Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Language Zen" - Learning Spanish - A Review

Language Zen - Language Zen is a language learning site that features Spanish for English speakers. Its home page promises: “Language learning without frustration. Personalized to you.”

Frustration is sometimes unavoidable when you're learning and are annoyed by your mistakes. However, learning a foreign language with a program that adapts to your learning style and skill level is clearly the way to go.

At the center of Language Zen's program is the algorithm that keeps track of what you've learned and has you redo the phrases and sentences where you made mistakes.

What you learn are the most frequently used words, which Language Zen gathers through “data mining” - analyzing thousands of TV transcripts. 

A special feature of Language Zen is that you can learn with songs and use the song lyrics for learning vocabulary. The program promises: “The system gets smarter the more you use it. If you learn something through a song or a special course, it will carry over to the rest of the system.”
Let's see how it works!


Once you've registered and clicked on “Start Learning,” you can do an Assessment Test to determine your level: Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate, Intermediate Plus, Advanced, Advanced Plus, Fluent, Near Native.

Select your Level - Language ZenTo find your level for the test,you're asked to “Slide to the right until you don't understand one or more of the Spanish words.” [see screenshot, right]

The test is based on translation, always into the target language. For my level, I slid into Advanced Plus.

The test of 20 sentences that followed included various verb tenses and idiomatic ways of saying things. I did not come across any uncommon or specialized language. 

For the translations, I could speak or write the answer. An option for a “literal” cue provided some help. Then, for each answer I got corrections and brief explanation. So I was already learning during the test.

Language Zen start screen - Gamesforlanguage.comAfter completing the test, I was indeed assessed to be Advanced Plus. But that doesn't tell me that everything I did was perfect. It simply means that I'll do my best learning in the advanced language environment.

Language Zen is a bright,uncluttered, inviting site, and easy to navigate.  On the Bar on top, you see: Learn, Courses, Music, Review, Blog, Premium

LEARN (or Start Learning)

When you start, you learn at the level you've reached.

There are three types of exercises:
1. Write or speak the translation of a sentence into the target language.  Once you've done that, you'll hear the right answer and get corrections. From time to time, you'll get a grammatical hint.
2. Listen to a sentence in the target language and choose the correct translation out of five. Again, you'll see and hear the correct answer so you can check.
3. Match the meanings of 5 words or phrases.
At the end of each section, you'll see your progress.

COURSES (or Special Courses)

Language Zen Courses - Gamesforlanguage.comHere you have a list of 13 specific topics: Greetings, General Education, Travel Essentials, At a Restaurant, Getting Around, Telling Time, The Family, General Shopping, Watching Sports, Dating, Flirting with Girls, Flirting with Guys, and Investing in Startups.

With the 4 hours I had done in the “Learn” section, I could see the percentage of words that I knew in each of these courses (without yet doing any of the courses).

The last course “Investing in Startups” caught my eye. The Info Tab tells you: “Language Zen is starting its first raise. As a treat for our investors and potential investors, we've built a course to help you talk about investing in the next great Latin American startup.” The learning method is similar to what I've been doing in the “Learn” section.

Learning from your mistakes is part of the method: For example, I translated the sentence “I like working with VCs” with: “Me gusta trabajar con VVCC.” (Because I had previously learned that you make abbreviations plural by doubling the letter, as in EEUU (United States).

However, the correct answer is: “Me gusta trabajar con VC,” which is something I will now remember. Deeper into the course, I also learned the Spanish for VCs - “inversores de riesgo."

I really like getting the corrections, sometimes with a brief explanation of why my answer was wrong.

Language Zen Recording - Gamesforlanguage.comRecording the answer is a really cool option. When you speak your translation, it appears automatically as written. You can still correct the written form before you “check” it.

However, as with many voice recognition features, this one sometimes doesn't work that well for me.

I spoke the sentence “¿Cuánta pista tienen?” (How much runway do you have?) - and the program wrote: “autopista kennedy.”

My husband, who was listening, commented that maybe my Austrian accent in Spanish didn't go over that well. But then, who doesn't have some kind of accent when learning a foreign language?

I've noticed, though, that the program has become more accepting of my voice, with fewer strange transcriptions. That means it's learning too!

MUSIC (Learn from Music)

Language Zen Song - Gamesforlanguage.comI love learning with songs. Because, there's lots of repetition, songs become a surprisingly effective way to learn vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, grammar structures, and the pronunciation of difficult sounds.

For many language enthusiasts learning the lyrics of a foreign song is a great way to engage both with the music and the language. (No wonder that La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish With a Song, is still one of our most-read blog posts!)

For Spanish, 15 songs are listed. Next to the song titles, you see the percentage of its words that you have already learned in another context on the site. Each song has three Tabs: Info, Play, Learn

1. The Info Tab lists the Artist, Album, Genre, and Accent: Spanish (Peninsular), Dominican, Honduran, Colombian, Mexican, American, Andalusian (Peninsular), Chilean, Puerto Rican.

By the way, it's a good idea to listen to different accents and dialects in a language. Doing so, trains your ear to hear subtle differences in sound. If you do this consistently, you'll understand native speakers of your target language much better. Especially, if they aren't your standard-accent radio announcer.

2. The Play Tab takes you to the song. You can listen to it in Spanish and see each of the lines as they're sung either in Spanish or in English.

3. The Learn Tab teaches you individual phrases that occur in the song (by having you translate or pick a translation out of multiple choice). I noticed that some of the sentences from my other course lesson also showed up, scattered in between.

Language Zen Lyrics lesson - Gamesforlanguage.comYou can also just do a “lesson on the lyrics,”where you learn individual phrases that go to make up the lines of the song. 

As you go along, you get quick grammar tips. For example: As you see the sentence (line of the song) “Lo oigo todo es tiempo” a small box opens and tells you: “When someone or something receives the action of a verb, that someone or something is known as the direct object of a sentence."

As you progress, you'll hear snippets of the song, where the words you're learning occur.

You slowly start building the sentences of the song. The short phrases are quite easy in themselves, but as you start putting them together into longer sentences, you learn colloquial structures that go beyond literal translation.

If you click on "More", on the bottom of the box, a page of explanation opens, giving you an extensive description of a direct object, including a list of pronoun objects, and a note about word order.

REVIEW (What you've learned)

Learning a language effectively depends a whole lot on how you review. Language Zen has some nice features in that department.

On “Review” you can pull down three options: Progress, Words, Facts

1. Progress:

Language Zen Progress screen - Gamesforlanguage.comThis opens a Dashboard that tells you your status: close you're to your weekly goal in hours; what you've learned in numbers and on a graph (Words, Facts, Phrases, Meanings); your streak in days; what level you're on; how many points you've earned.

