Archive for the ‘Hints and Tips’ Category

Can a pencil improve your speaking skills?

Posted on April 15th, 2011by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

In my last Spanish class before the Easter break, my teacher made us do something rather odd. We were practicing saying new words and sentences aloud, and she was not happy with our pronunciation. So we were told to put our pens or pencils in our mouths.

Our teacher explained that having a pen in our mouths would make us focus on what we were saying and enable improved pronunciation. She seemed to think it was a well-established technique for improving speech, but I’ve done a quick search and can’t find any research to back this up.

Personally, I found this unhelpful as I was more focussed on the pen not falling out of my mouth than what I was saying! Has anyone else heard of this technique or had success using it?

What languages are the hardest to learn?

Posted on March 10th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

It’s often said that some languages are harder to learn than others. Tonal languages such as Mandarin for example are supposed to be more difficult for native English speakers who have no experience of listening and speaking in this way.

This reasoning is supported by the US State Department, who “compile learning expectations for a number of languages based on the amount of time it takes a native English speaker to achieve speaking and reading proficiency”. The good people over at the Voxy blog have compiled an infographic from this information to show which languages are rated ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’ and the length of time it should take to achieve proficiency.

What do you think of the infographic? Do you agree that it will take less time to learn Spanish than Japanese?

Via: Voxy Blog

New Year: New Goals

Posted on January 4th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2011: The holiday’s over and now is the time to set yourself some language learning goals for the year ahead.

These goals don’t have to be your typical New Year’s resolutions – let’s face it, those never last anyway. That’s because New Year’s resolutions tend to be fairly general (“I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to learn French”. To make sure you achieve your goal, it needs to be smart.

I don’t mean your goal has to be clever, SMART is an acronym – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Take for example the goal “I’m going to learn French” – this is not specific (it doesn’t state how you will learn or where you will learn). It’s not measurable – what do you mean by ‘learn French’? It’s possibly achievable – but only when you’ve defined what level of French you want to achieve, making it not realistic. And it’s not timely as there is no specified period in which to learn.

A better goal would be “I will sign up for beginners Spanish classes by the end of January”. This is a specific goal – to enroll in a class. It is measurable – by the end of the month have you signed up for the class? It is achievable – you can find a class that fits around your schedule and sign up for it. It is realistic – aiming to sign up by the end of January gives you time to find a suitable class, which also makes it timely.

Once this goal has been achieved, you can set further goals for yourself. “I will attend my class every week until the end of the semester”, for example. Or “I will complete my Spanish homework every Saturday afternoon”.

Give it a try – what are your goals for the year ahead?

Learning a second language – students speak

Posted on December 29th, 2010by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips | Leave a Comment »

Sometimes learning a second language can be a lonely experience. Plenty of time spent with learning materials and doing homework outside of class can make it feel like you’re not connecting with others.

The video below offers a chance to hear what your fellow language learners think about studying a second language. The students in the video answer questions like “what is the most difficult part about learning a language?” and “do you have any fears when learning a second language?”

Do you agree with their opinions?

Hard to read fonts make for better learning

Posted on October 23rd, 2010by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Research | Leave a Comment »

New research appears to show that difficult-to-read fonts make for better learning.

The study at Princeton University employed volunteers to learn made-up information and then try to recall it. The results showed that the volunteers whose information was in harder-to-read fonts were more likely to recall the information when tested 15 minutes later. From BBC News:

Researchers found that, on average, those given the harder-to-read fonts actually recalled 14% more.

They believe that presenting information in a way that is hard to digest means a person has to concentrate more, and this leads to “deeper processing” and then “better retrieval” afterwards.

It is an example of the positive effects of what scientists call “disfluency”.

“Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology Prof Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study.

“So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.

“When we found that in the lab, we were very excited, because it has obvious implications for the classroom.”

The study was repeated on high school students, and the results showed they scored higher in classroom assessments when given learning materials in harder-to-read fonts.

If you find it difficult to concentrate on written language learning materials, perhaps changing the font could help. Has anyone tried this? It sounds quite distracting to me.

Online vocabulary learning

Posted on October 8th, 2010by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Words | Leave a Comment »

Playing games is a fun way to improve in your target language. Someone recommended to me the language game website Digital Dialects, and I thought I’d share the tip!

