Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Accelerate Language Learning With

Lingua.Ly Home Page [Updated 4-18-2018]  We are sorry to tell you that is no longer active. It was a good tool while it worked.

I've found a great tool to help me take my Spanish to the next level - the Chrome extension (There is also an Android app which I have not used, with the iOS app in development, see below.)
When learning a language, the first step is to master basic vocabulary and to discover how the language works.

For many learners, a step-by-step "closed" learning system works well, one that has you practice all four skills. (For Spanish, I did this with our own online game-based Spanish 1 course.)

But what then? Language learning is like an inverted cone. Ideally, you start with a few words and build on these slowly. But once you have a base of a few hundred words and expressions, your vocabulary can easily expand dramatically - if you read a lot.

Enter the Chrome extension. With this chrome add-on, you can turn any web-based text (news article, blog, email, etc.) into a vocabulary-learning adventure.

Find a text on the web (or take's suggestion available for five major languages, English Spanish French Arabic Hebrew). When you come across an unfamiliar word, just double click it. (You can actually choose how to tag the word you want to look up; I use the double click.)

A window will pop up with suggested translations (supported by the dictionary) and an audio gives you the pronunciation of the word.

I've been using for Spanish now for a week. In the last few of days I've chosen to read blogs and articles about the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márques. Getting an immediate translation and the pronunciation of unfamiliar words has made my reading efficient and enjoyable. And, as a bonus, each of the new words goes into a flashcard list for later practice.

Practicing Your Words

The "word practice" function has several cool features. GreetingTo help you remember a word, you can click to add a Bing image that suits you. You can also add your own "word pack" of up to 30 words, or choose one out of a series that the program suggests.

You'll practice words in "smart intervals" of spaced repetition: words that are hard for you show up again sooner than easy ones.

Languages For Learning claims that the Chrome extension add-on works with 20-plus languages. Besides Spanish, I have tried out and (minimally) tested 10 of them, all for translation into English.

They are: German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Mandarin Chinese. In these languages, the occasional word doesn't have a translation, and some of the audios are missing. Still, I was amazed that, in general, all the various types of script work just fine.

In addition, I used a Spanish news article to test's translation into the other languages I know or am learning: German, Dutch, French, Italian, and Portuguese. As far as I could tell, each of these work fine too.

I focused mainly on Spanish and tried out just a limited number of language combinations. You may find that's chrome extension can be used for other languages with English, or with various other language combinations as well.

I recently spoke with Meredith Cicerchia, Director of Communications & E-Learning at, and learned a few more interesting facts about the program:
• As you do your reading, the program tracks what you click on and what you've been exposed to.
• As you progress, a rating system starts to guess your level and the kind of vocabulary you're interested in.
• The program algorithm then pulls articles from the open web that correspond to the level of your working vocabulary and to your interests.
• The more you use the program, the better the article selection becomes.
• also works on translations for phrases and word combinations.
• The iOS app for iPhone/iPad is expected to be released in June 2014.

Over the coming months, you'll see further refinements and improvements to a program that is already very useful to intermediate and advanced language learners that like to read online. My own practice always ends with me smiling, as I look at the last "congratulations" screen with its funny moving images.

Disclosure: and I have no business relationship with other than learning and practicing with its free Chrome extension. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Quick Babbel Review - Swedish

Babbel Home (see Disclosure below) is a fee-based online language learning site, with apps for all major mobile devices. At this time, Babbel offers 13 languages: Dutch, Danish, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.

To prepare for a short stay in Stockholm, I signed up for a one-month subscription of Beginning Swedish. I enjoyed creating my own schedule and liked the online experience as a whole. In fact, I motored through the three beginning courses (60 lessons) within 30 days, all in plenty of time to cancel the automatic renewal.

Beginning Swedish starts out with lessons on "greetings, making introductions, talking about your nationality and where you're from, ordering in a café, asking for directions," etc. Each lesson has a flashcard exercise, where you are asked to "Study the words and their spelling." That is followed by a combination of writing, reading, listening, speaking, and basic grammar exercises.

In the past, I had done a lot of audio-only language learning and found it hard to build up my writing and reading skills later. Reading and writing Swedish right from the start was a welcome change. In fact, writing became a good memory tool for me. Whatever I spelled out, I remembered well. The dictation exercises ("Write what you hear") turned out to be particularly effective.

In general - and I'm assuming that the set up of the others is similar to Swedish - Babbel's courses are a fun and effective way to get your feet wet in a language. One lesson builds on the other, the vocabulary is useful and presented in context, and on the whole, grammar exercises are relevant and to the point. 

