Posted on by Guest Post by Vienna Dennis

How Foreign Language Skills Will Boost Careers in 2021

https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2015/03/26/09/41/tie-690084_1280.jpg Credit:PixabayForeign language skills may not always be required, but the benefits multilinguals bring to organizations are real — especially now that the market is getting more competitive.
“[Multilingual] employees greatly enhance your company’s capabilities to interact with a larger swath of the population; they help foster a more innovative and diverse business and give you in-house capabilities,” explains Salvador Ordorica, the CEO of The Spanish Group, in an article on bilingualism.
This is why multilingual employees are paid better.
But what exactly about knowledge in foreign languages will help you advance in your career?
Here are three important reasons:

1. Foreign Language Skills Boost Cognitive Power

https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2012/03/01/15/43/brain-20424_1280.jpg Credit: PixabayLearning new languages doesn’t just give you an extra skill, it also boosts your problem-solving ability, creative thinking, and memory.
In our post on the benefits of being bilingual, some studies show that those who know more than one language are better at remembering sequences, for instance.
Those who work in math-related professions like economics and insurance might see their career advance faster because of this.
The increased vocabulary may help with your ability to communicate — an essential soft skill you need in higher positions no matter the department.

Students who have completed a full four-year language course even score more than 100 points on the Scholastic Aptitude Test compared to those who only knew one, further emphasizing how well the brain works better if you’re multilingual.

2. Foreign Language Skills Increase Your Ability to Understand Your Team

https://images.pexels.com/photos/1367276/pexels-photo-1367276.jpeg Credit: PexelsIf you’re aiming for the top, know that you need to learn how to understand and guide the people below you.
Knowledge of your team’s native languages can help you with this.
For instance, they might more thoroughly explain their findings in their first language than they would in English.
Furthermore, top careers in business, like HR and operations management, rely heavily on communicating and connecting with others both within and outside your team.
For example, operations managers are tasked to inform and guide other departments within their organization.
If you belong in these people professions, know that multilingualism will come in handy during your assessments.

Your chances of advancement are better if you work for companies with ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts, as it’s proof of how they value their employees, regardless of background.

3. Foreign Language Skills Open Better Networking Opportunities

https://images.pexels.com/photos/6248917/pexels-photo-6248917.jpeg Credit: PexelsNot all prospective partners will have English as their primary language (nor will they be fluent in it), so knowledge of their native language can help you build valuable connections with more people.
For example, did you know that the Fortune Global 500 is slowly being dominated by Chinese CEOs?
Many successful businesses like Trader Joe’s, 7-Eleven, and Holiday Inn are also run by foreigners.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that a lot of your business’ prospective partners' first language won’t be English.
If you’re aspiring for a higher position, you will need to communicate with them frequently.
This is why multilingualism is a very sought-out skill in leaders.

If you run your own business or have a freelance career, the situation is the same. You might find yourself in networking events, which your foreign language skills will prove useful in.

Whether it’s by boosting your memory or introducing you to more prospects, a foreign language can help boost your careers in multiple aspects. Fortunately, learning a new language is something that can be done in your free time via online classes, podcasts, or even games.

Author’s bio: Vienna Dennis is a freelance writer with an expressed interest in foreign languages. Her goal is to learn at least one European and one Asian language before she hits 30.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

LING-APP – A Review: Finnish, French, German, and much more

Ling Language app BannerA while ago we were approached by Ling-App about reviewing their language learning app. As we like to do, we spent some time using the program to understand how it works and to see how effective it is.

The Ling app has 60+ languages on its platform, many of them less commonly taught. So for me, it was a treat to choose a language I didn't know much about. I decided to focus on Finnish. The Finnish language has always intrigued me, and now, with an eye on visiting Finland in the fall of 2021, this was a perfect opportunity to learn some basics.

Besides learning Finnish, using English as the teaching language, I also looked at a couple of other languages on the app: Swedish and German, using Italian; English, using German. Peter did a number of lessons in Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish, using English and German as the teaching languages.

We'll do a general overview of the app, and wherever it fits, add a comment about the languages we tried out.

THE LING PLATFORM

The Ling app was built by Simya Solutions, Ltd. using state of the art technology (such as React and React Native).

You can download Ling on the App Store for your iPhone, iPad, and on the Play Store for your Android phone, tablet. There's also a web version: https://ling-app.com/

Ling works on the freemium model: eight lessons of each language are free. For further lessons you'll need to get a subscription (either per month, per year, or for lifetime). For specific prices, check the individual apps.

THE LING APP SETUP

The setup is logical, easy to use and intuitive. It's identical for all of the languages.
There are five (5) Levels of difficulty:
1. Beginner
2. Intermediate
3. Upper Intermediate
4. Advanced
5. Expert

Each Level has ten (10) themed Units.Ling Language app Finnish Unit 1
For example, the Beginner Level in each of the languages consists of:
1. Introduction
2. Basic Sentences
3. Numbers and Family
4. Numbers and Counting
5. Activities
6. Food & Tastes
7. Vegetables & Fruits
8. In the Café
9. Eating Out
10 Where is it?

Each themed Unit has four (4) Lessons. The new vocabulary items (see examples below) are all used in a sentence, which you'll also learn and be tested on.
In the Introduction Unit, you'll find the following 16 vocabulary items:
• a woman, a man, a girl, a boy
• twenty-five, twelve, fourteen, forty
• USA, Germany, China, Japan
• English, German, Chinese, Japanese

Gamified Tasks

Ling Language app: Finnish Match the cardYou practice the new vocabulary and sentences with gamified exercises. They all have audio and give you hints if you need them. The tasks are short and fun to do and function as quick self-tests. You'll check each answer to see if it's correct.
The exercises and their content are identical for each language:
• Match the card. In the screenshot I first chose the wrong word for "roommate" (red)
• What did you hear?
• Sort this Sentence.
• Translate this sentence.
• Conversation (with known vocabulary in the context of some unknown words).
• Fill the gaps (in a simplified version of the conversation).

Other Activities

You Have Learned:
At the end of the lesson, you'll see "You Have Learned": a list of the words/phrases (with a simple image) and the sentences, as they were introduced at the start of the lesson.

Review It All:
You'll see this on top of every unit and it means a review of the full unit, i.e. all 4 lessons. With the review, you'll go through flashcards with audio to review the 16+ vocabulary items and sentences. You'll also go through the 4 dialogues in the sequence that you learned them.

Courses that have grammar explanations also have a review of the 4 grammar cards from the unit.

Speaking:
Ling Language App Speaking Recording screenshotFor the speaking exercise that comes with each unit on the phone and tablet app, you can first listen to the native speaker or read off a word/phrase or sentence.

The speech recognition function works pretty well, as I could test with German. Swallowing my Viennese accent, I got a "perfect" score at 100% each time. Same with English.

With Finnish, I was less successful. The first sentence I got for the first Unit was long and looked complicated. I got a totally deserved "poor" rating, with 26% accuracy.

Exam:
The exam at the end of each unit consists of about 10 tasks that include:
• Pick the translation of a word or sentence into your target language, multiple choice.
• Pick the translation of a target language word or sentence into your native language, multiple choice.
• Sort the sentence.

Chatbot:
In some of the Units, you can go to the Chatbox and participate in a conversation. You either tap on a response, or just read it off. The language should be familiar to you if you've done the unit. It's a fun way to try out the language you've been learning.

VOCABULARY

What you learn on Ling is basic, practical, everyday vocabulary. Each unit introduces between 16-24 new words (that is, for the languages we tried).

You won't be dealing with sentences that are weird or cute. (Though, some sentences are less practical than others. In the 'Swedish for Italian' Unit Dove/Where?, I came across the sentence: Boken är under jordgubbelådan. Il libro è sotto la scatola delle fragole. = The book is under the box of strawberries. This is probably a sentence I'll never use.)

I like the way vocabulary is introduced: a word/phrase together with a sentence using it. So, you always have some context.

The conversation at the end of each lesson includes known words, but also words and sentences that were not taught. But they help widen your experience of the target language and you do get translations and audio.

The practice games all follow the same pattern and sequence. They are easy to do and for each of your answers you get feedback. You can request a "hint", which will make it even easier to get the answer.

You can enter the course at any lesson that you choose, and skip around as much as you want (except within a lesson itself). Also, you're not required to stick to the sequence of Units as they are presented. That's an upside.

AUDIO

For each item you learn, you have audio (recordings of native speakers). These you can play back as often as you want, either at normal speed or slowed down. The voices we heard were very pleasant.

We often play the audio of a sentence several times, both after the speaker and also with the speaker, shadowing so to speak.

GRAMMAR

It's our impression from the several languages we tried that some languages on Ling have no or very limited grammar explanations. That's probably true for the less common languages. Finnish certainly doesn't have any grammar explanations at this time.

