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Posts tagged ‘New Year’


7 ways to stay motivated in your language learning

So we’re now a few weeks into 2015, and chances are all the resolutions we made in a fit of great excitement on January 1st are a dim and distant memory. If one of your goals for this year is to learn a new language, here are a few tips to help you stick at it, even when real life gets in the way, and your motivation starts to fade…

Make it fun

You’re far more likely to learn if you’re enjoying yourself. Of course, the best way to pick up a language is to take a trip to the country where they speak it, but that’s not an option for most of us, particularly so soon after the expense of Christmas! So instead, get yourself an app like uTalk or pick up some Flashsticks to post up all over your house (and office, and car…). Or if you’re on a budget, make up your own game. There is no right way of learning a language, and everyone’s different – but wouldn’t you rather be having fun while you study than poring over a grammar book trying to memorise verb endings?

Make it a competition

I’m currently learning German, and know for a fact I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the uTalk challenge. I don’t really need to learn German – I’m not going to Germany in the immediate future, nor do I have a German mother-in-law to impress – but I fancied trying something new and different. The problem with learning a language just for fun, though, is that it’s very easy to give up without a pressing reason to keep going. The uTalk challenge gave me that reason; I’m a very competitive person, and I wasn’t about to let my colleagues beat me (well, except Nat, who destroyed us all). Knowing that I had to come into work each morning and update my score on the board has kept me motivated, and as a result I now know probably several hundred new words that I didn’t know before.

uTalk language challenge scoreboard

Focus on the end goal

While there are many people who, like me, decide to learn a language just for the fun of it, there are many more who do it for a specific reason. So if you feel your enthusiasm starting to wane, focus not on learning the language, but on what it’ll mean when you’ve learnt it. Maybe it’s a new job, a new relationship or a forthcoming trip. If you concentrate on what you’re getting from knowing a new language, suddenly putting the time in to study won’t seem nearly such a chore.

Reward yourself regularly

Remembering your ultimate goal is important, but that can sometimes seem far, far away. If you were about to climb Everest and didn’t plan to stop till you got to the summit, you’d probably never start (and who could blame you). So make sure you set yourself achievable ‘in-between’ goals, and reward yourself appropriately when you get there. Personally, I find chocolate to be an excellent incentive. Or you could allow yourself an episode of your favourite TV show, or a shopping trip. Whatever works for you and will keep you motivated to press on.

Chocolate cake

Set aside time

Life can be incredibly busy, and often it feels like there isn’t enough time to do everything, so learning a language can slip down the to-do list behind other, more pressing tasks. To combat this argument, try setting aside a fixed amount of time each day, or a few times a week, which is only for language learning. Where that time fits into the rest of your schedule is up to you, but the important thing is that nothing else gets in the way. And if you can make use of ‘dead time’ like your daily commute, so much the better – that way you’re not using up hours that would ordinarily be used for other jobs.

Tell other people

I’m a great believer in this one. Tell friends and family that you’re learning a language, and chances are at some point, they’re going to ask you how it’s going. And if they don’t, ask them to. If I know that at any moment someone’s going to demand that I say something in another language, I’m much more likely to keep learning it, just in case. (Of course, when they do ask me to say something, my mind will instantly go blank – but that’s another story.)

Don’t give up, even if you slip up

As with any goal, there are going to be pitfalls along the way. You’d have to be incredibly determined (and slightly superhuman) to never have an off-day or consider giving up. And that’s ok, but the important thing is to pick yourself up after this wobble and keep going. Knowing you’ve overcome a few obstacles is only going to make the moment you have your first conversation in another language that much sweeter, because after all…

"If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere." Frank A. Clark

Good luck (or should I say Viel Glück)!




Learning lots of Icelandic!

Góðan dag!

As you may remember, I’ve been learning Icelandic for the January uTalk Challenge. It’s a totally new language for me, with different rules and pronunciation to other languages I’ve studied, and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it.

