Posted on by Peter Rettig

Freedom Trade-offs - US & European Traffic & Gun Laws

police with gun giving speeding ticketOur recent trip through three European countries allowed us to practice three of our languages – German, Dutch and Danish. 

It also made me aware again how different these European countries deal with the US credos of “life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness” on the one hand, and with safety, as it relates to gun control and highway speeds, on the other.

(And no, that is not us in the picture receiving a speeding ticket: we never saw any traffic police traveling over 1,000 miles through Germany, Netherlands and Denmark!)

Gamesforlanguage's blog themes include language learning, travel, history and culture. My observations are personal and anecdotal, and I make no claim to having discovered any absolute truths.

Our AirBerlin flight from Boston took us directly to Dusseldorf, Germany. There, we rented a car and drove north, crossing into the Dutch province of Drenthe to attend a weekend family reunion there.

(Readers of previous posts may remember that we often attend family reunions in the Netherlands. Last year, after the reunion, we chartered a canal boat with friends. See: European Travels 3 – Dutch Language and Canal Boating . This year we continued to Denmark. See: European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Denmark.)

Road Travel - Speed Limits & Statistics

Germany

On the German Autobahn, it always takes me a few minutes to get used to the speed of Driving on German Autobahnthe traffic. But then I go with the flow.

Once we had cleared the congested metropolitan area around Dusseldorf and no longer faced any speed restrictions, 160 km/h (100 mph) became a comfortable cruising speed.

I actually find that driving fast on good roads in Germany is less tiring than driving with cruise control at 65 or 70 mph in the US.

In Germany, I constantly scan my rear view mirror for faster cars and estimate the distance to other, slower cars when in the passing lane.

The freedom of driving fast is one of the joys of German Autobahn driving.

You may remember that Volkswagen used the German term “Fahrvergnügen” (Pleasure of driving) as a US marketing slogan a few years ago.

While there are many stretches on the German Autobahn that have no speed limits (about 70% of the German Autobahn grid), there are also specific speed limits in metropolitan areas or on country roads.

The Netherlands and Denmark

Suspension Brisge between Fyn and Sealand, DenmarkBoth countries use the same maximum speed limit of 130 km/h (82 mph) on motorways and 50 km/h (31 mph) in built up areas.

On the busy Dutch motorways many drivers appeared to exceed the 130 km/h, while on the less traveled Danish highways few cars went faster than the speed limit.

As we discovered later in Copenhagen, Danish people generally seem to obey traffic laws: pedestrians don't jaywalk, bikes stop at red lights, cars follow speed limits. (On the new and amazing suspension bridge from Fyn to Sealand in Denmark, everybody kept to the posted speed limit.)

One method used in Denmark made a lot of sense to us. At the entrance of towns, a flashing sign showed us our speed. This was very effective because it prompted us to immediately slow down.

In all three countries there are warning signs about radar surveillance and indeed you can get “blitzed” by a radar operated camera, if you go too fast. You will receive your ticket later in the mail.

But what was remarkable: On over 1000 miles of car travel in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark over a three-week period, we did not see ONE police car, not even one waiting behind bushes or trees as so often happen in the US.

Speed vs. Safety

There seems to be no question that higher speeds can lead to more serious accidents. However, the road fatality rates of the US and the three countries though which we traveled, do not seem to confirm the simple correlation.

Comparing accident and death rates between countries is not easy, given the mix of rural vs. interstate highways, different ways of compiling statistics, etc.

Deutsche Welle reported for 2016: Road deaths in Germany fall to all time low but accidents on the rise.

Also, the World Health organization's figures for 2013 are interesting for the three countries compared to the US (see below.)

Country

Road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year

Road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles

Road fatalities per 1 billion vehicle km

United States

10.6

12.9

7.1

The Netherlands

3.4

6

4.5

Denmark

3.5

6.7

4

Germany

4.3

6.8

4.9

What is notable, is how close the three European countries are in their road fatality statistics compared to the United States, which are substantially higher in all three categories above.

A Business Insider Report from 2016 lists 8 reasons that German's Autobahn is so much better than US highways.

Interstate speed limits in the US were generally lowered to 55mph in the early seventies during the oil embargo. Since then, posted freeway speeds have again been raised in some states, to 65, 70, 80, and in Texas, with the highest posted speed in the US, even to 85 mph.

The lowered speed limits reduced road fatalities, but other factors apparently must be important as well, as the differences to the three countries above demonstrate.

While the three European countries – especially Germany - have higher traffic speeds than the US, the statistics indicate that driving in the US is quite a bit more dangerous.

Guns - Laws and Statistics

Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, as this Local.de article explains. Without analyzing the details of the differences to these countries, the Netherlands and Denmark are not far behind.

Over the last 10 years, the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people have further declined in these three European countries.

You can find the facts and statistics for each country on Gunpolicy.org.

The relevant statistics on guns can be compared to the road fatalities above and also present a sobering picture for the US:

 

 

 

Country

Rate of All Gun Deaths per 100,000 people in 2004

Rate of All Gun Deaths per 100,000 people in 2014

United States

10.10

10.54

The Netherlands

0.70

0.48

Denmark (2002/2012)

1.79

0.90

Germany

1.39

1.01

Per 100,000 people, there are essentially as many gun deaths as road fatalities in the US.

