Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Language Learning Games with Gamesforlanguage

Games & Stories Facebook imageDuring the Covid-19 Pandemic we experienced an increased interest in GamesforLanguage travel-story courses and quick language learning games. As our free Quick Language Games and Podcasts can be played without registering, we don't know the countries of origin of those players.

Our free 36-lesson courses of the four European languages, French, German, Italian and Spanish, however, require users to register, so they can continue their course(s) where they left off when returning.

From the addresses (e.g. the “.edu” e-mail part) we know that many of these courses are played by school classes, just recently the Italian course by 46 students in Australia.

Whether teachers like our games and courses because they are completely free, without any upsell emails and Google ads, or simply because they are a fun language learning break, we often don't know. We've heard all those reasons and encourage more teachers to try our courses and games with their language classes.

Although we don't know the countries from where the Quick Language Games are accessed, we can tell which games have become favorites. Here are the favorite Quick Language Games for our four main languages:

Quick Spanish Games

Screenshot of Spanish Quick Language Game: "ir" The clear winner for Spanish is the irregular verb "to go": "Ir - Present Tense". I agree, it's a fun game. Since beginning of April, it was played well over 1200 times.

The first part is a Shootout game to learn/review the present tense forms of "ir". In the second part, you play the Memory game to learn 4 common nouns. The third and last part is a Word Invader game with which you put together 8 short sentences using different forms of "ir" plus one of the four nouns. (For example, the Spanish equivalent of : "She's going to the park." "We're going to the café." "I'm going to the station.")

Other popular Quick Spanish Games are: "8 Question Words"; "Tener - Present Tense"; "Hello Goodbye".

Quick French Games

screenshot of French Language Game: 8 French Question words"8 Question Words" is the hands-down winner for French. That has been true for quite some time, maybe also because of the particular French way of asking a question.

The first part consists of Memory and Snap Cloud games, to learn/review 7 question words and the question phrase: "est-ce que ?" These are followed by a Balloon Word (listening) game. To finish up, you hear and then reconstruct 3 common questions with the Word Invader game.

Other popular Quick French Games are: "Days of the week"; "Modal Verbs"; "The Verb faire".

Quick German Games

screenshot of Quick German Language Game "zu Hause"In recent weeks, the surprising favorite German game has been "At home": "Zu Hause". This game is based on a 7-sentence conversation between two people who sit next to each other on an airplane to Germany.

You'll learn and practice the individual words as well as each of the full sentences using various games such as Snap Clouds, Say It, and Word Hero. At the end you'll hear the conversation again and you'll very likely manage to listen without translating in your head.

Other popular Quick German Games are: "Present Perfect Tense 1"; "The Modal Verb können"; "Wie komme ich...?"

Italian Quick Games

Screenshot of Italian Language Game "Avere" The irregular verb: "Avere - Present Tense" is the champion game for Italian. No surprise there, the verb is super useful and needs practice.

You first see the present tense forms and then test yourself with the Shootout game. You'll then learn 4 basic nouns with the Memory and Flash Card games. Finally, with the Word Invader game, you put together 6 simple sentences using the words you learned. (For example, the Italian equivalent of "I have the key." "He has the photos." "They don't have the address".

Other popular Quick Italian Games are: "Days of the Week"; "Numbers 1-20"; "mi chiamo".

Quick Language Games are a great way to take a quick time out and listen to and practice a few morsels of the new language you are learning. You will be surprised how well they will “stick”.

Note: On our German Facebook page: Learn German - A Game a Day, you'll find a different Quick German Game every day. We have close to 100 of them at this time, and continue to create more of them.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

LING-APP – A Review: Finnish, French, German, and much more

Ling Language app BannerA while ago we were approached by Ling-App about reviewing their language learning app. As we like to do, we spent some time using the program to understand how it works and to see how effective it is.

The Ling app has 60+ languages on its platform, many of them less commonly taught. So for me, it was a treat to choose a language I didn't know much about. I decided to focus on Finnish. The Finnish language has always intrigued me, and now, with an eye on visiting Finland in the fall of 2021, this was a perfect opportunity to learn some basics.

Besides learning Finnish, using English as the teaching language, I also looked at a couple of other languages on the app: Swedish and German, using Italian; English, using German. Peter did a number of lessons in Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish, using English and German as the teaching languages.

We'll do a general overview of the app, and wherever it fits, add a comment about the languages we tried out.

THE LING PLATFORM

The Ling app was built by Simya Solutions, Ltd. using state of the art technology (such as React and React Native).

You can download Ling on the App Store for your iPhone, iPad, and on the Play Store for your Android phone, tablet. There's also a web version: https://ling-app.com/

Ling works on the freemium model: eight lessons of each language are free. For further lessons you'll need to get a subscription (either per month, per year, or for lifetime). For specific prices, check the individual apps.

THE LING APP SETUP

The setup is logical, easy to use and intuitive. It's identical for all of the languages.
There are five (5) Levels of difficulty:
1. Beginner
2. Intermediate
3. Upper Intermediate
4. Advanced
5. Expert

Each Level has ten (10) themed Units.Ling Language app Finnish Unit 1
For example, the Beginner Level in each of the languages consists of:
1. Introduction
2. Basic Sentences
3. Numbers and Family
4. Numbers and Counting
5. Activities
6. Food & Tastes
7. Vegetables & Fruits
8. In the Café
9. Eating Out
10 Where is it?

Each themed Unit has four (4) Lessons. The new vocabulary items (see examples below) are all used in a sentence, which you'll also learn and be tested on.
In the Introduction Unit, you'll find the following 16 vocabulary items:
• a woman, a man, a girl, a boy
• twenty-five, twelve, fourteen, forty
• USA, Germany, China, Japan
• English, German, Chinese, Japanese

Gamified Tasks

Ling Language app: Finnish Match the cardYou practice the new vocabulary and sentences with gamified exercises. They all have audio and give you hints if you need them. The tasks are short and fun to do and function as quick self-tests. You'll check each answer to see if it's correct.
The exercises and their content are identical for each language:
• Match the card. In the screenshot I first chose the wrong word for "roommate" (red)
• What did you hear?
• Sort this Sentence.
• Translate this sentence.
• Conversation (with known vocabulary in the context of some unknown words).
• Fill the gaps (in a simplified version of the conversation).

Other Activities

You Have Learned:
At the end of the lesson, you'll see "You Have Learned": a list of the words/phrases (with a simple image) and the sentences, as they were introduced at the start of the lesson.

Review It All:
You'll see this on top of every unit and it means a review of the full unit, i.e. all 4 lessons. With the review, you'll go through flashcards with audio to review the 16+ vocabulary items and sentences. You'll also go through the 4 dialogues in the sequence that you learned them.

Courses that have grammar explanations also have a review of the 4 grammar cards from the unit.

Speaking:
Ling Language App Speaking Recording screenshotFor the speaking exercise that comes with each unit on the phone and tablet app, you can first listen to the native speaker or read off a word/phrase or sentence.

The speech recognition function works pretty well, as I could test with German. Swallowing my Viennese accent, I got a "perfect" score at 100% each time. Same with English.

With Finnish, I was less successful. The first sentence I got for the first Unit was long and looked complicated. I got a totally deserved "poor" rating, with 26% accuracy.

Exam:
The exam at the end of each unit consists of about 10 tasks that include:
• Pick the translation of a word or sentence into your target language, multiple choice.
• Pick the translation of a target language word or sentence into your native language, multiple choice.
• Sort the sentence.

Chatbot:
In some of the Units, you can go to the Chatbox and participate in a conversation. You either tap on a response, or just read it off. The language should be familiar to you if you've done the unit. It's a fun way to try out the language you've been learning.

VOCABULARY

What you learn on Ling is basic, practical, everyday vocabulary. Each unit introduces between 16-24 new words (that is, for the languages we tried).

