learn english through jokes

How To Learn English Through Jokes

learn english through jokes

I have been teaching English for almost five years now. I taught students in both China and Canada. The one method I enjoy teaching English the most is by way of telling jokes. When one usually lectures or teaches you never really know if the student fully understands what is being spoken or taught.

Whenever I explain the lesson through a joke I know the students get the point when I hear them laughing. I find laughter to be a confirmation that the student has fully acknowledged what has been taught to them.

The following is an example of a joke which is not only funny but at the same time gives a definition to three words and makes it easy to remember their differences in meaning.

Three Feelings:

What’s the difference between stress, tension and panic?

Stress is when wife is pregnant,
Tension is when girlfriend is pregnant, and
Panic is when both are pregnant.

These types of jokes not only make the student laugh but leave a lasting impression in the students mind. The students will be able to remember these definitions much easier than just reading them from a dictionary.
Other jokes are also an excellent teaching resource is the use of analogies in the English language.

Here is another example:

What is the difference between a battery and a woman?

A battery has a positive side.

This joke helps student relate the meaning of positive and negative charges in batteries to positive and negative attitudes of women. Students learn that both batteries and people can be positive and negative. This type of learning really sticks out compared to the tradition textbook learning from boring scripts.

Overall I think teaching humor to your students and telling jokes is a fun an exciting way to keep them entertained, motivated, and especially awake during class.

I host a daily podcast on iTunes called the English Funcast. New lessons are posted daily where different jokes are read, and explained. For more go to www.englishfuncast.com

“I prefer to entertain people in the hope that they learn, rather than teach people in the hope that they are entertained.” Walt Disney.

Why We need Strategies for Creativity

“I prefer to entertain people in the hope that they learn, rather than teach people in the hope that they are entertained.” Walt Disney.

I came across this quote from Walt Disney recently while reading a favourite book & it immediately reminded me of my adventures in teaching online in the last two years. My goal was to create springboards rather than lessons, per se. In other words, a suitably concocted launching pad is all that’s needed for students to go off on their own linguistic tangents of self-discovery.

Much of this focus was in alignment with my online tribe of Edupreneuring pioneers who ‘walk’ the Disney ‘talk’. My association with George Machlan’s Edupunk movement on WiZiQ was part of a large-scale experiment in reversing overt teaching strategies and allowing learning to be incidental rather than by design.

However there was much designing inherent in this non-design, as we had fun creating activities that engaged students, yet appeared effortless, as if deep learning just springs from thin air. George Machlan was constantly warning ‘the academics’ in Edupunk of the dangers involved in over-intellectualising linguistic play.

Can deep learning spring from thin air?

Walt Disney’s words reminded me particularly of the apparent friction between the world view of academia as opposed to the bold path of Edupreneuring.

This was often played out on Edupunk turf, and I was not quite sure of the sharp distinction that George Machlan made between academic approaches to lesson planning and Edupunk content creation.

I was, of course, an advocate of ‘endorphin-rich learning’ and saw the beauty of process in learning as opposed to mere results-oriented models. Yet, I had seen many passionate ‘academics’ create wonderful, fun-loving environments for their students, and I also knew that mainstream education was already doing its best to motivate students through a playful focus.

It was with much amusement that I wondered which camp I, myself, was really in. Having enjoyed enough academia to feed my love of literature in my youth, yet not enough to become ‘institutionalised’, I decided that I was a Edupreneurial hybrid whose qualifications were so right-brained that redemption was close at hand.

If we examine the Walt Disney creative strategy in more detail, we may actually have a formula for this antagonism between play versus planning models. The Dreamer, the Realist & the Critic – (Disney’s model)

  1. Create a dream or vision of the whole film. ( In this case the film is your vision for learning which is deeply embedded in your inner teaching values.)
  2. Look at the plan realisitically. ( balance money, time, resources, and all necessary information.)
  3. Look at the whole thing again from the point of view of a critical member of the audience.

When I consider the three roles of Dreamer, Realist and Critic , I surmise that individuals have their own personality setpoints and each of us ‘has become’ a dominant role or, at least, has dominant tendencies.

Personally speaking, I am a dreamer, and have much work to do with regard to practicalities and criticism. Yet, this is the best starting point. The dream is where it all begins. As any kindergarten teacher or parents of small children can see, the yellow brick road of rapport is where a child’s imagination is best captured.

If we reverse the order in Disney’s creative strategy, the opposing perspectives of traditional academia emerge.

Disney Creative Strategy

A) The Realist, the Dreamer, the Critic..??

Most of theWestern world operates from this angle. An insanely appealing idea enters one’s mind. The Realist rears its ugly head and wakes up the Critics . The Critics are those nasty voices in our heads that ridicule the Dreamer. These inner Critics can be vicously cutting ,and yet another dream dies an early death. Soon the dreams stop coming and our lives are predictably logical and two-dimensional – tidy and stale. Learning has become a necessary evil motivated by Spartan humiliation techniques.

