Posted on by Ulrike S.Rettig

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 9, 2011:

Installed the program and proceeded with: Level 1 - Unit 1 - Core Lesson 1  
It took me 29 minutes.
I learned and practiced 15 content words and in most cases the basic forms of each content word.

Here's a list: 

hello, good-bye;  a (masculine/feminine);  the (m/f singular, m/f plural);  child (m/f);  children (m/f); woman/women;  man/menhe/she, they (m/f);  he/she eats, they eat (m/f);  he/she drinks, they drink (m/f);  he/she runs, they run (m/f);  he/she reads, they read (m/f);  he/she cooks, they cook (m/f);  he/she swims, they swim (m/f);  he/she writes, they write (m/f)  

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

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

No doubt, I learned all of these words well. But about 10 minutes into the lesson, I started making some foolish mistakes. There was something mind-numbing in the perfect symmetry of the material I was learning. I also found I was mesmerized by the many, many different beautiful pictures that kept flashing on. Yes, it was an exercise for the mind. But like doing 34 sit-ups, I didn't find the exercise very engaging.

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

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

Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

Are Games Effective For Learning a Language?

Games - Gamseforlanguage.comGames have a long tradition of being both a fun way to spend time and to challenge the mind.

Games can be playful and they can be serious, but always they engage us as we enjoy puzzling things out.

One case in point is the widely popular "Lumosity" site which offers a wide variety of games for brain training: Research and testimonials vouch for the effectiveness of training your brain with games.

More Language Games

The sheer number of games for learning has exploded in recent years, especially on the Internet.

More specifically, many language programs have added games to their site as a way to enhance foreign language learning.

For example, Transparent Language has added games such as "word seek" "hangman" "fill in the blanks" or "unscramble." Or, check out rong-chang.com, which lists dozens and dozens of ESL learning games.

Games are Tools

Gamesforlanguage.com is offering something still different:

Games are not individual learning clips and they are not an "addition" or an "enhancement" of a language program.

With gamesforlanguage.com the games ARE the language program.

The game-based beginner courses provide fun tools for learning French, Spanish, Italian, or German:

  • A controlled vocabulary acquisition program of 650+ frequently-used content words
  • Extensive audio practice
  • Listening comprehension practice
  • Gradual reading practice that enables you to read a 1800+ word text at the end of a beginner course (36 scenes/lessons)
  • Beginning writing practice
  • Essential grammar tips
  • Speaking practice, with an ability to record your own voice and compare each of your recordings immediately to that of the native speaker.

    All of this is wrapped up in a fun story-sequel of a young man traveling to the country of his family's origin and is presented in the form of fun and easy games.

    Here are some comments we have received to date:

    "the variety of activities is good";

    "what's nice is that it doesn't teach too much at once";

    "it flows easily, doesn't feel like I'm memorizing";

    "I like the easy set-up";

    "I like the pronunciation training";

    "I like the way of teaching";

    "the interaction is great";

    "it's helping me to learn and memorize español words in correlation to English! Thank you!" ...

    Posted on by Peter Rettig

    HTML5, Webiva and GamesForLanguage

    dialog - Gamesforlanguage.comAs we are moving from the demo phase into the full production phase for our four initial languages German, Italian, French and Spanish, we continue to be amazed and impressed by the software platform Webiva, which is the "engine" that powers our web-based self-teaching language program.

    When we started out with our idea of creating a self-teaching language program that uses games as a principal teaching tool, we really had no concept yet how we could implement it. We certainly knew that Cykod had developed a "Rails based" content management system, Webiva, but really had no idea what the Inbound Marketing Platform of the Webiva Performance Inbound Marketing Platform really meant.

    Over the last few months, as we developed our language scripts, the Cykod team added various games to Webiva's "backend", as they call it. Without consulting any manual or much instructions, both my wife and I figured out how to add our language components to the games, and as importantly, how we could edit and modify them. We could easily add game screens, re-arrange the sequence of the games, and make other changes on our own.

    We especially found the audio recording set-up with Flash Player ingenious, as we could do the demo recordings from our Spanish - Gamesforlanguage.comhome, or even from the road, using our laptops.