Happiness

It is quite impossible to grasp the mood of a country during a short visit.

In the Netherlands, we were able to discuss with our extended family, which includes Dutch, German Austrian, Canadian, and US citizens, many of their countries' problems and issues.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump's presidency was a frequent topic, as were Europe's immigration challenges, Brexit, educational policies, etc.

As we were leaving Europe, the formation of a Dutch government coalition was still underway; Germany was going to go to the polls shortly, and, we read about increased security measures for a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen.

While Norway tops the global happiness rankings for 2017, Denmark is quite close as #2, and the Netherlands World Happiness Report 2017 covernot far behind as #6. On the other hand, Germany with #16, is listed behind the United States (#14).

The report notes that “all of the top four countries [Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland] rank highly on all the main factors to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.”

One may argue with the criteria used for the “Happiness Rankings”, but Denmark impressed us as a country that really seemed to work well.

Many in the US obviously believe that the 2nd Amendment - “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” - is an essential ingredient for freedom and happiness.

European countries do not have such paragraphs in their constitutions, so gun ownership is not discussed much.

On the other hand, the speed limits in many US states, which especially Germans would argue against, are accepted as necessary for improving traffic safety – which, nevertheless, is substantially below the figures for the three countries where we traveled.

I do not know – but have not found any reference in the Report – whether the “happiness rankings” mentioned above, consider gun control or speed limits.

What seems clear, however, is that both involve trade-offs.

The gun death statistics comparison between the US and the three European countries seems to point to one logical conclusion: More gun ownership/less gun control – higher gun death rates.

On the other hand, speed limits alone don't seem to lower traffic fatalities substantially, as the rates for the US and the same three countries show.

It also suggests, however, that statistics alone can't always explain cause and effect relationships.

I had started this post after returning from our trip to Denmark, just before the October 1, 2017 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas and then put it aside.

Reading this New York Times article after the shootings in Texas - What Explains U.S Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer - I was struck by the article's last paragraph:

The Difference Is Culture

The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.

The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.

After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 shooting. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

Countries develop different trade-offs and their relative weights for many aspects of life. They not only affect gun laws and speed limits, control of alcohol and recreational drug sales, but also citizen's registrations and identity cards, availability of public transportation, access to/funding of higher education, healthcare, and many others.

A country's culture is not static, but is constantly evolving.

And so are freedom and safety trade-offs. 

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.  

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 & Peter Rettig

European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt

Sylt Beach in SeptemberGermany's north has its own charm: off the beaten track medieval towns and sunny islands with long, white beaches.

Readers of previous European Travels posts may remember our Canal Boating trip on Dutch canals last year.

(As last year, we again used the mywebspot pocket WIFI, which had proven so useful during our canal trip and travels to southern Germany and Austria.)

This year we again attended a family reunion in the Netherlands, with over 130 family members coming from Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Following the reunion, we went on to explore the north of Germany and Denmark, which borders Germany's most northern State, Schleswig-Holstein.

 

Lüneburg

From Exloo in the Dutch province of Drenthe, which lies just south of Groningen, it wasLüneburg Marktplatz only about three hours by car to the town of Lüneburg (or Lunenburg), a medieval German town in the state of Lower Saxony.

Located just about 30 miles southeast of Hamburg, Lüneburg is part of Hamburg's Metropolitan Region.

Since 2007, Lüneburg has been allowed to use the title “Hansestadt” (Hanseatic Town) in its name, as a reminder that it used to belong to the “Hanse” (Hanseatic League), a commercial and defensive confederation of towns and merchant guilds.

(We had learned much about the Hanse while visiting Lübeck, when traveling from Hamburg to Wismar a few years ago.)

Lüneburg's "Alter Kran"We arrived in Lüneburg on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Taking advantage of the warm September weather, we took a long, leisurely stroll through the old part of town.

Lüneburg suffered little damage during the Second World War. We could thus admire many of the structures of the historical core: flower-filled alleys and courtyards, traditional gabled Brick Gothic buildings, the impressive City Hall, the huge water tower (built 1905).

Lüneburg gained a great deal of wealth in the Middle Ages, when its salt springs were transformed into “White Gold”. Salt also made Lüneburg one of the wealthiest town of the Hanseatic League for many years.

You can learn about salt's importance and its history in the German Salt Museum.

The “Alte Kran” (Old Crane, see picture above) which dominates the quarter along the Ilmenau Canal was used to load the salt onto the barges.

Lüneburg at the water Today, Lüneburg reportedly has one of Europe's highest concentration of pubs. We certainly had no problem finding one of them with a terrace right by the canal.

For German learners, the language spoken in Northern Germany is much easier to understand than the German spoken by many in the South (Black Forest, Swabia, Bavaria).

So, if you want to explore a small typical Hanseatic League town, which is a little bit off the beaten track, Lüneburg is a great choice.

