Posted on by Peter Rettig

How to Play and Learn With

Playing Practice - As we were adding more scenes to our 4 language courses – German, French, Spanish, and Italian, we are also interested in learning more about the playing habits of our visitors.

Everyone comes to learning a language with a somewhat different attitude and often discovers new and different ways to practice.

We don't track players that register, but we are able to see which lessons they played and how long they were on the site. From that information, we are able to distinguish a number of different types of players:

The Curious Player

We can reasonably assume that anyone clicking the “demo” button is curious about our invitation to “Learn Languages the fun way!”

Maybe he or she has tried other self-teaching language programs and found them either no fun, or is just intrigued by the idea of playing some free games.

The “0” Games Player

Now and then we see visitors who have clicked the “demo” button, but then decided on the next screen not to click on one of the four languages. They may simply not be interested in these particular languages. We promise: More languages will be coming!

We also know that certain browsers and/or screen/zoom settings, especially on netbooks, may be causing problems for some players. We are working on solving those issues and welcome your comments and suggestions.

The Nibbler 

May have listened to the dialog and may have played one or two games, but then decided this was not for him/her. Either the program itself did not interest these players, or they had selected the wrong language.

Some Nibblers try out another language later.

The Finisher

Plays through all or most of the games, though he/she may skip a game here and there.  Some of the Finishers come back at a later time. They sometimes redo the course after practicing the language in another way. 

The Focused Player

Completes all or most of the games of the first scene. Then, having met the score requirement, he/she immediately moves on to scene #2 or even scene #3. These players seem to be interested in one language only. They may also “nibble” sometimes by trying out another language, but then return to the language of their choice.

The Polyglot Player  

Plays at least one scene of two or more languages right away. From his/her scores we can speculate that this player may already know one or more of the languages.

Polyglot players sometimes are also Nibblers who try out different languages. Their scores are often high enough to let them move on to further scenes.

The Returning Player

We are very pleased and encouraged by the many returning players who probably fall mostly into the focused or polyglot player categories. These players may have logged on and registered several months ago and are now checking on other scenes or languages.

Is Gamesforlanguage a Serious Program?

It's clear to us that with a tag line such as “Learn Languages the fun way” some visitors to the site may assume that is not a serious and professionally developed self-teaching language program.

They could not be more wrong. Our courses are based on our own extensive experience in foreign language learning, as well as a 20-year experience in writing and editing self-teaching language programs.

Key Features for Mid-Beginners

Each of our four available courses integrates several key features into one unique comprehensive language learning program for mid beginners.
• A travel story sequel of a young American visiting the country of his father's family. Fun games that practice reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
• Vocabulary, which is introduced, practiced, and then repeated in later scenes.
• The first scene starts with easy sentences, but the sentences get increasingly difficult.
• 15 to 20 new words and structures introduced in every scene, and familiar words and structures repeated from previous scenes.
• Travel-related and culturally relevant dialogs, expressions, and vocabulary that are immediately useful on a foreign trip.
• There are no grammar drills in the courses, only grammar and structures that the learner can discover gradually. Brief comments and tips that clarify aspects of language and culture.

How to Play and Learn

One of the screens we intend to add soon will be titled “How to play and learn.” For those players who indeed are interested and committed to learning a first or another foreign language, we would like to suggest the following:
• Play only one(1) new scene per day.
• Play some games every day to get into the learning habit. You are free to re-play any scenes or games.
• Repeat the native speaker's words and phrases whenever you can in any game.
• Repeat any games until you get close to 100%.
• "Shadow" the sentences, by saying them along with the native speaker or repeating them a split-second after. You can do that as often as you want. Keep practicing until you feel that you're getting close to the native speaker's pronunciation.
• Before you start a new scene, listen again to the dialog of the previous scene. Re-play any of the games for which you score less than 100%.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My Rosetta Stone Blog - 2 A Big Time Investment

Learning with Rosetta Stone: Latin American Spanish, Level 1 - Unit 1 - Lesson 1, continued ...

