Monday, 21 August 2017

4D Language Learning Experience for Tired Learners

When you feel like you are going to flip out if you do one more exercise training modal verbs, revise a set of new words one more time, listen to one more podcast or even watch one more episode of your favourite Top Gear, then it's probably time for you to take a break from your language study. And throw a party! How long have you not seen your bestie? Here you go, you need to treat yourself to some nice company of like minded crazy guys and gals.

‘Yay! Let’s party!’ I can hear you shout, toss your phone away, slam shut your laptop, hit off switch on your desktop and run to the nearest off-license. Whoa, whoa, hang on a minute, read the blog post to the end at least.

What I am suggesting is not a total ‘oh, what the hell’ style party with music blaring out of your windows, people jumping on your lawn like crazy and bits of food flying around in joyous food fight. I am not condoning this type of behaviour at all *serious face*. We are all mature adults with neighbours to respect, property to look after and responsible financial behavior to adhere to. And that closet for storing your bubble making machine and a collection of magic wands. Any other Tinkerbell fans out there? No? Never mind…

What I am saying is your party could be a language learning experience! Yay! A language geek party!

I am not suggesting though that you

- sing karaoke with your friends in the language you are learning;

- play charades guessing the name of the film you have recently watched in your target language;

- play Cards Against Humanity in the language you are learning (very NSFW game that comes in several languages, e.g. English, French, German free to download in PDF).

These are good party ideas if you want both to have a party and practise your target language. Well, and if your friends are learning this language too.

But in this case I am not suggesting these ideas. That’s too much of language going on again. And we are trying to have a break from it, remember?

What I am suggesting is making it a 4D language + cultural experience!

I am talking about enjoying a company of your friends (including those who don't speak your target foreign language) and sharing with them the traditional homemade food of the places where the language you are learning is spoken.

Are you in? Then...

Plan of Action

So, here is what you need to do:

- If you are learning more than one foreign language, choose which language you would like to focus on;

- If a foreign language you are learning is spoken in more than one country, choose which country’s cuisine you would like to focus on; you can even go more granular and choose a particular region of this country.

- Browse for recipes online;

- Put together a menu for your party;

- Invite your friends;

- Cook and party!

If you want to take it a bit further, you can decorate the room for your party with themed buntings, banners, flags and pictures. It’s easy to make all of these yourself if you have a colour printer at hand.

If you are feeling adventurous and your friends are in for some fun too, you might make it a costume party.

For suggested menus, costume ideas and decoration printable material, download our party packs at the end of this post.

You will find these party packs useful if you would like to skip the planning bit altogether. With suggested menus which include links to recipes and cooking videos, you can go straight to the cooking and partying bits!

Bonuses of the Language & Culture Party

When using recipes in your target foreign language, you will be able to learn or expand some specific vocabulary necessary for you to understand this content. For example, fruit, vegetables and other ingredients, kitchen appliances and utensils, cooking verbs, etc. If you would like to use recipes in English, to assist you with this specific vocabulary, we have the Cooking vocBlocks series. Our fruit and veg vocBlocks come translated into French, German, Russian and Spanish.

You learn better by doing, so the vocabulary you come across in recipes will be easier to retain in memory when you cook following these recipes. Even if you don’t cook too often using recipes in your target language, don't worry, you will have the advantages of spaced repetition exercises for the Cooking series vocBlocks so that you don’t forget these words in between your language immersion cooking experiences.

You will also learn about different measurements as not everywhere metric system is used. For example, some American recipes will use ounces, pounds, etc. Oh, and be careful with abbreviations. For example, tbsp (tablespoon) and tsp (tea spoon) are very similar when abbreviated, so if you put a whole tablespoon of chilli powder into a dish instead of a tea spoon it won't be fun. Though you will learn the difference between these abbreviations at once ;)

And the best bonus is that you will be able ‘to taste and smell the culture’ of the countries where your target language is spoken. It’s a bit like travelling to this country.

Just think, when you travel, what is it that you usually do after you are done with all the sightseeing for the day? Yes, you go out and eat! So, treat yourself to some tasty traditional cuisine and you will have this 4D language learning experience without leaving your house and with all your friends!

And if you put in a bit more effort and add the decorating step I was talking about above to your party scenario, you will have the sightseeing bit of traveling covered as well. Googling the most important landmarks, printing out pictures of them and putting them up on the walls will create the necessary ambience for your party. Plus you might have interesting conversations with your friends about these cultural treasures. Don't have time to google important landmarks? You can always use our downloadable party packs for ready available printable material to save you some time or as a kick start for your own ideas.