If you're learning German, here are some words and phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages
  • die Hanse - the Hanseatic League
  • die Altstadt - the medieval center, old part of town
  • der zweite Weltkrieg - the Second World War
  • die Backsteingotik - the Brick Gothik (architecture)
  • das Rathaus - the city hall
  • der Wasserturm - the water tower
  • das Salz - the salt
  • das weiße Gold - the white gold
  • der Reichtum - the wealth
  • die Kneipe - the pub
  • abgelegen - off the beaten track

Husum

Husum Harbor with harbor side bistrosAs we had visited Hamburg in 2015 (see also From Utrecht to Hamburg), we decided to pass by this major German port city and head to Husum, a maritime town on the North Sea.

While having a delicious lunch in one of the many waterside bistros, we enjoyed watching the comings and goings in the little harbor.

We knew that Husum was the birthplace of the novelist Theodor Storm. The Theodor Storm House gave us much information about the life of this lawyer-novelist, who is most known for the last of his 50 novellas, “Der Schimmelreiter” (The Rider on the White Horse).

The novel's setting along the North German coast creates an eerie atmosphere along the dyke, with descriptions of superstitions, class differences, and men's struggles against the sea.

Storm's House also gave us a glimpse of the political events in the 19th Husum Harbor at low tide with boats in mudcentury, as this part of Germany was also under Danish control for a while.

(Today the Danish minority in Husum is represented by its own party [Südschleswigscher Wählerverband, SSW] In the 2017 state elections that party only achieved 3.3%, but is excepted from the 5% minimum and sends three representatives to the Schleswig Holstein Legislature.)

When we came back from out visit to the Storm House, we could see first hand how the considerable tides can maroon boats and ships in the harbor's mud. To get in and out of their slip, these sailor certainly have to consult their tide tables!  (see picture above.)

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • der Hafen – the harbor
  • die Gezeiten – the tides
  • die Ebbe – the ebb tide
  • die Flut – the flood tide
  • der Schlamm – the mud
  • der Deich – the dike, levee
  • der Schriftsteller - the writer
  • der Roman - the novel
  • der Schimmel – the white horse
  • die Schleuse – the lock

The Island of Sylt

Husum to Sylt Map via Hindenburg DammMaybe you've heard of Sylt – the northernmost German and largest North Frisian island in the North Sea.

Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich, and other well-known writers and artists had “discovered” the island already in the 1920s; in the 1970s, playboy Gunther Sachs put it back on the map with his wild parties. The island began to attract the German industrial elite, and famous athletes and movie stars began to rent or build homes there for the summer season.

Today, Sylt has become one of Germany's most popular holiday destinations, the wild times of the 70s just a memory of the past.

We wanted to see for ourselves what brings so many visitors to the island.

There are two ways to get to Sylt.: (1) by boat or ferry from the Danish port of Havneby on the island of Romo, or (2) by train across the Hindenburgdam (a causeway named after German President Hindenburg). We chose the latter, drove our rental car unto the train shuttle in Niebull, and 45 minutes later we drove off the train in Westerland, the main town on Sylt.

The island has a 25 mile long beach on the western side, with mudflats Typical reed-roofed house on Sylttowards the main land on the east.

We had booked ourselves for 2 days into a B&B in Rantum, just 5 miles south of Westerland (see picture right).

The first evening, we attended an entertaining and informative lecture about Sylt's history of storms. The speaker talked about the many attempts of the islanders to prevent beach erosions and about their continuing struggle against the sea.

Great efforts are taken to prevent the loss of cliffs and dunes during storms. The beaches are replenished with sand dredged up offshore, but storms and tides often counteract all human efforts.

While Westerland is a busy city with many hotels and a very active nightlife, we preferred the calmer and more scenic areas north and south.

Sylt Beach during off seasonAnd, if you were wondering – just in case you had heard about Sylt's nude beaches – yes, there are many “FKK” (Freikörperkultur) - “clothing optional” beaches on Sylt. “Buhne 16“, is the oldest and, arguably, the most well-known one. It achieved notoriety during the wild 70s and became a paparazzi hunting ground. (There's also a bistro called Buhne 16.)

We explored both the northern and southern tips of the island, walked the long beaches and admired the many wonderful reed-roof houses on the island's high dunes and cliffs.

During our week-day visit in early September, the beaches were mostly empty (see picture above). The large parking lots behind the dunes, however, left no doubt that high-season traffic on the north-south road must be intense.

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • die Insel - the island
  • die Nordseeküste - the coast of the North Sea
  • der Landverlust - the loss of land, land erosion
  • der Playboy, Lebemann - the playboy
  • berühmte Sportler - famous athletes
  • der Filmstar - the movie star
  • das Ferienziel - the holiday destination
  • der Strand - the beach
  • das Watt - the mudflat
  • der Vortrag - the lecture
  • das Schilfdach - the reed roof

The local language spoken on Sylt is Söl'ring, one of the dialects of Tadjem Deel: "Küsse Tal" restaurant in the Sylt dunesNorth Frisian (a Germanic language). Söl'ring, which has been heavily influenced by Danish, is taught in a few elementary schools on Sylt. However only a few hundred people speak it and we saw Söl'ring only on a couple of signs.

For example, we were puzzled by the name of this restaurant that we found nestled in the dunes (see picture right): Tadjem Deel. The owner told us that it means Küsse Tal or valley of kisses

After getting a glimpse of one of Germany's most popular vacation spots, Sylt, we set our sights on Denmark. We were eager to try out our Danish, which we had practiced daily for nearly four months on Duolingo.