I'm in the habit of doing about 15 minutes of Spanish language learning a day, so it's taken me a while to finish Lesson 1 of the first Unit. After doing the Core Lesson, of Lesson 1, which is 30 minutes of learning, I faced another group of exercises, all still part of Lesson 1.

Exercises, Time and Payback

Pronunciation: 9 minutes;
Vocabulary: 4 minutes;
Grammar: 7 minutes;
Listening and Reading: 14 minutes;
Reading: 8 minutes;
Writing: 5 minutes;
Listening: 9 minutes;
Speaking: 8 minutes;
Review: 5 minutes.

This added up to 69 minutes. With the 30 minutes of the Core Lesson, I now have had 99 minutes of learning Spanish.

There were no surprises. All the exercises worked with the 17 content words (and familiar mini-sentences) that I had learned in the Core Lesson. All exercises worked with the familiar photo flash card format. In some exercises the simple words were cut into syllables and drilled (endings, masculine/feminine, singular/plural).

Most strikingly, the exercises were not distinct from each other. All exercises (except for the 5 items in the writing practice) seemed to overlap. In all of them, I saw familiar pictures, clicked on them, listened to familiar sentences, saw same sentences written, and in most cases was asked to speak them (either to approving or disapproving sounds).

Somewhere during the "Listening and Reading" exercise, I heard myself say: If I hear "the boy is eating" or "the women are running" one more time, I'll scream.

Ninety-nine minutes is a substantial time investment. The payback is on the light side: 17 content words, and the basic masculine/feminine, plus 3rd person singular/plural distinction.

One other thought crossed my mind. Everything in this lesson is presented in the third person. I see individual people or groups doing a bunch of actions that are unrelated (eating, drinking, running, cooking, reading, etc). I really would like learn language that will get me engaged in conversations with others.

What's next? Blog #3 Where is the Context?

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My Rosetta Stone Blog - 1 How Useful Is the Vocab?

Learning with Rosetta Stone, North American Spanish.

Rosetta Stone is a hot brand, everyone knows about the name. But it seems that a lot of people who know about it, haven't tried it yet.

I worked for 20 years at Pimsleur Language Programs as an author and editor, so I know a little bit about self-teaching language programs. Before that, I was a language teacher. I'm also an avid language learner, with a pretty good fluency in 5 languages. And I am not stopping there.

In order to find out how our content and game driven approach compares to Rosetta Stone's popular courses, I bought the Rosetta Stone Spanish Course (South American), Level 1, and will try to use it to learn Spanish. I'll also keep a blog charting my progress with Rosetta Stone.

Learning Vocab with Images

Installed the program and proceeded with: Level 1 - Unit 1 - Core Lesson 1. It took me 29 minutes. [Update: You can now learn with Rosetta Stone using an app. That is very convenient.]

I learned and practiced 15 content words and in most cases the basic forms of each content word. Here's a list:
hello, good-bye;  a (masculine/feminine);  the (m/f singular, m/f plural);  child (m/f);  children (m/f); woman/women;  man/men;  he/she, they (m/f);  he/she eats, they eat (m/f);  he/she drinks, they drink (m/f);  he/she runs, they run (m/f);  he/she reads, they read (m/f);  he/she cooks, they cook (m/f);  he/she swims, they swim (m/f);  he/she writes, they write (m/f) 

All these words and forms were presented in 34 mini-lessons with beautiful pictures, clearly showing who was doing what.

A sentence was said - for example "the boy swims," and I had to click on the correct picture. If I picked the right one (usually out of 4 choices), the written sentence appeared on top of the picture. If I picked a wrong choice, an appropriate sound would warn me, and I would try again.

No doubt, I learned all of these words well. But about 10 minutes into the lesson, I started making some foolish mistakes. There was something mind-numbing in the perfect symmetry of the material I was learning.

