?
  • Does cueing affect sleep quality?

We would also ask:

  • What is the optimum timing sequence?  
  • What is the optimum audio volume level?
  • What about phrases and sentences vs. individual words?

There is clearly still more research needed to determine how best we can take advantage of these findings in language learning practice at home.

One Practical Take-Away

After reading the study and understanding more about the importance of sleep for the “consolidation stage” of our memory, I have set myself a new goal: Play one of our Spanish lessons or Quick Games before turning off the lights.

Finding a way to “cue” the right words at the right time at night, will certainly be a little more difficult.

But it may also be the next frontier that language learning companies will want to cross...

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.

References: Schreiner, T., & Rasch, B. The beneficial role of memory reactivation for language learning during sleep: A review. Brain &Language (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2016.02.005



Posted on by Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage: Understanding “gammeln” und “vergammeln”...

Det gamle Hus on Danish houseTraveling has the added benefit of opening your eyes to both new and old things.

Sometimes you even learn to understand words and expressions in your native language that you heard and used - but never thought much about.

That occurred to me recently during our travels through Denmark when I saw “Det gamle Hus” on a house in Gilleleje, Denmark. (see above picture)

In German, you have the words “gammeln” and “vergammeln”. The etymological roots of these words suddenly became clear! And with that, I have an excellent memory crutch for the Danish word. 

Das vergammelte Haus?

A quick look at a dictionary clarified that the Danish sign “Det gamle Hus” just means “The old house. (Das alte Haus.”)

The German cognate “vergammelt” also means that something is old. In addition “vergammelt” suggests that it's in bad condition, decrepit, run down, etc.

Obviously, if I had ever bothered to look up the etymology of “gammel”, I would have found an entry such as this:

Via German Low German from Middle Low German gamelen, from Old Saxon (attested in the past participle gigamal?). Cognate to Old English gamolian. The verb pertains to an adjective meaning “old” attested in Middle Dutch gamel, Old English gamol, Old Norse gamall (whence forms in all modern Scandinavian languages). (Wiki)

Gammeln

The same Wiki entry also had a good example for the verb “gammeln”:

(of food or figurative) to become old; to rot

Das Brot von letzter Woche gammelt im Schrank. (Last week’s bread is rotting in the cupboard.)

It also provided a second etymological explanation:

Originally a southern German dialect word. Derived from Middle High German gamel, variant of gamen (“amusement”), from Old High German gaman. Related to English game.

Gammeln (third-person singular simple present gammelt, past tense gammelte, past participle gegammelt, auxiliary haben)

(informal) to bum around; to do nothing productive; to be idle; to live the life of a hobo

Nach der Schule hab ich zwei Jahre nur gegammelt. (After finishing school I didn't do anything productive for two years.)

“Gammeln” and “vergammeln” may not be words you learn in a German course. But if you ever come across them in Germany (or their cousins in any of the nordic countries), you now you know their meaning. 

And, as an added benefit for me: I will probably never forget that "old" in Danish is "gamle" (and, as pointed out above, in all modern Scandinavian languages).

So, cognates - such as the Danish “gamle” and the German “gammeln” - are an easy way for learning and remembering vocabulary: You just have to pay attention as you are walking around and try to decipher signs, posters and advertisements.

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.