Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

20 Ideas to Overcome a Language Learning Block

woman with language learning block(updated 4-18-2018)

You're learning a new language.

You've managed to get a good start, but now you notice that you're struggling to continue.

The learning is just not going smoothly.

You start skipping a day here and there, then you miss a week or so.

Sorting papers seems so much more important than learning and practicing 10 more phrases in your new language.

Language Learner’s Block

Perhaps what you have is Language Learner’s Block.

In many ways it resembles what we call Writer’s Block. writers block

Borrowing and adapting a definition: Language Learner’s Block “is the condition whereby a language learner cannot summon up the will and energy to continue learning a foreign language.” (From Fiction Writers’ Mentor) 

There are all kinds of reasons for feeling blocked.

A major reason is lack of confidence in yourself as a language learner. Constant self criticism may be sapping your motivation.

Maybe it's also frustration with your slow learning progress. You wanted to become fluent - in how many days, weeks, or months?

Or you feel stressed because of too may other commitments. But even people with a busy schedule manage to add a daily item they really want to do.

I'm sure you've heard people say: “If you want to get a job done, find a busy person to do it”.

So, being busy is not a good reason to stop learning a language you really want to learn.

A language learner's block is not foreign to me. I've been there a few times. But I've also found ways to keep going nevertheless. 

Here are a few practical ideas to help you too overcome your Language Learner’s Block. Except for #1 - which is worth looking at anyhow from time to time - the other 19 are in no particular order.

Pick the one(s) that could work for you NOW.  Once you're back in your routine, your confidence and motivation will pick up again, and you can try out some others later.

Practical Ideas

1. Reassess. Before you tackle the obstacles that keep you from continuing with your language, reassess. Why are you learning your new language? Are you planning a trip?  Do you need it for your career or move to a new country? Are you learning your language as a longer-term hobby? Which of the four skills - reading, listening/comprehension, speaking, writing - will be most useful to you? Which one to practice more?

2. Limit your practice time. Promise yourself that you'll do clock set to 5 to 12 5 minutes a day as a starter. When you've done your 5 minutes, stop. If you keep up this mini-routine even for a couple of weeks, you'll be on your way to creating a language learning habit. It's not how long you practice, it's doing it on a regular basis.

3. Set a daily reminder. Do this for whatever language task you've chosen. Most online programs have that option. Or, if you're like me, put the reminder on your short daily "to do" list and check it off when you're done. Doing something every day creates momentum.

4. Do small tasks. If you're using a program, do short lessons. If you're learning vocabulary, limit the number of words you memorize. If you're listening to a podcast, do the same one several times. Doing small tasks, but doing them every day really adds up to big results.

5. Set up your next task. When you're done for the day, write down a small task for the new material you'll want to tackle next. That'll make it easier for you to get right into it the next day.

6. Reward yourself. When you reach a small milestone - let's say 10 days in a row - treat  yourself to something you enjoy.People have different ideas of a "reward", but for me a new ebook, listening to a song, a piece of chocolate, watching a TV show, all work well.

7. Write a journal. A sentence a day in your target language is great way to start a journal. Just write the way you would talk, and don't worry about making mistakes. No one's going to see it. With time, you'll become familiar with certain phrases and grammar patterns.

8. Try things out. Don't worry about making mistakes. Remember that your native language will interfere powerfully when you speak a foreign language. It takes time to become familiar with a new language. Focus on communicating rather than perfection.

image of "song"9. Listen to songs. Add some fun to your language learning and treat it as a hobby. Songs are a great way to internalize sounds and vocabulary. First listen to a song by following the text, then listen again and again. Try not to translate as you listen. Just focus on the meaning. (Language Zen is a great option if you'd like to learn with Spanish songs!)

10. Watch movies. For your first movies, you'll probably want to see English subtitles. Then, when you're ready, start watching with subtitles in your target language. Again, try not to translate. You'll get many clues to the meaning just from the images themselves.

11. Read easy stories. A good start may be the "easy readers" which include vocabulary and translations of the language you want to learn. (We like Olly Richard's Short Stories, which you can also get with audios.)

12. Find new resources. Adding or switching resources can give you fresh ideas and new energy. Search the internet for materials available in the language you're learning. Join a language forum such as Polyglots, or My Polyglot, etc. to get recommendations from other members. Check out your library, listen to foreign books on Audible, try out a new language app, etc.

13. Add recall. It's better to spend a little time recalling what you've just learned than to cram in more new information. Also, keep in mind, recalling new information from time to time (spaced repetition) will put it into your long-term memory.

14. Memorize a short dialogue. Then, record yourself and play back the dialogue. This also works for practicing a telephone conversation in your target language.  Tell yourself you'll just have to get used to hearing yourself speak in the language you're learning.

15. Practice pronunciation. Get a list and the audio of basic expressions and "listen and repeat" them many times. Record yourself and compare your pronunciation to that of the native speaker. Next time you converse in your target language, you'll be happy you did.

16. Work on Fluency.  One way to improve your fluency is to listen regularly to podcasts in your target language. Or play streamed radio. Do this kind of listening practice whenever you're cooking, walking, exercising, etc. For real fluency, you need to internalize the intonation and rhythm of your new language, and this is a good way to do it.

17. Focus on practical phrases. Mastering greetings and basic conversational phrases is essential in any case. It's especially helpful for travels. If you're going to Paris for a week, it won't be that important to master the subjunctive.

18. Socialize. Language is a fantastic tool for socializing. cheerful friends socializingFind a meetup group, or join an online community to start using your new language to communicate. Rattling off phrases you memorized is very different from the dynamic back-and-forth of a conversation. Believe me, it's really exciting to be able to hold your own in another language.

19. Take on a new personalityThe well-known psycholinguist François Grosjean (author of the blog “Life as a Bilingual”) suggests that we don't really change personalities when we change languages. He states: "Different contexts and domains trigger different impressions, attitudes and behaviors. What is taken as a personality shift due to a change of language may have little, if anything, to do with language itself."

But, a different language will often put you into new and different situations, which in turn may change your attitudes and feelings. So, when speaking Italian, become Italian. Add Italian voice drama and characteristic gestures. Tap into your inner actor and explore new ways to express yourself.

