Category Archives: Learning French

Culturally Relevant Photos of French Objects: Learning the Cultural Significance of Words

By   February 8, 2011

Following up on my recent post about cultural differences in photos, I have begun taking pictures of culturally relevant objects in France as an extension to my realia project that originally included written objects in French, such as signs, brochures, menus, receipts, etc. Now I want to add realia pertaining to visual differences among cultures and how a word in one language sometimes cannot translate exactly to another.

For example, the closest thing to a washcloth (that Americans know as a square piece of cloth) in France is actually un gant de toilette, which you can put your hand inside like a glove. Should we say that a washcloth = un gant de toilette even though they are not exactly the same thing?

How about approximations according to what is most common in each culture? In the US, most modern homes are heated by furnaces while in France most homes are heated by radiateurs, whether cast iron or electric.  Some homes even have underfloor heating. Even though Americans know what radiators are since they are still common in older houses, how would you go about translating the concept of a furnace into French? Simply use the culturally equivalent item? But then if you had only learned vocabulary by memorizing the spelling and pronunciation of the translation from your native language, how would you even know that French homes don’t have furnaces?

Here are a few other objects that are almost the same, but with slight differences.

Paper has grids, not lines, and more holes along the side

Milk is sold in one liter bottles, and most do not need to be refrigerated before opening

A wall outlet tends to be round with two circular holes for the prongs

Once again, language and culture cannot be separated. If you don’t learn them together, you will never have a full understanding of either. This is why I intend to add photos to the flashcards and I have added another page to the Realia section for this Cultural Realia of France.  All of the photos I take in France will be released under the same Creative Commons License that I used for the French Listening Resources mp3s so that other teachers and learners of French may use them in their classes or for self-study.

Brainscape Flashcards: Website and Mobile Apps

By   February 2, 2011

Brainscape is a website that offers flashcards on a variety of topics – more than just foreign language vocabulary – using graduated intervals for maximum repetition and reinforcement of least-known items.  This learning technique goes by many names (spaced repetition seems to be the most common among language learning sites) and it is indeed based on actual scientific research that you can read about in scholarly journals. Brainscape explains the cognitive science behind their system and cites their sources, which is extremely important to a researcher like me who values empirical data and facts over random anecdotes of personal failure or success.

The concept is simply to rate how well you felt you knew each item on a numerical scale, starting at 5 for perfectly down to 1 for not at all.  The items that you rate lower will reappear more often so that you can focus your attention on them rather than spending time on the ones you already know fairly well.  Currently there are flashcards available in the subjects of Test Prep (GRE & SAT vocabulary plus Driver’s Ed), Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, ESL and survival Russian & Portuguese), and Knowledge Junkie (random facts for nerds like me). Audio is provided for many of the language cards and will be continually added for languages that do not already include it. Keyboard shortcuts are also available (spacebar and numbers) so you aren’t required to click constantly.

At this time, all of the flashcard sets are available for free on the website.  Just create an account or sign in with Facebook and add them to your library.  You can also create your own cards or import lists of items in XML or CSV format as well as share them with other users on the site. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, Brainscape also offers apps for each of the flashcard sets.  More than half are free through iTunes’ app store.  Eventually there will be a single app for accessing your library and syncing your progress between the website and app so that you can start learning on one platform and continue on the other with no interruption.

Even if flashcards are not your thing, Brainscape’s blog is still worth checking out for articles on learning, memory, cognition, education, etc. They update it quite frequently and have great guest bloggers and interviews.

Finally, I have five promo codes for the French Vocab Genius app for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch (normally $7.99) which includes nearly 3,000 audio flashcards. The first five people who e-mail me at ielanguages [at] gmail [dot] com requesting a code will receive one! [EDIT: All of the codes have been given away already!]

Cultural Differences in Photos: USA and France

By   January 25, 2011

In my English classes I taught at the university, we used flashcards with a photo of an object and the English word written out to teach and/or reinforce vocabulary. For most objects, there were no problems with the images provided but every once in a while, my students didn’t quite understand the connection between the image and the word because of cultural differences between the US and France.

