Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Intercomprehension of Romance Languages

By   October 7, 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

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!

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

Text to Speech Websites for Pronunciation Practice

By   May 8, 2015

Listening and speaking skills can be difficult to gain for beginning language students, especially if their textbooks provide very little audio-visual resources and they are too intimidated to use authentic resources online which tend to be completely in the target language. Most of the time my students want to work on pronunciation of isolated words and phrases so I advise them to use Larousse or Forvo if they want to hear a word pronounced. For longer texts, submitting a request to Rhinospike is also an option but there’s no guarantee that someone will record it.

Computer-generated voices can also be of help, especially in the cases of new or informal words, or even brand names and proper nouns, that are not found in dictionaries. Google Translate offers a text to speech function for some languages – just choose the language, type your text, and a speaker icon will appear if it’s available for that language.

Text to Speech Websites for Pronunciation Practice

However, if you want the option to slow down the speech, switch between a male or female voice, or hear a different accent, there are other text to speech demo websites that you can try:

Acapela Group even has From Afar, Up Close, Happy and Sad voices in European French, which are quite fun to test out.

Since my students are required to do a recording in French every week, and there’s not enough time for me to help each student individually with their pronunciation before they push record, I let them use these websites to practice. It may not be actual human beings saying the words, but it is better than nothing and it helps them remember to not pronounce final consonants which always seems to be their biggest problem in the first semester class.

EMMA: European Multiple MOOC Aggregator

By   November 8, 2014

If you’re looking for MOOCs in languages other than English, EMMA (European Multiple MOOC Aggregator) currently offers courses in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch and English, with courses in French, Catalan and Estonian coming soon.  Some videos don’t have subtitles (in any language), while some do so it’s a bit hit and miss at the moment. Spanish and Italian tend to have subtitles in their own language as well as English, but unfortunately the Portuguese ones do not.


For courses in (European) French and Spanish, other options include FUN and Miríada X (as well as Coursera which has a few courses from Mexico.) For German, there are a few courses on iversity.

The platform is in beta so there are still some bugs and I can’t seem to turn off e-mail notifications for class messages. Hopefully it will grow to include more languages and courses over time.

Do you know of other MOOC platforms with courses in languages other than English? I’d be really interested in finding some courses in Brazilian Portuguese (spoken and subtitles, not just subtitles alone.)

EuRom5: Read and Understand Five Romance Languages

By   October 27, 2014

EuRom5 is a multilingual book and accompanying website for learning to read and understand five Romance languages (Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and French). It is written for a native or advanced speaker of one of these languages, so there are no English translations. The book is divided into three main sections: the introduction that explains the theoretical background and research on comprehension of multiple languages, 20 short articles for each of the five languages with some words and phrases glossed in the other languages, and a grammar section with tables to show the main differences in structures among the languages. The texts are not translated into the other languages so there are 100 articles total from various European newspapers and news websites.

EuRom5 Cover

The major selling point for this book is the website which offers recordings of all of the articles that you can listen to online or download. You will need to register for an account by answering a question about the book (something like, what is the third word in the fourth Italian text?). Even though you can choose any one of the five languages for the website interface, some parts are still left in Italian. Once you’ve created an account and logged in, click on Matériel didactique or go directly to the Textes page from here. (Signing in through the Description and Textes links seems to put you in a loop that keeps telling you to log in when you are already logged in.)

You can also turn on or off various notes and translations so that when you mouse over a word, you can see translations in the other languages. If you listen to the recording online, each phrase will be highlighted in yellow so you can follow along while reading.

For some grammatical structures (in pink), you can also click on the word(s) to open a PDF of the grammar tables from the back of the book.

Since this is a European project, the articles and accents are obviously European as well. You can buy the book on,, or through the publisher for 25€ to 40€ (plus shipping).

If you’re interested in other multilingual books, check out a previous post on Comparative and Multilingual Books for Learning Languages Simultaneously that I continue to update.

MOOCs for Learning Languages

By   October 1, 2014

In a post about using MOOC videos and subtitles to learn languages, I noted that none of the major MOOC providers were offering courses to teach languages. Luckily that has changed over time and there are now MOOCs for learning languages:

MOOCs for Learning Languages

Although not courses specifically designed to teach the language, several courses in French and Spanish are available via the platforms FUN and Miríada X (as well as Coursera and EdX.) For German-language courses, try iversity and

Celebrating Midsummer in Sweden

By   July 15, 2014

Part 2 of Vacation 2014: Sweden

We had one day in Stockholm and two full days in Göteborg / Gothenburg where we celebrated Midsommar / Midsummer on June 20. Yes, I did dance around the maypole with my Swedish friend.

Ready to dance!

Ready to dance!

Stockholm can be done in one day, but I wish we had more time there. From the ferry, we went straight to the central train station by metro – just make sure to follow the signs while you are still on the metro platforms as there are no signs telling you where to go once you get back up to street level. There are plenty of luggage lockers to store your stuff (machines only take coins or chip cards though, sorry Americans). We bought an SL Access 24 hour card for an astounding 115 SEK (plus 20 SEK for the card) and headed to the old town and Royal Palace. We also hopped on the ferry to Djurgården.

