Intercomprehension of Romance Languages

By   October 6, 2015

If you understand French and are interested in learning other Romance languages, the MOOC Enseigner l’intercompréhension en langues romanes à un jeune public might be helpful. This MOOC, or CLOM in French, begins November 10, 2015, and lasts 4 weeks. It is designed for language teachers and students or anyone who is interested in multilingualism.

Intercomprehension of Romance Languages

The concept of intercomprehension refers to the ability of users of closely related languages to understand each other thanks to linguistic similarities. It appears that this particular MOOC will focus on the six main Romance languages of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Romanian. Since it is developed by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, the language used to teach about intercompréhension is French.

You can sign up now to join the MOOC.



Comparative Vocabulary and Verb Lists: Romance and Germanic Languages

Comparative and Multilingual Books for Learning Languages Simultaneously

Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Available as PDF

Learn Spanish by Watching Telenovelas

By   October 1, 2015

It’s quite easy and fun to learn Spanish by watching telenovelas, fast-paced Spanish-language soap operas that are as ridiculous as they are addictive. Armed with closed captioning, Wordreference, and a few other websites, you can easily learn or improve your Spanish while love/hate-watching soap operas. Learn Spanish by Watching Telenovelas

Most of the telenovelas I watch are Mexican or American, since I’m most familiar with the telenovelas broadcast on the US channels Univision and Telemundo. Many other Spanish-speaking countries produce their own telenovelas that you may be able to find on DVD, Youtube, Dailymotion, Viki, etc. However, you are less likely to be able to find closed captioning or subtitles in Spanish and the DVD versions will almost always be edited versions since most telenovelas run for over 100 episodes and that would fill a LOT of DVDs.

The good thing about Univision and Telemundo is that you do not need a cable subscription to watch their telenovelas since you can stream them online if you live in the US or use a VPN to seem like you are in the US. If you do watch on a TV, you should be able to turn on the closed captioning in either Spanish or English – if your TV has the option to change to English, that is. Closed captioning in Spanish is available for the streaming videos, though Univision’s is somewhat unreliable. The site Ark TV also has what appears to be (mostly messy and unreliable) text of the closed captioning for the Univision telenovelas up to September 10, 2015. If you want English language recaps of the four main Univision telenovelas and some discussions of the Telemundo telenovelas, head over to the blog Caray, Caray! so you’ll still be able to follow along with the plot even if you miss or can’t understand some episodes.

There are four telenovelas broadcast every weeknight on Univision, but I don’t have time to watch all of them. I started with Lo Imperdonable (The Unforgiveable) since the scenery is really pretty and I liked the juxtaposition of big city and small town. Some parts were filmed in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí near the gorgeous Tamul waterfall. Also, Ana Brenda and Ivan Sanchez make the hottest couple ever.

Lo Imperdonable

These people are too pretty to be real.

I have an intense love/hate relationship with this telenovela because there are quite a few things that piss me off about the storylines, like “Hey, I just met you and this is crazy but I think you’re responsible for my brother’s suicide so marry me maybe (so I can treat you like crap),” slut-shaming of adult women who may or may not be virgins (who cares?!), and the child abuse of a 17 year old girl. The most offensive thing about this telenovela may just be the horribly miscast 48 year-old Sergio Sendel in a role where the character is supposedly in his late 20’s. Yet I cannot stop watching!

Cascada de Tamul @ Tanchachin, SLP, Mexico

Yes, this is a real place in Mexico.

The other Univision telenovelas that I catch from time to time are:

Muchacha italiana viene a casarse (Italian girl comes to get married) – If you like Italy and want to learn a tiny bit of Italian with Spanish, check out this telenovela that has already aired in Mexico but started in the US last month. There are a whopping 176 episodes overall, but Univision is cutting out a lot of scenes for the US broadcast in order to shorten it. Two of the main characters are Italian and frequently code-switch between Italian and Spanish, so it can be a tiny bit confusing for beginning Spanish learners.

