Posted on by Gabriele Monti

Five Italian Expressions That Will Puzzle You

Friends in a Coffee house - Gamesforlanguage.comIf you're learning Italian, you surely know that what you read in books is not enough. There are lots of expressions that you won't find in a dictionary, but that you'll learn on the street or hanging out with local people. Understanding and using these expression in your conversations means that you're actually improving. Moreover, your way of speaking will turn out to be really funny!

Here's a short list of strange expressions that Italians use, compiled for you by The Language Class.

Che FigataLeonardo di Caprio

"Che figata!" [keh fee-GAH-tah] is a very common expression. It was at first used by younger people, but today everyone says it. We can translate it with the English "What a cool thing!", but unfortunately it cannot be directly translated.

Therefore, you can use it in many different situations, as it expresses both amazement and admiration: If for example, you're amazed should someone tell you: "I've met Leonardo di Caprio in person!" or admire your best friend, if she tells you: "I've learnt to make tiramisu!" You could answer in both cases: "Che figata!"


"Dai!" [dahyee] is a commonly used expression as well. The pronunciation is actually similar to the English verb "die", but the meaning is absolutely far from that!

If we want to give it an English translation, we can simply choose "Come on!" and we can insert it, as Italians do, in almost each of our sentences! For example, if you suggest to a friend "Let's go to the beach!" and he or she answers "No, I really don't want to", your response will inevitably be "Dai!!!" Or you would use it even to encourage someone to do something that he or she does not want to do at all: "Another beer, dai!"

Don't forget that the expression can also be used as a way to stop someone from doing something! If your friend does not stop stealing your dessert, you just have to say a curt "Dai!"

Angry wolfIn Bocca al Lupo

"In bocca al lupo!" is an expression that demonstrates that the Italian language is very... creative! It literally means "into the mouth of the wolf" and is used to wish someone good luck by inviting him to be eaten by a wolf. (The English expression "Break a leg" has a similar meaning!)

The answer to this expression is "Crepi il lupo" and we must admit that at least this seems a bit more logical, as it means "The wolf shall die". When someone wishes you "In Bocca al Lupo!" you certainly don't answer with "Grazie", as this implies bad luck. You don't want to be thankful for being eaten by the wolf. 


"Magari!" [mah-GAHR-ee!] is the Italian corresponding to the English "I really wish!" or "Let's hope so". It is clear that we use this expression when we really wish something from the bottom of our heart - but not only.

In fact, in many cases we would use it with an ironic connotation. If your friend asks you "Would you ever marry an American billionaire?" you'd say "Magari!" meaning that of course you would, even if, in all likelihood, it will not happen!Gratitude

Meno Male

"Meno male!" [MEH-noh MAH-leh] literally means "less bad", but it is not used with this meaning. On the contrary, we can translate it with "Thank God!" and we use it when we actually feel blessed!

Did I really pass the test? "Meno male!" And, don't forget that you can also say "Grazie a dio!" which has the same meaning.

Mini Bio: Gabriele Monti studied Modern Languages at South Bank university in London, and he has been teaching languages ever since in many countries including Japan, Great Britain and France. Currently he loves to write about learning languages and travel.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with The Language Class and Gabriele Monti other than publishing Gabriele's post. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.


Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Frantastique": Learning French (or English) - A Review

Frantastique - We're always looking for multiple resources for learning and practicing a foreign language. Different programs teach you different things and will often complement each other.

GamesforLanguage's mission is to find ways of making language learning both fun and effective. We've seen that games and a story will make learners come back again and again. Nothing against traditional methods. It's just that adding fun elements - and context - to language practice makes learning so much more engaging and motivating.

We've been on the lookout for other online programs with some of the above characteristics. In addition, motivated learners - perhaps after completing our free GamesforLanguage's French 1 course - may be ready for a next step: individualized lessons, more explanations, more grammar exercises, and other ways to test their language level.

From that point of view, Frantastique is definitely a winner in our eyes. Here's why this program could lift your French to another plateau.

The idea is unique: The program consists of a regular email (5 times a week), a (somewhat) crazy story or text used as a frame, a number of exercises, detailed explanations, and an immediate email back with corrections.

Frantastique provided my husband Peter and me with a free 4-month Basic subscription.Frantastique -

Lessons are personalized right from the beginning. After seven lessons, Frantastique assigned us a skill level. Frantastique uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:

Mine started at 4.2-4.4 (B1-B2). After 24 lessons, I am now pegged at a straight 4.5 (B2). Peter, who speaks French more fluently than I, but is weaker in spelling and grammar, started with a 3.4 (B1) level. Now (after lesson 24), he has moved up to 3.7 (B1).

The Setup: an Email, a Brief Review, an Ongoing Story, Exercises, Correction

Frantastique - email The Email

Five times a week early in the morning, you receive an email with your 15-minute lesson. It sits in your inbox, waiting.

Obviously, you can do it any time that's convenient for you. If you skip your lesson, you'll get a reminder after three days.

The Review

Your lesson starts with a review. If you made any mistakes in your previous lesson, the Review will cover them again with detailed explanations. To see if you've understood, you'll be asked to do another couple of related questions.

Frantastique - ReviewYou'll then find a brief review of some grammar points or expressions for which you can get a translation.