If our dreamer is strong or insane enough to drown out all inner critics, one gets further criticism from society and the establishment who wish to maintain the status quo .

B) The Critic, The Realist, the Dreamer??

This is the most dangerous strategy and a true perversion of Disney’s vision. Some of us operate from a critical mindset and even tell children to stop day dreaming. This mindset certainly favours left-brain dominant teaching, lecturing, and teaching through tests.

This one is responsible for killing creativity and creating future citizens who will further disrespect our planet in the name of materialism. This one takes art off the curriculum when children reach the age of seven. This one is the patriarchal factory model that Pink Floyd sang about in 1982. This one is THE WALL.

Those of us who embrace the Disney creative strategy knock down walls.

Where are we today?

As I see it, academics who create fun learning environments are making changes within the establishment. They are still hampered by bureaucracy, however, and are still cogs in a left-brain dominated, materialistic wheel of inertia. We are trapped in the Realist – Dreamer – Critic model.

Edupreneurs, on the other hand, are carving out educational Disneylands all over the world as we speak. They are unhampered by bureaucracy, freed by technology, toughened by a professional life devoid of comfort zones, and unquestionably, guided by the Dreamer.

Some of the Edupreneurs from my personal learning network have also figured out the Realist and Critical parts of the strategy, and it is they who inspire my own Edupreneurial path.

My next article will feature some of these members of my PLN and give practical examples of the creative strategy at work.

bilingual brains

Bilingual Brains are better at Attention, Memory and Multitasking

bilingual brains

Last week we wrote about the positive effects of learning a second language when it comes to preventing mental aging or even delaying the Alzheimer’s disease. In a new and somewhat related study researchers now found even more evidence that speaking a second language is good for your brain.

Dr. Nina Kraus and colleagues at the Northwestern University studied 48 first year high school students, 23 of which were proficient in both Spanish and English and the other 25 only spoke English.

One of the tests aimed to find out the auditory brainstem response on sounds played both in a clean way and then hidden in background noise. In the first part the bilingual students showed a larger response than the monolingual students.

In the second part of the experiment the sound was mixed with background noise. In this case monolingual students had a less intense response than before while bilingual students showed basically the identical response at the auditory brainstem.

A second experiment involved a selective attention test in which the students needed to click a mouse button when a 1, but not a 2, was seen or heard. In this experiment the bilingual students outperformed the monolingual ones, again.

Comparing the two results, the researchers found that bilingualism apparently leads to help improve selective attention by enhancing the auditory brainstem response which ultimately leads to better attention and working memory.

As bilingual brains need to juggle with different linguistic input and sounds all the time, the brain gets better in picking out the relevant parts and ignoring other sounds. This is very helpful when you need to concentrate in a noisy environment which can be in school or at the workplace.

In an earlier study researchers had already found that musicians have a similar advantage when it comes to brainstem response and hence memory, attention and multitasking. In a next step researchers want to study the effect on the brain of learning a second language in the later stages of life and if there are benefits to it.

Bottom line: we need teach children a second language early on.

via National Institute of Health

Picture by Evan89, via Wikimedia Commons

Twitter vocabulary in context

How to use Twitter to learn Vocabulary in Context

Twitter vocabulary in context

Here is an easy way to enhance your vocabulary learning. It is important that when you learn vocabulary you learn it in context. Just cramming the words won’t get you far as our brain needs more information in order to store the learned words more efficiently.

Most vocabulary lists are simply tables with two collums, one side the new vocabulary, the other side the translation. But what we need is the vocabulary in a sentence in order to retain it. And even if you have a book that offers example sentences, those sentences are often constructed and don’t reflect the every day life.

And here comes Twitter into play. It is a great way to find real life examples that are being used right now. Here is what you need to do.

  1. Go to search.twitter.com
  2. Enter the vocabulary you want to see in an example sentence
  3. Twitter will display Tweets that contain the vocabulary. The word you are searching for is also marked in bold.
  4. If you want, you can copy and paste those sentences into your vocabulary learning software or print them out on paper.

You can also watch a short demo video over here.

As Twitter is offering localized versions of its service for most of the major languages and more and more people are using the service to share their thoughts, you can use Twitter to learn vocabulary in French, Spanish, Italian, German and more.

That is how you can learn vocabulary in context on Twitter. Got other tips? Leave them in the comments below!

misconceptions about language learning

Misconceptions about Language Learning #8: Without Moving Abroad, you will Forever Miss Out

misconceptions about language learning

A lot of prominent language learners on the internet are expats of some kind. Some have been on the road for years like Mau Buchler, others like David Mansaray are posting about their experiences of living in a different country. It’s completely reasonable to assume that language and this sort of mega-immersion of living abroad are inextricably linked, but as a learner could this mindset be putting a bit of pressure on you? Instead of busting a myth as I usually do, my aim today is to make you consider a different angle of language motivation.

