Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German Subtleties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Subtleties

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

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

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

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

Bored woman ignored by her dateFor example:

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few examples include:

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

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

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

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

French Subtleties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few examples:

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

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

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

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

Idioms

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

A couple of my favorites are:

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

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

Québecois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Many words are contracted

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

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

Italian Subtleties

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

False Friends

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

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

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

The verbs essere vs stare

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

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

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

Use essere:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.

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

For condition or emotion.

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

For Date and Time.

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

Use stare:

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

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

For certain idiomatic expressions.

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

For the continuous tense:

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

The little word ci

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

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

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

Personal pronoun ci = us/to us/ourselves

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

Demonstative pronoun ci = about it/on it

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

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

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

Verbs with ci

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Practice French Conjunctions with Language Games

French flags as connected puzzle piecesConjunctions join words, groups of words, clauses, or sentences, and show how actions, events and ideas are connected. They are essential for conversations and are the staple of any speech or argument. 

Memorizing French conjunctions individually is not that difficult, but using them correctly in sentences takes some practice. Most of them occur in our French 1 travel-story course, where you can practice them in various games.

French, like English, has two types of conjunctions: coordinating and subordinating.

Coordinating French Conjunctions

These join words or groups of words that are of equal value.

The most commonly used French coordinating conjunctions are: et (and), ou (or), mais (but), ni...ni (neither...nor), car (because, as), donc (therefore, so).

Our Quick French Language Game, Basic French Conjunctions, will let you practice the most common ones. Click on the link or one of the images below.

et (and)

De rien, et bon voyage. (You're welcome and have a good trip.)Gamesforlanguage.com's French Conjunctions Wordinvader screenshot
Il est fatigué et dort un peu. (He is tired and sleeps a little.)

ou (or)

Vous pouvez prendre les bus 3, 4 ou 6. (You can take the buses 3, 4 or 6.)
Aller simple ou aller-retour? (One-way or return trip?)

(And don't confuse the conjunction “ou” with the acverb “où”, which is pronounced the same, but has a grave accent on the “u” and means “where” and in some cases when.)

mais (but)

Oui, mais c'est mon premier voyage en France. (Yes, but it's my first trip to France.)
Je ne suis pas certain, mais je crois que c’est ça. (I'm not sure, but I think that's it.)

ni (neither... nor...)

Je n'aime ni la glace ni le chocolat. (I like neither ice cream nor chocolate.)
Ni moi ni la police ne pouvions te joindre. (Neither I nor the police could reach you.)

car (because, for, as)

Je suis inquiet car elle n'est pas encore rentré. (I'm worried because she isn't back yet.)
Je reste à la maison car je suis malade. (I'm staying at home because I'm sick.)

donc (therefore, so)

Je pense, donc je suis. (I think, therefore I am.)
Je n'ai rien vu, donc je ne sais pas. (I didn't see anything, so I don't know.)

Subordinating French Conjunctions

These connect a dependent clause to a main clause, showing a relationship of time, place, or cause and effect between them. When using a subordinating conjunction, you'll have to think about which tense or mood of the verb to use.

The most commonly used French subordinating conjunctions are: quand (when), si (if), que (that), comme (as, since), quoique (although)

Gamesforlanguage.com's Shootout game of French conjunctionsquand (when)

Quand je me suis réveillé, il était midi. (When I woke up it was noon.)
Julie m'a fait visiter la ville, il ne faisait pas beau. (When Julie showed me around town, the weather wasn't nice.)

si (if)

Tu peux le prendre si tu veux. (You can take it if you want.)
S'il fait beau, on ira se promener. (If the weather's nice, we'll go for a walk.)

que (that)

Je crois que c’est ça. (I think that's it.)
Je suis content que tu nous rendes visite. (I'm glad that you're visiting us.)
Il faut que tu reviennes bientôt. (You have to come back soon.)
Dommage que je parte demain. (Too bad that I'm leaving tomorrow.)

Note: With expressions such as je suis content(e) que, il faut que, dommage que”, you would use the subjunctive mood for the verb. This will be the subject of another post.

comme (as, since)

Elle est partie comme j'arrivais. (She left as I arrived.)
Comme il arrive demain, il faut préparer une chambre. (Since he's arriving tomorrow, we have to get a room ready.)

quoique (even though, although)

Je veux l'acheter quoique ce soit très cher. (I want to buy it even though it's very expensive.)
Quoiqu'il soit pauvre, il est très généreux. (Even though he's poor, he's very generous.)