20. Work on your attitude. It's easy to say: "Ah, I'll never get it. When I start talking with someone in my target language, my brain freezes up." Scratch those sentences from your inner vocabulary. Instead, tell yourself: "Every time I use my second language, I become more familiar with it, and my brain benefits,"

Looking back at my own experience:  I was born in Austria and my native language is German. But when I was nine, my family moved to the Netherlands. Since I attended a local school there, I had to learn Dutch pronto.

Two years later, we emigrated to Canada and this time I had to learn English fast. During high school and college, I added French.

Much later, in my early sixties I started learning Italian and Spanish, and now I'm working on Danish and Portuguese.

Each stage of my life and each language has confronted me with challenges that I've needed to deal with.

I've used each of the above practical ideas at some point in my language learning life. I'd love to hear what works for you.

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

 

 

 

 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Games for Language Learning and “Senior” Adults?

older excited couple with tabletHaving reached the age when younger people kindly refer to us as “seniors”, we sometimes get remarks like this from friends and acquaintances:

“I was never good at learning a foreign language.”

“I'm too old for learning another language.”

“I don't think you can learn a language with games!” or

“I think playing games is a waste of time!”

Overcoming beliefs like that is often hard and we rarely try to convince those who have a set opinion.

But such negative remarks also point to perceptions that make it harder for older adults to learn a new language more rapidly.

To learn a language, you have to be enthusiastic, persistent and confident that you can do it.

Language learning should also be fun and interesting.

That's why listening to stories, watching movies and videos, engaging in one-on-one conversations are great ways to grow your vocabulary and fluency.

But how to get started and why not throw a few language games into the mix?

Simple, interactive games are not only a fun way to learn some language basics but also an easy way to get into a practice habit.

Language Games for Kids

We all know that kids love to play. In fact, most, if not all of their learning in their early years occurs during play.

So it's not surprising that educational games – especially those on kids' tablets, smart phones, etc. are pouring into the market place.

These games combine playing with targeted learning. children playing games for language learningThey include educational topics from geography, math, spelling, science, to native and foreign languages.

There are numerous audio, video, and other “toy based” games and apps, which children play in their native language.

With these, they enhance word recognition, pronunciation, spelling, and writing.

And, games don't have to be on a laptop or tablet. There are blocks with numbers or letters; there are playing cards and board games like KLOO; and there are more and more battery operated toys that combine colors, movements, music, and language sounds into interactive learning centers for young children.

Kids play native and foreign language games - not because it helps them to better communicate with their parents, siblings, and peers - but because they provide interactive fun.

Language games teach them basic vocabulary, often with funny pictures, cute sound effects, and “rewards” for getting it right.

Language Benefits for Younger and Older Adults

In contrast to children, adults typically have a specific plan or need for the particular foreign language they are learning.

Younger adults will learn another language to enhance their career options, or because of friends, family connections, etc. They have to develop the discipline and learning habits to keep going in the midst of work and family commitments and time constraints.

The reasons older adults learn a new language often relate to family, new partners or travels. Many are also becoming aware of new research findings, which show the benefits of language learning for the older brain.

silhouette head with "welcome" in different languagesThe strongest evidence of such benefits comes from a decades-long study of 853 Scottish people, first tested in 1947 at age 11, and then retested in 2008-2010.

Published in the Annals of Neurology in 2014, the study, titled Does Bilingualism Influence Cognitive Aging, the authors discuss the “protective effect of bilingualism against age-related cognitive decline.”

While the study does not make for easy reading, a number of key findings caught my attention:

  • The protective effects are not explained by other variables such as gender, socioeconomic status, or immigration.
  • The benefits appear to be independent of childhood intelligence (CI).
  • Knowing 3 or more languages produced stronger effects than knowing 2.
  • Little difference was found between active and passive bilinguals.

What I found especially interesting was the discussion of the study's limitations at the end of the article:

"Our study has limitations. The knowledge of language was defined by a questionnaire, not proficiency. Only few participants acquired their second language before age 11 years, so we could not study the classical cases of parallel, perfect, early acquisition of both languages. However, this limitation is also a strength. Millions of people across the world acquire their second language later in life: in school, university, or work, or through migration or marriage to a member of another linguistic community. Many never reach native-like perfection. For this population, our results are particularly relevant; bilingualism in its broad definition, even if acquired in adulthood, might have beneficial effects on cognition independent of CI (childhood Intelligence)."

Think about it. You don't even have to speak another language perfectly to acquire the benefits later in life.

This is good news for the many immigrants who have to flee their home countries.

But it's also good news for anybody who is learning another language but may never speak it fluently.

Your brain benefits from your learning effort anyway.

Language Games for Adults

When we started learning Italian in our early sixties and Spanish a few years later, language learning games and gamified language courses or apps were not yet available. This was January 2011. 

We found the The Rosetta Stone courses boring.

Duolingo didn't launch until November 2011 (see some of our Duolingo and Rosetta Stone Reviews) and we felt that Language Games could make learning and practicing a foreign language more fun.

We know from personal experience (and many other language enthusiasts agree) that the key to learning another language is regular - even daily - exposure to the new language.

Short, daily stints are fine. In fact, practicing each day for 20 minutes is much more effective than once a week for 2 hours or more.

But daily practice with boring lessons is hardly a very motivating proposition for a busy adult.

On the other hand, listening to a story sequel in another language appealed to us.

We've always used “easy readers” with accompanying vocabulary or translations. (For example, we love Olly Richard's Short Stories, which are also available as audio books.)

However, for anyone with no or little background in Gamesforlanguage French shootout gamethe new language, we felt that interactive “comprehensible input” was needed. What better way than learning and practicing new vocabulary with language games?

That was our original idea for GamesforLanguage: Learning and practicing a new language “playfully”. Our site went live in September 2011.

Later we added Podcasts of the stories as well as Quick Language Games – over 200 by now – which only take 2-3 minutes to play,

Do we think that one can become fluent in a new language with our Gamesforlanguage courses?

No, we do not.

Becoming fluent requires much more listening and speaking practice than our courses - and most other online programs and apps – provide.

But, if our free courses can engage adults to play just one 15-20 minute travel-story lesson a day for 30 days and more - that may be the start of a learning habit.

