Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

A "Casual" Language Learner? 3 Ways to Boost Your Progress

There are typical reasons for learning a new language: family/friend, travel, job, research, etc., but the motivation to become fully proficient greatly differs.

If your approach to language learning is "casual," then don't let anyone - including us at G4L - tell you that you "must" practice regularly. You may be the quintessential “dilettante,” who loves learning on his or her own terms. Time may be scarce, or there may just be many other things you also want to do.

This sets you apart from the "steady" language learner, who has a fixed goal in mind and advances toward it step by step. You are also different from the "hardcore" language learner, for whom language learning is a major focus in life.

3 Tips for Casual Language Learners

1) Embrace your image as a language learner "at will."
Be positive, forget about the guilt of not being disciplined. Even small forays into language learning are a good thing! Everything you learn will leave a trace in your brain.

Be reasonable with yourself. It's good to have expectations, but don't make them too high. Expect something "in the middle."

2) Pick a way to learn that syncs with your lifestyle.
If you're on the go a lot, get into mobile learning. If you're a just-before-you-go-to-sleep learner, keep a book or an iPad by your bed.

If you're super social, find Facebook friends to chat with and write your posts in your new language.

3) Add some fun by doing things you really like.
A few foreign language suggestions, starting with activities even a beginner can do:
- Listen to songs
- Research, make, and talk about delicious dishes (lots of sites on the Internet)
- Watch movies, most will have English subtitles (Netflix, Sundance Channel, etc.)
- Read cartoons (Asterix, Tintin, etc.)
- Watch news videos on foreign online newspaper sites
- Listen to audio books
- Play games in your new language (board games, computer games, video games, role playing games

There is no telling where any of these small steps will take you. One thing, however, is certain: You’ll keep the neurons in your brain working and you’ll expand your world view at the same time.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Online Foreign Language Learning - Pros and Cons

Even the best idea has its pros and cons. We started out with in 2011 as an online foreign language learning program, using a travel story and fast moving interactive games as key teaching tools.

We felt that the combination of a very stable CMS and a fast Internet connection would work well for many users. Besides, plenty of language learning has been moving online. This is true to a large extent because an online system has clear advantages over a CD/DVD or down-loadable program:

Pros for the user

- Immediate use after sign-up, no installation required
- Fast start-up with only login and password required
- Access from your office and practice opportunity during a “language break”
- Access from any PC (not necessarily yours!) in the world with an Internet connection
- Updates & corrections occur automatically

But, comments from our friends and users have highlighted some of the disadvantages:

Cons for the user

- Access problems with slow or unreliable Internet connection
- Open offices or public libraries make speaking/recording practices difficult
- Not always the ability to use “on the road,” in airplanes, trains, etc. without Internet
- Technical problems w/browser, Flash Player updates, etc. may occur
- User only has access to website and has no (physical) CD/DVD

Apps may avoid some of the problems. However, even the best technology will not be able to solve the key challenge for a language learner: To find time to learn and practice regularly.

Technology can provide added opportunities for those who are motivated and can find time. The ultimate reward - acquiring a new foreign language - not only adds a new skill, but also opens for you a whole new window onto the world. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Musings of An Adult Language Learner

Musings of an adult woman - When you google something like “language learning boosts the brain” dozens of entries come up.

The technology for studying the brain has become quite advanced, so there seems to be some proof. But not everyone has the same experiences with the same results.

Here are some musings of mine about language learning.

Engagement is Key

For me, learning something new or getting better at an activity requires that I engage in doing it. If I don't, I don't progress. For example, I'm a skier and every year in November, I start my first run of the season thinking: “OK, weight on your lower ski, stay away from ice, avoid the moguls for now.”

During my first days on skis, I discover muscles I hadn't used for months, I get used to my edges again, I try out all kinds of turns. But, hey, by the end of ski season, I happily head for the moguls, and feel that I could follow Lindsay Vonn down a black diamond. Preferably in Austria.

Engagement with Italian

Something similar is happening with my Italian language skills. For a while, I didn't practice my Italian very much. I was too busy with work! But then I found a way to motivate myself to do a daily practice. 

What I do is read a daily article in an online newspaper and watch an episode of the soap opera Un posto al sole on my computer. Does this help to keep my brain fit? I think it does.