I also found I was mesmerized by the many, many different beautiful pictures that kept flashing on. Yes, it was an exercise for the mind. But like doing 34 sit-ups, I didn't find the exercise very engaging.

I'm also not sure how I'll slip the following sentences into my next Spanish cocktail conversation: "The boy swims." "The girl eats." "The women read." "The men cook.Well, maybe the last two are not useless. I'm definitely all for women reading, while the men cook ...

What's next? Blog #2: A Big Time Investment

Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

Are Games Effective For Learning a Language?

Games - Games have a long tradition of being both a fun way to spend time and to challenge the mind. Games can be playful and they can be serious, but always they engage us as we enjoy puzzling things out.

One case in point is the widely popular "Lumosity" site which offers a wide variety of games for brain training. Research and testimonials vouch for the effectiveness of training your brain with games.

More Language Games

The sheer number of games for learning on the Internet has exploded in recent years. More specifically, many language programs have added games to their site as a way to enhance foreign language learning.

For example, Transparent Language has added games such as "word seek" "hangman" "fill in the blanks" or "unscramble." Or, check out, which lists dozens and dozens of ESL learning games.

Games are Tools is offering something still different: Games are not individual learning clips and they are not an "addition" or an "enhancement" of a language program. With the games ARE the language program.

The game-based beginner courses provide fun tools for learning French, Spanish, Italian, or German:
- A controlled vocabulary acquisition program of 650+ frequently-used content words
- Extensive audio practice
- Listening comprehension practice
- Gradual reading practice that enables you to read a 1800+ word text at the end of a beginner course (36 scenes/lessons)
- Beginning writing practice
- Essential grammar tips
- Speaking practice, by repeating, anticipating, and shadowing words, phrases and sentences.
- All of this is wrapped up in a fun story-sequel of a young man traveling to the country of his family's origin and is presented in the form of fun and easy games.

Feedback from Learner

Here are some comments we've received to date:
- "The variety of activities is good."
- "What's nice is that it doesn't teach too much at once."
- "It flows easily, doesn't feel like I'm memorizing."
- "I like the easy set-up."
- "I like the pronunciation training."
- "I like the way of teaching."
- "The interaction is great."
- "It's helping me to learn and memorize español words in correlation to English! Thank you!"

GamesforLanguage, just like other online programs, is a fun resource with which a learner can engage in another language. Our games help to build basic language skills, which in turn will increase a person's confidence to start speaking the new language in real life. That's the goal!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

HTML5, Webiva and GamesForLanguage

dialog - Gamesforlanguage.comAs we are moving from the demo phase into the full production phase for our four initial languages German, Italian, French and Spanish, we continue to be amazed and impressed by the software platform Webiva, which is the "engine" that powers our web-based self-teaching language program.

When we started out with our idea of creating a self-teaching language program that uses games as a principal teaching tool, we really had no concept yet how we could implement it.

We certainly knew that Cykod had developed a "Rails based" content management system, Webiva, but really had no idea what the Inbound Marketing Platform of the Webiva Performance Inbound Marketing Platform really meant.

Over the last few months, as we developed our language scripts, the Cykod team added various games to Webiva's "backend", as they call it. Without consulting any manual or much instructions, both my wife and I figured out how to add our language components to the games, and as importantly, how we could edit and modify them. We could easily add game screens, re-arrange the sequence of the games, and make other changes on our own.

As we went "live", initially with German and then with French games, Webiva let us see the number of hits, the number of users who tried our demos, how long a player stayed on each game, etc. We are also very grateful to all the players who filled out the surveys. Their feedback caused us to make changes, re-arrange, shorten some and modify other gamesSpanish -

We are also learning about Google adwords, Facebook links, twitter, how to blog on the site and all the other "bells and whistles" of Webiva.

The ease with which we were able to get familiar with Webiva, input our foreign language scripts and demo recordings, made us think about whether "Webiva gamesforlanguage" should not be marketed as a wonderful teaching tool to educational institutions. But this idea may be for another blog...