Colourful Stockholm

Colourful Stockholm

The train from Stockholm to Gothenburg was very nice, and express so it didn’t stop at all between the two cities. Since I booked three months in advance, it was nearly the same price to buy first class tickets as it was for second class tickets. In first class, you get free coffee/tea, snacks and wifi. You can also print your tickets so there’s no need to pick them up at the train station.

Gothenburg Opera House

Gothenburg Opera House

Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city, but many people say it has a different vibe compared to Stockholm. We bought the Gothenburg City Card for 355 SEK and went to Universeum, Liseberg, and hopped on the cute little tourist train the next morning before the card expired. I recommend staying at the Clarion Collection Hotel Odin near the train station since they provide free buffet breakfast AND dinner. Considering how expensive everything is in Sweden, this a great deal, and the food is quite good.

Feskekôrka (Fiskkyrkan, or Fish Church - actually a market)

Feskekôrka (Fiskkyrkan, or Fish Church – actually a market)

After Gothenburg, we headed off to Norway. The train from Gothenburg to Oslo is an NSB rather than SJ train, so you can’t print tickets or even pick them up at the station in Gothenburg. You just print out your ticket confirmation and they’ll come around to give you your ticket (which is actually a receipt). This train is a slower regional train so there are many stops, but you still have footrests and plugs at every seat, and a drinks/snacks cart that comes through the carriage every hour or so since there is no dining carriage.

Still to come… Swedish realia and Part 3: Norway!

Finno-Ugric Fun: Finland and Estonia

By   July 10, 2014

Part 1: Finno-Ugric Fun in Finland and Estonia

Vacation 2014 began and ended with conference presentations in Paris and Oslo, so naturally I also had to travel to countries I had never been to before in Europe. I decided to start in Finland before heading over to Sweden and Norway, with a day trip to Estonia. My housemate in Australia was attending the same conference in Paris so she travelled with me for a week, and I was able to meet up with a few other former English assistants that I hadn’t seen in a few (too many) years. It was so good to see them again!

Although it is currently summer in the northern hemisphere, I was quite cold in Helsinki and Tallinn. The temperatures weren’t actually that cold – it was usually around 15 C, sometimes 18 C – but coming from 30 C in France, it was a tiny bit of a shock to the system. We had 11 C and sleet one day in Helsinki, and lots of wind in Tallinn. Good thing I brought my coat. Nearly 24 hours of sunlight was fun, except when your accommodation doesn’t have blackout curtains. I found it a bit hard to sleep since I’m used to total darkness, and when it’s still light outside at 11pm you don’t feel as tired as you should anyway.

Helsinki railway station

Muscley men on Central Railway Station in Helsinki (unfortunately under construction right now)

I felt a bit lost with signs and menus in Finnish and Estonian as I haven’t really studied any Finno-Ugric languages in detail yet. However, most things were also translated into Swedish (an official language of Finland), German, English and sometimes Russian (especially on the ferries). Multilingual signs always make my day.


Finnish, Swedish, German and English

The Tallink ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn only takes two hours so it is a great day trip. Except for maybe the Sibelius monument in Helsinki, most of the famous sites are within walking distance in both cities and Suomenlinna fortress is a short ferry ride from Helsinki. The old town of Tallinn is also a short 10 or 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal.

Suomenlinna Fortress

Suomenlinna Fortress

Old town of Tallinn

Old town of Tallinn

In Tallinn, we had lunch at Olde Hansa, a medieval restaurant that is a total tourist trap. I still don’t actually know what I ate besides the chicken, but it was so good! We also climbed up the tower of the town hall and St. Olav’s church for great views of the old town. I bought an adorable handmade wool cardigan for my nephew and we had the best hot chocolate at Jerntorgith cafe before hopping back on the ferry to return to Helsinki.

I never take photos of food, so you can believe me when I say this meal was amazing

I never take photos of food, but this meal was amazing

We also took the overnight Tallink ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm and it is more like a cruise than just a ferry. The main difference is that you take your luggage on board with you. There were plenty of shops and restaurants, activities for kids, a spa, a casino – everything but a pool, really. We left Helsinki at 5pm and arrived in Stockholm at 9:30am the next morning. You can book a place in the buffet restaurant for both dinner (you’ll be assigned a table) and breakfast (you can sit anywhere). Or, you can always make reservations at the restaurants or even just grab a snack at the cafés. Bonus: Both of these ferries have free wifi! And of course, both Finland and Estonia use the euro so you don’t have to change currency.

Finnish and Estonian realia will be added to the site soon. Up next: Sweden!

If you’re wondering why the blog hasn’t been updated in a while – everything has been a little crazy for me this year. I took over a French class halfway through the semester and needed to prepare for two conferences in Europe when I found out I had to move just before leaving. It was extremely stressful! Luckily we’re on break now between the two semesters and I’ve settled into my new place, but I still haven’t managed to get an internet connection.