Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

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

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

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

1. Find a fun entry into language learning 

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

It should also be affordable for you.

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

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

2. Practice frequently

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

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

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

3. Repeat words and phrases often 

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

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

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

4. Listen to songs you like

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

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

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

(Language Zen lets you learn Spanish with music.)

5. Start reading things that interest you

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

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

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

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

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

6. Boost your learning with things you enjoy

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

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

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Silvester Traditions in German Speaking Countries

Frohes Neues Jahr with fireworks (Updated 12-28-2017)

In 2015 we first started this post about Silvester Traditions in German speaking countries.

German is spoken in many parts of the world.

German is the only official language in Austria, Germany, and Lichtenstein.

It is the "majority" language, and shares official status with the other languages, in 17 cantons of Switzerland.

It is the co-official language in Luxembourg and Belgium, as well as in another four (4) Swiss cantons and the Italian Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, where it is also the majority language.

In France, the German spoken in the Alsace and Moselle regions is deemed a "regional language," and German speakers (who are often bilingual) also live in the border areas of Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. 

There are about 95 million who speak German as their first language. With the pockets of German-speaking communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, U.S., South America, and even parts of Africa, it is estimated that about 10 million people speak German as a second language.

In the U.S., communities of Amish (see Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”), Mennonites and Hutterites speak German dialects. The Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate New Year with a traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut.

GermanyBerlin's "Langer Lulatsch" with Fireworks"- Gamesforlanguage.com

New Year's Eve in German-speaking countries is also called "Silvester," as December 31 is St. Silvester (or Sylvester) Day. 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.

Not only the German-speaking countries, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Israel all use a variant of Silvester's name as the preferred name for New Year's Eve.

St. Silvester, Germanic Gods, and other Superstitions 

Watch out for fish bones - St. Silvester had a frightening reputation: It was said that non-believers would suffocate in his presence. As he died on December 31st, superstitious Germans are very careful when eating fish on the last day of the year.

No laundry - The superstition not to wash and hang up any laundry for drying around New Year's Eve, traces back to the German god Wotan. This custom is said to keep Wotan happy who, together with his buddies, supposedly roams through the gardens on the night of Silvester.

No work - At the end of each year, the gods let the wheel rest to which the sun is attached. Mankind should therefore follow suit and let all work rest on the last day of the year.

Northern Germany

Rummelpotlaufende KinderIn Germany's northern state Schleswig-Holstein, quite a few old traditions survive:

"Rummelpottlaufen," quite similar to Halloween in the U.S., sees costumed children with a self-made music instrument (a can covered with pigskin or thin leather, pierced by a willow-stick, which when turned and rubbed makes hollow and scary sounds), going from door to door on New Year's Eve, singing old tunes and being rewarded with candies and sweets.

Berlin is the site of Germany's biggest New Year's Eve party, which takes place around the Brandenburg Gate; "Berliner" (jam-filled doughnuts) are a particular favorite in Berlin, as in many other German-speaking countries during Silvester.

Southern Germany

In the southern parts of Germany, originating from Austria and Switzerland, a cheese Fondue or Raclette is often also a typical New Year's dinner.

At midnight a "Feuerzangenbowle," a punch made with red wine, orange peels, cinnamon, cloves, and poured over a burning sugar cone supplements or even replaces the German "Sekt" (sparkling wine).

Austria

In Austria, Vienna clearly holds the top spot for New Year's Eve celebrations. Bleigießen:Leadpouring

Before midnight, small marzipan or chocolate "fortune gifts" (figures of chimney sweeps, little fortune piggies, four-leaf clover, etc.) are exchanged.

As in many other German-speaking regions, "Bleigießen" (lead pouring) - the melting of small pieces of lead, dropped into cold water - results in a popular, fun game: the various forms of the the hardened lead pieces let the participants speculate what a person may experience in the coming year.

This YouTube video of an ARTE.TV video (see also our post on how to connect to  ARTE.TV) explains to a French audience (in German) how "Bleigießen" is done.

Impressive fireworks are part of the Viennese tradition as is a glass of champagne. After the midnight countdown, the Danube waltz plays on all radio and tv stations.

Switzerland

In Switzerland there are many different and often quite curious traditions. We can only highlight a couple here:

"Altjahresu" - Schwarzenburg (Canton Bern)

Altjahresu in Schwarzenburg, Bern, SwitzerlandIn this small town near Bern, about 40 participants dress up as various characters for the "Altjahresu" (old-year-donkey) performances: the donkey guide, the musicians, the priest, the devil, the barrel carrier, the newlyweds, the mailman, etc.

They go from bistro to bistro with their donkey, the musicians play, the newlyweds dance, the mailman distributes the old year's newspaper, the barrel carrier collects white wine in his wine barrels, etc.

At the end of the day, around  9:30 PM, the priest then reads his "sermon" at the town center to the great amusement of all spectators. Some pictures from last year above and the 2015 event HERE.

"Harder-Potschete" - Switzerland's longest Silvester in InterlakenPotschen masks at Harder-Potschete in Interlaken, Switzerland

The Silvester celebrations end in Interlaken only on January 2. Until 1956 the "Potschen," scary- looking figures with masks - representing dead people - were roaming the streets, screaming at spectators and pulling them along.

That often got out of hand. So, in the late fifties, a new custom was added to tone down the rowdiness. It combined the legend of a delinquent monk marooned on the "Harder," Interlaken's town hill, with that of the masked characters. The scary masks are still there but the celebrations are not as wild as before. See last year's masks in the picture on right above.

I'm not aware of any particular Silvester traditions in Lichtenstein and Luxembourg that differ from those in the other German-speaking countries and regions. (If you do, please let me know!)

Family Traditions

As countries and regions have developed particular traditions and celebrations, so have many families. We are now continuing a tradition with our extended family here in the U.S. that started with my father's family in Berlin, Germany:

The after-midnight snack is "Heringssalat," a Scandinavian/Northern Germany specialty that has many recipe variations. It is served with "wieners" or "frankfurters." The herring, potato, apple, and pickle combination makes a welcome change after the sweet treats of the Christmas season. 

And strangely enough, it even goes well with a glass of champagne!

Parts of this post were included in the December 2014 post Molten lead, Red Underwear, Grapes and other End-of-Year Traditions...

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Listening Practice Tips for my Seventh Language

man-listening-to-big-blue-speakerUntil recently, I did not focus much on deliberate listening practice for the languages I learned in the past.