For example, what word comes to mind when you look at this image?

If you are American, you would most likely identify it as a loaf of bread. All of my French students, however, thought it was a cake. Why? Because un cake in French is this:

Most Americans would probably call this a sort of quick bread, such as banana bread or zucchini bread, because the shape is similar to a loaf of bread. Loaves of bread are not all that common in France because pain has many shapes, whether a baguette, or pain de campagne, or petits pains. Sliced bread sold in loaves is just called pain de mie, or “American Sandwich” as it’s written on the bag, and it is not really eaten with meals but used almost exclusively for making sandwiches or croque monsieurs.

Another image that my students found strange was this:

Orange prescription bottles that are the norm in the US don’t exist in France. When you go to the pharmacy, you receive a box of medication but there is no printed label with the directions on it, or even your name or doctor’s name. All of that information stays on the prescription paper itself, which you must keep.

Students who watch a lot of American TV or films recognized the bottle, but it was still a foreign concept to them – just as not receiving an orange bottle is still a bit odd to me whenever I fill a prescription in France.

Now what image pops into your head when you hear the words crutches or vacuum?

If you’re American, I bet you think of these:

If you’re French, I imagine it’s more like these:

The forearm crutches and cylinder vacuum are also used in the US, but the underarm crutches and upright vacuum are relatively rare in France. I always thought it was strange when my students came to class with the forearm crutches after a car or skiing accident, because I only ever saw those used by elderly patients with lifelong disabilities or Kerry Weaver on ER. I don’t know which set of crutches is considered better for healing, but at least with the vacuums it makes more sense that the upright version is more common in North America – because we have a lot more carpet in our homes and businesses. I have yet to set foot in a home in France where there is wall-to-wall carpet instead of a few small rugs here and there. Since Europe prefers hardwood and tile floors, the cylinder vacuum is more convenient here.

Another difference that I had never thought of came to me when I was flipping through Oops magazine this past weekend. Oops is one of those trashy celebrity magazines that I only look at to learn more slang or see what atrocities French has done to English words lately (relooké always kills me). There was a picture of Zac Efron next to a car holding a few things in his hands, one of which was a tube of Burt’s beeswax lip balm, which is very recognizable to Americans – as are most tubes of chapstick. [I believe this was the paparazzi photo if you want to see for yourself.]

However, the caption in French said that he was holding a tube of homeopathic pills. I don’t think that Burt’s Bees products are as popular in France as in the US, and homeopathic pills found in little tubes are very common, so it’s easy to see why the author was mistaken:

There are many other subtle differences that don’t lead to confusion (houses with siding vs. stone houses, cars with trunks vs. hatchbacks, top-loading washers vs. front-loading) that help to identify something as American or French/European. Searching for the English word on and the French word on will provide many examples. Can you think of any other items that could be mistaken for something else like the cake and tubes above?

In Search of More Multilingual Vocabulary & Verb Conjugation Lists

By   January 12, 2011

In my never-ending search for websites that provide multilingual vocabulary lists for comparative study, I came across Poliglottus last week. They have two main sections: Basic Vocabulary of 1,300 words in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian and Basic Verb Forms in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Sardinian.  Yes, Sardinian!

You choose two languages, a “chapter” and click Final Exam, then choose Memorize for the lists to appear to the right.  You can also choose Simulator for a flashcard system or Examination to test your memory by typing the translation.

Each chapter has 48 words or verb conjugations total, with 12 appearing at once. Vocabulary words are not in thematic categories, however, and seem to be just random. The verbs are not actually labeled for tenses (though there are two chapters per tense in this order: present, present perfect, imperfect, future, conditional, past conditional, past perfect, subjunctive, imperfect subjunctive, and past perfect subjunctive when I chose Italian/French) but the same verbs are used for each tense – be, have, do, go, want, know, etc. – and they are always in the classic I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural), they order.