More about that in one of our next posts.

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

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

7 Language Learning Tips from Langfest 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joey Perugino - Language Learning with Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Krashen: Comprehensible Input

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Pentleton: Start with Short Spurts

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

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

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

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

Steven Kaufmann: Forget and Relearn

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon Kennedy: Use Outside Skills for Language Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grégoire Lahaie: Learn Some of the Local Language

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

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

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

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

Richard Simcott: Talk to People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Foreign Language Learning While You Sleep?

Sleeping woman with earphones- language learning? (Updated 9/22/2017)

Have you dreamed about leaning a foreign language during your sleep? I certainly have.

Just imagine, a few electrodes attached to your head will infuse your brain with a new language while you sleep.

Unfortunately, it's still science fiction stuff: A nice idea, but clearly not yet realistic at this time!

On the other hand, Swiss scientists have proven with a number of tests that you can indeed enhance your vocabulary retention during sleep. At least it's a start!

I first found this on PsychCrunch's podcast Episode 5: How to Learn a New Language, which includes an interview with Professor Björn Rasch from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

I contacted Professor Rasch and he was kind enough to send me three articles, the latest one titled: “The beneficial role of memory reactivation for language learning during sleep: A review,” authored by him and Thomas Schreiner. (The article is available now on Elsevier.com's “Brain and Language” and can also be obtained via ScienceDirect.)

Language Learning Stages

I found the Schreiner/Rasch article fascinating because it examines the close tie between language learning and the basic processes of memory. As you learn words in a new language, you go through three core stages: encoding, consolidation, and retrieval.

Encoding

When we first hear new words (also called labels) for objects, human brain encoding imageactivities, feelings, etc. in a foreign language, our brain has to encode them. That means, we change the information into a form that our memory can cope with.

There are three main ways in which information can be encoded: with a picture (visual), with sound (acoustic), and with meaning (semantic). For example, to learn the German word for “dog,” you could use an image of a dog plus the audio and/or written text “Hund.” That's the encoding.

The authors remind us that, “during encoding, new and initially labile memory traces are formed that are still highly susceptible to interference.”

Nevertheless, such “memory traces” are no longer just conjecture. They can be made visible today with MRI brain scans.

Consolidation

During this stage, the newly encoded memories are “stabilized and strengthened” and “gradually integrated into pre-existing knowledge networks on the cortical level for long-term storage.”

This must be the stage where practice and interactive learning comes into play. Whether by associations with images or feelings, repeating and saying aloud, spaced-recall exercises, writing, or other drills - consolidating new memories is essential for learning a foreign language.

It's especially at this stage that sleep is key. Before reading the article, I was not aware of how important sleep is for memory functions.

Schreiner/Rasch note: “While encoding and retrieval are clearly tied to wakefulness, sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of newly encoded memories.

There is a vast amount of research that documents the beneficial effects that sleep has on memory.

Retrieval

dog cartoon with big bone In this third stage, memories can be accessed and are available for active use. We know what that means when we start practicing a foreign language: We not only understand the meaning of the foreign words, we can also use and apply them when listening, reading, speaking, or writing.

Understandably, the memories stored in our brain are more like a collage, or even a jigsaw puzzle, than a series of lists. And thus, associations (helped by context, specific questions, or other cues) play an important role in the retrieval of information.  

(I was recently made aware of an article, 4 Crazy Things We Misunderstand About Human Memory, which is quite relevant to this subject. In fact, many of the article's conclusions - how to better remember things - we also advocate and can help your language learning: writing words down, making audio recordings, creating visual prompts with Post-It notes, associating things with imagery. )

Sleep/Language Study Set-up

A group of Germans was given 120 Dutch-German word pairs to study before 10 PM.

Then, half of the group, the “Sleep Group,” slept for three hours, while the other half, the “Control Group,” stayed awake.

The Sleep Group heard a portion of the words - referred to as “cued” words - during their sleep, but during their “Non -rapid eye movement” (NREM) sleep, which typically occurs during the first few hours when you do not dream.

The same words were replayed to the Control Group. After three hours both groups were given tests. The Sleep Group had better recall of the (“cued”) words they had heard during sleep than the Control Group who had listened to them while awake

Schreiner/Rasch Test Setup

The image A above shows the set-up and when the Sleep Group heard the “cued” Dutch words.

Graph (B) shows that in the Sleep Group, recall for the GermanSchreiner/Rasch Graph B translation of the cued Dutch words (black bar) was significantly improved when compared with uncued words (white bar).

In the Control Group, there was no significant difference between the recall of cued and uncued words.

There are more study details and observations by the researchers than can be discussed here (including the cueing timing and intervals).

The study seemed to confirm that verbal cues – e.g. replaying during sleep a list of foreign words that had been learned earlier – can reactivate the memory of those words.

In other words, hearing vocabulary during our sleep could greatly enhance the “consolidation stage” of our memory and thereby the language learning process.

Conclusions

The authors note that “the findings reviewed above demonstrate the crucial role of sleep in language and specifically word learning.

It has been shown that sleep promotes divers aspects of language learning, from word learning to the abstraction of grammar rules (Batterink et al., 2014; Henderson et al., 2012) and possibly constitutes an ideal state in order to facilitate and accelerate distinct learning processes.