I particularly enjoy the articles by Roberto Gervaso. When I can read through one of his articles and get the meaning without looking up any words, I get a great feeling of pleasure and boost in confidence. This affects whatever else I do during that day.

The same happens when I understand what's going on in an episode of “Il posto al sole.” They speak fast and there's always some kind of underlying scheming going on.

I learned Italian from scratch as an adult adult. It didn't all come easy. For instance, it took me a couple of weeks to fully learn internalize the word “pomeriggio,” the Italian word for “afternoon.” With all the claims about how hard it is for adults to learn a language, I feel I've done well.

Engagement with Spanish

Emboldened by my success with Italian, I'm now learning Spanish. For obvious reasons, I am using our Spanish 1 course. The games make it fun.

In addition to the language games I use Twitter feeds for practice. When I'm ready, I'll start watching Spanish films. For now, my biggest challenge isn't learning new words, it's trying not to mix up Italian and Spanish. The two languages are similar and my comprehension of Spanish is good. But when I speak Spanish, Italian gets in the way.

But everyone's different. What about those who say they can't learn another language? That their efforts will probably fail because they're not skilled, too old, too busy, etc.? My answer to that brings me back to skiing.

"Row with the Oars you Have"

During this week, the ski area at Waterville Valley NH is hosting the National Adaptive Alpine Ski Races. I've been watching the skiers, many of them quite young, skiing through difficult race courses.

Each one of them has a physical challenge, perhaps a lost limb, spinal paralysis, an illness. Yet each one of them skis with such skill, that he or she way outshines the rest of us on the mountain.

The pleasure that these skiers radiate makes me appreciate the value of determination and the effort for overcoming challenges. As the Dutch say: “You must row with the oars that you have.” (Je moet roeien met de riemen die je hebt.)

So for language learning, the approach: “I've tried it once and it didn't work” – is not a good one. You've got to have passion, patience, and persistence. And you may find that your brain will thank you for it. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Why Context Matters in Language Learning

Context matters - Gamesforlanguage.comLearning a new language is a pretty complicated process. When someone speaks to you in a foreign language, there are so many things going on at the same time.

You need to decode the sounds and figure out the meaning of the words; you have to understand the underlying grammar (verbs forms, pronoun objects, etc.) and also determine the sentence structure (question, statement, imperative, etc.)

Finally, you have to connect everything to the context of the situation. That's a lot going on at once. So, how do you best learn to master this process, step by step?

Advice Galore

For sure, there's plenty of advice floating around on how to best learn a language. You'll find a language learning expert on almost every “corner” of the Internet.

One may tell you that all you need is to repeat and memorize words and phrases; another may insist you should just read and you'll absorb the language automatically; a third expert may say that all you need to do is copy the language and start writing on your own.

Someone else advises that watching TV or YouTube clips in the language will have you speaking in no time. Then, there's the “natural” method where you “learn like a child”; and there's the grammar-drill method where you grind your way through “pattern practices.”

In my own career as a college language teacher, I've watched various waves of teaching “methods” come and go. They are all helpful to some extent. People are learning languages all over the world using many of the above suggestions.

Do you really want to learn a new language?

For that, you need to be in control of your own language learning. It's your project. No-one can do it for you. You have to be passionate, persistent, and also patient.

Research has shown that to learn a new language “mere exposure is not sufficient … interaction in the language is needed in order for the learner to communicate personal meaning in the target language. ... Language practice which takes place in relevant context will then result in the acquisition of the language.” as Dr. Marjo Mitsutomi  in “Some Fundamental Principles of Language Teaching and Learning" describes.

If your goal is to engage in relevant, personal conversations with others – the “Context Approach” is a good way to get there. As the "Language Lizard Blog" stresses, the value of context should be remembered even when teaching language to young children: "We use language for communication and therefore it is best learned in its natural form: through discussions, conversations, and stories."

Why Context matters

Taking a sample German “core conversation,” I'd like to illustrate how a learner may focus on different aspects of the language at different stages, and why context is important:

A young man, Michael meets is at the home of a friend. He meets Claudia for the first time.
Michael: Hallo Claudia! Freut mich, Sie kennenzulernen.
Renate: Michael, sei nicht so formell. Ihr könnt euch duzen!
Michael: Wenn es dir recht ist Claudia?
Claudia: Natürlich, wir Studenten duzen uns alle!