The question I'm facing now is what next for Swedish. I want to be able to read Stieg Larsson's novel "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in Swedish ("Män som hatar kvinnor"). The three beginning courses are not enough for that. Any suggestions?

Disclosure: has no business relationship with other than having purchased a 1-month subscription for the Swedish courses.  See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.


Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Digital Dialects

Digital Dialects Screenshot Digital Dialects is a free to use site with beginning to low-intermediate online games for 60 languages - from Afrikaans to Zazaki.

The various, colorful games use the Macromedia Flash Player. Updates to any of the sections are regularly announced and there is a "links" page for more learning materials that are mostly free, such as online newspapers, etc. The look of the site is uncluttered and appealing.

I tried out Swedish (see above), which is one of the languages I'm learning at the moment. For Swedish, there are six games (without audio), typically set up so that you can first memorize a list, then play a game to practice what you memorized.

There's a matching game for "phrases and greetings," three math games for "numbers," a game to learn "colors," and one to learn the words for "fruits and vegetables."

Russian, a language that I'll start next year, has 11 games (with audio), most of which Digital Dialects Fruits and Vegetables Gameinclude versions in Cyrillic script and in transliteration.The "animals" game has you click on an image after you hear the Russian word.

The "fruits and vegetables" game (see right) can be played as audio, or in Cyrillic. You pick the correct items out of a bowl until the bowl is empty. The "numbers" games have Cyrillic versions that allow for "slow," "medium," or "fast" speed.

I'm guessing that these games will provide me with an easy, unhurried entry into the world of Cyrillic letters and of Russian pronunciation.

Persian (listed as Farsi) - a language I'm dabbling in right now - has nine games. The writing system of Persian is based on the Arabic script. So far, the games (numbers, fruits and vegetables, animals, various vocabulary groups) are in transliteration only, and there is no audio. Still, it's a start, and the games are an enjoyable way to memorize basics.

Some of the other languages have many more games and full audio. You'll just have to check and see for whatever language(s) you're interested in.

Digital Dialects is a popular site, in part because it gives beginning learners easy and fun access to many languages. Where else can you learn 1-10 in 60 languages at one place? 

Disclosure: and I have no business relationship with Digital Dialects other than learning and practicing Swedish, Russian, and Persian with its free online games.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Practice vocabulary with

The world learns with quizletA great way to practice vocabulary with flashcards is It's a free site for users who can choose from a large number of free flashcard classes in different languages.

You can also add your own vocabulary that you want to practice. Other study modes besides Flashcards are Speller, Learn, and Test, plus the games Scatter and Space Race.

You can find the gamesforlanguage flashcards for the first lesson of each of our languages (in basic and expanded format) just by entering gamesforlanguage in the search window.

Beyond the basic free site, there is an upgrade, for-pay option which allows for image uploading, voice recording, ad-free studying, unlimited classes, etc. Occasionally the site has experienced some technical problems; these are usually announced on their Twitter account.

By the way: Quizlet can also be used for studying other topics that lend themselves to flash card type learning.

Disclosure: has no business relationship with other than having established and paid for a “Teacher” account. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Duolingo Review #1 (7 lessons)

The friendly Owl reminds you to practice! If you've been reluctant to learn a new language, this is your chance to make a fun and easy start. Duolingo is a 100% free digital language learning site, gamified, with apps for iPad, iPhone, Android.


Currently the following languages are offered: Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian – for English speakers; and English - for Spanish, Russian, Turkish, Hungarian, Polish, and Dutch speakers. In October 2013, the Duolingo Language Incubator was launched to crowd-source the creation of courses in "all combination of languages." [Duolingo has continued to add languages, and has added "stories" for some of the languages."


Mini-tasks: Each lesson has a bar that tracks 20 bite-sized tasks. You advance by completing these mini-tasks.
Losing hearts: On the app, when you make a mistake, you lose a heart. If you lose all 3, you have to redo the lesson.
Skill points: You track your progress with skill points and badges. Drumrolls and fanfares crown your achievements.
Your progress: A "Leaderboard" shows the progress of friends you are following and who follow you.

This review focuses on the first 7 lessons (out of 71) of Brazilian Portuguese. Some of the features may change over time, as Duolingo continues to develop its program.