After each of these, you have a number of options: You can click on "inutile to reviser" (don't need to review) or “je savais” (I knew), etc. When you do, these particular grammar questions won't be included in a future review. Or if you don't know or are not sure, you'll see them again. This is also a way your lessons become personalized.

Frantastique - Story start The Ongoing Story

Each lesson gives you a small piece of the story, either related to the Extraterrestrials and Victor Hugo or a humorous, made-up story in the form of a newspaper article. (Clicking on the image left will let you play the beginning of the Victor Hugo story.)

The story chunk you get consists of a short article, video, cartoon, or just audio. Typically, you'll see the written dialogue of the audio or video clip when you receive your corrections.

The story itself is a little crazy: A naked, fully-bearded Victor Hugo traipses around Paris together with a couple of aliens from outer space. Hard to believe, but their conversations are eminently practical and fun.

The ExercisesFrantastique - Exercises

These come in the form of questions about an idiom, expression, grammar point, or cultural topic.

You answer these by typing fill-ins, choosing pull-downs, or writing what you hear. Most of the questions have a small audio with it. This way you can hear French spoken at normal speed by native speakers throughout the lesson.

When you're done, you send off the email with your answers.

Frantastique-correction Correction

Before you can say “Victor Hugo,” your corrected lesson will be in your inbox. If you look at the corrections right away, everything you just wrote will still be fresh in your mind.

For each question you answered, there's a brief explanation of the rule. This is especially helpful for understanding why a guess was correct. If you've made a mistake, you'll also see why your answer is wrong. How better to learn and remember an expression, a way of spelling, or a grammar point.

There are advantages to not receiving corrections the same moment that you write them (as you do with many language programs and apps, including GamesforLanguage). By getting the corrections AFTER completing a lesson, there is no trial-and-error guessing. Also, with the accompanying explanation, you'll better remember both the correct answers as well as the corrected mistakes.

With potentially 340 lessons (at 5 lessons a week), you'll have over 1.5 years of study.

Account Settings

Frantastique - account settingsThere are a number of settings you can chose in your account tab:

Reception Days: You can only select 5 days, which is ok if you don't want to learn during the weekend.

Vacation Days: Each subscription allows for a certain number of “vacation days” during which you postpone your lessons. (For example, a 6-month subscription allows for 4 weeks of vacation.) These days will be added automatically to the end of your subscription.

Lesson Length: Five (5) Options range from “minimum” (no story) to “maximum.” We have “standard,” which is the default.

Spicy Mode: You can opt out of receiving “spicy” content.

Low Level mode: Activating the “mode bas niveau” will give you the same modules, but they are less difficult.

Pedagogy: The Pedagogy tab lets you view your latest lessons, vocabulary, and grammar to review. It also provides various progress statistics.

Ipad & Android Apps: The iPad and Android apps are well integrated with the online version, but obviously need WiFi access to the email account.


Frantastique has 3 different fee categories: Basic and Premium (for individuals) and Pro (for companies and institutions). Prices for individuals range from $49 - $69 for Basic, and $77 - $111 for Pro subscriptions. For further information: link to the online shop

What We Like

• The lessons are fun and immensely enjoyable because of the humorous context of the Victor Hugo story or funny, made-up newspaper articles.
• The expressions and grammar points you learn or review are all practical.
• Corrections arrive seconds after you've finished the lesson and reinforce your learning.
• The lessons arrive five days a week, which helps you to build a learning habit.
• The course lessons are indeed tailored to your skill level. Peter's are different from mine.
• There are multiple short audios in the lesson.
• You'll hear various voices and different accents, besides standard French.
• In your “Account” you'll see all your episodes and corrections in the “cahier de cours.”
• The vocab audios have Parisian French and Canadian French versions and let you hear the differences in pronunciation

Other Points to Consider

• The lessons are not for complete beginners (although you can opt for the “low level mode”).
• The playful mode disguises the fact that Frantastique is a serious and effective course.
• To practice your pronunciation you should repeat everything you hear and read.
• The standard lessons are short – it takes me about 15 minutes for each lesson
• In addition to English, Frantastique is currently fully available also for German, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese, with Chinese to be added soon. Other languages are being developed.
• By trying out Frantastique for FREE for a week (or during special promotions even for a month), you can determine whether it works for you.

Final Thoughts      

 Frantastique - dessert du jourIf you already have some basic knowledge of French, but want to get to a next level and improve your listening, reading, and writing skills, and do so with a fun and engaging course that prompts you with lessons 5 days a week – then Frantastique is your ticket.

The extra video and audio clips of “Le dessert du jour” (as this Jean Belmondo clip on the left) that accompany each lesson often make you smile. And when you are looking forward to the next lesson, it'll motivate you to learn and practice even dry French grammar points.

Frantastique's sister site Gymglish uses a very similar approach for teaching English (e.g to Spanish speakers) with a story set in San Francisco

Posted on by Peter Rettig

How to Progress Faster to Language Fluency?

teenagers talking - Gamesforlanguage.comFor most of us who are learning a foreign language, speaking fluently is the ultimate goal. Having a conversation in a foreign language, being able to express feelings and ideas, voicing opinions – all are proof that you have reached a new plateau.

Your accent may not be perfect, but you now have the confidence to express what you want to say. And even if you can't find the absolutely right idiom or expression every time – you now have also other ways to say what's on your mind.