Cultural generosity

Certainly, my own motivations in language learning were not life changing at first. Languages are a great thing to learn if you’re into finding out more about people, and later it was all about connecting with music in the target language. These days I teach many native English speakers who are learning the language of places they may have not seen for real yet. They are learning for many valid reasons such as travel and moving abroad but also fun, personal interest and growth.

I felt that Harry Eyres recently went ahead and summed this up so well in a recent Financial Times article. Here is why I learn languages – not because I want to travel and live everywhere but because:

Learning and speaking foreign languages [..] is also an act of cultural generosity, a way of opening yourself to others, of learning about the rich variety of the world. It is an acknowledgment that there is a multitude of ways of being and expressing oneself, all of which have untranslatable nuances.

Nothing wrong with the stationary language learner

If you are reading about language learning methods and feeling like you’ll never do this right if you don’t re-root your whole life to another country…Don’t worry, you are normal, or at least I’d say I’m like you. The study of languages is interesting, stimulating and enriching for me, and so what if I don’t have a trip to Moscow booked. I’ll get there when I want to, not because I feel that I won’t manage to learn Russian without it.

Here are my three top reasons for being proud if you’re a stationary language learner:

  1. You get to be the guide. Travel can have its escapist downside and I quite like the place where I live. I am enjoying getting to know it even better, and look forward to the day when I can show a guest around speaking Russian or Spanish. Do you agree that this is every bit as cool as being the one who moved to a foreign country?
  2. You are more independent from externally imposed performance measures and you can set your own pace of language learning. Nobody should tell you which CEFR you’re supposed to be at after x months. I’ve seen many dedicated learners lose their confidence over this, which is still incredible to me.
  3. This is the 21st century. You can connect with other learners. Other travellers. Other teachers. With anyone living on the other side of the world with free tools as simple as video chat. No need to take your family and your life and shift to another country just for the sake of improving your language skills.

Even if you will never visit your target language’s country, you are still growing and learning and the number of stamps in your passport is nobody’s business but yours. Enjoy the freedom of finding your own way.

Picture by Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Italian Job Titles

Italian Job Titles and the Difficult Path to Equality

Italian Job Titles

As you probably already know, the Italian language has two genders, maschile (masculin) and femminile (feminine), but is this rule always observed? If we look at Italian job titles, it is not always so.

A male doctor is a dottore, a female doctor is a dottoressa; but a female lawyer is an avvocato, like her male counterpart, and not an avvocatessa; the same holds for presidente, which is used for both female and male presidents. As you can see from these examples, not always is there in Italian a specific feminine noun to define some professions.

There is so much to a language in terms of the culture it represents. Language is, in fact, a mirror of society and to quote Rosa Luxembourg, the first revolutionary act is to call things with their real names.

The issue as to whether have a feminine version of all profession names or not has sparked a wide debate over the last decades, especially since the role of women in the Italian society started to change in the last decades, with the rise of feminist movements.

But let us now have a closer look at how the Italian language works in this regard. The rule has it that in order to convert a male profession noun into its feminine version, you will need to add suffix –essa: dottoressa (=doctor), poetessa (=poet), professoressa (=professor). Sometimes you will need to change the ending into –a: cameriere (=waiter) becomes cameriera(=waitress), ballerino (=dancer) becomes ballerina, for instance. Those names ending in –tore (e.g. attore) change into –trice (attrice). Other names, such as those whose endings are either –ente or –ista, remain unchanged – what changes is only the article: il presidente / la presidente, il giornalista / la giornalista (= journalist). One exception to this rule is given by the noun studentessa, which is the feminine version of studente (=student).

However, as we mentioned before, some nouns, like architetto (=architect), sindaco (=mayor), and avvocato (=lawyer), don’t have any feminine versions, which is what a number of feminist movements are increasingly claiming. The goal is that of bringing equality between men and women in a society who only recently has recognised the possibility for the latter to perform the tasks that were traditionally assigned to men. Changing the language would also mean having an impact on society, breaking down inequality between genders.







Tripp & Pin

How To Teach English while Tripppin’ With a Mission

It’s my pleasure as a brain-friendly coinnoisseur of fun teaching ideas to introduce a ground-breaking new teaching site that scores exponentially high on all counts of creativity and practicality.

my_scoopI feel a bit like Lois Lane, as Superman’s reporter, hitching a ride in the sky and getting to view the teaching world from above. As I see all of the struggling learners and frustrated teachers down there, I know that it is my duty as a reporter to get this out. My Fair Languages editors will be proud this scoop indeed.

I was just thinking that this could be the scoop of the cyber century when I realised that no one has yet figured out how to define time online – we need a 21st century Einstein for that. But as long as you have fun on Tripppin,’ time will cease to be of significance. Accelerated learning will occur, whether you are operating from a traditional classroom or an online school.