Brazilian Portuguese - LESSONS 1 to 7

New words: Each lesson introduces around 7 new words and builds on what you've learned before.
Context: You learn and practice new words in the context of a sentence and as part of a general topic (basic phrases, food, animals, etc.) In some cases, new words are linked to pictures.
Check the meaning: To check the meaning and basic grammar of a new word, you hover over it. Whenever appropriate, you are given multiple meanings in a "pull-down." For example, "salada" means "salad," but also "jumble, mishmash."
Learning Tasks: The kind of tasks you do vary within a lesson (Translate into English, Translate into Portuguese, Type what you hear, Match word to image, Mark all correct translations, etc.).
Audio Button: Click on the audio button to hear a word or sentence again, with an option of "normal speed" or "slow."
Feed-back: Check to see if your answer is correct and to get feedback. If you've made a mistake you're given the correction, plus what type of mistake you made.
Writing: Plenty of writing is involved in the lessons, which is great for remembering words, and with Portuguese, for learning the spelling of words with accented letters.


Daily reminders: It goes without saying that regular practice is a must, and Duolingo's Owl will send you daily reminders with the tag: "Keep the Owl happy! Language learning requires practice every day!"
Say everything aloud: Even though the sound (computer voice) is not always clear, say each word, phrase, or sentence ALOUD.
The "slow" button: Take advantage of the "slow" button to hear words that are not clear. Do this especially for sentences that include short words, such as the articles "o, a, um," the pronouns, "ela, ele," the verb "é," etc. Make yourself a note about the sound of the vowels. For example, "ela come salada" sounds like "ele comi salade."
Ask questions: From time to time you may have a question. Each mini-task displays a button "Report a problem." There also is a button "Discuss sentence" which takes you to a the specific forum for that item. You can learn from the discussions and add your own question. Often these discussions are quite amusing.
Use a notebook: Write our any difficult words by hand into a small notebook. The act of writing the words by hand helps you to remember them. And, you can carry the notebook with you and glance at your vocabulary when you have some spare time.

Since it was launched, Duolingo has had a great impact on getting more adults and teens interested in learning languages with games and gamified sites. Because it's an online program, Duolingo is continually making improvements to the overall program as well as to the individual lessons.

I especially like the fact that the vocabulary is used in sentences that provide a specific context – which is important for truly understanding how a language works. Some of the sentences are not at all useful, though. I especially don't need to learn all the animal names and silly things that these animals do.

Disclosure: and I have no business relationship with Duolingo other than having created an account and learning and practicing Portuguese and Italian with its online courses.  See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

My Rosetta Stone Blog - 5 Looking For Real Communication

Learning with Rosetta Stone: Latin American Spanish:  Level 1 - Unit 1 - Lesson 5  Milestone

Learning With a Story

In Level 1, Lesson 5, we have a situation, a story, and a conversation. A series of pictures creates the situation: "You" are walking in the woods with your dog and you come across a young couple sitting at their solitary camping spot.

The pictures continue to show a little story: "You" and your dog walking up to the young couple. You ask them questions and they ask you questions (7 in all). So far so good. However, neither the questions nor the answers are really part of a natural conversation. They are all artificial "textbook" questions and answers.

Here's what's going on: "You" approach the young couple, your dog runs ahead.  The man asks: "Do you have a dog?" A picture of the dog prompts you to guess the answer "Yes, I have a dog."

The next picture shows the woman inviting "you" to sit down. On her lap is a book. Above the picture, you see an empty box for the question, and a box with the answer "I'm reading." The question that you are supposed to ask/guess is "What are you doing?" 

"You" see a thermos standing on the ground, and you see the answer "That is coffee." The question you're supposed to guess is "What is that?"

The next 3 interactions are set up in a similar fashion:
- "Do you have a cup? "Yes, I have a cup." 
- "What do you have?"  "I have bread."
-  "What do you have?"  "We have apples."

In the last scene, we see that the dog has gotten hold of some bread and starts eating it. The young woman asks "What is the dog doing?" The answer you're supposed to say/guess is "The dog is eating." Then everyone says good-bye.

I'm beginning to understand the limitations of teaching adults a language without giving them some explanations and clarifications of the finer points. Asking and saying what is totally obvious is not real communication.

The first time I went over this milestone-lesson, I had trouble guessing the right questions and answers. By the third time around, I got a perfect score. That is because I knew what the answers were. But I don't expect to ever be engaged in this kind of conversation, in any language.

What's next? Blog #6 Grammar Drill Driven Language Learning

Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

My Rosetta Stone Blog - 4 Structure Is Not Everything

Learning with Rosetta Stone: Latin American Spanish:  Level 1 - Unit 1 - Core Lessons  3 & 4

The Pros of a Structured Program

Things got really busy, and I became sidetracked from my language learning schedule. Once I was ready to go back, I had to re-motivate myself. For this, a structured program is definitely a good thing. It was nice to just pick up from where I had left off.