Practice Tips

In a previous post How to Gain Confidence in Speaking and Writing a Foreign Language, we suggested how learners from the “beginner” to the “advanced” level could hone their skills, especially when they are learning a language online and on their own at home.

There is no question that the so-called passive skills – reading and listening – are important for achieving fluency. And yes, having a good vocabulary is necessary as well.

However, my own experience also tells me that even when you can read a foreign language and understand it fairly well when it's spoken, SPEAKING it fluently is another step.

Online- vs Classroom-Learningwoman learning

One of the big drawbacks of online learning is that learners can do so silently. You may do all the exercises, but few online programs “force” you to speak out loud.

(We, at GamesforLanguage, in addition to the “Record-It” segment at the end of each lesson, also invite learners to “Say-it”, i.e. repeat words and phrases they only HEAR, and then briefly SEE spelled out. You can try “Say-It” with one of our German or French Quick Language Games.)

On the other hand, in the classroom, and especially with a one-on-one tutor, you typically have to speak, formulate answers to questions, etc. (The size of a class obviously matters greatly here.)

For beginners, repeating and saying words and phrases aloud, or reading out loud is an important first step.

Especially with languages that have sounds that don't exist in English, getting your “mouth mechanics” working correctly is another crucial task. (Benny Lewis - see below - may disagree!)

From Hearing to Speaking

HEARING and then REPRODUCING sounds that are different from our native language are not an easy task. Just think of the French nasal sounds, the German “umlauts,” or the many subtle sounds of the Asian languages.

Speaking & ListeningNow, we also know that our ability to HEAR sounds that don't exist in our native language diminishes from early childhood on. (This was the topic of a previous post: Beyond Learning a Language Like a Child, in which we discussed the concept of “Categorical Perception.”)

So, the challenge, especially for all online-learners is this: SPEAK as much as you can, repeat ALOUD the words, phrases and sentences of all the exercises or games you are doing. And once you are able to start reading articles and books, read these out loud as well whenever you can. (And when this is not possible, try “reading aloud silently,” by just moving your lips!)

The sooner you feel ready to participate in real-life conversations, the faster your fluency will improve.

Try to find someone in your neighborhood or among your friends to practice your new language with. But if you can't, you can join language communities such as italki, where you can find an online teacher for personal language lessons and conversations.

The Benny Lewis Method

Maybe not everybody can muster the time or commitment that Benny Lewis promotes with Fluent in 3 Months. But if you watch his clip and consider the points above, you will conclude as well:

To become fluent in your target language, start SPEAKING it whenever you can - right from the start!

Creating a habit is not easy – but the start of a new year is a great opportunity to set some goals. Make 2016 YOUR year to become fluent in your target language!

Disclosure: Some links above are to sites with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.

Posted on by Hidaya Warsame

5 Reasons For Learning a Language Before You Travel

travel doodles - If you’re a language lover like me, you’ll most likely find that almost any excuse is good enough to start learning a new language, or relearning one you put aside.

Traveling to a foreign country is perhaps one of the best of those reasons. Indeed, wherever you plan on visiting, being able to speak the local language, even if not fluently, can bring along a number of great benefits. That is, of course, apart from the fact that you’ll be able to speak a foreign language in itself.

Being a translator and a travel enthusiast, I often come across situations in which the ability to speak a foreign language is greatly advantageous.

Picking up new lingo before you travel really doesn’t need to be too demanding. Personally, I only take about 45 minutes to an hour a day for 2-3 weeks before visiting a foreign country. Sure, I am not able to speak the language fluently. Nevertheless, the bits and pieces I pick up are usually sufficient to work in my favor!

Here are my top 5 reasons to learn a new language before you travel.

1. Meet New Peoplepeople in outdoor cafe - 

Many people whose first language is English, tend to forget that not everyone else in the world is also fluent in English. I'm a native English speaker myself and provide English translation services professionally.

I’ve noticed that the ability to speak a language of a country I am visiting allows me to meet more people and be able to talk with them more easily. Even if you don’t speak the language fluently, your efforts will be appreciated by the locals. As a result, they’ll be more approachable in general.

My travels to Thailand are a great example of this. I am only able to put together a few phrases in Thai. But it seemed enough to work to my advantage! I could easily find my way around hectic streets of Bangkok and negotiate discounts which otherwise are not available to tourists!

test your language - Gamesforlanguage.com2. Test Your Language

Each of us prefers to approach language learning from a different angle. Some like reading books, while others like video tutorials or going to group classes. There are lots of different ways you can learn a language.

Before I started translating for Language Reach however, I learnt that there is one certain way which will test your language skills completely – and that’s talking to a native speaker.

Discreet things which we may not even consider when learning a language, such as different accents of people, can influence our ability to communicate. Visiting a foreign country is the perfect opportunity which will allow you to take your language skills for a test run in ‘the real world’. (Do you know what this eye-chart above suggests - in German?)

3. Emergencies

Whether you like it or not, emergencies and other unforeseen situations can happen even when you’re exploring a foreign country (or perhaps - especially then).

Therefore, whether it’s informing a hospital about your allergies or medications, explaining something to the police officer or asking for directions when you’re lost - knowing how to communicate in the country’s language can be crucial.

Often when trying to explore and see as much as possible, I find myself in such situations. Especially during my escapades in Asia, my ability to communicate - be it every so slightly - allowed me to safely find my way back or to avoid foods and spices to which I am allergic!