English translation:

Michael: Hello Claudia! Pleased to meet you. (formal)
Renate: Michael, don't be so formal. You can say “du.” (informal “you”)
Michael: If it's all right with you, Claudia?
Claudia: Of course, we students all say “du.”

Initially you may mostly focus on:

1. Individual vocabulary (about 20 content items)
• learn their meaning practice their pronunciation
• practice their spelling

2. Find a way to practice the sentences
• speak them aloud to whoever is willing to listen
• type them out
• write them out by hand
• hang the page up in the kitchen or your office.)

Soon, you may also want to know:

1. The subject pronouns:
• ich, du, er, sie es, sie (I, familiar "you", he, she, it)
• Sie, ihr, wir, sie (formal “you”, plural "you", they)

2. Basic conjugations of the verbs used:
• freuen (to be glad)
• kennen lernen (to get to know)
• können (can, to be able)
• sein (to be)
• duzen (to use the familiar "you")

Replaying this dialog, you may understand:

1. sentence structure:
• the form of a statement
• a command
• a type of question
• a complex sentence

2. other grammatical forms
• direct and indirect object pronouns [mich, dir]
• reflexive pronouns [euch, uns])

Key Points to consider:

1. What is important about the context the dialog provides?
• the age of the people (they are students in their twenties)
• how well people know each other
• the circumstance of the conversation (the setting is informal)

2. Why take a conversation rather than individual phrases or sentences?
• you'll better remember the words/phrases related to the context
• you'll pick up cultural information (i.e. students say “du”)

3. Why only about 20 words?
It's a good number to practice and remember.

4. What will you have learned initially?
• 20 useful words, in a meaningful context

5. And, later on either explicitly or intuitively?
• all the subject pronouns
• 6 verbs and a conjugation of each
• 3 types of sentences

Once you've absorbed a few dozen conversations and acquired more than 500 content words, you're probably ready to engage in relevant, personal conversations with others.

If you're not in the country and don't have a live community that speaks your new language, you should head to one of the virtual “language learning communities,” which Kirsten Winkler, Founder and Editor of EDUKWEST, calls “Pubs of the Global Village.” There, you can practice what you know and continue to learn.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Foreign Language Pronunciation - “Don't worry too much about your accent!"

No pressure - An article by Dr. Marjo Mitsutomi recently caused me to reflect on my own language learning efforts. I had shared with readers of a earlier blog post my dislike and struggles with French.

In fact, I can still remember how I resented having to “produce” the French nasal “n” in class.

On-line language learning can take away such embarrassment, but not the difficulties for an adult learner to fully acquire the native-like pronunciation of a foreign language.

Dr. Marjo Mitsutomi, a linguist and multilingual/multicultural teacher, points out in Some Fundamental Principles of Language Teaching and Learning that: “when all circumstances are normal, most children learn the basic structures and vocabulary of their language within the first four years of their life.”

She also notes that: “although people are capable of learning any number of languages during their lifetime, many experience failure of different degrees in the process of learning other languages....Anyone who has ever seriously attempted to master another language knows that it is a time consuming and challenging effort... Yet research and experience demonstrate that the only area most negatively affected by a 'late' onset of language study is pronunciation.

There are many elements of this wonderful article that make it worthwhile reading for any language “aficionado”.

Accent Confessions

My own experience certainly confirms the statements about “pronunciation”: Although I started learning English in fifth grade and became quite fluent in French in my twenties, I cannot disguise my native German accent in either language.

Several years ago, during the zenith of my consulting career, I took “accent reduction” lessons in English. I was able to improve my “Ws” and “Vs”, so I did not sound quite as Colonel Klenk of “Hogan's Heroes”.

In French, my accent may be less Germanic than in English, as French natives often have difficulties placing it. “French Canadian” is not an uncommon guess. A typical Swiss-French giveaway is often not the accent, but the numbers: While 70 in French is “soixante-dix”, the Swiss-French, (as well as French speaking Belgians), would also use a more practical “septante.”)

Famous Accents

Some have suggested that Henry Kissinger kept his strong German accent on purpose, but I don't believe so. Arriving in the US as a teenager, I am sure he tried very hard to sound American.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, during his movie career on the other hand, may even have benefited from his Austrian/German accent; even as governor he could not completely disguise his language background (and “accent reduction” lessons would have been easy for him to find in Hollywood!).

