Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Time to Recalibrate Your Language Learning?

Calipers and Measuring toolsWith 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.

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

It's no secret, exercise is good for the brain, especially aerobic exercise. Woman jogging while listening to language podcast

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 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 playerDone according to Alexander Arguelles' method, 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:

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. Or if it's an option, set the subtitles to the 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:

  • 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)

(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 walkers who want a change of pace. 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.

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Will “Language Shadowing” Work for You?

Businessmen pushing Shadow lettersWhen I first came across the language learning technique called “Shadowing”, I was intrigued.

In crime novels "to shadow" someone means to follow closely behind the person, watch what they do, where they go. Generally speaking, the idea is to gather some kind of information about the person or activity.

I had previously described 6 Listening Practice Tips for my Seventh Language.  In "Language Shadowing", however, gathering information to better imitate what you hear is taken to the next level.

Language Shadowing Explained

It was the linguist Alexander Argüelles who in the 1990s developed Shadowing as a systematic technique for learning and practicing a language. He first used it for German and Korean and then for a number of other languages.

Argüelles has made three videos demonstrating and explaining Shadowing. They can be viewed directly on YouTube, or via his LinkedIn profile.

Video Number 1 (2008)

This short video is just a minute long and shows Argüelles Argüelles walking on bridge Language Shadowing Shadowing Chinese while walking back and forth on a bridge. Here the three obvious features of his technique are:

1) listening and immediately repeating aloud

2) walking briskly outside at the same time

3) looking at the text intermittently

Video Number 2 (2009)

In this 13-minute video, Argüelles answers some questions viewers have asked about his first Language Shadowing video. For example:

  • Does one need to walk back and forth and turn rapidly on a bridge? - His answer is "no". You can do it on a treadmill, but it's more pleasant to walk outside on a trail. The basic idea is to combine exercise with learning.
  • Are the speed and motion necessary? - His answer: It works best for him. Moving about swiftly encourages you to say focused and maintain good posture. It's no mystery that correct posture and articulation are important for speaking well.
  • Do you have to do Shadowing in public? - His answer: It's actually not ideal to practice it in public because one may feel self-conscious about walking around speaking aloud. And, people do come up to ask what you're doing. Still, he suggests it's not a bad way to deal with self-consciousness.
  • How is it possible to say the foreign language "at the same time" as the native speaker? - His answer: You need to practice doing this. Repetition helps a lot and with time you'll get better. The goal is to listen and repeat a split second later as best as you can. (In the next video, Argüelles also calls this technique "echoing".)

Video Number 3 (2009)

In the third video, which is just under an hour long, ArgüellesAlexander Argüelles in viedo #3 goes over his Shadowing technique step by step and in considerable detail.

As a number of language teachers and learners have pointed out, the technique of "listening and repeating" to learn a language is not an innovation made recently.

Children do it naturally when they learn their first language.

As a technique, listening and repeating (also called "parroting") became part of language teaching decades ago, before the internet popularized it with easily accessible audio.

However, Alexander Argüelles shaped the technique of Shadowing into a formal method with specific steps that he used to achieve his language learning goals. Early in the video he explains:

"Listen to [the audio] very closely through ear phones and make the sounds that you hear as soon as you hear them. ... You have to talk on top of the voice as you hear it coming. ... This will give you feedback. ...

[Shadowing] proved for me to be the best ... means of starting to learn a language, of taking a language that you don't know and planting it, literally planting it inside your brain so that it can grow there."

Below is a brief outline of the steps or stages he describes. However, to really understand his method, you should look at the video Argüelles made.

To learn by using Shadowing, you need a set of recordings with no pauses and a book that is bilingual with the text on opposite pages. The lessons should be short.

To prepare for any Shadowing exercise, think in the language as best as you can.

As I understand them, there are eight (8) Stages to learning a language with Shadowing:

Stage 1: Blind Shadowing (15-20 min) of a lesson or lessons. This means repeating almost simultaneously even if you don't understand what's being said.
Stage 2: Do Shadowing while looking at the text of the teaching language.
Stage 3: Do Shadowing of the same text while looking back and forth between the teaching language and the target language to check the meaning.
Stage 4: Do Shadowing of the text while looking at the target language only.
Stage 5: Do Shadowing with brisk walking.
Stage 6: Sit down, look at the lesson(s) without audio and compare the texts in the two languages. Read the text aloud. Write the text of the lesson(s) out by hand.
Stage 7: Once you've finished the whole book, type out the entire text double-spaced. Read the text and fill in the meaning of words you don't know. You can do that several times. Add some grammar exercises.
Stage 8: Take the audio for a walk and Shadow it from start to finish.