After the event you will be able to share your culinary adventures and cultural insights with your language partner(s), language group or teacher. So this party of yours will be a nice and fresh topic to discuss and boost your speaking practice.

Don’t be greedy! Share the cooking resources you have been using when learning your languages in the comments. Share your own language party ideas too!

Happy cooking and partying!

Click to download party pack: British Party

Click to download party pack: American Party

Click to download party pack: German Party

Click to download party pack: Russian Party

Monday, 7 August 2017

7 Ways to Beat your Fear of Mistakes When Speaking a Foreign Language

As a foreign language learner you are bound to make mistakes when speaking. Loads of them. Grammar mistakes, lexical ones, stylistic, you name it.

Smart adults however might feel embarrassed by silly mistakes they make, the mistakes even kids-native speakers do not make. Calling tongs ‘thongs’, saying ‘I have catched’, messing with pronunciation of the word ‘sheet’. Embarrassing. So, they think twice before opening their mouth and embarrassing themselves. And sometimes think three times. And sometimes just think. And think. And think. And don’t open their mouth at all.

Curling inside their little shell, thinking and not sticking out in case they embarrass themselves by making a silly mistake is in itself the biggest mistake. A great psychologist Lev Vygotsky believed that people learn by doing. And mistakes are part of the game.

The problem is many people know it but still find it difficult to pull out of their shell and start moving. So here are some actionable tactics for you to beat your paralysing fear of mistakes when speaking.

Drop your ego. It's a heavy weight that you don't need on your language journey. Even if you are a CEO of a big successful company, when speaking a foreign language you are just a foreigner who is bound to make mistakes.

Let those with whom you speak know it too. Smile the most disarming smile you have in your arsenal, apologise and say you are a foreigner and your English (French, Spanish, German, etc.) is not perfect.

With this tactic though, you should be careful and not overdo it. Don’t go completely off rails. After all, being a foreigner doesn’t mean being a complete idiot.

Don't compare yourself to native speakers or other learners. It's again your ego that you need to drop. Yes, maybe some other people speak this language much better than you do. And it’s ok. Each person has their own unique language journey based on their personality and circumstances.

Some people are extroverts and speaking is natural to them, while others are much better with listening; some people have a great musical ear and picking up pronunciation of a foreign language is a piece of cake for them, while with others you are lucky you don’t hear them sing and they do struggle with pronunciation subtleties; some people thrive studying in a group and find time to attend courses in person, while others prefer one to one Skype lessons or studying on their own and don’t want to spend their precious time traveling to get to some venue where a course is taught.

So, if you have chosen a path suitable for you with your learning style and it fits into your daily life, you need to stick to it no matter what others are doing and how they are smashing it. It doesn’t mean you cannot follow their example and borrow some ideas if you like them and they fit into your lifestyle. Just don’t feel you are any worse off than someone else, make more mistakes or are less capable of mastering a foreign language in general. You are not them and your life is not theirs. And you never really know, that guy might have been studying French for a few years already to get to that level, so don't expect you will be there after starting a couple of months ago.

Speak a lot in your target language with yourself. While you are cooking your dinner, driving to work, taking a bath. Imagine you are talking to your annoying sister, inconsiderate friend or self-centered boss. Tell them all you have to say about how you feel when your sister takes your stuff without asking, when your friend didn’t show up at the party you had organised, when your boss keeps bombarding you with emails at the time when you have this important deadline set by the client.

Speak with yourself when you have a tough decision to make, explore pros and cons and different scenarios. Speak with yourself about your dreams and aspirations, your fears and concerns. Speak with yourself when you are just bored and feel like speaking. Your monologues will be a great training for your dialogues with other people, you will get used to how you sound in a foreign language, get used to imperfection of real speech and the fact that you do make mistakes and struggle to find words sometimes.

Face your mistakes. You need to understand your mistakes to reduce the fear of them and tackle them effectively. Mistakes are usually made in one of the two cases. First, you make mistakes when you don’t know how to get it right. Second, you make mistakes even though you know how to get it right.

In the first case the solution is obvious: you need to identify what it is exactly you don’t know and learn it. It can be a grammar structure you haven’t yet studied; it can be a word you are not sure how to use or a word you don’t have in your vocabulary; it can be a sound you mispronounce because you don’t know how organs of speech need to be positioned for you to produce it correctly. Grab those grammar books, that dictionary or just google it. If you study with a teacher, they will be able to help you identify the gaps in your knowledge and suggest a course of corrective actions.

