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Posts tagged ‘tips’


10 reasons to visit Vienna

Today’s ’10 reasons’ guest post comes from Charlotte, who’s currently living and working in Vienna, Austria. If you’d like to read more from Charlotte, you can follow her blog or find her on Twitter.

So here are 10 reasons to visit Vienna… Do you have any to add?

1. Have you seen how pretty it is?

One of the first things you’ll notice, if you go to Vienna, is the architecture. You name an architectural style and there are probably buildings in Vienna based on it, in some shape or form. And even if you’re not a massive fan of the City Hall, or the Burgtheater, then there are plenty of places to enjoy more modern buildings and designs, like the huge Main Public Library or even sitting on the Enzis (some colourful outdoor furniture) in the inner courtyard of the MuseumsQuartier. My favourite building in Vienna is the Hundertwasserhaus, a definite must see – and it’s not like it costs anything to look at it!

2. You can catch an opera or go to a museum.

There’s certainly plenty to choose from in the opera department. The Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper) offers more than 350 performances per season – that’s ballet, opera, and different concerts. If you don’t mind standing, it’s also not too expensive, though you do have to queue for a while beforehand. However, this is one of those things I would recommend if you aren’t in a hurry and you have a little bit of extra cash. Where would be a better place to see an opera but this historical city in a country famous for its musicians? Plus, there are a lot of museums in Vienna. There’s the Natural History Museum, the Art History Museum, the Leopold Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Technology… There are, in fact, over 100 museums in this city. Some of them are old palaces – like Belvedere or Liechtenstein City Palace – and some of them might seem odd – like The Third Man Museum or the Funeral Museum – but they’re all interesting and there’s something here to suit everyone.

3. You can eat at the Naschmarkt.

I’m not going to lie, the Naschmarkt is one of my favourite places in Vienna, for one reason only – it sells food. It’s around 1.5km long and people there sell spices, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, seafood, meats, bread… You name it and they probably sell it there. Plus, there are a bunch of small restaurants where you can sit and eat anything from Chinese dumplings to baklava to traditional Viennese food like Palatschinken. Yum!

Food at the Naschmarkt, Vienna

4. You can chill out on the Donauinsel.

The Danube runs through Vienna, as it does through many other European cities, but here they’ve got an island that runs along the middle of it and you can reach on the subway. Especially popular in the summer, you can sit and have a picnic, or read, or do what others are doing and rollerblade or bike around it. Plus, every year they hold the Donauinselfest, an outdoor music festival and Europe’s biggest open-air event. Considering that its main purpose is to protect Vienna from flooding, it has developed into one of the main areas of entertainment in the city and is a lovely place to waste away a day or three.

5. You can – and should – eat Sachertorte.

Sachertorte is to Vienna what the Victoria Sponge is to the UK – maybe people don’t eat it every day, but they’re certainly aware of its existence and will take the time to explain to you that you should try it as soon as possible. What it actually is, is a dense, delicious, chocolate cake with dark chocolate icing, held together by apricot jam (yes – the apricot jam might seem a little strange at first, but when you consider that in the Austrian dialect they actually have their own separate word for apricot, then you’ll understand that you’re going to come across it often and maybe in surprising places). The ultimate place to eat it, apparently, is at the Hotel Sacher, but you can buy Sachertorte at probably every café in the city. Make sure you get a slice if you’re in Vienna on the 5th December – that’s National Sachertorte Day.

6. Vienna has the oldest zoo in the world!

You may have already heard of Schönbrunn Palace, which is an imperial summer palace and worth a visit, particularly on a sunny day. Well, on the same grounds is the Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Zoo), which, having been founded in 1752, claims to be the oldest zoo in the world. It is one of a few zoos to house Giant Pandas (including three that were born in the zoo) and currently houses over 700 species. It is also one of few attractions in Vienna that is open 365 days a year (most things close on Sundays) – so you can go whenever you feel like it.

Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna

7. You can visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

It can get a bit dull visiting churches and cathedrals all the time, especially in a country like Austria, which is teeming with them, but if you only choose to visit one, then choose this one. This is Vienna’s landmark and it is the most important religious building in the city, and if you don’t feel like just going in for a look around, there is always the opportunity to attend a concert here instead. Plus, it sits on Stephansplatz, basically the city centre, so it’s not like you’ll miss it.