Tripp & PinAs with my own twins in real life, I have been keeping an eye on the Tripppin’ twins for quite a while now. In fact I featured Mau Buchler in a previous article about creativity, which you can find here. There is also an audio interview in that article. When I wrote it Tripppin’ was not yet ready to be launched, but now, at last, we have the Tripppin’ experience online, in it’s Beta stage. The whole Tripppin’ educational methodology is based on real life experiences, and is therefore growing with its creator, Mau Buchler.

Tripppin’ is an interactive learning experience where you follow teaching twins, Pin and Trippp’ around the world. You see videos of the places ‘they’ have visited, learn English from from the videos, and then delve deeper into the world of games, creative expression, social activity and much, much more.

Here is a video that gives the big picture of Tripppin’ around the world.

What does this mean for teachers everywhere?

1) Classroom teachers can supplement their courses with Tripppin’. Even if you are forced to use old-fashioned course books you will find grammar and vocabulary on Tripppin’ to cover all the basics and more from elementary level upwards.

Nobody would argue with two main premises here. In fact they are the holy grail of ELT.

A) Students need to learn ‘real’ English.

The Tripppin’ twins present us with natural English in two styles. One is the informal style of Trippp’ and the other is a more formal, polite way of speaking employed by Pin. Both styles are necessary if one is to understand real English around the world.

B) Students need to be motivated.

Whether classroom teachers get students to work online during lessons in a language lab, whether they want to use a flipped class model and set Tripppin’ tasks as preparation for something that might be coming up in the course book, or whether they want to motivate student with fun Tripppin’ homework, it will definitely add spice and productivity to any learning and teaching experience.

2) Online teachers.

If you are an online teacher you’ve got to check out Tripppin’. It has everything to make your teaching life easier and more inspiring. Mau Buchler has organized the site so that teachers and students can register for free and interact there. He is also planning to train some teachers in how to teach using Trippin’ in future.

If you are a new online teacher who doesn’t know where to start with content creation, Tripppin’ can provide you with all of its self- created and original multi-media content.

You can work directly with the website from your virtual classroom via screensharing. Some of you work directly from skype, so the same thing applies with screen-sharing. You may already have some specific courses and contents already at hand, but would like to give your students an exciting experience beyond the virtual walls. So you can just share your screen and enter the magical world of Trippin’, where you can find tasks which expand upon what you are teaching. For those of you who also want to have your whiteboard handy, you can keep in touch with the base camp (classroom) at the same time, so your experience is enhanced but not transformed beyond recognition.

A very powerful way to use it, as I mentioned above, is to let students lead by giving them tasks and missions to do on Tripppin’ before your live online session. You then expand upon that in class. I believe that this method of flipping will actually make you more creative as a teacher because your classroom activities will be naturally inspired by the methodology of Trippin’ and will be more dynamic because of that.

What about exams???

exams- notIt often seems that exams training and edutainment do not go hand. Exam pressure forces teachers everywhere to teach to the test. This produces nice academic results (if you’re lucky) and certificates which are a passport to EVERYWHERE. The only problem is that the ‘successful’ learners carrying these certificates may not be able to communicate naturally ANYWHERE. My own teaching experience has come from the smelly innards of the exam beast and the only way out is to tickle the beast.

Beyond text books

Funny bones are brain-friendly, enjoyment is engaging, and real life scenarios and challenges create deep learning situations. Think ‘reality shows’. In survivor you’ve got to do something to survive and thrive. Tripppin’ has language missions for each level and you can’t proceed to the next level until you accomplish your mission.

This makes sure that students get enough practice, it helps learners to fill in gaps in their knowledge, and it’s challenging too.

The bottom line is that we’ve got to make academia and edutainment complement each other and work together for whole-brain excellence in life, as well as in exams.

This is what Tripppin’ does.

Features of Trippin’.

a) English video lessons
b) Gamified online and offline activities
c) Lounge area playing fun, interactive shows that people can watch together
d) Facebook features
e) Stories that you can create and share
f) Music videos that you can watch and get more information about
g) Pictionary
h) Grammar videos, tutorials and support.

You can join for free and play with this amazing environment NOW.

Have fun!!

In Tripppin’ part two, I will describe the experience from learner perspectives.

Stay tuned for ‘How to LEARN English while Tripppin’ with a mission’


Where Is The Creativity In Technology?


“Computers are useless. They only give you answers”
Pablo Picasso

This quote by Pablo Picasso may seem obsolete in the 21st century – but is it?

The fact is that we now live in an age where we can take information for granted. There is no lack of information. In fact, many people complain of being bombarded by avalanches of information overload.

So, what good is this information and what do we do with it?

What good are answers if we can’t find the questions?

