Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 7 - From Sylt to Zealand

Map with travel route Sylt to FynshavAfter a few days on the North Frisian island of Sylt (see also European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt), it was time to move on and head north to Denmark and its largest island, Sjælland, or Zealand.

(We were going to fly home from Copenhagen. Our travel planning would have been greatly facilitated by a new service we just learned about: Airwander. We'll be sure to use them on our next trip with multi-day layovers or multiple flight legs!)

Readers of a previous post may recall that we had begun to learn Danish a few months earlier with Duolingo and Pimsleur Language Programs. We were, however, under no illusion that we could speak Danish fluently.

A Little Recent Danish History

Travels often inspire curiosity about a country's history. Also for us. From the historic town of Westerland on Sylt, we took the car train shuttle back to Niebüll on the German mainland.

(We also continued to really appreciate our pocket WIFI, mywebspot, which allowed us to make our ferry, B&B and hotel reservations from our car.) 

And from there, we made our way north to cross the German-Danish border. As with most other inner European borders, there are no longer any check points.

Road signs with different coloring will let you know, Border sign at German-Danish Borderin case you missed the large border sign, that you are now in Denmark.

Still, we were surprised that there were no border controls, as Denmark had reinforced its borders with Germany a few years ago to stop the inflow of illegal goods and immigrants.

Denmark applied to join the “European Economic Community” (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, in 1961, shortly after the UK had done so.

But, the veto of then President Charles de Gaulle in 1963 against the UK's membership affected Denmark as well. With the UK being Denmark's main customer for its agricultural products, Denmark did not want to join without the UK.

After more negotiations and with a new French President, both the UK and Denmark (as well as Ireland) finally joined the EEC in 1973.

Danes are somewhat “reluctant” Europeans. Denmark still uses the krone (crown) as its currency and has not accepted the euro.

Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands are probably the three countries most affected by the impending Brexit as they are still heavily dependent on trade with the UK.

However, as we learned during our trip to Denmark, there are currently no plans for Denmark to follow the UK's example.

Ferry from Fynshav to Bøjden

Fynshavn-Bøjden FerryWe slowly made our way on excellent roads through the Danish countryside toward the town of Fynshav at the Lillebaelt-Arhus Bugt.

As we didn't have any Danish kroner, we were looking for an ATM. This gave us our first opportunity to practice our Danish by asking for directions to a bank.

Ulrike was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in Augustenborg, whom she asked for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

Not surprisingly though, Ulrike also experienced the “beginner's conundrum”: When the answer came back in rapid-fire Danish, she was lost.

But she persisted. And when the woman switched to English, Ulrike just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the bank with an ATM and now had Danish kroner.

Even though many Danes speak English, they'll love you for trying to use Danish at the start of any conversation. So before you go, learn greetings and some basic phrases. Here's a short list: (To learn how to pronounce them, try Memrise.)

  • Goddag/Hej - Good day/Hi
  • Godmorgen - Good morning
  • Vær så venlig - Please
  • Tak - Thanks
  • Ja/Nej - Yes/No
  • Undskyld mig - Excuse me (to get attention)
  • Jeg forstår ikke. - I don't understand.
  • Jeg taler ikke godt dansk. - I don't speak Danish well.
  • Taler du engelsk? - Do you speak English?
  • Farvel - Goodbye

The 45-minute ferry crossing from the town of Fynshav to Fyn (Funen), the second largest Danish island, was uneventful.

We enjoyed hearing Danish spoken all around us and tried some “Danish pastry”, which in Denmark is called "wienerbrød" (Vienna bread). Was it a Viennese pastry chef who brought pastries to Denmark?

In Bøjden (on Fyn) we found the B&B we had reserved: a Danish farmhouse which had been converted by a Dutch woman into a cozy Bed and Breakfast residence.

She recommended that we forgo a visit to Odensee, the island's largest city. Instead, she suggested that we visit the town of Faaborg, the Valdemars Slot on the island of Tåsinge in the south, and the town of Nyborg to the north.

Faaborg

Faaborg (or Fåborg), just a 15-minute drive from Bøjden, Faaborg Bell Toweris a picturesque little town of about 7,000 people.(see Bell tower)

It has an interesting history. The town celebrated its 775th anniversary in 2004 and thereby the year in which King Valdemar II gave Faaborg (and a good portion of the south of Fyn) as a wedding gift to his daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Portugal.

One of the finest buildings in town, “Plougs Gaard” was built in 1790 by Jesper Ploug, who reportedly made his fortune in shipping during the American War of Independence.

Once an important harbor for trading with Sweden and Norway and later with England and Germany, services and tourism are now the town's dominant industries.

Faarborg Marina at sun setWhile commercial and fishing traffic in the harbor have decreased, we were told that over 15,000 pleasure boats, vintage ships and yachts of all sizes visit the port each year.

There is also regular ferry service to the adjacent islands of Søby, Avernakø, Bjørnø and Lyø.

During this second week of September, there were few tourists who, like us, wandered through the narrow streets and admired the historic mansions and town houses.

We had an excellent dinner in Det Hvide Pakhus, right at the harbor and pleasure boat marina. The cheerful waitress explained that after schools start in early September tourist traffic drops off significantly.

We were surprised, however, how quickly the large restaurant filled up during the early evening hours. It's obviously popular with locals.