Since all the courses teach the same vocabulary and topics and don't focus on building language-specific grammar patterns, you'll find yourself just memorizing stuff at first. That even goes for a language that does have grammar explanations, such as German.

PRICING

Subscriptions to the app may seem a little high, especially for languages that have lots of other resources, some of them totally free.

Still, when you compare the cost of the Ling app to paying for individual tutoring, the yearly Pro subscription at 4 USD/month looks like a good deal. This is especially true for languages for which resources are scarce.

WHAT WE LIKE

• You can learn many less commonly taught languages.
• It's fun to learn with Ling.
• Navigating the app is easy and intuitive.
• It's easy to replay individual audios.
• It's easy to repeat a lesson.
• You can skip around if you want
• The vocabulary is practical and useful.
• You can get reminder emails and keep your streak.
• Words/phrases are always taught together with a sentence using them.
• The native-speaker audios we tested are usually of excellent quality.
• The Chatbox is a fun way to try out conversations.

OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER

• In the languages we know well, we noticed some errors, but you can flag them (top right flag image).

• In the Chatbox, you can choose between responses, but some of them don't make sense in the context.

• The identical setup and topics ignores some of the cultural specifics, e.g. in food, activities, customs, etc.
Ling App German Unit 1For example, in German you would not ask a person their age right after you've met them. It may be somewhat awkward in other languages, too.
This is the dialogue in the second lesson:
A: Excuse me. What's your name?
B: My name is Tom. What's your name?
A: My name is Mary. How old are you?
B: I am 25 years old. How old are you?
A: I am 40 years old. Nice to meet you.
B: Nice to meet you too.

• For languages with different sounds systems, pronunciation tips would be helpful. We didn't find any yet for the languages we tried.

• You get little or no help with understanding grammar patterns, e.g. sentence structures, cases, conjugations, grammatical endings, typical idiomatic phrases. A good example is Finnish. It has 15 noun cases (indicated by its suffix), 6 of which are locative cases (for which English uses prepositions). Gradual introduction of these with an explanation would have have made learning easier.

• From Beginner to Expert - and probably because of the strict focus on vocabulary and topics - the progression in language complexity is somewhat uneven. Sometimes sentences are long and complicated, sometimes they are surprisingly simple and easy.

• Complex grammar items are sometimes bundled. In the Expert category for example, the units Wishes 1 and Wishes II, are used to introduce the future, conditional, and subjunctive verb forms.
Ling App French Unit 50: revenirFor example the English: “I wish she would come back to me.” (Unit 50) has the following forms in:
French: J'aimerais qu'elle revienne vers moi. (conditional and subjunctive)
Italian: Spero che torni indietro da me. (indicative and subjunctive)
Spanish: Desearía que ella volviese a mí. (conditional and subjunctive)
German: Ich wünschte, sie würde zu mir zurückkommen. (subj II preterite and subj II future)

You'll also notice that  “I wish” is actually only used as indicative in Italian (spero), but actually translated as the conditional “I'd wish” in French, Spanish and German.

• A few different conditional and subjunctive forms of the new verbs are introduced in Unit 50. However, they are certainly not enough to learn their conjugations nor are there any explanations why and when they are used. A grammar book would therefore be quite advisable for any serious learner.

• For the web version use the Google browser is recommended, as the audio features may not work on all browsers.

Conclusion

Ling will not be the app or language program which will get you to fluency in a hurry – no app or online program really does.

The program does work well for beginners and intermediate learners or those who use it as an addition to another learning effort or method.

Its 50 lessons are well structured and fun to do, with useful and practical vocabulary, although additional grammar and pronunciation help may be needed.

Especially for languages that are less commonly spoken and taught, the Ling App platform offers some great resources.

The seamless interchangeability of target and teaching languages lets language lovers also experiment with different combinations and understand language differences, and use one target language to learn another.

Disclosure: We added Ling App to our Partner's list. For the above review we received a free 2-month subscription. Should you decide to subscribe to the Ling, Gamesforlanguage may receive a small commission which will help us keep our own site ad-free.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

What Makes Language Learning Engaging & Less Boring For Us?

Four boys playing ballIt's been about a year now that daily life has been upended by the pandemic. Like most people, we at GamesforLanguage have gone through various kinds of moods and emotions. As you can expect, the pandemic blues have included periods of heightened boredom and lowered motivation for language learning.
We are looking forward to more moments like these four boys are enjoying. (Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash)

It's been particularly hard to be separated from family and friends. At times Zoom fatigue has set in, and texting doesn't do the trick all the time either.

We also sorely miss traveling. We have siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, as well as long-term friends all who live in Canada and Europe.

Besides, over the years travel had become an important impetus for our language learning. We've enjoyed travel and one-month or longer stays in several different countries, as you can read in our European Travel series on our Blog.

This past year has been tough. But here we are, still using our languages and striving to improve our fluency. The months grounded at home have made us think a lot about what motivates us to keep on learning languages.

What Has Helped Us to Keep Going?

1. Having a routine

For better or for worse, we've hung on to some kind of a language learning routine, even though we've sometimes struggled to stay motivated. Our routine may have thinned out, but it's still the backbone or our language learning and has kept us going.

2. No rote learning

We've scrapped memorizing lists of random words or phrases. Learning a language in context is so much easier and more interesting. Indeed, we find it essential.

3. Short and focused language practice

We continue to use online language programs, but only for short periods. At the moment, I'm playing Spanish GamesforLanguage course lessons every day, and am just about to finish Level 3 of Duolingo's Dutch. Ulrike has started Finnish on Duolingo and also does daily Swedish lessons. (Once travel is back, we're planning to visit those two countries.)

4. Grammar in baby steps only

For now, grammar is to be enjoyed only in sweet little bites. Only when a phrase or sentence just doesn't make sense, do we resort to some grammar sleuthing. We treat grammar like fun little puzzles to be solved.

5. Lots of passive learning

A large part of engaging in our languages has been watching news programs, listening to interesting podcasts, and watching foreign TV series and films (with or without subtitles). We watched the entire Italian Inspector Montalbano series, as well as various French, Spanish and German series on Amazon Prime's MHz channel.

6. Reading and listening to interesting stories

To practice my Dutch, I recently purchased Olly Richard's Dutch Stories for Beginners. They are a little wacky, but made great bedtime reading. (Maybe I even improved my Dutch while sleeping.)

Both Ulrike and I regularly read or listen to French stories and novels. The latest: Michel Bussi: "T'en souviens-tu, mon Anaïs"; Guillaume Musso: "Un appartement à Paris", "La fille de Brooklyn"; Dominique Manotti: "Racket", "Marseille 1973".

7. Exercise, sports, walking

This has been really important for us. Lots of walks, tennis outside in the summer, at least 20 minutes of exercise every morning. We both work at a "walking desk". Exercise may not seem immediately relevant to language learning. But it's been well documented that it can sharpen memory and thinking skills.

All these above activities have helped us stay with our various languages. It's been clearly a question of how to make language learning fun and to avoid getting bored. Is there a "secret ingredient"?

Young Children

When we watch young children, we marvel at the ease they seem to learn their native language. Children acquiring their first language will focus on learning how to use it. It's like a full time job for them. It takes their full attention. Boredom is not an issue.

It's the same for young children who live in an environment that totally immerses them in another language. And even older children seem to be able to pick up a new language quite easily when there's lots of interaction with friends and family who speak the language. It's the social component that's crucial, while more structured learning (drills, exercises, practice) helps to build vocabulary, and improve pronunciation and grammar skills. (See also how our 10-year old grandson learns French with GamesforLanguage.)

Several of our grandchildren are taking regular French lessons online, which has them talk with a tutor and requires them to listen and speak. They seem to enjoy this a lot, especially because of the live interaction.

Challenges for Adult Learners

What makes learning a new foreign language as an adult so challenging are many factors, among them:
• Our increasing difficulty with time (starting in late childhood) to accurately hear sounds that are different from our native language, as well as producing those new sounds when speaking.

• A busy life that leaves little time and energy for extensive daily focused language learning.

• Language programs that are not engaging enough to sustain our frequent and regular use.

What Makes Online Language Learning Courses and Apps  Engaging?

There are several elements that can make language learning more engaging.

1. Social contact when learning a language

Children learn languages through their social contacts with parents, caretakers, siblings, playmates, etc. Adults can replicate such contacts to some degree in live or online language language classes. But clearly such interactions cannot compare with the time that children spend speaking and listening.

Many of the apps and programs also include user forums where learners can ask questions, and interact with others, etc. With italki and similar platforms you can book private tutors, which does provide social contact and more customized learning with emphasis on listening and speaking.

Immersive language programs, such as offered at Middlebury College, VT, rely heavily on the social contact aspect of only communicating in the target language.