Argüelles is quick to say that Shadowing is not the only technique or method he uses for learning and practicing a language. He has used and uses other techniques: reading, regular listening, listening while running, grammar practice, translation.

I should add that Argüelles is not your "regular" language learner. Often, he'll study many hours a day. He says he knows around 50 languages, and is featured in Michael Erard's book: "Babel No More. The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners".

You can read about the extensive language learning experiences of Alexander Argüelles on his web page.

Experiences and Opinions

Looking for feed-back about Language Shadowing on the internet from other learners, I found a few voices and opinions (Several of them are in the answers to the question on Quora: "How effective is the shadowing technique to learn languages".)

Voices "For" Shadowing

  • Richard deLong (on Quora) states that it helps intonation, pronunciation, and is good for "getting your mouth and brain back into the language."
  • Phil Crimmins (on Quora) claims that you learn to mimic the emotional content of what is being said. It's like going to the gym for training your mouth muscles.
  • Ivan Ottinger (on Quora) says it improves reaction speed for speaking.
  • Alexandra Edlinger (on Quora) suggests that you can use it effectively for preparing specific situations, such as job interviews.
  • A person with the name "clever clogs" (on LingQ Forum) finds that it helps to develop more natural rhythm and pace.

Voices "Against" Shadowing

  • Steve Kaufmann (on LingQ Forum and YouTube video) clearly does not like the method. He says that it detracts from his enjoyment, that he doesn't like walking around briskly outside reciting what he's listening to, etc.
  • Judith Meyer (on Quora) doesn't use Shadowing. The technique may "burn certain words or sentence structures into your mind" but she finds it less effecient than Spaced Repetition. She even doubts that Shadowing helps at all with fluency.

My Opinion

To follow Argüelles' method exactly seems like lot of hard work and not everybody has the commitment and discipline that he has. He says himself that it takes weeks to get the method down correctly.

I have not used Language Shadowing as a daily formal technique, though I have been doing "shadowing" (lower case) to improve my fluency in French, Spanish, and Italian.

Repeating what I hear almost simultaneously and at conversational speech helps me to speak more naturally.

Argüelles uses the analogy that Shadowing is similar to a "video game", where you repeat many steps many times before you get to the next level. In his words: "You listen and speak many times, and do this again and again".

He also suggests that once you've got the method down, you can experiment with it, and use it in a way that it works for you.

For me, using bits and pieces of the technique is a productive way of adding variety to my language practice. It's also a way I can really push myself to speak fast and at length.

I'd love to hear about your take on Language Shadowing!

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.

Posted on by Tarun Reddy

E-Learning Improves Living

e-learning 2018 infographicThe internet has made so many great things possible in our lives. One of them is the ease it has brought to the dissemination of useful information.

Gone are those days when you had to travel to other parts of the world to discover things.

Yes, you can still use your local library to learn things.

But even there, almost any form of knowledge will be at your fingertips as long as you can get access to the internet.

And the internet also brought us electronic learning (or e-learning).

With it, you don’t need to move to San Francisco to get a degree at Stanford University. You can apply for courses online!

e-Learning is applicable to just about anything you need to learn. As long as there is a teacher and a learner, the internet is an able medium of communication.

E-Learning Saves Money and Time

e-Learning has many advantages over conventional methods piggy bank with money and alarm clockof learning. To start with, it saves cost.

You can take courses that are being taught anywhere in the world without leaving your home. This saves you a lot of money on transportation and hotel/hostel bills.

In addition, you’re also not constrained by time as most online courses are asynchronous, which means that they are not ongoing in real time. You can access them whenever you want.

But do note that there are also synchronous courses where the teacher and the student are at different devices at the same time.

As the world is fast becoming a global village, traditions are getting interwoven. More people are learning to speak more than one language.

E-Language Learning

And with e-Learning, you can learn a foreign language without even visiting the country. There are many online platforms that offer training on different languages and in a wide variety of formats.

It doesn’t matter if you prefer learning by talking with a native speaker or you would like to start with learning the alphabets and then sentence structure. Whichever your preference, you’ll find an e-Learning platform that caters to it.

