Sarah Barrett from Lingotastic runs language classes for children and families, using music, crafts, puppets and bubbles – it sounds so much fun we might have to go and check it out ourselves! Here’s Sarah’s language story…
On my first visit to Germany to visit my husband Maik’s parents, I had a few language misunderstandings.
One day we were in Große Straße in Osnabrück and I had to ask Maik what a travelling Bratwurst (“Riesenbratwurst”) was… it actually said “Reisenbratwurst”, which means giant Bratwurst. So I still don’t know what a travelling Bratwurst is.
A few years later I was at church in Germany listening to the preacher. I could not understand why he was talking so much about toast… he was actually talking about trost (an old German word for “comfort”)!
Maik and I got married in Germany, but they didn’t believe I understood what was going on, so we had to have a translator!
When my youngest daughter started school (two years ago), I set up some language classes for families as Lingotastic. As a busy mum, language learning hadn’t been a priority for a long time, but we had passed on German and French to our children, and I wanted to encourage other families to do this too. At Lingotastic we have six weeks of French, German or Spanish. We use simple songs, crafts, a story, puppets and bubbles to help little ones to tune into that language. It was tricky for me at first to separate the languages, but it came with practice.
I then wanted a challenge, so as a family we learned a bit of Mandarin and some Mandarin songs. We then delivered a class in the local library and also in my daughter’s school reception class.
We heard about the EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge at Easter and my daughters thought they might like to join in. They learned a lot of Portuguese through playing the simple games. Then in the summer we heard EuroTalk were doing an Esperanto challenge, using the uTalk app. We really enjoyed it and had a few simple conversations in Esperanto around the dinner table. A few months ago my daughter asked why gato and gâteau are not the same thing, and said maybe we should have a gato gateau!
I love to greet people in their native language and people are often really happy to teach you how. I can often say good morning in up to five languages whilst walking my children to school!
Language learning only works for me if I can see a purpose. I love to get to know others and language learning is a great way to do this. I love to learn languages by playing apps like uTalk, playing with FlashSticks and singing along to songs in other languages.
If you want to follow our language learning journey check out www.Lingotastic.co.uk/blog
What’s your inspiration for learning a language? Today we’re hearing from Jack, a student and blogger at LangLearningBlog, on how he got addicted…
What inspired you to start learning French?
I never really was fond of languages, and I only studied French at school for a GCSE in a language – but bear with me! Soon I became almost addicted to language learning and I actually started enjoying learning completely alien and new vocabulary. Some thrive from obsessing over football fixtures and their league tables, others however (us!), are addicted to language learning. Let them obsess over futile fixtures. Meanwhile, we can be learning all the words a language holds!
What gives you motivation to continue learning?
Getting yourself motivated to learn new vocab or review flashcards is so difficult (especially when they’ve been stored at the back of a drawer for a few months!!).
My main motivation hack is that I keep my learning sessions short but regular. Not five minutes, but never over one hour, I find vocab literally pours into my brain doing regular learning sessions. Obviously there’s been days where I’ve done little or no vocab learning or reviewing, a.k.a ‘forgetting days’. Short bursts or an adrenaline-kicking 30 minutes are definitely my way forward to keeping motivated.
YouTube definitely helps, personally I think the short TED Talks speeches are great. They cover a huge range of topics, including language learning, and are never too lengthy. Beware though, or before you know it you’ll be watching pandas falling down slides and dogs dancing – one could say I have some experience getting distracted by YouTube.
What’s your biggest language learning challenge?
My learning routine has always been split into two halves: school and home independent study. School would give me the content, and my vocab learning at home would help me consolidate this and go further. Harder in practice though. One of the biggest challenges I had was the content that GCSE French covered. There was no ‘off the cuff’ speaking, nor conventional speaking topics (except food). The course seemed to shy away from practical topics that I’d actually need in France, like ordering bus tickets. So doing online reviewing programmes and not being able to translate some really simple stuff, it felt like learning the language was a waste.