The next steps would be to continue with reading and listening to other stories and to start speaking in the language you're learning.

More and more new “senior” adults, the “baby boomers”, are computer- and tablet-literate.

They are beginning to realize that learning a second or third language opens up social opportunities. Plus, they are becoming aware of the benefits another language has for the aging brain.

As the above quoted study shows:

You don't have to speak another language perfectly to acquire the benefits at any time in your life.

So why not start today and give your brain a good workout!

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Top Reasons for Learning a Language with Stories

Find your stories screen Stories play an important role in our lives. Much of our communication with others is through stories. By exchanging stories with others, we connect with them.

Stories interest us. They tell us about the struggles and achievements of others and help us create our own identity. They are a way of making sense of our lives.

Stories are also tools for processing and remembering information. Narratives help us structure and organize content and give meaning to facts.

That's Why polyglots also use stories for language learning. And here are our 5 reasons why you should do as well. 

1. Stories Boost Your Vocabulary

In a story, words come up again and again, sometimes in various contexts.

Having the context of a story, you can often guess the meaning of new words. Especially when words show up several times in different sentences and combinations, their meaning becomes more accessible.

Each time you see a particular word again, it becomes more solidly lodged in your memory.

Guessing the meaning of words from the context of a situation is a useful skill. If we practice it, we become better at it - something that helps enormously when learning a language.

Yes, you can learn words in a list by repeating and walking up vocabulary stepsrecalling them often enough. But there's a "boring" factor attached to that. It's also frustrating to keep forgetting words because we don't connect them to a memorable context.

A list of words is pure memorization. The words stand in a vacuum. Besides, once you've memorized a word in your new language, you still have to understand and learn how to use it. That happens when you recognize that particular word in context. For that a story is perfect.

Can you learn new vocabulary you going through a series of unrelated sentences? Yes, that can be fun for a while. Each sentence gives you a limited context, which is helpful. But, it's a different kind of challenge for your brain from learning with a story.

The core of Duolingo courses is to translate sentences. For me, the random (often weird) sentences are like "language sudoku".

But I don't use such sentences for communication. For example, I had to puzzle out the following sentence in Danish:

Hun elsker at ve bjørnen lide. (She loves to see the bear suffer.)

I'll never use this sentence in real life.

So, why do I prefer learning vocabulary with stories (rather than with word lists or series of sentences)?

I just find that seeing and hearing words and phrases in the context of a narrative helps me remember them. I can picture a situation or an event and that will trigger my memory.

2. Stories Make Grammar Intuitive

Grammar is the glue that holds language together. But for most people grammar rules are not that memorable.

I'm not at all opposed to learning grammar.

I taught college German for a number of years and the textbooks I used had plenty of grammar.

But that's not what got my students excited. What they loved was to use German as much as possible and figure out patterns.

When I learn a new language, I feel the same way. I look up a grammar issue only when I want to figure out how the language works.

grammar types compositeWhen I started with Danish, I quickly understood that there are two noun genders (common and neutral) and that the definite article is normally attached to the end of the noun (rather than stand in front of it).

But understanding a grammar rule is quite different from really knowing how it works.

It took me some time to internalize that a Danish word like "katten" means "the cat" and not "cats" (whereas in German "die Katze" multiplies to "die Katzen").

As we become more and more familiar with a language, we get good at recognizing such "grammar elements". Not to forget, though, that seeing a grammar pattern is a different skill from hearing it.

When we communicate, we use a variety of sentences. Each is made up of various grammar elements.

Depending on our message or narrative, we resort to simple statements, questions, requests, commands, and if necessary, different kinds of complex sentences.

The sentences are, of course, not in a random sequence. They are connected in a meaningful way.

Conjunctions and other connecting words are important elements in a narrative. Beyond "and" and "but", there are other useful words and phrases that link actions, events, ideas, etc.

To name but a few in English: "if, because, however, in case, in spite of, even, even though, neither nor".

Stories are a good tool for understanding the different ways actions and ideas connect.

By paying attention to how a narrative unfolds, we train our mind to pick up and internalize such grammar clues.

Beyond gender, case, and connecting words, there are other grammar elements in a language that carry meaning. Just think of pronouns, including formal and familiar forms of address, prepositions, and negation.

And, just as you can guess the meaning of words, you can also internalize grammar patterns from the context of a story.

The more you read and listen to stories, the more you become aware of the characteristic patterns of the language.

3. Stories Teach You About Present, Past and Future

Drilling verb forms is always quite boring, and then you still have to learn how to apply them.

In some languages this can get pretty complicated. When, for example, do you use the simple past versus the present perfect? Not to mention the conditional, or the subjunctive mood.

Yes, there are rules. But they don't help much unless Present - Past - Future dicesyou've already internalized some verb patterns in a meaningful context.

Stories help. They move back and forth easily between present, past and future actions and events.

Context provides you with various time markers and clues. As you follow a story, you remember earlier events or what was said previously and how this fits into the present situation, etc.

You also notice how future events are anticipated and talked about.

Your brain is constantly figuring out what's going on, the causality of events, when something happened in the past, or what future possibilities are triggered by present actions.

That's what our brain does in everyday life: We remember thoughts and actions, we make decisions about what actions to take, and conjecture about the future.

Why not practice doing this in the language we're learning?

4. Stories Help You to Stop Translating

People often ask me: How do you stop translating when you hear, read or speak another language?

Yes, it's a dilemma. When you're beginner at your target language, you need to know what words and expressions mean in your native language.

Pictures can help. But learning a language just with pictures doesn't get you very far.

So, in my mind it's okay to build one's basic vocabulary with translations as they are needed.

But it's easy to get into the habit of translating everything.

That's where stories come in. They can teach you to stop translating.

Stories (even brief anecdotes) have a narrative sequence with meaning.

silhouette head with "welcome" in different languagesAt first you may need some help with translation, but the meaning itself will stay in your mind.

So, by listening to a story several times, you can train yourself to get the meaning without translation. By doing this often enough, you can create a new habit: understand what you see and hear without translating it.

I'm currently listening to Luca Lampariello's travel stories in Italian on LingQ to keep up my Italian. (You may be able to listen to his Viaggio in Russia if you register for free on LingQ).