Learn a new language with e-learningSome language learning platforms take even more interesting approaches like building in interactive games and simulations in their training process. This method is referred to as gamification.

It is fast gaining in popularity because research shows that interactive games help learners retain information up to 10 times better.

Udemy alone has well over 700 languages courses focused on different aspects of linguistics and using different models of learning.

E-Language Fluency

Another approach is using social media. In this case, a platform is created where people who speak languages fluently come together.

Take for instance, a Japanese CEO who is trying to polish his spoken English. He registers on this platform as does a native US English speaker. The platform links them so they can make video calls at their convenience and interact in English.

This helps people communicate with native speakers in the language they are interested in learning, thereby helping them speed up their proficiency.

e-Learning has made the acquisition of skill more affordable and accessible. It’s another feather in the cap for human ingenuity and has come to stay.

It will only grow bigger, better and more useful as you will see from the infographics below.

Bio: Tarun Reddy is Digital Marketing Manager at 16best.net, expert in Market Research, SEO, Inbound marketing, content marketing, and lead generation.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with 16best.net or Tarun Reddy other than publishing Tarun's article and infographics.

e-learning 2018 infographic 

URL:  https://www.16best.net/blog/e-learning-in-2018-infographic/

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

20 Ideas to Overcome a Language Learning Block

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

You're learning a new language.

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

The learning is just not going smoothly.

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

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

Language Learner’s Block

Perhaps what you have is Language Learner’s Block.

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

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

There are all kinds of reasons for feeling blocked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Top Reasons for Learning a Language with Stories

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

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

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

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

1. Stories Boost Your Vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll never use this sentence in real life.

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

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

2. Stories Make Grammar Intuitive

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

I'm not at all opposed to learning grammar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Stories Teach You About Present, Past and Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Stories Help You to Stop Translating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Stories are a Creative Tool You Can Individualize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It works in every language that we know.

What is your story?

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

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Lea Knows" - Easy Flashcards - A Review

Lea-knows - flashcard icon of app(Updated 4/15/2018)

Do you sometimes wish that Google would automatically create easy Flashcards for foreign words you look up on the internet?

Well, here's an app that does exactly that. It's called Léa-Knows and is now available in the iOS and Android app stores.

I was happy to hear that the Léa Knows app was upgraded in February 2018 to include support for translations by Linguee - an online editorial dictionary, and search engine that indexes international websites. 

I've been using the app for several months now, at home when reading (in one of my 6 European languages) and when traveling abroad (lately to French Switzerland). When I write in a new word, the app automatically creates a Flashcard. I can then review words and phrases whenever I want to.

First, a quick look at the story behind the application in the words of its creator, Sébastien Marion, a French tech entrepreneur:

"This app was really created as a result of frustration. When I arrived in Spain, I would constantly type things into Google Translate and then forget them a minute later. In this way, it becomes hard to improve. The alternative of copying words inside a flashcard is too impractical and time-consuming when in the middle of a real conversation.

So, Léa Knows is really ideal for these situations: it works just like Google Translate (even uses the GT API), but the kicker is that it creates flashcards out of every search and you can practice these flashcards with ease when you have some free time.

The app is named after my daughter Léa, now 20 months old who is growing up with a French father, a Taiwanese mum (speaks Chinese), parents that communicate between them in English, living in Barcelona where the official languages are Catalan and Spanish. I thought that it would be fitting to name it after her."

TRANSLATIONS

Léa Knows uses GoogleTranslate for numerous languages. Linguee seems to be more limited. But for the translations it has, Linguee gives you more information. 

For Google, I counted over a hundred languages and it looks like Google cross-translates between all of them.

And, the translation function seems to be improving. As the New York Times reported on December 14, 2016, GoogleTranslate's machine-translation service had "suddenly and immeasurably improved" with Google's introduction of Neural Machine Translation (NMT).   

Linguee supports translation between seven European languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Polish, and the list is growing.

The advantage of Linguee is that you'll get more than just one translation, plus grammatical information (noun gender, adjective forms, etc.). For example, the English word "street" will give you for French: rue (f), route (f), ruelle (f).

You can easily switch back between Google and Linguee. To reset for both options, tap the yellow Tab after you've cleared the "Enter text" space.  