I said “deliberate”, because I must certainly have listened when I learned my first language growing up in Austria. We now know that babies spend most of their first year just listening and then trying out some basic sounds.

And anybody who has watched babies knows that they pick up the meaning of gestures, names of objects, etc., long before they can even pronounce their own name.

When I learned my second language, Dutch, while attending school in the Netherlands, I must also have listened to the language around me. Within three months, I was fully participating in my 4th grade class.

The same was probably the case when I picked up English in Canada as a young teenager.

French, my fourth language, I learned in high school and college. While I remember the required “language labs”, I did not enjoy them because they consisted mostly of grammar drills. I speak it quite fluently by now, only because I often have to speak French when we visit my husband Peter's family.  

Italian and Spanish I started to learn as an adult, just a few years ago. And so, I'm discovering that focused listening practice with audios and videos can make a huge difference.

The Beginner's Dilemma

You may have been learning a language for several weeks or months. You feel good about your ability to understand most of what you read or hear in your course lessons.

Perhaps you feel confident that you'll be able to order a meal in a restaurant or make yourself understood buying this or that, and even negotiating a price.

Then you travel to a place where the language is spoken and are eager to jump into conversations with locals.

It doesn't take long for you to realize: The other persons may understand what YOU say, but you don't understand them, unless they speak slowly and with simple sentences.

It's hard to have a real conversation that way.

Active Listening Practice in Rome, Italy.

During a five month stay in Rome, my Peter and listening practice of couple-watching-movie-on-television-in-living-roomI faced the “beginner's dilemma” certainly more than once. But we also noticed that our listening skills improved dramatically.

In the evening we often watched TV.

Even though we had prepared ourselves with Pimsleur audio courses before our arrival, the fast Italian on TV just came at us like a stream of rapid-fire sounds.

After a couple of weeks of daily listening practice, the stream started to slow down.

I started to recognize some words, and could hear when the words started and ended.

After a while, I also began to understand phrases and short sentences.

I certainly knew then that practicing listening is essential for understanding conversations.

So now I'm making a deliberate effort to practice listening with Danish, my seventh language.

These are the six (6) techniques that I use and recommend:

1. Do a lot of "listen and repeat" with words containing sounds that are difficult for you.

Babies are born with the ability to hear all sounds and they start learning their first (or second) language by just listening.

French girl talkingBy the time we're adults, we can hear mostly just the sounds of our own language or the languages that we hear in daily life.

However with focused listening practice, adults can both learn to hear and to produce sounds that are not familiar.

Sometimes it helps to understand how the sound is produced.

Although Danish is a Germanic language there are certain sounds that don't exist in German, Dutch or English.

A good example for Danish is the soft "d" sound, as in the words "mad" (food), "flød" (cream), "rød (red). At first the final soft "d" sounded like an "l" to me.

But while we were in Denmark a woman explained that it's actually like a very soft "th". She showed me that you can make the sound by putting your tongue against your front teeth. Once I knew that, I even heard the sound better. (Go figure.)

Some time ago we wrote a post about "Mouth Mechanics", and for many languages learning HOW to produce certain sounds is essential.

2. Pick a Level of difficulty that challenges you, but not too much.

A good guideline is that you'll want to understand at least 80% man climbing wallof what is said.

In order to make progress, start out at a level that's right for you. Then keep building on the vocabulary and grammar patterns that you know.

If an audio is too difficult and keeps sounding just like gibberish, it's easy to get discouraged and give up.

Finding the right level is not always easy. It will take a little experimentation and trying out different sources.

For some beginning learners, Slow German, Slow Spanish, etc. is helpful. But you should listen to natural speech as soon as you can.

For German, French, Spanish, and Italian, GamesforLanguage has natural-speed audios of each lesson, and Podcasts of each level. We recommend that you listen to the audio AFTER each lesson or level you completed and challenge yourself by listening to the podcast of the NEXT level.

Also, Steve Kaufmann's LingQ has many excellent audios of different length and difficulty.

3. Start with short audios and build up to longer ones.

stack of golden coins on whitePracticing sounds and individual words, of course, is not enough. Speaking is a stream of sounds, and you need to practice by listening to words-in-a-stream.

Start with (very) short audios. As you increase the difficulty and length of the clips, you'll also increase your vocabulary.

When you listen to full-length audio books, you'll hear the same vocabulary and grammar patterns come up again and again.

Each time they'll lodge a little deeper in your memory. A great source for foreign-language audio books is Audible.

(And, yes, it's like putting money in your language bank...!)

4. Listen to topics that interest you.

Why would you want to listen to something that does not interest or hobby icons on whiteconcern you? You don't have to, once you have gone beyond the basics of a new language and have acquired enough vocabulary.

There are two important reasons why finding topics that interest you is important:

  1. When you choose topics you know and like, you'll be motivated to listen often.
  2. The familiar context will make it easier for you to guess the meaning of unknown words.

If you have many interests, your vocabulary and listening comprehension will grow exponentially.

5. Listen to audios more than once.

9 Repeat iconsThis works best, of course, with shorter audios or with passages from longer ones. I have found that every time I re-hear a clip, I understand more.

Sometimes I "shadow" what is said, i.e. repeat what I heard just a second or so behind the speaker.

If there's an option, listen to a slow and a fast version of the audio. This is also a good practice technique. I like it because it makes me more keenly aware of the sounds, and how the isolated sounds (slow) become part of the natural sound stream (fast).

6. Listen to the audios WITH and WITHOUT reading the text.

When you listen without text, you're totally focused on sound and smiling man with tablet and earphonemeaning. That's like being in a conversation where you can only hear what is being said.

When you see the text as well, you are also aware of the spelling of words and how they look. For me, hearing and seeing the text helps me to remember the words and phrases.

For languages that have phonetic spelling, seeing and hearing reinforce each other. I'm thinking of German, Spanish, Italian.

Danish, on the other hand, is phonetically quite challenging. So it takes extra effort to correlate sound to text.

As English speakers, we often forget that the relationship between sound and spelling in English also has its challenges.

Understanding without Translating?

When I listen to a passage in French, or even Italian, I'm aware that I'm not translating at all. I just understand what is said. That's my goal also for Danish, but I'm not there yet.

I'm actually not sure whether that can be practiced or if you just automatically stop translating when the language becomes familiar enough.

I'd be interested in the thoughts of anyone who has experienced the same.