There are a few sounds in Icelandic which I really love. One of them, which I’m going to (unflatteringly) call the ‘spitty’ sound, is the sound made by a double ‘L’, as in the word for car (‘bíll’). It’s incredibly satisfying to replicate, although I can’t really explain why – just find an Icelandic person and ask them to say the word for car, or get uTalk and hear our lovely voice artists say it, and you’ll see what I mean.

There are also a few sounds which have just tied my tongue into knots. Although a surprising amount of Icelandic seems vaguely intuitive for an English native speaker, occasionally I’ll come across a preposterously long word boasting a collection of ‘eð’s and ‘þorn’s (the two ‘th’ letters), and it’s really been a case of memorising the words at this stage. It took me absolutely ages to master ‘hjúkrunarfræðingur’ (rather less manageable than English’s nice and simple ‘nurse’) and ‘afgreiðslumaður’ (‘shop assistant’). However, on most topics there have been several items I can make an intelligent guess at, either because they have some connection to the English (‘hjarta’- heart, ‘kókoshneta’- coconut, ‘baunir’- peas, ‘bjór’- beer) or because Icelandic is wonderfully logical at times: it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that ‘á bak við tréð’ indicates ‘behind the tree’, and ‘Ég er með tannpínu’ means ‘ I have (lit. I am with) toothache’. So I have had it slightly easier than some of my colleagues, who have been battling with languages completely unconnected to English.

My technique has been to cram as much in as quickly as possible, launching into the Hard Game first and then going back to Practice to check on what I got wrong. I’ve left all the Recall sections until I’ve completed the other games in all the sections, and then I’ve gone back and used it as a test of how much I remember. I’ve also been pointing to people and things all weekend and saying the word in Icelandic, and getting anyone I’m with to repeat the words back to me. I’ve found this really useful because it makes you assume a certain amount of teacher-like responsibility, so if I’m not 100% sure on what I’ve told them I’ll go back and double-check it. Also, if they repeat back anything nonsensical I realise I’ve probably pronounced it terribly in the first place, and need to revise it. So thank you to everyone who’s put up with me spouting random Icelandic words at them recently! What I now plan to do is to leave the Icelandic for a week and then to come back to it towards the end of January and do all the Recall sections again, and see how much I remember (hopefully a lot).

I’ll leave you with my favourite word so far, which is ‘surfing’ – again, just another really satisfying sound: ‘brimbrettabrun’:

Brimbrettabrun (surfing in Icelandic)Is anyone else doing the uTalk challenge? How are you getting on?



Learning German: a whole new world

So as you may remember, I recently decided to try and learn some German as part of the uTalk language challenge. It’s not a language I’ve ever studied before, and as much as I’m enjoying getting stuck in, it’s also proving quite a bit trickier than I expected.

First, the accent is quite difficult to master. Up to now, my language studies have focused on the Romance languages, particularly Spanish, with its soft, rolling ‘r’ sound and lovely, lilting quality. German is, in contrast, full of hard ‘d’s and ‘ch’s and is a very throaty language, whereas Spanish trips easily off the tongue. There’s a video that surfaces from time to time on the internet, about how everything sounds angry when you say it in German. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s certainly a very different accent to the languages I’ve studied before and is taking a bit of getting used to. I’m pretty sure I’ve been speaking German with a Spanish accent some of the time, which is confusing to say the least.

Then there are the long words. This is actually one of my favourite things about German – the way you can express almost anything simply by sticking words together – but it’s also quite daunting for a learner. Nowhere is this more evident that in the numbers, which look slightly terrifying on first encounter. That said, the way they’re constructed is actually very logical (67, for instance, is ‘seven and sixty’), so they’re not quite as scary as they look. So far, this is my particular favourite – it looks like a tongue twister but still makes complete sense when you break it down into five and fifty:

German numbers

Telling the time, on the other hand, is proving a bit of a killer. The main reason for this is that German approaches telling the time differently to English. So whereas here in the UK we say ‘half four’ to mean ‘half past four’, in Germany it means ‘half of the fourth hour‘ – or ‘half past three‘. And it gets better – if you want to say ‘twenty five past three’, it translates in German as ‘five to half four’. I’m sure this is perfectly logical to a German speaker, and I know other languages take the same approach, but it’s taking me a little while to adapt to it.