For a translation on Léa Knows, you pull down one Tab for the language to translate from, and another Tab for the target language. 

On the Tabs, you'll find English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese on top.Lea-knows - translate screen The rest of the languages from Afrikaans to Zulu follow in alphabetic order.

To see what one can do with Léa Knows, I tried out some translations for languages I know well and also for languages that I don't know well yet.

Words, phrases, as well as shorter sentences seem to work well with Google.

Some examples:

  • Italian: pomeriggio - French: après-midi
  • German: nicken - English: nod
  • Dutch: levenslang - Spanish: durante todo la vida
  • French: trouver - Catalan: trobar
  • English: lunch - Danish: frokost
  • English: Hello, how are you? - French: Salut comment allez-vous?
  • Spanish: creo que no - French: je ne crois pas
  • French: le petit garçon - Italian: il ragazzino
  • Italian: la Pianura Padana - English: the Po Valley
  • German: ich möchte eine Tasse Tee - Swedish: Jag skulle vilja ha en kopp te

In some cases, you just have to say "Okay I get the meaning", even if the translation is a little off.

  • Italian: sfortunato - English: bad lucky
  • German: Nachbesserungsbedarf - English: imperfections (but literally: the need to improve)

Linguee can sometimes be a "hit-or-miss affair". Of the above Google translations, only the first German-English one produced a translation on Linguee. However, it may be just a matter of time until Linguee's webcrawler finds the appropriate bilingual texts to add all of those to its database, and many more.

EASY FLASHCARDS

Lea-knows Menu screenshotThe Flashcard function is cool!

At this time, you get just the translation, no audio yet. (We understand from Sébastien that audio should be added soon.)

So for now, you'll need to find other ways to hear how the languages sound.

Every word you look up automatically creates a Flashcard that is saved in the app.

A quick tap on a Flashcard shows the translation. Slide the Flashcards to go through them.

You can easily customize how you want to see these Flashcards again.

  •  Add a star to put the card into a group you can practice separately.
  •  Add a color (there are 6) to sort by language, or to create your own recall system.
  •  Archive the card to practice at a later date.
  •  Trash the card.

You can review, relearn, and test yourself whenever you have a few minutes.

USING THE APP

Google Translate has become an automatic habit for many polyglots. Lea-knows all flashcards Steve Kaufmann, who runs the LingQ language learning site and is learning his 17th language, agrees: "I think GoogleTranslate is a tremendous resource and not only for language learners."

With the added function of creating automatic Flashcards, the application Léa Knows makes GoogleTranslate and Linguee convenient language learning tools.

There are all kinds of ways to use the app so that you can learn words and phrases you encounter throughout the day.

  • While traveling, learn the meaning of new words you see or hear.
  • Check on the meaning of words in a foreign article or book.
  • Look up words as you're writing an email or text in a foreign language.
  • Create a list of words for items you want to learn.
  • As you're talking with someone, do a quick check for a word you forgot.
  • Type in unknown words you hear as you're watching a foreign film.

I bet you can think of more ways yourself.

And, you can always choose what to keep and review, and what to discard.

This app is definitely a step into the future. Have fun, and keep learning!

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

Student drawing - GamesforLanguage.com(updated 1-10-2018)

Learning a foreign language is for many a necessity - for others a way to expand their horizons, enhance their travel experiences and sharpen their communication skills.

But if you just WANT to learn a new language - even if you don't NEED to - here are six common-sense tips that will make you progress faster:

1. Find a fun entry into language learning 

Learning a new language should be a fun adventure, not a tedious chore.

It should also be affordable for you.

If you like games, we obviously recommend our games and courses as a fun (and completely free) way to get started - but there are lots of good materials on- and offline.

For many, Duolingo or Lingohut are easy - and also free - ways to start a learning habit.

2. Practice frequently

As with any new skill that you're trying to learn, your best progress comes with regular and focused practice. A good daily routine is 15-20 minutes a day.

If you can build a habit by doing your practice always with your morning coffee or on the way home from work, all the more power to you.

Your smart phone with earbuds is a great tool for listening to podcasts or even do a course lesson or two while waiting or commuting!

3. Repeat words and phrases often 

Focus as much as you can on “real” language. The phrases and sentences you learn and practice should be useful and become part of your foreign-language conversational toolbox.