You won't be dealing with sentences that are weird or cute. (Though, some sentences are less practical than others. In the 'Swedish for Italian' Unit Dove/Where?, I came across the sentence: Boken är under jordgubbelådan. Il libro è sotto la scatola delle fragole. = The book is under the box of strawberries. This is probably a sentence I'll never use.)

I like the way vocabulary is introduced: a word/phrase together with a sentence using it. So, you always have some context.

The conversation at the end of each lesson includes known words, but also words and sentences that were not taught. But they help widen your experience of the target language and you do get translations and audio.

The practice games all follow the same pattern and sequence. They are easy to do and for each of your answers you get feedback. You can request a "hint", which will make it even easier to get the answer.

You can enter the course at any lesson that you choose, and skip around as much as you want (except within a lesson itself). Also, you're not required to stick to the sequence of Units as they are presented. That's an upside.

AUDIO

For each item you learn, you have audio (recordings of native speakers). These you can play back as often as you want, either at normal speed or slowed down. The voices we heard were very pleasant.

We often play the audio of a sentence several times, both after the speaker and also with the speaker, shadowing so to speak.

GRAMMAR

It's our impression from the several languages we tried that some languages on Ling have no or very limited grammar explanations. That's probably true for the less common languages. Finnish certainly doesn't have any grammar explanations at this time.

Since all the courses teach the same vocabulary and topics and don't focus on building language-specific grammar patterns, you'll find yourself just memorizing stuff at first. That even goes for a language that does have grammar explanations, such as German.

PRICING

Subscriptions to the app may seem a little high, especially for languages that have lots of other resources, some of them totally free.

Still, when you compare the cost of the Ling app to paying for individual tutoring, the yearly Pro subscription at 4 USD/month looks like a good deal. This is especially true for languages for which resources are scarce.

WHAT WE LIKE

• You can learn many less commonly taught languages.
• It's fun to learn with Ling.
• Navigating the app is easy and intuitive.
• It's easy to replay individual audios.
• It's easy to repeat a lesson.
• You can skip around if you want
• The vocabulary is practical and useful.
• You can get reminder emails and keep your streak.
• Words/phrases are always taught together with a sentence using them.
• The native-speaker audios we tested are usually of excellent quality.
• The Chatbox is a fun way to try out conversations.

OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER

• In the languages we know well, we noticed some errors, but you can flag them (top right flag image).

• In the Chatbox, you can choose between responses, but some of them don't make sense in the context.

• The identical setup and topics ignores some of the cultural specifics, e.g. in food, activities, customs, etc.
Ling App German Unit 1For example, in German you would not ask a person their age right after you've met them. It may be somewhat awkward in other languages, too.
This is the dialogue in the second lesson:
A: Excuse me. What's your name?
B: My name is Tom. What's your name?
A: My name is Mary. How old are you?
B: I am 25 years old. How old are you?
A: I am 40 years old. Nice to meet you.
B: Nice to meet you too.

• For languages with different sounds systems, pronunciation tips would be helpful. We didn't find any yet for the languages we tried.

• You get little or no help with understanding grammar patterns, e.g. sentence structures, cases, conjugations, grammatical endings, typical idiomatic phrases. A good example is Finnish. It has 15 noun cases (indicated by its suffix), 6 of which are locative cases (for which English uses prepositions). Gradual introduction of these with an explanation would have have made learning easier.

• From Beginner to Expert - and probably because of the strict focus on vocabulary and topics - the progression in language complexity is somewhat uneven. Sometimes sentences are long and complicated, sometimes they are surprisingly simple and easy.

• Complex grammar items are sometimes bundled. In the Expert category for example, the units Wishes 1 and Wishes II, are used to introduce the future, conditional, and subjunctive verb forms.
Ling App French Unit 50: revenirFor example the English: “I wish she would come back to me.” (Unit 50) has the following forms in:
French: J'aimerais qu'elle revienne vers moi. (conditional and subjunctive)
Italian: Spero che torni indietro da me. (indicative and subjunctive)
Spanish: Desearía que ella volviese a mí. (conditional and subjunctive)
German: Ich wünschte, sie würde zu mir zurückkommen. (subj II preterite and subj II future)

You'll also notice that  “I wish” is actually only used as indicative in Italian (spero), but actually translated as the conditional “I'd wish” in French, Spanish and German.

• A few different conditional and subjunctive forms of the new verbs are introduced in Unit 50. However, they are certainly not enough to learn their conjugations nor are there any explanations why and when they are used. A grammar book would therefore be quite advisable for any serious learner.

• For the web version use the Google browser is recommended, as the audio features may not work on all browsers.

Conclusion

Ling will not be the app or language program which will get you to fluency in a hurry – no app or online program really does.

The program does work well for beginners and intermediate learners or those who use it as an addition to another learning effort or method.

Its 50 lessons are well structured and fun to do, with useful and practical vocabulary, although additional grammar and pronunciation help may be needed.

Especially for languages that are less commonly spoken and taught, the Ling App platform offers some great resources.

The seamless interchangeability of target and teaching languages lets language lovers also experiment with different combinations and understand language differences, and use one target language to learn another.

Disclosure: We added Ling App to our Partner's list. For the above review we received a free 2-month subscription. Should you decide to subscribe to the Ling, Gamesforlanguage may receive a small commission which will help us keep our own site ad-free.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

What Makes Language Learning Engaging & Less Boring For Us?

Four boys playing ballIt's been about a year now that daily life has been upended by the pandemic. Like most people, we at GamesforLanguage have gone through various kinds of moods and emotions. As you can expect, the pandemic blues have included periods of heightened boredom and lowered motivation for language learning.
We are looking forward to more moments like these four boys are enjoying. (Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash)

It's been particularly hard to be separated from family and friends. At times Zoom fatigue has set in, and texting doesn't do the trick all the time either.

We also sorely miss traveling. We have siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, as well as long-term friends all who live in Canada and Europe.

Besides, over the years travel had become an important impetus for our language learning. We've enjoyed travel and one-month or longer stays in several different countries, as you can read in our European Travel series on our Blog.

This past year has been tough. But here we are, still using our languages and striving to improve our fluency. The months grounded at home have made us think a lot about what motivates us to keep on learning languages.

What Has Helped Us to Keep Going?

1. Having a routine

For better or for worse, we've hung on to some kind of a language learning routine, even though we've sometimes struggled to stay motivated. Our routine may have thinned out, but it's still the backbone or our language learning and has kept us going.

2. No rote learning

We've scrapped memorizing lists of random words or phrases. Learning a language in context is so much easier and more interesting. Indeed, we find it essential.

3. Short and focused language practice

We continue to use online language programs, but only for short periods. At the moment, I'm playing Spanish GamesforLanguage course lessons every day, and am just about to finish Level 3 of Duolingo's Dutch. Ulrike has started Finnish on Duolingo and also does daily Swedish lessons. (Once travel is back, we're planning to visit those two countries.)

4. Grammar in baby steps only

For now, grammar is to be enjoyed only in sweet little bites. Only when a phrase or sentence just doesn't make sense, do we resort to some grammar sleuthing. We treat grammar like fun little puzzles to be solved.

5. Lots of passive learning

A large part of engaging in our languages has been watching news programs, listening to interesting podcasts, and watching foreign TV series and films (with or without subtitles). We watched the entire Italian Inspector Montalbano series, as well as various French, Spanish and German series on Amazon Prime's MHz channel.

6. Reading and listening to interesting stories

To practice my Dutch, I recently purchased Olly Richard's Dutch Stories for Beginners. They are a little wacky, but made great bedtime reading. (Maybe I even improved my Dutch while sleeping.)