Valdemars Slot

Picture of Valdermars SlotThe next day, we drove to Valdemars Slot (Valdemar's castle) on the nearby island of Tåsinge.

We arrived during a rain storm. After buying our tickets in the gift shop located outside the castle, we walked up the stairs to the main doors. (see picture)

We left our raincoats and umbrella in the entrance hall and not seeing any other visitors, personnel or guards, we went ahead and followed the visit schedule outlined in the little guide book we had received.

While the outside architecture is not as impressive as some of the other Danish castles, the castle's interior provides a unique experience:

As the guide book notes:

Valdemar's Castle is a special kind of museum. The visitor will find no impeding ropes surrounding valuable objects of art and old furniture, and small things are not placed in exhibition cases. We want everything to be seen in its proper place and so – we believe – the special air and atmosphere of the house will manifest itself to the visitor. Some rooms are decorated in such a way that in spite of the years passed one might feel that the owner has just left....”

Indeed, in the various rooms recent photos of the current owners were on display. It reinforced our feeling that the owners were still living in the castle from time to time.

The guide also explains:

The castle is private property, and sole owner today is Alexander Fleming, 12th generation of the Juel dynasty, son of Caroline Fleming, born Caroline Juel-Nrockdorff, who descends in direct line from naval hero Niels Juel. Valdemar's Castle has been open to the public since 1974. It is still used as a private home by the owner and family.

If you have never heard of Niels Juel, you are not alone. Neither had we.

But the history is quite interesting:

The original castle was built in the years 1639 to 1644 by the Danish King Christian IV for his son, Count Valdemar Christian (thus the name!) However, Valdemar never lived in the castle. Seeking adventure abroad, he died on the battlefield in Poland in 1656.

During the war with Sweden (1657-60), the castle was occupied and badly damaged. When Admiral Niels Juel defeated the Swedish in the famous sea battle in the Bay of Køge, he also captured a large number of Swedish ships. This entitled him to one-tenth of the value of the ships – an amount the Danish King was unable to pay to his Admiral.

Instead, the Danish King handed over the crown lands of Tåsinge, including the castle, to Niels Juel. The Admiral not only substantially renovated the castle, but added gatehouses, the coach and stable wings and a graceful tea pavilion at the end of an artificial pond. The aerial photo shows it all.

We enjoyed a leisurely walk through the many open rooms, The King's Room with many portraits of the Danish kings, the Empress Room, named after the beautiful portrait of Empress Eugenie of France, the bedrooms, guestrooms, and others. It was also interesting to see the photos of current family members and royal visitors.

What was especially notable was the lack of any guards (though there were cameras).

While we were walking through the various rooms, over old wood floors and antique carpets, we suddenly noticed that other visitors were wearing blue protective covers over their shoes. We realized we had missed the sign and the bin with the covers in our eagerness to start the tour.

But nobody had stopped or admonished us, Aerial View of Valdemar's Castleso we quickly corrected our oversight.

We visited Valdemars Slot on a rainy weekday and saw few other visitors. But on better days, the castle also seems to attract families who can rent bikes, Segways, kayaks, or go to the nearby beach.

As we toured the castle and learned about the Danish monarchy, we also became aware of a Danish curiosity:

Beginning in the 16th century, after Christian II was deposed in 1523, all Danish kings were named either Frederick or Christian – until 1972, when for the first time a woman, Margrethe II, daughter of King Frederick IX, became Queen.

Nyborg

Nyborg castle across pondOur next stop was Nyborg, which is located on the east side of Fyn. 

Nyborg, today a town of about 16,000 inhabitants, housed the “Danehoffet”, the country's legislative and judicial assembly from 1183 to 1413.

In the 17th century, Nyborg was one of only three fortified towns in Denmark (together with Frederica and Copenhagen).

Nyborg Castle is considered one of the most important heritage monuments from Denmark's Middle Ages. It currently is being restored and more information about the project can be found HERE. Nyborg medieval weekend with archers

We toured the museum and found ourselves carried back in time.

A lively market in the middle of town with Danish folk musicians on Saturday morning started a medieval weekend with archers and jousting. (see picture)

We also visited the Nyborg's Historical Museum, which encloses the Borgmestergåarden (Mayor's Yard) with its distinctive red painted half-timbered buildings.

Walking on the uneven floors of this well-preserved merchant house, we felt we were back in the 17th century. In one of the workshops we watched a blacksmith at his trade.

The Storebaelt Bridge

Suspension bridges have always fascinated me. The Great Belt Bridge from the air

So, I was excited when a few days later, we crossed from Fyn to the island of Zealand (Sjaelland) on the Storebaelt Bridge (the Great Belt Bridge).

With a main span of 1,624 meters (5,328 feet), its the world's third-longest suspension bridge.

Only the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan with 1,991 meters and the Xihoumen Bridge in China with 1,650 meters are longer.

The total distance between the two islands and length of the bridge is about 18 km or 11 miles, and we were driving across on a beautiful blue-sky September day.

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

Map Nyborg to RoskildeOnce across the Great Belt Bridge, we were on the island of Zealand, the largest Danish Island.

It didn't take us much more than an hour to reach Roskilde.

During a Hurtigruten cruise along the Norwegian coastline a few years ago, we had learned much about the Vikings.