Woman Explorer - Gamesforlanguage.com4. Explore More

Surely, it’s possible to see and explore a country without speaking the language. You simply follow the well-known tourist routes with other tourists alongside you – perhaps, all taking the same picture in the exact same pose.

Nonetheless, knowing the language during your travels will allow you to explore a country in much more depth. You'll find and discover places perhaps only known by the locals. Remember, not everyone speaks English!

A few months ago, during my visit to Krakow, Poland, I was able to talk with a local shop owner who advised me to visit a restaurant with live jazz music located just outside the city centre.

Imagine how shocked I was to find that such a lovely place wasn’t to be found in any of the books or blogs I ever read about Krakow! Indeed, it seemed that I was the only tourist there.

5. Understand the Culture

Charlemagne once said that ‘to speak another language is to possess another soul.’ Can any other statement be more accurate, especially as you travel to unknown, foreign countries?

By being able to understand the language – how polite and casual forms of address differ, how people express their emotions, etc. - you'll understand the country’s culture much better. Learning a language before travelling will also allow you to speak directly with locals who may not speak any English. You'll understand their way of life and customs in much more depth.

In short, being able to speak the language of a country you’re visiting can be a great asset. From understanding menus in restaurants and finding your way around the city, to learning about the culture, and meeting new, exciting people – the list just goes on.

Even if a particular language isn’t on your ‘to learn’ list, it's been my experience that just a few simple phrases can make a great difference. And, perhaps the country you’re planning to visit will fascinate you to such an extent that learning its language will be the next, natural step! 

Bio: Hidaya Warsame is a translator and an account manager for Language Reach. She loves languages as much as traveling and spends any free moment she finds mastering her lingo.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with Language Reach and  and Hidaya Warsame other than publishing Hidaya's guest post. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

GamesforLanguage's 12 Top 2015 Blog Posts

2015 composite image 2015 has been a fun and adventurous year for GamesforLanguage. We have also realized that many learners use other programs and apps to drill conjugations and grammar rules.

They come to us, though, for practicing their language with games and a travel story (and a mystery story for German 2!). We've seen an increased stream of steady "players" who've made it a habit to engage with French, German, Italian, or Spanish frequently - to keep their brains sharp.

Learning a language as an adult is a challenge. But it's one that can give a lot of pleasure and can reap all kinds of extra benefits: when traveling abroad, applying for a job, or finding a new partner.

A key to playing effectively at GamesforLanguage is saying everything ALOUD. When you actually SAY words and expressions - rather than just reading them - you are practicing a physical skill.

You make specific movements with the muscles of your jaw, and with your tongue and lips. These mouth mechanics (the topic of one of our most read of 2012 posts) produce the sounds that are part of the foreign language you're learning.

Our Blog posts cover language learning, travel and cultural topics. Not a surprise: Our 12 most popular posts in 2015 are related to language learning. (Click on the link to read.)

1. How to Gain Confidence for Speaking and Writing a Foreign Language

CONFIDENCEYes, immersion is the fastest way to learn a language. But who can just pack up to live (and work) in another country?

The rest of us have to be more patient and build foreign language confidence step by step, as we make a foreign language part of our life. Get some tips and practical advice HERE.

2. Duolingo and Babbel: How They Differ

Duolingo (free) and Babbel (fee based) are two popular programs for language learners. We've used both for Dutch, Swedish, and Spanish. Both programs are online and have apps, and both use gamification features. But what are the differences? You can read what we've found HERE.

3. How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety anxious woman -

One of the most interesting talks at the 2015 Polyglot Conference in New York was byTaghreed Al-Saraj, whose topic was "The Anxious Language Learner - A Saudi Woman's Story."

She got us thinking about ways anyone can overcome the fear of speaking up in a foreign language. Read it HERE.

4. 20 German False Friends to Watch Out For

False language friends (or false cognates) can be a source for awkward misunderstandings. But they sure are fun to discover. English and German, for example, share many words that have different meanings.

The English word "gift" exists in German, but - oops - it means "poison" in German (das Gift). Going to Germany? Be prepared! Have a look HERE.

5. Two (2) Strategies for Relearning a Dormant Language

Recent brain imaging studies have shown that a second language - even when you seem to have forgotten it - retains a presence in your brain. However, you may want to use different strategies for relearning a language, depending on whether you learned it as a child or as an adult. Read about the strategies HERE.

6. Are You Weaving Your "Language Skills Rope"? Skill rope-Michael Erard -

Another talk at the 2015 Polyglot Conference in New York we really liked was Michael Erard's "A New Metaphor for Language Learning."

We had never before considered why the way we think about language learning is so important. So, how can "weaving a language rope" give you some insights? Read about the Language Skills Rope HERE.

7. Beyond "Learning a Language Like a Child"

Kids learn a language fast and painlessly (we think) - and we envy them for that ability. But why is learning a language harder for adults than for children? And how can we as adults overcome those hurdles? Read HERE.

8. My 5 Best Tips for Learning a Foreign Language Online and Offline

Learning beginning Dutch and practicing intermediate Spanish. HERE are my 5 best tips for learning a foreign language, based on my own experience.

hot tips - Gamesforlanguage.com9. 3 Language Learning Pitfalls to Avoid

Why do so many adults give up on learning a second or third language, even one they learned for several years during school or college?We believe there are three main reasons. Do you agree? Find out HERE.

