Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

What can you learn with Language Games?

Facebook screenshot for Gamesforlanguage Page A recent blog post of ours reviewed some answers to the question: Can Playing Language Games Make You Smarter

Anyone scanning the Internet will find a huge number of online language games and learning programs. In addition, there are lots of apps available for phones and tablets, including iPhones and iPads.

Those are all a tremendous resource for language lovers! And a lot has happened since we asked the question: Why Games?

Flashcards Do Work!

Many of the online programs and apps are based on a flashcard model, and teach words and short phrases only. Flashcards exercises are indeed an excellent way to drill and recall vocabulary. They are also perfect for grammar items, such as verb conjugations, adjective endings, noun genders, contractions, etc.

In digital form, flashcards can space recall optimally, and often use pictures and combine visual and auditory information. You’re in charge of your learning and you can easily track your progress.

Are Flashcards enough?

However, one may reasonably ask: Can you really learn to SPEAK a language by just memorizing words and word forms? For most of the European languages – and those are the ones we know best – we believe, the answer has to be no!

The reason seems quite obvious: Conversations and narratives are not just a series of isolated words or phrases. In order to create meaning, you have to choose the right words and put them into a particular sequence. Often, it's the sequence that is crucial for the meaning. As a starter, you need to show whether you're making a statement or asking a question.

Add to this the need to find the correct gender of the noun (and, depending on the language, also the correct ending), the right tense and verb conjugation, the position of a preposition, etc. - and it becomes clear why speaking a foreign language is not an easy process.

The Language Games Challenge!

The challenge to those of us who are developing online language games or apps is this: How to create compelling games that can teach much more than a series of words and phrases - games that build the confidence to communicate?

It's the repeated use and practice of phrases and sentences in a meaningful context, that will ultimately enable you to speak with some fluency. Words and grammar rules are not enough. Conversations are a process of dynamic communication. By the time you have deliberately constructed the perfect sentence, the conversation may have already moved on.

In future blog posts, we’ll review some of the available language games, and please, share with us your experiences!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

“Input” Plus “Output” Personal Language Learning Experience

Language Learning on Road sign background “Input based language learning” - as the polyglot Steve Kaufmann likes to say - can have a powerful "snowball effect"... "the more you understand, the more you learn."

My Spanish Experience

This has definitely been my experience these past two months of learning Spanish. Before setting off for a month in Barcelona, I armed myself with the basics of the Spanish 1 course:

• A vocabulary of about 700 practical words
• An understanding of how those words behave in the context of communication
• A grasp of how those words sound, alone and in context

I then “snowballed” my input learning: I took in whatever Spanish was spoken in my immediate surroundings; I listened to Spanish radio, watched crime series on TV, bought El País to read at breakfast, and searched the net for online news in Spanish.

And, I started reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novel “El juego del angel,” on my Kindle, when I got back home to Boston. I’ve been surprised at how good my understanding of printed Spanish has become in such a short time. I’m also very pleased at my progress in understanding Spanish on radio and TV.

Hearing and seeing words or phrases many times really helps improve my understanding of Spanish. I actively guess the meaning of words from the context provided and/or from other words that I've learned.

That’s all great. And, if you want to learn to speak or write - in other words, produce the language - you have to deliberately take that step. Yes, you can wait until you understand lots more vocabulary.

But you won't own it until you start producing it. In my opinion, the sooner you start producing (speaking and writing) your new language, the better it is.

Our one month stay in Barcelona gave me the opportunity to speak right away, to apply and adapt the phrases and sentences I had learned and practiced before.

Why stop at five (5) Languages?

Before Spanish, I had acquired five languages, all in different ways. My 1st and native language (German) just happened. (We all know how that goes). My 2nd and 3rd languages (Dutch and English) were full immersion experiences, but at different ages (9 and 11).

My 4th language (French), I learned in school and studied at a Canadian university. I was able to read Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, etc. easily in French, but even with years of school and college lessons, I was not able to hold a French conversation. That only came when I had someone to speak with.

I started learning my 5th language (Italian) with an audio-only course, which trained my listening and speaking skills. I had little understanding how the language was written, so I automatically wrote Italian using French spelling. It also took me a long time to learn to read Italian well enough to experience any “snowball effect.”

Learning Spanish Was Different

My recent experience learning Spanish was a different one from learning my other languages. I used both “input learning" (reading and listening) and “output learning" (speaking and writing) to prepare for our stay in Spain.