Luca reads the stories himself and his natural speed is very fast. So fast, in fact, that there's no way I can do any translation at all.

While my Italian is good enough that I don't have to look up many words, this is not the case with Danish.

Listening to Danish stories on LingQ, I do read through the text one time (after listening a couple of times) and click on any words I don't know. But then I listen to the story several more times and make a point of not translating. Each time I understand the story better just by hearing it.

As with any skill, you have to practice, and with regular practice you get better.

5. Stories are a Creative Tool You Can Individualize

Stories give you a lot of material to work with as you're learning a new language.

You can create your own stories in a target-language journal. Make up stories or write about thoughts, experiences, or encounters in your daily life.

Stories for language learning have become very popular. You can find stories for various levels and in many languages (on Amazon, on Pinterest, on LingQ, etc.).

Take a simple story and retell it from another point of view (first- or third-person), with other details (a different setting, place, people etc.), or change the time (from past to present).

Tell the story aloud or write it out. Brave souls share your story sign with iconscan make a video of themselves and post it in a social media language group.

I used stories a lot to teach our sons German. When they were very young, I recorded little stories I made up and played them when the boys were falling asleep at night.

When they were a little older, I read stories to them in English, with certain words and phrases repeated in German. Later, I read stories to them, and translated every sentence into German.

Finally, I just used German, or we played German stories in the car: Tim und Struppi (Tintin), Asterix und Obelix, or the popular stories of Enyd Blyton: Fünf Freunde (the "Famous Five" series).

For ourselves as adult learners, we had another idea. We love to travel, and especially like traveling in a country where we know the language.

Because we were eager to spend time in Italy and Spain, we wanted to learn Italian and Spanish. To get us started, one of our sons set up a site for us, which we called GamesforLanguage.

Together with a team of native speakers, we created simple, gamified travel stories. These we then used to learn our two new languages.

(You can listen to our Story Podcasts, play our Quick Language Games or read our Blog posts without registering.)

It's been great to combine language learning with travel. Our Spanish course writer and speaker lives near Seville. We had found him online.

Once our course was done and we had used it for learning and practicing Spanish, we traveled to Barcelona and Seville. We stayed in both cities for a month. And we met our course writer in Seville in person, over a wonderful lunch of special local dishes.

We love to tell our story of why and how we created GamesforLanguage.

It works in every language that we know.

What is your story?

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

 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Why Travel is a Great Language Motivator

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Learn a Language in School?

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

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

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

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

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

A Motivator: Your Imagination!

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

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

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

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

We made your imagination the motivator for learning Danish!

In Visitors' Shoes in the US

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

Imagine yourself coming to the US without knowing any English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginner's Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Learn Danish at all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter's Confession

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

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

Why is that?

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

Examples of pronunciation as I hear them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Listening Practice Tips for my Seventh Language

man-listening-to-big-blue-speakerUntil recently, I did not focus much on deliberate listening practice for the languages I learned in the past.

I said “deliberate”, because I must certainly have listened when I learned my first language growing up in Austria. We now know that babies spend most of their first year just listening and then trying out some basic sounds.

And anybody who has watched babies knows that they pick up the meaning of gestures, names of objects, etc., long before they can even pronounce their own name.

When I learned my second language, Dutch, while attending school in the Netherlands, I must also have listened to the language around me. Within three months, I was fully participating in my 4th grade class.

The same was probably the case when I picked up English in Canada as a young teenager.

French, my fourth language, I learned in high school and college. While I remember the required “language labs”, I did not enjoy them because they consisted mostly of grammar drills. I speak it quite fluently by now, only because I often have to speak French when we visit my husband Peter's family.  

Italian and Spanish I started to learn as an adult, just a few years ago. And so, I'm discovering that focused listening practice with audios and videos can make a huge difference.

The Beginner's Dilemma

You may have been learning a language for several weeks or months. You feel good about your ability to understand most of what you read or hear in your course lessons.

Perhaps you feel confident that you'll be able to order a meal in a restaurant or make yourself understood buying this or that, and even negotiating a price.

Then you travel to a place where the language is spoken and are eager to jump into conversations with locals.

It doesn't take long for you to realize: The other persons may understand what YOU say, but you don't understand them, unless they speak slowly and with simple sentences.

It's hard to have a real conversation that way.

Active Listening Practice in Rome, Italy.

During a five month stay in Rome, my Peter and listening practice of couple-watching-movie-on-television-in-living-roomI faced the “beginner's dilemma” certainly more than once. But we also noticed that our listening skills improved dramatically.

In the evening we often watched TV.

Even though we had prepared ourselves with Pimsleur audio courses before our arrival, the fast Italian on TV just came at us like a stream of rapid-fire sounds.

After a couple of weeks of daily listening practice, the stream started to slow down.

I started to recognize some words, and could hear when the words started and ended.

After a while, I also began to understand phrases and short sentences.

I certainly knew then that practicing listening is essential for understanding conversations.

So now I'm making a deliberate effort to practice listening with Danish, my seventh language.

These are the six (6) techniques that I use and recommend:

1. Do a lot of "listen and repeat" with words containing sounds that are difficult for you.

Babies are born with the ability to hear all sounds and they start learning their first (or second) language by just listening.

French girl talkingBy the time we're adults, we can hear mostly just the sounds of our own language or the languages that we hear in daily life.

However with focused listening practice, adults can both learn to hear and to produce sounds that are not familiar.

Sometimes it helps to understand how the sound is produced.

Although Danish is a Germanic language there are certain sounds that don't exist in German, Dutch or English.

A good example for Danish is the soft "d" sound, as in the words "mad" (food), "flød" (cream), "rød (red). At first the final soft "d" sounded like an "l" to me.

But while we were in Denmark a woman explained that it's actually like a very soft "th". She showed me that you can make the sound by putting your tongue against your front teeth. Once I knew that, I even heard the sound better. (Go figure.)

Some time ago we wrote a post about "Mouth Mechanics", and for many languages learning HOW to produce certain sounds is essential.

2. Pick a Level of difficulty that challenges you, but not too much.

A good guideline is that you'll want to understand at least 80% man climbing wallof what is said.

In order to make progress, start out at a level that's right for you. Then keep building on the vocabulary and grammar patterns that you know.