10. 1-2-3 German Numbers Are Easy - Just know the Basics

When traveling to a foreign country, knowing the numbers is a huge asset. You'll use them for shopping at a market, for addresses and telephone numbers, for making appointments. For practice, we've added links to a couple of fun games.

Basic German Numbers HERE. (We also have blog posts and games for numbers in French, Italian, and Spanish.)

11. 5 Quick French Pronunciation Steps: Mouth Mechanics 101

french girl talking - Gamesforlanguage.comIf you want to improve your French pronunciation, you'll probably need to practice some of the difficult sounds aloud.

We've got some tips and games to get you started with the French "r", "u", and "nasal vowels." Get some "mouth mechanics" pronunciation tips HERE.

12. Why Language Games Work for Kids and Adults!

Adults as well as children learn well with games. Find out more HERE. Though it's unlikely that you'll become fluent just by playing a few language games, you can certainly use games to build basic speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. Besides, if it's fun, you'll stay motivated.

We've come to enjoy writing blog posts on a weekly basis. We now have over 250 blog posts about language learning, travel, and culture. As a result, our readership has increased dramatically. If our topics of language learning, travel, and culture interest you, you can subscribe to our posts HERE.

Happy New Year and why not make learning a new language one of your 2016 goals!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Spanish Nochevieja: Grapes, recalentado et al in Spain, Mexico, Cuba

Feliz nuevo ano 2 - Spanish (or Castilian) is the official language in Spain, Equatorial Guinea, and 19 other countries in the Americas.

It is estimated that about 400 million people speak Spanish as their native language and another 70 million as their second language.

This makes Spanish the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin and English (Wikipedia). For a Wikipedia list of countries where Spanish is an official language, click HERE.

While most of the"Nochevieja" (old night) traditions also apply to the other Spanish-speaking countries, we'll mainly focus on Spain, Mexico, and Cuba.


New Year celebration in Spain starts with a family dinner, which often takes place in a restaurant that also offers live music. Towards midnight, many Spaniards go into the streets and to public squares to meet with friends and clink glasses to ring in the new year. 

New Year's celebrations are lively, with mostly private fireworks and all kinds of noisemakers. In the town hall, sparkling wine and grapes for good luck are distributed. In Madrid, people flock to Puerta del Sol for the city's big communal street party. In Barcelona, Placa Catalunya in the heart of the city, is the place to be.


But no matter where they live, Spanish people share the custom of the twelve luck-bringing grapes: at each of the twelve strikes of the midnight clock (the Puerta del Sol clock is televised), you eat one grape and make a wish. At strike 12 all grapes must be gone or else you risk getting bad luck.

The strikes of the town hall clock are 3 seconds apart, so the official countdown starts 36 seconds before the hour. Throughout the country, everyone can watch the countdown on television. It is said that the custom of the 12 grapes goes back to 1909.

grape holderIn that year the grape harvest was overly plentiful and someone had the idea to use up the excess grapes in this way.

I just came across this post which traces the origin of the custom back to 1882 and the mayor of Madrid. (As so often happens, taxes may have had some unintended consequences to create the "grapes-at-midnight" tradition...) There are even special 12-grape holders as shown in the picture.

Red Underwear

Spaniards also believe that wearing red underwear on the last day of the old and the first day of the new year brings the wearer luck, health, and love. Importantly, the undergarment should have been given to you by somebody else.
I've read that this custom goes back to the Middle Ages when people did not wear red garments. The color of blood was associated with the devil, witchcraft, and evil forces. Women (of pleasure?) who wore red underwear on New Year's Eve, however, were said to find love the following year. They would be lucky in their relationships, attract wealthy men, get married, etc.

(Recently, I learned that the Chinese also believe in the magic powers of the red color. Red underwear is one of the most popular gifts that sweethearts exchange around the Chinese New Year. In 2016, it falls on February 8, when the Year of the Monkey begins. So, just maybe, it was Marco Polo, who brought this superstition to the west around the 1300s...)


In Mexico, a family dinner, either at home or at a special restaurant is at the center of New Year's celebrations. Tradition has it that the meal should start with a bowl of lentils, a symbolic promise of wealth and prosperity.

Grapes and Red (& Yellow) Underwear

The preferred drink is often tequila. Shortly before midnight grapes are handed out for the traditional luck-bringing ritual. As in Spain, you should eat a grape and make a wish at each of the twelve strikes of the clock at midnight. The grape tradition seems to have migrated to most other Spanish-speaking countries as well.

Also, in Mexico there is a slight "refinement" from Spain's tradition. Mexicans have to choose what is more important to them. Wearing red underwear lets the owner be lucky in love, wearing yellow underwear makes the owner wealthy in the New Year.

Mayan & Aztec Traditions

This post by Angelica Galicia, Celebrating New Year's Eve in Mexico, also lists a number of other end-of-the-year traditions dating back to the pre-Hispanic times.  (And, if you'd like to practice your Spanish, you can click on the "Spanish" link, right on top of the text.)
As Angelica explains:

"...Most assuredly, the custom called el 'recalentado' (the 're-heated') is a long-standing tradition rooted throughout Mexico, quite in keeping with the festive and generous character of the Mexicans and also with the abundant and delicious national gastronomy. It consists simply of sharing the next morning what was left over from the dinner with either the same or other guests. It is said that the recalentado is even more delicious than the dinner itself …"


Cubans also continue with the Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes before midnight. But they added others that are to give the New Year a fresh start: The Año Viejo doll - burning of a doll, is meant to help forget (burn!) the bad things that happened in the past. And, throwing water on the street (watch out!), similarly, gets rid of bad memories and/or drives out bad spirits.