Both Ulrike and I regularly read or listen to French stories and novels. The latest: Michel Bussi: "T'en souviens-tu, mon Anaïs"; Guillaume Musso: "Un appartement à Paris", "La fille de Brooklyn"; Dominique Manotti: "Racket", "Marseille 1973".

7. Exercise, sports, walking

This has been really important for us. Lots of walks, tennis outside in the summer, at least 20 minutes of exercise every morning. We both work at a "walking desk". Exercise may not seem immediately relevant to language learning. But it's been well documented that it can sharpen memory and thinking skills.

All these above activities have helped us stay with our various languages. It's been clearly a question of how to make language learning fun and to avoid getting bored. Is there a "secret ingredient"?

Young Children

When we watch young children, we marvel at the ease they seem to learn their native language. Children acquiring their first language will focus on learning how to use it. It's like a full time job for them. It takes their full attention. Boredom is not an issue.

It's the same for young children who live in an environment that totally immerses them in another language. And even older children seem to be able to pick up a new language quite easily when there's lots of interaction with friends and family who speak the language. It's the social component that's crucial, while more structured learning (drills, exercises, practice) helps to build vocabulary, and improve pronunciation and grammar skills. (See also how our 10-year old grandson learns French with GamesforLanguage.)

Several of our grandchildren are taking regular French lessons online, which has them talk with a tutor and requires them to listen and speak. They seem to enjoy this a lot, especially because of the live interaction.

Challenges for Adult Learners

What makes learning a new foreign language as an adult so challenging are many factors, among them:
• Our increasing difficulty with time (starting in late childhood) to accurately hear sounds that are different from our native language, as well as producing those new sounds when speaking.

• A busy life that leaves little time and energy for extensive daily focused language learning.

• Language programs that are not engaging enough to sustain our frequent and regular use.

What Makes Online Language Learning Courses and Apps  Engaging?

There are several elements that can make language learning more engaging.

1. Social contact when learning a language

Children learn languages through their social contacts with parents, caretakers, siblings, playmates, etc. Adults can replicate such contacts to some degree in live or online language language classes. But clearly such interactions cannot compare with the time that children spend speaking and listening.

Many of the apps and programs also include user forums where learners can ask questions, and interact with others, etc. With italki and similar platforms you can book private tutors, which does provide social contact and more customized learning with emphasis on listening and speaking.

Immersive language programs, such as offered at Middlebury College, VT, rely heavily on the social contact aspect of only communicating in the target language.

We've just learned about a new option: Pangea Chat. This platform has just become available online, in the App Store and on Google Play. On Pangea Chat, friends text each other in their native language. These exchanges are then automatically translated into the chosen target language and put into gamified “activities” for practice.

Pangea Chat would seem to check off the "social contact" and "relevant, comprehensible input" boxes that we discuss below. We are planning to review the app once we have used it for a while.

2. Interesting topics and relevant input

This is what many language programs are lacking. Especially for beginners, language lessons are often limited to what the teachers or developers consider essential first words and phrases.

Steve Kaufman of LingQ is a great proponent of “meaningful input that matters to you”.  He expands on what the well-known linguist Stephen Krashen thought of as the essential requirement for language learning: “comprehensible input”.

LingQ's approach certainly applies the idea of "comprehensible input". Subscribers to the program can read and listen to content that they are interested in. Translations are available as needed.

This is different from the Rosetta Stone method, which uses pictures that the user has to match to a foreign word. That quickly became boring for us.

Most apps and language programs rely on some form of translation to provide “comprehensible input” for the learner. However, the lesson topics include mostly the words and phrases of categories such as “Basics”, “Greetings”, “People”, “Travel”, “Family”, "Activity”, “Restaurant”, “City”, etc. (as in the early lessons of Duolingo's French course).

For learners who are really serious about learning a new language, Gabe Wiener's Fluent Forever app, starts with the sounds of the foreign language. The app uses images and flashcards to teach you vocabulary and lets you also customize your learning. This is followed by stories with which you learn grammar. Finally, you can practice with native tutors. A motivated learner who uses Fluent Forever regularly, will certainly progress quickly.

3. Games for language learning

When Duolingo appeared 2011, just about the time when we launched Gamesforlanguage.com, gamified learning suddenly became the craze of the day. Many of the programs and apps we have tried also include some form of games.

Games are clearly a compelling technique for learning: They provide a challenge, they let you know when you're right or make a mistake. As language learning also relies on memorization and repetition, you can repeat the games until you “get it”.

However, after a while even games can become a little tedious, if they don't involve “meaningful input that matters to you”. That was the reason why the GamesforLanguage courses use a travel story rather than unrelated words and phrases. (Admittedly, even travel stories of a young traveler can become boring when you repeat them several times.)

4. Success feedback and voice recognition

Most language learning apps and programs today use some form of feedback.

Over time, Duolingo has evolved a number of such feedback parameters, including a daily goal and point counter. These show up in a chart, achievement levels, a streak counter, etc.
LingQ tracks the number of known words and now also has a streak counter, and so do Mosalingua and Fluent Forever. Including a “streak”, that shows how many days a learner has been learning in a row, seems to become ever more popular.

When we tried Babbel the last time, we did not like the voice recognition feature. Duolingo on it's AppStore app also uses voice recognition, but the feature is easily fooled. We suspect that it will only be a matter of time until voice recognition will be smart enough to be incorporated into many language programs to provide real-time feed-back to the user's pronunciation.

Until then, speaking aloud and recording yourself is still the best way to practice new sounds and comparing yourself to native speakers. (Unfortunately, and different from a live dialogue with a friend, this is both time consuming and quickly becomes boring as well.)


So, we have found that the best language language learning "package" for self learners would consist of a combination of meaningful social interactions and resources that provide interesting and relevant input.
If you like music and singing, learning the lyrics of a song in your target language could work well. (Here are our suggestions for French, German, Italian and Spanish songs.)
To add some fun to pronunciation practice, and vocabulary and grammar building, I would add some features that include gamification and feedback.

Let us know which language learning programs and apps are engaging for you, and in particular, which elements keep you practicing regularly.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage Favorites During Covid-19 in 2020

Gamesforlanguage Games and Stories Ten years ago, GamesforLanguage started out as an experiment and family project: a language teacher and course editor, a retired engineer, a computer programmer (our son) and his graphic designer wife collaborated on what has turned out to be a fun and rewarding enterprise.

Over the years, we've had a steady stream of users and have gotten valuable feedback. We've also found plenty of incentive for our own language learning by using our own courses, joining online language learning groups and trying out other language programs and apps.

Our site is free to all - without any Google advertisements - a fact that more and more teachers and parents seem to appreciate as well. You can play our Quick Games and Podcasts, and read our Blog Posts by just clicking on the links.

Only our language Courses require a simple registration. This way, players can pick-up the story and continue learning and practicing where they last logged off.

At the beginning of a new year, we usually look back to determine what has interested our users most. Over the last few months of 2020, we've noticed a substantial increase in groups playing our Quick Games and travel-story Courses.

Registrations increased by users with an institutional email address, in particular schools. Most of the students registered that way play Courses in addition to Quick Games.

Although we don't know the email addresses of users who just play Quick Games, Podcasts, or read our Blog Posts, we are able to identify which content receives the most traffic.

Travel Story Courses

Our original purpose for Gamesforlanguage was to combine the idea of learning a new language with a travel story and fun games. Being language learners ourselves, we've used (and are still using) many different language programs.

Like most people, we want to avoid getting bored while learning. One antidote seems to be using stories. You can read about that in our 5 Top Reasons for Learning a language with Stories.Gamesforlanguage.com Registration Page

Not surprisingly, it was our German courses that had the most players from registered users last year. This may also be due to the fact that we have two(2) 36-lesson German courses, as well as an active German Facebook page.