If an audio is too difficult and keeps sounding just like gibberish, it's easy to get discouraged and give up.

Finding the right level is not always easy. It will take a little experimentation and trying out different sources.

For some beginning learners, Slow German, Slow Spanish, etc. is helpful. But you should listen to natural speech as soon as you can.

For German, French, Spanish, and Italian, GamesforLanguage has natural-speed audios of each lesson, and Podcasts of each level. We recommend that you listen to the audio AFTER each lesson or level you completed and challenge yourself by listening to the podcast of the NEXT level.

Also, Steve Kaufmann's LingQ has many excellent audios of different length and difficulty.

3. Start with short audios and build up to longer ones.

stack of golden coins on whitePracticing sounds and individual words, of course, is not enough. Speaking is a stream of sounds, and you need to practice by listening to words-in-a-stream.

Start with (very) short audios. As you increase the difficulty and length of the clips, you'll also increase your vocabulary.

When you listen to full-length audio books, you'll hear the same vocabulary and grammar patterns come up again and again.

Each time they'll lodge a little deeper in your memory. A great source for foreign-language audio books is Audible.

(And, yes, it's like putting money in your language bank...!)

4. Listen to topics that interest you.

Why would you want to listen to something that does not interest or hobby icons on whiteconcern you? You don't have to, once you have gone beyond the basics of a new language and have acquired enough vocabulary.

There are two important reasons why finding topics that interest you is important:

  1. When you choose topics you know and like, you'll be motivated to listen often.
  2. The familiar context will make it easier for you to guess the meaning of unknown words.

If you have many interests, your vocabulary and listening comprehension will grow exponentially.

5. Listen to audios more than once.

9 Repeat iconsThis works best, of course, with shorter audios or with passages from longer ones. I have found that every time I re-hear a clip, I understand more.

Sometimes I "shadow" what is said, i.e. repeat what I heard just a second or so behind the speaker.

If there's an option, listen to a slow and a fast version of the audio. This is also a good practice technique. I like it because it makes me more keenly aware of the sounds, and how the isolated sounds (slow) become part of the natural sound stream (fast).

6. Listen to the audios WITH and WITHOUT reading the text.

When you listen without text, you're totally focused on sound and smiling man with tablet and earphonemeaning. That's like being in a conversation where you can only hear what is being said.

When you see the text as well, you are also aware of the spelling of words and how they look. For me, hearing and seeing the text helps me to remember the words and phrases.

For languages that have phonetic spelling, seeing and hearing reinforce each other. I'm thinking of German, Spanish, Italian.

Danish, on the other hand, is phonetically quite challenging. So it takes extra effort to correlate sound to text.

As English speakers, we often forget that the relationship between sound and spelling in English also has its challenges.

Understanding without Translating?

When I listen to a passage in French, or even Italian, I'm aware that I'm not translating at all. I just understand what is said. That's my goal also for Danish, but I'm not there yet.

I'm actually not sure whether that can be practiced or if you just automatically stop translating when the language becomes familiar enough.

I'd be interested in the thoughts of anyone who has experienced the same.

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

7 Language Learning Tips from Langfest 2017

Homepage for Langfest 2017 in MontrealLangfest 2017 in Montreal brought together over 300 language enthusiasts from all over the world. Its speakers highlighted many language learning tips that we and others often blog about.

It's the second year of this event, which last year was called “North American Polyglot Symposium” or NAPS .

LangFest is a perfect new name for this three-day event. The conference aims to be inclusive, you really don't have to speak a lot of languages to benefit.  

At LangFest you'll hear many different languages spoken throughout. For most languages, it's typically easy to find conversation partners.  

Again this year, the talks covered a large variety of language topics. Many of the speakers shared ideas on how to make learning a new language more interesting and efficient. 

Learning a language is not a task with a quick recipe. It's a personal process that changes as you go along and as you improve. It involves discovery, commitment, self development, patience, and a type of discipline that you enjoy and can sustain.

We're avid language learners ourselves. Besides running our GamesforLanguage site, we're always eager to learn more about how to learn languages better.

Our participation at LangFest 2017 was a way to spark up our own motivation and to connect with other language enthusiasts. 

The language learning tips below are from the talks we listened to and from our conversations from the speakers we met.

Over the coming weeks, you can go on LangFest's YouTube site where the individual talks will be uploaded. Some of the interviews done at the conference are already available.

If you're using self-teaching language programs, you'll certainly recognize one or more of the names below.

Joey Perugino - Language Learning with Music

Together with Tetsu Yung, Joey Perugino is one of the orJoey Perugino at Langfest 2017: language learning with musicganizers of LangFest Montréal.

In his talk, Relations inter-culturelle - Cross cultural relationships, Joey described how he learned Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese as a child and as a young man.

He listened to songs, read children's books, and watched telenovelas.

A particular fun experience was when he acted as interpreter for his Italian friends on a visit to Cuba.

The key for Joey early on was music. He would listen to songs many, many times. He was especially fond of the Italian pop singer-songwriter Toto Cotugno, the Spanish child actor and singer Joselito, and the Venezuelan singer-songwriter Franco de Vito.

Tip #1: Music is a powerful tool for internalizing the sounds, rhythms, and vocabulary of a new language. 

(For me, pop songs definitely boosted my English, which I learned as a teenager. No wonder then that at Gamesforlanguage, we also advocate learning with songs. Blog posts that review some of our favorite Spanish, French, Italian, and German songs are among our most popular ones. Joey mentioned that he's struggling a little with German. I'm on the lookout for some more catchy German songs for him.)

Last year we came across a program called Language Zen, which uses songs in an innovative and fun way to learn Spanish. (Language Zen is now one of our partner sites.)

Stephen Krashen: Comprehensible Input

Stephen Krashen at Langfest 2017: language learning with comprehensible inputA linguist and Professor Emeritus of the University of Southern California, Dr. Stephen Krashen is the dean of the “input hypothesis” for second language acquisition and headlined the evening session of the first day.

His humorous and informational talk, entitled “Polyglots and the Comprehension Hypothesis” circled around the idea that language acquisition is gradual, and that it requires regular and substantial input.

In his studies about 'comprehensible input', Stephen also found that teaching explicit grammar has limited effect and that using grammar consciously during a conversation is very hard.