In the name of full disclosure we should note that Cykod, LLC was started by our son and his wife and that is their brainchild!

Postscript: Our son's experience with HTML5 and our site development also motivated him to write a book: Professional HTML5 Mobile Game Development.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Games for Language Learning – Observations of a Non-Player

video players - Maybe mankind is divided into people who like to play games and those who don't. Well, I'm sure there are some who argue that we all like to play – certainly as children.

I'll even agree and concede that I "played "(European) football as a child and young adult. I now "play" with my grandchildren, and play tennis quite regularly. However, card games, board games, and certainly computer games keep me entertained and focused only for a short time.

Maybe it is somewhat ironic that I am now engaged in a new venture, which has at its main purpose to help people learn a foreign language playfully.


I began to think about why certain games are enjoyable to me and why I quickly lose interest in others. I recently read a book, "The Art of Game Design" by Jesse Schell, in which the author described the tension between flow and skill.

He explains that a well-designed game requires the player to increase his/her skill level in just the right amount. Keeping the skill level constant, makes the game boring. On the other hand, demanding too much from the player, interrupts the play and may make him give up, i.e. interrupt the "flow" of the game.

I realized that many board games become boring to me because they don't require much skill, just luck. For others, such as Bridge, Black Jack, Poker, etc. I never progressed to a skill level which made it enjoyable for me, and thereby never getting into the "flow" of the game.


As we are designing our games around the language to be taught, we are first faced with finding the right balance between gradually augmenting the required skill level while maintaining the flow of the games.

"Skill" in a language program is acquired by listening, reading, and understanding new foreign words and phrases, then pronouncing and speaking them, and finally translating one's native vocabulary and sentences into the foreign language in spoken and written form.

Creating games that do all of that, without losing the player's attention, remains our major challenge for now. We've started to include game points and will certainly experiment "with a reward structure that includes a steady stream of rewards, points, etc."

We wouldn't mind making GamesForLanguage "addictive." Certainly, getting people to speak several foreign languages would seem a positive accomplishment. But for now, we are more focused on making our language games challenging enough not to lose players like me.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Learn Grammar : Simply Go With the Flow!

grammar Grammar explanations in language games? Maybe not. Game playing thrives on the experience of “flow,” a term that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores in his book Finding Flow.

Flow is a state of mind in which things come easily and are done without overthinking. Grammar explanations definitely take your mind away from experiencing flow.

Most people will agree that we don't learn a language from a grammar book. Grammar rules themselves are not set in stone. Some of them are controversial and people argue about them. If you google “controversial grammar rules” plenty of hits will come up.

We learn a language and its grammar – the rules by which a language works – mostly just by listening to and imitating other speakers. Lots of research suggests that our brains are wired to do this.

How to Learn "Grammar"?

Knowing certain grammar rules obviously is an essential part of mastering a language. But consciously learning grammar rules is a different type of activity from engaging in a language: reading, speaking or actively listening to it.

As you are learning a new language, there is a wonderful sense of “being in the flow”: when you are reading a story and getting it; when you are listening and understanding the gist of what is being said; when you are talking, and saying what you intend to express. This feeling of flow often makes the process of language learning an enjoyable experience.

As we are developing, the question of combining meaning with flow comes up consistently. We agree with Ron Davidson, Making a Game of Education (who argues that “games and education are a natural fit.”)

The question is how we can best make that natural fit work for us. For now, we go as far as adding brief grammar “tips” in a translation game. But mostly we set up the language games in such a way that the player makes grammar connections intuitively.  

When you get curious enough about a grammar point, it is interesting to check up on it. Sometimes that's the only way that you can figure out the meaning of something.