Many Spanish-speaking countries and communities have added other traditions. However, the grape-eating ritual before midnight seems to be quite universal.
But wherever you are, from midnight on, it's time for toasts, hugs, and well-wishing, champagne, cider (Cuba) or other libations, and often noisemakers and fireworks!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Red Underwear and Italian End-of-Year Traditions

pope sculpture - Besides Italy, Italian is also an official language in Switzerland (Ticino & Graubünden), San Marino, and Vatican City, and a second language in Malta, Slovenia, and Croatia, but we know little about particular end-of-year traditions in these regions or countries.­

The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.

Italy, where San Silvestro died, obviously has a special relation to the Saint and uses the term "Notte di San Silvestro" (as well as "Vigilia di Capodanno") as names for New Year's Eve.

There are some particular Italian Notte di San Silvestro traditions that you may not know about:

Red Underwear Red Underwear Christmas Present

The most curious tradition must be to wear red underwear during the last day of the year. It is supposed to bring you luck, health, and love. Importantly, a piece of red underwear should have been given to you as a present, for example for Christmas, and you'd be wearing it for the first time on New Year's Eve.

This centuries-old custom, originally just observed by women, is now also being adopted by men! Anything for luck, health, and love, right?

Lentil Stew & Pork Sausage

Lentils and sausages - The San Silvestro dinner, eaten with family and friends, varies quite a bit from region to region, but it often includes fish and seafood.

At midnight when the bells ring, a traditional lentil stew is often eaten, one spoonful per bell, served together with "zampone" (pig's trotter, stuffed with spicy ground-up pork, usually dried and cured) or "cotechino" (a rind-and-pork-meat sausage). The round lentils, representing coins, are supposed to bring wealth and good fortune.


Grapes and dried fruit are traditionally served at the end of the dinner. Preserving grapes for the Capodanno dinner - rather than eating them earlier - means that you have willpower and are a frugal person. Everybody at the table eating the grapes will therefore be frugal and wise with their wealth.

Throwing out old "Stuff"

Throwing out of the window unused or unusable stuff - pots, pans, clothes, and kitchen utensils - will "clear the deck" for next year. While few Italians still seem to practice this tradition - it was more prevalent in southern Italy in the past - you may still want to watch you head when celebrating New Year's Eve in Naples and further south.

At midnight, fireworks are also displayed across much of the country and the first day of the year, "Capodanno," is an official holiday in Italy as in many other parts of the world.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of 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.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre in France

Bonne Année - Gamesforlanguage.comFrench Speaking Countries

French is the second most widespread language worldwide after English, as only these two languages are spoken on all five continents.

French is an official language in 29 countries, most of which form "la francophonie", the community of French-speaking countries. French is spoken as a first language in France, southern Belgium, western Switzerland, Monaco, and the province of Quebec. It is also an official language in the province of New Brunswick, and spoken in other communities in Canada. 

French is also spoken in communities in the U.S. states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as among educated classes in North Africa, Haiti, French Polynesia and in various communities elsewhere. [Wikipedia]

While particular end-of-year traditions exist in most of these countries, we'll just focus here on France.


In France, huge municipal firework displays were not the customary way to usher in the New Year. This has changed however in recent years, and the Eiffel Tower fireworks and light shows in Paris have become quite spectacular.

Nevertheless, French people tend to take things more quietly and celebrate with friends at home or in a restaurant. These New Year's Eve celebrations - le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre - traditionally are a feast that includes plenty of champagne and foie gras or oysters, symbols of prosperity and good fortune.

As in many other countries, the last day of the year in France is named after the fourth-century Catholic pope and saint. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of Saint Sylvestre's death in 335. [You say "la" Saint-Sylvestre because it's short for "la fête de Saint-Sylvestre."]


In Paris, the city of lights, New Year's Eve becomes a visual feast: from many vantage points in the city you can see the iconic, illuminated Eiffel Tower.

And, you'll find the biggest New Year's party on the Avenue de Champs Elysées, where hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate, wish each other "Bonne année" (Good year), and exchange "bises" (kisses on the cheeks) at the stroke of midnight. Eifel tower New years eve

And, you'll find the biggest New Year's party on the Avenue de Champs Elysées, where hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate, wish each other "Bonne année" (Good year), and exchange "bises" (kisses on the cheeks) at the stroke of midnight.

In 2014, Paris added a first-time spectacle before the final countdown: a 20-minute video show projected on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting the Parisian "art of living". This RTL clipArc de Triomphe lets you practice your French listening skills and you'll learn that not everybody was happy with the show.

If you click on the image on the left you can watch a YouTube clip of the 2014 light show and fireworks.

Due to the recent terror attacks, there is some question about the extent of the official New Year's celebrations in Paris this year. A Less Joyous New Year Tradition...