Computers are actually completely useless if we cannot utilize them to improve our minds. My foray into online teaching has given me many opportunities to experiment with educational technology. My goal is always to see how a tool can aid language learning.

Here is a list of criteria for a webtool that might be used for educational purposes.

1) Easy to use
2) Has potential for both linguistic and artistic development.
3) Incorporates multi-media regarding visuals, audio and video.
4) Instead of acting as an information generator, it enables one to generate ideas for linguistic expression.

Self -expression is the ultimate state of being/learning and creating. Any tool that maximizes ability to express oneself linguistically from an artistic backdrop will succeed in
‘speaking to the parts of a learner’s being which are otherwise untouched’, as Ken Robinson says.


The evolution of unprecedented creative opportunities in education in the 21st century has far-reaching potential.Emerging from the tools themselves and our digital empowerment are the learning experiences provided by environments and communities.Environments can be educational platforms, virtual classrooms, break-out rooms, learning management systems, social networking sites, wikis, blogs, skype or google hangouts.

They all enable connectivity, and the possibilities are only dependent upon how you may wish to merge international hearts and minds into unforgettable learning experiences. I have experienced group dymanics in the WizIQ virtual classroom through games, music, poetry and story-telling. I have seen waves of inspiration ripple across groups on facebook. I’ve seen students from nowhere suddenly appear on a page with a poem or rhyme spontaneously erupting.


Yesterday, I posted a simple word cloud on facebook, inspired by another teacher called Mark Hurlin Shelton who was pondering my question about ideas versus thinking. I wanted to see what people would do with the words. Here is the thread which inspired a creative, heartfelt piece of poetry and rhyme by Feten Redene Raissi from Tunisia. It not only practices the vocabulary intelligently, but shows layers of deep engagement with the language.

“English for me is sooo kind,
loving it invaded my MIND,

this language improved my REFLECTION
and typified it with quick action

as an English prisoner I was caught,
and about this kind condition, I’ve never THOUGHT,

Now I’m keen on my COGITATION
I’m able to speak in any nation

I’m enhancing my PROCESSES
making English even my kisses

and my level of INTELLECT,
became characterised with quick react

Due to my innovation & IMAGINATION
My thesis could be appreciated by any nation”

Communities are the magical result of a new departure in teaching as a sharing concept. I have seen time and again where teachers who work together online can have a manifold impact on the learners. Informal ‘team-teaching’ interactions bring about extra responses from students and higher levels of effort and engagement. This has been evident in our global poetry collaborations with international learners, as well as in PLN networking.

Language learning communities are everywhere online. However, I feel that true engagement is still a hit and miss affair, though I’m grateful for all of the inspiring ‘hits’ I’ve experienced so far. If we can engage students around the world on an adhoc basis, imagine if we brought our real classes onto the networks. We could set up safe groups in private mode firstly, and then lead a reaching out campaign – where learners could safely network artistically and creatively across the globe. This would eventually create a new kind of tolerance and appreciation of humanity as a force for good. When learning comes from the heart it is beyond intellectual. Your whole being is engaged in discovery.

Technology and connectivity will take us beyond mere intellectualism and beyond mere testing, though we will become more adept at both. This is because ‘ learning is what happens when the teacher is busy making other plans’, in the word of David Deubelbeiss in his book, which I highly recommend; called ‘Zen and the Act of Teaching’.

‘Primitive technology’ brings us back to ourselves.

cave art

When I was preparing for my presentation on ‘Creativity in Technology’ for the Virtual Round Table Conference, it struck me that the tools I most like to use or play with are the ones that spark off my own creativity. It’s kind of like being naked. I mean that when you remove rules and information overload, you are left with your own mind and inner nature. You’ve got the blank canvas and some nice tools to create anything you want. The analogy of cave art sprang to mind, as this is a perfect example of art produced by minds which are free of intellectual clutter. Just as primitive tribes also painted their bodies without hiding their nakedness, we can paint our words without hiding our souls.

The top six tools I favour for this language exploration of the soul are:

1) Eduglogster – blank canvas with multi-media tools, and a learning management system for teacher to manage environments and community.

2) Prezi – Beautiful blank canvas, with laterally designed right-brain stimulation. I feel like a baby with this tool and have only touched on 1% of what I want to develop with this. It is simple, yet profound in its potential. It is a collaborative tool also, so groups can make prezis together.

3) Story Bird – this is a community of artists and writers in the style of a social network. You can write beautiful stories using artistic visuals which have been ‘donated’ by real artists.

4) imind or the free mindmaple – for brainstorming and discovering what’s secretly going on in that mind of yours. Mindmapping makes concrete representations of the connections your neurons are constantly making – true cave art mingled with neuroscience. Ideas connect and flow to help you with writing, poetry, grammar, vocabulary etc.

5) Comic sites, such as bitstrips, Pixton or Make belief comix, animation sites such as go animate, and video sites such as animoto.