Antes Muerta que Lichita (I’d rather be dead than be Lichita) – If comedies are more your thing, I’d check out this adorable telenovela. Supposedly, it is NOT an Ugly Betty remake but there are quite a few similarities so far. Comedies tend to have much faster speech, however, with more slang and informal language so even with closed captioning, I have trouble following some conversations. There is also a hilarious telenovela-within-a-telenovela that basically exists to makes fun of telenovelas, available only on Univision’s website, called Corazón Enamorado. There are no subtitles for this webnovela though, and the main character speaks with an American accent, which you’d think would make it easier for English speakers to understand her Spanish but I actually find it harder.

Antes Muerta Que Lichita

Totally not Ugly Betty, you guys…

Some telenovelas that recently ended are still available on Univision’s website if you feel like binge-watching 100 hours or more. You can also buy edited version of telenovelas on DVD (usually between 12 and 15 hours total), but they only come with English subtitles. But at least you don’t have to sit through the filler scenes with minor characters that you don’t care about!

I mostly watch comedies, so I definitely recommend Pour Ella Soy EvaLos Tontas No Van al Cielo, and La Fea Más Bella (the Mexican Ugly Betty) – which coincidentally all star Jaime Camil as the male lead. (You should also check out the American and mostly English-language series Jane the Virgin in which he is currently playing an exaggerated version of himself, a Mexican telenovela star.)

Lastly, not a comedy, but a drama about drug-trafficking that was filmed in both Mexico and Spain, La Reina del Sur is also highly recommended by many people, although I have only seen a few episodes. You can buy the DVD set, which includes all 63 unedited episodes (42 hours!), but there are NO subtitles at all.  Supposedly there are English subtitles on the hard to find and expensive Blu-Ray version, however. Luckily, Telemundo still has 15-20 minute versions of the episodes on their Youtube account, with Spanish subtitles.

Previously on blog: Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning

Free Spanish MOOCs at MéxicoX

By   September 22, 2015

If you are learning Spanish and/or want to improve your level of comprehension, check out the free Spanish MOOCs at MéxicoX by the Secretaría de Educación Publica. A few courses just started on Monday, September 21, with more starting in a week or two. There are many subjects available, ranging from science to education, as well as some courses concentrating on Mexico such as México multicultural; Literatura y cultura tradicional de México; México, sus grandes retos y oportunidades; and De México al mundo, los ingredientes (which looks delicious, btw.)

About half of these courses are also available through EdX, or you can create an account on MéxicoX’s platform which is powered by Open EdX. Most importantly, the courses I’ve checked out so far do have transcripts of the videos so you can read while you listen.

FluentU: Language Learning with Authentic Videos

By   September 15, 2015

If you haven’t been using authentic videos with transcripts to learn languages, you are missing out on an effective way to increase your comprehension of spoken language as well as your knowledge of vocabulary and grammatical patterns. One website that offers many authentic videos and that I highly recommend is FluentU.

FluentU currently offers videos in French, Spanish, German, English, Chinese and Japanese, with Italian coming soon. As you can see in the screenshots, you can easily choose the difficulty level as well as the format of videos you are interested in: clips, movie trailers, commercials, etc.

The transcript and translation appears below the video and hovering over a word also shows the translation of that word. FluentU recently released their iPad app if you are a mobile learner, with an Android app also in development.

There is currently a free option if you’d like to create an account to check out the videos and captions. The Basic plan, which includes unlimited watching and listening with interactive captions, only costs $8 per month or $80 per year. The Plus plan costs $18 per month or $180 per year and also includes unlimited personalized learn mode, courses, flashcard sets and PDF printouts of the transcripts. Also note that you have access to ALL languages on FluentU rather than only one language so it is great for learners of multiple languages. You can change languages in Settings under Study Settings.

Prices will be increasing on September 21, 2015, to $15 per month for the Basic plan and $30 a month for the Plus plan. However, if you subscribe before September 21, you will be able to continue enjoying the current rates of $8 per month or $80 per year for Basic and $18 per month or $180 per year for Plus for as long as you stay on that plan! So make sure to take advantage of this window of opportunity and join FluentU before September 21!