2. Words:

This lists all the words and their meanings that you've learned so far. You can sort by:  Words I “Know / Don't Know” and “Need / Don't Need” to Practice that are “Of Any Type” or 11 other grammatical categories such as /Verbs /Nouns / Prepositions, etc.

When you see the letter P beside any of the words, it means you need to practice it; a puzzle piece beside it means there's a grammatical fact attached to it.

3. Facts:

Language Zen grammar explanations - gamesforlanguage.comUnder "Facts", you'll find a list of grammatical points that are explained in the lessons, such as “Por vs para,” “Expressions with Tener,”etc.

You can sort this list the same way as in the Words section. Also, you are given the skill level for each. Clicking on any of the items gives you a brief explanation and examples.

For example, in the screenshot as on the left: “they are”, the use of the  verb “estar” to express “conditions” (rather than “qualities,” for which “ser” is used) is explained.


Language Zen can be used for free, with ads on the site and limited daily learning.

There are also Premium monthly subscription options. Check the Membership Feature Comparison page for the various subscription options. (An option for companies and schools includes “custom professional content” and “group usage metrics.”)

What we Like

• You learn most vocabulary in the context of phrases and sentences.
• The vocabulary seems practical and useful.
• The “Special Courses” let you learn and practice what you need or want.
• Translations are always into Spanish.
• When translating a English phrase you often get several Spanish options.
• Choosing the “literally” translation option is often helpful.
• You can select a slow voice option.
• Recording your answer gives you an opportunity to speak.
• The voice recorder seems to learn and adapt to your voice.
• You choose the level to start (or rely on the assessment test).
• The recall algorithm of words I missed, seemed to work well.
• You get grammar points at times, but they are not overwhelming.

Other things to consider

• The learning and practice is translation based.
• I did not find any dialogues of conversations (beyond some of the song lyrics).
• The “Learn” and “Course” module translations are quite demanding; interspersing a song and just reading the lyrics can be relaxing.
• Language Zen has found a very effective way of using its teaching method for song lyrics. We find the method both engaging and demanding.
• It really requires you to be on your toes to get the translations correctly – one sure way you are learning!
• There are no iOS or Android apps yet but we understand that an Android app is in the works, to be followed by an iOS app.
• Conversations and stories, using a similar method as for the song/lyrics module, are also in development and will be added shortly.

Brief Comparison with Lingualia

In April we reviewed the Spanish program (online and apps) of our partner site Lingualia. Lingualia also uses a learning algorithm and adjusts to your skill level. Here are features in which Lingualia differs from Language Zen: 

• Lingualia's exercises are all in Spanish (without any English/Spanish translations).
• Definitions are in Spanish and you are often given Spanish synonyms and antonyms for words you're learning.
• Each lesson starts with a rapidly spoken dialogue. You can listen to it as many times as you want.
• If needed, you can click to activate Google translate for dialogues and example sentences (and have to live with the often literal and incorrect Google translations).
• Grammar points are taught in the form of exercises, with explanations in Spanish.
• Texts in Spanish and questions for reading comprehension are mixed in.
• Both the iOS and Android Lingualia apps work well with the online account.

Both sites are good examples for how different programs can be used for developing and practicing different skills.

Which one is more effective for you, may well depend on which method and topics engage you the most. You'll want a site to which you come back again and again to learn and practice - the only sure way to progress.

If translating, special courses and vocabulary, Spanish songs and lyrics, etc. are your thing, then Language Zen will work very well for you.

And you can read about our Update on Language Zen.

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

Disclosure: The link to Lingualia is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe. Gamesforlanguage had no business relationship with Language Zen when the review was written, other than having received a short free subscription for the course.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Speed up Your Language Learning With Chunks - Not Just Individual Words

ice cubes - We all want to speed up our language learning, right? Lately, I have been practicing Dutch and Spanish vocabulary with and I noticed something interesting: When looking over the daily “Sentence of the Day” and “Words of the Day” list, I recognize most of them and understand their meaning.

However, when I later review the “Words in the Queue,” I often cannot produce the English translation for individual words. On the other hand, when I scroll down to the foreign example sentence – which includes the foreign word I can't remember – the meaning of that word becomes quite clear.

I have found that in many cases remembering words as a part of a “chunk” helps a lot (as do other mnemonic practices). A chunk is a short group of words that typically go together.

In my language learning, I've come across various types of chunks (also called “collocations”). Here are a few examples:

1. A chunk that you remember because of an association you create

Continuing with my “Words in the Queue” example from above: I've had a hard time remembering the meaning of the Spanish word “aguantar” (to put up with, hold, support, bear).

breathing under water - LearnwithOliver's example sentence was: ¿Puedes aguantar la respiración durante 30 segundos?

What finally helped me, was to remember the expression “aguantar la respiración” (to hold your breath).

The word “aguantar” contains (for me) the word “agua,” and I see the mental image of “holding one's breath under water.” With that image, I can now remember the individual word too, and its meaning in different contexts.

2. A short chunk containing a grammatical kernel

cartoon house - These can be prepositional phrases, typical verb-noun, or adjective-noun constructions, etc. Once such word combinations become automatic, they provide good building blocks for speaking.

In German, phrases “nach Hause” and “zu Hause” are better remembered in context with related verbs, such as “nach Hause kommen” (to come home) or “zu Hause sein” (to be at home).

(In Gamesforlanguage's German Stories “zu Hause” and “nach Hause” appear in different contexts, which you can find by just searching for Hause in our German Dictionary)

In Spanish, “en casa” and “a casa” are quite similar to their German equivalents, as a search for casa in our Spanish dictionary will show.

3. A chunk in which the meaning of the individual words doesn't add up to the meaning of the phrase

With the English phrase, “What's up?”, you're not really asking the question literally, right? Other languages have similar phrases.

what's up? - Gamesforlanguage.comIn Spanish, you ask: “¿Qué tal?” The word “tal” alone translates as: such, that. But the greeting means: What's going on?, How about it?

Germans typically greet each other: “Wie geht's?” This is literally How does it go? How goes it?, but means: How are you?

Very similarly in Italian: “Come va?” (“va” = it goes) and in French you have: “Ça va?”, short for “Comment ça va?”

These greetings, etc. you'll remember without even thinking about grammar and the meaning of the individual words.

4. A chunk that contains an image that doesn't translate into your language

The German expression: “nichts am Hut haben” (literally: to have nothing on the hat), means: not to care a fig about something.

clouds in blue sky - The French expression: “Ça a l'air bon” (literally: that has the good air), means: That looks good.

The Spanish expression: “estar por las nubes” (literally: to be for the clouds), just means that something is "very expensive.” Replacing “por” with “en”, however, changes the meaning completely: “estar en las nubes” means that somebody is in the clouds, or daydreaming.