We've just learned about a new option: Pangea Chat. This platform has just become available online, in the App Store and on Google Play. On Pangea Chat, friends text each other in their native language. These exchanges are then automatically translated into the chosen target language and put into gamified “activities” for practice.

Pangea Chat would seem to check off the "social contact" and "relevant, comprehensible input" boxes that we discuss below. We are planning to review the app once we have used it for a while.

2. Interesting topics and relevant input

This is what many language programs are lacking. Especially for beginners, language lessons are often limited to what the teachers or developers consider essential first words and phrases.

Steve Kaufman of LingQ is a great proponent of “meaningful input that matters to you”.  He expands on what the well-known linguist Stephen Krashen thought of as the essential requirement for language learning: “comprehensible input”.

LingQ's approach certainly applies the idea of "comprehensible input". Subscribers to the program can read and listen to content that they are interested in. Translations are available as needed.

This is different from the Rosetta Stone method, which uses pictures that the user has to match to a foreign word. That quickly became boring for us.

Most apps and language programs rely on some form of translation to provide “comprehensible input” for the learner. However, the lesson topics include mostly the words and phrases of categories such as “Basics”, “Greetings”, “People”, “Travel”, “Family”, "Activity”, “Restaurant”, “City”, etc. (as in the early lessons of Duolingo's French course).

For learners who are really serious about learning a new language, Gabe Wiener's Fluent Forever app, starts with the sounds of the foreign language. The app uses images and flashcards to teach you vocabulary and lets you also customize your learning. This is followed by stories with which you learn grammar. Finally, you can practice with native tutors. A motivated learner who uses Fluent Forever regularly, will certainly progress quickly.

3. Games for language learning

When Duolingo appeared 2011, just about the time when we launched Gamesforlanguage.com, gamified learning suddenly became the craze of the day. Many of the programs and apps we have tried also include some form of games.

Games are clearly a compelling technique for learning: They provide a challenge, they let you know when you're right or make a mistake. As language learning also relies on memorization and repetition, you can repeat the games until you “get it”.

However, after a while even games can become a little tedious, if they don't involve “meaningful input that matters to you”. That was the reason why the GamesforLanguage courses use a travel story rather than unrelated words and phrases. (Admittedly, even travel stories of a young traveler can become boring when you repeat them several times.)

4. Success feedback and voice recognition

Most language learning apps and programs today use some form of feedback.

Over time, Duolingo has evolved a number of such feedback parameters, including a daily goal and point counter. These show up in a chart, achievement levels, a streak counter, etc.
LingQ tracks the number of known words and now also has a streak counter, and so do Mosalingua and Fluent Forever. Including a “streak”, that shows how many days a learner has been learning in a row, seems to become ever more popular.

When we tried Babbel the last time, we did not like the voice recognition feature. Duolingo on it's AppStore app also uses voice recognition, but the feature is easily fooled. We suspect that it will only be a matter of time until voice recognition will be smart enough to be incorporated into many language programs to provide real-time feed-back to the user's pronunciation.

Until then, speaking aloud and recording yourself is still the best way to practice new sounds and comparing yourself to native speakers. (Unfortunately, and different from a live dialogue with a friend, this is both time consuming and quickly becomes boring as well.)


So, we have found that the best language language learning "package" for self learners would consist of a combination of meaningful social interactions and resources that provide interesting and relevant input.
If you like music and singing, learning the lyrics of a song in your target language could work well. (Here are our suggestions for French, German, Italian and Spanish songs.)
To add some fun to pronunciation practice, and vocabulary and grammar building, I would add some features that include gamification and feedback.

Let us know which language learning programs and apps are engaging for you, and in particular, which elements keep you practicing regularly.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

A Ten-Year-Old Learns French With GamesforLanguage

Gamesforlanguage French 1 Course Home PagePublic schools in the US traditionally have a week of school vacation in mid-February, that didn't change even during the pandemic. Since spending time with our grand-kids was out of the question, Peter had came up with a suggestion for an activity they could do.

After all, their parents had to work, and the kids needed some projects. The children are learning other languages, so we thought we'd give them the challenge to go through the French 1 and the German 1 course. At the end of the week, we would interview them.

Our ten-year-old grandson Will chose French. His family has traveled a few times to France, and he's been getting regular French lessons on Zoom. By the end of the week, he had finished three lessons of French with GamesforLanguage.

We're encouraging Will to continue playing the French course and the Quick French Language Games. We "interviewed" him on the front lawn of his home where he was building a snow fort. It was obviously not a school-like setting for him, and he was pretty relaxed.

Did any answers surprise us? Yes, a couple of them did.

Here are the Questions about learning French with GamesforLanguage:

Question 1: You've been learning French for a little while now, what do you like about French?
• I like the sounds, French has cool sounds.

His answer was quick and spontaneous and surprised me at first. I did not expect it to be "sounds". But then why not? Hearing sounds, imitating them, and producing sounds to get things, that's how children actually learn their first language. Reading and writing doesn't come until later and takes several years of schooling.

Question 2: What's the first French word that comes to your mind right now? Dialogue Page, Lesson 1, French 1- Gamesforlanguage
• I want to say "juice" but I can't remember the French word. But I do remember "pomme".

Okay, now we know kids can't remember everything either. In our French 1 course, "jus", "pomme" and "jus de pomme" come up early and several times. Looks like it was "pomme" that stuck.

Question 3: Do you remember your visit in France? Did you actually have the chance to say things in French? Order food? Do you remember any words?
• Oh yes, a lot. I said things in French when we were in restaurants. I always ordered what I liked. What I said many times: "De la glace. Je veux de la glace, s'il vous plaît."

Clearly, even kids learn to say things that they "need" to say, much better than stuff they just have to learn by rote. That's as true for them as it is for us, and includes saying things in another language.

Question 4: What is your favorite French word?
• The word I really like is "fromage", and also because it tastes to good.

A good example here of associating a word with one of the senses. For language learning, it's well known that "sensory input" boosts your memory.

Question 5: What French sound do you find a little hard to pronounce?
• The sort of harsh sounds are hard. I'm thinking of, like, "cr", "croissant" or "crème".

I was expecting him to say that he found the "nasal" sounds hard, as in "moi", "non"; or the French "u", as in "tu". But he had no problems with those. Just shows: mastery of new sounds is an individual thing, not everyone has the same difficulties.

Question 6: How do you practice a sound that's hard?
• Oh, I say it over and over and over again, "croissant", "croissant", "croissant au chocolat" ...

For anyone - children or adults - learning new sounds takes practice. To produce a sound that's not in your own native language, you have to move your mouth (tongue and lips) in a different way. And that takes practice until it becomes automatic.

Gamsforlanguage French 1.1 Memory Game screenshotQuestion 7: When you're playing GamesforLanguage - What is the easiest game for you?
• The easiest? It's the Memory Game. That's the game where you see 4 cards for a word. I had no problem picking the right one.

The Memory Game is multiple choice and a good way to introduce 4 new words or phrases. You first see the right match for each word (French and English equivalent). Then the English cards are mixed up and you need to pick the one that's the translation.

Right in the first lesson, you have the 4 phrases: "un jus de pomme" (an apple juice), "si'il vous plaît" (please), "mon premier voyage" (my first trip), "en France").

Question 8: On GamesforLanguage - When playing a game, do you repeat out loud or just in your head?
• I definitely repeat out loud. Sometimes again.

He's got that right! An online game doesn't make you fluent, but saying what you hear out loud is good practice for improving you pronunciation and listening skills. To be able to say a word right, you have to hear it correctly and to check whether your pronunciation matches. Just silently thinking what about the French is not good enough.

Question 9: What game do you find a little hard?
• The Clouds Game, it's harder to pick the right one.

Snap Clouds is a recall game, which makes it a little harder to pick the correct answer. Plus, the choices are not as obvious as in the Memory Game. For example, you'd be asked to choose the correct pronoun and form of the verb: For "I speak", you have the choices: "tu parles", "je parle", "elle parle", "il parle".

Question 10: What game is the most fun to do? GamesforLanguage French Wordinvaders screenshot
• I like the Space Invaders. I don't find that hard, I can shoot the right word.

Actually, we call that game "Word Invaders". With it you build phrases and sentences, word by word. For each word you get two or three choices. For example, you're asked to build the phrase in French: "An apple juice, please (formal)". The answer will be: "Un jus de pomme, s'il vous plaît".

These are the choices that you have for each of the words:
1. un une 
2. jus eau vin 
3. à de
4. poire pomme raisin
5. s'il mais
6. vous tu
7. plaît parle passe

Question 11: What do you think you learned most with GamesforLanguage: words, pronunciation? Or has it improved your understanding of what the speakers say?
• I learned reading French the most. I didn't know how to read much French before.