Conjunctive Phrases

French also has a large number of phrases that function as conjunctions. They usually end with ... que” and mostly require the subjunctive. Here are just a couple of examples:

avant que (before)

Il n’attend pas longtemps avant que le train arrive. (He doesn't wait long before the train arrives.)
Avant que la réunion ne commence, le Directeur veut vous parler. (Before the meeting starts, the manager wants to speak with you.)

parce que (because)

D’accord, mais c’est bien parce que c’est vous. (All right, but only because it's you.)
Je suis en retard parce que mon réveil n'a pas sonné. (I'm late because my alarm didn't go off.)

jusqu’à ce que (until)

Juste le premier chapitre, jusqu’à ce que je me souvenais. (Only the first chapter, until I remembered.)
Reste ici, jusqu'à ce que je revienne te chercher. (Stay here until I come back to get you.)

Maybe next time you read a French article or listen to a French podcast, you'll pay special attention to the conjunctions.

Reading and listening to French will help to internalize how conjunctions work and how they are used by native speakers.

Our easy language games will give you a good start by teaching you the individual basic conjunctions and how to build short sentences with them.

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

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to be Definite with Italian Articles

made in Italy stampEnglish speakers have it easy! The ubiquitous “the” makes any English noun definite. But Italian articles are much harder:

Not only do you have to know the gender – OK, “a” and “o” endings will give you a clue, as long as you also remember some exceptions – but then you have to select among a number of singular and plural forms.

The masculine Italian definite articles are the ones that cause the learner most trouble.

Don't despair, however, we'll give you the major rules, as well as a fun game, Italian Articles, so you can remember the rules more easily!

Masculine Italian Articles

Definite

Maschile Singolare - Masculine Singular: il - lo - l'

Words that begin with a consonant (except s+ consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn)

  • il pranzo - the lunchItalian articles Quick Language Game
  • il giorno - the day
  • il succo - the juice

Words that begin with s+consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn

  • lo zio - the uncle
  • lo scrittore - the writer
  • lo studente - the student

Not surprisingly, there are not many masculine nouns starting with y, pn, ps, gn, among them:

  • lo yogurt – the yoghurt
  • lo pneumatico – the inflatable
  • lo psicologo – the psychologist
  • lo gnocco – the (small) dumpling

The article “lo” becomes l' when followed by a word that starts with a vowel.

  • l'album - the album
  • l'indirizzo - the address
  • l'orologio - the clock, watch

Note: The first letter of the word that follows the article determines the form of the article.

  • lo zio - the uncle
  • il vecchio zio - the old uncle
  • l'album - the album
  • il nostro album - our album
Maschile Plurale - Masculine Plural: i and gli

Words that begin with a consonant (except s+ consonant, z, y, ps, pn, gn)

  • i pranzi
  • i giorni
  • i nonni

Words that begin with s + consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn

  • gli zii
  • gli scrittori
  • gli studenti

As with above masculine singular examples, no mystery, but note the plural form of “yogurt” (which doesn't change) and and “gnocco”

  • gli yogurt
  • gli pneumatici
  • gli psicologi
  • gli gnocchi

Words that begin with a vowel

  • gli amici
  • gli edifici
  • gli ospiti

Gamesforlanguage.com: Italian articles language gameNote: The first letter of the word that follows the article determines the form of the article.

  • gli amici - the friends
  • i miei amici - my friends
  • gli studenti - the students
  • i tuoi studenti - your students

Indefinite: un and uno

Compared to the definite articles, the masculine singular indefinite articles are pretty easy: “un” is used for all masculine gender nouns, except for those beginning with s+ consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn - where you use “uno.

  • un amico - a friend
  • un libro - a book
  • un succo - a juice
  • uno studente - a student
  • uno spazio - a space
  • uno zio - an uncle

Feminine Italian Articles

Definite

The feminine Italian definite articles are actually quite straight forward, they are either la, l', or le, as shown below.

