Habits


Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading on habits, as I am trying to create new habits to become a better educator, wife, friend, family member and woman. All of us have goals that can be achieved with some minor habit tweaks, and learning a language is no different. We simply cannot say that we will learn to speak Italian in a year but only commit to studying once a week for 20 minutes.

BJ Fogg is the creator of a course he calls Tiny Habits. According to BJ, a new habit can be started in only five days, but it truly has to start in a tiny way. We cannot expect to start studying 5 hours every day when we don’t study at all now. If you sign up for his free five day course, you will pick 3 tiny habits of your choice and do them for 5 days. What’s a tiny habit? Well, it could be doing 2 push ups after taking a shower. You could take out your vitamins when you make your coffee. You can even just floss one tooth!

He wants us all to start doing something that is only 30 seconds each, which is something all of us can fit into our busy schedules. Once we start that action, continuing the action isn’t normally a problem.

How can we apply this to language? We could say one new word each day while we drink our coffee. We could conjugate a verb before brushing our teeth. We could read a sentence in that language after we finish our lunch. You get the point.

Starting a language habit is really no different from starting another habit. The key is simply to start. Which new tiny language habit will you start this week?

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Measure Your Progress


When people start learning a language, everyone says things like “I want to be fluent” and “I want to speak (insert language here.)” After some time, most of us are unable to see how far we’ve actually come and just how much we’ve improved our skills.

Instead of celebrating our accomplishments, we focus on our failures. Instead of being proud of the words we do know, we lament about all the words we don’t know. It’s very hard to remember how we sounded when we first began speaking our foreign language of choice.

If you’ve been working on your accent or vocabulary or general fluency, it is difficult to continue and easy to give up.

I challenge you to take a short video of yourself speaking or even just reading aloud. Or perhaps write a few diaries now and date them. Then, continue studying and practicing as usual.
Girl Writing
Six months or one year later, watch that video or read that diary. If you have been practicing and studying, then you should be pretty shocked to see how differently you spoke and/or wrote. I bet it will even motivate you to study more!

Take the challenge today and let me know how you did.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Rui Fernandes

Foreign Language Frustrations


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It’s natural to feel frustrated when you are not learning or remembering as fast as you want. It’s easy to get down on yourself because you aren’t able to converse about certain topics with fluidity and ease. It is so easy to give up. Many people do. There’s a reason not everybody is multilingual. It’s hard.

I’m here to help.

When you were a baby, you had to practice sounds all day long to get it right. When you were a toddler, there were probably some words you couldn’t pronounce and sounds you couldn’t make. People probably giggled at you, but you kept trying. You repeated them again and again until you got it right.

You didn’t give up.

You couldn’t give up.

Now that you’re older and you’re learning a second (or third or fourth) language, you expect to hear or read a word once and commit it to memory. Nope! It doesn’t work that way. If it did, everybody would do it and it wouldn’t be special.

Learning a foreign language is very special.

It is the key to communicating with people outside our own cultures. It is the only way to understand the plight of foreigners in our own country. We have to be able to feel helpless so that we can really empathize with others. Have you ever thought about how difficult it must be to work in another country and communicate all day in a foreign tongue? When people come to the US for any reason, they are expected to speak in English. That’s hard. English is hard. A lot of it doesn’t make sense. When English speakers visit other countries, a lot of us expect those same people to communicate with us in our language. That should never be the case. Ever. You cannot stop learning.

Is learning a foreign language difficult? Yes.

Does it take a long time to become fluent? Absolutely!

Should we give up because we’re not good at it yet? Heck no!!

So then what can we do to stave off the foreign language learning blues? Well, there are lots of things we can do. For example, dial it down a little and focus on all the words you do know! Take a short break from your current study schedule and have fun with the language you’re learning. Learn to laugh at yourself. As adults, we can take ourselves much too seriously. Language mistakes can be funny. Embrace that!

Try some of the following activities and let me know if they ignite that learning passion again.

  • Listen to music in that language
  • Make a dish from that culture
  • Celebrate a holiday that’s not your own
  • Translate a song you love
  • Find a penpal or language partner
  • Read a comic strip
  • Read a magazine
  • Learn a dance from that culture
  • Read a children’s book*
  • Try a cultural craft from that country
  • Memorize a quote you love in that language
  • Play a fun, easy game like hangman or Scrabble
  • Join a meet up to find other language learners

As always, if you have any other tips, please comment below. We can all learn from each other!

*Disclaimer: just because a book is for children, doesn’t mean it will be easy to read. For example, Dr. Seuss uses many words that aren’t really words, so they won’t make sense in another language even if you use the dictionary. Just go with it and don’t stress if you don’t understand all the words. Kids read books they don’t understand all the time. Let’s take a lesson from them!

 

 

 

 

 

TED Talks for Language Learning


Sometimes I love to listen to music while I drive because it makes getting through traffic more fun. Other times, I consider my car to be a little learning center. I love to listen to podcasts and NPR, but other times I will pick a TED Talk and listen to that while I drive home. Up until recently, I had no idea that I could do this in Spanish as well. I did a little more research and found out that now you can listen to TED talks in 43 different languages!!!

Game. Changer.

This is fantastic because if you are at all familiar with TED Talks, you know they are a great way to learn about so many different topics in a short time.

For language learners, it is also quite useful to practice hearing different accents, vocabulary and speaking styles. What a great way to practice listening comprehension!