Always Remember

So, what should an adult foreign language learner take away from all of the above recollections and musings: Don't worry too much about your accent! 

In all likelihood, you will never sound like a native in the foreign language! It is also true, as Dr. Mitsutomi notes “...since there are so many distinctly different accents and even varieties of English itself throughout the world that all English speakers have an accent in someone else's ear.”

You'll certainly want to try to emulate the native speakers of your language program as much as you can. But don't get discouraged, if this appears difficult at the beginning.

With time, your pronunciation will improve as you'll pick up more of the language “melody.” And by just considering improving your pronunciation a lifelong “hobby,” you are taking away the pressure, and can enjoy listening and speaking, the essentials of verbal communication!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language skills: “If you don't use them – you'll lose them!”

Fribourg, Switzerland - Gamesforlanguage.comGrowing up in Austria and Germany, I started to learn English in 5th grade, followed by Latin and French in the 8th. I can't say that I liked Latin, but I know that I hated French, and my grades certainly reflected this dislike.

Life had a funny way of changing my mind about French. I love speaking French now and use it often with family and friends. But the big takeaway has been: If you don't use your language skills, you'll lose them.

Learning French

After completing my engineering degree, it was therefore with great trepidation that I took a job with an engineering firm in Fribourg. (see picture above, with Cathedral). This is a town that is situated on the German/French language divide in Switzerland and is therefore bilingual.

While a couple of my colleagues also spoke a (French version of) Swiss German, the professional language in the office was clearly French. I had no choice but to learn it.

I did so by taking evening courses and by practicing with the records of a self-teaching language program. And, with time, and importantly - a French speaking girlfriend - my French improved enough so that I could communicate even on a professional level. Eventually, I became quite fluent.

Learning Italian

A few years ago, my wife and I planned an extended stay in Italy. We prepared ourselves with 90 lessons of self-teaching audio CDs and, once in the country, we made a concentrated effort to improve our Italian.

We used a tutor, engaged in conversations with locals, read newspapers, watched movies and TV, spoke Italian to each other, etc. “Immersion” in a foreign language when you live in that country clearly works. It works especially well if you avoid contact to people, who speak your native language.

Keeping it Going

When you live in your own country, learning a foreign language and keeping up your language skills has to be an ongoing effort.

I, for example, try to read online newspaper articles in French, Italian, and German on a daily basis. Both of us regularly watch original French, Italian, and German movies with Netflix (and I really should continue with an Italian book I had started...)

But I also find that playing the later scenes of our French and Italian program provides me with a great way to keep up my language skills. I realized the other day what made them so effective for me:

• The listening games keep reminding me of the language melody.

• The continual speaking practices let me test whether I can still match the native speakers' intonation. (I actually repeat a spoken foreign phrase as many times as I can, before the next one comes up.)

• The writing exercises continue to be challenging, although I should know most of the words.

There are still a few games where I have not yet reached the 100% score, but I'll certainly get there! I look forward to a little language break once a day (and my Mac reminds me!)
I'm now also learning Spanish. And while I often mix it up with Italian, I know I am making progress!

Clearly, not everyone can spend as much time as I do to keep up my language skills. But, if you also don't want to lose them, you have to find ways to incorporate some practice into your daily schedule.

Gamesforlanguage is just one option for doing so. There are many others, on the web, in print, movies, radio and TV. You need to find the way that works best for you, as you also know: If you don't use it - you'll lose it!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Ways to Better Engage in a German Conversation

Games-for-German-conversation When in a German speaking country, you certainly want ways to better engage in a German conversation.
There are essential skills to deal with daily, practical situations: ordering in a restaurant, asking directions, greeting friends or strangers, introducing others, purchasing, paying a check, checking into a hotel, etc.

But you also want to be able to engage in conversations with locals. To do this, you must swallow your anxiety about speaking up and find ways to start, sustain, and eventually end a conversation.

Conversing with strangers can feel a little awkward in any language. A recent article by : 12 Ways To Make Talking To Strangers Less Awkward has some good tips on braving such a challenge.

Of course, these tips also work for talking with strangers in a foreign language. I've adapted them here for conversations with German speakers. A good antidote to "conversation anxiety" is to practice some useful expressions ahead of time. You can start with the list below.