What’s your favourite French expression?
On my visit to St-Etienne, France, I did work experience in a primary school. One night, some of the students on the work experience and teachers at the school went to a restaurant, and were all sat around this square table. Conversation slowed and we divided into two groups: English natives and French natives. It then turned to ;it’s raining cats and dogs’, then soon after all the students attempting to explain other idioms too. Trying to decode the French idioms to English was hard. I did manage to glean from the French idiom conversation ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’. It translates literally as ‘eating the dandelions by the roots’, roughly meaning ‘pushing up daisies’. Obviously my favourite French expression to date – not because it’s unusual, but because it still reminds me of some of the French native’s facial expressions it got in return.
What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
Having the chance to visit the country is definitely the most rewarding thing about the entire years-long learning process. Before I knew it I was conversing with a bookshop assistant asking them to recommend books, and where I’d find them. I was explaining tasks to groups of primary school children and earwigging into conversations on the plane (apparently some French people really like TK Maxx).
After years of learning what felt like an artificial language, as I’d never heard it in action, all this learning had finally paid off, allowing me to not only have some great conversations, but also food – French crêpes and cheese cannot be described in words.
If you, like us, are now dreaming of crêpes (and cheese), and you’ve been inspired to learn some French, visit our website to see how we can help. Or download uTalk for iOS and start learning for free!
Interview with Alexandra Turner – translator, writer, editor
Alex left her London life a few months ago to go and travel around the world. She is passionate about culture and languages and has traveled to 26 countries up to now. At the moment she lives in Stockholm, Sweden (and we deeply envy her for that).
EuroTalk: What made you start learning languages?
I started learning German and French when I started secondary school because it was compulsory. Straight away I loved both of them and they became my favourite lessons. Outside of school I was interested in watching movies or looking at books in those languages and continuing to learn (I know, so geeky!). Then two years later I started to study Spanish too as an optional subject for GCSE (the exams we do aged 16) and I loved that too – my lessons made me think about sunny Spain instead of depressing London 😛 I was starting to get pretty interested in languages so I also took Japanese lessons after school (again, yes, I was a geek…) So I kept on with those language for a few years. I started learning Italian just two years ago because I met my boyfriend who’s Italian, so I learned just by listening to him talking, by watching Italian TV with him and later on by going to Italy. Finally my other language is Ukrainian, which I started learning because I was living in L’viv, Ukraine, and I really needed the language to get around day to day.
ET: What gives you motivation to continue learning?
To be honest I mostly learn for fun. I am really fascinated by languages, how they are different and yet sometimes similar. If I have spare time I am as likely to grab one of my language apps or watch a foreign movie as I am to surf Facebook or watch TV. And in fact if I DO surf Facebook, Twitter etc, half my feed is in other languages anyway.
I also learn for work because I’m a translator and I feel like I need to keep improving. And travelling of course is a motivation because I need languages for practical things.
ET: What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
Earning money is one thing! But the best feeling ever is navigating a practical situation using one of your languages, or having a real conversation for the first (or second, third…) time. I get so psyched when I talk to an Italian person and they actually understand what I’m saying. Or just doing something simple like buying some tomatoes at the market in Ukraine, I feel pretty cool!
ET: What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Loads! When I was at school I found grammar boring and I just wanted to learn loads of words (I was pretty naïve!!) So later on my grammar was a total mess and I had to go back and try to put it into place. So I still have a pretty terrible knowledge of some fundamental things like genders in German, which can only be fixed by hard, hard study later on. So if you want to reach a decent level in a language, I recommend to get the grammar in place ASAP, which I’ve done with Ukrainian (older and wiser) and it’s helped soooo much. Also I now find grammar amazing, like doing a Sudoku puzzle 😀
Another challenge is that I am shy and afraid of speaking to new people in new languages. This is incredibly hard to overcome, but the only solution is, like Nike says, Just Do it! Start with easier situations like buying a beer or a stamp and progress to harder ones. Or stick yourself in an environment where you are forced to use the language. For me that’s spending time with my boyfriend’s family who speak NO English, or by living in Ukraine where many people know no English at all. Another helpful thing is to organise a language exchange or find a conversation teacher/partner who will give you one on one help. You gain confidence just by doing it over and over and over…
ET: Tell us your favourite word/expression in your favourite language.