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

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig with Ugur Cirak

SpeakMates: From Online to Offline Language Practice - A Founder Interview

Speakmates.com logoAs longtime advocates of online language learning and practice, we have also experienced the benefits and advantages of offline language practice.

A few years ago, after retiring, we adjusted our travel habits a bit: We would rent an apartment in a European city that we wanted to explore a little further.

In some cities we stayed for at least a week, in others for a month or longer.

We did so in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Seville, Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen in 2017.

Readers of our previous blog posts know that we often combined these stays with learning or practicing new foreign languages.

We had no language issues in Paris and Berlin, as we both speak French and German quite fluently.

Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Danish, however were new languages that we started learning more recently.

During our one-month stays in Barcelona and Seville, we were able to set up language exchanges with locals.

It took some work and coordination to arrange face to face meetings for our language practice . We would have loved to participate in Spanish language meetups, but could not find any.

A short time ago we came across a new website, SpeakMates.com, an offline language practice platform, still in its Beta stage. It helps language learners and native speakers find each other to meet in small groups.

We spoke with SpeakMates' founder Ugur Cirak and were intrigued by his story.

Here are his answers to some of our questions:

What gave you the idea for SpeakMates.com?

I worked as a Corporate Finance person for about 20 years. Last year I decided to quit my job and move to Japan.

Why Japan? Because my wife is Japanese. We had met in Pennsylvania, got married in Kyoto, and lived in Istanbul for 15 years.

We decided that the moment had come to spend some time in Japan. So we moved to Japan about a year and a half ago.

Initially I spent a lot of time traveling around the country, learning about the technology and startup ecosystem of Japan.

I always had a dream of having my own company, so my eyes were open for any opportunity.

We live in Sapporo which is the capital city of Japan’s Northern Island of Hokkaido. Friends socialzing in Café

When we moved there, I realized there was not much going on with startups, so I decided to organize “Startup Sapporo Meetups” through meetup.com.

Ever since then, I've been organizing this meetup. And thanks to it, I've been able to make many friends.

One of the Japanese participants has been organizing English speaking meetups as a hobby every week for the last six years, and I was invited to one of his meetups.

There were four Japanese participants, one (American) native speaker, my friend and myself.

My friend would facilitate the discussion while the native speaker and the Japanese participants would exchange ideas and talk about a topic.

I realized that this meetup was very effective in several ways:

  • it provided real, face to face communication and language practice ;
  • it was possible to learn from peers as well as from the native speaker;
  • it was inexpensive since the cost was shared;
  • it had a very relaxed and cozy atmosphere since it was held in a café;
  • having known each other for some time, the group had become a small but powerful community.

I thought that this context for language learning could be scaled through the internet and that a world-wide community could be possible. This is how I got the idea for SpeakMates.

Who would most benefit from SpeakMates?

Speakmates sign up landing pageAnyone who wants to improve or brush up her or his language speaking abilities could make use of SpeakMates to find like-minded people and good Mentors (see sign up landing page left).

Since SpeakMates is a meeting point to find OFFLINE language meetups. It is also a great way to make new friends in your neighborhood.

Our current customers include students, office workers, businessmen, professional women, housewives, and seniors.

Some of them have been abroad as expatriates and would like to keep and practice their language skills.

Others have never been abroad and are trying to improve their speaking abilities for future travel plans.

Everyone has her or his own story of coming to a meetup. I've been holding English meetups myself and it is really fun to meet all these people from very different backgrounds.

What are your specific goals for SpeakMates?

I would like to help people who are able to speak a language fluently to make money wherever they may be. The added benefit for Mentors is that this way they can also make friends in their neighborhood.

There is no License or Certification requirements to become a Mentor since we are trying to provide a real-world communication environment.

You don't get to speak only with people who have teaching licenses in the streets, right? 

Moreover, I would love to see SpeakMates become known as a worldwide venue where local language enthusiasts, learners and native speakers can meet and practice.

How is Speakmates.com different from meetup.com?

Meetup.com is a great company. I personally used it for some time and I'm still a member.

On the other hand, meetup.com is a very broad site, with many different categories other than language.

SpeakMates.com is kind of a language-specific meetup.com. Being language specific brings a lot of advantages.

For example, we provide predefined topics and topic materials for language meetups, blog posts about language learning, some fun tools to improve vocabulary such as songs and lyrics, etc.

We are working on additional features to streamline fun sharing of language-related pictures, texts, videos, audios and more.

We are all about languages, and offline language practice meetups are our core-value proposition.

In which countries do you see the most opportunities for SpeakMates?

Currently we have meetups in Tokyo, Sapporo, and Istanbul, Speakmates meetup paneland have registered Mentors from Japan, France, Slovenia, Turkey and South Korea.

We only have a history of three months with our Beta product release, but we're already seeing registrations from many different countries without specific marketing efforts.

This encourages us to scale up to more countries once we complete our Beta period.

Which languages have been most popular so far?

Although we're trying to promote all languages equally, the most popular meetups are in English.

From time to time, there are some meetups created in German, Japanese and Turkish as well.

We're hoping that as our brand builds we will be a hub for all languages.

What feedback are you getting from your Mentors and Mates?

We're trying to get as much feedback as possible from both sides.

We've already made some changes to our Beta version based on feedback from Mentors and Mates (our term for the learners).

For example, we made pricing, meeting duration and group size more flexible. Such meetup parameters can now be decided by Mentors.

We fine tuned our cancellation policy based on the feedback of some participants.

But generally speaking, we're getting very positive reactions to our idea and initial product.

What are your plans for developing SpeakMates?

This is a long journey and we're just at the beginning. Currently we are financing ourselves and trying to test the product-market fit.

As we see more traction in our platform, we're planning to raise funds and increase our capabilities by building a larger team.

We have product, marketing and scaling road maps and we continuously listen to our Mentors and Mates.

All this is making our road maps even better.

What are some of the site features that you are working on?

Currently we are working on adding the review feature to our site where both Mentors and Mates will be able to make public and private ratings and reviews for those who were in the same meetup. This is important for us as it will help to create and keep a safe and great community.

We're also working on making an online payment option available. Currently the only payment option is cash.

Another feature we're excited about is the “Activity Stream”: It will allow both Mentors and Mates to share language related pictures, texts, videos or audios in their timeline, follow each other and create useful content to stimulate language learning and practice.

We're planning some other features as well such as live chat, online practice, dynamic decision for the language level of the meetup and more.

What are your biggest challenges for the future?