If German or any of our other languages - French, Italian, and Spanish - interest you, click on the registration page or the screenshot above, and register. (Our Course English for Spanish Speakers is still in development and has 3 levels at this time.)

Quick Games

We currently have over 300 Quick Language Games, and we are adding new games every few weeks. These can be played by just clicking on the Quick Games link on our website and selecting the language you want to practice.

Each fun game only takes a couple of minutes or so. It helps you practice a few words, a grammar point or some typical phrases.

We post one of tLearn German - A Game A Day Facebook Pagehe nearly 90 Quick German Games every weekday on our German Facebook page, Learn German -A Game A Day.

Guten Morgen is the most popular German Quick Game, while Numbers 1-20 is the favorite of learners of Italian, and Numbers 21 and beyond of those learning French.

Blog Posts

Since we started Gamesforlanguage in January 2011, we've added nearly 400 Blog Posts about language learning, travel experiences, and related topics. That's an average of over 3 posts per month.

It's always interesting to see which of the older posts have become perennials.Victoria des Los Angeles and La Paloma lyrics Our 2013 post about La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish with a Song, was also a favorite in 2020. (And if you like that idea for learning Spanish, we can suggest one of our partner sites, Language-Zen.)

For those who have tried our travel-story based Courses, it's no surprise that we like stories for learning and practice. We are obviously not the only ones. Our 2016 post: Why Polyglots Also Use Stories for Language Learning has been very popular.

And, as it's quite a short post, we're always surprised to see the 2013 entry - Quick French: “On y va”, “Allons-y!” - to be on our most read list year after year!

Podcasts

We have not yet promoted and expanded our Podcasts. (Something we're going to focus on in 2021.) Most of our podcasts are the MP3 audios and chapters of each of our courses.

Gamesforlanguage:German 2 Podcast screenshot We believe that listening to the story BEFORE or AFTER playing a course lesson, helps you to internalize the sound and rhythm of the language and to memorize the phrases.

In the Podcast section, the German 2 Story “Blüten in Berlin” was the favorite in 2020. No surprise there.

We are planning to add more Podcasts about Language Learning, Culture and Travel.

We're hopeful that in the fall of 2021, we can again travel to Europe. In any case, until travel is safe again, there' s plenty of time to practice languages online, to read books, to listen to podcasts and to watch foreign movies.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Grammar Baby Steps for Self-Learners

baby-steps_by_david-brooke-martin-qa4-KH8UjRA-unsplashHow to deal with grammar is a question we get a lot from language learners. Yes, classroom learning often focuses a lot on grammar.

I also plead guilty to having used this approach with my students during my college teaching years. But I now know that it does not help your speaking abilities early on.

Fortunately, if you're learning a new language independently, it's okay to put grammar on the back burner. Still, not focusing on grammar doesn't mean you ignore it completely. A good approach is to start with "baby steps" to learn gradually how your new language works.

Grammar in any language is a huge subject. However, knowing a grammar book inside out doesn't mean you can communicate in the language. All it means is that you can remember a lot of abstract rules. And these don't automatically translate into fluent communication.

So, what are a few "baby steps" that self-learners can take? Here are the steps that work for me when I start out in a new language. (My examples are from the four languages on our site.)

Step #1: A Quick Glance At Grammar Basics

I do mean a "quick glance", and really just basic grammar.Grammar topics spread across page Do it in whatever way works for you - on the internet or in a basic grammar book. You don't really want to know ALL the grammar rules right off. Especially not all the dozens of exceptions to those rules to boot.

What you want to know is how your new language works. How it is essentially different from your native language(s). Knowing these main differences will help you when starting out with conversations.

Pronouns

In English, you always use pronouns. The same goes for German and French.

Italian and Spanish usually drop the pronouns, unless they are needed for clarity or emphasis.

The Pronoun "you"

English has just one word for "you", and it works for familiar and formal, for singular and plural.

French, German, Italian and Spanish have different pronouns for familiar and formal, and also for singular and plural. You need to sort out which pronoun and/or verb ending to use for each of those situations.

Present Tense Verb Endings

English verb endings are pretty simple. Generally, you just have to watch out for the third person singular, which adds an "s". (I go, you go, he goes, we go, you go, they go.) 

For Italian and Spanish the personal endings of verbs are important because of dropped pronouns.

For German and French, the different verb endings depend on which personal pronouns you use.

Articles and Gender

English has the definite article "the" and no gender for its nouns.

French, Spanish, and Italian have 2 noun genders.

German has 3 genders, plus various case-dependent forms of the definite article.

Negation

Each language has its own ways to express negation. English has "not", which is often attached to a helping verb, and contracted: "don't, isn't, can't, won't, shouldn't".
 
Generally speaking, negation is simple in Spanish and Italian. In Spanish you put "no" in front of the verb, and in Italian "non".

French uses the double negative "ne ... pas".

German has "nicht" for negating verbs and "kein" for negating nouns.

Basic Word Order

Here you don't want to learn any rules. You only want to observe and understand that there are differences.

Once you've had a quick glance at basic grammar differences between your native language and your target language, forget what you've read. It will all come back bit by bit, once you start listening, repeating and reading - a lot - in your new language.

Step #2: Look for Patterns

Patterns in sandWe may not feel that we are "wired for grammar" (as Noam Chomsky once suggested), but we are certainly wired for recognizing and internalizing patterns.

Sounds 

For children in their early years, language is primarily sound. Even as adults we hear spoken language all day - in conversations, on the radio, on TV, on the internet.

Sound remains an important part of communication. When talking with others, we produce the correct sounds to get the message across. When we write, we often silently pronounce what we're writing.

Sentences

Learning the meaning of foreign words is important. But hearing and seeing them in complete sentences is essential: That's where "Grammar" is happening! 

When learning a new language be sure to include the sound of words, phrases and simple sentences. Listen and repeat as much as you can. It's important to get the sound of what you're learning into your ear.

As you listen, repeat and read, watch for patterns. Patterns of verb endings are basic, so listen and look for them. Watch out for the differences between questions and statements. Try to notice simple idiomatic ways of saying things.

Stories

Easy stories are a good next step. They will put essential vocabulary in context and therefore give you a more precise meaning of words and phrases.

Stories also show how the language works. You'll hear and see questions, responses to questions, emphatic forms, the use of familiar or formal "you", negation, word order variations, etc.

Reading & Writing

Once you're reasonably happy with your pronunciation, begin to pay closer attention to the written text as you practice listening and repeating. It will help you to master the correlation between sound and written text in your new language. It's a good way to get into reading.

Reading is a fantastic tool for acquiring vocabulary and for internalizing typical patterns of a language.

Step #3 More In-depth Grammar

When you're happily into your new target language,Grammar items when you continue to feel motivated and love the progress you're making, that's the time to tackle more grammar. But don't focus on rules. Focus on typical patterns. Below are two examples.

Gender and Articles

Italian
Suppose you've been reading and listening to Italian and notice that the simple English article "the" has several Italian equivalents: "il, la, lo, l', i, le, gli".

You've probably figured out the articles "il, la, i, and le". But you're curious enough to check when "lo" and "gli" are used. From then on, each time you see or hear "lo" and "gli" in context, you become more familiar with its use.

French and Spanish
They have have 2 genders, feminine and masculine, and four articles that go with it. In French, there's "le, la, l', les". In Spanish, you have "el, la, los, las". Good to know, but pretty easy to figure out on your own as you're hearing and reading a story.

German
It has 3 genders: "der, die, das" (masculine, feminine, and neuter). Plus, the definite articles, including the plural forms, change depending on the case of the noun. So, it will take more effort to really learn the correct German forms.

You'll want to study the various German article/case combinations written out in front of you on a sheet. Then, saying the forms often helps to make them automatic. Still, perfect mastery is elusive for most, and that's okay. (You're not alone: Mark Twain in his “A Tramp Abroad”, Appendix D, makes some very funny, but cogent observations.)