Wow there are so many! There are loads of amazing expressions in Italian although most of them are too rude to write here now… The best things are the gestures, there’s a funny one you can do to show that you’re being left alone or ditched, where you make the shape of an artichoke (for some reason…) with your hand. In German I like the expression ‘das geht mir auf den Keks’ – ‘it gets on my biscuit’, which means something annoys you. I also really like using the word ‘pobrecito’ (poor thing) in Spanish whenever I’m being sarcastically sympathetic to someone.
ET: Any funny/weird/awkward situation that happened with a native or another speaker?
Too many awkward situations to count. At the moment I keep accidentally using Spanish words when I speak Italian, which is quite awkward when people stare at me and say ‘what does that mean?’ In Ukraine I had silly situations every day, such as trying to order food and having to make animal noises when I didn’t know the name of the type of meat, for example. Luckily people found it fun rather than being annoyed. Also I’d get really annoyed when I went into a продукти to buy milk or bread – I’d so proud that I’d remembered the right words, then they would ask me some silly question like ‘which type of bread?’ which I clearly had no chance of answering. Last time it happened, I replied to the woman ‘Я не знаю’ (I don’t know) in exasperation, and she laughed at me for about five minutes…
As a small child, I was practically a real-life Harry Potter. Without the magic. Or the mean Aunt and Uncle. Okay, well really, the only similarity is that I spent a lot of my days in the cupboard under the stairs. Now, before you call the authorities, don’t worry. It was my favourite place! I had a comfy chair and my own TV and all the VHS tapes of awful 90s cartoons that a toddler could ever ask for!
Why is this relevant to EuroTalk I hear you ask?! Well, it was here, sat watching Tots TV, that I accidentally taught myself French! My parents had no idea, until one day I casually said to my Mum ‘Bonjour, Je m’appelle Codie! That means “Hello, my name is Codie”, Mummy!’. She was in shock. After all, what would you think if your three year old daughter started spouting French? Once I’d explained that I got it from Tilly (sorry to anyone born too early/late to understand the references here, YouTube it!), I was inundated with French books, tapes and excited relatives. Even the nurse at our local GP practice heard about my weird knowledge and insisted on making me count to ten in French whilst she gave me my injections. I was essentially a performing monkey – but I loved it!
Fast-forward a few years later and I’m in the second half of Primary School. We have a super cool substitute teacher who plays guitar and teaches us German. It takes him less than half an hour to teach an entire class of children to count to ten in German and 15 or so years later I still know it.
Fast-forward a few years even later and my adorable four year old nephew is counting to ten in Japanese! Something they learn at pre-school through the use of cute mnemonic devices (with even cuter actions!). Languages are being taught younger and younger and suddenly, my toddler French seems a whole lot less impressive.
So that leads me to wonder, am I too old to learn a language? I’m led to believe that the older you are, the harder it is to learn an instrument (well, at least I can sort of play the recorder, right?), so does this apply for other skills? I can’t do a cartwheel, so I figure that boat has sailed, but I did recently learn how to knit… badly. Do different things have different cut off points? As knitting is usually for old ladies, was I only able to learn it because I’m cracking on a bit now? (Maybe a slight exaggeration, I am only 23 after all.) Most importantly am I the right age to finally start learning a language? As I’m currently childless, I know it’s my biological clock I should be worried about, but I genuinely think it is being drowned out by the voice in my head that is yelling ‘What happened to the girl who was learning French before she could tie her shoes? What are you doing with your life?!’.
And that, my friends, is the existential crisis that has inspired me to try and learn Japanese, with the help of EuroTalk. Maybe I’ll shut myself in the cupboard under the stairs for old times’ sake!