In this vein, evidence that foreign vocabulary are capable of inducing such reactivation processes and thereby enhance subsequent memory performance critically broadens the scope of cued memory reactivations during sleep.

Open Questions

Schreiner/Rasch also acknowledge a number of open questions. Among them:

  • What would be the consequences when the word cues were heard during REM sleep (vs. NREM sleep)?
  • Do closely related languages (e.g. Dutch/German) make cueing during sleep more effective?
  • Does cueing affect sleep quality?

We would also ask:

  • What is the optimum timing sequence?  
  • What is the optimum audio volume level?
  • What about phrases and sentences vs. individual words?

There is clearly still more research needed to determine how best we can take advantage of these findings in language learning practice at home.

One Practical Take-Away

After reading the study and understanding more about the importance of sleep for the “consolidation stage” of our memory, I have set myself a new goal: Play one of our Spanish lessons or Quick Games before turning off the lights.

Finding a way to “cue” the right words at the right time at night, will certainly be a little more difficult.

But it may also be the next frontier that language learning companies will want to cross...

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

References: Schreiner, T., & Rasch, B. The beneficial role of memory reactivation for language learning during sleep: A review. Brain &Language (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2016.02.005



Posted on by Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage: Understanding “gammeln” und “vergammeln”...

Det gamle Hus on Danish houseTraveling has the added benefit of opening your eyes to both new and old things.

Sometimes you even learn to understand words and expressions in your native language that you heard and used - but never thought much about.

That occurred to me recently during our travels through Denmark when I saw “Det gamle Hus” on a house in Gilleleje, Denmark. (see above picture)

In German, you have the words “gammeln” and “vergammeln”. The etymological roots of these words suddenly became clear! And with that, I have an excellent memory crutch for the Danish word. 

Das vergammelte Haus?

A quick look at a dictionary clarified that the Danish sign “Det gamle Hus” just means “The old house. (Das alte Haus.”)

The German cognate “vergammelt” also means that something is old. In addition “vergammelt” suggests that it's in bad condition, decrepit, run down, etc.

Obviously, if I had ever bothered to look up the etymology of “gammel”, I would have found an entry such as this:

Via German Low German from Middle Low German gamelen, from Old Saxon (attested in the past participle gigamal?). Cognate to Old English gamolian. The verb pertains to an adjective meaning “old” attested in Middle Dutch gamel, Old English gamol, Old Norse gamall (whence forms in all modern Scandinavian languages). (Wiki)

Gammeln

The same Wiki entry also had a good example for the verb “gammeln”:

(of food or figurative) to become old; to rot

Das Brot von letzter Woche gammelt im Schrank. (Last week’s bread is rotting in the cupboard.)

It also provided a second etymological explanation:

Originally a southern German dialect word. Derived from Middle High German gamel, variant of gamen (“amusement”), from Old High German gaman. Related to English game.

Gammeln (third-person singular simple present gammelt, past tense gammelte, past participle gegammelt, auxiliary haben)

(informal) to bum around; to do nothing productive; to be idle; to live the life of a hobo

Nach der Schule hab ich zwei Jahre nur gegammelt. (After finishing school I didn't do anything productive for two years.)

“Gammeln” and “vergammeln” may not be words you learn in a German course. But if you ever come across them in Germany (or their cousins in any of the nordic countries), you now you know their meaning. 

And, as an added benefit for me: I will probably never forget that "old" in Danish is "gamle" (and, as pointed out above, in all modern Scandinavian languages).

So, cognates - such as the Danish “gamle” and the German “gammeln” - are an easy way for learning and remembering vocabulary: You just have to pay attention as you are walking around and try to decipher signs, posters and advertisements.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Exercising and Language Learning? Really?

Fit blond woman on step machine language learning (Updated 8-26-2017)

A few years ago we started a post with:

"No, I don't mean jogging while you listen to a language learning lesson on your iPod."

Today, we'll have to revise this first sentence, and thereby add a new and additional benefit for language learning while you exercise:

"Yes, by all means, listen to a language learning lesson while you are exercising!"

But let's first look at Gretchen Reynolds' "Well Blog" of a few years ago. She wrote: "Why, as we grow older, do we forget where we parked the car, and could exercise sharpen our recall?"

She goes on: "Young adults are good at differentiating the images into those that were brand-new, already seen or similar to but not exactly the same as earlier pictures (a baby grand piano instead of a full grand, for instance)."

We took the above question and various other tidbits of knowledge to hypothesize that "pattern separation" and "chunking" could help our language memorization.

Follow our earlier reasoning below:

Pattern Separation?

Apparently, forgetting where you parked your car (this time) is an issue of "pattern separation." For example, can you remember what you had for breakfast today, yesterday, the day before?

Ideally, the meal that you have each morning is unique and should create a "unique set of memories" in your mind. The good news is that exercise has the potential of enhancing "pattern recognition" and "pattern separation."

The Language Learning Link

By extension, (non-head-butting) exercise should also help language learning for the same reason. Learning to recognize and process patterns is an essential part of language learning.

We don't learn a language "word by word," we learn a language by beginning to understand "groupings of words" (phrases and expressions) in context.