While one often associates Norwegians (and Swedes) with the Vikings, the Danes were certainly a key member of the Viking's Scandinavian homeland.

We visited the wonderful Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, just when one of the Viking longboats returned from an outing. (see picture) Roskilde's Viking Museum: Longboat

The museum owns five “Skuldelev” which were built in the museum's workshop with copies of Viking age tools and corresponding materials and techniques.

The reconstructions are based on hull shapes of ships that have been found but the museum also cautions that they are not “definitive truths”. They represent “suggestions on how the ships may have looked 1,000 years ago.”

We only regret that we didn't have the opportunity to join one of those Viking ship's outings.

Now a business and educational center with a population of about 50,000 people, Roskilde then was the hub of the Viking land and sea routes 1,000 years ago. And, from the 11th to the 15th century it was the country's capital.

In late afternoon, we lingered at a café on the grand square of Roskilde and soaked up the atmosphere of this historic town.

There were more sights to explore on Zealand before heading to Copenhagen, but we'll report about them in a future post.

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 Saumya Tiwari

The Best Ways to Experience the Northern Lights

northern-lights-aurora-borealisSeveral years ago we experienced the Northern Lights when we visited Norway in September. We took a Hurtigruten Ferry from Bergen to Kirkenes.

Our ship, Kong Harald, stopped at various towns along the way, including Ålesund, Trondheim, Tromsø, to finally reach Kirkenes, a town right on the Russian border.

When we crossed the Arctic Circle, we all got a handful of ice down our backs as a gesture of respect to Neptune.

That night, the sky lit up with a beautiful play of northern lights.

It was Galileo Galilei who coined the term "Aurora Borealis" in 1619 after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning.

While he was wrong that sunlight reflected from the atmosphere would cause the streaks of light, the term, or a slight variation of the Latin original, is still used in Romance languages:

Italian: aurora boreale
Spanish: aurora boreal 
French: aurore boréale
Portuguese: aurora boreal

"Northern lights", the more descriptive term, is used in Germanic languages (which includes English).

The Finnish word "revontulet" means "fox's fires" and goes back to the Finnish legend that the northern lights are a reflection of the fox's fur.

What causes the Northern Lights?

Northern lights (there are also "Southern lights") develop when electrically charged particles from the sun - a "solar wind" collide with the gases contained in the earth's atmosphere, especially nitrogen and oxygen.

A good and more detailed description of Auroras can be found in this article of Space.com: Aurora Borealis: What Causes the Northern Lights & Where to See Them.

Some of you would also like to experience these spectacular displays of nature, perhaps.

We are therefore happy that Saumya Tiwari describes seven options for you below:

Where to Find Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are one of the biggest attractions in Northern Europe.

It is natural to regard them as a significant nature’s wonder.

People from around the globe flock to see their glory and beauty from August to March every year depending on the place you’re visiting to witness them.

Also known as Aurora Borealis or the polar lights, this scientific miracle is, if not one of the seven wonders of the world, definitely the eighth.

There are several ways to experience the Northern Lights and bask in the surreal beauty of that region. Let’s dive right in and check out some of the best ways to witness the Northern Lights this year to get a complete experience!

1. Swedish Ice Hotel

The Swedish Ice Hotel is an attractionSwedish Ice Hotel Entrance in itself and a mark of great man-made excellence.

It is constructed every year from scratch and is open for guests from mid-December till March end.

The itinerary of the several tours and trips offered by the hotel also includes a trip to the Aurora Zone to witness this unbelievable spectacle. (picture Source)

In Swedish, "northern lights" is "norrsken".

2. Canadian Snowmobiling

Snow mobiles in Canadian forestAnother way to experience the Northern Lights is by traveling to the Northwest Territories and finding some warmth in the frozen landscapes there.

Between the months of December and April, you can go on a snowmobiling voyage across the Great Slave Lake that is totally frozen during these months. You can rent a remote cabin to see the polar lights from there.

You can also arrive at the Blatchford Lake Lodge by a quick 30-minute seaplane ride to enjoy several activities like ice-fishing and snowshoeing in addition to watching the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)

3. City Tour in Iceland

Iceland has a bustling and busy city life that Reykjavik at nightpresents a lot of exploration opportunities for the tourists.

You can take a package trip to Reykjavik that accommodates you in a four-star hotel. This package includes the Northern Lights.

The hotel takes the guests out on an excursion to witness the Aurora in a super jeep. This natural display can be witnessed by this way between October 1 and April 8. (picture Source)   

In Icelandic, "northern lights" is "nor∂urljós".

4. Norwegian Voyage

Northern light above Hurtigruten shipHow would you feel about not just witnessing the Northern Lights but also learning all there is to know about it?

Hurtigruten, who is a Scandinavian cruise specialist takes you on an Astronomical Voyage of 12 days along with a writer and physicist.

This cruise offers a total of six departures in the months of winter and includes at least four ports of call.

This Scandinavian cruise specialist promises a week-long complimentary voyage if, for some reason, the guests are unable to witness the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)   

In Norwegian, "northern lights" is "nordlys".

5. Greenland Husky Safari

Everyone has heard of the fantastic Siberian Huskies.Husky Safari

Regent Holidays offer a Dog Sledding Expedition from Reykjavik to Greenland for a trip of 11 days.