Asking Yes-No Questions

There are often fundamental word order differences between languages.

English
For example, it's not easy for foreigners to understand when to use "do" or "are" in a question in English.
You say: "Do you know?", while the question, "Are you knowing?" doesn't make sense.
On the other hand, you would tend to say "Are you going?" The question "Do you go?" needs more context, such as "Do you often go to the movies?"

French
There are various ways to ask yes-no questions. But these are different from English. For one, you can put the question particle, "Est-ce que" at the beginning of a sentence and thus turn it into a question, "Est-ce que vous parlez anglais ?"

Then there's the inversion of subject and verb, as in "Parlez-vous anglais ?" Or, you can just add "n'est-ce pas ?" at the end of a statement: "Tu parles anglais, n'est-ce pas ?" Finally, in informal speech, you can just raise your voice at the end: "Tu parles anglais ?" Once you start paying attention to questions when hearing and reading French, these patterns will become familiar and you'll learn when to use which.

Italian 
You can make a statement into a question by letting your voice go up at the end, and/or adding a tag: "È americano?, È americano, vero?, È americano, no?" It's as simple as that.

Spanish
Similarly, you can change a statement to a yes-no question by using question intonation and sometimes adding a tag: "¿Hablas inglés?, ¿Hablas inglés, no? ¿Hablas inglés, verdad?" Or, in some cases, you can invert verb and pronoun: "¿Tiene Ud. sed?"

German
For yes-no questions, you normally invert subject and the personal verb: "Sind Sie Amerikaner?" Or, "Wollen Sie jetzt essen?"

Make Grammar a Treat not a Chore!

There are exceptions, but most language learners don't learn grammar to become fluent in grammar. They learn a language because they want to be able to speak with others. 

It's more fun to figure things out than to memorize rules. So, try to figure out little by little how your new language works. Don't focus too much on the rules.

Becoming fluent in another language is a hugely satisfying achievement. It's great fun to step out of your native language and step into another way of communicating. It can be a wonderful life-long adventure!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Techniques for Speaking More Fluently

Flowing river by tim-peters-on-unsplashBeing "fluent" in a language is not a very precise term. Actually when we learn a language, we go through various stages of fluency. Plus, fluency in a language is often a subjective issue and can mean different things to different people.

Here are a few takes on Fluency by several well-known Polyglots in a recent Lingualift post. You'll get the drift.

Benny Lewis, The Irish Polyglot: If I can talk to people confidently about normal things, at a normal speed, and understand their replies without them having to adjust to me as a beginner, then this seems like a reasonable place for us to assign “fluency”.

Lindsay Williams, Lindsay Does Languages: What if there’s different types of fluency? You’re ready for your holiday to Germany? You’re holiday fluent. You spend all day emailing Thai companies about Facebook? You’re business email fluent.

Luca Sadurny, MosaLingua: After building up your vocabulary and practicing, you start to express your thoughts in a more automated, fast and spontaneous way, even if you make some mistakes.

Ellen Jovin, Words and Worlds of New York: Language fluency for me is when my words have the consistency of a liquid rather than a solid. For example, if I suddenly can’t remember how to say “broccoli,” I can replace it, as I continue talking along unimpeded, with “you know, that green vegetable that looks like a little tree that George H. W. Bush refuses to eat.”

Shannon Kennedy, Eurolinguiste: I feel that there are also different degrees of fluency — one can have a fluent reading ability or they can be fluent in the language just for a specific industry (for example, they can talk about laws and contracts without hesitation but might not be able to talk about the weather) or they can even just be conversationally fluent (and unable to go too in-depth on really specific topics).

Conversationally Fluent

To me, being conversationally "fluent" in a language means not needing to prepare every sentence in my mind before saying it. It means feeling pretty comfortable talking about everyday things. I'm not constantly stumbling over basic grammar or getting stuck because I can't find that exact word I need. But it does not mean that I don't make any mistakes.

Obviously, the best way to improve your fluency in speaking a language is to talk regularly with others, ideally with native speakers. And, for keeping your conversations going, you need enough vocabulary and a sufficient familiarity with relevant language patterns (word order, idioms, types of sentences, verb endings, etc.). For that, reading and listening a lot to your target language is helpful.

But to improve the flow of your speech, you can practice some specific techniques. They might just give you that extra push to better fluency.

These three practice techniques have helped me to speak more fluently in a couple of my languages. You can do them feeling none of the stress and anxiety you get when speaking up publicly. In Ellen Jovin's words, they have given my speech, "the consistency of a liquid rather than a solid".

1. Practice Sentences Aloud

Talking aloudTake an audio story that matches your level and which allows you to easily stop and replay any of the audio chunks.

A lot of programs have these. For example Duolingo has such stories for four languages. (I'm using the ones for Portuguese right now.) But there's also LingQ that has mini-stories and podcasts in more languages. You can also use a YouTube video, video series you watch on your computer, books on audible, etc.

Replay and repeat each chunk or full sentence two or three times in natural rapid speech, imitating the speed and melody of the speaker. If your pronunciation is already pretty good, you can even take just a written text and read it aloud, repeating each sentence several times.

This practice has helped me:
• Focus on and smooth out sound combinations that are hard for me
• Sharpen my sentence intonation
• Speed up my speech to a more natural pace

2. Explain Things in your Target Language

Friends arguingWhen you explain how to do something step by step in another language, it forces you to be both imaginative and precise. That really helps you to become more versatile in using your target language.

Finding "how to do topics" is easy. Think about a hobby, a sport you love, a dish to prepare, or something practical, like ordering a book online, or fixing something that's broken. Use topics and vocabulary that interest you.

Conversations with a native speaker are the perfect place to try out some of your explanations. Urge him or her to keep asking questions to make you clarify what you mean. If you don't have someone to talk to, write your explanations in a journal. You can then go over what you've written, check vocabulary, figure out other ways of saying it, etc.

This practice has helped me:
• Find ways to keep going even when I can't remember a specific word
• Become more resourceful in creating new sentences
• Aquire vocabulary for topics that I'm interested in

3. Talk in your Head

If you're like me, you often talk silently to yourself. Sometimes I do it just to make sure I'm Talk in your head focused on a particular task. But you can do self-talk your target language at any time during the day. It's a useful stepping stone to thinking in the language.

Tell yourself stories, go over things you need to do, figure things out verbally, or have internal arguments with an imagined conversation partner. You may even end up dreaming in your new language! I'm told that's a sure sign of improved fluency.

This practice has helped me:
• Keep the language in my mind off and on throughout the day
• Learn to think in my target language
• Try out conversations without the stress of being in a real one

Learning a language is a journey of discovery with many ups and downs. As you go along, it's not always obvious that your fluency has improved.But there may be moments, when you realize you were talking away in your target language without thinking about endings or worrying about stumbling. Those feel great!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

10 Easy Rules to Help Your German:

Know the rules - for German (Updated 3/2021)

Learning German? A few easy rules will give your grasp of German grammar a boost. These rules are a kind of "back-ground language work" that you do, like setting up the frame of a building.

Grammar rules, even easy ones, are not what you think about when you’re engaged in speaking a language. In the flow of speaking, you don’t have time to think much about grammar. Conversations just move too fast. In a conversation, there's too much else going on.

However, when reading, listening to a podcast, doing some online practice, easy grammar rules are good to keep in mind. You'll keep seeing or hearing certain examples over and over again. With time, you’ll start to apply them automatically also for speaking.