Most importantly, input has to be so interesting that you forget you're in another language.

Tip #2: Read and listen to material that really interests you and find a level where you can understand about 80%. Don't agonize about perfection. Note Stephen's quote of Kató Lomb: “Language is the only thing worth knowing poorly."

(GamesforLanguage's travel story courses apply this input comprehension theory for early learners: the initial dialogue of each story-lesson is broken down; unknown words are practiced, so each sentence becomes comprehensible by the lesson's end.)

Mark Pentleton: Start with Short Spurts

The founder of the Coffee Break Conversation series (Coffeebreakacademy.com),Mark Pentleton at Langfest 2017: start language learning with short spurts Mark Pentleton, reviewed the origin of the idea to fit language learning into the short time of a “coffee break”.

Starting in 2006 with the Radio Lingua Network, when podcasts were still not well known and faced technical problems of device memory, bandwidth, etc., Coffee Break Conversations have now come into their own. The format is a short dialogue between a teacher and a student.

Tip #3: Mini-lessons are a great way to get started, and to keep going even if you're too busy for 'real learning.' With mobile technology, we can read or listen to the language we're learning even in chunks of minutes at a time, and that may keep us engaged and motivated in the language.

(For those learners who don't have time for a full lesson, GamesforLanguage's Quick Language Games provide a quick and fun option.)

Steven Kaufmann: Forget and Relearn

Steven Kaufmann at Langfest 2017:language learning with "forget and relearn" Canadian diplomat turned polyglot plus language teaching theorist, and founder of LingQ.com, Steven Kaufmann also insists, like his friend Krashen, that 'comprehensible input' is key. Stories with audio - at the right level - provide excellent materials.

In his talk, “Meaningful and Compelling Input, Steven focused on some specific details of how we learn with interesting and understandable materials.

For one, language learning means learning to notice how the same words show up in different contexts and in various grammar patterns. Every time we see the same word or phrase in context, we're relearning it. As a matter of fact we're constantly forgetting and relearning all the time.

For learning a language with comprehensible input, Steven's guideline is 70% audio and 30% reading. Speaking is extra.

Tip #4: It's okay to forget words, and seeing them again and again is a natural (and painless) way to learn. By the same token, reviewing endless lists of words and grammar drills can be boring, which may ultimately be counter productive.

Shannon Kennedy: Use Outside Skills for Language Learning

Saxophonist and singer-songwriter Shannon Kennedy is also a Shannon Kennedy at Langfest 2017:Use outside skills for language learningtraveler and language lover. On her Blog Eurolinguiste.com she shares her adventures and language learning tips.

Shannon's talk Applying Outside Skills in Language Learning was about building on the skills that you know. As a musician, she's used to performing. And quite rightly, she equates conversations in a foreign language with performances.

By the same token, music theory has its equivalent in grammar. Then there's passive and active listening, which applies both to music and language.

If you do sports, you'll know that a little bit of training every day makes a big difference. And, you'll also know that training with others who are better than you will improve your performance.

Parenthood brings with it the skill of approaching things from different angles, and the knowledge that breaks are essential.

Science focuses on testing and fieldwork. A good investor accepts uncertainty, takes calculated risks, accepts mistakes, and does his or her own research. The list goes on.

Tip #5: Because learning a language involves many daily tasks, applying any skills you know well can be very helpful. 

Grégoire Lahaie: Learn Some of the Local Language

Grégoire Lahaie at Langfest 2017A native of the Province of Québec, Gégoire Lahaie is a freelance translator for English-French and Spanish-French.

Grégoire's workshop Atelier sur la langue québécoise - Workshop on Quebec language, was a fun introduction to québécois. He covered pronunciation matters, such as diphtongization ('père' is pronounced 'paèr'); how consonants change before u and i (d is pronounced 'ds-', as in 'dsurant'); and typical contractions ('je suis' is contracted to 'j'su'). He also mentioned a handful of québécismes, and explained a couple of swears.

I speak French, but as I walked around Montreal, it took me a while to get used to the local language. Grégoire's explanations actually helped me understand some of the local pronunciation patterns. I'm not able to speak, but my ear is now better tuned to Québecois.

Tip #6: It's really worth tuning in to the local language of the place you're visiting. You don't need to be fluent. Learning some basic phrases, and learning how to pronounce the language makes a visit so much more enjoyable.

Richard Simcott: Talk to People

A life-long language learner, Richard Simcott is founder plus co-organizer of the International Polyglot Richard Simcott & Ulrike Rettig at Langfest 2017Conference - which is now in its 5th year and is meeting in Iceland end of October.  Richard has done much to bring language enthusiasts together. (Yes, it's Richard and me on this picture.)

In his talk, Language Learning Worlds, he shared stories from his own life and how he discovered his love for languages. Languages, he realized, are what got him up in the morning. 

We all live in many worlds where languages can play an important role: family, friends, city, region, country, continent. Once we open our eyes and hearts, we can find lots of opportunities to bring languages, and friends with them, into our lives.

So far, Richard has studied 40 languages and is fluent in quite a few (find out more on his site, speakingfluently.com). Many of us were able to try out some of the languages with him at LangFest. It was a pleasure to chat with him on several occasions and it was obvious that he had my languages well covered.

Tip #7: Talk to people when you're ready to talk in your new language, and choose low anxiety situations. (That includes LangFest!)

These are just a few insights from some of the talks we attended. But, of course they don't do justice to the richness of ideas and the enthusiasm present at the conference.

During the three days of LangFest and the Sunday night picnic in Parc La Fontaine, we found many opportunities to talk with other language enthusiasts.

We also met many of the speakers in person, and connected with old and new friends, some of whom we had known only online until then.

So we were glad to also connect again with Benny Lewis (fluentin3months.com), Olly Richards (Iwillteachyoualanguage.com), Lindsay Williams (Lindsaydoeslanguages.com), and to meet Kirsten Cable (fluentlanguage.co.uk), and the educator/performer Paulino Brener (paulinobrener.com).

Here I should mention Kendal Knetemann, founder and co-owner of the free language learning site LingoHut.com. We started our collaboration online two years ago and celebrated our friendship in person with a dinner in Montreal!