The site features interactive games in 60 languages, from Afrikaans to Zazaki (spoken by Zazas in eastern Turkey). As well as the languages you’d expect (French, German, Spanish), it has some other more unusual ones – Tibetan and Cebuano, to mention a couple.

The games are suitable for learners at beginner to intermediate levels, and are fairly simple, focusing on word categories such as colours, food and clothing. In the Spanish section, which I’ve been using, there are also a couple of activities for more advanced learners and some verb conjugation games.

Give it a try, and I’ll be on the lookout for some more online game sites.

Talk to the Snail

Posted on September 20th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, French, Hints and Tips | Leave a Comment »

Continuing my occasional series of reviewing language books, here’s a slightly less serious one than before – Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke.

Clarke’s witty book doesn’t deal with subjects as weighty as dying languages; instead he tackles (as the book’s subtitle says) Ten Commandments for Understanding the French. Through themed chapters such as ‘Thou Shalt Be Wrong’ and ‘Thou Shalt Not Be Served’, readers are guided through how to get what they want from the French.

Helpfully each chapter ends with a list of phrases (including phonetic spellings) for visitors to France to use to get their way. Clarke clearly adores the French, for all their idiosyncratic ways, and gently mocks the national character throughout the book whilst providing handy tips on say, how to get served in a restaurant.

Definitely aimed at the British – a number of stereotypes are used) – the book is a good read, and perhaps a good accompaniment, to any trip across the Channel.

Language learning – not just for celebs!

Posted on August 7th, 2010by Michelle
In Arabic, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Russian | Leave a Comment »

Angelina Jolie recently proclaimed her love for the Russian language, but language learning isn’t just for A-list movie stars – as footballers from Manchester City recently showed.

Whilst Jolie learned Russian for her new movie, Salt, the footballers picked up some Arabic for the launch of a website in the United Arab Emirates. The Sun reports they had varying degrees of success, with the club’s Arabic media executive saying “I was surprised how fast some of the players picked it up. Adebayor was especially good.”

The footballers and Jolie had a common purpose for their learning – it was required for their work. And whilst they might not be fluent in the languages, they definitely made an effort.

Angelina also pinpoints one of the reasons for her success – practice!

I just had to practice over and over and over and I was told that I was getting it wrong a bunch of times and I had to keep practicing. (Source: US Weekly)

World Cup Language

Posted on June 10th, 2010by Michelle
In Afrikaans, English, Hints and Tips, Slang | 2 Comments »

With the football World Cup starting tomorrow, it’s time to take a look at some South African slang.

The slang is taken from South Africa’s 11 different languages, which all have constitutionally guaranteed equal status. These languages reflect the diversity of the country, and are:


In addition a number of other languages are spoken including Khoi, Nama and San languages, sign language, and some indigenous creoles and pidgins.

Here are some examples of slang – I particularly like ‘chips! Chips!’:

Babbelas (bub-a-lars). Hangover – usually rather a bad one. From the isiZulu word for hangover isibhabhalazi. “Hello, hello. Great party last night. How’s your head? Are you a bit babbelas?”

Bra (brah) or bru. Nothing to do with underwear at all, but an informal term for “my friend” or “mate”, deriving from “brother”. ‘He’s my bra but that team he supports is rubbish.” Bru stems from the Afrikaans for brother, broer.

Chips! Chips!. Nothing you’ll find in the kebab shop around the corner but an expression of alarm or warning. “Chips! Chips! He’s off-side”

(Source: The Guardian)

Audio sharing on RhinoSpike

Posted on April 9th, 2010by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

rhinospike_howto3I came across a new site that looks useful and thought I’d share. Called RhinoSpike, the site offers users the chance to record audio in their native language and upload it for others, but also request recordings in a wide variety of languages.

It can be difficult to find interesting audio content in the language you are studying, and RhinoSpike offers a solution to this – you can request the speaker to record any text you wish, from your favourite book to a conversation (probably best to make sure the book’s not too long though!).

The best thing about the site is it’s free. All the content is contributed by users of the site and the community is encouraged – if you contribute recordings you will move up the queue for the recordings you request. As the site says, “Give and you shall receive!”