Even in previous years there were some clouds on the New Year horizon: In 2013, the New York Times wrote about France's Less Joyous New Year's Tradition and in 2014 France24's English site reported as France's odd New Year tradition: Counting torched cars. It noted:

"The infamous custom can be traced to the northeastern city of Strasbourg that straddles France’s border with Germany. Strasbourg, which hosts thousands of tourists who flock to the city for its renowned Christmas market, first began to be blighted by holiday season vehicle arson in the late 1980s. But the phenomenon exploded to alarming levels during the 1990s."

Le Réveillon du Nouvel An

Nevertheless, in spite of such statistics and recent events, I'd be very surprised if the French were not on the streets and celebrating le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.

Update: This France24 article of December 28, 2015 confirms that the celebrations will indeed take place in Paris, although under heightened security. The Arc de triomphe light show will be reduced to 10 minutes.

On New Year's Day, it's the tradition to have a large family dinner and to give presents to the children as a way to celebrate the arrival of the new year.

The King's Cake

The New Year holiday season comes to an official end on January 5th, Epiphany, the day when it is believed that three wise men presented their gifts to the baby Jesus.

The French celebrate by making a unique kind of cake, the "Galette des rois." In many regions the "galette des rois" is a flat layer of puff pastry filled with almond cream, in other communities, e.g. in the south of France, the "gâteau des rois" is a round brioche with candied fruits and sugar, shaped like a crown.

Common to all versions of the King's Cake, is a small trinket, a plastic or porcelain figurine of the baby Jesus hidden in the cake. The one who finds it (watch out to not swallow or bite on it!) is the king for the the day (and can wear the paper crown, often sold with the cakes).

Young kids obviously love this tradition and families use various rules to ensure a fair distribution of the cake to all.

You'll find more about this tradition in King Cake and its History: From France to Mardi Gras.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Why Worry About Your Language “Learning Style”?

questions - So, you're learning a second language. Are you agonizing about which language program or method would be best to become fluent in French, German, Korean, or even in Mandarin?

And with that, are you thinking about your “learning style”? Does that really make sense?


The concept of individual learning styles became popular in the 1970s and continues to endure. The impetus behind it is the idea that each person learns a little differently. That's an idea that's hard to argue against.

In the 1970s and 80s, the theory of individual learning styles served as a way to get beyond traditional methods of teaching that were textbook-based and heavy on rote memorization.

Even now, the theory of learning styles continues to play a role in educational policy. Where it is applied, classroom teachers are encouraged to adapt their materials to what is assumed to be the learning style(s) of their students.

Though there are various learning-style models, these are the three basic learning styles that are often cited. They define how people PREFER to take in information:     
1. “aural” (using sound and music)aural -
2. “visual” (using pictures, images, spatial understanding)
3. “kinestetic” (using touch, manipulation, gestures)

To these three basic styles, four more have been added:
4. “verbal” (using primarily words)
5. “logical” (using logic, reasoning, systems)
6. “social” (learning with other people, in groups)
7. “solitary” (learning alone, by self-study)

If you're a self-learner, you too may stumble across sites or blogs that encourage you to identify “your learning style.” You're typically told: “That way, you'll learn faster.”


We don't all learn a foreign language the same way. That's absolutely true. There's a myriad of reasons for this. They include our background, knowledge, interests, experience, abilities, lifestyle, etc. 

There's also no question that we as individuals have different preferences. And yes, we have different strengths and weaknesses that impact on learning a foreign language. But should we just learn with our strengths?

It may surprise you that the answer is “NO.” Each of the 7 learning styles mentioned above applies itself very well to foreign language learning. But - think about it - learning and using a language involves ALL of the above ways of acquiring information.


I do agree that it's probably a good idea to get started in a language by learning in a way that you prefer. If you favor a certain way of learning (with videos, audios, flashcards, by talking, or by writing, etc.), it may be the best way to get going in your language.

However, it's not a good strategy for really learning a language in the long run. Just think about the answers to the following questions:
- If you just use pictures to learn vocabulary, then how will you master abstract concepts in a foreign language?
- If you just listen to the language, how will you learn how to read and write it?
- If you just study alone, how will you build your social skills in your new language?

talking teens - Gamesforlanguage.comIn short, the idea of using just your strong learning style(s) ultimately doesn't make much sense when you're learning another language.

Consider this: “Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we learn.”  (See Overview of learning-styles)

What you really want is involve as MANY of your “learning styles” as you can to fully engage your brain. It comes down to this: To function well in a foreign language, you need to learn and use a broad variety of skills.


What if you just want to be able to speak, to converse in the language you're learning. That's all. Okay, you don't want to read, you don't care about grammar rules, you're not interested in writing in the foreign language. Fair enough.

But to have a good conversation, you still need to use several “styles” of taking in and processing information.

group learning - You need to be able to decode the stream of sounds that you're hearing.
- You have to take in and understand the visual signals that you see, interpret your conversation partner's facial expressions and any gestures he or she is making.
- And finally, you have to use correct body language, appropriate facial expressions, and gestures yourself.

Even by just speaking with someone, you're covering all three basic “learning styles”: aural, visual, and kinesthetic. Plus, you're also being social, verbal, and logical (I hope). If you've practiced and can use all of these skills, your conversation will go much more smoothly.


When learning a language - even just for speaking it - don't just focus on your preferred learning style. A much better approach is to see language learning as a process that involves learning and practicing multiple skills.