1. Initiating a conversation

When initiating a conversation, act confident and  comfortable, this will put the other person at ease too.

a) Be sure that you know how to address a stranger correctly to be appropriately polite. Best to use a neutral greeting such as “Guten Morgen,” “Guten Tag,” “Guten Abend” (Good morning, Hello, Good evening) or have a a couple of polite phrases ready, such as:

- "Entschuldigen Sie ..." (Excuse me ...)
- "Bitte ..." (Please [can you tell me] ...)

b) Importantly, you should use the formal "Sie" (the polite form of "you") as a starter with anyone, except children. In most cases, it's best to wait until you're prompted to use the familiar: "du."

That means, of course, that you also have to learn to distinguish between the appropriate German verb endings. Listen here to a German conversation where students talk about using the familiar "du".

c) By the way, in German, you would never use "How are you?" (Wie geht's?/Wie geht es Ihnen?) as part of a greeting, unless you know the person very well.
Germans take such a question seriously and may be tempted to give you a literal answer.

d) Learn to ask for directions or for information; this may very well lead to a longer exchange. Start with a neutral greeting (see above) and follow up with a question, such as:

- "Wo ist ...?" (Where is ...?)
- "Wie komme ich am besten zu ...?" ("How do I best get to ...")
- "Wissen Sie, wann/wo ...?" (Do you know when/where ...?)

e) Comment about the here and now. For example when you're at a café, a restaurant, a museum, in a shop, at a market, etc. Talk about what's around you, what you see; you can even mention the weather.

- "Ein Früchte-Eisbecher? Was ist das?" (A "Früchte-Eisbecher"? What is that?)
- "Das ist wirklich ein schönes Gebäude!" (That's really a beautiful building!)
- "Wunderbares Wetter heute!" (Great weather today!)

2. Once engaged in a conversation...

Once engaged in a conversation, you'll want to have a few topics up your sleeve to sustain it.
a) Know some basic information about the city and a few interesting historical facts about the country. This also means that you should learn how to say dates.

b) Say something about your stay in the country, where you're going, or where you've been, etc.

- "Ich bleibe fast drei Wochen in ..." (I'm staying almost three weeks in ...)
- "Ich fahre übermorgen nach ..." (I'm going to ... the day after tomorrow.)
- "Ich besuche Freunde und Verwandte." (I'm visiting friends and relatives.)

c) Learn to listen as well as talk. Be able to ask questions and make comments to show your interest in what the other person is saying:

- “Wann wurde ... gegründet?” (When was ... founded?)
- "Wer ist/war ...?" (Who is/was ...?)
- "Das wusste ich nicht." (I didn't know that.)

d) Obviously, the old stand-by, if you did not understand:

- "Das war ein bisschen schnell!" (That was a little fast!)
- "Könnten Sie das, bitte, wiederholen!" (Could you, please, repeat that!)

3. Closing a conversation. 

It's always important to find a way to close a conversation gracefully. Germans are a little more formal about it than Americans and a little more resolute. Have a few exit lines ready!

a) Signaling the end:

- "Vielen Dank für die guten Tipps." (Thank you for the good tips.)
- “Es war nett, mit Ihnen zu reden." (It was nice to talk with you.)
- "Oh, es ist schon spät. Ich muss noch ..." (Oh, it's already late. I still have to ...)
- "Ich treffe mich noch mit Freunden." (I'll be meeting some friends.)

b) When you're leaving:

- "Jetzt muss ich leider gehen." (Unfortunately, I have to go now.)
- "Also nochmals: vielen Dank/es war richtig nett." (Again: many thanks/it was really nice.)
-  "Noch schönen Nachmittag/Abend!" (Have a nice afternoon/evening!)
- "Auf Wiedersehen!" (Goodbye!)

Practicing some of these conversational phrases and expressions ahead of time will be quite helpful and impress your German speaking contact. While such phrases will obviously not be sufficient for an intensive discussion, they will boost you confidence in speaking. The next step will be to add a few more topics and strategies to your conversational skills.

You Want to Learn German Fast?

Not everyone will agree with Benny Lewis', the Irish Polyglot's statement "Why German is easy!" But, if you are serious about learning German - and even before you buy or subscribe to any expensive courses (except's German 1 and German 2 courses obviously, which are FREE!) you may want to learn more about Benny's approach.