In a New York Times column, linguist and language commentator Ben Zimmer refers to this as "chunking."  Kids learn that way, but so do adults - even if second language acquisition is different from learning your first.

Chunking...

The Johnson Blog of the "Economist" picks up Stacked Chocolate chunksthe Ben Zimmer's discussion of "chunking" in language learning: "We assume language is assembled in the brain primarily in word-word-word form, but instead it may come in more pre-assembled phrases than we have previously realized." 

And, one of the readers comments: "...learning expressions or idioms is the biggest problem in language teaching. …. expressions are really essential if you are to use a language day-to-day. … they're dotted around a language and often very idiomatic ..."

Expressions or idioms - pre-assembled phrases, or "chunks" - in a foreign language may be only slightly different from a direct translation of the expression in your own language. Being able to remember these "slight differences" is part of learning to master a language.

New Insights on Language Learning and Exercise

Gretchen Reynold's new article in the New York Times on August 2017: How Exercise Could Help You Learn a New Language describes an experiment of researchers in China and Italy, which seemed to confirm the benefits of exercise on  memorizing vocabulary.

The experiment involved two groups of Chinese college-age students: Both watched and tried to memorize English words as they appeared on a screen. While one group was seated, the other one was riding exercise bikes at a gentle pace.

Subsequent tests showed that the students who had ridden bikes performed better in subsequent vocabulary tests than those who sat still.

Reynold also noted:

"Perhaps most interesting, the gains in vocabulary and comprehension lingered longest for the cyclists. When the researchers asked the students to return to the lab for a final round of testing a month after the lessons — without practicing in the meantime — the cyclists remembered words and understood them in sentences more accurately than did the students who had not moved."

The experiment is certainly very interesting and may generate other more complex learning/exercise experiments.

Many of the readers' comments to Reynold's article are also worth reading: for some, their personal experiences confirm the test results; others note the effects of higher heart rates and increased blood flow to the brain on short-term and/or long-term memory; one reader recommended "Spark: The Revolutionary new Science of Exercise and the Brain", by John J Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

And there remains the question of whether other, more interactive, learning activities wouldn't also result in better memorization results than just sitting and watching a screen with new English words.

In any case, even if the learning advantages while exercising were not as significant as the study suggests - you'll get a "twoofer" ... you'll get healthier and stronger, and your language memory will improve.

 



Posted on by Ulrike S. Rettig

7 Ways to Get Your Language Learning Groove Back

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

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

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

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

So, how do you get back?

Our 7 Ways...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combine Daily, Steady Practice + Have Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Be loose. Be patient. Have fun!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

GamesforLanguage: When to use “Sie” vs. “du”

Gamesforlanguage.com when to use: "Sie" vs. "du"English speakers have to face another challenge when learning German: when to use the formal “Sie” vs. the familiar “du”. In English such differentiation does not exist.

(I'd like to acknowledge TalkinFrench.com's recent post on the similar topic “Tu” vs. “Vous”, as the inspiration for this German “guide,” as there are many similarities – but also differences – how both languages use the formal and familiar form of address.)

What also complicates the matter is that the internet and the influx of English into the German language has softened the clear du/Sie demarcation lines of the past. As we'll see later, it has also introduced new combinations of first name with the formal “Sie”.

Also, the “Sie” vs. “du” differentiation varies greatly not only at different levels of age and social connection, but also at different levels of society, community, and profession in German-speaking countries.

And as you interact socially with German speakers, you'll not only have to know whether and when to use “Sie” or “du”, but you'll also have to be able to adjust your speech by using the correct verb forms.

When to use the German “Sie” for “you”

There are some clear basic rules: You use “Sie” with:Anybody you're meeting for the first time; a stranger on the street, e.g.,2 business people shaking hands someone whom you're asking for help/directions: “Könnten Sie mir bitte helfen/sagen...” ; at a ticket window buying a train ticket, at an airline counter, information booths, etc.; shopkeepers; and your co-workers when you start a new job (but note exceptions below).

Anybody quite a bit older than you.
Anybody to whom you want or need to be respectful - a teacher, a boss, clients, policemen, or other officials.
Any groups or audience you may be addressing in a speech – unless it's your sports team, or group of friends, when “Sie” becomes “ihr” (and those exceptions are also noted below).

In general, you're much better off erring on the side of using “Sie” rather than “du” when you meet somebody for the first time.

(The young traveler Michael of our German 1 course does so in this MP3 audio clip, as he didn't know that German students “sich duzen” i.e. they use the familiar “du”.)

The “Sie” puts a distance between you and the other person, and in some circumstances this may be seen as aloofness.

But it's much better to be “invited” to use the familiar “du”, than to be somewhat embarrassed when the other person ignores your “du” and responds by using the “Sie”, thereby clearly pointing out your transgression.

When to Use the German“du” for “you”

kiss after accepting the familiar "you" in German?In general, all family members and close friends use “du”.

Members of sports clubs and political parties typical use “du” (although there again are hierarchical and age differences that may create exceptions).
Classmates
Students and colleagues that you're on amicable terms with
Children up to their late teenage/early adult years
When you've offered or have been offered the familiar “du”: “Wollen wir uns nicht “duzen”?