Codiekinz is a twenty-something blogger from the South, currently masquerading as a Northerner. She makes YouTube videos and posts about life, books, travel and her bearded dragon, over at www.codiekinz.co.uk. She’ll also be using uTalk to learn Japanese, so keep an eye on her blog for updates!
You can also follow her on Twitter @CodieKinz
Photo credit: codiekinz.co.uk
Today we’ve got a fantastic guest post from Kelly Wang – English teacher, accidental traveller, cake whisperer, dinosaur believer – on her personal language learning journey.
If you’ve got a language story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Now over to you, Kelly…
My journey through languages began in sequins and shoulder pads.
At the age of seven I remember clutching a Pot Noodle (Chow Mein flavour, if you must know), with an A4 pad in front of me and one of those 10 coloured pens ready and poised, waiting for the Eurovision Song Contest.
It has long been a tradition in my family to watch the Eurovision together, and to give marks out of ten to the acts. And at that age, I was of the opinion that English was the only language in the world, so my marking scheme would include whether or not the songs were in English. No English? Nil points.
I even took exception to the fact that each country when giving their own points spoke in their own language. How rude.
Fast forward to the last year of primary school and we learnt a few French words like bonjour and le livre and la fenêtre.
But then, on reaching secondary school, when we started to learn a ‘modern foreign language’ regularly (in my case, French), I loved it. I loved the idea of being able to speak to everyone, no matter the language. And better than that, I was picking it up pretty easily.
The following year there was a repeat performance with learning German, and I remember a sort of teenage arrogance of thinking that languages were going to be ‘my thing’, because by the time I was sixteen I could also say Θέλω να πάω σπίτι in Greek – Thélo̱ na páo̱ spíti (I want to go home).
Over the years I’ve flirted with a lot of languages. I tried Chinese for a while, but with the complicated tonation, I was more worried about causing offence with the way I said a word, and less worried about actually stringing a sentence together.
And then, I found my true language love. The one language I could lose myself in and spend hours learning just for fun. The one language I would squeal over if I heard it spoken in public. Which is Finnish. Naturally.
Finnish may sound like an odd choice, but it made perfect sense to me. What started with a passing interest listening to Finnish metal music erupted into a bit of an obsession when I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t understand the Finnish ice hockey commentary.
For almost two years, Finnish became my number one hobby. Being relatively self-disciplined when it comes to studies, I decided to learn through a mix of self study and online language exchanges. Many an adventure was had along the way, and that perhaps is a story for another time, but I loved it. No prepositions to learn because everything was a suffix, and by changing the word ending you could say a whole range of things about it: saunassa, saunasta, saunan (in the sauna, from the sauna, for the sauna). No articles, no need to wonder if your table was a girl and your chair was a boy, it didn’t matter. Neither did you have to refer to a person as he or she, one simple han and it was covered! Beautiful.
Fast forward another year, and I found myself attempting to get to grips with Hungarian. Now for those of you who don’t know, Finnish and Hungarian are cousins of the language world, and it depends on which scholar you speak to as to how close a family they are. My experience was that whilst it sounded an awful lot like Finnish, Hungarian was nothing like it at all, except for the odd words like toilet: Hungarian – vécé, Finnish vessa.
And currently, I find myself in Spain. Adamantly not learning the language.
Because the problem now, with being a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ when it comes to language, is that they all get tangled up. A waiter asks me if I want a refill, I answer in a mix of Spanish and Hungarian. I overhear staff in my local Chinese supermarket and confuse them – and myself – by responding in Chinese rather than Spanish. And recently on a stopover in Paris, I managed to respond to questions in French but found myself asking questions in Finnish.
What I really could do with is a babel fish. Or to live in the TARDIS. Unfortunately, I am in the wrong reality for that. But. I still love languages.
So. I don’t know what the foreign language for me is going to be. Should I return to French, attempt to master Finnish, or take up something new like Dothraki? Or will that lead to more unnecessary tongue twisting? I just don’t know. Would you like to join me on my journey?