We would love to create a great community for language practice.

So I think this is our biggest challenge; creating a great community and keeping it great.

If you are a native speaker or want to practice a new language, check out Speakmates.com. Maybe Speakmates can help you organize and/or become part of a new language meetup in your community.

Bios: Ugur Cirak is the Founder of SpeakMates.com, an Offline Language Practice platform that helps language mentors and people who want to practice speaking a Language find each other and meet in small groups in cozy locations. Before founding SpeakMates.com Ugur worked as corporate finance professional in multinational companies for 20 years. He is married with two children and speaks Turkish, English and intermediate level Japanese. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”

Amish Horse and carriage in Pennsylvania Dutch countryRecently, after attending a family wedding in Virginia, we drove back to Boston via Pennsylvania Dutch country.

We knew that the Amish and many Mennonites speak German dialects, but otherwise knew little about the history and language of these groups.

(If you read our posts about Northern Germany, or Seville, Spain, you know that we enjoy learning about dialects.)

Yes, we also saw several of the black Amish buggies (see picture), but we wanted to look especially into the language angle.

Passing through Lancaster county, we stopped off at the Mennonite Information Center to learn about the Pennsylvania Dutch language (also known as Pennsylvania German).

At the Center, we saw a film about the history and culture of the Amish, and we bought a book "Speaking Amish" - A Beginner's Introduction to Pennsylvania German, by Lillian Stoltzfus, which I'll review briefly below.

In her introduction, Stoltzfus explains: "Pennsylvania German is spoken throughout the United States and Canada. Although people from each region can understand each other, each region speaks it a little differently."

What surprised us was to learn that most Pennsylvania Dutch speakers are ethnically Swiss.

A Little History: Why Swiss?

2017 is the year that Protestants are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther posting his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany.

It was in Switzerland that the Anabaptist movement originally began in the 1520s, as a radical offshoot of Ulrich Zwingli's Reformation in Switzerland.

The movement slowly spread through western Europe.

In Switzerland, the Anabaptists were persecuted for their beliefs. Many fled to the Palatinate, a region in the southwest of Germany. The Palatinate (historically, "die Rheinpfalz") lies west of the state of Hessen and northwest of Baden-Württemberg.

As time went on, Anabaptist followers picked up the name "Mennonite", Mennonite & Amish migration mapafter Menno Simons, a Friesian religious leader, who was active as a religious leader from 1537 to 1561.

The "Amish" were named after Jakob Ammann, a Swiss leader of the Anabaptist movement from 1680 to 1712.

From the late 1640s on, numerous Anabaptist families (who first called themselves "Swiss Bretheren") arrived in Pennsylvania as a result of William Penn's experiment in religious tolerance. Amish and Mennonite families followed in the early 1700s.

A large number of Anabaptist followers came from the Palatinate (to where the Swiss had fled), and a smaller number from Alsace and Switzerland.

The map above from the Mennonite Information Center shows the migration of the Amish and Mennonites through the centuries. (Black lines: Amish to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, other colors: Mennonites' migrations.)

The Palatinate Dialect

The German spoken in the Palatinate (i.e. "Pfälzisch") is the linguistic ancestor of the Pennsylviania Dutch dialect. Palatine German belongs to the West Franconian group or dialects.

Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. Pennsylvania German) is the primary language of most Amish and conservative Mennonite communities living in the United States today.

Why Pennsylvania "Dutch"?

A possible explanation for the use of "Dutch" (to mean German) is that in the English of the 18th and 19th centuries, the term "Dutch" included what we now call Dutch, Flemish and German.

At that time, you distinguished between "High Dutch" (German) and "Low Dutch" (Dutch, Flemish).

Germany did not become a country until 1871. There were only Hessians, Prussians, Bavarians, etc. , citizens of the many kingdoms and duchies that eventually became part of the German nation.

For English speakers they were all “Dutch"!

Quick Review of "Speaking Amish"

Speaking Amish Cover photoLillian Stoltzfus' book is a delightful introduction to Pennsylvania German and includes suggestions on how to best study.

The book is made up of 25 short lessons, each with five to ten new words that are shown together with a picture to help memorization.

In the lessons you get clear and practical Phonetic, Grammar and Culture Tips.

There are also short exercises, with the answers given in the back.

The audios for each lesson are between one and two minutes long and spoken naturally by two children and as well as Lillian Stoltzfus herself.

At the end of the book, there are several Verb Charts and a Phonetics Chart for reference.

The Pronunciation of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD)

Every dialect of a language has its characteristic pronunciation. The CD that comes with "Speaking Amish" is really helpful.

But for me it's hard to describe pronunciation without audio.

Still, for anyone who knows some Standard German (SG), here are 3 characteristics of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD).

1) PD has no umlauts: no "ä", "ö", "ü", and also no "äu"/"eu".

To produce the equivalent sounds in PD, you "unround" your lips (pull them apart):

For example:

SG "dünn" - PD "dinn" (rhymes with "thin")
SG "Löffel" - PD "Leffel" (vowel as in "left")
SG "Deutsch" - PD "Deitsch" (vowel as in "hi")

2) In PD "ch" usually has a "sch" sound:

For example:

SG "ich" - PD "isch"
SG "du bist" - PD "du bischt"
SG "richtig" - PD "rischtisch"

3) Sounds at the end of a syllable or the end of words are often dropped:

For example:

SG "haben" - PD "hann"
SG "Hunde" - PD "Hunn"
SG "müde" - PD "miid"

Daily Vocabulary

The vocabulary lists below are all taken from "Speaking Amish". As Lillian Stoltzfus explains in her introduction, the words she teaches in the book are all from Pennsylvania German spoken in Lancaster county, or even more specifically from those spoken in her family.

Speakers from other regions in the U.S. or Canada, may have different words and various pronunciations.