Michael Erard, author of “Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners” suggests that language learning is very much like “weaving a rope” that consists of several skill-strands. By weaving them together, you strengthen the rope (or language ability) as a whole.

learning student - gamesforlanguage.comIn his own words: “Ropes, as everybody knows, are made up of multiple strands, and language skills, like other skills, are made up of cognitive, social, and emotional components. Learners have to have those strands modeled, and they also have to be given opportunities to practice weaving those strands together.” (Also see more about language rope weaving in a recent post.)


Rather than worrying about which program or method fits best with your “learning style,” chose the one that engages and motivates you the most.

But then try to maximize your exposure to the target language in as many ways as you can, ideally every day. That is the key to rapid progress.

So, try out and then choose a program that is fun to do and to practice with – even if it does not conform with the way you think you're supposed to learn. And remember: The “best” program is useless, if you don't use it!

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

Posted on by Kendal Kneteman

Are There Right or Wrong Hand Gestures?

Hands - Andrea Jacobs

(Image by Andrea Jacobs

Remember what your mom would say, actions speak louder than words, she was right. From eye contact to posture, nonverbal details reveal who we are and impact how others see you.

Is non-verbal communication important in a conversation? Absolutely, words are important, but it turns out, we communicate most of the meaning of our conversation via body language and gestures.

The way you move, the way you stand and the way you listen tells others whether or not you care about what they are saying. When your words match your body language, they increase trust, clarity and rapport.When they don’t, they trigger tension, distrust and confusion.

Unfortunately, many people send negative and confusing nonverbal signals without even knowing it when speaking with someone from another country. When this happens, both clarity and rapport may be irreversibly damaged.

To become a better communicator, it’s important to become sensitive not only to the nonverbal cues of others, but also to the nonverbal cues you may be sending.

As you can imagine, communicating with someone from your own culture can be challenging but when speaking with a foreigner it can perplexing. Nonverbal communication gestures do not translate across cultures easily and can lead to serious misunderstanding.

While translation systems are available for verbal communication, translators for nonverbal communication do not exist.

Nonverbal communication is composed of facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, eye contact, touch, space and voice. We must appreciate and identify that in one country a respectable gesture may mean something completely different in another country. In this article we will focus on 5 different hand gestures that are commonly exchanged:

  • Ok” sign
  • Thumbs up
  • Finger snap
  • Beckoning sign
  • Corona

Understanding the different meaning these signs may have in other cultures, will not only enhance your conversation but may keep you out of trouble while talking to someone from another part of the world.

OK signOK Signs

In the US, we use it to convey agreement, it assures people things are fine or when everything is perfect. In Brazil, Greece and Spain it conveys a different meaning! This sign is used to call someone an a**hole. While visiting Brazil in the 1950’s, Richard Nixon flashed the OK sign to the crowed and they responded with boos! In Turkey and Venezuela the sign is used as an insult toward gay people. In France and Australia it means zero or worthless. Lastly, in Japan this gesture means money.

Thumbs UpThumbs up

We use this gesture a lot in the US it means it is all great. But I recommend you do not use it among Middle Easterners and people from West Africa. People from Bangladesh, Australian and South Americans also find this gesture hideously offensive. It is assumed to mean that you want the receiver to stick it where the sun don’t shine, up yours or sit on it.

Finger SnapFinger Snap

Where I am from in Latin America, snapping your finger meant to hurry up. In the US and Great Britain, it usually is used when someone remembers something or gets an idea. In some cultures it used to get someone’s attention but in many cultures it is just rude.

So, to keep it safe, snap your fingers for the same reason the Ancient Greeks did -- to keep the rhythm set by musicians and dancers

Beckoning sign (come here)Beckon Hand

In the Philippians the beckoning sign is impolite and can be a cause for being arrested. In the USA it is used often to call someone over here. Careful by using this gesture in Japan. It is very rude and only fit for a dog and or other animal. In Singapore, beckoning is an indication of death.

the coronaThe Corona

This gesture has been adopted by rockers and it is a sign of approval “rock on” for most Americans. Except in Texas, where football fans use it as a sign representing the horns of a bull. In other cultures, this is not the horn of a bull but instead of the devil and representing evil. In Buddhist and Hindi culture, it means the Karana Mudra which is used to dispel the evil. Watch out making this gesture in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Spain, Portugal and Italy since it is known as the 'Cuckold' and is used to tell a man that other men are enjoying his wife. In 1985, following the news that Texas Longhorns football team won the football game, five Americans were arrested in Rome for using this gesture outside the Vatican.

We might not have translators for nonverbal communication but we have our phone or computers at our hands to learn and understand the meaning of the gestures we use. So remember before jumping to conclusions about the meaning of a gestures, consider the person’s cultural background. Embarrassing moments can happen as a result of ignorance and by misinterpreting a gesture.

It is always ok to ask people from different countries and cultures about the meaning of rituals, mannerisms and gestures. It is a great topic to discuss with a friend from another country over a cup of coffee and a yummy pastry. There are no wrong and right gestures, only cultural differences.

This post first appeared at LingoHut and Parrot Time Magazine.

Bio: Kendal Knetemann is the founder of  LingoHut where free language lessons, activities and articles are making language learning uncomplicated. Communication is our thing!!!  Like us on our Facebook page.

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