In addition to the sites I’ve previously mentioned such as Book2 and Internet Polyglot, Unilang also includes a MediaGlyphs Wordlist and Basic Phrasebook for comparing two languages. Yet the only resource I’ve found so far that includes more than two languages side-by-side, except my own Romance and Germanic vocabulary & verb pages, is Frederick Bodmer’s Loom of Language which was published in the 1940’s – meaning many of the words are no longer used and words related to technology are completely absent.

I’m still looking for a website, or even a spreadsheet, that includes multiple languages instead of just two that can be customized or modified.  I’m just wondering if a master comparative vocabulary list with words grouped thematically already exists somewhere.  Someone mentioned this on the forum a while ago, but I don’t know if anything ever came of it.

The Power of Babel by John McWhorter

By   January 7, 2011

The Power of Babel is a book about the natural history of language that I read recently while getting over my Christmas cold. (As you have probably noticed from the lack of website updates, I’m still recovering and not doing much besides sleeping and reading.) The book is rather inexpensive at Amazon though it is not available for Kindle, which unfortunately seems to be the case for many language and linguistics books.

Click image for page

Since I found the book to be rather entertaining and insightful, here are some interesting factoids from a few chapters.

  • The future tense in Romance languages derives from combining the main verb plus the conjugated forms of have in Latin. I will love was amare habeo in Latin and it transformed into amerò in Italian. So having to learn various endings for all six person and tense combinations in Italian, French, Spanish, etc? Thanks Latin!  Inflections are transformed this way in many languages, but thankfully English had a simpler process with fewer endings overall (did became -ed for all six, for example.)
  • Much like inflections, tones developed over time from sound changes to distinguish meaning between words. In Vietnamese, for example, tones did not originally exist but then final consonants wore off of many words, changing the sound of the preceding vowel. Now it is these tones that distinguish the differences in meanings instead of the final consonant.  Inflections and tones were not present in the earliest forms of language and they are not necessary to human communication. They are merely accidental changes of words and sounds that produced a more complicated form of the language.
  • The Normans who invaded England in 1066 did not speak a standardized or Parisian French that many people think of, but rather the Norman dialect. The “French” words borrowed at that time were actually the Norman pronunciations, where Norman had k and ei but Parisian had sh and oi (compare carbon/aveir and charbon/avoir). This is also why Montréal is not Montroyal – it was settled by people from Northwestern France rather than Paris.
  • Most people know that double negatives used to be grammatically correct in English, but there are other features of contemporary non-standard dialects that are in fact closer to early modern English than today’s English. Even though thou went out of fashion by 1700, the singular you did not and its corresponding verb conjugation for be in the past tense was, in fact, was.  Letters written by educated people in the 1800’s indicate that “you was” was the standard and it was only because prescriptive grammarians decided that it didn’t sound correct that they stamped it out of modern English by rewriting grammar books.
  • One of the few examples of Scots that still exists, or at least is recognizable, in modern-day English is auld lang syne, literally old long since or “days of yore.”
  • The human proto-language (if you believe that there was one) was very similar to today’s creoles in that the grammar was much simpler – no inflections or tones, or even relative clauses, because these complex features developed due to sound changes and the fact that most language became written instead of only spoken.
  • And of course, my favorite part: the acknowledgement that French is actually two languages: written and spoken. McWhorter mentions a few of the parallels (nous vs. on, ne…pas vs. pas, est vs. c’est) and how textbooks do not do a very good job of informing the learner that the gap between these two is wider than for most other languages.  Written French was codified centuries ago and rarely changes, but the spoken form is highly dynamic, even for non-colloquial speech by the educated. It should be no wonder that c’est was the basis for is instead of est in French-based creoles – se in Haitian creole – because that is what the people always heard in everyday speech.