Reading and listening are not at all passive ways to learn a language. Your mind is actively engaged in decoding sounds and printed letters; you’re constantly guessing, looking for clues, trying things out.

Similarly, when you speak and write a language, it’s a learning process. You are not just producing what you know, you’re analyzing, interpreting, you’re trying out - all with the goal of communicating something as clearly as possible.

Three(3) Practical Tips

To learn how to speak in a foreign language, you have to actively make the effort to speak, and you have to speak a lot. Getting yourself into a practicing mode for speaking a language is not hard. Assuming that you are also doing plenty of listening to your new language, here are three (3) practical tips: (Do this every day, if you can.)

• Take a short text and read it aloud, several times.
• Take a couple of new useful phrases or sentences, and say them aloud many times during the day.
• Role play short dialogues, and act out both voices. Ham it up!

If you can find an exchange partner for practicing conversations, all the better.

Posted on by Peter and Ulrike Rettig

European Travels: Off the Beaten Track in Spain (2): Speak Spanish

The courtyard of Fugger warehouse in Almagro, Spain En route by car from Córdoba to Madrid (both “must see” tourist destinations), we turned off the main highway and followed signs to the town of Almagro (“red clay” in Arabic), where we decided to stay the night.

The Fuggers in Almagro?

After a tourist-heavy day in Córdoba - which was especially congested and noisy because it happened to be Mother’s day - we welcomed the more tranquil stay in Almagro.

It’s a small and stately town with an unusual history. We learned, for one, that in 1525 the Fuggers, a German banking family, due to the financial woes of Charles I of Spain, became the beneficiaries of cinnabar mines near Almagro and Almadén. (Cinnabar is a mineral from which mercury is extracted.)

The Fugger warehouse in Almagro has now been restored and tells about the rise and fall of the Fugger empire during the 16th and 17th centuries. (Above, the courtyard of the restored Fugger warehouse.)

When in Spain - Speak Spanish

Looking for a place to have dinner, we were happy to stumble upon a small restaurant that was open. At 8:15 pm, we were on the early side. Only one other table was occupied. Two Swiss German couples were chatting away about the events of their day.

When the restaurant owner approached them with menus, asking “¿Inglés o español?”, one of the men answered in a voice with a distinct Swiss German accent: “Estamos en España. Español, por favor.” This was a welcome answer. The owner went out of her way to explain to them the various local dishes in Spanish and helped them select a suitable wine from the region.

Similarly, most of our own efforts to speak Spanish have been met with open friendliness. This has been particularly true whenever we went off the beaten tourist path.

Most importantly, though, we found it easy and pleasant to interact with locals - in Spanish, of course: Asking for information about the town; asking for directions to the various sights and landmarks; buying gifts to take back home; looking for a restaurant to have dinner (on a Monday night when many restaurants are closed); chatting with the waiter on the magnificent Plaza Mayor (above), where we were having drinks; and with the owner of our delightful restaurant, who took obvious pleasure in explaining the local dishes to us in detail.

(You might also be interested to read about Carmona, our previous post.)

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

European Travels: Off the Beaten Track in Spain (1): Europe's Oldest Town?

View from tower in Carmona, SpainAs part of our recent trip through Spain, we tried to combine “must see” tourist destinations (such as Granada and Seville) with smaller towns that are off the beaten track.

On our drive from Seville to Córdoba, we decided to stop at Carmona, a town of about 25,000 inhabitants and the first major town, about 25 miles east of Seville.

Our travel guide only had a short entry, but we were glad that we got off the main highway. The town is located on top of a hill overlooking fertile plains and it has an interesting history.

 "Europe's Oldest inhabited Town"

 "Little Giralda tower of church of San Pedro in Carmona, SpainAs we walked through Carmona’s Puerta de Sevilla, we found a dense cluster of houses and winding streets that led to a plaza in the middle of town. We actually walked to the plaza only later - after we had taken a tour in a brand new electric mini-bus.

The tour and bus were the idea of an enterprising young attorney, Alfonso, who had realized that in the current economy, his legal skills could not provide sufficient income for his young family.

Alfonso took us and a Canadian couple on a leisurely half-hour drive through the town. As the mini-bus slowly wound through the narrow streets, he gave us a synopsis of the town’s history. He noted that Carmona is one of Europe’s “oldest continuously inhabited towns.”

(This tour was, by the way, one of the few times that we listened to a talk in English; our Canadian co-passengers did not understand Spanish.)

Moors, Washington Irving, And Movies...