But while you're talking or listening to someone talking to you, it's not usually possible to say “Hey, let me look that up.” Language games intend to put you right into the flow of understanding and using a language. That's not a bad skill to practice.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

The K.I.S.S. Principle and Game Playing

KISS Acronym As we started out to develop our foreign language games and the related website, we knew we wanted to attract a wide range of learners:
- those for whom traditional language instructions did not work;
- those who were currently using other self-teaching foreign language programs;
- those for whom such courses were either too expensive or time consuming or boring;
- those who were attracted by the “game playing” proposition - to just name a few.

We were further guided by the Eisenberg's/Quato-vonTivadar's book Always Be Testing, which identifies four personality types of web users that can serve as archetypes: 1. Competitive/Assertive 2. Spontaneous/Amiable 3. Humanistic/Expressive 4. Methodical/Analytical

Without going into the authors' description of these types, we designed our site with these four types in mind. We also felt that our proposition has the potential to appeal to all four:
- the competitive/assertive user will welcome the points and the scoring with the increasing difficulty inherent in any language course;
- the spontaneous/amiable player will be looking for the “play” button and skip much else;
- the humanistic/expressive learner may be interested in linking the foreign language learning to a story;
- the methodical/analytical user will want to understand the logic of the approach, and get grammar and pronunciation explanations.

The K.I.S.S Principle

In the spirit of K.I.S.S., we decided to keep the playing screen as simple and uncluttered as possible. However, surveys on the site and feedback from friends made it clear that there is a difference between younger and older players. While the young players would start playing by clicking on the first playing screen, the older players were a little confused about how to start.

Arrows and a “Continue” label had to be added. Clearly, the K.I.S.S. admonishment to ourselves needs to take older players into account too. These players may indeed fall into the four user types quoted above. But, they also may need more instructions “how to play” than generations X Y Z, et al.

We are still evaluating what instructions are really needed. And, we are deliberating on how we should best communicate them. Via buttons on the start up screens? On the game screens? On the home or menu icons?

Voice Recognition?

Listening to native speakers and then emulating their pronunciation is one of the key challenges for any student of a foreign language. While some self-teaching language programs are experimenting with voice recognition programs, we decided against using this technology. Rather than being helpful, it can cause the learner to become frustrated with the program.

Instead, encourage players at to always repeat what they hear, and when they can, to "shadow" what the native speaker says (speak along with the speaker). By using this technique often, a learner's pronunciation can improve noticeably.

We started out with a few basic ideas: Rather than overwhelm the “learner” with explanations and instructions, we let the “player” immediately play through the various screens and games.

Keeping the playing and learning intuitive with games for listening, word identification, translation, and writing, the player will begin to memorize words and sentences and recognize grammatical structures. Indeed, we are very conscious of applying the K.I.S.S. principle to any grammar explanations as well. But that's for another blog post.

Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

Gibberish or Language Learning?

Children playingWe are speaking German with Calvin, our three-year-old grandson. We don't need a "method." His brain is a sponge that soaks up whatever strikes him as fun. 

Telling him that "apple juice" is "AHP-fell-sahft" has him laughing out loud. He repeats the word a couple of times and looks at me to see if I'm laughing. I'm thrilled. I'm amazed at how good his pronunciation is.


Then we're playing trains. Calvin likes the word "Lo-ko-mo-TIH-veh," which I sneak in, as we make the train chug along.

Suddenly he laughs again. Then he lets loose a stream of "pretend German." It sounds like German, with its characteristic consonants and intonation, but what he's spouting is total nonsense.

I sure can't understand what he's saying. Later, when I think about this, it occurs to me that Calvin is recreating the sounds he hears when my husband and I are having a conversation in German.

He doesn't understand many of the words. But he has definitely picked up the melody and the rhythm, in short, the sounds of the German language and is mimicking them well.


In my mind, this clicks with something I noticed when Calvin was an eighteen-month-old toddler. At that age, he was already able to say a few words. These he used insistently when he wanted something.

But other times he just talked away - in pure gibberish. But this "gibberish" had the melody and the rhythm of American English. No question about that. He was talking in nonsense sentences. 