This answer surprised me because I hadn't thought about it. In his Zoom lessons, he hears his French tutor and answers in French, but he doesn't see the words. So, seeing how the French words he hears are written was a novelty and probably the most challenging for him.

Question 12: Do you like getting points at the end of a lesson?
• Yes, I like it. It feels like you earned something.

"Earning" something seems to matter to some learners. At the end of each lesson, we've set a minimum percentage of correct answers a player must reach in order to continue with the next lesson. That number goes up gradually, from 50% in the first 6 lessons, to 90% in the last 6 lessons.
He also told us that he had not listened yet to the lesson audios or downloaded each lesson's PDF file.  (You can access the audio for each level (six lessons) via the Podcast link and the PDF file via the link under each course lesson.)

It was fun to talk with our ten-year-old grandson about his tryout of learning French with our GamesforLanguage course. He's one of our younger users.
We have several school classes located in the US, UK, and Australia playing French, German, and Spanish. What appeals are the Quick Games and the game structure of the courses.
Besides, our games, courses, and podcasts are completely FREE, there are no Google advertisements.
Only our courses require a simple registration and a password - which is only needed so you can continue your course where you left off.
Quick Games, Podcasts and Blog can all be accessed by just clicking on the link

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage Favorites During Covid-19 in 2020

Gamesforlanguage Games and Stories Ten years ago, GamesforLanguage started out as an experiment and family project: a language teacher and course editor, a retired engineer, a computer programmer (our son) and his graphic designer wife collaborated on what has turned out to be a fun and rewarding enterprise.

Over the years, we've had a steady stream of users and have gotten valuable feedback. We've also found plenty of incentive for our own language learning by using our own courses, joining online language learning groups and trying out other language programs and apps.

Our site is free to all - without any Google advertisements - a fact that more and more teachers and parents seem to appreciate as well. You can play our Quick Games and Podcasts, and read our Blog Posts by just clicking on the links.

Only our language Courses require a simple registration. This way, players can pick-up the story and continue learning and practicing where they last logged off.

At the beginning of a new year, we usually look back to determine what has interested our users most. Over the last few months of 2020, we've noticed a substantial increase in groups playing our Quick Games and travel-story Courses.

Registrations increased by users with an institutional email address, in particular schools. Most of the students registered that way play Courses in addition to Quick Games.

Although we don't know the email addresses of users who just play Quick Games, Podcasts, or read our Blog Posts, we are able to identify which content receives the most traffic.

Travel Story Courses

Our original purpose for Gamesforlanguage was to combine the idea of learning a new language with a travel story and fun games. Being language learners ourselves, we've used (and are still using) many different language programs.

Like most people, we want to avoid getting bored while learning. One antidote seems to be using stories. You can read about that in our 5 Top Reasons for Learning a language with Stories.Gamesforlanguage.com Registration Page

Not surprisingly, it was our German courses that had the most players from registered users last year. This may also be due to the fact that we have two(2) 36-lesson German courses, as well as an active German Facebook page.

If German or any of our other languages - French, Italian, and Spanish - interest you, click on the registration page or the screenshot above, and register. (Our Course English for Spanish Speakers is still in development and has 3 levels at this time.)

Quick Games

We currently have over 300 Quick Language Games, and we are adding new games every few weeks. These can be played by just clicking on the Quick Games link on our website and selecting the language you want to practice.

Each fun game only takes a couple of minutes or so. It helps you practice a few words, a grammar point or some typical phrases.

We post one of tLearn German - A Game A Day Facebook Pagehe nearly 90 Quick German Games every weekday on our German Facebook page, Learn German -A Game A Day.

Guten Morgen is the most popular German Quick Game, while Numbers 1-20 is the favorite of learners of Italian, and Numbers 21 and beyond of those learning French.

Blog Posts

Since we started Gamesforlanguage in January 2011, we've added nearly 400 Blog Posts about language learning, travel experiences, and related topics. That's an average of over 3 posts per month.

It's always interesting to see which of the older posts have become perennials.Victoria des Los Angeles and La Paloma lyrics Our 2013 post about La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish with a Song, was also a favorite in 2020. (And if you like that idea for learning Spanish, we can suggest one of our partner sites, Language-Zen.)

For those who have tried our travel-story based Courses, it's no surprise that we like stories for learning and practice. We are obviously not the only ones. Our 2016 post: Why Polyglots Also Use Stories for Language Learning has been very popular.

And, as it's quite a short post, we're always surprised to see the 2013 entry - Quick French: “On y va”, “Allons-y!” - to be on our most read list year after year!

Podcasts

We have not yet promoted and expanded our Podcasts. (Something we're going to focus on in 2021.) Most of our podcasts are the MP3 audios and chapters of each of our courses.

Gamesforlanguage:German 2 Podcast screenshot We believe that listening to the story BEFORE or AFTER playing a course lesson, helps you to internalize the sound and rhythm of the language and to memorize the phrases.

In the Podcast section, the German 2 Story “Blüten in Berlin” was the favorite in 2020. No surprise there.

We are planning to add more Podcasts about Language Learning, Culture and Travel.

We're hopeful that in the fall of 2021, we can again travel to Europe. In any case, until travel is safe again, there' s plenty of time to practice languages online, to read books, to listen to podcasts and to watch foreign movies.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

The German Separable Prefix “mit-”

Screenshot of of German prefix "mit" Quick Game German prefixes are hard for English speakers as they often seem capricious. When used in sentences, they are sometimes attached, and sometimes they're not.

And where to put them if they're not?

Mark Twain, who had a love/hate relationship with the German language, put it this way:

"The Germans have an inhuman way of cutting up their verbs. Now a verb has a hard time enough of it in this world when it's all together. It's downright inhuman to split it up. But that's just what those Germans do. They take part of a verb and put it down here, like a stake, and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder like another stake, and between these two limits they just shovel in German."  (Mark Twain's Speeches, "Disappearance of Literature" in twainquotes.)

Our German Quick Language Game with the separable prefix "mit-" is a popular one. That's not surprising. The separable prefix "mit-" (with, along with) connects to a lot of common verbs, adding the idea of "with [sb]", "along with [sb]", "together with [sb]" etc.

When prefixes in German are added to a verb, they change the verb's meaning, sometimes a lot. But sometimes the new meaning is easy to guess, as in the examples below:

kommen (to come) - mitkommen (to come with, come along).
bringen (to bring) - mitbringen (to bring with, bring along)
nehmen (to take) - mitnehmen (to take with, take along)

What makes German prefixes often tricky is the fact that there are three types of them:

1. Inseparable Prefixes are the easiest ones.

They are never detached from the verb.
Common inseparable prefixes: be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, miss-, ver-, zer-
Examples are:

befreien (to liberate)
empfehlen (to recommend)
entschuldigen (to excuse, apologize)
erkennen (to recognize)
gefallen (to like)
missverstehen (to misunderstand)
versuchen (to try)
zerschneiden (to cut into pieces)

2. Separable Prefixes are the ones that can cause trouble

And there are a lot of them. They detach from the main-clause verb in the present tense and simple past.
Common separable prefixes: ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, ein-, hin-, her-, mit-, nach-, vor-, zu-, zurück-

abholen (to call for [sb, sth], pick up)
anrufen (to call [sb])
aufmachen (to open)
ausbrechen (to break out, escape)beifügen (to add, enclose)
einladen (to invite)
hingehen (to go there)
herkommen (to come here, approach)
mitkommen (to come with, along)
nachschlagen (to look up [a word])
vorschlagen (to suggest, propose)
zumachen (to shut, close)
zurückgehen (to go back)

3. Prefixes that are Separable or Inseparable

Fortunately there are not that many of them, and we only mention them in case you encounter one of them.
Common examples: durch-, über-, unter-, um-, wider-
The stress on the verb gives you a clue, as in the one example below.

Separable Prefix: umschreiben - to write again, rewrite (literal meaning, "um" is stressed)
Inseparable Prefix: umschreiben - to paraphrase (meaning is not literal, "schreiben" is stressed)

Now, taking our three separable prefix verbs: "mitkommen, mitbringen, mitnehmen", let's look at what happens to "mit-" in the various types of common German sentences.

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Present-Tense Sentences

In sentences with one subject and one verb, the prefix "mit-" separates from the infinitive and goes the end of a sentence. It is now an independent word.

mitkommen - Kommst du mit? (Are you coming with me/with us?)
mitbringen - Ich bringe ein paar Freunde mit. (I'm bringing a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich nehme es gerne mit. (I'm happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Past-Tense Sentences

Note: The simple past of verbs is not used a lot in conversational German (except with the verbs "sein" and "haben", and for telling a story or a past event).