During their long occupation, the Moors fortified Carmona, but also built palaces and fountains.

Worker's demonstration in Carmona, SpainThe town was captured in 1247 by Ferdinand III of Castile and served as an important crossing point between Seville and cities to the east. The bell tower of the 15th century church of San Pedro, is often called "little Giralda" as it is a replica of Seville's Giralda. (above)

Apparently, as we later learned from a sign outside the city, Washington Irving had visited Carmona less than two centuries earlier, in 1829. In “The Route of Washington Irving,” (published by the Fundación El legado andalusì), there is a long entry about Carmona, describing it aptly as a town with a “welcoming atmosphere.”

Today, the town is often used as a setting for movie shoots, 26 last year alone. We actually passed a movie set on our tour, but the crew was resting after a 50+ horse scene which had taken place the previous night in the narrow streets.

Clearly, the difficult economic climate has also had an impact on Carmona. While we were there, we saw a demonstration of town residents who expressed their anger especially with Spain’s drastic cuts in education. (see picture)

Before we left Carmona, we sat down at a café in the town square to have a “cortado” (espresso with a dash of hot milk). At the next table, a group of local men and women were talking about events in their lives; our waiter was friendly and chatty, and we were happily soaking it all up.

If you are looking for another suggestion for a place a little out of the way - read our blog post Off the Beaten Track in Spain (2): Speak Spanish

Posted on by Peter Rettig

La cuenta, por favor - adding up and making change in Spain

GamesforLanguage check During our stay in Spain we became cognizant of how identical the payment process in restaurants and cafes is in the four (4) regions (of 17) we have visited - Catalonia, Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, and Madrid.

Getting your Check

Whether you are making the international sign for your wish to pay across the room or on a terrace - pretending to write with one finger in the palm of your other hand - or whether you say “la cuenta, por favor” or "Me gustaría pagar": your waiter or waitress will go back to the register and produce a check, which she or he will present to you most likely on a plate, held by a clip.

(If you'd like to practice to call for the check in Spanish with "Me gustaría pagar", you can do so HERE)

Getting your Change

Unless you immediately put your euros onto the plate, the waiter will leave again, and return after a (short or long) while. S/he will then take the plate with the payment and return with the change.

This is even true, if the waiter has to cross a street from an open air terrace, or if the register is located on another floor. The reasons for this method may range from the taxing authorities’ precise requirements, to a distrust of the waiter’s ability/honesty to handle the payment on his or her own.

Swiss and German Ways

Recent trips to Germany and Switzerland made us aware of the differences.

In Switzerland any order of a coffee or a meal in a restaurant is typically accompanied by a small register slip, which is placed in a little glass when the item ordered is brought to the table.mWhen the check is requested, the waiter just adds up the slips - sometimes in his/her head, sometimes on paper - then collects the (cash) payment and returns the change from a pouch he/she is carrying.

Visitors to Europe will also have noticed that any credit card payments are done at your table with a wireless gadget. Your credit card stays in sight!

In Germany you may encounter the same methods as in Switzerland, or the waiter may just add up your check right at your table, either from memory or by consulting the menu. The typical way to call a waiter in German is simply: "Zahlen, bitte", or a little more polite: "Bitte, ich möchte zahlen."

(f you'd like to practice the German expression to pay, you can do it HERE)

It should be noted that the “Spanish process” - as we may call it - is also typical for cash payments in hotels or finer restaurants in Germany or Switzerland. What we are finding interesting here in Spain is the fact that the check/payment process has never varied - whether we were in a little sandwich shop on the road, or in a hotel in the city.

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

In Barcelona Learning “Spanish” is Not Enough...

In a previous blog post, we wrote about meeting several natives of Barcelona. Apart from the pleasure of making new friends and practicing our (Castilian) Spanish, we also got an interesting glimpse into the Catalan/Castilian issue. We were aware of it, but certainly hadn’t appreciated it enough.

Spain vs Catalonia

Reenactment Plaza Vila de GraciaThe struggle of Catalonia with “Spain” dates back to the early 1700s and the war for the Spanish succession. (on the left a re-enactment of a 1870 citizen revolt on the Plaza de la Vila de Gracia).

However, Franco's prohibition of the Catalan language during his 40-year dictatorship is still a quite recent memory. (Franco died in 1975.)

Our language-exchange contact, an architect whom we’ll call Fabian, explained to us the nature of “bilingualism” in Catalonia. He told us that basically (Castilian) Spanish is taught together with other languages in the first grade.