    As we went "live", initially with German and then with French games, Webiva let us see the number of hits, the number of users who tried our demos, how long a player stayed on each game, etc. We are also very grateful to all the players who filled out the surveys. Their feedback caused us to make changes, re-arrange, shorten some and modify other games.

    We are also learning about Google adwords, Facebook links, twitter, how to blog on the GamesForLanguage.com site and all the other "whistles and bells" of Webiva.

    The ease with which we were able to get familiar with Webiva, input our foreign language scripts and demo recordings, made us think about whether "Webiva gamesforlanguage" should not be marketed as a wonderful teaching tool to educational institutions. But this idea may be for another blog...

    In the name of full disclosure we should note that Cykod, LLC was started by our son and his wife and that Webiva.com is their brainchild!

    Postscript: Our son's experience with HTML5 and our site development also motivated him to write a book: Professional HTML5 Mobile Game Development and to start another  web site as well:  HTML 5 Game Development.

    Posted on by Peter Rettig

    Games for Language Learning – Observations of a Non-Player

    video players - gamesforlanguage.comMaybe mankind is divided into people who like to play games and those who don't. Well, I'm sure there are some who argue that we all like to play – certainly as children. I'll even agree and concede that I "played "(European) football as a child and young adult. I now "play" with my grandchildren, and play tennis quite regularly. However, card games, board games, and certainly computer games keep me entertained and focused only for a short time. Maybe it is somewhat ironic that I am now engaged in a new venture, which has at its main purpose to help people learn a foreign language playfully.

    SKILL LEVEL AND FLOW

    I began to think about why certain games are enjoyable to me and why I quickly lose interest in others. I recently read a book, "The Art of Game Design" by Jesse Schell, in which the author described the tension between flow and skill. He explains that a well-designed game requires the player to increase his/her skill level in just the right amount. Keeping the skill level constant, makes the game boring. On the other hand, demanding too much from the player, interrupts the play and may make him give up, i.e. interrupt the "flow" of the game. I realized that many board games become boring to me because they don't require much skill, just luck. For others, such as Bridge, Black Jack, Poker, etc. I never progressed to a skill level which made it enjoyable for me, and thereby never getting into the "flow" of the game.

    SKILL AND FLOW IN LANGUAGE LEARNING

    As we are designing our games around the language to be taught, we are first faced with finding the right balance between gradually augmenting the required skill level while maintaining the flow of the games. "Skill" in a language program is acquired by listening, reading, and understanding new foreign words and phrases, then pronouncing and speaking them, and finally translating one's native vocabulary and sentences into the foreign language in spoken and written form. Creating games that do all of that, without losing the player's attention, remains our major challenge for now. We've started to include game points and will certainly experiment "with a reward structure that includes a steady stream of rewards, points, etc." 

    We would not mind making GamesForLanguage "addictive." Certainly, getting people to speak several foreign languages would seem a positive accomplishment. But for now, we are more focused on making our language games challenging enough not to lose players like me.

    Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

    How to Learn Grammar : Simply Go With the Flow!

    grammarGrammar explanations in language games? Maybe not. Game playing thrives on the experience of “flow,” a term that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores in his book “Finding Flow.” Flow is a state of mind in which things come easily and are done without overthinking. Grammar explanations definitely take your mind away from experiencing flow.

    Most people will agree that we don't learn a language from a grammar book. Grammar rules themselves are not set in stone. Many of them are controversial and people argue about them. If you google “controversial grammar rules” plenty of hits will come up

    We learn a language and its grammar – the rules by which a language works – mostly just by listening to and imitating other speakers. Plenty of research suggests that our brains are wired to do this.

    How to Learn "Grammar"?

    Knowing certain grammar rules obviously is an essential part of mastering a language. But consciously learning grammar rules is a different type of activity from engaging in a language: reading, speaking or actively listening to it. As you are learning a new language, there is a wonderful sense of “being in the flow,” when you are reading a story and getting it; when you are listening and understanding the gist of what is being said; when you are talking, and saying what you intend to express. This feeling of flow often makes the process of language learning an enjoyable experience.