8. It’s an easy task to go wherever you want.

So maybe I shouldn’t highlight ways to leave the city in a post about why you should go there, but considering Vienna’s – and Austria’s – position in Europe, this was bound to come up. The fact is, it’s really easy to go somewhere else and, in most cases, it’s quite cheap too. It’s an hour to Bratislava; you just hop over the border into Slovakia and it’s less than 20€ for a return ticket. It’s three hours to Budapest, the other capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire (and worth a visit if you’re interested in exploring that theme) and four hours to Munich, or Innsbruck, or Prague. You can get cheap tickets to all of these places too, provided that you book in advance or that you get hold of some kind of discount card (not difficult to do). So, you know, if there isn’t quite enough to keep you entertained in Vienna, you can always make a quick trip somewhere else.

9. You can visit the Prater.

The Prater is a huge public park in Vienna, but probably the most famous part of it is the Wurstelprater amusement park, which takes up one corner. This is the home to the Wiener Riesenrad (the Ferris wheel), along with plenty of other rides, but also restaurants, bars, a Madam Tussauds and at least one night club. You could spend a day and a night here, if you wanted, as there’s plenty to do and as it costs nothing to get in (you pay per attraction), you can just wander around the park and explore.

10. If you come in December, you can visit a Christmas Market or five.

Much like the thing with the apricots, the Austrians have a different name for Christmas Markets (Christkindlmarkt) to  their German counterparts, but the principle is somewhat similar. Late October to early November, you’ll see the stands being built and lights being strung – and then from the first weekend of November, the markets begin to open, selling drinks and food and decorations and gifts. I’m not sure exactly how many Christmas Markets there are, but essentially they’re everywhere, so you’ll just stumble across them as you wander the city. Like Germany, Glühwein (mulled wine) is a big thing here, but so is punch – and if you’re not so into the wine, you can buy Glühbier (mulled beer) in certain places. If you don’t drink at all, then there are plenty of places that offer non-alcoholic punch, in a variety of places. So, get a drink, buy yourself some food and soak up that festive atmosphere!

Christmas market, Vienna


(Photo credit: Charlotte Donnelly)

Do you have a favourite place that everyone should know about? Let us know!



Helping yourself to learn a language

Before launching into an ‘only teacher knows best’ tirade, which would sound incredibly biased as I am a language teacher myself, I would like to open with the statement that self-study is an essential part of learning a language. What happens in your classroom or with your private tutor is a good start, but anyone who tells you that this is all you have to do to learn a language is telling you a lie. Sorry about that.

Self-studyClasses are a great experience, yes, but like any new skill you want to learn, it is best to approach learning from many angles. There is no point having one lesson a week and then doing nothing at all, or, even more sinful, leaving that homework you promised yourself you would do until the night – or hour – before your next lesson. You are wasting your time and money, and yes. Us teachers can tell.

Having gone down the self-learning route myself, I’ve come across some resources I’d love to share with you.

Take for example things like Livemocha. A good all-round resource that is set up to partner you up with other language learners through language exchange, short online lessons, and lots of forums. It’s interactive, there’s always something new, and it’s free. What’s not to love?

If you don’t want to concentrate specifically on language learning and are looking for more of a language exchange/international vibe, Interpals could be the place for you. This site is a bit like a mix between Facebook and InterNations, so treat it with the same joy or disdain you do either of them. There are amazing connections to be made out there but then again there are also many to sever. Choose your friends wisely and never be afraid to use the block button with flair.

Not sure you’re ready for full-on instant message conversations just yet? Something like might be what you need. While both text and voice chat options are available, what I really like about this is the penpals who are happy to write either by email or even by traditional snail mail. Gifts in the post. Need I say more?

Another tool that is well worth trying is EuroTalk’s interactive series, Talk Now. This is a really easy way to pick up a good vocabulary base and I like the exposure to a lot of different accents. Yes, it is ‘staged’ because it’s a course, but if you’re concerned about who you’re speaking to out there or want to get confident first so that you can tell those with ulterior motives to ‘go away’ with perfect pronunciation, it really is a good investment.

As far as mobile apps go, I like Memrise for its simplicity. It’s sort of a drip-feed method of learning: you learn a series of words and there are ‘helpful’ memes sent in by users – I say ‘helpful’ because some really are helpful, some are hilarious so they just make you giggle, and some make you question the human race.

uTalk - Learn a LanguageFinally, there’s uTalk. This is a great time killer. All those moments sat waiting for the metro or in my case, waiting for students to finish their meetings when our lessons are due to start, can now be filled with quick and easy games to help you learn your desired language. Put down the Candy Crush, step away from the Jurassic Park Builder and pick up some new words!