In all, LangFest was enormously fun and inspiring. And you sure can't beat the setting - the cafés, bars, and restaurants, and hearing French all around.

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

Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

7 Ways to Get Your Language Learning Groove Back

Good Habits - Gamesforlanguage.com (Updated 8/18/2017)

As we are continuing to develop our gamesforlanguage.com program we are encouraged by the many comments we are receiving from the players of our story-based courses and Quick Games.

We know that most of our scenes (i.e.lessons) can be played in less than ten minutes, and we recommend that a player not play more than 1-2 scenes per day.

We are also well aware that stops and starts are pretty common for people who are learning a new language. Setbacks happen, and the reasons are legion. But a successful return doesn't have to be hard.

So, how do you get back?

Our 7 Ways...

The simple answer is: You have to find a way to develop a daily young men brushing teeth - Gamesforlanguage.comhabit - like brushing you teeth -  even it it's just a few minutes a day.

1. Get yourself motivated again: Unless you already have specific travel plans, pick a great travel destination (Barcelona, Sevilla, Rome, Venice, Paris, Corsica, Berlin, Salzburg ...) google some pictures, and see yourself there: Traveling and Language Learning - They Go Together.

2. Adjust the bar: Don't aim for perfection or high proficiency right away. Aim for starting to speak in the language, having simple conversations, asking direct questions; aim for beginning to understand basic conversations, start to read headlines, short dialogs.

3. Set a modest, attainable short term goal, for example 15 minutes a day for 21 days. Then set a new goal.

4. Schedule a daily reminder on your PDA, Phone, Laptop, Mac/PC for a time when you can actually spend those 15 minutes.

5. Identify the skills you need to work on especially, and focus on these. Learning a foreign language means that you are working on several skills at the same time.

You are training your ear to distinguish between sounds that may be foreign to you; you are intuitively processing grammar structures; you are training your mouth to produce sounds that may be unfamiliar; you are learning a new spelling; you are challenging your brain to make new associations between sound and meaning, etc.

6. Trust yourself and your ability to learn this new language. You learned your mother tongue pretty well, didn't you? If it's English, congratulations! For many foreigners, English is hugely challenging because of its idiomatic structure and difficult spelling!

7. From time to time, push your limits a little, stretch your mind: It may be listening to a foreign radio station, tape, CD, Ipod, a story you know already in English; do this on your way to/from work, or some time after dinner in the evening. Find a soap on the Internet in the language you want to learn, write an e-mail to a friend, say and act out a few foreign words to a friend, to a sibling, or to your kids ...

Combine Daily, Steady Practice + Have Fun

Kaizen - No matter what you want to become proficient in: math, reading, yoga, karate, basketball shooting, writing, meditation ... the key seems to be - any way you google it:  "daily, steady practice."

The continuous improvement idea, introduced to the west as "Kaizen" by Masaaki Imai for improvements of processes in organizations, can also be applied to your language learning: Small changes over time will bring noticeable results.

Daily language practice will give you a regular connection to the language.

Steady practice will strengthen your self esteem. It'll help you develop a small discipline that could easily spill over into other things.

You'll improve a little every day, and eventually that will show up big time

Be loose. Be patient. Have fun!

Posted on by Dimitris Polychronopoulos

Why Writing is an Important Part of Language Learning

hand with pen writing in a note bookLearning a language generally involves learning four skills: listing/comprehension, reading, speaking and writing. We typically learn our first, native language by listening and speaking and then add reading and writing later in school.

When we learn other languages as adults we typically do so with "comprehensible input," by listening and reading, and we practice some writing early on as well (unless we use audio-only methods like Pimsleur).

When we learn a new language, we often neglect to truly develop our writing ability in that language.

Our language-learning efforts often focus only on trying to understand what others are saying and trying to be understood when we speak.

As we advance, many of us strive to be able to read the newspaper in our target language.

When it comes to writing in another language, though, we often only reach the level where we are comfortable writing text messages, emails and short notes.

The Writing Challenge

There is a lot a language learner can gain by taking the time to practice writing. Obviously beginners will not be able to practice writing essays and articles yet.

At the early stages, it is best to focus on writing simple sentences and paragraphs.

It is easy to receive feedback on short writing samples by using the app or website Hi Native for single sentences or the website Lang-8 for entire paragraphs.

When you are at the intermediate level, you can start to write longer texts. Composing an entire article requires a lot of thought.

The task becomes less daunting when you start with an outline. One of the drawbacks of writing in a foreign language is that it is harder to find native speakers to offer quality feedback.

Native speakers themselves are often not highly skilled at offering constructive feedback on long texts, because they themselves may not have studied essay-composition skills and article-writing and editing skills.

That means you may need to rely on a professional language teacher for feedback.

Your Language Learning Motivation

It is a good idea to consider your motivations.cartoon of Lion's motivational morning roar behind desk

Some language learners will be more motivated to become skilled writers in their target language, while others will not.

Those who wish to study at a university in a foreign language, work at a professional level in a foreign language and integrate into society in a different language will be highly motivated to reach the highest level possible in their writing abilities.

Although those who do not have such ambitions will be less inclined to spend the time to improve their writing skills, that doesn’t mean that they should ignore writing practice altogether. After all, there is a lot to gain from writing practice.

The Benefits of Writing Practice

When you practice letter writing and article writing in a foreign language, you get a clearer picture of your limitations in grammar and vocabulary.

As you revisit the texts you’ve written in a foreign language, it is easy see the progress you make.

Your past mistakes get cemented in time and you see at what point you learn to overcome certain mistakes that you habitually make.

There may be a certain word that you continue to misspell, or a particular verb that you never seem to conjugate correctly.

Perhaps you notice a common trend of mixing up two words that sound alike or sound similar, such as it’s and its or affect and effect.

By conquering these differences, you build a stronger grasp of the language you are learning.

Writing also allows you to focus on how to organize your thoughts and how you seek to logically draw arguments and conclusions.

This is a challenge enough in our native language(s).

The extra challenge of doing so in a different language helps build up your skills in that language in ways that can spill over to your other abilities in the language, such as improved conversational skills and better reading ability.