Femminile Singolare - Feminine Singular: la and l'

All words – except those that begin with a vowel

  • la scuola - the school
  • la ragazza - the girl, girlfriend
  • la chiave - the key

The article “la” becomes l' when followed by a word that starts with a vowel.

  • l'ora - the hour
  • l'idea - the idea
  • l'edicola - the kiosk, newsstand
Femminile Plurale - Feminine Plural: le is used in all cases.Gamesforlanguage.com's  Italian articles language game
  • le fotografie - the photos
  • le settimane- the weeks
  • le notti - the nights
  • le ore - the hours
  • le opere - the works
  • le uve - the grapes

Indefinite: una and un'

No big mystery here either, as “una” is used for all singular feminine nouns, with the only variation that the abbreviated form un' is used for any feminine nouns beginning with a vowel.

  • una camera - a room
  • una domanda - a question
  • un'idea - an idea
  • un'ora - an hour

Partitive Articles and Combinations with Pronouns

Enough grammar rules for now! It's always a good idea to pace yourself and not bite off too much.

We'll cover the “del, dei, dello, della, glielo, glieli, etc.” in another post and have you practice them “playfully” with our language games.

Applying the rules and practicing the Italian articles with their singular and plural forms with as many nouns as you can remember is a worthwhile exercise.

Once you got these down pat, it's time to internalize a few other Italian grammar rules.

Let us know any comments or questions below.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

German Prefixes #1: The Inseparable Prefix “Ver-”

2 verb pairs with prefix "ver-"Some time ago we added a German Quick Language Game called 2 Verb Pairs with 'ver-'.” Soon after, a few players contacted us with some questions about the Prefix "ver".

No wonder: Among the many German prefixes, “ver-” is a very confusing one. If you agree, you're not alone: in Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Volume II (1877-1883), page 253, the author laments about the many “fragmental elements” of the German language:

German language is a dozen fragments of words flung into an octagonal cylinder …. up spring your fragmental elements with Ver's & Be's & Ge's & Er's & lein's & schen's & gung's & heit's & zu's & a thousand other flashing & blazing prefixes, affixes & interjections broiderd on them or hung to them.

Well, even if Twain was exaggerating just a bit, the “ver-” prefix can indeed be tricky and somewhat misleading.

Moreover, “ver-” is just one of a number of inseparable prefixes. (Others are “er-”, “ent-” “emp-“, ”be-”, “ge-”, “zer-”.) At least the inseparable prefixes don't add to a learner's word-order woes.

A Little Prefix "ver-" Language History

Today's German inseparable prefix “ver-” can be traced back to the Old High German “far-”, which originates from a mixture of Proto-Germanic “fer-”, “fur-”, “fra-” and other similar particles. And it's no coincidence that you'll recognize the “ver-” also in the “pro-”, “per-”, “pre-”, “for-” of English and other European languages.

In German the prefix “ver-” appears in three basic ways:

1. As a Simple Prefix.

Examples are:gehen vs vergehen - German Quick Language Game with prefix "ver-"

  • geben – (to give) vs vergeben – as in: Ich vergebe dir. (I forgive you.)
  • kehren – (to sweep) vs verkehren – as in: Er verkehrt in besten Kreisen. (He socializes with high society.)
  • gehen – (to go, walk) vs vergehen – as in: Die Zeit vergeht. (The time goes by.) [Note however, “sich vergehen” means to abuse someone sexually and “ein Vergehen” is a minor offense.]

In the above examples, the prefix “ver-” creates a new meaning with the root verb. Even if you know the meaning of the core verb, you may find the new meaning with the prefix hard to guess.

Many of the root verbs in this category also take other (inseparable) prefixes, such as “er-”, “be-”, “ent-”, etc.

  • ergeben – as in: Ich ergebe mich. (I give up, surrender.)
  • bekehren – as in: Er bekehrt die Ungläubigen. (He converts the unbelievers.)
  • entgehen – as in : Er entgeht einer Gefahr. (He escapes a danger.)

2. As a Prefix that makes the root verb a “faulty action,” or somewhat the opposite of what the root verb implies.

Examples are:

  • kaufen – (to buy) vs verkaufen – as in: Ich verkaufe mein Auto. (I am selling my car.)
  • zählen – (to count) vs (sich) verzählen – as in: Ich habe mich verzählt. (I miscounted.)
  • fahren – (to drive) vs (sich) verfahren – as in: Ich habe mich verfahren. (I got lost driving.)