There are many expressions in all languages that you'll not understand if you just translate the individual words.

But once you understand the expression, it also lets you remember more easily the individual words through association with the image.

How to practice chunks

A good way to practice a chunk is to copy an existing audio, or record it yourself. Then play and repeat it often. You should know it so well that you can say it automatically, without thinking about how the phrase is put together.

That's also why we encourage learners on GamesforLanguage to repeat every phrase and sentence aloud. This will not only help you with your pronunciation, but it's also a great way to remember typical expressions.

A good tool for recording a phrase you want to practice is using the free Audacity audio program which you can download both for Windows or Mac by using the above link. (We'd like to credit an earlier Mezzofanti Guild post for making this suggestion.)

Never Again Wordlists or Grammar Paradigms?

That's up to you. For some, memorization of words and endings feels like a chore. I, for one, actually like learning and reviewing vocabulary. There are plenty of programs around for doing that, a popular one being Memrise.

In any case, I prefer learning words and grammar structures that I've seen in context. That way, I'm sure of the meaning and I avoid committing “google translate” type bloopers.

From time to time, I also go to check a conjugation just to make sure I have the forms right. Wordreference has conjugation pages for many languages, where you can see the full conjugation of a verb on one page.

For me, various forms of chunks (pre-assembled phrases) are the anchors of the language I'm learning. Once they become automatic, I'm freed up to focus more on the message that I'm trying to express.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of He's 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 Ulrike Rettig

4 Other Useful italki Features for Language Learning

italki logo (updated 8/11/2016) I'm a latecomer to italki. There's been a lot of buzz about italki these past couple of years.

On various social media channels, I kept hearing that italki was the next best thing to having a native-speaker friend. Italki is about talking in the language you're learning.

I've been learning Spanish on my own for some time now. Most recently, I reported on my progress in Reaching Language Fluency – My Experience With Spanish (so far). And while I can understand and read Spanish quite well, I can't speak it as fluently as I would like.

It was my niece who finally convinced me to take the plunge. She told me how much she enjoyed the various options italki provides. Even more importantly, she was happy about how quickly her fluency in Spanish was improving. She'll be using Spanish in her work, for counseling families and conducting interviews.

For me, becoming conversationally fluent is a personal goal, though one that I take very seriously. So, a few weeks ago, I decided to try out italki.

The italki site is easy to navigate. When you start looking around, you'll find various free options and features that can enhance your experience on the site, besides, or in addition to taking (paid) lessons.

On your Dashboard you can see all your activity at one glance, including your schedule, your teachers, your friends, your community activities, a recommended article, as well as your “wallet.”

At the footer of your Dashboard page is the heading “Browse.” From there you can jump to any of the sections listed below. Once you're there, sort by language and specific options.

The Main Stay: Lessons for Speaking

italki teacher screenLearning to talk fluently in a foreign language and building conversational skills are the main goals for many language learners. One-on-one sessions with a skilled language teacher - be it from home, or when living where the language is spoken - are doubtless the best way to get there.

Skype or Facetime lessons are italki's mainstay. There are lots of options for everyone. You can choose between “professional teachers” (who are certified and experienced) and “community tutors” (native or near-native speakers who do informal tutoring).

For Browsing through a list for available teachers or tutors, you can set the language, the country where the teacher is from, a rate, tags (such as: beginners, children, teenagers, business, test preparation), native speaker, trial lesson, audio & video, available times (instant tutoring, or time of day, days of the week). To find the section, simply click on “Language Teachers.”

italki encourages you to try out different teachers and offers three (3) 30-minutes, discounted trial sessions for their teachers and tutors. (The discounts are set by each teacher and tutor, and therefore vary.)

Four More Features

1. Informal Conversational Practice

italki - language partnersFor casual practice, you can add Language-Exchange sessions, which are free. You can set up as many as you want, and with time you'll probably find some good partners and ways to make the language exchanges run smoothly.

In this section you can get free language practice by exchanging time teaching your native language, for time learning a foreign language. You can sort by language you're learning, gender, place your partner is from, and native speaker.

To get there, just click on “Language Partners.” Some of the language partners are also teachers on italki. Above the profile picture, you can “Switch to Teacher Profile.”

In some cases, time differences and a partner's availability make language-exchange sessions somewhat more difficult to schedule than sessions with teachers. This is a problem that many language-exchange sites share.

2. Reading

italki - reading screenThe best way to grow your (passive) vocabulary is to read as much as in your target language, and on a variety of subjects.

Italki has a free section where teachers and tutors post articles they've written. They come in a variety of languages and are mostly about learning a language, specific language topics, or cultural themes.

These articles are conversational in nature. I recommend reading the ones that are in your target language. For a learner, they are a great way to start internalizing informal language beyond basic phrases such as “how are you?” “where are you from?” “are you a student?” “what kind of work do you do?” “do you have any brothers and sisters?”

To get there, click on “Articles.” Sort by language and scroll down. You'll see articles in your native and in your target language.

I find, though, that I may have a huge (reading) vocabulary in a foreign language, but still find myself tongue-tied when speaking it. So, you need to find ways to use your words and phrases in real conversations, by speaking!

3. Writing

italki - NotebookNow that there are lots of Forums, Facebook community pages, Chat options, etc. in various languages, learning to write well enough in your target language seems a good skill to shoot for.

In the “Notebook”section, on italki, you can write short journal-like entries in the language you're learning about topics that interests you or something that's on your mind.

These notebook entries are then corrected by others who are native speakers or proficient in the language. You'll sometimes get several corrections and comments. In turn, you are encouraged to correct the notebook entries of others, written in your native language or one you're highly proficient in.

This option is free and you can use it even if you haven't taken any lessons. Under Browse, click on “Notebook,” sort by language.

4. Grammar and Usage

Not many language learners approach a language by just learning grammar rules and memorizing conjugation tables.

italki answersHowever, when you're beyond the beginner level, figuring out some of the grammar points is actually fun.

You can do that in the “Answers” section. There you can add specific questions about the language you're learning (translation, correct usage, etc.) and answer questions about a language that you speak.

To get there, go to “Answers” and sort by language. The following quote by a learner says it very well: “I've used italki to get answers for questions I don't have the courage to ask in the classroom as I'm very shy. I always get satisfactory answers, the community is really nice as far as I can tell.”

Even Polyglots use italki

You may never become a Polyglot like Benny Lewis. You may not even agree with him that learning your target language is easy. Or you wonder how one can Become Fluent in 3 months, as he promises in his well-known guide. But when even Benny uses italki to keep up his fluency in the many languages he speaks, you know that italki has something going for it.