Namke Learn Quebec French: Canadian French made in Quebec [Update: Website is no longer available]

By   January 3, 2011

Sadly, Namke Learn Quebec French is no longer online. If anyone knows what happened to the site or how to get in touch with the owners, please let me know! (The original post is below; note that most of the links will not work.)

I have previously mentioned the Namke Learn Quebec French site because they offer the wonderful software KitQC2 which includes 4,500 mp3s of Quebecois French.

Lately they’ve been updating their Learn Quebec French blog more and more (filling in the void left by the demise of with more useful tips and resources on learning the Quebecois accent. Until March they are uploading an mp3 a day to accompany the Ulysses book Canadian French for Better Travel, which is also available as a PDF download if you don’t want to pay for shipping. In fact, you can download all of the mp3 files in one zip file instantly if you already have the book and don’t want to wait for scans of each page to be uploaded.

Their blog also includes information on using the internet to learn more vocabulary with audio – they’re currently featuring the Le Dictionnaire Visuel online – as well as a music with lyrics section for listening to and learning from some great Quebecois bands. There are several links in the right sidebar leading to more sites for help learning international and Quebecois French, including sites where you can watch Quebecois shows online if you’re already in Canada. (I’m still looking for a free VPN that provides a Canadian IP address like HotSpot Shield does for US addresses.)

In addition to the TUFS Language Modules of 40 Quebecois French dialogs, Namke Learn Quebec French is another great starting point for those wanting to learn Canadian French to live, travel or work more easily in Quebec and other French-speaking regions of Canada.

Dr. Paul Nation & Survival Travel Vocabulary

By   December 9, 2010

Anyone who has done research on vocabulary acquisition has come across Dr. Paul Nation’s articles and books. His 1990 book, Teaching & Learning Vocabulary, as well as his 2001 book, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, are the basis of most vocabulary acquisition classes at universities today.  He favors frequency lists, extensive reading, and the lexical approach to language teaching in addition to the need to teach students strategies so they can become autonomous learners. In case you haven’t read my previous posts on vocabulary in language learning, I completely agree with his methods.

Currently, Dr. Nation teaches at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and his homepage offers useful resources to download for those interested in vocabulary acquisition. The ZIP file Vocabulary Resource Booklet includes survival vocabulary in 19 languages, based on Nation and Crabbe’s 1991 article “A Survival Language Learning Syllabus for Foreign Travel” (which is also included), ideally for tourists who will be in a foreign country for only a few weeks or months. This survival vocabulary should take no more than 60 hours to learn.

Survival Travel Vocabulary

Here is the syllabus in English, from the article. Numbers in parentheses simply mean that the item occurs in more than one section.

1. Greetings and being polite

Hello/Good morning etc. + reply [there are many cultural variants of these, including Where are you going?, Have you eaten?]

How are you? + reply e.g. Fine, thank you.


Thank you + reply  e.g. It’s nothing, You’re welcome.


Excuse me [sorry]

It doesn’t matter

Delicious (6)

Can I take your photo?

2. Buying and bargaining

I want … (4, 6)

Do you have …?/Is there …?

Yes (8)

No (8)

This (one), That (one) [to use when pointing at goods]

There isn’t any

How much (cost)? (5, 6)

A cheaper one (5)

NUMBERS (5, 7) (These need to be learned to a high degree of fluency)



How much (quantity)?


all of it

(one) more

(one) less

Excuse me [to get attention] (4)

Too expensive

Can you lower the price? + reply  (Some countries do not use bargaining. In others it is essential.)

NAMES OF IMPORTANT THINGS TO BUY  (These may include stamps, a newspaper, a map.)

3. Reading signs






4. Getting to places

Excuse me (to get attention) (2)

Can you help me?

Where is …? (5)

Where is … street?

What is the name of this place/street/station/town?



Department store



Train station


Bus station







I want … (2, 5, 6)

How far?/Is it near?

How long (to get to …)?



Straight ahead

Slow down (Directions for a taxi.)