In these cases, the somewhat opposite meaning can be guessed from the root verb. Here the ver- prefix sometimes corresponds to the English mis- prefix, as in miscount above, to misspell (sich verschreiben), to miscalculate (sich verrechnen), etc.

These root verbs combine only with a few inseparable prefixes. But they do combine with a number of separable prefixes, such as “auf-”. Often these change the root meaning just slightly.

  • aufkaufen – as in: Er kaufte halb Las Vegas auf. (He bought up half of Las Vegas.)
  • aufzählen – as in: Sie zählte alle seine Fehler auf. (She enumerated all his faults.)
  • auffahren – as in: Er fuhr auf das Auto vor ihm auf. (He rear-ended the car in front of him.)

3. As a Prefix that makes the root verb an (often new, different, but somewhat related) action.

This is the most frequent use of “ver-”.

"suchen vs versuchen" German Language Game with prefix "ver-"Examples are:

  • suchen - (to seek, search) vs versuchen – as in: Ich versuche es. (I'm trying it.)
  • binden – (to tie, bind) vs verbinden – as in: Ich verbinde Sie. (I'll connect you.)(Note that there is second meaning of verbinden: to wrap, bandage.)
  • folgen – (to follow) vs verfolgen as in: Ich verfolge ihn. (I pursue him.)

With most of these there are many other separable and inseparable prefixes that let you guess the meaning quite easily.

4. There are a number of verbs starting with “ver-”, where the root verb doesn't have a meaning of its own.

Examples are:

  • verdächtigen – to suspect
  • verdeutlichen – to make clear
  • vergessen – to forget

There are just a few verbs in this category and the root verbs typically don't work with any of the other separable or inseparable prefixes. So you'll just have to learn their meaning.

While prefixes can be confusing at times, they can also provide you with an initial clue of their meaning – especially when you understand the context in which they are used.

Test Your German with the Prefix "ver-"

Depending on how good your German is, you may have fun guessing the meaning of these “ver-” verbs below. You can look up the translation on Google translate or send us a note and we'll return the answers.

Root verb

English translation

“ver-” Prefix Verb

English translation

Category

achten

to respect

verachten

ändern

to change

verändern

ärgern

to annoy

verärgern

arbeiten

to work

verarbeiten

bauen

to build

verbauen

bergen

to recover

verbergen

beugen

to bend

verbeugen

bieten

to offer

verbieten

bitten

to ask

verbitten

brechen

to break

verbrechen

danken

to thank

verdanken

decken

to cover

verdecken

dienen

to serve

verdienen

drehen

to turn

verdrehen

And often, when you learn and remember the root verb, you'll also have an easier time remembering the many derivatives with the “flashing and blazing prefixes”.

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Games for Language: Learning by making mistakes and “winning” games...

Gamesforlanguage.com-Missed GolfshotLearning from mistakes is a well-known teaching tool. And succeeding (winning!) in games is powerful motivation for us to try again and again until we have mastered them. Both aspects of learning play an important role in our Games For Language courses and Quick Games.

Gender of “the tower” in Spanish

This morning I was replaying one of our Spanish 1 Scenes. In the Writing Game, I was asked to write “the tower” in Spanish. Now, I have seen and said the correct translation quite a few times before and I knew the word “torre.” However, I did not recall a rule for nouns ending with “e.” And because in my native language (German), “the tower” is masculine (“der Turm”), I was uncertain for a moment and started out with “e” for “el,” to be reminded immediately by the error warning that I was wrong. While I was annoyed that I got it wrong, I am quite confident that I will know it the next time.

Why? Because now I'll likely remember not only that in Spanish “tower” is feminine (“la torre”), but also that I should have recalled that it's the same word in Italian (“la torre”) and feminine as well in French (“la tour”).

Basic Spanish Gender Rules

Quite early on in Spanish, we learn a few basic rules: Words ending with “o” are often masculine, those ending in “a”, often feminine, etc. This Spanish language chart, which I discovered on the web some time ago, quite nicely summarizes the important Spanish gender rules.