You'll see the simple past routinely in books and newspaper stories.It looks like this:Screenshot German "mit" Quick Game

mitkommen - Du kamst mit. (You came with me/us.)
mitbringen - Ich brachte ein paar Freunde mit. (I brought along a couple of friends.)
mitnehmen - Ich nahm es gerne mit. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" as a Past Participle:

Note: The prefix "mit-" attaches to the participle of the stem word, i.e. "gekommen", "gebracht", "genommen".
Here are the same sentences in conversational German.

mitkommen - Du bist mitgekommen. (You came along.)
mitbringen - Ich habe ein paar Freunde mitgebracht. (I brought a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich habe es gern mitgenommen. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" following a Modal Verb:

Not much to worry about here: just use the infinitive.

mitkommen - Du kannst nicht mitkommen. (You can't come along.)
mitbringen - Ich kann ein paar Freunde mitbringen. (I can bring a couple of friends along.)
mitnehmen - Ich kann es gerne mitnehmen. (I can take it with me, no problem.)

Other Verbs with the Prefix “mit-” 

The meaning of most of these is easy to guess.

mitreden - to join in or add to a conversation
Da kann ich nicht mitreden. (I can't add anything to this conversation.)

mitgehen - to go with [sb]
Ja, meine Kinder gehen auch mit. (Yes, my children are also going with me.)

mitgehen lassen - to steal, pinch, swipe
Ich glaube, er hat einen Silberlöffel mitgehen lassen. (I think he pinched a silver spoon.)

mitmachen - to join in, take part in [an activity]
Heute hat er beim Spiel nicht mitgemacht. (Today he did not join in the game.)

mitfahren - to ride along [as a passenger]
Kann ich mit dir mitfahren? (Can a get a ride with you?)

mitschreiben - to take notes
Ich mache heute blau. Kannst du für mich mitschreiben? (I'm cutting class today. Can you take notes for me?)

mitspielen - join in the game, be involved
Willst du mitspielen? (Do you want to join in the game?)

mitkriegen - catch, get [what's been said, or done]
Das habe ich nicht mitgekriegt. (I didn't catch that.)

mithalten - to keep up with somebody
Du rennst zu schnell. Da kann ich nicht mithalten. (You're running too fast. I can't keep up.)

The more you engage with a language - by reading, listening, speaking and writing - the more familiar you become with how it works. Prefix verbs are no exception.

Practice with short sentences until you can confidently push those prefixes around.
And by the time you are able to "shovel in German" between a prefix and the stem verb, you should feel pretty good about yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Fluent.Simple - Updating our “Ripeti con me!” Review

Fluent. Simple. website logoBecoming fluent in another language you love is very good feeling!

Some time ago, we wrote a review of “Ripeti con me!”, a downloadable audio course for boosting your Italian speaking and listening skills.

Last month, its founder, Stefano Lodola, contacted us about updating our review. I was actually still practicing with his downloadable course “Ripeti con me!”, while preparing lunch or taking walks.

However, I quickly realized that Stefano has made major changes. He has expanded the original audio course; he is continually adding reading and listening materials grouped together as "Leggi con me!"; and you'll also find a large number of free resources to accelerate your learning.

A personalized dashboard will help you plan and monitor your learning path. Everything is now accessible online on his new site FluentSimple.com

Thus, the audio course “Ripeti con me!” is part of a much larger offering of "comprehensible input" for learning Italian. That means, you'll find plenty of language material that's on your level and which you can understand from context, even though you might not know all the words and grammar patterns.

The new material on the site - described further below - supports and enhances what I really like about the original audio course.

Stefano Lodola is an Italian polyglot, language teacher and translator, who now speaks 12 languages. As I mentioned in my earlier review, he's also an opera singer with a wonderful voice. You'll hear that in the lessons of the "Ripeti con me!" Italian audio course.

Learning Italian Online with Fluent. Simple. will have you choose different plans:

Ripeti con me!

The course Ripeti con me! is still the core of "Fluent. Simple." Ripeti con me! page logoThere are now 215 lessons, instead of the original 45.

The simple and effective lesson format has not changed, but with the increased number of lessons, you'll acquire much more vocabulary and become familiar with a much wider range of grammatical patterns.

Click HERE for our detailed description of the lesson format. To try the lessons out for yourself, make use of Stefano's free 7-day Trial.

The goal of the audio course is still to get you to think in Italian right away, and to make speaking increasingly automatic. That's what fluency is about, right?

Leggi con me!

Italian Short Stories

These stories are for beginners and intermediate learners and are read by a native speaker at a slow but natural pace. You'll have a transcript as well as an English translation.

One advantage of learning with stories is that it trains you to guess meaning from context, which is pretty much how we learn a language in an immersion situation.

News in slow Italian web pageNews in Slow Italian

We all live in a world that bombards us with news. We read news and talk about it on a daily basis.

But news stories use vocabulary and grammar patterns that are often different from fictional or personal stories that we read and tell. 

So, part of being fluent also means understanding and speaking about local and global news events.

Italian Conversations

Mastering daily conversations is a fluency skill of its own. In conversations, native Italian speakers often use extra little filler words (beh, boh, allora, dai, tipo, cioè, insomma, etc) that act as conversational bridges or show that you're listening.

And they use specific sounds (mmh, ehm, uhm) that break a silence or signal a hesitation or reaction to what's being said.
To sound natural, you need to learn to understand these filler words and sounds and use them yourself.

With the conversations, you'll learn plenty of conversational vocabulary, but you'll also learn how to use those little important filler words and sounds while talking.

The Italian conversations are for beginners and intermediate speakers, and come with slow audio, transcripts and English translation.

Free "Fluent. Simple." Resources

Italian Grammar Lessons

Whether you hate it or love it, grammar is "the system or structure of a language", as defined in the Oxford Dictionary. You'll find that becoming aware of basic grammar patterns will boost your fluency.

The good news is that when we learn a language, we start to absorb its grammar patterns automatically. Kids do that already very early with their native language.

Doing grammar exercises is simply a way of learning to figure out how a language hangs together. The audio course "Ripeti con me!" introduces a basic grammar pattern in each lesson. It's a great way to internalize grammar and make it automatic.

The section with Italian grammar lessons just gives you some rules and explanations if you want them.

Online Italian TestFluent. Simple. Online test page

To check your Italian Level with immediate feedback, you can take a quick test. That too is a resource for learning and improving your Italian.

Learn Italian (a Polyglot's Tips for Mastering Italian)

The Fluent. Simple. Blog provides a wealth of hacks, resources and inspiration to language learners. Topics include: How to talk about your family in Italian, Italian curse words, Learn foreign words with these 4 simple mnemonics, Speaking practice: talk to yourself, and many more.

On this page you should also check out the bottom section entitled: "How to Master Italian? With these tips!"
You'll see a list of over 50 language learning tips and further resources from fellow polyglots.

Fluent. Simple. Dashboard screenshotThe Dashboard

Once you've created an account and signed in, you can go to your personal dashboard. There you'll see all the content you signed up for and any free resources.

The dashboard shows you what lesson you were on last, so you can continue where you left off.

You'll see any lessons and readings that you've marked as completed, and you can bookmark any content you want to track. You can quickly check your account, and access the FAQ's and further support.

3 Monthly Subscription Plans for Learning:

(Prices for products on the Simple. Fluent. site are in US currency. Click HERE for the current prices and use Promo Code G4LFS for a 10% discount, forever.)

Ripeti con me! Audio course only (215 online audio lessons, 6,500 useful sentences, 70 hrs of audio)
Note: Ripeti con me! is also available as one-time purchase in the form of an MP3 file to download.
Leggi con me! 300+ Bilingual readings with slow audio (short stories, news, conversations)
Impara con me! Full access to both Ripeti con me! and Leggi con me!

In my experience, you become fluent in a language only if you engage with it consistently and make an effort to speak frequently. It's great, of course, to have a Italian speaker as a frequent conversation partner.

But what also works really well for improving your fluency is "shadowing" a native speaker. You can do that, for example, by listening to the Italian - spoken sentences, conversations, short stories, news pieces - and repeating what's being said right along with the speaker or a split-second after the speaker says it.

I'm currently fluent in four languages, and find that I'm well on my way to becoming fluent in Italian, too. My practice with Ripeti con me! is clearly helping me, as are the various techniques that polyglots commonly use, and which Stefano describes so well on his site.

It took me a while to navigate through Stefano's site to discover the many resources and understand which parts are fee-based and which parts are free for all.

A 7-day trial with daily engagement is probably the best way to become familiar with all that's available.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below!

Disclosure: "Fluent. Simple." is one of our partner sites. If you use the discount code G4LFS you will receive a 10% discount forever on all products (online or downloadable) on "Fluent. Simple." Gamesforlanguage will receive a small commission, which will let us keep our site free of Google ads and other advertisements. As an affiliate, we were given one-month full access to Fluent. Simple.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Numbers 0-12 Idioms: “Ach du grüne Neune” and others

Blumenstraße 9b, BerlinIdioms are a wonderful, expressive part of any language. But because you cannot guess the meaning from the words in them, they can be puzzling. And, some idioms are regional.