Stop here




5. Finding accommodation

Where is … (4)


How much (cost)? (2, 6)

A cheaper one (2)

I want … (2,4,6)

Leave at what time?

NUMBERS (2, 7)



6. Ordering food

How much (cost)? (2, 5)

The bill, please

I want … (2, 5, 9)



Delicious (1)

7. Talking about yourself and talking to children

I am (name)

Where do you come from?

I am (a New Zealander)/I come from (New Zealand)

What do you do?

I am a (teacher)/tourist

You speak (Chinese)!

A little/very little

What is your name? (Especially for talking to children.)

How old are you? + reply

NUMBERS (2, 5)

I have been here … days/weeks/months

I am sick

8. Controlling and learning language

Do you understand?

I (don’t) understand

Do you speak English? (7)

Yes (2)

No (2)


Please speak slowly

I speak only a little (Thai)

What do you call this in (Japanese)?


Do you agree with this list? Anything missing? Anything not that necessary for survival as a tourist?

Education Systems, Creativity, Motivation and Results-Only Environments

By   December 6, 2010

Being snowed in for a week meant watching a lot of TED talks online, and a few that really interested me focus on certain established environments and how they are not very conducive to education, creativity or motivation.

Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity and the need for a “learning revolution” throughout the world:

Language Mastery also brought my attention to the neat RSA animated talks, such as Changing Education Paradigms which goes along with the above TED talk on education systems.

Dan Pink on the science of motivation:

All of the recent talk about failing education systems makes me wonder why more people aren’t advocating for a Results-Only School Environment similar to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), especially for language education. It doesn’t matter how or where or sometimes even when you do something, all that matters is that you actually do it. It’s the same principle for work or school – as school essentially is work. Why should students be forced to learn something they don’t want to when they know it will not be beneficial to their future career? Or why should they be expected to remain in a certain classroom at a specific time every week? Or spend four years earning a degree when all of the material could be learned in much less time?

Most of the research on how the brain learns, and more importantly remembers, information goes against the established school schedule and curriculum. In addition to studies showing that self-study or mixed mode classes are better for learning, more and more schools should be catering to what educational research encourages in order to help students learn the most and in the most beneficial environment.  I’ve expressed my views on self-study in the past, and I still believe it is the best way of learning for motivated people. The problem is that current education systems in place do not provide this choice to the many motivated students, besides the occasional online courses which are still bound to schedules set by the school.

I learned everything in my Anthropology 101 textbook before the semester even started, and the actual class was nothing more than lectures of the various chapters of the textbook. I did not learn anything extra by going to class, but I still had to waste 3 hours every week for 15 weeks because the professor lowered our grades if we did not attend. It was incredibly frustrating to feel that more value was placed on students occupying seats in a classroom than on learning the material. In addition, I was only taking the class because it was a General Education requirement, and not because I wanted to or because it had any direct relation to my declared majors of French and Linguistics/Second Language Acquisition. An entire year of my four year Bachelor’s degree was nothing more than Gen Ed classes, all of which were similar to the Anthropology class: class time was simply a reiteration of the chapters in the textbook. Perhaps for students who did not actually read the book, the class was helpful, but for those of us who did the readings, it was a waste of time.

Even when I was in high school, I felt that I could learn much better and much more by studying on my own, away from the distraction of American high school life where sports and popularity were more important than academics. I was always tired (starting at 7:45am, seriously?) , hungry (25 minutes for lunch!) and uncomfortable (you try sitting on plastic chairs for 7 hours) which left me in a constant bad mood. I begged my parents for years to let me be home-schooled though I knew it wasn’t possible financially. I skipped a year of French by learning everything in the textbook over the summer because the other students were just holding me back. If I learn much faster than others, why do I still have to be in the same class as them just because we’re the same age? I did graduate at the top of my class with a 4.0 GPA, but I still felt that school was too easy and not enough of a challenge for me. I did not care for football or Prom; I valued education and learning. Unfortunately I wasn’t surrounded by people who believed the same.