He then clarified, “In the educational Catalan system, the weak language (Catalan) is always used as the language of communication, but subject matters also contain a lot of information in Castilian. It means that pupils are constantly switching between languages and thus, in fact, use both languages simultaneously.” So, when they finish high school, students are indeed mostly bilingual.

The (Language) Struggle continues...

A “Spanish” decision last year to give parents in Catalonia the right to have their children in primary and secondary state schools instructed only in (Castilian) Spanish led to huge protests and is now in a stand-by mode.

What amazed us especially were certain statements Fabian made, such as: “When I go to Spain...”, or “The taxes we are paying to Spain...”. Catalan people still don't see themselves as a part of Spain.

The current economic crisis has renewed questions about how taxes generated by Catalonia – still Spain's industrial powerhouse – are allocated by Madrid to poorer regions, when Barcelona's youth unemployment stands at 50%.

Rafael Nadal also speaks Catalan

We also learned that in addition to Catalonia and Andorra (where it is the national and only official language), Catalan is also spoken in the Balearic Islands, including Mallorca, i.e. the home of tennis champion Rafael Nadal. Rafa speaks both Castilian Spanish and Catalan, as well as Mallorquí, a dialect of Catalan.
(See the Wikipedia entry for  more about the Catalan language and other parts of Spain and France where Catalan dialects are still spoken.)

If You Want to Live in Barcelona Permanently...

Barcelona is really an amazing city. The architecture of the city, the cultural and recreational opportunities explain why so many people come to visit – and indeed many are staying. We are truly astonished by the bilingualism of everyone we have met in Barcelona to date.

We also realize that while knowing (Castilian) Spanish is important, it is not enough. If you really want to live in this city permanently, you should also learn Catalan!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Barcelona Tips: First Steps for Building a Language “Basis”

First Steps The first steps in language learning may be the hardest. It means getting a good basis in a language, so you can build on it and really enjoy learning more.

With “basis” I mean four essential things:
1. Mastering a number of essential phrases, expressions, and short sentences that you can use with native speakers.
2. Pronouncing these in a way that native speakers can understand you.
3. Learning the melody of the language (the up- and-down in sentences, questions, requests, etc.), so YOU can understand basic phrases.
4. Gaining an understanding of grammar that you need for communication (distinguishing past, present, and future forms, identifying pronouns, and choosing the correct form of politeness.)

Learning Castilian Spanish in Barcelona

No doubt, the most desirable and effective way to immerse yourself in a new language is by staying for some time a country where the language is spoken.
But not all stories about language “immersion” are the same.

Here’s one of an American ex-pat couple, Rob and Lila, whom we recently met in Barcelona. The couple had moved to Barcelona a few years before and set up an international business that they’ve been running – in English - over the Internet. Lila already knew a few languages and learned Spanish easily by watching TV, etc., but Rob, who now speaks Spanish quite well, had to learn it from the ground up, word by word.

Dogs Can be a Great Asset

Over a glass of wine, and great-tasting “montaditos” (small, hot sandwiches), Rob told us about his “method” for learning Spanish. “Right from the beginning, my dog was my most valuable asset,” he said with a chuckle. He then told us that he went walking with his cute little pooch every day, morning, late afternoon, and evening - looking for Spanish conversations.

Other dog owners were easy to talk to, and of course, their conversations revolved around dogs. They talked about what kind of dog, the dog's character, funny little anecdotes, etc. At first, Rob said, he understood very little, but he'd go home and look up words in a dictionary or find them on the Internet. This way, he explained, he built up a stock of vocabulary, little by little.

Learning “Real” - Not “Textbook” Language

Another part of his “method,” he said, was to talk with homeless people in parks for a euro or two. “They were happy to pass the time chatting with me,” he added, “and I learned real language, not just textbook phrases.”

The next step for Rob was to have regular conversation sessions with Maia, a local friend, who very patiently corrected his Spanish and explained the why and how of certain phrases. “She was wonderful,” he said. “I would treat her to a cortado (an espresso with a dash of milk) and she would practice small talk in Spanish with me.”

For Rob, the hardest but most effective part of these sessions were the “language tasks” Maia prepared for him. She instructed him to go to the market or to various shops to buy specific items; or she asked him to go buy train tickets, make a phone call, etc.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The key to language learning is practice, practice, practice. Obviously, when you are living in a country where the language is spoken, practice comes easier. But even then you may have to develop your own strategies and systems to improve your skills. This is especially true, if you are living in an ex-pat community or working with colleagues in an English-speaking environment

Whether you follow Rick Steves’ suggestions, are using one of the many online language programs, or are learning new foreign words with vocabulary apps, consistent practice will eventually let you build your language “basis.