From time to time, even native speakers come across idioms in their own language that they haven't heard before.

I spent my childhood years in Austria (and the Netherlands) before immigrating with my parents to Canada. In our family, we continued to speak German among ourselves. So when I returned to Austria and Germany as a teenager and young adult, I understood and used most of the idioms I've listed below.

But there was one exception:
When my father-in-law once exclaimed: “Ach du grüne Neune!” I had no idea what he meant. It only was clear that he was surprised at something. But why the number nine?  And with an "e" added on: "Neune".

When I heard this expression again the other day, I consulted the Duden for more German idioms with numbers. The Duden is a German language dictionary published by the Bibliographisches Institut GmbH. It is updated regularly and can be searched online.

Below you'll find thirteen German Numbers Idioms:

German Idioms with Numbers 0-12

0 - Null: Null Bock haben.Ram goat
Idiom: Not feeling like it
Literally: To have zero buck. (Photo by Paxson Woelber on Unsplash)
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für Keine Lust zu, auf etwas haben. (Colloquial for having no inclination to do something or no desire for something.)
Origin: “Null Bock haben” became part of teen slang in the 1980's. A popular novel that came out in 1984 was called "Null Bock auf DDR", which described drop-out youth cultures in East Germany.

There's also some speculation that “Bock” (German for “buck” or “ram”) goes back to the Romani word “bokh”, meaning “hunger”. This would suggest that “null Bock haben” would mean "no hunger/desire for something".

1 - Eins: Jemandem eins auswischen.
Idiom: To pull a fast one on someone.
Literally: To give someone a swipe.
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für “jemanden schaden”. (Colloquial for "harming someone".)
Origin: The quick sweeping movement of a sword is likely the origin of this idiom. First used by fraternities to describe a quick attack in a duel, it gradually entered everyday language.

Hot Dog2 - Zwei: Alles hat einmal ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.
Idiom
: There's an end for everything.
Literally: Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. (Photo by Charles Deluviu on Unsplash)
Duden: Scherzhaft für "alles muss einmal aufhören". (A humorous way to say that "everything has to end sometime".)
Origin: The saying has shown up in various places, including in Walter Scott's novel "Woodstock or the Cavalier" (1826).

In 1987, the German pop singer Stephan Remmler of the music genre Neue Deutsche Welle composed and produced the song: "Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei".

3 - Drei: Aller guten Dinge sind drei.
Idiom: Third time's the charm.
Literally: All good things are three.
Duden: Ausspruch zur Rechtfertigung von etwas, was jemand ein drittes Mal tut, oder zum dritten Mal probiert. (A way to justify doing or trying something for the third time.)
Origin: This saying probably goes back to the Middle Ages, when a council meeting took place three times a year. A defendant thus had three chances to face his judges. If he did not appear by the third time that the council met, he would be sentenced by default.

4 - Vier: Alle Viere von sich strecken. Man and dog relaxing
Idiom: To unwind. (Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash)
Literally: To stretch out all fours (i.e. your arms and legs).
Duden: Sich behaglich ausgestreckt ausruhen. (Flop down into a comfortable position and relax.)
Origin: This idiom is based on the number four, the two arms and two legs of a human being.

Fünf - 5: Du musst auch mal fünf gerade sein lassen.
Idiom: Don't be a stickler.
Literally: Sometimes you have to let five be an even number.
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für "etwas nicht so genau nehmen". (Colloquial expression for stretching a point here and there, not insisting on perfection.)
Origin: Five is an uneven number. So, letting five be "even", means that you accept that something is not perfect or correct.

6 - Sechs. Eine Sechs schreiben.
Idiom: To flunk.
Literally: To write a six.
Duden: Eine Arbeit schreiben, die mit der Note 6 bewertet wird. (Write a test or exam that gets an F grade.)
Origin: This phrase refers to the grading system in German schools, which uses a 6 or 5 point scale. In that system, a "6" means a failing grade.

Well-worn Boots7 - Sieben: Mit Siebenmeilenstiefeln.
Idiom: At breakneck speed.
Literally: With seven-league boots. (Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash)
Duden: Mit sehr großen Schritten, sehr schnell voran gehen. (Getting ahead using very large steps, going very quickly.)
Origin: "Seven-league boots" appeared as "bottes de sept lieues" in the fairy tale "Le Petit Poucet" by the French poet and storyteller Charles Perrault.

The tale was published in 1697 as part of Histoires ou Contes du temps passé. The seven-league boots gave to the wearer the ability to travel far and at high speed, i.e. he could do seven leagues in a single stride.

8 - Acht: Eine Achterbahnfahrt.
Idiom: A roller coaster ride.
Literally: A figure-8 train ride.
Duden: Schwanken zwischen Extremen; Auf und Ab. (Fluctuating, wavering between two extremes; Having ups and downs).
Origin: "Eine Achterbahnfahrt" is a high-speed ride in an amusement park set on an elevated rail, which often has the shape of an eight. The ride takes you through tight curves and sudden ups and down.

In our times, you frequently hear people say that the stock market in Germany and elsewhere is "eine Achterbahnfahrt".

9 - Neun: Ach du grüne Neune!
Idiom: Good grief!
Literally: Oh, you green nine!
Duden: Umgangssprachlicher Ausruf der Verwunderung oder des Erschreckens; "Neune" eine Variante für "Neun". (A Colloquial expression of surprise or shock. "Neune" is a variation of "Neun", as in bowling when "all nine" pins fall - "alle Neune". )
Origin: Several stories around the origin of this expression exist. One tells of a theater on the Blumenstraße 9b in Berlin, which had its main entrance on the "Grünen Weg" (Green Road). The theater produced lively local plays. Behind the theater was a garden restaurant with chairs and tables said to have been painted green.

Another theory points to French fortune-telling cards where Pik Neun (English: Nine of Spade) is a green card and forebodes bad luck.

10 -Zehn: Da bringen mich keine zehn Pferde hin.Wild Horses
Idiom: Wild horses can't drag me there.
Literally: No ten horses will get me there. (Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash)
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für "unter keinen Umständen irgendwohin gehen, oder etwas tun". (Colloquial for "absolutely refusing to go somewhere or do something".)
Origin: One explanation for this idiom apparently goes back to the Middle Ages when ten horses were not enough compensation for taking a bride.

Another, more obvious one, is that horses are strong animals, but the person's dislike for doing something happens to be even stronger.

11 - Elf : Elfmeter schießen.
Idiom: Kick from the 11 meter penalty spot (in soccer).
Literally: Shooting eleven meters.
Duden: Nach bestimmten schweren Regelverstößen innerhalb des Strafraums verhängte Strafe, bei der der Ball vom Elfmeterpunkt aus direkt auf das Tor geschossen werden darf; Strafstoß.
(A punishment given to a player after specific serious foul-play offenses within the penalty area. The ball can then be kicked from the eleven meter point directly onto the goal; penalty shot.)
Origin: "Elfmeter" signals that the spot is 11 meters away from the goal line. The penalty area (16 meter from the goal posts) and the 11 meter penalty spot were introduced in 1902.

The first "penalty" shoot-out (to decide a tied game score) in the World Cup was on January 9th, 1977, when Tunisia beat Morocco.

5 to 12 on clock12 - Zwölf: Es ist fünf vor zwölf.
Idiom: It's high time.
Literally: It's five to twelve.
Duden: Es ist höchste Zeit einzugreifen, etwas zu stoppen. (It's high time we intervened or stopped something.)
Origin: One story about this idiom goes back to earlier times when a master builder and his crew were working on the scaffolding of a church tower.

At "five to twelve" they would be warned to come down quickly, because the loud ring of the church bells would endanger the hearing of whoever was close by.

Right now, the expression "es ist fünf vor zwölf" is frequently used by health care officials in Germany to warn about the rapid increase of Covid-19 infections. You also hear it as a warning of the impending climate change crisis.

When you think about it, most of these expressions are quite apropos for many moments in our lives right now. How often have I thought to myself: "Darauf habe ich null Bock" (I really don't feel like doing this).

Or: "Ich will nichts als alle Viere von mir strecken" (What I really want is get comfortable and relax). I especially like the idea of "Alles hat einmal ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei".

More seriously for language learners: When you practice these idioms, you also get some insight into how spoken language is put together. And, you can wow your German friends, by dropping one or two of these idioms into a Zoom conversation.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Pre-Corona European Travels 12 – Bordeaux and Arcachon

Cité du Vin MuseumIn September 2019, as we flew from Amsterdam to Bordeaux, Ulrike and I had no idea yet how different our life would be in a few months. I am writing this post just about a year later.