Obviously, results-only environments cannot be applied to all forms of education and they do not work for all people, especially for those who have no interest in autonomy and think they need very specific schedules and deadlines to function properly. Nevertheless, I truly believe that simply giving students the choice and flexibility of learning the way that humans are supposed to learn would improve overall results, especially for foreign languages. When people are free to do what they want, when they want and how they want, they are more motivated and more productive – and the end result is what matters most, not how you got there. If you feel that you learn better at midnight instead of 8 am, or while eating instead of just before or after, or on the couch instead of in front of the computer, then by all means do the things that make you the most comfortable. The only question that should matter is: Did you learn something or not?

Never let your schooling interfere with your education. – Mark Twain

My two year-old niece will help you learn spoken French [New informal French video]

By   December 1, 2010

My two year-old niece was recently talking to David on the phone, and she asked t’es au boulot ? Are you at work? However, books will tell you to say es-tu au travail ? instead – or actually it’s more likely they will insist on êtes-vous au travail ? because foreigners never need to use the informal you, right? Most French books also still teach that using inversion is the best way to form questions, and they ignore slang vocabulary such as boulot in place of travail. Yet even my young niece knows that nobody talks like that in everyday conversations in France.

Real French is very different from textbook French. When I think about how many years I spent learning French before I ever came across the reduction t’es or the slang word boulot, I wonder what the heck kind of French these books are trying to teach. My niece may only be two but she can teach you real French much better than any French book found in bookstores. I’ve made a video of one of the eavesdropping mp3s available on French Listening Resources, with the transcript and notes on the informal words used, featuring Mélina eating a snack and wondering where her shoes (shushu) are:

Review of Language Learning Websites II: Mango Languages, LangMaster, LinguaTV, and Yabla

By   November 27, 2010

Six months ago I posted my thoughts on the popular language learning sites Livemocha, Busuu, LingQ and Hello-Hello. Now I would like to review four other language learning websites that I have used recently.  The previous four sites were “communities” where not only can you use their flashcards and exercises, you create a profile and interact with other languages learners on the site via chat or messaging. Mango Languages, LangMaster, LinguaTV, and Yabla are not communities but do offer just as much language input and are just as – and sometimes more – useful even without the social aspect. I am more interested in the actual language provided by the website and its pedagogical implementations rather than ways to get in touch with others. Interacting with native speakers is obviously the best way to learn, but you don’t necessarily need a language community website to find native speakers.

For the purposes of self-study when you cannot or do not have a native speaker to help you, I am looking for the most useful websites with regards to receptive and productive skills involving vocabulary. I am looking for authentic language with plenty of opportunities for active listening and self-testing – criteria that language acquisition research supports, and more importantly, criteria that I know works best in my own language learning experience.

Mango Languages

Previously, I did not review Mango Languages because they only offer one demo lesson, and I didn’t feel as if that was enough to really see how the website works. Mango for Libraries, however, allows me to use all of Mango’s features for free by logging in with my American library card number. Check your library’s website to see if yours has a subscription.

Mango offers 9 foreign languages and 3 ESL courses for individual subscribers (and even more for library patrons – 21 foreign languages and 15 ESL courses) and each of the 100 lessons is based on phrases and dialogs rather than individual words. I like that you have the option of turning off the narrator since a lot of language programs rely too much on instructions in English. There are also keyboard shortcuts for advancing through the lessons, and you can choose the Main Lesson or shorter Vocabulary and Phrasebook Reviews. Grammar and culture notes also appear throughout the lessons but they are not the focus.

The main problem is that the entire program is mostly receptive. You simply listen and repeat as there are no real productive exercises for self-testing. There are often “quizzes/flashcards” in the sense that you are presented with one word or phrase and need to say (not type)  the translation, but that’s not exactly effective self-testing. The recordings are obviously scripted and rehearsed so there is no real authentic language. Nevertheless, I have used it as a refresher for pronunciation and vocabulary but I most likely would not have used it if I didn’t have free access through my library. An individual subscription is $160 for 3 months per course.