You’ll then find out what a great adventure it is to travel and interact with locals - in their language.

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

Rick Steves' Travel Tips Also Work For Language Learners...

I recently came across one of Rick Steves' articles in the Seattle Times: How to meet the locals while traveling in Europe. As we are currently in Barcelona, Spain, I thought we would try out a couple of his suggestions.

Using Social Media to Connect

Rick Steves lists a number of links for meeting locals through social media. While none of his links worked out for us, another site,, which I found by chance, set us up very well.

A few days after registering, we were contacted by Fabian, a professor of architecture who teaches at a University in Barcelona. He was as eager to practice his English as we were to practice our Spanish.

We met up with him in the “Ciutat Vella” (Catalan for “Old City”) and he took us on a tour of some special places we had not yet seen.

(The picture on the right shows children playing in the Plaça de SANT FELIP NERI, where the bullet holes from Franco era executions are still visible.)

The language exchange was great. Beyond that, though, he gave us a fascinating glimpse into the cultural and political struggle between Catalonia and “Spain.” (And yes, Catalonia is a part of Spain!)

This ongoing push-and-shove between the two cultures is something we had been aware of, but certainly hadn’t appreciated enough. (We’re planning another blog post on just that topic.)

Using Spanish Language Phrases

Another of Steves' suggestions was also right on: “Play with kids.”; “...make friends with the parents...”

At one of our favorite squares, Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia Plaza de Gracia(see image), we were sipping our evening aperitifs at an outdoor café, as a young woman and her two-year-old child came to sit down at the next table.

It did not take long before we played peek-a-boo with the child and tried out our Spanish with the mother by asking “How old is your daughter?”, “What is her name?”, etc. (all phrases and sentences, by the way, we had remembered or adapted from our Spanish 1 course).

We soon were talking away, and when Carmen told us that the brother of her Italian husband works in a restaurant in Falmouth, MA, we could even use another phrase from our course: “¡Qué coincidencia!”

In our conversation with her, we gained quite a few insights into Catalan life and society. A couple of days later, Carmen introduced us to her parents as well as to her 94 year old grandmother, who had lived through the Franco years.

We may not have understood all of the grandmother's painful and vivid memories. However, without our basic knowledge of Spanish, we would have missed all of it. (The grandmother speaks no English!)

Making Yourself into a Language Extrovert

“When you’re traveling in Europe, make yourself and extrovert, even if you’re not.”

Following Rick Steves' suggestion, we try to start up a conversation with anyone who will talk to us - and we do it in Spanish.

We do our shopping in Spanish, where we often make small talk with the shopkeeper or other people waiting to be served. We order our meals in Spanish and ask the waiter about obscure (to us) items on the menu.

The other day, we visited Vilanova (a town about 30 minutes away) and at the Information Office, the woman asked us if we wanted her explanations in Castilian, French, or English.

We chose Castilian and had no trouble following her. Since Castilian Spanish is the second language for most Catalans. They speak it (a little more) slowly and deliberately – a real advantage to learners like us!

We haven’t yet tried Rick Steves' trick that he calls “pal up to a pooch” - but it might be worth finding out if pooches in Barcelona are bilingual too. The drawback is that pooches don't talk back...

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

Can Playing Language Games Make You Smarter?

image of human brainA recent article by Dan Hurley in the New York Times suggests as much. Hurley starts by describing a “memory game” where kids have to remember “which window a cat was in.”

First, it's in a window just before, then in a window a Level before, and finally in a window two Levels before. It's as simple as that: “The cats keep coming and the kids keep remembering.”

Working Memory and “Fluid Intelligence”

Apparently, the “cat game” is one of the games that some researchers say can improve “working memory,” which is defined as: “the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things.”

All of us use “working memory,” Dan Hurley explains, for remembering telephone numbers, doing math in our head, understanding metaphors or analogies, for making sense out of language, etc.

The sum of the skills of working memory is what we call “fluid intelligence” (as opposed to “crystalline intelligence,” which is produced by long-term memory skills).

Long-term memory and “Crystalline Intelligence”

It seems clear to us that language learning requires long-term memory skills. You need to acquire a good store of vocabulary, grammar structures, and (foreign language) sounds in your brain to be able to communicate, and thereby enhancing your “crystalline intelligence.”