Checking the websites of the places which we visited during our week-long stay in Bordeaux and travels through the Périgord region, I realize that many activities are out of reach at the moment: exploring Bordeaux by tram and bus, visiting museums, a wine tasting class in the Cité du Vin (see picture above), a river cruise with Bruno, visiting castles and the Lascaux caves, wine tasting in vineyards, etc, etc.

Fortunately, the memories and pictures from that trip will last us for a while. And maybe this post will motivate some readers to explore Bordeaux and its surroundings once the Covid-19 period has passed!

A Very Brief History of Bordeaux

As we usually do in a new city, we visited the local history museum, here the Musée d'Aquitaine. This gave us a quick and comprehensive overview of both Bordeaux's ancient and recent history.

We learned that Bordeaux's importance as a major port increased after the marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry Plantagenet (who is better known as Henry II and was King of England from 1152-1189).

The “English era” gave Bordeaux protection, and the wine trade and tax-free status with England made the city flourish right into the middle of the 15th century.
Aerial view of the Port of the Moon in 1899
Annexed by France in 1453, Bordeaux eventually entered into another golden era in the 18th century, when it became France's busiest port, supplying much of Europe with coffee, sugar, cotton, etc from overseas. (Image by Hugo d'Alesi, 1899, Archives de Bordeaux métropole.)

After World War II, two long-serving mayors were responsible for Bordeaux's development: Jacques Chaban-Delmas from 1947-1995 and Alain Juppé from 1995-2019, both with various interruptions, as they also served as Prime Ministers under Jacques Chirac and Georges Pompidou respectively.

Today the Bordeaux metropolitan area has a population of about 780,000 with about 250,000 living in the city. As such, it is France's sixth largest city, the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and the center of a major wine-growing and wine-producing region.

Exploring Bordeaux by Tram

Bordeaux wireless tramNeither Ulrike nor I had ever been in Bordeaux or that part of France before. We especially looked forward to exploring the surrounding wine country as well.

Our rental apartment was near the Place Gambetta, right in the center of town. This allowed us to explore “la vieille ville” and other quarters on foot, and by using several tram lines that were nearby.

Eager to use the public transport system, trams and buses, we made the mistake of purchasing a seven-day transport card online. Why a mistake? Because each time we used a tram, we had to use our smartphone and internet connection to validate. (A better choice is to purchase a 7-day card in one of the public transport offices.)

And as the tram was our favorite mode of transport, we noticed one thing right away: there were no overhead wires in the city. We were intrigued. (See picture above of tram in front of the Bordeaux Opera.) I noticed that there was a center rail set in the pavement, but people normally walked over it, so obviously it could not be electrified.

A Google search and our visit to the Historical Museum solved the mystery: Mayor Chaban-Delmas had the last of the 38 tramlines, with their over 120 miles of tracks, removed in 1958. But plans for a subway failed because of the sandy soil and related costs.

The “Bordelaises and Bordelais” (women and men of Bordeaux) had to wait until 2003, Bordeaux wireless tram trackswhen the first of the now 3 lines (about 40 miles) of a modern tramway were opened. Mayor Alain Juppé had insisted that no overhead wires should spoil the view of the buildings in the city.

Thus a ground-level power supply operates in the city, called APS (Alimenation Par Sol). The center rail is not continuous, but connected with what look like ceramic isolators. (You can see the center rail with the light brown isolator in the picture.)

In the city, electric power is supplied to the tram by the center rail with only the portion under the tram electrically live. Reportedly, the system had problems at the start, but seemed to work well while we were there. (We wonder, however, how it would work during snow and ice conditions.)

Once the tram leaves the inner city, the overhead lines appear again and each tram raises its collector arm (pantograph) to connect.

Cité du Vin

One of the must-see sites when you visit Bordeaux is Cité du Vin, the Bordeaux Wine Museum. You can get there either by tram or by water shuttle on the Garonne river.

At the museum, you will learn more about the world's wine cultures than you'll likely remember. The permanent exhibition explains how “humans cultivate vines all over the world in a wide variety of natural conditions. Winegrowers have adapted, invented and modeled their landscapes and shaped them through their traditions.”
Cité du Vin wine shopWe also decided to take a wine tasting class in French. The teacher was entertaining and familiarized an international audience with the basics of French wine terminology.

And while it certainly takes more than a one-hour class to become a real wine connoisseur, we became fully aware of how many vivid adjectives the French language has for describing wines.

For example: The level of “acidité” (acidity) can be described by words like “mou, vif, nerveux” (soft, lively, nervous); the level of “tanin” (tannin) with “souple, charpenté, âpre” (flexible, framed, harsh); the level of “onctuosité” (smoothness) with “creux, gras, lourd” (hollow, fat, heavy).

And most importantly, we learned: When you “name” (i.e. pin down with words) your own impression of the wine that you're sampling, you'll better remember a similar taste next time. (But it requires that you equip yourself with the relevant vocabulary to describe your impressions! Here is a link to such a wine glossary in English.)

The shop at Cité du Vin has a large selection of wines from the region (see picture above), and from the top of the spectacular building (where more wine tasting occurs), you have a spectacular view of Bordeaux and the Garonne river.

Bordeaux's Museums

Besides the Musée d’Aquitaine and la Cité du Vin, we also enjoyed the MECA,Bassin de Lumières exhibition poster musée des arts décoratifs et du design, and the Musée Mer Marine (Maritime Museum).

Indeed, when we visited the Maritime Museum, we were also intrigued by the nearby submarine bunkers. An unattractive remnant of World War II, which had housed the Italian submarine fleet at the time, its thick concrete walls and roof have made demolition cost-prohibitive.

At the time of our visit, parts of this base were just being converted into the Bassins de Lumières. While not yet open to the public then, the above link and picture give you an impression of a spectacular exhibit, which appears well worth visiting.

La Garonne and Le Miroir d'Eau

Miroir d'eau in front of Place de la BourseFor many cities a waterway adds to their special appeal and Bordeaux is no exception (see also Lisbon, Portugal).

Pictures in the Musée d'Aquitaine showed us that before World War II and even into the 1960s, the Garonne river's waterfront had been a busy port, with ocean-going ships docking right up to the Pont de Pierre.

Today commercial harbor terminals and pontoons, especially for container ships, have moved downstream. But major cruise ships can still dock downtown, close to the Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d'Eau.

There is now a wonderful promenade that stretches from beyond the Miroir d'eau with mistPont de Pierre to the row of converted warehouses downstream. These hangars house various expositions and events as well as brand-name discount shops.

The Miroir d'Eau, in front of the Place de la Bourse is reportedly the world's largest reflecting pool with 37,100 sqft. It is indeed quite spectacular, both as a mirror and also when the rising mist begins to hide the people walking around.

I would be amiss if I didn't comment on the color of the Garonne river.Dordogne joins Garonne river I had already noticed the brown color of both the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers from the plane as it made its approach to the Bordeaux airport.

Bruno, our Garonne river cruise guide, made it his first point of business to explain why the Garonne is NOT “dirty”: the color is the end-result of a natural phenomenon.

The sediment that the Garonne carries downstream meets the oceanic tides that come up the estuary. With salty water being heavier than fresh water, the undercurrent brings the sediment to the surface and coagulates in the form of microscopic flakes, producing the brown color. Nevertheless the Garonne is ranked as one of Europe's cleanest rivers!

Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat

Oysters lunch @ ArcachonAt the end of our one-week stay in Bordeaux we rented a car to explore the surrounding wine country. (More about that in another post.)

We had heard from friends that a visit to Arachon was also a must: both for its famous oysters as well as for the “Dune of Pilat”. Arcachon is only a 40 mile drive from Bordeaux and a favorite weekend spot for many locals.

For centuries the name of Arcachon has been related to “great oysters”, and keeping the Arcachon Bay unpolluted is of key concern for many area residents.

(Over the last 50 years there have been a number of natural and man-caused disasters affecting the oysters in the bay.) The area's oyster industry grows oysters for the French restaurant market as well as seed oysters for oyster growers all over Europe.

The delightful little Hôtel du Parc, where we stayed, was in walking distance to the Plage Pereire. After renting bicycles directly at the hotel, we were soon using the bike paths up and down along the beach.

We even made it all the way to downtown Arcachon and its harbor. The downtown area is not very attractive, as it is overbuilt with hotels and condominiums.

However, the promenade along Arcachon Bay with its beach, promenade, restaurants and large marina is lovely. It was still bustling during the weekend even at the end of September. Sitting in one of the many restaurants, "people watching" can be a great pastime!

We sampled the famous “huitres” (oysters) at several restaurants. Our favorite was the Restaurant du Soleil, right at the beach, with a fabulous view of the sun set each evening.