Commonly used Nouns

Pennsylvania German uses three articles for "the":

der (with masculine nouns), die (with feminine nouns, es (with neuter nouns)
die Schprooch - SG "die Sprache" (the language/dialect)
es Ess-sach - SG "das Essen" (the food)
die Kich - SG "die Küche" (the kitchen)
die Schtubb - SG "die Stube" (the room)
der Gaarde - SG "der Garten" (the garden)
die Arwet - SG "die Arbeit" (the work)
der Nochber - SG "der Nachbar" (the neighbor)
der Bu - SB "der Bub" (the boy)
es Meedel - SB "das Mädel" (the girl)
die Gmee - SG "die Gemeinde" (the church)

Commonly used Verbs

Pennsylvania German has these pronouns that combine with personal verb forms:

ich (I), du (you), er (he), sie (she), es (it), mir (we), dir (you pl.), sie (they)
hawwe - SG "haben" (to have)
gewwe - SG "geben" (to give)
schreiwe - SG "schreiben" (to write)
gleiche - SG "mögen" (to like)
schaffe - SG "arbeiten" (to work)
laafe - SG "laufen" (to walk)
duh - SG "tun" (to do)
hocke - SG "sitzen" (to sit)
butze - SG "putzen" (to clean)
wuhne - SG "wohnen" (to live)

Words similar to English

Not surprisingly, English words have become part of Pennsylvania Dutch: 

die Schtori - SG "die Geschichte" (the story)
der Boi - SG "der (Obst)kuchen" (the pie)
der Daett - SG "der Papa" (the dad)
schmaert - SG "klug" (smart)
die Dallbopp - SG "die Puppe" (the doll)
der Pickder - SG "das Bild" (the picture)
die Gwilt - SG "die Steppdecke" (the quilt)
der Schtor - SG "der Laden" (the store)

Do Native Germans Understand Pennsylvania Dutch?

In Germany itself, there are a large number of dialects, and not every German speaker understands all of the other dialects of Germany really well. It generally depends on where a person is from and what experience with German dialects he or she has had.

Under the YouTube video: Lillian an Daniel Stoltzfus Lancaster County, which shows some interviews in Pennsylvania Dutch, there are a few of comments by native German speakers.

  • "I am from the south-west of Germany and I understand the most. It is more the dialect of this part of Germany where I live. (Ich komme aud dem Süd-Westen Deutschland und ich verstehe das meiste. Es ist mehr der Dialekt von diesem Teil Deutschlands wo ich wohne.)"
  • "Sounds almost like Palatinate German mixed with American English. Many Pennsylvanian families come from the region here. So, it wouldn't surprise me. [In Palatinate dialect]: (Klingt fascht wie Pälzisch mit Amerikanisches Englisch gemischt. Viele Pennslyfaanischi Familien kumme aus der Geschend hia. So es werd mich nit überrasche.)"
  • "I speak German and Dutch fluently. I understand them perfectly as weird as it is, a funky old Swiss German accent mixed with yank English. None of it sounds Dutch."

Is Pennsylvania Dutch a "dying language"?

According to a SwissInfo article, it is estimated that there are about 300,000 to 350,000 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch in 31 states of the U.S., mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada.

There are also some Amish groups that speak Alsacian German and Swiss German (both Alemannic dialects). These number about 14,000 together.

Experts such as the German linguist Guido Seiler and Mark Loudon, a professor of German at Wisconsin-Madison, claim that the Pennsylvania Dutch and Alemannic German dialects spoken in the U.S. are anything but "dying languages".

In fact, the number of speakers is constantly increasing because of large families and because 90% of the youth stay in their traditional communities.

I have not touched on the religious differences between the Amish and various Mennonite groups. Those interested in finding out more can find ample information on the web or by contacting the Mennonite information Center.

"Shunning" is one of the differences. "The Shunning" is also the title of a book by Beverly Lewis and a 2011 movie. 

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Freedom Trade-offs - US & European Traffic & Gun Laws

police with gun giving speeding ticketOur recent trip through three European countries allowed us to practice three of our languages – German, Dutch and Danish. 

It also made me aware again how different these European countries deal with the US credos of “life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness” on the one hand, and with safety, as it relates to gun control and highway speeds, on the other.

(And no, that is not us in the picture receiving a speeding ticket: we never saw any traffic police traveling over 1,000 miles through Germany, Netherlands and Denmark!)

Gamesforlanguage's blog themes include language learning, travel, history and culture. My observations are personal and anecdotal, and I make no claim to having discovered any absolute truths.

Our AirBerlin flight from Boston took us directly to Dusseldorf, Germany. There, we rented a car and drove north, crossing into the Dutch province of Drenthe to attend a weekend family reunion there.

(Readers of previous posts may remember that we often attend family reunions in the Netherlands. Last year, after the reunion, we chartered a canal boat with friends. See: European Travels 3 – Dutch Language and Canal Boating . This year we continued to Denmark. See: European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Denmark.)

Road Travel - Speed Limits & Statistics

Germany

On the German Autobahn, it always takes me a few minutes to get used to the speed of Driving on German Autobahnthe traffic. But then I go with the flow.

Once we had cleared the congested metropolitan area around Dusseldorf and no longer faced any speed restrictions, 160 km/h (100 mph) became a comfortable cruising speed.

I actually find that driving fast on good roads in Germany is less tiring than driving with cruise control at 65 or 70 mph in the US.

In Germany, I constantly scan my rear view mirror for faster cars and estimate the distance to other, slower cars when in the passing lane.

The freedom of driving fast is one of the joys of German Autobahn driving.

You may remember that Volkswagen used the German term “Fahrvergnügen” (Pleasure of driving) as a US marketing slogan a few years ago.

While there are many stretches on the German Autobahn that have no speed limits (about 70% of the German Autobahn grid), there are also specific speed limits in metropolitan areas or on country roads.

The Netherlands and Denmark

Suspension Brisge between Fyn and Sealand, DenmarkBoth countries use the same maximum speed limit of 130 km/h (82 mph) on motorways and 50 km/h (31 mph) in built up areas.

On the busy Dutch motorways many drivers appeared to exceed the 130 km/h, while on the less traveled Danish highways few cars went faster than the speed limit.

As we discovered later in Copenhagen, Danish people generally seem to obey traffic laws: pedestrians don't jaywalk, bikes stop at red lights, cars follow speed limits. (On the new and amazing suspension bridge from Fyn to Sealand in Denmark, everybody kept to the posted speed limit.)

One method used in Denmark made a lot of sense to us. At the entrance of towns, a flashing sign showed us our speed. This was very effective because it prompted us to immediately slow down.

In all three countries there are warning signs about radar surveillance and indeed you can get “blitzed” by a radar operated camera, if you go too fast. You will receive your ticket later in the mail.

But what was remarkable: On over 1000 miles of car travel in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark over a three-week period, we did not see ONE police car, not even one waiting behind bushes or trees as so often happen in the US.