Disclosure: The link above is to a partner's program with revenue sharing, if you decide to buy or subscribe.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

“Sie sprechen Deutsch!” - ”É qui per affari?” A German Bet and an Italian Misunderstanding!

Passport Control - Several months ago as we were traveling to Germany, I bet with my wife that I could make the German immigration officer say the exact sentence of a dialog we are using in one of the first scenes of our German 1 language program.

She was skeptical, but listen to this Dialogue, which occurs at the beginning of Scene 4:

If you speak German, you'll realize right away, why I was sure I would win the bet. If you don't, this is what happened:

When I approached the officer, I greeted her with a friendly: “Guten Morgen!” (Good morning!) while handing her my American passport. As I had predicted, she answered with an equally friendly “Guten Morgen! and a somewhat surprised: ”Sie sprechen Deutsch!” (You speak German!)

Although I could not give the same response as our “hero” Michael, ( I was not born in Boston) her next question was again the same as in our scene: ”Sind Sie geschäftlich hier?” (Are you here on business?)

We were not, and we continued a friendly conversation before she stamped our passports and we moved on.

The above question (Are you here on business?) reminded me of the story of a woman who reacted with indignation when she was  asked by an Italian immigration officer:

You may have figured out why the woman - who obviously spoke little Italian - misinterpreted the question: “É qui per affari?” He asked: “Are you here on business?”  but she thought he asked whether she was there for an affair... (Or she might also have thought: “How could he possibly know this...?”)

But all bets and jokes aside, the point of these little vignettes is that knowing another language can both be helpful for your travels as well as avoid misunderstandings. Learning a new language will not only benefit your next travel adventure, but also be one of the small steps to strengthen your willpower or even help seniors' grey cells to function at a high level. It's never too late to learn a new language...

Even German can be Fun

Our games and travel-story based courses are also a great way to practice your German. If travel to Germany is in your near future, you may also enjoy our post: 4 Fun German Language Games Before You Travel.

And if you already have some German you can try our two free German Story Courses for fun practice. Just register and play.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Willpower and Language Learning: 5 Simple Tips

willpower - Gamesforlanguage Willpower, do we need it for language learning? Well, a few simple tips may help.

It's Monday morning, top of the week, and I'm more than ready for the following headline in the Lifestyle section of my local paper: "How Willpower Works."

Research indicates that willpower can be strengthened like a muscle - and is a key predictor for success in life." That looks promising.

I'm just embarking on learning Mandarin Chinese, my first non-European language. A little extra willpower will be helpful for sure.

In her article, Deborah Kotz, health reporter/blogger for the Boston Globe, has tracked down pertinent research about willpower in general, and mentions various studies that show the benefits of self-control.

She concludes: "Willpower, it turns out, is one of the most important predictors of success in later life."

Research and Experience

But how can the research she describes apply specifically to learning a new language, which Kotz calls a "high-willpower activity"?

One key premise is a quote by the "endurance artist" David Blaine, who states: "Getting your brain wired into little goals and achieving them helps you achieve the bigger things you shouldn't be able to do."

Learning a new language, sticking with it, and getting some real results is definitely a "big thing." Like staying with a diet, language learning has a high failure rate.

In part, this may be because people expect too much too fast and don't find a way to stay with it. So how can you best strengthen your willpower for learning a new language?

Five Simple Tips

1) Set your mind on a specific long-term goal and be clear why you want to achieve that goal. 

For example: You're planning a trip to France in the spring and you want to get a good command of survival French.

You want to learn how to buy fruit at an open market or a newspaper at a kiosk; navigate the public transportation system; ask for directions to someone's house or apartment; make formal and informal introductions, etc.

2) Get into the habit of doing little self-control tasks on a daily basis.

And as I understand, they can be really "little." Some of these tasks don't need to be language related. Remember, you're just exercising your willpower muscle.

In his book "Willpower" Roy F. Baumeister suggests that cultivating specific new habits that require a mental effort - such as doing a habitual action in a different way - can strengthen self-control. For example, you can fix your posture several times a day, or brush your teeth with the other hand. 

3) Become creative with language learning mini-tasks.

Besides the regular language learning schedule you're committed to, do a number of language learning mini-tasks throughout the day.