The entire trip takes place on dog sleds from South-Eastern Greenland, particularly Tasiilaq. Dog handlers or native mushers accompany you to ensure an uneventful and safe journey through the snowy landscapes.

Your 5-day stay there promises you plenty of opportunities to experience the Northern Lights. You can stay in remote and beautiful mountain huts in the middle of nature.

However, this particular voyage would require you to possess a certain level of stamina and physical fitness.(Picture Source)

6. Igloo

Finnland Iglo villageHow romantic would it be to witness the Northern Lights through a glass-roofed igloo?

This would literally entail sleeping under the starry lights to witness one of the biggest scientific marvels on earth.

You get to stay in Finnish Lapland which is a beauty in itself at Kakslauttanen. It’s a 3-day trip so again; there are several chances to see the Northern Lights. You can choose your preferred style of igloos above the Arctic Circle.

All igloos have a thermal and clear glass domed ceiling. They are also thermally insulated for a cozy and serene stay.

They sleep up to six and also offer a very private sauna and open log fires. You will be equipped with all the warmth you will need in there. You can choose to avail this tour from early November to early April. (Picture Source)

In Finnish, "northern lights" is "revontulet".

7. Up in The Sky

How would you like to watch the Northern Lights Northern Lights from airplane windowup in the sky at 40,000 ft.? Aurora Flights UK offers a 3-hour flight from London and other regional airports to view the Northern Lights.

This trip can be pre-booked from early November until late March. This is an excellent way to view the Northern Lights as it also offers the maximum visibility.

You can even enjoy snacks and astronomers onboard to guide you along the way. (Picture Source)

Parting thoughts

Regardless of the way, it is an indisputable fact that Northern Lights are nothing short of a marvel that must be witnessed at least once in a lifetime. Choosing any one of these ways will give you an ultimate Northern Lights experience.

Author’s Bio: Saumya works at The Villa Escape - Norway Northern Lights Tour From India as editor. She is a 20-something fun loving and ambitious female who loves traveling and loves to share her traveling experiences. She loves solo travel trips. If not traveling you can find her behind her laptop playing games.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with thevillaescape.com or Saumya Tiwari other than publishing Saumya's article.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Why Travel is a Great Language Motivator

travel books as language motivator- Gamesforlanguage.comTraveling can be a great motivator for learning a new language.

As you're making your travel plans, don't forget the language(s) you may encounter.

Obviously this does not work so well for trips such as “Europe: 6 Countries in 7 Days” or similar offerings.

But if your plans include a stay of a couple of weeks or so in one city, or even in one country, learning at least the basics of the local language should be part of your preparations.

(As readers of previous posts will know,  after our [first] retirement we enjoyed longer stays in several European cities and countries, see also Learning Spanish..)

Our three-week trip to Denmark in 2017 motivated us to learn Danish with Duolingo and Pimsleur. (We'll report about our experiences with Danish in a future post.)

Did You Learn a Language in School?

Learning a language in school is a very different experience from learning one outside of the classroom.

What is a "school subject" on the one hand, becomes a "hobby" when you're no longer in school. It becomes a way of trying new things and discovering new places.

A school subject includes daily homework exercises, classroom lectures and drills, tests, exams, and grades. And who likes to be called on in class? All that can be a chore and may well put a damper on your enthusiasm.

On the other hand, learning a language as a "hobby" puts you in charge of your own learning. It's an adventure. Not only do you learn new skills, you explore other cultures and make new friends. Language learning can be a perfect tool for self-discovery and self-development.

And, who knows what new doors a second language will open in your work life, or even in your planning for retirement?!

A Motivator: Your Imagination!

If you drop the "school-subject mindset", learning a View of Nyhavn in Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comlanguage can be a fresh and fun experience. One way to do this is to tie language learning to planning a trip.

Often, as we plan and organize a trip, we anticipate being there. 

We imagine touring the Reichstag Dome in Berlin; enjoying a caffè macchiato in Trastevere, Rome; strolling through the Marché Mouffetard in Paris; taking a night tour of the Alhambra, in Granada.

Or as we did before our trip through Denmark: picturing ourselves strolling through the streets of Copenhagen, ordering an "øl" in one of the harbor-side bistros on Nyhavn (picture), exploring the Hamlet castle in Helsingør.

We made your imagination the motivator for learning Danish!

In Visitors' Shoes in the US

Language Motivator:bLiberty Statue by Charles DeluvioWhat does knowing the local language matter?

Imagine yourself coming to the US without knowing any English.

You would certainly experience the country and its people as a tourist, from the outside.

Imagine having to ask everyone, every time: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez-vous français? Parla italiano? Or, Habla español?

If you stayed a little longer, you would of course pick up a few words.

But if you had learned some basic English phrases ahead of your trip, your interactions with us locals would be more meaningful. I bet you'd enjoy your stay so much more.

It's the same for us when we travel abroad.

The better we speak the local language, the more deeply we experience the place and its people.

Being able to communicate allows us to go off the beaten track and feel confident about doing so.

We try to go with the idea that not everyone speaks English. It's something we actually have found to be true in many cases, especially if you venture off the beaten track.

The Beginner's Conundrum

However, in countries like Denmark where nearly everybody speaks English, it is often hard to practice your new language: Danish people switch immediately to English when your Danish does not seem to be authentic.