Speed vs. Safety

There seems to be no question that higher speeds can lead to more serious accidents. However, the road fatality rates of the US and the three countries though which we traveled, do not seem to confirm the simple correlation.

Comparing accident and death rates between countries is not easy, given the mix of rural vs. interstate highways, different ways of compiling statistics, etc.

Deutsche Welle reported for 2016: Road deaths in Germany fall to all time low but accidents on the rise.

Also, the World Health organization's figures for 2013 are interesting for the three countries compared to the US (see below.)

Country

Road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year

Road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles

Road fatalities per 1 billion vehicle km

United States

10.6

12.9

7.1

The Netherlands

3.4

6

4.5

Denmark

3.5

6.7

4

Germany

4.3

6.8

4.9

What is notable, is how close the three European countries are in their road fatality statistics compared to the United States, which are substantially higher in all three categories above.

A Business Insider Report from 2016 lists 8 reasons that German's Autobahn is so much better than US highways.

Interstate speed limits in the US were generally lowered to 55mph in the early seventies during the oil embargo. Since then, posted freeway speeds have again been raised in some states, to 65, 70, 80, and in Texas, with the highest posted speed in the US, even to 85 mph.

The lowered speed limits reduced road fatalities, but other factors apparently must be important as well, as the differences to the three countries above demonstrate.

While the three European countries – especially Germany - have higher traffic speeds than the US, the statistics indicate that driving in the US is quite a bit more dangerous.

Guns - Laws and Statistics

Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, as this Local.de article explains. Without analyzing the details of the differences to these countries, the Netherlands and Denmark are not far behind.

Over the last 10 years, the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people have further declined in these three European countries.

You can find the facts and statistics for each country on Gunpolicy.org.

The relevant statistics on guns can be compared to the road fatalities above and also present a sobering picture for the US:

 

 

 

Country

Rate of All Gun Deaths per 100,000 people in 2004

Rate of All Gun Deaths per 100,000 people in 2014

United States

10.10

10.54

The Netherlands

0.70

0.48

Denmark (2002/2012)

1.79

0.90

Germany

1.39

1.01

Per 100,000 people, there are essentially as many gun deaths as road fatalities in the US.

Happiness

It is quite impossible to grasp the mood of a country during a short visit.

In the Netherlands, we were able to discuss with our extended family, which includes Dutch, German Austrian, Canadian, and US citizens, many of their countries' problems and issues.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump's presidency was a frequent topic, as were Europe's immigration challenges, Brexit, educational policies, etc.

As we were leaving Europe, the formation of a Dutch government coalition was still underway; Germany was going to go to the polls shortly, and, we read about increased security measures for a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen.

While Norway tops the global happiness rankings for 2017, Denmark is quite close as #2, and the Netherlands World Happiness Report 2017 covernot far behind as #6. On the other hand, Germany with #16, is listed behind the United States (#14).

The report notes that “all of the top four countries [Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland] rank highly on all the main factors to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.”

One may argue with the criteria used for the “Happiness Rankings”, but Denmark impressed us as a country that really seemed to work well.

Many in the US obviously believe that the 2nd Amendment - “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” - is an essential ingredient for freedom and happiness.

European countries do not have such paragraphs in their constitutions, so gun ownership is not discussed much.

On the other hand, the speed limits in many US states, which especially Germans would argue against, are accepted as necessary for improving traffic safety – which, nevertheless, is substantially below the figures for the three countries where we traveled.

I do not know – but have not found any reference in the Report – whether the “happiness rankings” mentioned above, consider gun control or speed limits.

What seems clear, however, is that both involve trade-offs.

The gun death statistics comparison between the US and the three European countries seems to point to one logical conclusion: More gun ownership/less gun control – higher gun death rates.

On the other hand, speed limits alone don't seem to lower traffic fatalities substantially, as the rates for the US and the same three countries show.

It also suggests, however, that statistics alone can't always explain cause and effect relationships.

I had started this post after returning from our trip to Denmark, just before the October 1, 2017 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas and then put it aside.

Reading this New York Times article after the shootings in Texas - What Explains U.S Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer - I was struck by the article's last paragraph:

The Difference Is Culture

The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.

The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.

After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 shooting. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

Countries develop different trade-offs and their relative weights for many aspects of life. They not only affect gun laws and speed limits, control of alcohol and recreational drug sales, but also citizen's registrations and identity cards, availability of public transportation, access to/funding of higher education, healthcare, and many others.

A country's culture is not static, but is constantly evolving.

And so are freedom and safety trade-offs. 

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.  

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Update: How to Individualize Your Language Learning?

Clock with sticky note: "time for an update"There are many ways to individualize your language learning once you start thinking about it.

A few years ago, we wrote a post on that topic and it's time to update it: The opportunities and ways you can learn a new language have mushroomed.

The questions we asked then:

  • How do you learn best? Do you like grammar, or not?
  • Are you a risk taker when you learn? Do you mind making mistakes?
  • Do you read voraciously? Do you love listening to stories?

Today you should also ask yourself:

  • Are there ways I can learn with songs and music?
  • What are the best times I can learn? While commuting to work? In the car, train, subway, bus? While exercising?
  • How much time can I commit regularly to learning?
  • How can I work on my fluency?
  • Which of my portable devices (laptop, tablet, ipod, smartphone, etc.) can and should I use?
  • Which other skills do I have that I could apply to language learning?

(Some of these questions are answered in our Tips from Langfest 2017.)

It's certainly worth paying attention to your likes and dislikes.

Being aware of HOW we learn makes learning so much more interesting and effective.

Language Learning: Left and Right Brain

Research on left brain (logical, verbal, auditory, sequential) and right brainman holding pillow to make right brain work functions (creative, visual, spatial, emotional) has been ongoing for decades, and new imaging techniques have greatly enhanced our knowledge of how the brain works.

It's no mystery that learning a language involves many parts of the brain for everyone.

We don't learn a language just by listening (a left brain activity) and speaking, and kids don't do that either.

Small children don't yet know how to read and write. Still, they pick up a lot of visual and other clues from people (facial expressions, gestures), their surroundings (objects, movement), the context of a conversation (asking for something, looking for a toy), etc.

Once kids have learned to read and write, a mental “text image” may start to play along. Because we live in a text-based world, wanting to know how a word “looks” (is spelled) is part of language learning.

Since we wrote the section above, many more insights in our brain functions have been gained.

For example we now know that practicing a language BEFORE you fall asleep will improve the memory of the words and phrases you studied. (See our post: Foreign Language Learning while you sleep?)