Some of his sentences clearly had the intonation of questions, others were statements, some where emphatic, others more tentative. He was reproducing conversational talk that he hears all the time at home.

In what he was saying, occasionally a word would pop up that I could identify as English. Within weeks, the number of individual words increased that I could understand. A few months later, the gibberish stopped and Calvin started talking in short noun-verb sentences.

As a toddler, he had picked up the melody and rhythm of English and was mimicking those perfectly.


And with that, I remember an experience of my own. Five years ago, when my husband and I had just arrived in Rome, we started watching a half-hour of TV every evening.

We were going to spend several months in Italy, and we were determined to learn Italian. During the morning, we worked with a tutor; in the afternoon, we walked the city; then, after a late dinner, we let an Italian soap opera or news program wash over us.

That's what the daily television experience felt like: The language just washed over us. We heard a fast stream of sounds and rhythms. Beautiful sounds.

But we barely caught a familiar word. The stream of Italian sounds was gibberish to us.

However, over time, this stream of sounds seemed to slow down. Here and there, we started to identify familiar words, then phrases. By the end of our stay in Rome, we could pretty well follow a story, for example, the story of the Italian TV series “Orgoglio” (Pride), which was running at that time.

I can well imagine the excitement Calvin feels as he gradually begins to master his languages. I've been there as an adult. My brain too went from hearing a stream of gibberish, to understanding words, and then to understanding their meaning.
I now watch an online soap opera in Italian called “Un posto al sole” (A place in the sun). And, I'm looking around for the next language to learn. I love these new beginnings.  

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Retirement and Foreign Language Learning

Retirement Paradise - GamesforLanguage from Yay Images A few years ago, my wife and I decided to celebrate my retirement by living for several months in Rome, Italy – to both explore the historical treasures as well as to learn another foreign language. We both were fluent in several languages (German, French, English, and my wife also in Dutch).

These were languages we had learned either as children or young adults, living and/or working in the respective countries. However, Italian was to be the first language we were going to learn as mature adults.

A few months before our travels, we began using Pimsleur's self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, totaling 90 lessons. This was an accomplishment. We felt quite smug about being able to understand basic Italian, but we also knew that the real test would come when we arrived in Rome.

The drive from Fiumicino airport into Rome to our apartment did not prove conclusive, as our landlord's driver wanted to practice his English – which was clearly better than our Italian.

Our apartment in Trastevere was located in a narrow street, above a bakery/grocery store. Directly opposite was a wonderful little restaurant called “Le mani in pasta.” Here we could try out our Italian. English was not spoken.

Limited Vocabulary and Skills

We discovered rapidly that our vocabulary was quite limited. What we remembered best were the set phrases we had learned in our language course: How to order a glass of wine or beer, how to buy 100 grams of prosciutto, etc.

We also found that while our knowledge of French was quite helpful at times – both Italian and French are Romance languages and share many similar words - at other times our brain simply refused to memorize certain Italian words.

We also realized that by having used mainly CDs and tapes, we had not learned how to read and write in Italian. Through a local bookshop, we found a wonderful young Italian tutor, whose initial writing test quickly ascertained this deficiency.

Over the next months, as she worked with us and monitored our daily homework, our confidence grew. We started to understand and enjoy Italian TV and movies, and increasingly conversed with shopkeepers and people we encountered throughout the day.

Language Learning is Good for an Older Brain

Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and some discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar rules. In fact, research has shown that such mental exercises can be especially beneficial to an older brain.

Playing electronic/computer games does not have to be the purview of children and young adults. Seniors who play language games also exercise their gray cells and have fun doing so. They don't feel guilty. They are learning a new language at the same time!

We now watch Italian movies on a cable channel at home, read Italian newspapers online, and continue to exercise our gray cells. We believe: “If you don't use it – you lose it!”

< <    1 .. 38 39 40 41   > >