    As we are developing GamesforLanguage.com, the question of combining meaning with flow comes up consistently. We agree with Ron Davidson, Making a Game of Education (who argues that “games and education are a natural fit.”) The question is how we can best make that natural fit work for us. For now, we go as far as adding brief grammar “tips” in a translation game. But mostly we set up the language games in such a way that the player makes grammar connections intuitively.  

    When you get curious enough about a grammar point, it is interesting to check up on it. Sometimes that's the only way that you can figure out the meaning of something. But while you're talking or listening to someone talking to you, it's not usually possible to say “Hey, let me look that up.” Language games intend to put you right into the flow of understanding and using a language. That's not a bad skill to practice.

    Posted on by Peter F. Rettig

    The K.I.S.S. Principle and Game Playing

    KISS AcronymAs we started out to develop our foreign language games and the related website, we knew we wanted to attract a wide range of learners: those for whom traditional language instructions did not work; those who were currently using other self-teaching foreign language programs; those for whom such courses were either too expensive or time consuming or boring; those who were attracted by the “game playing” proposition - to just name a few.

    We were further guided by the Eisenberg's/Quato-vonTivadar's book  "Always Be Testing," which identifies four personality types of web users that can serve as archetypes:

    Competitive/Assertive
    Spontaneous/Amiable
    Humanistic/Expressive
    Methodical/Analytical

    Without going into the authors' description of these types, we designed our site with these four types in mind. We also felt that our gamesforlanguage.com proposition has the potential to appeal to all four: the competitive/assertive user will welcome the points and the scoring with the increasing difficulty inherent in any language course; the spontaneous/amiable player will be looking for the “play” button and skip much else; the humanistic/expressive learner may be interested in linking the foreign language learning to a story; and the methodical/analytical user will want to understand the logic of the approach, and get grammar and pronunciation explanations.

    The K.I.S.S Principle

    In the spirit of K.I.S.S., we decided to keep the playing screen as simple and uncluttered as possible. However, surveys on the site and feedback from friends made it clear that there is a difference between younger and older players. While the young players would start playing by clicking on the first playing screen, the older players were a little confused about how to start. Arrows and a “Continue” label had to be added. Clearly, the K.I.S.S. admonishment to ourselves needs to take older players into account too. These players may indeed fall into the four user types quoted above. But, they also may need more instructions “how to play” than generations X Y Z, et al.

    We are still evaluating what instructions are really needed. And, we are deliberating on how we should best communicate them. Via buttons on the start up screens? On the game screens? On the home or menu icons?

    No Voice Recognition (yet)...

    Listening to native speakers and then emulating their pronunciation is one of the key challenges for any student of a foreign language. While some self-teaching language programs are experimenting with voice recognition programs, we decided that the technology is still too young. Rather than being helpful, it can cause the learner to become frustrated with the program. Instead, players at gamesforlanguage.com can record their own voice and then immediately compare their recording to that of the native speaker. They can do this as many times as they want. With time, their pronunciation is bound to improve dramatically.

    We started out with a few basic ideas: Rather than overwhelm the “learner” with explanations and instructions, we let the “player” immediately play through the various screens and games. Keeping the playing and learning intuitive with games for listening, word identification, translation, and writing, the player will begin to memorize words and sentences and recognize grammatical structures.
    Indeed, we are very conscious of applying the K.I.S.S. principle to any grammar explanations as well. But that's for another blog.

    Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

    Gibberish or Language Learning?

    Children playingWe are speaking German with Calvin, our three-year-old grandson. We don't need a "method." His brain is a sponge that soaks up whatever strikes him as fun. Telling him that "apple juice" is "AHP-fell-sahft" has him laughing out loud. He repeats the word a couple of times and looks at me to see if I'm laughing. I'm thrilled. I'm amazed how good his pronunciation is.

    PERFECT PRETEND GERMAN

    Then we're playing trains. Calvin likes the word "Lo-ko-mo-TIH-veh," which I sneak in, as we make the train chug along. Suddenly he laughs again. Then he lets loose a stream of "pretend German." It sounds like German, with its characteristic consonants and intonation, but what he's spouting is total nonsense. I sure can't understand what he's saying. Later, when I think about this, it occurs to me that Calvin is recreating the sounds he hears when my husband and I are having a conversation in German. He doesn't understand many of the words. But he has definitely picked up the melody and the rhythm, in short, the sounds of the German language and is mimicking them well.