Steve Kaufmann, a well-known polyglot and co-founder of LingQ.com, is working on his 17th language. In his talks and YouTube videos, he keeps reminding us that learning a language is gradual and involves constant forgetting and relearning.

Also, since memory is highly cue dependent, learning words and phrases in context (though listening and reading) is important for gaining fluency.

Pronunciation and Spelling

reading - listening - speaking sequenceFor adults in our society, the sounds of language are inevitably tied to how they are written. By the time we've finished school the sound-text correlation of our native language (or other languages we're fluent in) has become automatic.

For example, when I was learning Chinese strictly through listening, I found myself imagining how the word would be spelled with western letters.

Without thinking about it, I used the “regular” German sound-letter system for this. The pronunciation of almost every [German] word can be derived from its spelling. 

When not too long ago, I was learning Italian by just listening, I spontaneously (and erroneously) used French spelling to imagine how the Italian words are written.

I've come to realize that I usually learn best when I both hear and see a word or phrase.

I say usually, because recently we had a different experience with Danish.

We started learning Danish (to prepare for a trip to Denmark) with Duolingo, Memrise, and a Pimsleur audio course.

We discovered that although Danish is a Germanic/Nordic language, its spelling is not phonetic, even for German speakers like us. (My fluency in Dutch helps me somewhat because Dutch has many similarities with Danish.)

We also realized quickly that as we started out, spelling the Memrise phrases we heard became an exercise in frustration, and we gave it up.

The Pimsleur audio lessons, however, which didn't require us to consider the spelling, let us focus fully on the listening and pronunciation.

Later on, after we had learned some of the Danish spelling rules, etc. Memrise became a valuable option again.

Language Learning: Pacing Yourself

There's a lot of talk these days about how you can accelerate your language learning, e-learning cartoon: feet on the tableand lots of sites offer excellent language-learning hacks and tips.

Still, it's good to remember that no one can learn a language for you, that you yourself have to do every bit of it. That means not getting your expectations too high. 

It also means finding a way that you can stick with your language-learning plan for the long term.

Starting out, you'll want to focus on pronunciation and on learning some basic vocabulary in context. The next step will be creating simple sentences. (Those are the steps I worked on for Danish.)

Focusing on pronunciation and basic vocabulary is why we got into digital games. We have found that they are a fun way to help in the early stages of learning. 

Digital games have auditory (spoken language, sounds) and visual features (text, colors, images, design), as well as kinesthetic elements (typing against the clock, clicking on moving images, etc). They involve lots of repetition, which beginners desperately need.

But as you're learning a language, what works will change over time. As you get more fluent, you'll be looking for new and different challenges: more and interesting listening material, books to read, podcasts, YouTube videos, films to watch, conversation partners, etc. 

From Basics to Fluency

It's no secret that achieving fluency requires a lot of listening and speaking.

Yes, you have to learn vocabulary, gather as much “comprehensible input” as possible and there are many programs and apps on the market today to help you with that.

In the past, conversation partners were not always easy to find.

Today, the internet and new companies, which connect learners and tutors online, have also solved that problem. We've been using our partner site, iTalki, ourselves for several languages.

(Recently we became aware of a new site, Speakmates.com that works towards  Socializing Language Practice”.)

Online tutors and language exchange sites let you individualize your language practice, rather than follow a fixed class schedule.

Fluent Forever?

Fluent Forever Book coverIt's also reassuring to know that a Kickstarter by Gabriel Wyner, who published “Fluent Forever” in 2014, made Kickstarter history as its most funded app.

Even with Google Translate, the Google Pixel Buds for real time translation and continued progress in this area – there are still many who want to become fluent in another language.

While “spaced repetition” and “memorizing through associations” are not new techniques, they are hot topics.

It will be interesting to see how Wyner can incorporate these and other techniques into his app so learners can achieve real fluency.

With fluency being the goal of most language learners, you have so many more options today.

Yes, it will take a little research and some trial-and-error on your part until you find the best language learning book, program, website or app that works best for you.

Stay with those that allow you to learn at your own pace and keep you motivated.

Language learning will be more fun that way!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. 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: Certain links above are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe. 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt

Sylt Beach in SeptemberGermany's north has its own charm: off the beaten track medieval towns and sunny islands with long, white beaches.

Readers of previous European Travels posts may remember our Canal Boating trip on Dutch canals last year.

(As last year, we again used the mywebspot pocket WIFI, which had proven so useful during our canal trip and travels to southern Germany and Austria.)

This year we again attended a family reunion in the Netherlands, with over 130 family members coming from Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Following the reunion, we went on to explore the north of Germany and Denmark, which borders Germany's most northern State, Schleswig-Holstein.

 

Lüneburg

From Exloo in the Dutch province of Drenthe, which lies just south of Groningen, it wasLüneburg Marktplatz only about three hours by car to the town of Lüneburg (or Lunenburg), a medieval German town in the state of Lower Saxony.

Located just about 30 miles southeast of Hamburg, Lüneburg is part of Hamburg's Metropolitan Region.

Since 2007, Lüneburg has been allowed to use the title “Hansestadt” (Hanseatic Town) in its name, as a reminder that it used to belong to the “Hanse” (Hanseatic League), a commercial and defensive confederation of towns and merchant guilds.

(We had learned much about the Hanse while visiting Lübeck, when traveling from Hamburg to Wismar a few years ago.)

Lüneburg's "Alter Kran"We arrived in Lüneburg on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Taking advantage of the warm September weather, we took a long, leisurely stroll through the old part of town.

Lüneburg suffered little damage during the Second World War. We could thus admire many of the structures of the historical core: flower-filled alleys and courtyards, traditional gabled Brick Gothic buildings, the impressive City Hall, the huge water tower (built 1905).

Lüneburg gained a great deal of wealth in the Middle Ages, when its salt springs were transformed into “White Gold”. Salt also made Lüneburg one of the wealthiest town of the Hanseatic League for many years.

You can learn about salt's importance and its history in the German Salt Museum.

The “Alte Kran” (Old Crane, see picture above) which dominates the quarter along the Ilmenau Canal was used to load the salt onto the barges.

Lüneburg at the water Today, Lüneburg reportedly has one of Europe's highest concentration of pubs. We certainly had no problem finding one of them with a terrace right by the canal.

For German learners, the language spoken in Northern Germany is much easier to understand than the German spoken by many in the South (Black Forest, Swabia, Bavaria).