There are other, very concise Spanish grammar charts that we have sent to our users.If you'd like to receive the whole set of 6 Spanish Grammar charts, just contact us.

We also welcome any information in regard to its author and origin for proper attribution. 

Associations...

In the case of “the tower,” my association will be that the Spanish (or Italian and French) word has a different gender from the German one.

I realize that English speakers will have other associations for memorizing genders in foreign languages that don't follow the basic rules. It may be the type or shape of the first letter ( “t” for the “l” in “la”), the sound of the word, etc. , or whatever “mnemonic” works to connect to the correct gender of a word.

Just for fun, I entered “la torre” in the online Mnemonic Generator and one of the suggestions was “Lame Thor”, just in case this helps you remember the gender and Spanish word for "tower''...

Winning” Games

I don't like to lose games. When I make a mistake and see at the end of a game, e.g. in “Writing Clowns” or “Word Invaders” that I only got 26 of 30 possible points, I'll repeat the game again until I get 30.

This is the same motivation which drives Duolingo learners to repeat a lesson: If you make more than 3 mistakes, you lose your hearts, e.g. you are “out” and have to repeat the lesson before you can go on.

Postscript: Since we wrote this post, Duolingo has changed it's format: Now users can continue to make mistakes, until they have 20 correct answers. Only in the "Test-Out" mode will they lose hearts and, after three losing three hearts, they have to start again.

Making Mistakes

Yes, we sometimes make mistakes, just by clicking on the wrong item accidentally or not taking enough time to read all options.

But replaying a lesson or a Scene has benefits beyond just “winning”: With words or phrases you already know, you can focus on pronouncing (ideally aloud) before clicking through; and those you missed, you now will be able to correct and remember better next time.

In our “Word Hero” game, you have to pick the correct English translation for foreign words that cascade down. You need to concentrate and for me, once I make a mistake, it's hard to recover. While this game requires you to focus and decide quickly, it also allows you to say the correct foreign word as it comes down, giving you the satisfaction not only of getting the word/phrase right, but also of letting you check immediately whether your pronunciation is close to that of the native speaker.

In the “Word Invaders” or Shootout” games, you have to pick the correct foreign words for the translation of an English sentence. By clicking on the wrong word, gender, or conjugation, you lose points. And, if you want to win 100% of those games, you'll have to correct all the mistakes you made in the first go-around.

The ultimate prize: Speaking the Language

Making mistakes and learning from them, as well as devising strategies to avoid traps, gain strength, and acquire assets, etc. are all part of the the ubiquitous video game universe that keep millions of people engaged today.

While language learning has come a long way from boring drills and verb conjugations, we still need to progress further to create a “Language Minecraft” type of game that has speaking the language as the ultimate prize!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Grammar – The Crabgrass on Your Lawn of Language Learning?

crab grassI recently read again that the “Grammar Translation Method” was first used in teaching Greek and Latin before being also applied to modern languages. It worked a bit like this:

Listen and then repeat after me
Let's look at this sentence and find the grammar rule
Do the exercise on page 43 of your Grammar/Text Book
Memorize the vocabulary list
Translate the first paragraph on page 45
Where do you see the grammar rule X applied in this paragraph

Maybe that's why many (including myself) have such bad memories of their language learning days in school...

Our First Language

We certainly don't learn to speak our first language from a grammar book. We learn our first language and its grammar – the rules by which the language works – mostly just by listening to and imitating other speakers. Research suggests that our brains are wired to do this. (Multiple Brain Regions Wired For Language, Study Finds). We seem to grasp the grammar idiosyncrasies of our first language without much effort early on and then learn the rules in school later. However, grammar rules themselves are not set in stone. Many of them even change over time and people often argue about them.

Our Second (or Third) Language

Learning a second or third language typically starts in school - for most of us and excepting children who grow up bilingual - after we have acquired the basics of our first language. And here the teaching methods (such as the “Grammar Translation Method”) may have a lot to do with how children or teenagers, and for that matter, even adults learn a foreign language.

Knowing certain grammar rules is obviously an essential part of mastering a language. But consciously learning grammar rules is a different type of activity from engaging in a language. Grammar rules are memorized and applied. Engaging in a language means actively using it, starting with listening/understanding, then reading, speaking, and writing it.