In the second case it is practice that will put the things right for you. If can be a case of you knowing forms of irregular verbs but getting them wrong in speech; it can be a word you know but keep forgetting when you need to use it; it can be a sound you know how to produce but your organs of speech just refuse to when you speak. Grab those grammar books with exercises, put the stubborn words you keep forgetting into vocBlocks or any other spaced repetition software to learn them, read aloud and speak with yourself making sure you produce that sound right.

Take it step by step. People who speak a language without making many mistakes (native speakers including) were not born with this ability, they learnt it. And it took time. So just allow yourself this time and don’t try to be where you are not ready to be.

For example, if you are a beginner, your mouth trained for the sounds of your native language rebels. So don’t expect your pronunciation to be perfect - you are lucky if you manage to string a couple of simple words together without stuttering. And forget about any coherent speech, you are not there yet.

Once you are at intermediate level, the mistakes you make are more high level too. There is still loads to learn and the fact that you can already speak more or less decently doesn’t mean that you will be speaking without any mistakes in each and every situation. Your next step is to grow more specific vocabulary, tackle more complex grammar, improve your speed of speech and pronunciation while allowing yourself to make intermediate level mistakes. Well, and occasionally some beginner level mistakes too.

Focus on your non-language goals. If you are speaking to your friend, your client or just need to get by while travelling abroad, focus on the task at hand and do the best you can with the language skills you have at the given time. After all, it’s not a language lesson, your main task is to communicate, to get your message across, so no one will give you a bad mark because of your mistakes and send you home.

Work on your language in your own time but don’t let your mistakes stop you performing real tasks in this language, it’s a theory and practise matter, one feeds the other. You dive into the theory, apply to your real life what you have learnt, then dive into the theory again, then apply again and this cycle goes on and on.

Let your subconscious do the job. Don't try to analyse how you speak while you speak, it might freeze you up. Just like thinking about how you drive a car or ride a bike would suddenly make your body go all clumsy: you might forget how to change gears or pedal and might even crash or lose your balance on bike.

So trust yourself. Your brain is a wonderful thing. It stores information which you might not know is there. Some learners accounted for suddenly remembering words and phrases they didn’t know they knew. They were just speaking and were amazed when they suddenly used the exact words and phrases they needed without thinking. A lot of study preceded those ‘magical’ occasions of course, so if there is work put in, you need to trust yourself to know things and just go for it. You might actually be making fewer mistakes than you think.

Fear of making mistakes when speaking is a real killer of any progress with your speaking skills. It is a paradox: you learn by doing so if you are afraid to speak because of the mistakes you will be making as all learners do, you are killing the only opportunity of learning to speak with fewer mistakes. So, kill your fear of mistakes before you gradually kill those mistakes. We hope that the tactics in this post will help. Happy speaking!

Originally published at

Friday, 21 July 2017

An Idiot's List of Reasons to Learn Lingua Franca

In case you don't know, lingua franca is a language of international communication. Now that you are enlightened on some Italian, let's head over to English which is indeed lingua franca of the modern world.

So, you should learn English because you will be able to:

- enjoy movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original and secretly feel superior because your English accent is much better than his;

- speak to waiters when you are on holiday abroad. If they don't reply in fluent English, complain about the poor service and don't leave a tip. Note: don't try it in Amsterdam, as they all speak English there and if you piss them off they will run you over on a bike;

- write comments online in English and express your views to a much broader audience on a wide variety of issues that bother you. These issues include but are not limited to stupid government, inefficient transport system, the weather, irresponsible dog owners, spoilt kids in restaurants and your in-laws;

- enrich your online shopping experience buying stuff you don't need from all over the world. And then (ahead of all your friends who don't speak English) master the newest system of getting rid of the stuff you don't need, the system so new, they haven't yet translated the book sharing this wisdom into your native language;

- rub your boss' nose in a grammar mistake in his email in English to the company’s foreign partners. Make sure you demand promotion on the grounds of being bilingual and having excellent attention to detail;

- write a letter to the Queen of England and ask her to adopt you as one of her loyal dogs. Don't forget to say ‘please’;

- fearlessly write graffiti on walls in two languages and once caught, explain with dignity that it’s language practice not vandalism;

- authentically shout ‘Taxi’ in New York like they do in the movies. Not that it will help you get one at a busy hour;

- understand all those pop songs in English, cringe and stop listening to this shite;

- watch millions of YouTube videos teaching you how to iron your shirts, socks and undergarments correctly;

- do your kids’ homework in English and let the poor children rest instead. After all kids should relax at home, not do stupid homework;

- tell if someone calls you names in English and reciprocate quickly and decisively;

- casually remark to the hospitality staff at the hotel you are staying at, that your negative review on Trip Advisor will be in English for the whole world to know that the croissants for breakfast were stale on 3 July and the water in the outdoor pool was uncomfortably cold for you after sunbathing.