I (Ulrike) was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in a small town, whom I asked (in Danish) for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

However, I also experienced the “Beginner's Conundrum”: When her answer came back in rapid fire Danish, I was lost.

She switched to English, but I just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the Bank with an ATM and could replenish our travel funds.

And if you wonder why we don't like to use an ATM at night or not connected to a bank, read about our experience in Seville, Spain: 5 Tips for Dealing with ATM Troubles Abroad (and at Home).

That early success encouraged us to use our Danish as much as we could: when ordering food, buying tickets, asking for information, etc.

Why Learn Danish at all?

Why did we persist, even though English is so widely spoken and Danes themselves tell us not to learn Danish because it's too difficult. Yes, why?

When you're in another country, you're in a totally new environment. Everything's different, the way people interact, the look of the countryside, the bustle of the towns, the taste of the food, and obviously, the sound of the language.

By using the local language, you're no longer experiencing the country just from the outside.

So, if you have a travel destination on your bucket list, add learning the language to your preparations. Give yourself, let's say three months, like we did with Danish. And then see how much of the language you can acquire in that time.

Use whatever resources you enjoy (flashcards, songs, films with subtitles, etc.) and just keep going, a little bit every day. As an added benefit, you'll sharpen your memory and train your ear.

And when you arrive in the country you're visiting, challenge yourself to speak up whenever you can! Try to experience your visit as a mini-immersion.

Peter's Confession

I have to confess that I have developed a love-hate relationship with Danish.

Even though Danish is a Germanic language and there are many words I can decipher when I READ them, I'm still a long way from SPEAKING Danish, or rather – pronouncing it correctly.

Why is that?

It's because Danish spelling is not phonetic in many cases: Not only are many endings not pronounced at all, but certain vowel and consonant combinations produce very unfamiliar sounds, at least to my German ear.

Examples of pronunciation as I hear them:

  • jeg (I) - <yigh>
  • mad (food) - <melth> and spelled differently but sounding very similar to
  • meget (much) - <melth>
  • det er ikke nogen (there isn't anything) - <de ehr igge noarn>

Nevertheless, I am continuing with Danish using Pimsleur, Duolingo and Memrise lessons at the moment, and hope to be able to listen soon to some LingQ mini-stories. (as Ulrike is already doing).

The Pimsleur audio course for Danish lets me focus more on listening and pronunciation, without getting confused by the non-phonetic spelling.

Why am I continuing with Danish when our travels are behind us?

Because I want to figure out at least the most common Danish pronunciation rules and I won't stop until I do.

What started out simply as preparation for a trip to Denmark now has become a personal challenge as well as a way to keep my brain sharp.

And what keeps motivating me to continue are my memories of our wonderful trip - and my determination to figure out the Danish pronunciation rules.

I'll keep you updated about my success (or failure)!

So, pick a travel destination and, yes, jump into your new language. This too is an exciting adventure.

Do it with enthusiasm and with imagination, and find your motivation to stick with it. Then go there and speak up!

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

 

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

national flags on TVYou know that you're making progress when you start to pick up language subtleties in the language you're learning.

Language subtleties can be fun or embarrassing, but you'll especially remember the embarrassing ones.

I'm not only talking about “false friends, which are not that hard to check.

For example, my (German speaking) father quickly learned the English word “gift”, as the same word means “poison” in German.

Gift” was also the first entry in our earlier post, 20 German False Friends To Watch Out For.

There are also quite a few such “cognates” in Spanish, as we listed in False Language Friends – Spanish: me despierto et al.

(And, we just realized that we are still to list the major cognates for Italian and French, Gamesforlanguage's other two languages.)

In the meantime, here are just a few language subtleties we came across recently.

German Subtleties

One of our sons told us the other day that during a stay in Germany he responded to a question whether the room temperature was ok: “Ja danke, ich bin warm.” But, the correct German expression for "I'm warm" is “Es ist mir warm.”

He could not understand the chuckle of the family friend he was staying with. The friend explained that “warm sein” in German used to mean to be “gay”, or “schwul”.

Although the above exchange occurred over 15 years ago, our son still remembers the different meanings of the two expressions.

Going back even further, I remember when mymonkey on tricyle cartoon French-speaking brother-in-law, who also spoke excellent German, was puzzled when he heard one of our friends tell us over a glass of beer:

Als ich nach der Party mit dem Fahrrad nach Hause fuhr, hatte ich einen ordenlichen Affen sitzen.” (Literally: When I rode home on my bicycle after the party, I had a substantial monkey sitting.)

My brother-in-law laughed as heartily as all the others, but later he asked me: “Why did he have a monkey sitting on the bicycle with him?”

As many other languages do as well, German has many ways to express being tipsy or drunk, for example:

  • einen sitzen haben
  • einen Affen sitzen haben
  • einen Schwips haben
  • einen im Tee haben

And in the various German dialects there are quite a few more.

This brings me to German words with more than one meaning.

For example, “einen Kater haben” could mean “owning a male cat”. But more likely – and you would know from the context – it would mean “having a hangover”.

In German, there are plenty of words with more than one meaning. There is no way around learning them. Examples are:

  • Linsen” are “lentils”, but also lenses of cameras
  • ein Gericht” could be “a court of justice”, or a meal
  • die Wirtschaft” could mean “the economy” or the local pub
  • ein Bienenstich” is a German cake specialty, made with yeast dough, filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds, but it also simply means “the sting of a bee”. I still have no idea how this cake got its name.