Here are just a few ways to use a TED Talk in your language class

  • Create a debate about the topic
  • Ask students to write critiques of the talk
  • Have students prepare their own “TED Talk” about a topic
  • Use the topic as a starting point for meaningful conversation in class
  • Dissect the talk grammatically
  • Have students make a list of vocabulary / grammar structures they hear

There are so many fun ways you could use these in your classroom. I encourage you to give this a try! Also, feel free share how you’ve used TED talks in class.

TED Talks in 43 Languages

 

 

The Best Games to Practice and Learn a Language


Learning a language should be fun!

It doesn’t matter which language you’re learning, and it honestly doesn’t matter what age you are. If you’re having fun, you’ll remember the lesson better. Adults enjoy playing games and laughing just as much as children do, but we sometimes forget that.

Whether you’re teaching a language, or learning one yourself, games are a really fun way to do “homework” without feeling like a drag.

For example, I Spy is a great game to promote conversation. It’s free, it’s easy, and you kind of trick the student into talking. You can play this anywhere, and in any language, whether you’re in the classroom or in the car.

I remember being in Spain and looking for towels. I couldn’t remember how to say the word “towel.” I was trying to describe them by saying the words I could remember. I told her “it’s something I use to dry myself off.” In essence, I was actually playing I Spy with the her!

Another quick, fun game that’s also FREE is Hangman. I love playing Hangman with my students in English and Spanish. It’s a great way to practice letters, vocabulary and spelling. It’s also great for two people or group lessons if you put students in teams.

Any of the following games work fabulously in an ELL class, as well as a foreign language class. Instead of describing the words in English, you simply describe them in the language you study. Bam! It’s a great way to do family/friend time while keeping those tongues sharp.

Apples to Apples Junior (green box) is a great game for young and adult learners. The words are perfectly conversational; however, it’s not too easy.

 

 

 

 

The adult version of Apples to Apples (red box) is also a lot of fun, but there are a lot of proper nouns in there like “Oprah” and “World War II,” which might be more difficult for younger speakers to explain even in their native language.

 

 

 

I love Scrabble for vocabulary practice. Plus, it’s super fun if you’re as competitive as I am!

It’s a great game for up to four people, but you have to be careful that you don’t spend the whole time silently thinking of words to use. We are practicing language after all!

 

 

Hedbanz is a fun game where you put a card on your head. You can either practice asking questions to find out the word on the card or you can have teammates describe it to you. It’s a fun, silly game to get you talking no matter how you play it. There are adult and kid versions, so you can choose based on difficulty level.

 

 

Taboo is another favorite of mine for private and group lessons. It’s even more difficult than the games listed above, as there are words that you cannot use to describe the word you’re looking for.

It’s a wonderful game for EFL classes and there are so many variations that you could use to get students talking. Even if you don’t use it for language practice, it’s just a really fun game to play.

There are so many ways to learn a language and you don’t have to feel like your only option is workbook exercises. The best way to learn is by using a variety of different methods, so why not use some really fun ones?

Are there other games you love that help you with your language skills or are there other games you love to use in the classroom? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

There’s (Language) Power In Numbers


There is an apparent strength that occurs when people work together to accomplish anything. It’s very hard for one person to carry a cooler down a pier, but get another set of hands, and suddenly it’s a manageable task.

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Photo Credit Daniel E Lee

Things like owning a dog, losing weight and even cleaning the house become easier when we have just a little bit of help.

6824854509_d73a3af10a_zTom Brady is one of the most talented players that the Patriots and even the NFL have seen in a very long time. That being said, it would be pretty tough for even Brady to win a game without a single one of his teammates.

We all need help

Photo Credit Keith Allison

So why do we try to learn a language alone as adults and think we’ll be successful without even one other person?

Crazy, right?

So look around you at your circle of family, friends and even coworkers. Is there anybody that could speak with you or that can just hold you accountable?

If not, don’t fret. There are plenty of ways to find an online language exchange partner. Not only will you improve your language skills, but you might even make a new friend!

5807486716_417393ceed_oThese are just a few of the sites that can connect you with other like-minded polyglots:

Are there any other language exchange sites that you’ve used and liked? Please let me know and I’ll be happy to add them to the list!

Photo Credit Ryan Tir

Is Rosetta Stone Really Worth It?


People ask me all the time whether or not buying a language learning program like Rosetta Stone is worth the investment. Admittedly, it has a hefty price tag, but it is significantly cheaper than when it first became available.

Rosetta Stone was at one time under contract with the US Army, and is now collaborating with four year universities to offer online language learning programs for credit. The software definitely has some obvious benefits and is clearly effective.

Is it right for you?

Well, that really depends on the kind of person you are. Are you the kind of person who starts a project and sees it through, or are you a serial project starter who frequently moves on to the next project once you start to lose interest?

I’ve found that if you have the dedication it takes to go home after a long day of work, then open up your computer and be productive, then this type of program would be perfect for you.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who is always going to ‘start tomorrow,’ then, maybe it’s best if you sign up for a traditional classroom course.

If you are the kind of person who feels like Rosetta Stone is the right fit for you, then by all means, jump right in! I personally think the idea of studying a language at your leisure, while in your pajamas sounds like a pretty good time!

Of course, it’s still wildly beneficial to combine your e-learning with some conversation appointments with a private tutor or native speaker over coffee or tea. By using the language skills you learn on the computer, you’ll be able to put them to good use in conversation with that person.

Whichever method you choose, try your best to stick with it. Learning a language cannot be done overnight, and you are bound to lose interest at some point when the going gets a little tough. Believe me. It will be so worth it when you’re traveling the globe and can rattle off your dinner order for you and all your friends.

Rosetta Stone has so many different languages available, so whether you’re interested in studying English, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese or Japanese, you’re bound to find a language that intrigues you.

Buena suerte!