I will certainly continue to use it for the languages I want to become more fluent in.

Postscript: We recently become aware of a post that summarizes well the various options for speaking practice: Find Language Partners - Language Exchange (Step 3). You will certainly find one that works best for you.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada and speaks German, English, Dutch, and French fluently. She intends to become as fluent in Italian, Spanish and Swedish. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: The links above to Fluent in 3 Months and italki  are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Tips to "Spark" Your Language Learning Motivation

Sparkplug spark - Gamesforlanguage.comNot surprisingly, Jeremy Dean's recent e-book, Spark - 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything, has some very relevant suggestions that apply to language learning.

Learning a language takes time, focus, and a certain amount of effort. As we juggle our time, demands from work and family, and our need for rest and recreation, language learning can easily fall by the wayside.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to keep your language learning motivation on track, even when you're hitting a few obstacles.

Here are my 3 main takeaways from “Spark” for language learners :

1. Stay self-aware all the way through

The e-book Spark is set up as 17 steps and you Soccer goal - Gamesforlanguage.comare asked to stop and think at each of them. I think it's a helpful approach for looking at your language learning goal as well.


Choose a realistic goal for your language learning

A good way to do that is to check with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Also called the CEFR, it describes foreign language proficiency at six levels.

What is really useful is that each level gives you a description of skills (see page 35 of the PDF that you can download.) For example: a B1 (3rd level) proficiency - which is a good goal to shoot for - means the following:

I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and immediate need or on current events).


Know why you want to learn a foreign language


  • Is your wish connected to a trip you're planning?
  • Do you have friends or family you want to converse with?
  • Is learning the language job related?
  • Or are you doing it for the pure pleasure of mastering another language?


Know where you are on the road to your goal


  • Are you an absolute beginner or do you already have the basics down?
  • Are you a re-learner of a language you learned in school or college?
  • Or are you re-learning a language you knew as a child or from living in the country?

Your rate of learning and acquiring a native-like pronunciation will very likely be influenced by your language history.

As you go along, you can always adjust your goal up or down.

2. Figure out coping skills that work for you

fashion show runway - Gamesforlanguage.comOne of the steps in “Spark is called Modelling. There the author talks about a coping model.

It's pretty easy to figure out why Blogs about language learning are so popular. The good ones are written by bilinguals or multilinguals, who share their experiences and can show us how to deal with and overcome difficulties.

Learning a language has its ups and downs, and sometimes we find that we have to cope with discouragement, boredom, and a sense of failure.

We can learn a lot about coping skills from others, especially from language learners who are similar to us. (Jeremy Dean of Spark reminds us that beginner problems are different from expert problems.)

Here are a few typical struggles/challenges others can help us to cope with:

Fear of speaking in the foreign language

Just think about the times you've avoided situations in which you would need to use your new language. There are excellent coping strategies for that, as we reviewed in How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety.

Forgetting vocabulary

What about the many everyday words in your target language, which you learned and then couldn't remember in a casual conversation? Memory tricks and apps for learning and remembering vocabulary abound.

Frustration with grammar issues

Not to mention German cases and how articles and adjectives change for a case. Or remember how tricky the French subjunctive and conditional verb forms are.

When learning a foreign language, we also need to absorb how it functions, i.e. its grammar.

However, learning grammar is something you do in context, and not by rote memory. I have found this article by Mezzofanti Guild's Donovan Nagel very reassuring: You Don't Need To Study Grammar To Learn A Foreign Language.

Inability to improve our accent

Are there times you get a little nervous and suddenly start speaking with a strong native-language accent? It happens to me.

Having a foreign accent is not a terrible thing, but you'll want to be able to control it to a certain extent, simply because you want to be understood.

3. Figure out ways that keep you going

To keep your momentum, you have to do "Keep Going" sign - Gamesforlanguage.comsomething in the language you're learning. Avoidance or procrastination won't move you forward.

These two tips come up directly in Spark.

1. Think about your last effort to motivate the next one.

In language learning terms, it means for me, for example: When I complete a lesson with few mistakes it encourages me to do the next one even better. 

2. Set up mini-goals with very specific actions.

For example, when I drink my second cup of coffee in the morning, I'll do a part of a lesson; and before I go to sleep, I'll review the last 10 words I learned during the day.

Here are a few more momentum-keeping tricks that have worked for me:

  • When you finish a lesson, tell yourself what your next step will be. Then, when you pick up the next day where you left off, you'll know exactly where to start.
  • Schedule a lesson with a tutor or a session with a language-exchange partner. Just knowing that it will be coming up, raises your level of enthusiasm and engagement. It also might prompt you to prepare a few questions and answers.
  • The bottom line is to “do something.” Maybe you don't feel like doing a full lesson, or you don't have time for one. But if, instead, you can listen to a song, read a short newspaper article, play a quick language game, etc., you've taken another step rather than stopping cold.

And all along, it's worth keeping the following in mind:

  • Becoming fluent in a language gives us a sense of competence, that we're good at something that's challenging.
  • Learning on our own gives us a sense of autonomy.
  • Having a second, or third language connects us to others who have a different take on life. It opens up our world. 

And even if  you can't emulate well-known Polyglots, such as Benny Lewis (Fluent in 3 Months), Gabriel Wyner (Fluent Forever), or Olly Richards, Alex Rawlings, Steve Kaufmann, et al, their perspective and experience will inspire you.

No one can learn a foreign language for you. You have to find your own path to do so. (See our recent post on Lingohut: Finding the Adult-Path to Language Learning.)

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.

Disclosure: We purchased the "Spark" e-book, and have no affiliation with it's author or with Psyblog. Several other links above are to a partners' program or an affiliate with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.



Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Games for German Language Learning: “Blüten in Berlin?”

Blüten in Berlin - In 2014, we added a German 2 course: “Blüten in Berlin?” (Picture left: “Blüten” in front of Berlin's TV Tower). It is a continuation of our German 1 course “Michael in Deutschland.”

Readers of our 2014 post Learning German with a Story: Blüten in Berlin? will remember that “Blüten” in German means “blossoms,” but in colloquial language the word also means “funny money.”

Language Magazine 

Since adding German 2 in 2014, we made quite a few changes. But the summary, which appeared in Language Magazine's October 2014 edition, describes the course so well that we are citing it in full again below:  Due to popular demand, is adding a German 2 course.

In this sequel to the German 1 course, Michael Mueller, a young traveler, returns to Berlin, where he is faced with a baffling mystery. After he is caught paying with a counterfeit Euro bill ("Blüte") in German, 20 Euro note - Gamesforlanguage.comhe sets out to find the young woman who has slipped him the note on the plane from Boston to Berlin.