Learn French and Spanish Together

By   September 9, 2015

Do you want to learn French and Spanish together (or Spanish and French together)? I have started creating videos to help you learn these two languages at the same time.

Learn French and Spanish Together


I plan to create a comparative tutorial similar to French & Italian and French & German, but for now I am concentrating on Youtube videos.

I am also planning to convert some of the mp3s from various language tutorials into Youtube videos for easier learning on mobile devices. So far, I’ve created a video on learning the Spanish alphabet:

And a few on conjugating verbs in the present and preterite tenses:


Don’t forget to subscribe to the Youtube channel so you’ll be notified when I upload new videos!

New mobile layout on

By   August 17, 2015

If you’ve checked out over the past 24 hours, you should have noticed a new layout and navigation bar. I am now using Bootstrap to make the site more mobile-friendly, though with all the tables, some pages might not look perfect on smaller screens. I still have lots of code to check over as there are hundreds of pages on the site so please let me know if there are any major problems.

Audio players for the rest of the language tutorials that have mp3s will be added shortly, and the multilingual comparative lists now have a pretty great feature where you can move the columns around. Now you get to choose which languages are side by side!

A video posted by Jennifer Wagner (@ielanguages) on

I will be working on filling in the missing vocabulary of the multilingual lists (especially Danish), finally uploading more realia (I think I’ve got 7 new languages to add!), and getting the photo albums back online over the coming weeks/months. I am also taking 4 classes online and working 2 part-time jobs while finishing the final version of my thesis, so if someone could add more hours to the day that would be great. Long(er) term goals include expanding the bilingual tutorials (updating French/Italian and French/German, adding at least French/Spanish) and recording more authentic listening resources in a variety of languages.

I’m also looking for a new VPS hosting company since I am experiencing too many 503 errors due to scripts getting automatically killed by my current host. I have followed all of their advice to optimize the PS but nothing seems to be working so I’m thinking it’s time for a change to find something better. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

Bone Church: Sedlec Ossuary outside of Prague

By   August 12, 2015

Sedlec Ossuary, or Bone Church, is usually on those “creepy places to visit” lists, so naturally I had to see it. It’s located in Kutná Hora, about an hour outside of Prague, in the Czech Republic, and quite easy to get to by train.

The bones of over 40,000 people, mostly plague victims, were used to decorate this chapel by a half-blind monk in the 16th century. It’s not the only “bone church” in the world, but it’s probably one of the better known.


There are direct trains every hour or two which take about an hour to get there, and the ticket is really cheap. If two people travel together on the same ticket, it’s cheaper than two separate tickets. We paid 355 Czech koruna for a roundtrip ticket for 2 people, which is about $16 USD.


You can buy train tickets online and print them at the České dráhy website. I didn’t see any machines at the station so if you’re anti-social, be prepared to wait in line and actually talk to people. When you arrive in Kutná Hora, take a right when leaving the train station and then follow the road around to the left. Once you get past the tobacco factory and church on the left, cross the road and follow the signs for Kostnice.


If you arrive at the same time as a tour group, it can get quite crowded since the chapel itself is actually somewhat small. A few tour groups were on the same train as us, but we managed to get to the ossuary before them. Avoid arriving around noon on a Saturday…


For our 4 day trip to the Czech Republic, we spent the rest of the time in Prague. The city is quite beautiful, especially the Jewish Quarter. I would advise staying away on weekends in the summer though. Unfortunately we were there Friday through Monday in July and it was so incredibly crowded everywhere that walking down the street was difficult at times.

We stayed at Salvator Superior Apartments, which is within walking distance to all the major sites. The castle is quite a hike on the other side of the river, but still manageable. (We did it in 90 degree weather!) The Mucha Museum has a nice gift shop if you’re looking for souvenirs or gifts that are not typical tourist stuff that you’ll find everywhere else in Prague.