1. Diminutive nouns with the ending -chen or -lein are neuter:

Note: in some cases, the stem vowel becomes an umlaut.
• das Mädchen (the girl)
• das Schwesterlein (the little sister) [but: die Schwester]
• das Tischlein (the little table) [but: der Tisch]
• das Gläschen (the little glass) [das Glas]
• der Vögelchen (the little bird) [but: der Vogel]
• das Brötchen (the roll) [das Brot]

2. Nouns ending in -heit, -keit, -ung are always feminine

• die Freiheit (freedom)
• die Gesundheit (health)

• die Freundlichkeit (friendliness)
• die Tätigkeit (activity)

• die Rechnung (bill/check)
• die Bewegung (movement)

3. “die” is the plural article for all nouns (subject forms)

• das Kind - die Kinder (child - children)
• die Frau - die Frauen (woman - women)
• der Mann - die Männer (man - men)

4. All seasons are masculine:

• der Frühling (the spring)
• der Sommer (the summer)
• der Herbst (the fall)
• der Winter (the )winter

5. All says of the week are masculine:weekdays in German

• der Montag (Monday)
• der Dienstag (Tuesday)
• der Mittwoch (Wednesday)
• der Donnerstag (Thursday)
• der Freitag (Friday)
• der Samstag (Saturday)
• der Sonntag (Sunday)

6. Seven common prepositions contract with “das."  

Note: these all imply a “change  of place” or “direction to”:
• an + das:  ans Meer gehen (to go to the sea)
• auf + das:  aufs Land fahren (to go to the countryside)
• in + das:  ins Haus gehen (to go into the house)
• hinter + das:  hinters Auto gehen (to go over behind the car)
• über + das:  übers Meer fliegen (to fly across the ocean)
• unter + das:  unters Buch legen (to place under the book)
• vor + das:  vors Fenster legen (to place in front of the window)

7. A predicate adjective takes no ending

A predicate adjective follows a noun and a form of “sein” (to be).
• Die Straße ist breit. (The street is wide.)
Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Die breite Straße. (The wide street.)

• Der Kaffee ist stark. (The coffee is strong.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Der starke Straße. (The strong coffee.)

• Das Haus ist groß. (The house is big.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Das große Haus. (The big house.)

8. Numbers: 

• 1-12 you have to memorize. Eins - one (1); zwei - two (2); drei - three (3); vier - four (4); fünf - five (5); sechs - six (6); sieben - seven (7); acht - eight (8); neun - nine (9); zehn - ten (10); elf - eleven (11); zwölf - twelve (12).

• 13-19 have the same format as English. For example: dreizehn - thirteen (13); fünfzehn - fifteen (15); neunzehn - nineteen (19)

• But 21-29, 31-39 etc. are “reversed” in German and are linked with "und" (and). For example: einundzwanzig - twenty-one (21), neununddreißig - thirty-nine (39), etc.

You can also learn the numbers and practice your pronunciation with our Quick Games: German Numbers 1-20 and 21 and Beyond.

9. The verb forms of formal "you" (Sie) and "they" (sie) are the same.

• Gehen Sie heute ins Kino? (Are you going to the movies today?)
 
• Gehen sie heute ins Kino? (Are they going to the movies today?)
 

Note:
• Formal "you" (Sie) is always capitalized
• The pronoun "they" (sie) begins with a lower-case letter (except at the beginning of a sentence).

10. Word Order: In simple sentences, the verb is in second position.

• Ich gehe heute ins Kino. (I'm going to the movies today.)
• Heute gehe ich ins Kino. (Today, I'm going to the movies.)

Note:
• In the sentence "Heute Abend gehe ich ins Kino.", the verb is the third word, but still in second position, as the (adverb) phrase "Heute abend" is in first position.

• Whatever word/phrase occurs before the verb is emphasized.

You Want to Practice Your German?

Our games and travel-story based courses are also a great way to practice your German.

With our German 1 and 2 courses you'll learn and practice German for FREE - with stories of a young man traveling through Germany and - its sequel - solving a "Blüten"-mystery in Berlin. "The Story" and easy games will let you forget that you are actually learning German! And you can also listen to both Stories by clicking on German 1 or German 2 on our Podcast page.

If travel to Germany is in your near future, you may also enjoy our post: 4 Fun German Language Games Before You Travel.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Better than Speech Recognition for Language Learning?

Voice recognition buttonSpeech recognition has become a popular feature in online language learning programs and apps. You've probably come across speech recognition as a language-learning tool if you've used programs such as Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Mondly, Busuu, Rocket Languages, etc.

As a starter, it may be necessary to distinguish between speech recognition and voice recognition.

Totalvoicetech explains the difference as follows:
"Voice recognition and speech recognition are terms that are interchangeably used. However, they both refer to completely different things. The purpose behind speech recognition is to arrive at the words that are being spoken. Therefore, speech recognition programs strip away personal idiosyncrasies such as accents to detect words. Voice recognition aims to recognize the person speaking the words, rather than the words themselves. Therefore, voice recognition software disregards language. Voice recognition can also be called speaker recognition."

Speech Recognition for Language Learners

Ideally, speech recognition provides an immersive languagelatino student with earphone language learning on laptop learning experience. Using a speech recognition feature, will help you improve your pronunciation and make you more fluent.

The idea seems compelling:
• Have the language program - with the stored and correct pronunciation of a native speaker - judge a learner's pronunciation of a sentence.

• Let the learner repeat the sentence until the program determines that there is a match with the stored and correct sentence.

What's wrong with that? Well, different from a teacher, who can explain what you do wrong (or right), a speech recognition tool can give you at best limited feedback. It can't really "grade" your pronunciation, (although some reviewers seem to suggest that some programs do.) Your pronunciation is either accepted or rejected.

Let's take Duolingo as an example. (In my experience, Rosetta Stone and Babbel, etc. are similar.) Duolingo lets you speak foreign sentences here and there and judges whether you did it correctly.

However, you have no clue whether you actually said the words right. I've actually recorded myself adding a different language but similar intonation and found my answer accepted.
Surprise: - For the Italian "lui ha vinta le elezioni", I said "Er hat die elezioni gewonnen." So, no way did my words match those of the native speaker! Maybe the only match was that the length of both sentences was nearly the same.

Or sometimes, I'll try several times and none of my tries are accepted. I know I have a trace of a German accent in all my languages and certain sound or word combinations just never make it.
Rocket Langauges screenshotRocket Language has a somewhat improved method: The program gives you a percentage rating of your recording and transcribes the sentence while highlighting the mistakes, as can be seen on this screenshot. Still, it still took me several tries until my purposely wrong pronunciation of “Je saute” was flagged.

(However, you can also replay your own recording - with the arrow beside the microphone – to compare yourself against the native speaker – the upper arrow, which, we believe and discuss below, is a more effective way.)

For both of us, speech recognition has always proved very frustrating. But there are other issues.

Can a Beginner sound like a Native Speaker?

In fact, during the early phases of language learning, it's nearly impossible to sound "like a native speaker". And, having a perfect pronunciation – while obviously a desirable goal for most - is certainly not essential for the beginner.

Focusing initially more on listening and hearing the melody of the new language will pay greater dividends later on, when you work on your speaking skills. Having a beginning learner worry about correct pronunciation is a little bit like getting a new student driver on a highway with fast moving traffic. He or she could get easily scared and discouraged.

But even for the advanced learner, learning with speech recognition may not always be useful. Just having my spoken translation accepted as “correct” may feel like a pat on the back, but can I really trust it? What was correct? What do I need to improve?

Still, if the idea of speech recognition prompts a learner to speak aloud and imitate the native speaker - that's good! Indeed, anything that gets you to start talking in your new language is a good thing.

The Mondly app has an interesting approach: it uses augmented reality create a language learning environment. Animals and objects come to life and you're encouraged to participate in a conversation.