For example, keep a journal in your new language and make several short entries throughout the day; practice a few vocabs intermittently on your smart phone; or line up a couple of YouTube videos for the day to click on.

Or scan the online edition of a foreign newspaper, initially just for some phrases and sentences, later for full articles or stories.

4) Get to know that part of your brain where you make your decisions.

Deborah Kotz explains the function of the prefrontal cortex (here, radically simplified by me): the right side helps you say "no" to temptation, the left side helps you say "yes" to the good choice, and the middle part helps you weigh the either/or.

Each time you achieve a small goal, it's a springboard for the next one. Also, be aware that there are things that will drain your willpower. Fatigue is one, being hungry or stressed out are others. I would also add boredom and being overwhelmed with choices.

5) Learn to pace yourself.

Unless you're studying for a language exam or you're one of those rare language geeks, a step-by-step approach may be best.

• Break the language down into chunks and then put it together again.
• Make sure that there always is a meaningful context.
• Doing 15 minutes a day, every day will get you farther than doing 1 hour twice a week.
• If you miss a day, don't be self-critical. When you're ready, just continue where you left off.

The Bottom Line

Doing little self-control tasks throughout the day can help your willpower for language learning. Conversely, setting regular language learning goals for yourself can help you be successful with other, larger achievements. It's a win-win situation.

Now, will my tennis practice help my acquisition of Manderin Chinese, or is my language learning helping my tennis? The answer is yes! The issue is not just the tennis or the Chinese itself, but the discipline of its practice. It's all good.

OK and now, before I start on my 15-minute Mandarin Chinese practice, should I have a little left-over Halloween candy for a glucose boost, or should I have that apple?

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Key Steps for Relearning a Language

Key Steps - Did you learn Spanish in high school but don't remember much of it? Did you learn French in college and all you can now say is "bonjour"? 

Did you travel in Italy and pick up lots of Italian but now are beginning to mix up Spanish and Italian?

As discouraging as that may be, you are still much better off than someone who has never attempted to learn a language.

Language Learning and Your Brain

The effort of learning a new language has lasting benefits for your brain. Even if it's been years. You may not be aware of it, but the skills you acquired are still there.

For example, you may have a sharper ability to distinguish language sounds. Or you have a better sense for how language hangs together. Or, you have a more intuitive understanding of grammar.

These skills stay with you, even if you're no longer using the foreign language you learned. You just have to find engaging ways to relearn it.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that dull, dry, boring stuff like grammar sheets, phrase books, or vocabulary lists won't fire up your language learning brain.
You want to keep your brain awake and you want to engage as many senses as possible. 

A Two-tiered Approach

When you're relearning a language, try alternating between "close" learning (focusing on individual words, sounds, or grammar points) and "sweeping" learning (listening to streams of sounds, reading longer texts without stopping, repeating full sentences even if you don't get it all).

The 5 Steps

1.  First, just Listen.
Retrieve the sounds and the melody of the language. Do this for a couple of days. Listen to individual words, songs, dialogs, videos, films. Don't work too hard to get the meaning, just soak up the sounds.

2.  Now add some Reading.
Use both short, easy texts and longer, more difficult ones. Read the short ones carefully; read the longer ones just to get the gist. Take in the look of the language and the structure of the sentences.

Don't get yourself all entangled in grammar rules. From time to time, look up a grammar item if you really can't figure it out intuitively.

3. The next step to add is to listen and repeat.
Start with easy words and phrases that you repeat after a native speaker. Alternate these with shorter and longer sentences that you try to repeat in their entirety and at full speed. Sound them out with gusto, ham it up, act as if you're a native speaker of the language. 

4. Then, start to write some.
Start by copying out words and phrases you want to remember. Write into a notebook or on the computer. Try also some simple writing games, they will also give you a good start. At the same time, begin writing a simple journal in your foreign language or write "postcards" to an imaginary friend.

When you feel more comfortable, look for a partner with whom you can exchange messages on Chat. Find one who'll give you some feedback, one who also wants to learn your native language.

5.  Any time you're ready, start speaking.
Start talking to yourself in the language you're relearning. Also find someone to talk to. It can be someone in your neighborhood or an exchange partner on Skype. Or travel to the country. You'll soon be ready to engage with local people!

Depending how much time you can invest, there are many resources available to you, including books, CDs, newspapers, Radio, TV, and obviously, the whole worldwide web.

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