Czech language realia and photo albums to come! (Once I finish thesis revisions…)

Learning German from Trashcans in Vienna, Austria

By   July 29, 2015

My European trip began in Vienna since I was working at the New Zealand & Pacific Studies conference at the beginning of July. Michelle then joined me afterwards and we stayed in Vienna for another 5 days. I hadn’t been to Vienna since 1999, so it was nice to refresh my memory of how great this city is. We stayed at Stanys Hotel & Apartments close to Westbahnhof since we arrived by train from Munich and would be doing a day trip to Budapest with an early morning start. (Note that Westbahnhof will no longer serve trains as of December 2015. All trains will be rerouted to Hauptbahnhof instead.)

Wandering around Vienna, I was most struck by how many people were smoking everywhere and how even restaurants did not have smoking bans indoors. It had been such a long time since I was in a place that had smoking and non-smoking sections and it was not pleasant. I heard on the news that a smoking ban will come into effect in 2018, but I can’t imagine it will be strictly enforced since Austria is unfortunately the smoking capital of Europe. :(

The other thing that I noticed was the trashcans with witty sayings on them (in German, obviously) encouraging people to take care of their waste and not litter. Apparently they have been around since 2009, and the sayings were decided by an internet vote. In any case, they are quite helpful and entertaining when learning German. Can you understand what they mean?

Austrian trash can  Austrian trash can

Austrian trash can  Austrian trash can

The last one should be relatively easy since it includes the name of the city and an English word…

Here are some hints:

füttern – to feed

Beifall – cheers, applause, acclaim

Abfall – waste

die Uhr – the clock

geöffnet – open

bleibt – remains, stays

MOOCs for Learning French

By   July 22, 2015

France Université Numerique (or FUN) is finally offering MOOCs for learning French as a foreign language!

For those who have reached A1 level, Cours de français langue étrangère by Alliance Française runs October 5 to November 22, 2015, and requires 2 hours of work each week.

For those at level B1, Université de Nantes is offering Paroles de FLE (Français langue étrangère) from November 2 to December 18, 2015, and requires 2.5 hours of work each week.

Francais Universite Numerique MOOCs

For those who have a higher level in French, the MOOCs offered by FUN are also a great way to improve or maintain your level as well as learn about new subjects from programming and public health to eco-tourism and history. There are even some courses offered in both French and English so you can compare the content if your level is too low to understand everything in French.

My First Trip on Amtrak Trains in America

By   July 13, 2015

Although I have been on numerous trains in Europe, as well as a few in Australia and New Zealand, I had never been on a train in the US until a few weeks ago. All trains from Michigan go to Chicago first and there is no passenger service to or through Ontario which is quite inconvenient, and I never actually traveled much in the US before I left for France. I had already planned to visit my niece and nephew in Virginia upon returning from Australia, and I decided to try the overnight Capitol Limited train to DC and the Northeast Regional train to Newport News. It would take nearly 24 hours and cost $230 per person for the one-way trip (slightly less than the cost of a roundtrip plane ticket), but I wanted to experience American train travel. My mother was accompanying me to Virginia to spoil her grandchildren so we shared the sleeping accommodation on the overnight train.

The most important thing you should know about Amtrak is that trains are very often late since commercial trains have priority over passenger trains on the railways in the US. Do not book two trains that are within 2 hours of each other because you could very well be arriving 2 hours late. We were supposed to arrive in DC at 1:05pm and we had to book the 5pm train to Newport News because the system would not allow me to choose the 2:30pm train. Of course, I could have booked two separate tickets, but it was a good thing I didn’t since we didn’t even get off the first train until 2:45pm…

If you are not getting on the train at a major station, be prepared to board the train really late or really early. I could have taken a train from Flint to Chicago and boarded the Capitol Limited there, but that would have added another 18 hours to my trip (seriously!), so I decided to drive 2.5 hours down to Toledo, where the train was scheduled to depart at 11:49pm. Getting on the train in Cleveland? It departs at 1:54am.

Since you can print your ticket when you buy it online, there is no actual check-in process at the station, unless you are taking a train that has baggage check and you actually want to do it. Amtrak’s luggage allowance include two regular (not carry-on) size suitcases weighing 50 lbs. that you take on the train with you, plus two additional 50 lb. suitcases as checked luggage. If you have even more luggage, you only have to pay $20 for each additional suitcase (up to 2 more).