By playing dynamic games while following a mystery narrative, users are motivated to learn by the fun of it. To solve the mystery of the “Blüte,” they must collect enough points to move on to the next scene. They hereby learn and practice useful German phrases and sentences, which – because of the engaging story context – they'll remember.

All lessons begin with a short story dialogue. The sentences are then broken down into their component words and phrases, which layers practice in various games. Finally, players are prompted to reassemble the sentences from the dialogue.

A “Say It” sequence emphasizes the importance of repeating and speaking words and phrases. With games like “Word Invaders” or “Shootout,” players practice translations and word order.“Word Hero” and “Shooting Gallery” games help recall the vocabulary of previous lessons.

GamesforLanguage's courses (German, French, Italian, and Spanish) are all online and free. Courses and Quick Games are accessible on most tablets.

72 instead 36 Lessons

New adventures - German 2 builds your mastery of idiomatic language, helps you understand and use those hard-to-pin-down filler words (ja, schon, noch, doch, denn, eigentlich, mal, etc.), and has you practicing “conversational past” and “simple past” verb forms. Returning players will notice a change in our lesson format.

Each of the six levels of German 2 now has 12 lessons or Scenes, for a total of 72. Based on user comments, we've made various changes from the German 1 course.

We're introducing only 8 new words or phrases per Scene and are combining various games to make learning and practicing even more fun and effective. Many of the German words and expressions used in both courses can also be practiced with the more than 70 German Language Games (Quick Games), which can be played without even registering.

Is German 1 a prerequisite for German 2?

German 1 is NOT a prerequisite for German 2. The course format allows anyone with basic knowledge of German to jump right in.

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

4 Fun Spanish Language Games Before You Travel

Plaza Major, Madrid - Gamesforlanguage.comAre you planning to travel to Spain or to one of the other Spanish-speaking countries? (Picture left: Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain)

Then practicing your Spanish with these Spanish language games may be for you!

You may know from our previous blog posts that learning, at the very least, basic numbers, some essential vocabulary, and common phrases has been very useful to us in travels to countries whose languages we don't speak.

We won't promise that you'll speak Spanish fluently after reading this post and playing the four games. We're convinced, however, that you'll remember some of the words and phrases and will be able to use and pronounce them.

Some Simple Tips

Always say the words and phrases aloud,Speaking aloud with Spanish Language Games or if you're on a bus or standing in line, mouth them to yourself, silently. Then when the coast is clear, say them OUT LOUD from memory.

A good way to learn phrases and expressions is to practice them as "chunks," not as a series of individual words.

Some phrases are idiomatic and have a meaning that's quite different from the meaning of the words in it. Learn them as a whole.

Lots of repetition is essential. We rarely learn something just by hearing and saying it once. 

Our mouth has to learn what muscles to use to make the right sounds. The particular combination of sounds that makes up a phrase has to get lodged in our brain. And, our brain has to connect sound to meaning.
No matter what your approach is to learning Spanish, speaking words and phrases out loud and writing them out by hand will help you remember them.

1. Practice Numbers with these Spanish Language Games

When you travel to a foreign country, knowing the numbers Word Invaders - Gamesforlanguage.comis a good skill to have. But you need to be able to understand them as well as to say them.

Numbers come in handy for exchanging phone numbers, giving your address, arranging a time to meet someone, buying at a market, paying the bill in a restaurant, buying tickets, making reservations, etc.

In general, knowing the numbers 1-100 will suffice. Spanish numbers are not difficult, all you need is say them enough so they become automatic.

Here's a game to practice the Spanish Numbers in a fun way. ("Word Invaders" screen, above left)

2. Question Words

Spanish Question words Game - Gamesforlanguage.comYou can do a lot with question words to give and get information, either on the personal level or when asking for directions, about opening and closing times, train or bus schedules, etc.

In English, common interrogatives - with the exception of "how" - tend start with "wh-" (when, where, why, who, what, which)

With the exception of "¿dónde?" (where), common Spanish interrogatives have a "k-" sound, which is spelled either as a "q," or a "c-." That's something you have to learn extra.

Also, as question words, these all have an accent: ¿qué?, ¿por qué?, ¿quién?, ¿cuándo?, ¿cuánto?, ¿cuál?, ¿cómo?, ¿dónde?

Here is another Game to practice the most common Spanish question words. ("Snap Cloud" screen, above right)

3. Common Adverbs

Spanish adverbs Game - Gamesforlanguage.comBasic adverbs in Spanish are easy to learn, but they're also easy to confuse. So, it's worth practicing them and hearing them in context.

With adverbs you can add important and precise information to what you're saying, for example, when, why, how, or where something is happening.

To learn or refresh your knowledge of adverbs, play Spanish: 10 Handy Adverbs and/or Spanish: 8 More Adverbs. (See "Word Hero" screen, left)

Note that some of the adverbs in this game can also function as adjectives. But in the sentences that give you the context, we are just using them as adverbs.

4. Everyday Phrases

Learn and practice 8 conversational phrasesSpanish phrase game - with this fun and quick game.

You'll be using these phrases often when talking in Spanish - with someone at a party, in a café, at a store, online, on Skype, etc. ("Deal no Deal" screen, right)

Make this your start to remembering phrases and expressions: This way you don't even have to think about grammar.

If you're having fun with our approach and these games, you'll find additional Quick Games for French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Inglés on our site.

Or why not try our FREE Spanish 1 course: David en España. With its 36 fifteen-minute lessons you'll learn over 600 new words. But, even more importantly, you'll practice the phrases and sentences of a travel story – useful, real life language that you'll be able to put to use when visiting Spain, Mexico, or one of the many other Spanish-speaking countries or regions .

And just maybe you'll also get enchanted by Spanish songs such as “La Paloma”. If “La Paloma's” history interests you, or if you want to learn it's original (Spanish) lyrics, click on La Paloma Lyrics- Learning Spanish With a Song.

You may not have the time or motivation to learn a language to fluency before traveling.

However, knowing some key vocabulary and phrases will go a long way to making your trip more enjoyable. It will also be quite helpful in many circumstances, and who knows, perhaps get you out of tricky situations.

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 Ulrike Rettig

Reaching Language Fluency – My Experience with Spanish (so far)

friends talking - Updated (6/10/2017) Fluency in the language we're learning is important for many of us, especially if we're talking with new friends. But, what is fluency?

Unless you think that being fluent means perfection, I would argue that these are the three essential marks of fluency:

1. Vocabulary. You have enough vocabulary to hold your own, to argue your point. You should not be constantly searching for words. If you can't think of a word or expression right away, you can easily talk around it, and find another way to say what's on your mind.
2. Pronunciation. Your pronunciation is adequate. Even if you don't sound absolutely like a native speaker, people can understand you. Otherwise, your conversation is not going to move forward.
3. Grammar. You can sustain a conversation with someone without thinking much about grammar. That means, even if your grammar isn't perfect, your mistakes won't throw your message off track.