We agree with Ron Davidson's Making a Game of Education where he argues that “games and education are a natural fit.

Language Games and Grammar

The question is how one can teach grammar with language games. 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. In fact, a recent article When It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learning reinforced our idea that games make language learning more effective: Learning can occur "playfully" rather than "with effort." 

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

Lessons from Mark Twain's “The Awful German Language”

Mark Twain and the "awful German language"In an earlier blog post Heidelberg & Mark Twain, I speculated why Mark Twain had liked the name “Heidelberg,” the city where he stayed with his family for several months in 1878.

This topic had offered itself, as our German 1 traveler during his visit to Heidelberg learns the English translation of the city's name and its relevance to Mark Twain.

Twain's love-hate relationship with The Awful German Language, published as an Appendix to his “A Tramp Abroad,” makes for amusing reading for anyone grappling with the German language – and is especially hilarious to a native German speaker as he looks at German though Twain's eyes!

A few of his observations:

Declinations may be the crabgrass on the lawn of many who are learning German. Twain uses “rain” as an example and has some funny explanations for when “der Regen” (nominative) changes to “den Regen” (accusative), “dem Regen” (dative), or “des Regens” (genitive).

If you add adjectives, it gets even worse and Twain is at his satirical best when he notes:

When a German gets his hands on an adjective, he declines it, and keeps on declining it until the common sense is all declined out of it. It is as bad as Latin. He says, for instance:

SINGULAR

  • Nominative -- Mein guter Freund, my good friend.
  • Genitives -- Meines guten Freundes, of my good friend.
  • Dative -- Meinem guten Freund, to my good friend.
  • Accusative -- Meinen guten Freund, my good friend.

PLURAL

  • N. -- Meine guten Freunde, my good friends.
  • G. -- Meiner guten Freunde, of my good friends.
  • D. -- Meinen guten Freunden, to my good friends.
  • A. -- Meine guten Freunde, my good friends

Now let the candidate for the asylum try to memorize those variations, and see how soon he will be elected.”

Twain also notes, correctly, that “the same sound, SIE, means YOU, and it means SHE, and it means HER, and it means IT, and it means THEY, and it means THEM.

The only way to discover the right meaning is to understand the context in which they are used.

There are a lot more funny and perceptive passages about the German way to create word-monsters, assign genders, separate verbs, etc. (Note also that there are some spelling and grammar changes that have occurred since 1876 e.g. to let, lease, hire is now spelled “vermieten” - not “vermiethen.”)

If you are learning German, his essay - as well as his 4th of July speech at the Banquet of the Anglo-American Club of Students - might amuse you.

And perhaps it also encourages you to keep practicing. Even though German has its tricky moments, it definitely can be learned!

You Want to Learn German Fast and Playfully?

With our German 1 and 2 courses you'll learn practice German for FREE - with stories of a young man traveling through Germany and - its sequel - solving a "Blüten"-mystery in Berlin.

"The Story" and easy games will let you forget that you are actually learning German! 

 

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


 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Learning Grammar in Context

Grammar topics - Gamesforlanguage.comA recent blog post "Learning Grammar with WordDive” reminded me that indeed there are many ways for adults to learn a foreign language. The author notes: “WordDive is primarily about 'diving' into language through its vocabulary” and “When studying with WordDive, you are exposed to grammar structures integrally in the course of the learning process.” We agree that adults can learn grammar structures “integrally,” somewhat similar to the way children learn them "through numerous repetitions and imitations.”

Games and “The Story”

Our approach at GamesforLanguage is different: We teach vocabulary and grammar structures with short games and “The Story” - a sequential and connected series of dialogs and short narratives that tell of a young man traveling in European countries.

While the various games help the learner to practice all four skills (listening, reading, writing, and speaking), the dialogues and narratives introduce and repeat grammatical structures, which he or she will recognize and/or, at times, be alerted to.