Bio: Dimitris Polychronopoulos is the founder of yozzi.com, where he welcomes guest posts and guest interviews in his eight strongest languages: English, French, Greek, Italian, Mandarin, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Yozzi is a platform where you can offer feedback to help others improve their writing skills in their target languages.

Posted on by Peter Editor

Become Bilingual And Feel Great!

Yes, learning a new language is a fun and exciting opportunity - not only to grow in a very useful skill but also for feeling great for many years to come!

In the last few months research has found that bilinguals enjoy many practical advantages: 

Being bilingual can help you find higher paying jobs, improve your ability to perform mental tasks, and slow down symptoms of aging.

We have linked various articles and posts about such research in the past.

TakeLessons Bilingual Infographic

Recently we became aware of an informative infographic by TakeLessons, which summarizes those benefits quite succinctly. You'll find Take Lessons' sources at the end of the graph.

(And if you're not quite ready yet for language lessons, just click on the link below the graph and play a few fun games!)

15 Stats That Prove Being Bilingual is Awesome [Infographic]

Bilingual with Gamesforlanguage Quick Games?

No time or not ready yet for language courses? No problem.

Just play a Quick Language Game or two, when you have a minute. (No registraction required.)

We can't promise you that you'll become bilingual that way, but just maybe, you'll develop a taste for (re)learning and a habit of practicing a foreign language.

And, if you keep at it, YOU can become bilingual as well!

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.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage has no business relationship with TakeLessons, other than using its infographic.

 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language Learning During Retirement? It Worked for me!

Retirement dreams...My (first) retirement is now already a few years behind me. I was very lucky when we were able to sell the consulting firm I had co-founded. I was still in my fifties.

However, while I was looking forward to a less stressful life, I was also aware that retirement can have its own challenges.

I had read the usual books about retirement, how to stay busy, get or continue with a hobby, etc. Yes, I also had the typical list of house projects I never had time to complete earlier.

But during the months leading to the day when I didn't have to go to work anymore, my wife Ulrike and I made plans for an extended stay in Italy.

Preparing for Italy

Both Ulrike and I already spoke several languages: German, English, French, and she also Dutch.

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

A few months before my retirement and our travels – my wife was working as a development editor at Pimsleur International at that time - we began using Pimsleur's self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, 90 lessons in all.

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 upon our arrival in Rome.

First Impressions and Lessons

We were picked up at Fiumicino Airport by our landlord's driver. WhenRoman and Guiseppe in Trastevere bakery we tried out our Italian on him it became clear immediately that his English was much better than our Italian.

Our first apartment was in a narrow street above a grocery/bakery in Trastevere (see picture of Romand and Guiseppe), and located just opposite a wonderful little restaurant, Le Mani in Pasta. (This restaurant is now listed on Tripadvisor as #27 of 327 restaurants in Trastevere.)

We became regulars there, and as the owners and waiters spoke very little English, it was great place to practice our Italian.

Seeing “Le Mani” everyday when we left our building, it was easy to remember that “la mano” (the hand) is one of the exceptions in Italian, as most nouns ending in an “o” are masculine.

Other feminine nouns ending with “o” are: àuto (car), mòto (motorcycle), dìnamo (dynamo), ràdio (radio), mètro (subway), libido (libido), etc.

Fluency Realities

Trastevere vegetable standWe also quickly realized, however, that we were far from being fluent in Italian. Yes, we had completed maybe 45-50 hours of learning with the Pimsleur audio courses. 

While we got compliments for our pronunciation, we still had to rely a lot on pointing and gesturing for buying groceries in our grocery/bakery or local market (see picture).

For several weeks, our vocabulary clearly continued to be insufficient. And to our dismay, the Italian on TV was an incomprehensible garble of words for us.

We were lucky to find a tutor who discovered quickly via a first test that our Italian spelling was atrocious. With Pimsleur's Italian audio course we had not learned how to read and write and our spelling was automatically based on the French we knew.

The daily 2-hour lessons with required homework kept us busy learning for half the day. The other half we spent exploring Rome and its surroundings. We tried out our Italian wherever we could.

After a few weeks, the Italian TV garble dissolved into individual words that we began to distinguish where they started and ended. While we still did not know a huge number of words, we started to guess what words meant from the context. That accelerated our learning further.

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

Language Learning during Retirement

There have been many research findings about the benefits of mental exercises for older adults. And learning a foreign language is near the top of that list - ahead of playing Lumosity games or solving crossword puzzles.

Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar patterns through practice.

And yes, we also experienced – although still far away from a Golden Anniversary - what a friend described facetiously in a guest post, French in Dijon: Fluency Realities with no "Lover Option".

When younger people are sitting in bars discussion politics, love, and pop music Friends discussing in coffee housewith passion, we are getting ready for bed. Since my wife and I've been married more than fifty years, neither of us can go out and find a lover! In short: The quickest avenues to fluency are now closed to us.

Acquiring fluency in a foreign language is certainly harder when you don't speak it all the time with your partner. That's true even if you stay in the country where the language is spoken.

However, there are also many opportunities today to Progress Faster to Language Fluency.

If you can take advantage early on of one of retirement's key benefits: Planning your day and doing activities that YOU like – you'll never be bored.

Then, if language learning is on that list, you'll open a new world to explore: articles to read, conversations to have, movies or TV shows to watch, planning a trip to a place where your new language is spoken.

Beyond Retirement – “Un-Retiring”

For me personally, learning Italian (and later continuing with Spanish and Dutch, see my post about P.M Tools.) also led to our starting up Gamesforlanguage.

Using my interest in languages and my project management skills, plus Ulrike's background in teaching and course development has given us a wonderful way of combining our passion with a purpose:

Helping others practice languages we have learned as well, and sharing our experiences about language learning, culture and travel on our Blog.

And when we get a Thank-you note such as this one from a 80+ year old woman, who had completed both our German courses, we also know that it's never too late to learn and practice a new language: 

"Thank you for such an interesting way to practice and learn German. I have really enjoyed doing this each day and am hoping to go to Austria in the Fall for a week at a spa. I liked the way you varied the learning process, also that you had a score at the end of each lesson, which, if not good enough, you could redo. Thank you again, M."

So who knows – once you start learning another language during your retirement – you may also discover reasons to “un-retire” again.

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.

 

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