In other words, if you're able to engage in conversations with native speakers without constantly searching for words and tripping up over grammar, you're well on your way to fluency. For me, the million dollar question is how an adult learner can get there.

I acquired my first three languages by growing up and living in different countries (Austria, the Netherlands, Canada/US). My fourth language, French, I learned in school and college, and I improved it during stays in France and (French) Switzerland.

Italian and Spanish I began to learn later in life. I thereby continue to experience all the challenges of an adult learner. In this post I'll write about my experience with Spanish. I not fluent, yet, but I'm ready to make some serious improvements.



There are many ways and different tools to acquire vocabulary. Putting together a personal "system" of daily exposure to new vocabulary is not that hard. Social media sites are an easy source. For example, I vocabulary - follow several word-a-day Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. When I check into these, I can always pick up some new words and phrases in Spanish.

We're using Spanish post-its on furniture, gadgets, and other items in our house.

By reading news articles, opinion pieces, or stories in your target language, you can build a diverse vocabulary. If you write down any new words or put them into a Flashcard game such as Quizlet, you'll remember them better.

Online language programs and apps are set up to have you learn and practice vocabulary. Most of these offer the advantage of providing audio - which is essential for improving your pronunciation.


Some programs let you record your voice, play it back, and compare your pronunciation with that of the native speaker. (This is one of the features the Gamesforlanguage quick games and courses provide.)

Voice recognition seems to be getting popular too. Though I must confess, the ones I've tried tend to frustrate me more than they help.

In any case, recording your voice and playing it back is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation - even if there's no native speaker for comparison.

grammar crisis - Grammar 

Unless you love memorizing conjugation tables and case endings, it's best to acquire gradually and in context. The idea is to become aware of patterns. Here again, reading will help you a lot.

Once you've internalized a grammatical structure, you can build on it. That may be a good time to look it up, learn the rule, and try out a few more examples in your next conversation.


What has worked for me is to start speaking in my target language right from the start! I use every opportunity to say words and phrases out loud.

One way to get beyond individual words is to memorize dialogues. These you can say to yourself, and if possible out loud at various times during the day. You can even "perform" them as real conversations adding gestures and emotional expression.

dialogue -

Speaking from day one is also Benny Lewis' advice in Fluent in 3 Months. If you have a partner or friend who's willing to engage in simple target language conversations with you, that's perfect.

On the other hand, Steve Kaufmann of LingQ suggests that you hold off on realconversations until you're ready. For him, the magic word is "input" (reading, listening, watching) until you have enough vocabulary to communicate on more than a basic level.

I do understand Steve Kaufmann's argument. However, in my experience "lots of input" alone has not been enough to make me even somewhat fluent in Spanish.


This year, I'm intent on becoming fluent in Spanish, my sixth language. I started learning Spanish four years ago, casually, and since then have been trying out and using various programs. On the average, I've spent about 30 minutes a day doing various things in Spanish: listening, playing games, writing, watching films, reading headlines, etc.

Of course, I know our GamesforLanguage Spanish 1 course by heart, often playing one or more of the 36 scenes to work on modifications.

Lingualia - Gamesforlanguage.comLast year I used Duolingo's Spanish course as well as a 3-month subscription for Babbel's Spanish course. Currently I am using Lingualia's (one of our partners) Spanish course daily. (You can read my review of Lingualia HERE.) We are listening to Spanish radio stations and are watching Spanish movies (we find Spanish [not English] subtitles especially helpful!) 

My husband and I spent one month in Barcelona, four years ago, and one month in Seville, last year. Though we thoroughly enjoyed interacting with locals as much as we could, met with language exchange partners, engaged a tutor (see: How a Tutor Boosted Our Language Fluency), and improved our Spanish during each stay, I still don't feel that I am fluent.

In order to gain more confidence in speaking, I need another learning boost - intense practice with conversation partners, who are able to give me immediate and informed feedback.


My reading and listening comprehension skills are a lot better than my speaking and writing skills. I have a good grasp of rudimentary Spanish grammar and a passable pronunciation. However, I do not believe that lots more "input" (reading, listening, watching) is going to boost my speaking skills, per se.

We don't have any Spanish-speaking friends at the moment and living in Spain is out of the question. So, to become fluent in Spanish, I've started using an online tutor. To date, I've had just a few Skype lessons on italki. The jury is still out, but I feel very encouraged.


With italki I've had two different types of Spanish-only Skype lessons. I'm not yet sure which model will work best for me.

Tutor #1- One tutor, let's call him Carlos, has engaged me in real conversations. We talked about topics that I would also want to discuss with others, for example: the main difference between living in Europe and in the United States; what's going on in politics; how I came to be fluent in four languages; or, what it feels like to live in other countries (something that applies to him as well). To me the conversations were interesting and personal to the extent that we exchanged opinions and talked about some experiences.

skype conversation - Gamesforlanguage.comThere were lots of questions back and forth. Carlos corrected some of my mistakes, but not too much, and helped me formulate my thoughts. At the end of the lesson, we went over a list of words and phrases, again with corrections. As he talked,he typed the list into my Skype message box.

Tutor #2 - The second tutor, let's call him Juan, immediately started me on a B1 Level textbook, which he pulled up on Skype. He then proceeded to go over the first exercises of Chapter 1.

The topic was "daily life," and dealt with everyday activities and hobbies. The exercises included typical vocabulary and related grammar points. Juan asked me to read various sentences and to answer questions, but on the whole, the lesson felt somewhat impersonal, more like a regular class.

With both tutors, I felt the lessons were challenging. I had to speak quite a bit, and to listen hard to make sure I understood. At the end of each lesson, I felt "foreign language fatigue." One hour was enough, any longer and my brain would have started to shut down.

I haven't yet chosen which tutor to continue with. Italki, in fact encourages you to try out several before making up your mind. But it's clear to me that I can get closer to fluency by using an experienced tutor.

I'll also try out another site, Hellotalk, and expect to add language-exchange sessions with native speakers as well. But I'll write about that another time. Stay tuned. 

POSTSCRIPT: Ulrike recently discovered an Annenberg Learner Video series "Destinos", which she has been watching regularly for several weeks now.

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.

Disclosure: Only the links above to Fluent in 3 Months, italki, and Lingualia are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Language Learning Before Traveling Abroad? Maybe! But When & What to Learn?

travel highlights - Are you planning to travel abroad this year? Then, should learning the local language be part of your preparation?