Now, all these resources are tailored specifically towards learning a language. But there are other, more natural ways of learning.

Watching films in your target language but with English subtitles is an excellent way to learn, as is listening to real local radio – TuneIn is fantastic for this as it lets you search by locations the world over.

Find out about typical newspapers. In my case I used Helsingin Sanomat and found this from a quick Wiki search for ‘popular newspapers in Finland’. There will likely be an online version of your chosen paper and if you get stuck with translating you can either translate the entire page depending on your browser choice, or copy and paste the article directly into Google Translate.

Translate Eurovision entries, listen to commentary of your favourite sport in another tongue, embrace the possibility that there are songs out there in other languages that you will love – then translate and learn them by heart.

Changing the language of your social media and phone will also help, but that is for the brave and sure. Do this only if you’re confident you know enough of the language to avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Last of all, if you get the opportunity to speak, speak. If you overhear someone talking in the language you are learning, don’t be afraid to go over and say hello. Yes, perhaps you’ll startle them. But in my experience, it is just shock that a native English speaker has taken the time to bother to learn their language at all. Their first question to you will probably be ‘why are you learning…..?’

There are a million ways to learn. Try some 🙂




8 ways to feel confident about speaking a language

So you’re off on holiday, and you’ve decided you’re going to speak a bit of the local language. You get a EuroTalk program (obviously), start learning a few key phrases, and you’re feeling good.

But then you get off the plane and the doubts start to creep in. What if people laugh at your accent? What if you say what you need to say perfectly, but don’t understand the reply? What if you open your mouth and instantly forget everything you’ve learnt?! Probably safer to stick to English, or sign language. Right?

Don't be shyIt is scary starting to speak another language. I get incredibly nervous – more so, ironically, with Spanish, which is a language I studied for years but haven’t spoken properly for a while. But sometimes you just have to throw yourself into it and see what happens. The worst that’s going to happen is that you don’t understand each other, but the reality is nobody’s going to laugh at you for trying to speak their language, or blame you if you make a mistake.

Now, obviously I realise ‘just throw yourself into it’ is a lot easier said than done. So here are some tips to help your confidence, before and during your conversation.

Go prepared

Bit of an obvious one, but you should try and learn at least a few words, so that you’re not going in to the conversation completely unprepared. At least that way you start off in control. It’s probably a good idea to learn how to say  ‘I don’t understand’ and ‘please speak more slowly’ as well; at least that way if you do get stuck you’ll be able to do something other than stare blankly.

Find a language partner to chat to before you go

Learning on the computer or your phone is great for learning vocabulary and perfecting your accent, but at the end of the day, learning a language is obviously about conversation. If you’ve got a friend who speaks the language you’re learning, or is learning as well, set aside some time regularly to chat with them. It’ll be easier with someone you know and feel comfortable with than with a stranger, as you won’t be so worried about making mistakes.

Take uTalk with you

Because if your mind goes blank, you can grab your phone and search for the word you need in seconds. uTalk is much quicker (and better-looking) than a phrasebook, and it tells you how to say the word as well. Bonus.

Ban yourself from speaking your own language

I recently discovered Scott Young’s blog; he and a friend just spent a year travelling around four different countries, attempting to speak no English and immerse themselves completely in the local language and culture. This might seem quite drastic, but I can’t think of a better way to feel confident quickly – given a choice between speaking to people in another language or not speaking to anyone at all for three months, I know which one I’d choose.

Try thinking in the language

I’ve tried this approach before in Spanish and found it quite effective. When you look around your house, try and think what the objects are called in the language you’re learning, rather than English. (FlashSticks are useful for this sort of thing.) Try and think about a TV show you just watched, and explain it to yourself in the other language. Go outside and try to name as many everyday sights as you can. This way, it starts to feel like second nature and you may be surprised to find yourself doing it without trying.

Focus on how good you’ll feel afterwards

Have you ever had a conversation in another language? Remember how good you felt afterwards, when you were holding the train ticket you’d just bought, or eating the meal you’d just ordered? Any time you feel hesitant about starting a conversation, focus on that feeling and push on through. It’ll be worth it.

Make a phone call (a.k.a. jump in the deep end)

When I was at university, I spent my third year living in Madrid, and during my first few days I had to make lots of phone calls to try and find somewhere to live. And it was terrifying. I’m not really a fan of the phone at the best of times, but making calls in another language was twice as scary – without the aid of body language or facial expressions, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to understand what someone’s saying to you. But I did it, because I had to, and managed to successfully arrange several viewings; I’d never have thought I could do that before I left home.