Climbing up the Dune du Pilat was an amazing experience. Located just southClimbing the Dune du Pilat of the entrance to the Bay of Arcachon, the dune rises to over 300 feet above sea level and is about 1.7 miles long.

The name “Pilat” (or “Pyla”, to the locals) originates from the Gascon word “philar”, which means heap or mound.

On the last September weekend there was a stream of visitors climbing up and down the dunes, some picnicking on top, others just watching the para gliders making their turns and  – because of the upwinds –  often landing above from where they started.

The dune has been observed to move backwards at the rate of about 15 feet per year, encroaching on the pine forest and swallowing up houses built at its base. This explains why the visitor center and large parking lot have been placed far in the back.

After our stay in Arcachon we still had a few days left to explore the “Médoc region” to the left of the Gironde estuary, but we'll report on that in our next post.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

From Hats to Boots - 25 Fun Idioms in English

The emperor's new clothesRecently I again came across Hans Christian Andersen's tale “The Emperor's New Clothes”. (image from Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales Stained Glass Coloring Book, Image courtesy of Dover Publications)

Those of you who grew up with fairy tales will know the story: Two scoundrels claim to fit the emperor with imaginary new clothes. They say that the clothes would be invisible to all who are stupid and incompetent.

His subjects of course pretend not to see that the emperor is indeed naked as he proudly walks through the city. It takes a child to say what everybody can see but is afraid to acknowledge:

“But he hasn't got any clothes on!”

The proverb "clothes make the man" is well known, and the English language is full of idioms that involve different items of clothing. Because idioms in a language don't mean what the individual words say, they can be confusing and challenging to non-native speakers.

Here are 25 idioms in English that all involve clothing items.

1. Idiom: Talking through your hat

Two hats

Meaning: Saying things that are absurd or not supported in any way. Talking about something without understanding what you're talking about.
Sentence: My brother tried to explain how a computer works. But if you ask me, he was talking through his hat. None of what he said made any sense.
(Photo by Max Anderson on Unsplash)

2. Idiom: Eating one's hat

Meaning: Expressing disbelief that something is true or will actually happen.
Sentence: If you really finish your homework today, I'll eat my hat.

3. Idiom: Something is old hat

Meaning: This means that an object, a film, a story, a phrase, etc., is outdated, old-fashioned, too familiar because it's been used frequently.
Sentence: That kind of story is old hat. I've heard it lots of times before.

4. Idiom: A feather in one's cap

Meaning: An achievement one can be proud of.
Explanation: The idiom may go back to the custom of a hunter putting the feather of a successfully slain a bird in his hat.
Sentence: Her promotion to manager is definitely a feather in her cap.

Glass in front of fireplace5. Idiom: Having a nightcap

Meaning: Having a drink at the end of the day or the end of a party.
Explanation: In earlier times, a "night cap" was actually a cap you put on before going to bed.
Sentence: This was a perfect day. Let's have a nightcap to round it off. (Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash)

6. Idiom: Ride on somebody's coattails

Meaning: Doing something by being associated with someone else.
Explanation: "Coattails" are the flaps at the lower part of a formal tailcoat which is long in the back and shorter in the front. Riding on someone's coattails evokes the image of a person standing on those long back flaps.
Sentence: He got that important post by riding on the senator's coattails.

7. Idiom: Handle someone with kid gloves

Meaning: To be very careful and tactful when dealing with someone.
Explanation: A "kid" here is a young goat, so kid gloves are made of very soft leather.
Sentence: I have to be careful to handle my friend Alison with kid gloves. She gets offended easily.

8. Idiom: The gloves are offboxing gloves

Meaning: People are ready to fight or argue more aggressively.
Explanation: This expression probably comes from boxing, where gloves are supposed to cut down on the damage fighters do to each other. It also suggests the idea that a man would take his gloves off to get ready for a violent confrontation.
Sentence: What you said was really hurtful. As far as I'm concerned, the gloves are now off. (Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

9. Idiom: Keep your shirt on

Meaning: Stay calm, don't become impatient or angry.
Sentence: Please keep your shirt on, I'm sure we'll get there in time. I can't drive any faster.

10. Idiom: Lose one's shirt

Meaning: To lose a large amount of money or one's possessions.
Sentence: I put all my money into that investment, but unfortunately I lost my shirt.

11. Idiom: Have something up one's sleeve

Meaning: To have a secret scheme or plan of action. To have something in reserve that you can use if you need it.
Explanation: The idiom evokes a magician who can pull things out of a hat or coat to surprise his audience. It may also refer to a card player who has hidden a favorable card up his sleeve.
Sentence: Even if this plan doesn't work out for her, I'm sure she has a few other ideas up her sleeve.

12. Idiom: Wear your heart on your sleeve

Meaning: To allow your feelings to show.
Explanation: The expression dates back to jousting during the Middle Ages, where a knight wore the colors of his lady on his sleeve.
Sentence: Ralph wears his heart on his sleeve. It's easy to see when he's upset.

Cuff links on white shirt13. Idiom: Do something off the cuff

Meaning: Doing something spontaneously, without preparation.
Explanation: The cuff on a shirt is the band at the end of a sleeve. "Off the cuff" suggests reading a few words that were quickly put there as a reminder.
Sentence: I didn't have time to prepare a speech, so I said a few words off the cuff.

14. Idiom: Fly by the seat of your pants

Meaning: Do something using just guesswork or experience. Decide on the course of action as you go along.
Explanation: The idiom goes back to the early days of aviation, when planes did not have instruments to aid in navigation and communication.
Sentence: My boss put me on a project that I knew little about. For the first couple of weeks I was flying by the seat of my pants.

15. Idiom: Beat the pants off someone

Meaning: To show yourself to be much better than someone else. Decisively defeat someone in a competition.
Sentence: Our team beat the pants off our old rivals in yesterday's soccer game.

16. Idiom: Get something under your beltLeather Belt

Meaning: Getting experience that is important and useful.
Sentence: Once you get a few weeks of teaching under your belt, you'll feel more comfortable standing in front of the classroom. (Photo by Asiya Kiev on Unsplash)

17. Idiom: Hit someone below the belt

Meaning: Do something unfair to someone.
Explanation: This term comes from boxing, where it's against the rules to target someone below the waist.
Sentence: What you said was unfair and insulting. It really hit below the belt.

18. Idiom: Be in someone's pocket

Meaning: To be willing to do whatever a person says, especially out of weakness, for money, for personal gain, etc.
Sentence: The judge in the case was in the president's pocket.

19. Idiom: Line one's pockets

Meaning: To make a large amount of money, especially is dishonest ways.
Explanation: Lining something, means to cover it. So this idiom could well refer to putting money in your pockets. A similar expression would be "to feather one's nest".
Sentence: We were shocked to hear that our mayor was arrested for lining his pockets.

20. Idiom: Pull one's socks up

Meaning: To make a determined effort to achieve a target, to improve one's work, etc.
Sentence: This phrase originated in competitive running. At the start of a race, the runners would pull up their socks to get ready for the effort ahead.

Knock your socks off logo and product21. Idiom: Knock someone's socks off

Meaning: To have a strong positive effect on someone, by impressing or surprising them.
Sentence: Her speech knocked my socks off. It was inspiring and right on. (Picture courtesy of Knock Your Socks Off)

22. Idiom: Wait for the other shoe to drop

Meaning: To wait for an expected (negative) event or consequence.
Sentence: I lost my job and now I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. I may have to move out of my apartment too.

23. Idiom: Do something on a shoestring

Meaning: To do something using a very small amount of money.
Explanation: A shoestring is a shoelace, i.e. something that costs very little money. So, the expression means doing something or getting by with very little money.
Sentence: That's a really good film. But did you know that it was made on a shoestring?

24. Idiom: Get the boot

Meaning: To be fired from a job.
Explanation: Getting the boot literally means getting kicked out of a place.
Sentence: When the boss found out that my colleague was feathering her nest, she got the boot.

25. Idiom: Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps

Meaning: To achieve success through one's own efforts.
Explanation: A "bootstrap" is a "loop sewn on top or each side of a boot to make it easier to pull the boot on". According to the site Useless Etymology: The phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” originated shortly before the turn of the 20th century. It’s attributed to a late-1800s physics schoolbook that contained the example question “Why can not a man lift himself by pulling up on his bootstraps?” First it was meant to be sarcastic, later it started to imply that it's something one should be able to do.
Sentence: As nobody was around to help him, he had to pull himself himself up by his own bootstraps.

English is the fifth language that you can play to learn on this site, but primarily as "English for Spanish Speakers" and with a few games for "English ESL".

To look for more idioms in English, or get more explanations and examples of the ones above, you can start with these sites: The Idioms, Writing Explained, The Grammarist.  But there are many more other sites, just search for "idioms".

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