Language enthusiasts will likely answer with a clear: “Yes, obviously,” and give you a number of reasons. One of our guest writers did so recently in 5 Reasons for Learning a Language Before You Travel.

Maybe you also saw some ads, such as “Learn a Language in 10 Days.” Or perhaps Benny Lewis' site Fluent in 3 Months convinced you to get started before your next trip.

Yes, learning a new language can be an exciting project. With your new language comes a whole new world to explore - a different way of looking at the world, even a different way of going through daily life.

However, if you are a busy adult with many demands on your time, you also have to decide how much time and effort you can really commit. So, you can probably use a more qualified answer than just “Yes, obviously.”

Types of Travel

“Traveling abroad” can cover a variety of situations:
- a weekend trip to a foreign resort
- an organized tour with others through one or more foreign countries
- staying in, or traveling through a foreign country for several weeks on your own or with a like-minded partner
- living abroad for several months (or years)

The first two situations will hardly give you a strong reason to START learning a foreign language. But, they could still give you a good push to BRUSH UP on a language you haven't used for a while.

As we suggest below, for a shorter visit you can focus on specific vocabulary that you could use in almost any social encounter. On the other hand, the last two situations will certainly provide many opportunities for communicating in the foreign language. Thus, preparing for your trip or stay will very likely include learning and/or practicing the language of the country more extensively.

Language Complexities

easy-medium-hard - For English speakers, some languages are easier to learn than others. Language Testing International's chart for How long Does it Take to Become Proficient? categorizes many of the European languages as Group I languages.

(Group IV languages, which include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. are thought to take at least twice as much time to learn as Group I languages.)

For that reason, you'll have to calibrate your preparation time to the complexity of the language and the time you can commit on a daily and weekly basis. The two of us don't speak any of the Group IV languages. But before we traveled to China and Japan, we learned some specific vocabulary that proved quite useful.

Language Learning Hang-ups

Some of us remember our school experience and associate learning a foreign language with “boring,” “irrelevant,” and “embarrassing.”  For example, in school, we had to memorize lists of strange-sounding words and learn sentences we would never use.

We had to figure out abstract grammar rules and we had to drill paradigms (je vais, tu vas, il va, nous allons, etc.). We had to speak up “foreign” in front of our classmates. We got graded on our pronunciation and spelling. Once the classes were over, much of the language faded.

Instead, learning a language can be a fresh and fun experience. It should stretch our mind and engage our whole person. One way to do this is to tie language learning to the enjoyment of planning and anticipating a trip.

Language “Recoveries”

Recoveries - A trip may also be a wonderful opportunity to “recover” a dormant language. It could be a language you heard as a child or studied in school, but never had the experience to hear spoken in its native environment. (see also: 2 Strategies for Relearning a Dormant Language)

Rather than “learning” per se, you could just start LISTENING to foreign radio stations, podcasts, and watch videos or movies in your target language. You may be amazed how much you understand, how much is “still there.” And don't worry about speaking. This will come later.

Our Own Experience

Some years ago (before we started Gamesforlanguage), we decided to spend five months in Rome, Italy. While both of us, in addition to our native German, speak English and French quite fluently, we did not speak any Italian.

About six months before our departure, we began learning Italian with Pimsleur CDs and completed all three Italian courses (90 lessons). It was a humbling experience - as we described in one of our 2011 posts - and one of the main reasons we started our own language learning site!

But it was the preparation before our stay that gave us also the foundation and the desire to really get into Italian once we were there. The progress we made with our tutor in Rome would not have been possible if we hadn't started to learn Italian before our trip.

Our Rome adventure also taught us a few lessons for our travels to countries with languages we don't speak, namely China and Japan (as well as Sweden and Norway.)

What Can or Should you Learn?

It's obvious: the more time you plan to spend in a foreign country on your own, the more intensive your preparation should be. Today, you no longer have to rely just on language classes, books, or CDs. You can learn with online courses and apps (free or fee-based), improve your reading with browser translation extensions, and practice your speaking on language-exchange sites or with online tutors such as italki.

And even if you only spend a few days in the foreign country and don't have the time or interest to really learn the language, we have found that these three (3) word/phrase categories are extremely helpful and should be in your arsenal:
- Communication essentials such as Yes/No, Please, Thank you, You're welcome, Excuse me, Hello, Good-bye, etc.
- Numbers
- Time phrases (minutes, hours, times of day, days of the week)

numbers - Every foreign guidebook has a phrase section, which includes the above three categories, as well as others such as Emergency, Shopping, Sightseeing, Food/ Menu, etc.

(On our site and in the languages we cover, you'll find many free “Quick Language Games” with which to practice aloud or free Podcasts to “train your ear.” For either of these, you don't have to register.)

Before traveling to China and Japan, we only learned Chinese and Japanese basic phrases and numbers. Knowing the numbers 1-20 turned out to be surprisingly helpful.

Language Learning Before Traveling Abroad?

It's no secret, travel can be a terrific motivator for learning or re-learning a dormant language. Once you're realistic about your own time constraints, there's still much you can accomplish.

For short travels to any country, we recommend learning at least the vocabulary of the three categories above.

For longer stays abroad, you can be more ambitious. You should take advantage of the many opportunities that your town or access to the internet can give you. These may range from language classes in your local school or community center, to apps, and free or subscription-based online courses or language communities.

Learning a foreign language when not living in a country where it's spoken, is a long-term project. Visits to that country can definitely boost your enthusiasm as well as level up your fluency. You are in charge of your learning progress. Nobody can learn a language FOR you.

Disclosure: Only the italki link above is to a partner site with revenue-sharing.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Sure Ways to Escape the Language Learning Rut

Rut in Grass - You've been learning a new foreign language for some time now. But are you making any progress? Does it feel like you're treading water? Or even worse, do you feel like you're in a rut?

This can happen even when you've got a good, daily routine. Or, ironically, it may be your daily routine that's getting you down and taking the spark out of your language quest.

So, how to get back that feeling of excitement, and with it, a real sense of progress? The short and simple answer is that you have to add some new things to your language learning arsenal. Notice, that I said “add.” Don't give up your learning habit!

Learning a language takes time and effort. It's a long-term journey, and on a road that has many twists and turns. Many little steps one after the other - yes, regular practice is what builds character and sustains your progress.

But a routine, even the best one, can get stale and unexciting. What kinds of new things, then, will get you out of your rut?


new mindset - Gamesforlanguage.comAs a starter, take a step back and look at why you're learning your chosen language. Maybe your original reasons no longer motivate you. Perhaps negative thoughts and feelings about your goals have crept in.

One way to clear your mind about this is to grab a sharp pencil and a fresh sheet of paper. List your reasons. If they are still all valid, take a look at your initial goals.