I was initially impressed by LangMaster not only because their online lessons are completely free, but also because of the number of exercises and audio files available. For example, the Italian course includes: 125 chapters, 853 interactive exercises, 1,450 pictures and photographs, 117 minutes of sound, and 3,595 audio recordings. Even their software and listening programs are reasonably priced (13-27€) with a 14-day free trial plus Collins dictionary. The free online lessons are available in German, French, English, Italian and Spanish while the software also includes Russian.

There are plenty of opportunities for improving reading, writing, and listening skills and increasing your vocabulary. The lessons are completely in the target language so you may need to keep a dictionary open in another browser. There are cultural notes and grammar notes throughout but they are mostly examples until you get to the last chapter of each lesson, where there is a review explained in English (and which you can skip if you don’t care so much for grammar.) The recordings are mostly scripted but there are also some interviews with more authentic language, and examples of realia from the countries where the language is spoken (photos of signs, menus, brochures, etc.)  Usually the transcripts are provided, whether in the same lesson or later on, so you can check your comprehension.

A few of the disadvantages to LangMaster are that it is only available in the four main foreign languages and the audio is only streaming so you can’t download it. If you like flashcards, there’s no built-in system to review vocabulary, but you could easily create your own Anki decks while working. In spite of these few faults, it is the most complete language program available online for free so I recommend it.


LinguaTV is a German company that offers videos with subtitles in 5 languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. The videos are scripted and rehearsed so they are not quite authentic language, but they are helpful for learning basic vocabulary and phrases for everyday situations. The material is designed for beginners (A1-A2 level) and you can turn off the subtitles if you prefer. Grammar reviews and transcripts can also be downloaded as PDFs for each video, but translations are not provided. The quiz section has a variety of exercises including comprehension questions, crossword puzzles, dictations, fill in the blank, etc.

LinguaTV also has a community website called Lingorilla (in beta) where you can watch the first 9 videos in their Neu in Berlin German series, with transcripts and quizzes. They also have a section on learning languages with music videos but it’s not yet complete. Among their two websites and Youtube channel, quite a few videos are available for free so you can check them out before deciding to pay for a monthly subscription, in the range of 1-10€ depending on the language and course. I am a big supporter of using video and subtitles for teaching and learning languages, but these videos are somewhat limited in that they are not spontaneous, authentic speech.


Yabla is “language immersion through online video” and probably the most useful language website I’ve used so far. The videos come from a variety of sources, whether they are news reports, interviews, or just random scenes filmed in the country to illustrate authentic use of the language. Subtitles and translations appear under the video, which you can turn off if you’d like, and clicking on a word will search for its definition in the dictionary pane to the right.  You can also slow down the play back so the speech is slower, or put it on a loop to repeat a certain word or phrase.  Then you can choose the play game button to start the listening/cloze exercise and type in the missing word.

Currently, there are four languages available: Spanish, French, German and English as a Second Language. They’ve just added a new flashcards feature, and the Spanish & French sites also have blogs of language lessons on grammar and vocabulary. All of the languages have hundreds of videos available, and the French site does have some Quebecois videos as well. Monthly subscriptions are $9.95 a month per course, with discounts for 6 or 12 month subscriptions ($54.95 or $99.95) with a 7 day money-back guarantee.  You can download many of the videos through the website or iTunes as well to take with you instead of watching them all online.

Some of the videos are similar to the authentic/eavesdropping videos provided in the Français interactif & Deutsch im Blick online textbooks from U of Texas-Austin, but the main problem with those videos is that many do not have transcripts available unless you are a language teacher (you must prove your credentials to the university) which means they aren’t exactly useful for those who are learning on their own. The textbooks were designed to be used in the classroom however, and not as self-study materials. The advantage of Yabla, even though it is not free, is that transcripts and translations are available for everyone so it is ideal for self-study.