At social gatherings in the past, the invitation to use “du” was often accompanied by a kiss or peck on the cheek (sometimes reluctantly accepted as in the above photo). It was also often  accompanied by linking arms while taking a sip from your drink, and called “auf Brüderschaft trinken” (drink to brotherhood).

But I must confess I have not seen or experienced this old tradition for a long time – maybe because I haven't been at those type of parties for a while.

Clearly, for animals, pets, inanimate objects, etc. you use “du” as well.

Sample Situations

The rules mentioned above may not be cut-and-dried, so let’s have a look at specific examples below.

Family members: Use “du”

Regardless of age, family members use “du” when talking to each other.

Each year we join a Dutch family reunion in the Netherlands. About 100 members now living in various countries get together for a weekend. Whether we're speaking, Dutch, German, or French – even with family members we may not have met before – we always use the familiar “je/jij”, “du”, or “tu”.

 

Strangers in the 15- to 25-year-old age range

Young adults in this age group who meet each other for the first time, often use “du”, especially if they come from a similar social group, are students, etc.

 

Co-workers or colleagues

It very much depends on the type of company and the policies and traditions established by the “old hands”. In hierarchical organizations such as banks, insurance companies, government, the military, as well as schools, universities, etc., it's better to start out using “Sie”.
Once your colleagues offer you the familiar “du”, you have been accepted as part of the group and can now choose when to do the same for any newcomers.
One interesting change is occurring in many multinational firms in German-speaking countries: Rather than using the family name with the formal “Sie”, as was the norm, now colleagues often interact by using their first name while still using “Sie”.

 

Business or professional contacts: use “Sie”

When meeting new contacts in your business or profession, you should always use “Sie”. Only when you start to interact socially or get close enough to offer/be offered the familiar “du” would this change.

 

Teacher to students:

I went to school in Bad Nauheim, Germany. I remember that at the beginning of the 11th grade, and for the last three years of high school, until the “Abitur”, our teachers addressed us with “Sie”.

A friend who is a high-school teacher in Freiburg, Germany, confirmed that the same is still true today in the high school, where she teaches.
In other parts of Germany, or Austria, Switzerland, South-Tyrol, Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine, etc. where German is spoken, the school rules may be different.

 

"Sie" + first name

German speakers typically address persons, with whom they have not agreed on using the familiar "du", with their last name. And it is not unusual, even for long-time acquaintances, to use both the formal "Sie" and their last names.

However, likely because of the influx of English in movies and on the internet, the use of the first name together with the formal Sie has become common in many companies, especially those with international connections.

 

We'd like very much to hear from residents in those areas about the use of “Sie” and “du”, so we can add a postscript.

 

“Du” and “Sie” in other parts of speech

The formal “Sie” form (as well as Ihre, Ihnen) is capitalized, mainly to distinguish it from “sie”, which means both “they and “she”.

The written sentence: “Ich sehe, dass Sie gewonnen haben”. (I see that you have won.) can therefore not be confused with: “Ich sehe, dass sie gewonnen haben”. (I see that they have won.) When you HEAR a similar sentence, only the context will tell you who is meant by sie/Sie.

As you will know, using “du” and “Sie” directly affects the verb conjugations. But let’s look at the other “du” and “Sie” forms:

  • Noun: das “Duzen” (saying “du” to each other) and das “Siezen” (saying “Sie” to each other)
  • Verb: “duzen” (to use “du”) and “siezen” (to use “Sie”)
  • Subject pronoun: “du” - Du bist jung. vs. “Sie” - Sie sind alt.
  • Direct object pronoun: “dich” - Ich sehe dich. vs. “Sie” - Ich sehe Sie.
  • Indirect object pronoun: “dir” - Ich gebe dir das Buch vs. “Ihnen” - Ich gebe Ihnen das Buch.

If you find yourself really unsure whether the situation calls for “du” or “Sie”, don’t worry, it’s okay to ask. Here are some questions you could use in navigating the move from “du” to “Sie”:

German phrase

Translation

Wir könnten uns doch duzen!

Surely we could say “du” to each other!

Wir sollten uns duzen!

We should say “du”. (to each other)

Darf ich Sie duzen?

May I say “du” to you?

Duzen wir uns?

Shall we say “du”? (to each other)?

Stört es Sie, wenn wir uns duzen?

Does it bother you, if we say “du”? (to each other)

Sagen wir doch Du zueinander!

Let's say “du” to each other.

When you’re asked the same questions above or if you would like to set the level of familiarity during your conversation, here are some useful phrases:

German phrase

Translation

Du kannst mich duzen.

You can address me with “du”.

Ich glaube nicht, dass wir “per du” sind.

I don't think we say “du”. (to each other)

Ich möchte nicht geduzt werden.

I don't like being addressed with “du”.

Frequently Asked Questions About “du” and “Sie”

By now you probably have a good idea how to use “du” and “Sie” and all that remains is finding the opportunity to turn theory into practice. Here are some frequently asked questions with their respective answers.

Q: While you've pointed out that “geduzt zu werden” can be seen as impolite or even offensive by someone, could the reverse also be true: using “Sie” instead of “du”?