Maybe you now realize that fluency will take longer than you thought, or that watching an original foreign movie is still beyond you. Yes, you could recalibrate your goal(s).

Or even better, you could follow the advice of Dilbert's creator, Scott Adam. In his Blog post Goals vs. Systems, (based on his book) he says not to worry about any goals. For you, that would mean creating a “system” by doing some enjoyable language learning activities every day, rather than pursuing an elusive goal.

Actively finding new occasions for learning your target language will add excitement to your routine. They'll also boost your confidence big time. If you like games, you could chose language games like our Quick Games. If you're more advanced, find video games in your target language. (That's how our Spanish writer described learning English in his post ESL Learning Through Gaming.)

For some of you, it's a wacky app or online program like Frantastique (French) or Gymglish (English), with daily lessons in your inbox. For others, listening to a podcast or radio station on the commute to and from work may be your ticket, or getting an app or browser extension to help your read articles in your target language online.

Joining a local language exchange group or scheduling online lessons with italki, or other sites, can also give your motivation a huge boost.
In short, by creating new opportunities and new contacts with other language learners and teachers, you're sure to develop a new and more positive mindset.

Cognition vs Emotion signs - Gamesforlanguage.comDO THE OPPOSITE

Have a good look at how you're learning. Whatever it is you're doing now, try something quite different, and add that. Make sure that it's fun.

For example, if you're doing everything online, take a book and read out loud for 10 minutes every day. Just read, don't look up anything. Pretend you're a native speaker and put as much drama into your reading as you can.

Or, if you mostly learn by talking with someone, online and/or off, start a daily journal and have someone correct it for you. A good place for that is Lang-8.

Let's say your routine is to learn by going through a grammar book or a grammar-based online course and doing the exercises that follow each lesson. The opposite would be to find a TV series (a soap or detective episodes) that you can watch daily on your computer. Again, just listen, don't worry if there are things you don't understand.

You get the idea: make whatever you add to your learning routine totally different from what you're used to. The more challenging, the better. But make sure it's something you enjoy.


Doubtless, for many language learners, the most comfortable activity is to read an easy book, or listen to an easy podcast in their target language. There's nothing wrong with that, and "comfortable" language-learning tasks should definitely be part of your routine.

But, to add some spark to your language learning, you should add some things that are clearly out of your comfort zone. Try making a video in which you introduce yourself to an online group in your target language. Another idea: try holding a short talk on video, or in a local language-exchange group meeting.

For most language learners moving from “passive” activities such as reading and listening, to the active writing and speaking tasks are big steps. Most online courses make you practice reading, listening, and writing.

But having a conversation with another person gets many learners out of their comfort zone.
There's no way around that: if you want to become fluent in your target language, you have to find opportunities for conversations.

If you can't find a language group that regularly meets at a neighborhood bistro or café, if you don't have friends with whom to speak and practice, or don't attend a live class, etc. - you can still go and explore the many opportunities that the internet has opened up.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is a 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.

Disclosure: Only the link to italki is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe.

Posted on by Nina L. Ivanichvili

How Fluency in Foreign Languages and Cultures Enriches Your Life and Worldview

World - "A different language is a different vision of life," said Federico Fellini. As our world becomes smaller and flatter and more people get exposed to foreign languages, the wisdom of this observation begins to sink in.

As you become more fluent in a foreign language you will learn to avoid the common misconception about translators and interpreters. Many U.S. companies often assume that any individual who speaks a foreign language is automatically a translator. But just because you grew up speaking Portuguese doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a good translator.

Translators vs Interpreters

There are two categories of foreign language experts. The interpreter’s job is to translate orally from one language to another everything that is said, preserving the tone and style of the original speech. Translators deal with written documents, taking into account various language and terminology issues and the context.

In other words, translators translate documents, and interpreters interpret speech.

There exist some language professionals who are great at both translating the written word and interpreting the spoken word. But more often than not, they are an exception, not a rule.

What Translators Do

Translator woman - Document translation is a very specialized field. In addition to being linguists, some translators are professionally qualified in specific technical disciplines, such as aerospace, biochemistry, hardware and software, electrical engineering, finance, law, mechanical engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications.

Some only translate patents and others concentrate only on translation of technical manuals, or only on translation of legal contracts. Most of the professional translators work only in a single language pair and in one direction (e.g., English to Chinese).

Because professional translation requires training and expertise, it has a high cost for failure. An article in the National Law Journal relates an instance where a large Italian bank was being sued as a loan guarantor. When the loan document was translated literally from Italian, it stated that the bank guaranteed the loan. However, the word "guarantee" has different meanings in Italian than it does in English, and a literal translation did not accurately convey the document's meaning. The court dismissed the case, deciding that an Italian "guarantee" was different than an English "guarantee" - and the bank was not responsible for the loan.

As you find out more about professional translators and interpreters, you will learn that it is a good sign if the translation company, whose services your company uses, provides professionally executed legal, corporate and technical translations and utilizes translators, who are certified by the American Translators Association and who translate only into their native language.

Where Interpreters Work

Interpreter with client - There are two types of foreign language interpreters: simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpreters facilitate conferences with a large number of attendees.
For small meetings, trade shows, depositions and social events, companies need to hire consecutive interpreters.

As you begin to experience in a different culture, you will learn how easy it is to create a misunderstanding by viewing people from other cultures, as if they are similar to us.

Imagine that your company sends you to Japan for a technical meeting. The Japanese company’s representative comes to your hotel room and inquires if you have had your lunch. You tell him that you want to try some sushi. You feel great when he invites you to a restaurant, where a gracious waiter encourages you to try various kinds of sushi. A while later, you begin to feel ill at ease, when you realize that your host has just paid about $400.00 for your lunch.

Language and Culture

Incorrect assumptions about cultural similarities may cause us to misjudge people and situations. In our culture, smiles, for example, are associated with pleasant emotions and project friendliness. Some Asian cultures, on the other hand, use a smile as a mask when dealing with unpleasant situations.

As you continue to enhance your knowledge of a foreign language, your competence in the culture of the country whose language you are studying will also increase. And little by little you will be able to see and interpret any situation from two different viewpoints. And you will then understand what Federico Fellini meant when he said that a different language is a different vision of life.

Enjoy the beautiful journey as your growing fluency in another language and in another culture will continue to enrich your life and your worldview.

Bio: Nina L. Ivanichvili is CEO of All Language Alliance, Inc., a legal translation and interpreting company providing multilingual legal translations, certified translation services and deposition interpreting services in more than 100 foreign languages. You can contact her at 303-470-9555, at, and follow her legal translation blog Translation for Lawyers.

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