"Listen and repeat" is a tried and true technique for practicing pronunciation and trying out speaking. To record and play back your own voice, use the recording program "audacity."

At first you may feel that you're way in over your head, but you'll be surprised how quickly you improve.

4. Listen to songs you like

As soon as you can, sing along. In her article "Language Learning Tip: Use Music to Learn a Foreign Language" Susanna Zaraysky explains:

“The neurological links between language and music are vast but the basic thing to remember is that music activates more parts of the brain than language does, on both the right and left sides of the brain. So if you remember something to a tune, you are more likely to recall the information than if you just read it or heard it spoken..”

With songs you not only learn and remember words and phrases, you also internalize intonation, language patterns, and specific grammar points (such as the right article, a specific case form, or a type of contraction). 

(Language Zen lets you learn Spanish with music.)

5. Start reading things that interest you

Follow Facebook or Twitter posts in the language you're learning. Find online news texts or get news alerts from a foreign newspaper. 

Reading is a powerful way to boost your language learning. Often you can guess the meaning of new words from the context of a story or report. Because many words get repeated again and again, they become lodged in your memory.

(Google now has an instant translation service for any text. The translation may not always be be perfect, but you'll certainly get the gist of the meaning.)

If you can also listen to the audio as you read the text, you'll get a double benefit. 

LingQ has tons of materials to hone your listening and reading skills, and build your vocabulary.

6. Boost your learning with things you enjoy

Watch a movie from time to time, with or without subtitles. Find YouTube videos or Ted Talks on interesting subjects. Follow the news or listen to audio books in your new language.

Try out one of the many social networking sites and find a language-exchange partner. Conversations via Chat or Skype are a great way to stay motivated. 

These tips are not just for beginners, but they work really well when you're a beginner with a realistic approach to learning a language.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Listening Practice Tips for my Seventh Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginner's Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

Active Listening Practice in Rome, Italy.

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

In the evening we often watched TV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes it helps to understand how the sound is produced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Listen to topics that interest you.

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

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

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

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

5. Listen to audios more than once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding without Translating?

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Update: How to Individualize Your Language Learning?

Clock with sticky note: "time for an update"There are many ways to individualize your language learning once you start thinking about it.

A few years ago, we wrote a post on that topic and it's time to update it: The opportunities and ways you can learn a new language have mushroomed.

The questions we asked then:

  • How do you learn best? Do you like grammar, or not?
  • Are you a risk taker when you learn? Do you mind making mistakes?
  • Do you read voraciously? Do you love listening to stories?

Today you should also ask yourself:

  • Are there ways I can learn with songs and music?
  • What are the best times I can learn? While commuting to work? In the car, train, subway, bus? While exercising?
  • How much time can I commit regularly to learning?
  • How can I work on my fluency?
  • Which of my portable devices (laptop, tablet, ipod, smartphone, etc.) can and should I use?
  • Which other skills do I have that I could apply to language learning?

(Some of these questions are answered in our Tips from Langfest 2017.)

It's certainly worth paying attention to your likes and dislikes.

Being aware of HOW we learn makes learning so much more interesting and effective.

Language Learning: Left and Right Brain

Research on left brain (logical, verbal, auditory, sequential) and right brainman holding pillow to make right brain work functions (creative, visual, spatial, emotional) has been ongoing for decades, and new imaging techniques have greatly enhanced our knowledge of how the brain works.

It's no mystery that learning a language involves many parts of the brain for everyone.

We don't learn a language just by listening (a left brain activity) and speaking, and kids don't do that either.

Small children don't yet know how to read and write. Still, they pick up a lot of visual and other clues from people (facial expressions, gestures), their surroundings (objects, movement), the context of a conversation (asking for something, looking for a toy), etc.

Once kids have learned to read and write, a mental “text image” may start to play along. Because we live in a text-based world, wanting to know how a word “looks” (is spelled) is part of language learning.

Since we wrote the section above, many more insights in our brain functions have been gained.

For example we now know that practicing a language BEFORE you fall asleep will improve the memory of the words and phrases you studied. (See our post: Foreign Language Learning while you sleep?)

Steve Kaufmann, a well-known polyglot and co-founder of LingQ.com, is working on his 17th language. In his talks and YouTube videos, he keeps reminding us that learning a language is gradual and involves constant forgetting and relearning.

Also, since memory is highly cue dependent, learning words and phrases in context (though listening and reading) is important for gaining fluency.