6) ClubEFL for video quizzes and lots more.

Influence is a measure of true learning.

I see the future of language learning, and all learning for that matter, as a cascading interplay of experiment and influence. We have already seen that on You Tube, students are reaching out to each other. You Tube has become many things to many people. A student of mine from Saudi Arabia told me that You Tube has been embraced by the youth of her country as a place to share learning and creativity on video – it has replaced televison almost entirely.

Just doing your homework for good grades has lost it’s appeal.
Today, learners want to share their creation across learning environments and communities.This is a great thing. As I mentioned in a previous article about global learning;

“Connecting online breaks down cultural barriers. If we want to end violence, racism, and extreme nationalism or if we want our children to escape the daily diet of government controlled political brain-washing, we can have them grow into citizen journalists of the world.”

My final thought is that societies have been worshipping rigid belief systems for too long. The true ‘Holy Grail’ is the creativity that we have been haphazardly nurturing with dubious results. Lets learn through our hearts and allow technology to give us tools to reunite with our own genius.

I’ll leave you with a metaphor beautifully expressed by Ken Robinson

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhInsc&start=895&end=1020]

misconceptions about language learning

Misconceptions about Language Learning #7: One Method to Rule Them All

misconceptions about language learning

Recently, I’ve been active on answer base Quora – a website where any question you ask can be answered, sometimes by impressive experts in the field. One interesting topic to follow is “Learning Languages“, where I often come across the following question:

What’s the best way to learn a language?

Ah, the best way, they ask. It’s like looking for the Holy Grail or the Ring in Lord of the Rings. Futile, no?

Benny Lewis, author of Fluent in 3 Months, recently produced a humorous take on the quest for a miracle method when he promoted Language Ninja. It made me laugh, a parody of all those language learning wizards out there who claim they can just infuse our mind with fluency.

There is no step-by-step language learning solution that will guarantee you fluency, and unfortunately not even a brain-friendly online workout for it. Languages aren’t easy. They’re rewarding and empowering, and worth the hassle. But that doesn’t change the truth – it takes some discipline and commitment.


So, if there’s no best way, what can learners do? I want to share the Hows of Language Learning – not miracle cures, just some sensible advice to consider.

  • Do it your way

Just like Atkins diets or GTD methods can’t work for every human, you will struggle to find the one single language learning method that works. So my answer to “What’s the best way to learn a language” is this: Change the question.

Find out about the many ways there are. List at least five that you can think of, like taking a class or asking your Polish neighbour for a word a day. Then think about your personality – are you an extrovert? Visually stimulated? Music lover? Find the method that integrates your preferences for the most efficient way of learning.

There are also learning preferences, which are important to explore. This test and this great lingualia article will help you figure out more.

  • Learn to love it

If you cannot beat them, you have to join them. Stop looking at a far-off result. It is my belief that you cannot become fluent in less than a year, so I’d rather advise language learners to start enjoying the journey you’re taking there.

Instead of working towards that fuzzy idea of “fluency”, try reaching smaller milestones. Enjoy the glow of actually achieving goals, and have it rightfully boost your confidence. It doesn’t matter how small they are, they could be “remember 10 types of German sausage” or “recite the conjugation for être in under 30 seconds”.

  • Practice persistence

Persistence and commitment should not mean strictly prescribing a set of training hours or verb tables. That wouldn’t be fun – the real commitment is in finding interesting ways of engaging with your target language, ever again.

Learning little and often is better than having weekly 5 hour sessions. Your brain is stimulated by repetition and working in these smaller doses will often allow you to make improvements and adjustments so much more effectively. If you attend regular classes, make sure you look at your notes at least once a week – not on class day.

If you are self-taught, this is also important. You can vary your input, vary the exercises and generally have a bit more flexibility. But one word of warning: Don’t get complacent. You should follow some kind of plan, make sure you progress and repeat the same things only so many times. It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember 100% of lesson 4, move on anyway and trust that progress builds on previous knowledge. (As an early stage Russian learner, I know how hard this one can be, but if I try to make the word for “buy” and “sell” stick in my head any more it may just melt.)

So, these are my thoughts on best ways to learn a language. Please share your own thoughts – do you believe in having found the one best solution? If yes, what is it? Or do you plod on, changing course whenever necessary, but always with the end goal in sight?

This post is a modified version of “What dieting taught me about language learning“, and inspired by two fab ladies: For one, my friend K. And for another part, Sonya Lyubomirsky, author of a book called “The How of Happiness” (before you ask: there is no one How, there are 6 billion individual ones).

Picture via Wallsave.com

Reasons to learn German

Reasons to learn German #3 Doing Business with Germans

Reasons to learn German

To make sure that we are all on the same page, let me say that certainly, most Germans speak decent or even good English and to a lesser degree other foreign languages. However, this doesn’t necessarily has an effect on their willingness to do business in another language.