    FROM GIBBERISH TO VERB-NOUN SENTENCES

    In my mind, this clicks with something I noticed when Calvin was an eighteen-month-old toddler. At that age, he was already able to say a few words. These he used insistently when he wanted something. But other times he just talked away - in pure gibberish. But this gibberish had the melody and the rhythm of American English. No question about that. He was talking in nonsense sentences. Some of his sentences were clearly questions, others were statements, some where emphatic, others more tentative. He was reproducing conversational talk that he heard all the time at home. In what he was saying, occasionally a word would pop up that I could identify as English. Within weeks, the number of individual words increased, which I could understand. A few months later, the gibberish stopped and Calvin started talking in short noun-verb sentences. As a toddler, he had picked up the melody and rhythm of English and was mimicking those perfectly.

    FOREIGN LANGUAGE STREAM OF SOUNDS 

    And with that, I remember an experience of my own. Five years ago, when my husband and I had just arrived in Rome, we started watching a half-hour of TV every evening. We were going to spend several months in Italy, and we were determined to learn Italian. During the morning, we worked with a tutor; in the afternoon, we walked the city; then, after a late dinner, we let an Italian soap opera or news program wash over us. That's what the daily television experience felt like: The language just washed over us. We heard a fast stream of sounds and rhythms. Beautiful sounds. But we barely caught a familiar word. The stream of Italian sounds was gibberish to us. However, over time, this stream of sounds seemed to slow down. Here and there, we started to identify familiar words, then phrases. By the end of our stay in Rome, we could pretty well follow a story, for example, the story of the Italian TV series “Orgoglio” (Pride), which was running at that time.

    I can well imagine the excitement Calvin feels as he gradually begins to master his languages. I've been there as a mature adult. My brain too went from hearing a stream of gibberish, to understanding words, and then to understanding their meaning.  I now watch an online soap opera in Italian called “Un posto al sole” (A place in the sun). And, I'm looking around for the next language to learn. I love these new beginnings.  

    Posted on by Peter Rettig

    Retirement and Foreign Language Learning

    Retirement Paradise - GamesforLanguage from Yay ImagesA few years ago, my wife and I decided to celebrate my retirement by living for several months in Rome, Italy – to both explore the historical treasures as well as to learn another foreign language. We both were fluent in several languages (German, French, English, and my wife also in Dutch).

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

    A few months before our travels, we began using Pimsleur's self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, totaling 90 lessons. This was an accomplishment. We felt quite smug about being able to understand basic Italian, but we also knew that the real test would come when we arrived in Rome.

    The drive from Fiumicino airport into Rome to our apartment did not prove conclusive, as our landlord's driver wanted to practice his English – which was clearly better than our Italian.

    Our apartment in Trastevere was located in a narrow street, above a bakery/grocery store. Directly opposite was a wonderful little restaurant called “Le mani in pasta.” Here we could try out our Italian. English was not spoken.

    Limited Vocabulary and Skills

    We discovered rapidly that our vocabulary was quite limited. What we remembered best were the set phrases we had learned in our language course: How to order a glass of wine or beer, how to buy 100 grams of prosciutto, etc.

    We also found that while our knowledge of French was quite helpful at times – both Italian and French are Romance languages and share many similar words - at other times our brain simply refused to memorize certain Italian words.

    We also realized that by having used mainly CDs and tapes, we had not learned how to read and write in Italian. Through a local bookshop, we found a wonderful young Italian tutor, whose initial writing test quickly ascertained this deficiency.

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

    Language Learning is Good for an Older Brain

    Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and some discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar rules. In fact, research has shown that such mental exercises can be especially beneficial to an older brain.

    Playing electronic/computer games does not have to be the purview of children and young adults. Seniors who play language games also exercise their gray cells and have fun doing so. They don't feel guilty. They are learning a new language at the same time!

    We now watch Italian movies on a cable channel at home, read Italian newspapers online, and continue to exercise our gray cells. We believe: “If you don't use it – you lose it!”

    Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

    Fluent in a Foreign Language in 10 Days?

    Conversation in outdoor café - Gamesforlanguage.com (Updated 8/4/2016, you can also listen to this YouTube clip)

    Fluent in a foreign language in 10 days?

    It's a catchy idea, but can it really happen? Can you become a good tennis player in ten days? Or a great cook?

    You can't.

    Skill mastery takes time. So, if you want to learn a language, you have to find a way to make it part of your day.

    GETTING STARTED

    First you need to get started.

    You can faithfully go to a language school. 

    Or, if you are into self-learning, you can work with a language learning course, let's say French from a book, from CDs and DVD's, or from a French online course.

    Once you have a good foundation in your new language, you need to maintain momentum and build on your skills.

    Certainly, you should READ books, newspaper articles, or online articles in the foreign language.

    And you should find ways to LISTEN your new language with audios, podcasts, videos and movies.

    For some, SPEAKING may come early, for others more slowly, but we all know: Nobody can learn a foreign language FOR YOU - in order to be able to listen, read, speak and write, you have to practice all those skills! 

    RESOURCES TO HELP YOU CONTINUE

    Fortunately, with the wealth of technology available, there are many resources.

    The Internet opens a new gateway to foreign language text, audio, and video content.

    French online newspaper articles are as easy to find as Italian news videos and Spanish online soap operas.

    You can join a foreign language learning website.

    You can sign up to exchange conversations with someone who is trying to learn English.

    There are television programs in Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese, etc., on the various international channels in the U.S. 

    PRACTICE OFTEN AND REGULARLY

    The bottom line is that if you want to become fluent, you have to engage with your new foreign language often and regularly.

    The key is “often and regularly.”

    You have to find ways to hear, read, write, and speak your new language.

    It's as simple or as complicated as that. But whatever you do to START your foreign language learning, you'll have to find ways to stay motivated and engaged with the language.

    Gamesforlanguage's snappy and easy language games are one way to make language learning fun. And at any stage, adding fun and challenging games can help you maintain your motivation and momentum. 

    Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

    Why Games for Language Learning?

    (last updated 7/29/2016)

    gamesWhy Games for Language? Well, why not? If you want to learn a foreign language, you have to play around with it, again and again, until the new language gets under your skin.

    Games are perfect for that. A “foreign language” isn’t something you cram for a week and then it’s yours. Learning a language is a journey of discovery. Putting the journey into a games format can definitely lighten the experience.

    Our Own Experience

    The challenge facing us at gamesforlanguage.com is to find ways to make languages learning into a fun game. 

    I remember how we enticed our American born sons to learn German. We didn’t just give them the German translation of our daily vocabulary. Stories were key. We read stories to them. We unabashedly made up tales as we talked.

    We built on the stories that they invented. All of this in German, with explanations when they were needed. Our sons ended up mastering the German language pretty well.

    As the boys were growing up, video and later computer games were becoming enticing activities. How often did I wish that some of these games had a fun and worthwhile component for learning German!

    Forward to 2011

    So here we are in an age when “Games are creeping into everything” (according to Jesse Schell, game designer, who led research projects at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center).

    Why not instill a playful dimension into learning a foreign language? Why not create an online German language course? And now, that’s what we’re doing.

    Our language learning games at gamesforlanguage.com are built on the travel adventures of a main character. Traveling certainly is a great incentive to learn a foreign language.

    The Benefit of Games

    Games can provide short intense challenges with quick closure. Done right, they can put you into a kind of quick “flow learning” that bypasses slugging things out mentally. An online language learning site is a great resource.

    You can go there to play games when you feel like it - maybe even on an iPhone while you are waiting or just sitting around. You want to get into the game setting easily and pick up the game where you left off earlier.

    In games that I play, I like the visual environment of the game, and I enjoy the sense of challenge. I like getting a score and the feeling that I accomplished something worthwhile. 

    All of this adds up. Working on gamesforlanguage.com brings to mind Jane McGonigal’s comment on her page "Gameful," a place where responsible game makers connect: “What all of these projects have in common: they’re dedicated to making some kind of a real positive impact on gamers’ lives and the world around them.”

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