New Vocabulary for these two lessons include (all through pictures): 6 basic colors; snake, rose, chick, panda, geese, sun, moon, flower, sky; teacher, police, doctor, student, cowboys; door, cell phones, tennis balls, bed, keys, chair, plates, cups, chair; shoes, skirt, pants, dress, hat, and a few more.

I confess, I did not do all the individual exercises in the units, there was too much of the same. But I did go through the grammar until I understood it.
These are the basic Grammar points covered:
- Matching colors with singular and plural (masculine/feminine) nouns.
- Identifying numbers (1 to 6) with nouns (5 fish, 3 cell phones, 4 chairs, etc.)
- Learning to say: "There are X items" and to ask: "How many X?" "What is this?" "Who is doing X?"

It's nice to start learning some simple expressions. They are taught through "pattern imitation" which works well at this level: You see and hear a phrase, then you identify a similar phrase that has a slightly different content. Once you've understood the question "How many geese are there?", you can identify the question "How many snakes are there?"


However, I did notice that there may be limitations to the method: A picture of running horses tells me: "The horses run." (Los caballos corren.) The next picture shows me 1 horse running, and it tells me: "The horse is running." (El caballo está corriendo.)

From the two pictures, I cannot figure out why they use two different verb forms ("run" versus "is running"). Since Spanish is rich in verb forms and verb tenses, I hope that these differences will be explained later.

I'm still not crazy about most of the vocabulary that I'm learning. I'm taking a trip to Spain in a few months- that's why I'm learning Spanish. I want to be able to converse with people there.

So far the vocabulary I'm learning in this program is disjointed and not relevant. I may have to schedule my trip for May 2012 and the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament. There, I'll be able to use my new sentence: "There are three yellow tennis balls."

Having a structured learning program is good because it saves time. The downside of a structured program is that you are locked into its limitations.

What's next? Blog #5 Looking for Real Communication

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My Rosetta Stone Blog - 3 Where Is the Context?

On I go ... Learning with Rosetta Stone: Latin American Spanish:  Level 1 - Unit 1 - Core Lesson

Context helps you to learn, right?

I'm learning plenty of new vocabulary: (all through pictures) includes sandwich, egg, apple, bread, coffee, milk, rice; dog, cat, horse, fish; adults, children; drives/drive, has/have; pen, book, bicycle, and others.

But let's look at how grammar points are taught.
- The word and concept "and" is practiced extensively: bread and water, a girl and a woman, the man and the woman eat rice, etc.
- Besides joining words with “and,” this Core lesson also teaches basic negation.

If we agree with Andy Hunt whose mantra in "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning" (p.6) is “Always Consider the Context" - because it is important for understanding the world around us - then context is also crucial for language learning.

In the Core Lesson of Unit 2, Rosetta Stone teaches negation in a curiously non-contextual way. We see two pictures and learn: "The woman is driving" and "The man is driving."

The next two pictures show first a boy and then a girl sitting in the back of a car, and we learn: "The boy is not driving" and "The girl is not driving." OK. They're sitting in the car and they're not driving. That's true.

The exercise goes on: A picture follows showing a group of men and women running, and learn: "The adults are not cooking." Another picture shows a group of kids running around, and learn: "The children are not writing." Another picture shows a boy eating, and I learn: "The boy is not sleeping," etc. This goes on for a while. I do get how to express basic negation: You add "no" before the verb.

But I don't think that the method really reflects how we (children or adults) understand and learn to express negation. A child doesn't automatically think: "The boy is not sleeping" - when he or she sees a boy running around. Rather, the child may think something like, "Why can't I run too!"

When I see an object, let's say "a pen," I don't spontaneously say to myself: "That's not an apple." But I might think: "That's not a good pen!" or "That's not my pen."

The Core Lesson for Unit 2 winds up with a series pictures and corresponding questions which require a “yes” or “no” answer. In one of the pictures we see girl eating an apple. We are asked "Is she eating an apple?" The answer is, “Yes, she is eating an apple.”

In the next picture, we see a girl sleeping, and we are asked "Is she eating an apple?" The answer is “No, she is not eating an apple.” I could also say, “No, she is definitely not eating an apple.” But first I must learn the word “definitely” in Spanish ...

What's next? Blog #4: Structure is Not Everything

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

My Rosetta Stone Blog - 2 A Big Time Investment

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

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

Exercises, Time and Payback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

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

Learning with Rosetta Stone, North American Spanish.

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

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

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

Learning Vocab with Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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