I think the following quote by former German chancellor Willy Brandt still holds true to a great extend: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”

When you take part in some of the big German trade fairs that attract a large international audience, of which the CeBIT, Berlin’s IFA consumer electronics show and the Hannover Messe (Hannover Industry Trade Fair) are probably the most prominent examples. Many of Germany’s premier products are launched at one of the trade fairs.

This is even more true when you want to do business with German companies in Germany. I didn’t realize it was such an important part in negotiations before moving to France. I had thought that conversation or negotiations could easily take part in a language other than German, but I had to learn that this is not really the case. A bit astounded I learnt from French companies that having a German (born) or at least German-speaking team member opens them doors that would otherwise remain closed.

Now I can confirm, this is not a cliché, it’s the truth!

So don’t rely much on your German counterparts switch to English, some are likely to do that at a later stage but in the beginning it’s almost inevitable to talk in German.

To sum this up: You will leave a better impression and business becomes more likely. I would also emphasize on the cultural aspect. How do Germans do business: educate yourself on points such as being on time, handshake or not, Du or Sie and business hours among other.

language learning is in decline

UK: Language Learning is in Decline because of Anti-European Sentiment

language learning is in decline

We already learned that in the UK language learning is in decline and that only 9% of 15-year-olds in the UK are competent in the first foreign language they learn in school after seven years, whereas other European students at the same age show much higher competency, like 82% in Sweden.

Back in August the Guardian shared some data on British teens and their growing reluctance to learn foreign languages but their parents aren’t any better. A survey by travel site TripAdvisor found that Britons are worst in the EU when it comes to speaking the language of the country they are visiting for vacation.

Now a new report found that the A-level entries for French and German fell by 50% between 1996 and 2012. According to Kathryn Board, co-author of the report, the anti-European rhetoric in the media and by politicians is not helping to make language learning more appealing in a country that already is known for not recognizing the value of speaking another language than English.

While German and French are in sharp decline, Spanish is on the rise, probably based on the perception that Spanish as global language is more widely spoken and therefore a more useful skill to have.

Apparently people in the UK think that learning German and French languages is not useful anymore although the exact opposite is the truth. Earlier this year the 2012 Education and Skills survey by Pearson and the CBI listed German as first (50%) and French as second (49%) desired language a future employee should be able to speak. Spanish is ranked third place with 37%.

Language specialist Teresa Tinsley states in the report published by the CfBT Education Trust that

“All the information shows that the languages that are most needed in the workplace are French and German and I think there is an erroneous perception that because Spanish is a global language, it is therefore going to be more useful – but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the structure of our economy and the trading links that we have. I think that the rhetoric and the discourse around Europe and the anti-European discourse is not helpful for languages.”


European Union learn two foreign languages

Europeans should Learn two Foreign Languages says Commissioner Vassiliou

European Union learn two foreign languages

According to Europe’s Language and Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou learning foreign languages can be a way out of the economic crisis for many Europeans. We already wrote about examples in other countries like Canada which show that being bilingual pays off.

The European Union committed to promote multilingualism with the goal of every citizen of the EU speaking at least two foreign languages. This way people would become more mobile and language savvy and enable them to find work across borders.

At the European Economic and Social Committee that took place early March Vassiliou stated that institutions and businesses in the EU must also learn to better cope with a multilingual society.

The latest figures of the European Commission show that only 42% of 15 year olds in the EU are competent in their first foreign language which they usually learned for seven years in school. But this figure varies heavily across the EU with for example 82% of 15 year olds being competent in Sweden compared to only 9% in the UK.

Vassiliou also thinks that language skills should not only be a field for experts like linguists, translators or interpreters.

“Languages, like politics, are too important to our lives to be left to specialists only.”

She also addressed the notion that English is now the de facto lingua franca in Brussels and therefore gaining influence as the main language of the workplace in the European Union. Though speaking English is probably a basic skill today, it should not come at the expense of the other European languages.

“I am still absolutely convinced that it is more and more the knowledge of other languages that can make the difference in getting a job and progressing in one’s career.”

Due to the current economic crisis the multilingualism strategy of the European Commission, also called “mother tongue plus two”, policy makers are now more open to once again revisit the strategy and work on a new European benchmark for language acquisition. Vassiliou hopes that the new proposal which is going to measure how many students are learning two foreign languages will be adopted in 2014.

Via EurActiv | Image

misconceptions about language learning

Misconceptions about Language Learning #6: They definitely got it right in school

misconceptions about language learning

Hassled teachers, giggling back rows, noisy common rooms… many would-be learners will have memories of school that are not encouraging future learning. If you are above the age of 13 and you attended school, you are very likely to have come into contact with language learning. The common scenario is that your tuition was in a larger group of your peers, involved homework and regular tests, and was structured around a curriculum set by people who don’t know you. And for some learners, it wasn’t right. The amount of people who mention this scenario to me when they talk about language learning is staggering!