But “working memory” is just as essential. We, at  look forward to research that analyzes the relationship between second language acquisition and improvements of “fluid/crystalline intelligence” in adults.

Language Fluency and “Working Memory”

Just learning words, with the many flash card games now available for phones and tablets, is a good way to accumulate a store of vocabulary, and rules for pronunciation and spelling.

But flashcards alone won't make you fluent. Fluency requires the ability to speak and communicate. And this, in turn, involves a “working memory” that is well-engaged.

A new language confronts a person with many “novel problems.” The learner will have to decode and use new grammar patterns, new sound combinations, to figure out the meaning of new words, and so on.

Language Learning Requires Practice

We can well imagine that real and continuous efforts to acquire and try out a new language will make you smarter by boosting your working memory.

As Hurley states: “practice improves performance on almost every task humans engage in, whether it’s learning to read or playing horseshoes.” However, the required practice is often the greatest hindrance to becoming proficient in a new language.

And as he cautions: “Just like physical exercise, cognitive exercises may prove to be up against something even more resistant to training than fluid intelligence: human nature.”

Language Games to make Practice Fun

Games can make language practice fun, and by taking the boredom out of the required language practice, you’ll improve your “working memory” playfully.

Will you end up being smarter by learning a second (or third) language? Hurley's article seems to suggest as much! But we're also looking forward to more research on that particular topic. In any case, if you start learning a new language now, you'll be ahead!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Language Learning Without Traveling?

El Pais article screenshot (Updated 4/15/2017)
A couple of days ago the national Spanish newspaper El País ran the following article:"Se puede saber idiomas sin viajar (pero no igual)" [One can know languages without traveling (but not equally well)]. 

The article then continues: “Can one become fluent in a language without traveling? Yes, according to the Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert. No not entirely, according to the majority of experts.”

Now that we have stayed in Barcelona for a couple of weeks – we rented an apartment for a month in the Gracia neighborhood of town - it makes total sense that being in Spain adds a  huge level of reality and relevance to the Spanish words, phrases, and sentences that we learned with our Spanish 1 course to prepare for the trip.

Traveling is great - Practicing is essential

Yes, Barcelona is totally bilingual – we also hear and see a lot of Catalan (which we actually can read pretty well, see an earlier blog post). Still, Spanish is all around us.

We've been immersed in Spanish right from the moment of arrival, when our taxi driver greeted us with a rush of Spanish, and then patiently engaged us in Spanish small talk about the weather, the traffic, FC Barcelona, etc.

It's great that we can use Spanish for everyday life. No problem doing our food shopping at the market or in one of the many little shops around; or, ordering meals in cafés or restaurants and paying for them. We can ask directions, ask for information, and for explanations.

We can even make small talk with people standing next to us in shops, or sitting at a table next to us in a café. (We often use the phrase: ”Gracias, pero quiero practicar mi español” - when somebody tries to be helpful in English...)

But for us this is just a start. What then are the next steps to getting out of the “eternal intermediate level,” as Alejandra Agudo, the writer of the article, aptly calls it?

The most important one is to continue to build on your language skills: Continue to acquire practical and relevant language and absorb its grammar in a meaningful way.

Real-Life language helps you to communicate

Beyond that, Alejandra Agudo points to two other recommendations that we subscribe to enthusiastically:

Learn the language that is really spoken - “el lenguaje de la calle” (the language of the street).
Don't just learn textbook language which also may be a little outdated. A couple of examples for here in Spain: We hear the word “vale” spoken dozens of times a day. Literally, "vale" means "it's worth." But in Spain, it's the equivalent of OK, and everyone says it in any situation. Or, a shopkeeper or waiter will say “Dígame ...” to ask what we want. And, in general, much to our surprise, the casual form of address is used a lot here, even with us!

Make the language you are learning part of your life.
Start keeping a journal in your new language, even if it's just a couple of sentences a day. Whatever self-talk you do, do it in Spanish, German, French, etc. Look up and learn the words of everything in your surroundings and of your daily activities: chair, table, door, I'm setting the table, I'm getting the newspaper, etc. and say them to yourself, aloud, if possible. In that way, learning a language successfully is almost a life-style choice.

Language learning is a process of building. You create a good base of knowledge and understanding, and then, thoughtfully, gradually, with many repetitions, you start adding to it. Traveling or not, your language skills will improve dramatically. (And, if by chance you'll be traveling to Barcelona our Spanish Travel Memories may interest you.)

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