The other problem I’m having is learning the definite articles with nouns – how do you know when to use ‘der’, ‘die’ or ‘das’? Unlike Spanish, which has rules to help you at least take an educated guess at the article, German feels pretty arbitrary – and it doesn’t help that whereas most languages just have masculine and feminine nouns, German throws in a third one (neuter), just for fun. At the moment I’m just going with what ‘feels right’, with varying levels of success, so I think what I’ll need to do is learn every noun with its article, since there’s no other way of figuring it out. That shouldn’t take long…

der, die or das?

I’m jumping in headfirst to the challenge, starting straight away with the games in uTalk to see how much I can work out on my own. Then I’m going back and running through the Practice section for each category to make sure I’ve understood everything correctly, and put meanings to words I may not be sure of. (I suppose it’s the equivalent of attempting a conversation with someone and then going away and looking up anything I didn’t understand in a dictionary.) The results are sometimes a bit messy, but I feel like I’m learning faster that way. I’m working through the categories one at a time, in order, but going back regularly to practise earlier ones and make sure I haven’t forgotten everything I’ve learnt. And I’m saving the Recall sections for later – that will be my final challenge and the ultimate test of how much I can remember!

Since I have a long journey to and from work, I’m making use of my time on the train to learn, and so far it’s not going too badly…

uTalk challenge

Who else is taking the uTalk challenge? How’s it going? Everyone learns differently, so we’d love to hear how you’re approaching the challenge.

And if you’d like to take part in the challenge, it’s not too late – just drop us an email to get involved!




Quote of the week: 3 Jan 2015

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” Benjamin Franklin

"Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every year new year find you a better man." Benjamin Franklin

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New Year traditions around the world

Happy New Year! Whether you’re already there, or have a few more hours to wait, we hope that 2015 will be a fantastic year and bring you everything you hope for.

As the celebrations get underway, here are a few interesting New Year traditions from around the world…

Twelve grapes

In Spain, eat a grape for each strike of the clock at midnight; if you manage to eat all twelve during the chimes, you’ll have twelve months of good luck.


This is the tradition of being first into a house after midnight, in Scotland and Northern England. The first-foot should bring gifts of a coin, bread, salt, coal, or whisky, which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth and good cheer. The best kind of first-foot is believed to be a tall, dark-haired man.


A tradition from German and English folklore says that you must kiss someone at midnight, and that that person will be significant in your future. If you don’t kiss anyone, it means you’re doomed to a year of loneliness. Apparently.

Yellow underwear

In Chile, if you want good luck and prosperity in the new year, wear yellow underwear – inside out – and then turn it the right way after midnight.

Making a lot of noise

In the Phillippines, the New Year’s custom is to make a lot of noise at midnight, to frighten away evil spirits. People buy small horns called torotots and also use paputok (firecrackers) as well as banging pots and pans and revving their vehicle engines.

Burning ‘Mr Old Year’

In Colombia, the previous year is seen out by families as they build large stuffed male dolls filled with different materials, and items that they no longer want or that have sad memories attached to them. Then they burn the doll at midnight, which represents burning the past and looking to the future.


The first thing you should eat after midnight in Hungary is lentil soup, because it’s believed that lentils will bring you riches in the new year – and the more lentils you eat, the richer you’ll be.

New Year Dip

In various towns on the Welsh coast, brave swimmers take a dip in the freezing sea on New Year’s Day. Some people do it in fancy dress – and no, we don’t know why.

How will you be celebrating the New Year? Whatever you’re doing we hope you have a great time!

Happy new year!