On the whole, though, we've always found that there is a better way for improving your pronunciation with language apps or online language programs:

Record Your Voice and Compare it to that of the Native Speaker

When you are learning a new language, a teacher or tutor will at times point out your mistakes and correct your pronunciation. He or she will often not only encourage you to imitate their pronunciation, but also explain to you the mouth mechanics that the particular language requires.

computer keyboard with microphoneOnline language programs can also give you such advice or suggestions, but then it's mostly up to you to figure out how to produce the new sounds of your language. For most languages there are also Youtube videos that explain the mouth mechanic specifics that you can then practice on your own.

And it's here that recording your own voice and comparing it to the native speaker does three important things for you:
1. It lets you become aware of the pronunciation differences between you and the native speaker.
2. It lets you try as many times as you want to get closer to the native speaker.
3. It lets you yourself become aware of the progress you are making.

Now, I also know that for many beginners hearing themselves in a foreign language can be frustrating and even discouraging. You may ask yourself: Will I ever be able to speak like the native speaker? The honest answer for me and many other adults is: Probably not.

Unless you heard the new language as a child, chances are that you may not HEAR certain sounds any longer as an adult. You'll therefore also have trouble reproducing them.
(This is due to our “categorical perception”, which we discussed in an earlier post: Beyond “Learning a Language Like a child”)

However, hearing yourself and imitating the native speaker both in pronunciation as well as in language melody, is an excellent way to practice and improve your pronunciation.
And, as a precursor to speaking, listening to as much of your new language as you can, is the obvious thing to do.

uTalk

We recently re-discovered the app uTalk, (available for Android, iPhone/iPad, Windows 10. Mac and Kindle Fire HD) with 140 languages. It has an excellent self-recording/native speaker comparison system and two of its six units for each topic lets you listen to phrases and then record yourself saying them.

It's not free, but we recently picked up a life-time subscription for 6 languages for $24.99. So look around for a deal, if you are interested. We are planning a review later on.

The Goal of Language Learning

For some language learners passive activities like listening and reading are enough. But for most others, communicating with friends, family, business associates or during travel adventures is the real goal of language learning. That means speaking practice is essential.

If speak recognition features of an app or online program encourage you to do that, great! We find self-recording/native speaker comparison systems more effective than speech recognition.

What is  your experience? What works best for you? Please share with us your thoughts below.

PS: Previous users of our online GamesforLanguage courses will have noticed that we turned off the Flash Player based recording several months ago. Flash Player recordings were not supported on most phones and mobile devices and had other problems. We are still looking for a replacement.

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Steps for Tackling Grammar Slowly

grammar books stacked How to deal with grammar is a question we get a lot from language learners. Yes, classroom learning often focuses a lot on grammar. I also plead guilty to having used this approach with students during my college teaching years.

But I now know that it does not help your speaking abilities early on. Fortunately, if you're learning a new language independently, it's okay to put grammar on the back burner. 

Still, not focusing on grammar doesn't mean you ignore it completely. A good approach is to start with "baby steps" to learn gradually how your new language works.

Grammar in any language is a huge subject. However, knowing a grammar book inside out doesn't mean you can communicate in the language. All it means is that you can remember a lot of abstract rules. And these don't automatically translate into fluent communication. 

So, what are a few "baby steps" that self-learners can take? Here are the steps that work for me when I start out in a new language. (My examples are from the four languages on our site.)

Step #1: A Quick Glance At Grammar Basics

Man studying laptopI do mean a "quick glance", and really just basic grammar. Do it in whatever way works for you - on the internet or in a basic grammar book. 

You don't really want to know ALL the grammar rules right off. Especially not all the dozens of exceptions to those rules to boot.

What you want to know is how your new language works. How it is essentially different from your native language(s). Knowing these main differences will help you when starting out with conversations. 

PRONOUNS 
In English, you always use pronouns. The same goes for German and French. Italian and Spanish usually drop the pronouns, unless they are needed for clarity or emphasis.

THE PRONOUN "YOU" 
English has just one word for "you", and it works for familiar and formal, for singular and plural.

French, German, Italian and Spanish have different pronouns for familiar and formal, and also for singular and plural. You need to sort out which pronoun and/or verb ending to use for each of those situations.

PRESENT TENSE VERB ENDINGS 

English verb endings are pretty simple. Generally, you just have to watch out for the third person singular, which adds an "s". (I go, you go, he goes, we go, you go, they go.) 

For Italian and Spanish the personal endings of verbs are important because of dropped pronouns. For German and French, the different verb endings depend on which personal pronouns you use.

ARTICLES AND GENDER

English has the definite article "the" and no gender for its nouns.

French, Spanish, and Italian have two noun genders, and German has three genders, plus various case-dependent forms of the definite article.

NEGATION

Each language has its own ways to express negation. English has "not", which is often attached to a helping verb and contracted: "don't, isn't, can't, won't, shouldn't". Generally speaking, negation is simple in Spanish and Italian. In Spanish you put "no" in front of the verb, and in Italian "non". French uses the double negative "ne ... pas", and German has "nicht" for negating verbs and "kein" for negating nouns.

BASIC WORD ORDER

Here you don't want to learn any rules. You only want to observe and understand that there are differences.

Once you've had a quick glance at basic grammar differences between your native language and your target language, forget what you've read. It will all come back bit by bit, once you start listening, repeating and reading - a lot - in your new language.

Step #2: Look for Patterns

Carpet PatternsWe may not feel that we are "wired for grammar" (as Noam Chomsky once suggested), but we are certainly wired for recognizing and internalizing patterns.

SOUNDS

For children in their early years, language is primarily sound. Even as adults we hear spoken language all day - in conversations, on the radio, on TV, on the internet.

Sound remains an important part of communication. To engage with others, we produce the correct sounds to get the message across. When we write, we often silently pronounce what we're writing.

SENTENCES

Learning the meaning of foreign words is important. But hearing and seeing them in complete sentences is essential: That's where "Grammar" is happening! 

When learning a new language be sure to include the sound of words, phrases and simple sentences. Listen and repeat as much as you can. It's important to get the sound of what you're learning into your ear.

As you listen, repeat and read, watch for patterns. Patterns of verb endings are basic, so listen and look for them. Watch out for the differences between questions and statements. Try to notice simple idiomatic ways of saying things.

STORIES

Easy stories are a good next step. They will put essential vocabulary in context and therefore give you a more precise meaning of words and phrases.

Stories also show how the language works. You'll hear and see questions, responses to questions, emphatic forms, the use of familiar or formal "you", negation, word order variations, etc.

READING & WRITING

Once you're reasonably happy with your pronunciation, begin to pay closer attention to the written text as you practice listening and repeating. It will help you to master the correlation between sound and written text in your new language. It's a good way to get into reading.

Reading is a fantastic tool for acquiring vocabulary and for internalizing typical patterns of a language.

Step #3 More In-depth Grammar

Grammar Book on table with woman's handsWhen you're happily into your new target language, when you continue to feel motivated and love the progress you're making, that's the time to tackle more grammar. But don't focus on rules. Focus on typical patterns. Below are two examples.

GENDER AND ARTICLES

Suppose you've been reading and listening to Italian and notice that the simple English article "the" has several Italian equivalents: "il, la, lo, l', i, le, gli". You've probably figured out the articles "il, la, i, and le". But you're curious enough to check when "lo" and "gli" are used. From then on, each time you see or hear "lo" and "gli" in context, you become more familiar with its use.

French and Spanish have two genders, feminine and masculine, and four articles that go with it. In French, there's "le, la, l', les". In Spanish, you have "el, la, los, las". Good to know, but pretty easy to figure out on your own as you're hearing and reading a story.

German, however, has three genders: "der, die, das" (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and the definite articles, including the plural forms, change depending on the case of the noun. So, it will take more effort to really learn the correct German forms. You'll want to study the various article/case combinations written out in front of you. Then, saying the forms often helps to make them automatic. Still, perfect mastery is elusive for most, and that's okay. (You're not alone: Mark Twain in his “A Tramp Abroad”, Appendix D, makes some very funny, but cogent observations.)