You can sometimes guess the meaning of a word from the context, but that is often harder for idioms.

Spanish Subtleties

The other day I was again reviewing the use of “estar” and “ser” in Spanish.

One of the explanations of the difference between both is the following:

Think about “ser” as a “passive” verb, something “being” that way permanently, e.g. describing a personal trait; “estar”, on the other hand, is a more active verb describing a (temporary) condition.

In the examples below the use of either “ser” or “estar” changes the meaning of the adjective.

Bored woman ignored by her dateFor example:

The young woman in the picture certainly would NOT want to say:

“Soy aburrido” which means “I am boring”,

when she really wants to say: “Estoy aburrido” (I am bored”) - hopefully only a temporary condition with her date!

Similarly, when you tell somebody that you are not ready, say

“No estoy listo” and NOT “No soy listo”. The latter means that you are not intelligent or a quick thinker.

Also:

  • vivo/a is alive with estar, but clever with ser
  • cansado/a is tired with estar, but tiring with ser

Remember as well that “estar” is used to indicate your location, as in “Estoy en casa” (I'm at home), but “ser” is used to indicate your origin, e.g. place of birth, “Soy de Austria.” (I'm from Austria.)

And just when I thought I had understood the differences well enough, I was reminded of a few major exceptions:

  • Está muerto” (he is dead) seems to be quite a permanent condition, but uses “estar” to indicate that somebody is dead.
  • On the other hand “ser” is used to indicate time as in “Son las tres de la tarde” as in “It's 3 PM”, which seems quite transitional.

As with German, Spanish also has words that have more than one meaning:

  • piso: can mean “apartment” or “flat” but also is used for a building's “level” or “floor”
  • gato: “cat” is the translation I know, but apparently it is also a “car jack”
  • tiempo: can mean “time” or “weather”
  • techo: can mean “ceiling” or “roof”

As Spanish is spoken not only in Spain but also in the Americas, it's not surprising that there are quite a few words that have acquired various meanings in different countries.

A few examples include:

  • fresa: a “strawberry” in most Spanish speaking countries (but “frutilla” in Argentina); in Mexico it's also a slang term for a spoiled, egocentric, wealthy youngster
  • coche: a “car” for Spaniards, but a slang term for “pig” in Guatemala (maybe from French “cochon”?), or a babystroller in Chile
  • torta: a “cake” in most Spanish speaking countries, it also translates as “a punch in the mouth” in Spain

This iTalki post has quite a few more Spanish words with different meanings in different countries.

Only the context of a sentence lets you sometimes figure out the meaning.

But because Spanish has phonetic spelling, it is much easier than French with its many homophones, as we'll see below.

And here are a few more tips how to improve your Spanish.

French Subtleties

As with German and Spanish above (and most languages), some French words have two or more meanings.

For example, voler can mean either to fly or to steal. (Maybe the image with the seagulls below will help you remember the two meanings).   seagulls trying to steal food on beach

But with nouns, often the article changes, and that can alert you to which meaning is used.

  • la tour (a tower), le tour (a trip)
  • la poste (the post office), le poste (a position)
  • la mémoire (the memory), le mémoire (the essay)

I'm doing a lot of listening at the moment (on LingQ) to get my French up a notch for an upcoming trip to French Switzerland.

One feature that makes spoken French particularly tricky are its many homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

Here are a few examples:

  • fin (end), faim (hunger)
  • verre (glass), vers (a verse, or towards), ver (worm), vert (green)
  • vin (wine), vain (in vain), vingt (twenty), vint (came)
  • saut (jump), seau (bucket), sot (dummy), sceau (seal)
  • maire (mayor), mer (sea), mère (mother)
  • c'est (it is), sait (knows), s'est (reflexive pronoun + est)

Not to mention the various personal verb endings that get swallowed in spoken French.

  • (il) est, (tu) es
  • (je) parle, (tu) parles, (ils) parlent

You have to pay special attention to the context to get the right meaning and spelling.

Idioms

Idioms pose their own challenge as the literal meaning is often quite far from the idiomatic meaning.

A couple of my favorites are:

  • poser un lapin à quelqu'un - to put a rabbit to someone (to stand someone up, not show up for a date)
  • faire la grasse matinée - to do the fat morning (to sleep in)
  • faire le pont - to make the bridge (if Thursday is a holiday, you may as well not work Friday either and take a nice long weekend)

If you like French idioms, check out our post on Other Cats to Whip? The Book of French Idioms. It's a collection of funny idioms with delightful illustrations.

Québecois

Last August, we spent several days in Montreal to attend LangFest 2017. The conference is a popular annual language gathering that attracts language enthusiasts from all over the globe.

We really enjoyed being in a French environment, but it took us a few hours to attune our ears again to the melody and expressions of Québecois, the local language spoken there.