So, if you want to explore a small typical Hanseatic League town, which is a little bit off the beaten track, Lüneburg is a great choice.

If you're learning German, here are some words and phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages
  • die Hanse - the Hanseatic League
  • die Altstadt - the medieval center, old part of town
  • der zweite Weltkrieg - the Second World War
  • die Backsteingotik - the Brick Gothik (architecture)
  • das Rathaus - the city hall
  • der Wasserturm - the water tower
  • das Salz - the salt
  • das weiße Gold - the white gold
  • der Reichtum - the wealth
  • die Kneipe - the pub
  • abgelegen - off the beaten track

Husum

Husum Harbor with harbor side bistrosAs we had visited Hamburg in 2015 (see also From Utrecht to Hamburg), we decided to pass by this major German port city and head to Husum, a maritime town on the North Sea.

While having a delicious lunch in one of the many waterside bistros, we enjoyed watching the comings and goings in the little harbor.

We knew that Husum was the birthplace of the novelist Theodor Storm. The Theodor Storm House gave us much information about the life of this lawyer-novelist, who is most known for the last of his 50 novellas, “Der Schimmelreiter” (The Rider on the White Horse).

The novel's setting along the North German coast creates an eerie atmosphere along the dyke, with descriptions of superstitions, class differences, and men's struggles against the sea.

Storm's House also gave us a glimpse of the political events in the 19th Husum Harbor at low tide with boats in mudcentury, as this part of Germany was also under Danish control for a while.

(Today the Danish minority in Husum is represented by its own party [Südschleswigscher Wählerverband, SSW] In the 2017 state elections that party only achieved 3.3%, but is excepted from the 5% minimum and sends three representatives to the Schleswig Holstein Legislature.)

When we came back from out visit to the Storm House, we could see first hand how the considerable tides can maroon boats and ships in the harbor's mud. To get in and out of their slip, these sailor certainly have to consult their tide tables!  (see picture above.)

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • der Hafen – the harbor
  • die Gezeiten – the tides
  • die Ebbe – the ebb tide
  • die Flut – the flood tide
  • der Schlamm – the mud
  • der Deich – the dike, levee
  • der Schriftsteller - the writer
  • der Roman - the novel
  • der Schimmel – the white horse
  • die Schleuse – the lock

The Island of Sylt

Husum to Sylt Map via Hindenburg DammMaybe you've heard of Sylt – the northernmost German and largest North Frisian island in the North Sea.

Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich, and other well-known writers and artists had “discovered” the island already in the 1920s; in the 1970s, playboy Gunther Sachs put it back on the map with his wild parties. The island began to attract the German industrial elite, and famous athletes and movie stars began to rent or build homes there for the summer season.

Today, Sylt has become one of Germany's most popular holiday destinations, the wild times of the 70s just a memory of the past.

We wanted to see for ourselves what brings so many visitors to the island.

There are two ways to get to Sylt.: (1) by boat or ferry from the Danish port of Havneby on the island of Romo, or (2) by train across the Hindenburgdam (a causeway named after German President Hindenburg). We chose the latter, drove our rental car unto the train shuttle in Niebull, and 45 minutes later we drove off the train in Westerland, the main town on Sylt.

The island has a 25 mile long beach on the western side, with mudflats Typical reed-roofed house on Sylttowards the main land on the east.

We had booked ourselves for 2 days into a B&B in Rantum, just 5 miles south of Westerland (see picture right).

The first evening, we attended an entertaining and informative lecture about Sylt's history of storms. The speaker talked about the many attempts of the islanders to prevent beach erosions and about their continuing struggle against the sea.

Great efforts are taken to prevent the loss of cliffs and dunes during storms. The beaches are replenished with sand dredged up offshore, but storms and tides often counteract all human efforts.

While Westerland is a busy city with many hotels and a very active nightlife, we preferred the calmer and more scenic areas north and south.

Sylt Beach during off seasonAnd, if you were wondering – just in case you had heard about Sylt's nude beaches – yes, there are many “FKK” (Freikörperkultur) - “clothing optional” beaches on Sylt. “Buhne 16“, is the oldest and, arguably, the most well-known one. It achieved notoriety during the wild 70s and became a paparazzi hunting ground. (There's also a bistro called Buhne 16.)

We explored both the northern and southern tips of the island, walked the long beaches and admired the many wonderful reed-roof houses on the island's high dunes and cliffs.

During our week-day visit in early September, the beaches were mostly empty (see picture above). The large parking lots behind the dunes, however, left no doubt that high-season traffic on the north-south road must be intense.

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • die Insel - the island
  • die Nordseeküste - the coast of the North Sea
  • der Landverlust - the loss of land, land erosion
  • der Playboy, Lebemann - the playboy
  • berühmte Sportler - famous athletes
  • der Filmstar - the movie star
  • das Ferienziel - the holiday destination
  • der Strand - the beach
  • das Watt - the mudflat
  • der Vortrag - the lecture
  • das Schilfdach - the reed roof

The local language spoken on Sylt is Söl'ring, one of the dialects of Tadjem Deel: "Küsse Tal" restaurant in the Sylt dunesNorth Frisian (a Germanic language). Söl'ring, which has been heavily influenced by Danish, is taught in a few elementary schools on Sylt. However only a few hundred people speak it and we saw Söl'ring only on a couple of signs.

For example, we were puzzled by the name of this restaurant that we found nestled in the dunes (see picture right): Tadjem Deel. The owner told us that it means Küsse Tal or valley of kisses

After getting a glimpse of one of Germany's most popular vacation spots, Sylt, we set our sights on Denmark. We were eager to try out our Danish, which we had practiced daily for nearly four months on Duolingo.

More about that in one of our next posts.

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

7 Language Learning Tips from Langfest 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joey Perugino - Language Learning with Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Krashen: Comprehensible Input

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Pentleton: Start with Short Spurts

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

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

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

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

Steven Kaufmann: Forget and Relearn

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon Kennedy: Use Outside Skills for Language Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grégoire Lahaie: Learn Some of the Local Language

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

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

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

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

Richard Simcott: Talk to People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language Learning Stages

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

Encoding

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

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

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

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

Consolidation

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

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

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

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

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

Retrieval

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

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

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

Sleep/Language Study Set-up

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

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

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

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

Schreiner/Rasch Test Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

Open Questions

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

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

We would also ask:

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

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

One Practical Take-Away

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

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

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

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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



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