A: There are few instances in which someone would feel offended, but I can think of one: Let's say you and a younger person attend a social event, maybe an office party (and you are the person's boss). You have a few drinks together and you offer him or her the familiar “du”. The next day, however, either because you don't remember, or you've changed your mind, you again use “Sie”. The younger person may now feel bad and not dare to ask you why you've reverted back to “Sie”.

While addressing each other with “Sie” at work and with “du” at social interactions may be more the exception than the rule today, it may still be the code of conduct in hierarchical organizations.

Q: Is it okay to start a conversation with someone using “Sie” and later in the conversation switch to “du”?

A: Well, if the other person reminds you that you were already using the familiar “du” before, it's quite obvious that you should switch. Or, if you hear the invitation “Sagen wir doch du zueinander!” then it's a no-brainer either.

Also, if you're both of similar age, social status, etc. and the other person repeatedly used “du”, you could very well switch as well – at least that's what I would do.

Q: Is it all right if one person uses “du” while the other uses “Sie”?

A: As we have seen, this indeed is the typical situation between children and adults, students and teachers. It used to be quite normal in the past between aristocrats and commoners, bosses and workers, i.e. people of different rank and status etc., but in today's democratic German-speaking societies it would seem unusual between adults.

Q: Do the formal “Sie” and plural “sie” always have the same conjugation?

A: Yes, the conjugation of verbs with the formal “Sie” (you) and the plural “sie” (they) is always exactly the same.

Q: The conjugation of verbs is different for “du” and “Sie”, right?

Yes, the conjugation of verbs with the familiar “du” and the formal “Sie” is different as shown with these examples, while the English translation remains the same :

“Du siehst mich.” - “Sie sehen mich. (You see me.)
“Du hörst uns.” - “Sie hören uns.” (You see us.)
“Du liebst ihn.” - “Sie lieben ihn.” (You love him.)
“Du bist schön.” - “Sie sind schön.” (You are beautiful.)

And, if there are any more questions about the use of “Du” vs. “Sie”, just drop us a line. We'll be happy to answer them or find out.

We also welcome any comments or observations that are different from our experience and explanations above.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

You Want to Practice Your German?

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

With our German 1 and 2 courses you'll learn and practice German for FREE - with stories of a young man traveling through Germany and - its sequel - solving a "Blüten"-mystery in Berlin. "The Story" and easy games will let you forget that you are actually learning German!

And you can also listen to both Stories by clicking on German 1 or German 2 on our Podcast page

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

 

 

 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How YouTube Videos Can Boost Your French (And Other Languages)

father, mother, and daughet at beachRecently, we enjoyed a week's visit of family from French Switzerland. Since only Daniel, the young father, spoke any English, we were delighted to have our world dipped into French.

Focusing only on French - without resorting to translation - can give your language skills an enormous boost. But if you really want to stay only in French, you already have to have a decent level of comprehension and speaking ability in the language.

No surprise that I learned a lot from nine-year-old Michelle. She spoke fast, could only explain things in French, and relentlessly corrected my French, pronunciation and all.

I love those long, leisurely French-style mealtimes. Besides catching up on our lives and discussing current politics in Europe and the U.S., we talked of course, about language learning. We're always eager for new ideas and resources.

Daniel had a good suggestion for us, one that he uses to improve his English. It's just as useful for French, and I'm happy to pass the idea on.

French YouTube Videos

For anyone with a good basic knowledge of French, YouTube buttonYouTube videos in French are a great resource. 

I mean especially the ones that explain in French how to do things. These are excellent for broadening your vocabulary and tuning your ear so you'll understand various regional pronunciations.

Besides, you can learn (in French) anything you want: from fixing things, to cooking local French dishes, to philosophizing about life. There are computer tips, gardening tips, beauty tips, decorating tips, fashion tips. You name it.

YouTube: Cuisiner

mother & daughter cooks in kitchenIf you're a budding chef, it's fun to watch and follow cooking and baking instructions on YouTube.

Michelle loves desserts, like all kids (young and old), and she's already acquiring all kinds of knowledge about how to make some of the famous French "patisseries."

Her favorite YouTube channel is called Commentfait Ton (a play on words, the host's name is "Ton").

But as you can imagine, there are countless easy-to-find YouTube cooking channels in French.

YouTube: Minecraft

If you (or your French-learning kids) are into Minecraft, there are lots of tutorial videos in French.

Here's a link to an early one: Chambre secrète minecraft fr

You can search (countless) others by typing in something like: "tutoriel minecraft en français"

Wildly Popular Channels:

The YouTube channels listed below are popular ones in France, and I'm sure with French learners too. They are definitely worth a look.

Cyprien - Humorous sketches about daily life, in French with English subtitles.

Norman - Funny videos in French, sometimes with English subtitles.

These are just a few possibilities. You can certainly look for specific tutorials, by putting in the French phrase for what you're looking for.

For do-it-yourself odd jobs, home-improvement stints, etc., the key word in French is "bricolage."

Pratiks ("des videos pour tout faire") is a also popular channel in French. 

To really benefit, it's a good idea to write down any words that you want to learn and to review these a little later. It also doesn't hurt to watch the same video a couple of times.

PS: And if you are interested in other languages – just search for similar topics in that language – and:

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.

 

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