One of the first workshops at LangFest was a quick overview of Québecois by translator and editor Grégoire Lahaia. This was really helpful for us. Lahaia pointed out three major characteristics of how Québecois is pronounced:

1) Dipthongization of long vowels (also called vowel breaking)

  • père - paèr
  • rêve - raève
  • fort - faort

2) The consonants t/d are pronounced ts/ds before the vowels u/i

  • tu - tsu
  • tuer - tsuer
  • tirer - tsirer
  • durant - dsurant

3) Many words are contracted

  • tu es - t'es
  • sur la - s'a
  • il aime - y'aime
  • je suis - j'su

It made us realize again how important it is to listen to different regional accents of a language to train your ear to understand variations beyond standard pronunciation. 

Italian Subtleties

Besides watching the TV series Un posto al sole, I'm doing some reading in Italian these days. I'm noticing that many common words seem to have cognates in English, but there's been a shift in meaning.

False Friends

a cat and a mouseYou think you understand the meaning of a word, but it doesn't seem to quite fit the context. So at times it's a good idea to double check.

Here are a few examples of false friends (and we'll have more in a soon-to-come blog post):

  • accomodarsi - to sit down (to accommodate - alloggiare)
  • baldo - courageous (bald - calvo)
  • bravo - good, clever (brave - corragioso)
  • fattoria - farm (factory - fabbrica)
  • proprio - one's own, typical (proper - appropriato, giusto)
  • questionare - to argue, quarrel (to question - interrogare)
  • parenti - relatives (parents - genitori)

The verbs essere vs stare

Even if you've figured out the difference in Spanish between estar and ser, the Italian verbs stare and essere will provide you with a new challenge.

In general essere means to be, and stare means to stay. But in some contexts stare also means to be.

As a starter, it's useful to learn a few basic phrases, so you don't have to think about what to use with these.

Use essere:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.

  • Sono italiano. - I'm Italian.
  • Sono insegnate di francese. - I'm a French teacher.
  • La casa è di Carla. - It's Carla's house.
  • Il tavolo è negro. - The table is black.

For condition or emotion.

  • Sono malato. - I'm sick.
  • Sono felice. - I'm happy.

For Date and Time.

  • Sono le dieci. - It's ten o'clock.
  • È lunedì. - It's Monday.

Use stare:

For precise location (but in some cases, you can also use essere)

  • La sedia sta/è in cucina. - The chair is in the kitchen.
  • Lui sta da me. - He's at my place.

For certain idiomatic expressions.

  • Sto bene. - I'm well.
  • Come stai? - How are you?
  • Sto male. - I'm feeling bad.

For the continuous tense:

  • Sta piovendo. - It's raining.
  • Sto mangiando una pizza. - I'm eating a pizza.

The little word ci

The two-letter word ci pops up a lot in conversational Italian. You'll see it on its own and also attached to the end of a verb.

It helps to learn basic phrases, but more importantly, just become aware of it as you read or listen to Italian.

With time, you'll learn to recognize the various meanings of ci.

Personal pronoun ci = us/to us/ourselves

  • Marco ci ha invitato a cena. - Marco has invited us to dinner. (direct object)
  • Ci l'hanno dato. - They gave it to us. (indirect oject)
  • Ci siamo divertiti molto. - We enjoyed ourselves a lot. (reflexive)
  • Ci vediamo là? - We'll see each other there? (reciprocal)

Demonstative pronoun ci = about it/on it

  • Non so che farci. - I don't know what to do about it.
  • Ci penserò. - I'll think about it.
  • Ci puoi contare. - You can depend on it.

Adverb ci = here/there; there is/there are; it is/they are

  • Qui non ci ritorno più. - I'm not coming back here again.
  • Conosco Roma perché ci ho abitato. - I know Rome well because I lived there.
  • Ci sono 30 kilometri. - It's (there are) 30 kilometers.
  • C'è nessuno in casa? - Is there anybody at home?

Verbs with ci

A number of verbs change meaning by adding ci”. The meanings have to be learned in context. Here are a couple of examples: 

  • pensare - to think
  • pensarci - to think/take care of sth; ci penso io (I'll take care of it)
  • stare - to be, stay
  • starci - to be up for it/to fit in it; non ci sta (it doesn't fit in it)
  • credere - to believe
  • crederci - to believe it; non ci credo (I don't believe it)

We obviously could only touch the surface of the four languages' many subtleties.

But once you start paying attention to them, you'll be a step closer to mastering the language you're learning. The proof will be when you recognize some of the expressions in conversations and can use them yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Lea Knows" - Easy Flashcards - A Review

Lea-knows - flashcard icon of app(Updated 4/15/2018)

Do you sometimes wish that Google would automatically create easy Flashcards for foreign words you look up on the internet?

Well, here's an app that does exactly that. It's called Léa-Knows and is now available in the iOS and Android app stores.

I was happy to hear that the Léa Knows app was upgraded in February 2018 to include support for translations by Linguee - an online editorial dictionary, and search engine that indexes international websites. 

I've been using the app for several months now, at home when reading (in one of my 6 European languages) and when traveling abroad (lately to French Switzerland). When I write in a new word, the app automatically creates a Flashcard. I can then review words and phrases whenever I want to.

First, a quick look at the story behind the application in the words of its creator, Sébastien Marion, a French tech entrepreneur:

"This app was really created as a result of frustration. When I arrived in Spain, I would constantly type things into Google Translate and then forget them a minute later. In this way, it becomes hard to improve. The alternative of copying words inside a flashcard is too impractical and time-consuming when in the middle of a real conversation.