Dialogue - Gamesforlanguage.comFor example, already in the second Scene (lesson) of our French 1 course, we bring in the subjunctive, with the sentence “Je suis contente que vous parliez...” in our dialogue (left). Deal no Deal - Gamesforlanguage.comWe then briefly explain it in our “Deal no Deal” game (see right).  Twenty Scenes later, the expression “je suis contente" is used again, but with the subjunctive of another verb. Will we teach all subjunctive forms of these particular verbs? No, but the learner is alerted to the context in which such forms are used and will start to recognize new subjunctive forms as they come up.

Context Learning

Learning the vocabulary, i.e. the foreign labels of objects, actions, feelings, etc. (see also our post: Language Learning with Pictures and/or Words) is clearly important and necessary. Romance and Germanic languages have many similarities to English, which help English speakers to remember words and phrases, even if certain grammatical constructions are different.

For example, in our story our traveler is asked :

Do you also need something?” and he answers: I need a travel guide.”

In Spanish one would say:

¿Necesitas también algo?” and  Necesito una guía de viajes.”

and in Italian:

Hai bisogno di qualcosa anche tu?” and Ho bisogno di una guida turistica.”

Rather than drilling the conjugations for “necesitar” and “avere bisogno,” the learner picks up the second and then the first person singular as part of the question and answer. And he or she remembers the meaning of “you need” and “I need,” because it is connected to the “travel guide” of the story, with “guía”/ “guida” (guide), “viajes” (voyage), and “turistica” (tourist) being closely related to their English meanings.

Based on our own experience of learning several foreign languages as adults, we know that we can best retain and apply words and phrases, when they relate to objects, actions, feelings, etc. that we encounter in our own life. (That's why we chose a travel story.)

And while our approach is somewhat different from WordDive's, we agree that the discovery of grammatical structures during the learning process is rewarding and more effective than drilling conjugations, tenses, etc.

For some learners, more detailed explanations are necessary, for others explanations are just confirmations of their own discoveries. The extensive offering of free or inexpensive apps and online courses allows learners to choose and combine different approaches that fit their needs and learning styles.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Quick French: "Du café? Oui, j'en veux bien."

The French pronoun "en" may be little but it's not to be ignored! It's a very common and useful word, and worth the effort to get to know better.

In a recent Facebook post, we listed the following uses:

  • Meaning "from there" / "from it":
    Tu as été à Londres?  Oui, j'en arrive. - You've been to London?  Yes, I just came from there.
  • Meaning "about it" / "of it":
    Il parle beaucoup de son voyage.  Il en parle beaucoup. - He speaks a lot about his trip. He speaks a lot about it.
  • Meaning "some" / "any":
    Je viens de faire du café.  Tu en veux? - I just made coffee. Do you want some?
  • With expressions of quantity:
    Est-ce que tu as vu beaucoup de films de Truffaut?  Oui, j'en ai vu beaucoup. - Have you seen a lot of Truffaut's films? Yes, I've seen a lot of them.

For a more thorough look at the pronoun "en" go to: How to use that awesome French pronoun EN by Stanley Aléong

Our Quick French: "On y va" introduces you briefly to "y." Check that one out, too and you'll know two of the most ubiquitous words of the French language!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Quick Spanish No.1: "¡Que tengas ...!"

Cute DogIn English, when you say to someone: "Have a good day!" you're not ordering them to have a good day, you are expressing a wish: "I hope you have ...." or "May you have ..."

When you wish someone a good day, etc. in Spanish, you are saying something similar:

"¡Que tengas un buen día!" (familiar) and "¡Que tenga un buen día!" (formal) both mean "[May you] have a good day!"

 I hope that...

The verb form that is used in such wishes is the subjunctive mood. Look at the difference:

 

Tienes un buen día. - You are having a good day.

¡Que tengas un buen día! - Have a good day!

The combination "que+subjunctive" implies "may ..." or "I hope that ..."

Following are a few other common wishes in Spanish:

¡Que tengas una buena estancia! - Have a good stay!

¡Que tengas suerte! - Good luck! (May you have luck!)

¡Que tengas buen viaje! - Have a good trip!

¡Que te mejores! - Get well soon! (May you get better!)

¡Que (te) vaya bien! - Good luck (to you)! / I hope it goes well (for you)!

¡Que aproveche! - Enjoy your meal! (Spain)

Getting the feel for the context in which the subjunctive is used (rather than learning a bunch of rules) is a good way to start learning this verb form. ¡Que te vaya bien!

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