ASKING YES-NO QUESTIONS

There are often fundamental word order differences between languages. For example, it's not easy for foreigners to understand when to use "do" or "are" in a question in English.

For example, you say: "Do you know?", while the question, "Are you knowing?" doesn't make sense. On the other hand, you would tend to say "Are you going?" The question "Do you go?" needs more context, such as "Do you often go to the movies?"

French, too, has various ways to ask yes-no questions. But these are different from English. For one, you can put the question particle, "Est-ce que" at the beginning of a sentence and thus turn it into a question, "Est-ce que vous parlez anglais ?"

Then there's the inversion of subject and verb, as in "Parlez-vous anglais ?" Or, you can just add "n'est-ce pas ?" at the end of a statement: "Tu parles anglais, n'est-ce pas ?" Finally, in informal speech, you can just raise your voice at the end: "Tu parles anglais ?" Once you start paying attention to questions when hearing and reading French, these patterns will become familiar and you'll learn when to use which.

In Italian you can make a statement into a question by letting your voice go up at the end, and/or adding a tag: "È americano?" "É americano, vero?" "É americano, no?" It's as simple as that.

Similarly, in Spanish, you can change a statement to a yes-no question by using question intonation and sometimes adding a tag: "¿Hablas inglés?, ¿Hablas inglés, no? ¿Hablas inglés, verdad?" Or, in some cases, you can invert verb and pronoun: "¿Tiene Ud. sed?"

For yes-no questions in German, you normally invert subject and the personal verb: "Sind Sie Amerikaner?" Or, "Wollen Sie jetzt essen?"

Make Grammar a Treat not a Chore!

There are exceptions, but most language learners don't learn grammar to become fluent in grammar. They learn a language because they want to be able to speak with others. 

It's more fun to figure things out than to memorize rules. So, try to figure out little by little how your new language works. Don't focus too much on the rules.

Becoming fluent in another language is a hugely satisfying achievement. It's great fun to step out of your native language and step into another way of communicating. It can be a wonderful life-long adventure!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Time to Recalibrate Your Language Learning?

Calipers and Measuring tools With summer just underway and your New Year's resolutions half a year behind you, it's time to recalibrate your language learning routine and give it a quick boost. 

Routines are good because they automatically shortcut any procrastination. But, switching some of your routine around can do wonders for your motivation.m

Ever heard of "interleaving"? This technique is used in various disciplines, such as sports, technology, music, medicine, maths, etc. See, The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning (Scientific American)

Applied to learning a foreign language, interleaving means alternating between related skills, topics, methods, materials, etc. Though, the materials should always be on your level of understanding. Summer, with the warmer weather, longer days, stronger sunlight and its "school's over" feel is a perfect time for mixing things up a little.

EXERCISE MIXES WELL WITH LANGUAGE LEARNING

Woman jogging while listening to language podcastIt's no secret, exercise is good for the brain, especially aerobic exercise. Simply stated in a Harvard Health Blog post: "Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don't."

Even more interesting are these findings: "A new study reports that working out during language class amplifies people's ability to memorize, retain, and understand new vocabulary."

In the summer, it's wonderful to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Great favorites are walking, hiking and jogging, and these activities are perfect for listening to podcasts, audio books and audio courses.

Do you have a friend who's fluent in the language you're learning? Walking and chatting is great way to build your friendship while brushing up your language skills.

On rainy days, you can use the exercise bike, elliptical machine, or treadmill, etc. at your gym, or maybe you even have one at home. Yes, they can be boring. But your thirty minutes go by much faster if you're listening to a interesting podcast or audio book. Make it one in your target language.

MIX SOMETHING NEW INTO YOUR ROUTINE

Have You Tried Shadowing?

shadow of tennis player Done according to Alexander Arguelles' method, language "Shadowing" is a daunting discipline.

However spelled with a small "s", language "shadowing" works on many levels and in various situations. See our recent Blog post. The key is speaking a split-second behind the native speaker on the audio. It's not hard to do and can easily boost your pronunciation and intonation of a language.

Do you like music?

Find a song you like on YouTube and google the lyrics. Play the song until the tune and the words become automatic. Songs are an effective way to improve your pronunciation and intonation of another language.

Not only that, songs are a fun way to learn idiomatic phrases and grammatical patterns that are typical for the language. And, if you sing along (even silently), all the more power to you.

A sample of popular songs:
• German: Revolverheld - Immer noch fühlen 
• French: Amir - On dirait 
• Spanish: Nicky Jam & Enrique Iglesias: El perdon 
• Italian: Laura Pausini - Non è detto 

Do A Little Binge Watching

Couple watching TV in Living RoomTake a break from memorizing vocabulary (if that's what you do). Find films, or even better, a series in your target language and get into the stories. 

Watch without subtitles, if you can. If subtitles are an option, set them to your target language, or to English. In any case, the context of the story, the background music and the visual clues will all help you to get what's going on.

A sample of series or films that I enjoyed:
• German: Babylon Berlin (Netflix; a period drama based on the novels of Volker Kutscher)
• French: Les Aventures de Tintin (YouTube; beginners); Un gars une fille (YouTube; advanced)
• Spanish: Destinos (Annenberg Learner; series created for Spanish learners)
• Italian: Un posto al sole (Raiplay; soap set in Naples)

(What's offered may change, of course. You can also watch many foreign TV programs on the internet for free, especially if you use a VPN.)

SUMMER IS GREAT FOR SLOW TRAVEL

If you're heading out to discover new places abroad, try it the "slow way" - stay a few days, a week, or even longer.

Over the years we've done that in close to a dozen cities all over Europe: Amsterdam, Oslo (a few days); Stockholm, Copenhagen, London (a week); Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Seville (a month); Rome (5 months). 

Staying for a time in one place takes some of the stress out of travel. Nowadays, it's easy to rent an apartment even for just a few days. (See our blog post: about short term stays). Also, it's a relief to not pack in five or more top sights per day.

Trastevere BakeryOne of the true pleasures of lingering in one place is that you can explore the city or neighborhood at your leisure. You also have a much better chance to meet some of the locals in your neighborhood shops, cafés, restaurants, at the open market, etc.

In each of the places we stayed, we immediately found a nearby bakery (to get fresh bread for breakfast), a kiosk (for the local newspaper), a couple of favorite bistros (for lunch or dinner), the local open market and shops (for fruit, cheese, olives, supplies, etc.)

Every occasion gave us the chance to use the local language, which we either spoke or had especially learned for the trip. The effort to use the local language whenever we could clearly made a difference, even though some of my Danish, for example, was a little shaky. In many cases, it broke the ice and people were doubly helpful.

Exploring a city or neighborhood by walking has its own charm. For many cities there are apps for self-guided tours (in English, or in your target language). But just walking the city with a couple of destinations a day is wonderful too.

Some cities offer walking tours organized by local guides. (In London, we took a Shakepeare tour; in Paris we enjoyed a walking tour through the Père Lachaise cemetery, it was called “Assassins et Assassinés”.) These tours are often quite entertaining and you learn some amazing things.

Penichette in the NetherlandsThere are also easy bike rentals for those who want a change of pace from walking. And of course, short train and bus trips to nearby towns are always a fun adventure.

One last slow travel summer idea: canal boating. We did this several times in France and in the Netherlands.

Although you don't stay in one place, it's a delightful way to get to know a small part of the country. The good thing is that you take your accommodations with you as you move on. Usually bikes are on the boat so you can go off and explore as you like.

The summer is a perfect time to relax, to change gears and try out a few new things. Think outdoor cafés and long walks, bike rides, interesting audio books and films, listening to music. Sneak your language learning into things that you love to do, and have a great summer!

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

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