So, Léa Knows is really ideal for these situations: it works just like Google Translate (even uses the GT API), but the kicker is that it creates flashcards out of every search and you can practice these flashcards with ease when you have some free time.

The app is named after my daughter Léa, now 20 months old who is growing up with a French father, a Taiwanese mum (speaks Chinese), parents that communicate between them in English, living in Barcelona where the official languages are Catalan and Spanish. I thought that it would be fitting to name it after her."

TRANSLATIONS

Léa Knows uses GoogleTranslate for numerous languages. Linguee seems to be more limited. But for the translations it has, Linguee gives you more information. 

For Google, I counted over a hundred languages and it looks like Google cross-translates between all of them.

And, the translation function seems to be improving. As the New York Times reported on December 14, 2016, GoogleTranslate's machine-translation service had "suddenly and immeasurably improved" with Google's introduction of Neural Machine Translation (NMT).   

Linguee supports translation between seven European languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Polish, and the list is growing.

The advantage of Linguee is that you'll get more than just one translation, plus grammatical information (noun gender, adjective forms, etc.). For example, the English word "street" will give you for French: rue (f), route (f), ruelle (f).

You can easily switch back between Google and Linguee. To reset for both options, tap the yellow Tab after you've cleared the "Enter text" space.  

For a translation on Léa Knows, you pull down one Tab for the language to translate from, and another Tab for the target language. 

On the Tabs, you'll find English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese on top.Lea-knows - translate screen The rest of the languages from Afrikaans to Zulu follow in alphabetic order.

To see what one can do with Léa Knows, I tried out some translations for languages I know well and also for languages that I don't know well yet.

Words, phrases, as well as shorter sentences seem to work well with Google.

Some examples:

  • Italian: pomeriggio - French: après-midi
  • German: nicken - English: nod
  • Dutch: levenslang - Spanish: durante todo la vida
  • French: trouver - Catalan: trobar
  • English: lunch - Danish: frokost
  • English: Hello, how are you? - French: Salut comment allez-vous?
  • Spanish: creo que no - French: je ne crois pas
  • French: le petit garçon - Italian: il ragazzino
  • Italian: la Pianura Padana - English: the Po Valley
  • German: ich möchte eine Tasse Tee - Swedish: Jag skulle vilja ha en kopp te

In some cases, you just have to say "Okay I get the meaning", even if the translation is a little off.

  • Italian: sfortunato - English: bad lucky
  • German: Nachbesserungsbedarf - English: imperfections (but literally: the need to improve)

Linguee can sometimes be a "hit-or-miss affair". Of the above Google translations, only the first German-English one produced a translation on Linguee. However, it may be just a matter of time until Linguee's webcrawler finds the appropriate bilingual texts to add all of those to its database, and many more.

EASY FLASHCARDS

Lea-knows Menu screenshotThe Flashcard function is cool!

At this time, you get just the translation, no audio yet. (We understand from Sébastien that audio should be added soon.)

So for now, you'll need to find other ways to hear how the languages sound.

Every word you look up automatically creates a Flashcard that is saved in the app.

A quick tap on a Flashcard shows the translation. Slide the Flashcards to go through them.

You can easily customize how you want to see these Flashcards again.

  •  Add a star to put the card into a group you can practice separately.
  •  Add a color (there are 6) to sort by language, or to create your own recall system.
  •  Archive the card to practice at a later date.
  •  Trash the card.

You can review, relearn, and test yourself whenever you have a few minutes.

USING THE APP

Google Translate has become an automatic habit for many polyglots. Lea-knows all flashcards Steve Kaufmann, who runs the LingQ language learning site and is learning his 17th language, agrees: "I think GoogleTranslate is a tremendous resource and not only for language learners."

With the added function of creating automatic Flashcards, the application Léa Knows makes GoogleTranslate and Linguee convenient language learning tools.

There are all kinds of ways to use the app so that you can learn words and phrases you encounter throughout the day.

  • While traveling, learn the meaning of new words you see or hear.
  • Check on the meaning of words in a foreign article or book.
  • Look up words as you're writing an email or text in a foreign language.
  • Create a list of words for items you want to learn.
  • As you're talking with someone, do a quick check for a word you forgot.
  • Type in unknown words you hear as you're watching a foreign film.

I bet you can think of more ways yourself.

And, you can always choose what to keep and review, and what to discard.

This app is definitely a step into the future. Have fun, and keep learning!

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

Which Foreign Language should I learn?

World Language with Globe, flags and young woman"Which foreign language should I learn?" is not a question many adults ask themselves.

Learning another language for most is more likely not a choice but a necessity.

The need to learn may be driven by a new job or career choice, a stay in another country or the desire to better communicate with your partner and his or her family.

Yes, there are others who don't NEED, but just WANT to learn another language. There are so many unique and beautiful languages.

We recently came across a fun quiz that TakeLessons created to help you decide which one to learn.

It will let you consider which foreign language suits you best, depending on your interests and personality. 

Now, we can't guarantee that learning that language will be easy, but it may very well be the language you'll love to learn!

Whether it’s to enhance your career, make travel to a foreign country more enjoyable, or simply as a hobby to keep your grey cells in top condition, learning a new language is an excellent endeavor.

The biggest challenge, though, can be choosing just one to begin with!

 
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.

 

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