But let’s get real: You’re not a teenager anymore. You are not herded into a classroom anymore. You can learn like an adult, go at your own pace and feel free from constraint. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever learnt with a goal in mind?

A goal is not something imposed on you that you don’t believe in. Some find themselves motivated by the desire to score an A on the next exam, but others do not. So if you have never had a goal that was relevant for you, it might be time to put a value on why you want to learn.

  • In past learning environments, did you feel proud of your successes?

You should be able to look at your achievements with a good, satisfied glow. I’m new to indoor climbing and I cannot tell you how pleased I was with myself last week when I put a new move into practice for the first time. The same goes for language learning. Be pleased with yourself when you achieve something, otherwise you won’t be going for long.

  • Was the pace right for you?

Pace is usually an issue with group learning in a set curriculum environment. The goalposts are set by people who don’t know you as an individual. They may be making assumptions about your general age group, or even worse, they might just have counted backwards from the exam content and guessed at how to squeeze that content into an academic year. Just consider this teacher’s view of how far the reality in UK schools is from the ideal language school.

Don’t let others tell you how fast or slow you are supposed to be. If you want to understand an issue in depth before moving on to the next, do it. If you want to skim many lessons and get a big picture view, do it. It’s important to be consistent. Pace is secondary.

  • Did you get answers to all your questions?

Some learning systems make assumptions about what learners want to know and what they don’t want to know. If you felt that learning a tense stoked your curiosity, just to be left clueless about where to find out more, you may have taken away the belief that your way of learning wasn’t right. The way to address this is to investigate who will give you that information and how you want it to be delivered to you.

Draw Conclusions

If the answer to any of these questions is no, your misconception shaped by past experience may be holding you back. Think about what you like and didn’t like in past experiences, what worked for you and what made you feel like you’re achieving and progressing well. Consider different methods: group tuition, e-learning, individual lessons or language exchanges. It might be time rearrange your learning landscape for productivity and motivation. Take a break from what others say (yes, even we on Fairlanguages) and have a good old session with yourself, your questions and a piece of paper.

Good luck shaking it up!

Image by bschwehn via sxc.hu


Romanagiri is the new Youth Language in India


Romanagri, have you heard of this language? It is a new language used by young people across India. The interesting thing is the evolution of this language is different from the other languages.

Languages traditionally developed through gradual accumulation of words and syntax and spread through the brain and the tongue. Romanagri, a protmanteau of English and Hindi, changes and proliferates via cell phones rather than speech. Romanagri is a natural language among young Indians, but confusing to English language purist.

This is the language of BlackBerry messengers, Tweets, Facebook posts and SMS. The language could simply be a regional language written in English as a phone message or Tweet such as “Mera naam Jacob hain” (my name is Jacob) to very complex combinations like “Picture main feel nahin thee” (The film lacked pizzazz).

Though the use of transliterated script like Romanagri isn’t something new in India, but it does pose a complex problem in India for the reasons that majority are more fluent in their native language than English and are taught to read English before they speak it, yet disadvantaged economically and professionally because English is preeminent language for a white-collar.

Disconnection has remained a barrier for people who have been unable to tap into India’s consumer market despite the widespread use of cellphones. To break the barrier, clever inventors have tried to invent technologies such as language keyboards, voice-to-text conversion etc to overcome the constraints of English.

There’s doubt that Romanized language will have much potential say for news website or anything that involves more than a couple of sentences, but will continue to be the language for getting film music or movies.

To show the complexity of Romanagri, a study was done to test participants who had studied both Hindi and English and routinely conversed in text messages that interspersed both languages. The participants had to read sets of words that were interlingual homophones, or words that sound the same but have different meanings in both Hindi or English. Based on what they read, participants had to search concrete nouns from the words that were written in Hindi, English and Romanagri. Indeed, Romanagri took more time and was prone to more errors, even if the words involved were comparably familiar.

Researches found that Romanagri evoked responses from several regions of the brain for the “attention network” of the brain which is what helps people to multi task and prioritize between tasks that are competing for our attention. This additionally proves the complexity of the language and led researchers to ask questions of whether bilinguals extract information from language differently from mono-linguals and whether there are costs associated with having to juggle multiple languages.

Perhaps with the complexity of a language come benefits. We have seen several researches in the past indicating that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism showed a slower progress into early symptoms of Alzheimer’s than monolinguals.

A professor at the Centre for Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences in Allahabad, argues that the natural condition of most Indians of knowing two or three languages and having varying degrees of proficiency in communicating them is in general beneficial. Also, studies have indicated bilinguals have better skills at multi-tasking.

Apart from multi-tasking, study point to possible lines of investigation in understanding dyslexia among children not trained in English and reworking the pedagogy of English learning in India.

Via live mint | Image