Pronunciation and Spelling

reading - listening - speaking sequenceFor adults in our society, the sounds of language are inevitably tied to how they are written. By the time we've finished school the sound-text correlation of our native language (or other languages we're fluent in) has become automatic.

For example, when I was learning Chinese strictly through listening, I found myself imagining how the word would be spelled with western letters.

Without thinking about it, I used the “regular” German sound-letter system for this. The pronunciation of almost every [German] word can be derived from its spelling. 

When not too long ago, I was learning Italian by just listening, I spontaneously (and erroneously) used French spelling to imagine how the Italian words are written.

I've come to realize that I usually learn best when I both hear and see a word or phrase.

I say usually, because recently we had a different experience with Danish.

We started learning Danish (to prepare for a trip to Denmark) with Duolingo, Memrise, and a Pimsleur audio course.

We discovered that although Danish is a Germanic/Nordic language, its spelling is not phonetic, even for German speakers like us. (My fluency in Dutch helps me somewhat because Dutch has many similarities with Danish.)

We also realized quickly that as we started out, spelling the Memrise phrases we heard became an exercise in frustration, and we gave it up.

The Pimsleur audio lessons, however, which didn't require us to consider the spelling, let us focus fully on the listening and pronunciation.

Later on, after we had learned some of the Danish spelling rules, etc. Memrise became a valuable option again.

Language Learning: Pacing Yourself

There's a lot of talk these days about how you can accelerate your language learning, e-learning cartoon: feet on the tableand lots of sites offer excellent language-learning hacks and tips.

Still, it's good to remember that no one can learn a language for you, that you yourself have to do every bit of it. That means not getting your expectations too high. 

It also means finding a way that you can stick with your language-learning plan for the long term.

Starting out, you'll want to focus on pronunciation and on learning some basic vocabulary in context. The next step will be creating simple sentences. (Those are the steps I worked on for Danish.)

Focusing on pronunciation and basic vocabulary is why we got into digital games. We have found that they are a fun way to help in the early stages of learning. 

Digital games have auditory (spoken language, sounds) and visual features (text, colors, images, design), as well as kinesthetic elements (typing against the clock, clicking on moving images, etc). They involve lots of repetition, which beginners desperately need.

But as you're learning a language, what works will change over time. As you get more fluent, you'll be looking for new and different challenges: more and interesting listening material, books to read, podcasts, YouTube videos, films to watch, conversation partners, etc. 

From Basics to Fluency

It's no secret that achieving fluency requires a lot of listening and speaking.

Yes, you have to learn vocabulary, gather as much “comprehensible input” as possible and there are many programs and apps on the market today to help you with that.

In the past, conversation partners were not always easy to find.

Today, the internet and new companies, which connect learners and tutors online, have also solved that problem. We've been using our partner site, iTalki, ourselves for several languages.

(Recently we became aware of a new site, Speakmates.com that works towards  Socializing Language Practice”.)

Online tutors and language exchange sites let you individualize your language practice, rather than follow a fixed class schedule.

Fluent Forever?

Fluent Forever Book coverIt's also reassuring to know that a Kickstarter by Gabriel Wyner, who published “Fluent Forever” in 2014, made Kickstarter history as its most funded app.

Even with Google Translate, the Google Pixel Buds for real time translation and continued progress in this area – there are still many who want to become fluent in another language.

While “spaced repetition” and “memorizing through associations” are not new techniques, they are hot topics.

It will be interesting to see how Wyner can incorporate these and other techniques into his app so learners can achieve real fluency.

With fluency being the goal of most language learners, you have so many more options today.

Yes, it will take a little research and some trial-and-error on your part until you find the best language learning book, program, website or app that works best for you.

Stay with those that allow you to learn at your own pace and keep you motivated.

Language learning will be more fun that way!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada and speaks German, English, Dutch, and French fluently. She intends to become as fluent in Italian, Spanish and Swedish. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Certain links above are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

7 Language Learning Tips from Langfest 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joey Perugino - Language Learning with Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Krashen: Comprehensible Input

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Pentleton: Start with Short Spurts

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

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

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

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

Steven Kaufmann: Forget and Relearn

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon Kennedy: Use Outside Skills for Language Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grégoire Lahaie: Learn Some of the Local Language

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

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

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

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

Richard Simcott: Talk to People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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