If you focus on the British English you will inevitably adopt some of the ladies & gentlemen culture and

- offer your apologies on all sorts of possible occasions: if you burp, if someone else burps, if you behaved like an idiot, if someone else behaved like an idiot and you saw it, if you pushed someone accidentally, if someone pushed you accidentally and also just in case so that people around don't think you are being rude;

- once addressed by complete strangers, elaborate on weather predicaments of all sorts for half an hour in a row. And know a hundred and one expressions to describe rain;

- stay calm and carry on being polite even if someone punches you in your stiff upper lip.

If you think that the above reasons are not convincing enough, you should learn English because

- it's the language spoken by prince Harry. A bachelor. Yet.

And of course because

- this post is written in English. In case you didn't notice.

Happy learning!

Monday, 10 July 2017

My English Vocab Geared up for Top Gear

So it was weekend at last. No emails, no meetings, no calls for two days. Nada. Total bliss.

I was hugging a couch pillow and staring at the screen. Grand Tour was on. (No reason to waste Amazon Prime, you know).

I suddenly realised that I didn't get half of the lively banter the three guys were engaged in.

I blamed purchase orders at first. I raised so many that week that one could only be surprised my brain could still digest information in any other form but digits.

My second guess was the language. English is not my mother tongue after all. But no, I didn't struggle with their accents. The guys sound quite foreign friendly. No, it was something else…

Of course! The conversations didn't make much sense in those parts where they were talking about cars. There was an obvious gap in my English vocabulary. So, at once I decided I needed to fill it. I couldn't just not watch Hammond, right?

Richard (in the show): It had a better gearbox, better differential, better tyres, better rear suspension, and these better gold wheels. D'you know what it was? It was better.
Me (in front of the telly): *blank stare* *blank stare* *blank stare* *blank stare* Phew, at least I know the word ‘better’.

I was really glad that the vocBlocks 'Car Parts' came with pictures. After all, how am I supposed to tell a difference between a brake drum and a brake pad even translated into my mother tongue?

The easiest part was, of course, to learn the names of the exterior and interior car parts, just because it was clear what they were for and the names reflected it. Well, most of them at least. Like ‘brake light’ is the light that is on when you brake; ‘indicator light’ is the light that is on when you indicate that you are turning left or right; accelerator pedal is a pedal that makes the car accelerate once pressed on, while brake pedal is a pedal that makes the car slow down or brake.

Not sure though what the words ‘bonnet’ and ‘headlights’ reflect. Sounds like Little Red Riding Hood’s monster granny with round eyes that shine: ‘Granny, why do you have such big eyes shining from under your bonnet?’

And if you wonder why on earth I called the thingy that covers the engine ‘bonnet’ instead of ‘hood’, you should probably watch less of those Hollywood movies. Oops, should I say, films? Not sure why but British and Americans have different versions of quite a few car parts, both exterior and interior. British ‘boot’ and American ‘trunk’ being another example (see more in the car parts vocBlocks).

Mechanical bits and bobs were a bit more challenging, as I had never looked properly what was under the bonnet. To be honest, I have always been petrified that I won’t be able to stick the rod that holds the bonnet properly into position, the bloody thing will smack me hard on the head and the engine will be the last thing I’ll see in my life. Well, anyway that is my excuse for topping up the windscreen washing liquid only when it becomes VERY obvious that I really need to, that is when I can hardly see the road ahead, oink.

While I was at it, I also learnt at last how to properly pronounce car makes in English. These used to drive me crazy (no pun intended). Like most brand names they are not translated into different languages, so in my mother tongue they are the exact same words just pronounced differently. And this is the case when partially different is worse than completely different.

I used to find myself pause my English sentence before saying a name of a car make, my brain crawler searching for the English equivalent in my database AKA brain. As there was nothing, I would spit out an awkward sounding something. This monstrosity would usually start with English sounds influenced apparently by the previous words in my sentence in English, then morph into my mother tongue phonetic version in the middle and finish off with again English sounds to smoothly blend in with the following English words in the sentence. A blooming phonetic Frankenstein! And, by the way, a sentence breaker. Not fun.

So, to make Hyundai and other monsters normal, I listened to the audio and repeated the words while looking at the transcription to get it 100% right. There is a ‘revise’ mode for all the cards in vocBlocks for this.

Eventually, I was reborn into the English speaking automotive world, enlightened and free from any car related speech impediments. Ready to watch the reborn Top Gear Grand Tour with my favourite Richard.

Petrolheads out there, leave us a comment! Happy Learning!