And, if all else fails…

Have a drink

It’s a well-documented fact – mostly among students, for some reason – that having a drink or two actually improves your language skills. While that may not be entirely true, it does make sense that when you’re feeling relaxed, and your inhibitions are lowered, you’re going to feel more confident about giving it a go. Don’t have too many drinks though, obviously, or then nobody will understand you in any language.

Having a drink will help you relax

Good luck!

Do you struggle with confidence when you’re speaking another language? How do you deal with it?




8 ways to remember new vocabulary

Let’s start with a bold statement: everyone is good at languages.

I know lots of people are probably disagreeing with me right now. But the fact is, we all learnt our own language, so technically we should be able to learn another one. Right?

Of course there are lots of elements to becoming fluent in another language. Grammar. Sentence construction. Tones (for some languages). Perfecting your accent. Reading. Writing. Learning colloquial expressions. I could go on.

But let’s start at the beginning. Before you tackle any of this daunting list, you need to learn some words, or you’ll never get anywhere. And for a lot of people, a little bit of vocabulary is often enough to get by with – I survived a weekend in Naples with just a handful of essential Italian words, like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘water’ and ‘cake’. (What do you mean, that’s not an essential word?)

And having spent January learning German with the uTalk app, I now feel like I could at least make myself understood in a restaurant, a shop, the hospital – although let’s hope that’s not necessary! – and I also know how to buy a train ticket or ask for the nearest cash machine. I might be far from fluent, but this is a big step for someone who knew no German at all a little over a month ago.

So, learning vocab is important. But what happens if you’re not very good at remembering stuff? Another language can look pretty terrifying at first, particularly if it’s one that bears no resemblance at all to your own. So here are a few tips for memorising new words.

The facial expressions are optional…

Start with the basics

This probably makes sense anyway – why would you learn how to say ‘Do you prefer reading or TV?’ before you’ve figured out ‘Hello’? But it’s amazing how much of a boost it is just to have a few simple words under your belt. That way, you know at the very least, you can greet someone in their own language, even if you don’t know how to say anything else.

Take it a bit at a time

Don’t try and learn everything at once. Even if you remember it at the time, by the next day your brain will almost certainly have rebelled and forgotten it all. So break it down into topics, and focus on one a day, or a week – whatever works best for you – remembering to come back to it at regular intervals to revise and make sure it’s all still in there.

How to remember vocabulary

Try to link it to a memory

When I find myself in a real-life situation, I try to think of how to describe it in the language I’m learning. The other morning, for example, when my train was delayed, I amused myself by remembering how to say it in German. (Yes, I’m that cool.) And now when I think of that phrase, it springs more readily to mind because I can imagine shivering on the station platform, waiting for a train that may or may not show up. It did… eventually.

Associate words with images

Another good tip – try and link words to an image or object in your mind, as it makes them easier to recall later. Even better, stick notes on things you see every day, so that when you need the word you can visualise the object with its translation attached.

Make it a game

This could be a game against someone else – see who can remember the most words, you or your friend – or against yourself, but it’s amazing how effective it can be at hardwiring the vocabulary into your brain. And the best bit is you don’t even need to win the game to be successful… The memory game in uTalk is notoriously difficult, particularly if your memory isn’t the best. I struggled with the fruit and vegetables sections, for some reason; I just couldn’t remember where they all were when the cards were covered, and after the tenth attempt, I was ready to throw my phone across the room. But by the time I was done, I knew all the names of the fruits and vegetables forwards and backwards, and can’t see myself forgetting them any time soon.

How to remember vocabulary

Try and connect it to your own language

Even if the language you speak every day is completely different to the one you’re learning, use your imagination. For ‘I had a good time’, which is ‘Mir hat es sehr gut gefallen’ I found the only way to remember it was to think of it as ‘my hat is very well fallen’. It makes no sense, but it works for me!

Talk to other people

Sometimes, telling someone else how to say something can help to cement it in your mind, even if they have no idea what you’re saying. I’ve been cheerfully saying random German words to my startled family and friends for a month now, and although most of them have no idea what I’m talking about, it helps me to say the words aloud to someone other than myself.

Study before you go to sleep

I don’t know if this will work for everyone, but I found it was quite effective. By revising the vocabulary at night before I go to sleep, I find it’s fresh in my mind when I wake up. Probably not recommended if you have trouble switching your brain off at night (not something I have a problem with, clearly).

How to remember vocabulary

Does anyone have any other tips for remembering vocabulary?




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)!