I booked a regular bedroom for the journey to DC, which includes a private toilet/shower in the room as well as free meals. Up to three people can be in one bedroom since the bottom bed is a double bed, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it considering how little space is left in the room after the beds are down. (This is also why you should leave your luggage on the rack downstairs and just take a backpack or small carry-on suitcase upstairs.) I even had trouble standing in front of the sink and I am very small! Soap, shampoo, towels, linen, and bottled water are provided – though you might want another blanket for the bed. The shower is in the same tiny room as the toilet so it will get soaked, but there is a rack at the top for towels and the toilet paper has a long cover over it. Roomettes are a cheaper option which do not include a shower, but may or may not include a toilet depending on if you’re on a Superliner or Viewliner train.

Amtrak train bedroom

Seats that convert to beds in bedroom on Superliner train to DC

Light sleepers beware – most of the rooms have a door leading to the next room so you can definitely hear noises from your neighbors. I could hear snoring next door so I had to move my pillows to the other end of the bed, underneath the air vent, to block out the noise. However, there are plenty of other noises to keep you awake anyway – the train can be quite bumpy, and the whistle blows often, plus other trains passing by make a lot of noise. I actually did not sleep very much at all – perhaps only an hour or two in the early morning. If you are on the top bunk, there is a safety strap to prevent you from falling off.

The sleeper car attendant was incredibly nice. He even checked on us in the morning to see if we wanted breakfast since we didn’t get up for it. Normally the Capitol Limited to DC doesn’t include lunch, but since we were arriving late, those of us in the sleeper cars were offered hamburgers/hot dogs. You are told where to sit in the dining car, so you will most likely end up next to strangers. The cafe car is open as well if you prefer to snacks or smaller meals.

Passengers with sleeper tickets should have access to Acela lounges at departure and arrival stations (if available), but I didn’t actually check out the lounge in DC. Union Station has free wifi, and plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you busy while waiting for your next train.

Amtrak bedroom third seat

Third seat in bedroom is across from seats that convert to beds, with storage space above

On the Northeast Regional to Newport News, we were in business class, but I do not think it is worth the extra money. The seat configuration is 2 x 2, so there is still the same amount of people as in economy. You are supposed to get free newspapers and drinks, but no one came through the car to offer them to us (so you have to go to the cafe car on your own). The seats did not seem any larger or more comfortable than those in economy class either. Luckily, there is free wifi on this particular train, which helps to pass the time. The bathrooms are large enough, and there is a free water fountain in each car.

There are no assigned seats in either business or economy class, so boarding is a free-for-all. Not all doors open so you have to find the Amtrak employees in order to get off the train. Sometimes they walk through and announce the stop and tell you to follow them to a particular door. They often help with luggage, especially for business class passengers.

Yes, Amtrak takes forever to get you across America – but it’s more environmentally friendly, and best of all, it’s the opposite experience of flying. You do not need to arrive 2-3 hours ahead of time just to wait in line to get through security where TSA doesn’t allow you to bring enough shampoo for your trip. It is quite cheap to bring tons of luggage, and the food is surprisingly good.

I wish the US had more passenger railways and better connections between cities, especially between Michigan and Canada. Currently, Amtrak stops in Port Huron, and if you want to continue to Toronto, for example, you need to take a taxi across the border to get to the Sarnia train station where you can board a Via Rail train. It’s quite ridiculous. I highly doubt the US will ever have extensive train travel like Europe since state governments do not want to spend money on it, and American car culture is so pervasive that it will be hard to change. I enjoyed my time on Amtrak trains, but I don’t know if I’ll be doing another sleeper train since I am such a light sleeper. For shorter trips, it is definitely a cheaper and less stressful option than flying, as long as you live near an Amtrak station.

TL;DR – Your train will most likely be late. No assigned seats. Free wifi sometimes. Don’t expect to sleep much on overnight trains. Lots of luggage allowance. NO LIQUID BAN IS AWESOME.

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