Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

A Few Ways to Say It

By   December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noël !

Buon Natale!

Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas!

Frohe Weihnachten!

Zalig kerstfeest!

God Jul!

English Ad Slogans in Non-Anglophone Countries

By   December 13, 2008

This Spiegel article is about German of course, but just replace “Germany” and “German” with “France” and “French” and the outcome is the same.

How Germans Really See English Ad Slogans: English is all the rage in Germany — the height of fashion, except that many people don’t understand it. Consumer groups would like to see the language banned from German ads altogether.

If you spend much time in Germany, it won’t take long before you notice that speaking the language really isn’t that difficult. Any time you’re at a loss for a German word, just throw in some English and move on. For one thing, it’s the height of coolness to sprinkle your German with English. And for another, even if your German friends don’t understand, they’ll smile and nod for fear of looking dumm.

Plus, they do it too. Words like “office” and “meeting” long ago entered the German vocabulary. “Babysitten” and “downloaden” have been adopted. Even the word “people” has been molded to suit the needs of the German language — the term has a negative connotation to indicate folks who are disagreeable and tiresome.

But when it comes to advertising slogans, the use of English is becoming passé. Some advertisers have realized that many Germans just don’t understand — or even worse, misunderstand — their hip slogans. […] The Vodafone slogan “Make the Most of Now” has weird associations with fruit juice (“Most”) for many Germans. “Welcome to the Beck’s Experience” didn’t work so well because many thought the last word meant “experiment.” The grand prize for slipshod slogans, though, goes to German television station Sat1, which used the catchphrase “Powered by Emotion.” This was taken by many to be a modern version of “Kraft durch Freude,” the Nazi party’s leisure organization, often translated into English as “strength through joy.”

[…] The German capital has just chosen a new — English language — slogan for the city: “Be Berlin.” But at least that catchphrase doesn’t exclude any part of the population. No one, after all, seems to have the slightest idea what it means.

More Free Language Resources Online

By   November 21, 2008

Publisher Websites. A lot of publishing companies have companion websites for their foreign language textbooks. Most offer extra exercises in grammar and vocabulary, while some even offer free downloads of  mp3s and a sample chapter.

Hot Potatoes fun! The following sites used Hot Potatoes software to create exercises for language learning. (I’ve already done the same for my French I, French Slang, and German I tutorials.)

  • From the Ashcombe School, MFL Video on Demand is a useful collection of native speakers talking about everyday things, such as family, education, holidays, etc. You can watch the video, and try a fill-in-the-blank exercise along with it to test your listening skills. Videos are available in French, German, Spanish and Italian.
  • Oefeningen voor de Franse les is a Dutch site for learning French, based on the Carte Orange and Libre Service textbooks. It’s not too hard to figure out if you don’t speak Dutch, and if you already know a little French, you can just use it to learn Dutch instead. (For anyone else who speaks Dutch, DigiSchool is also a cool site for learning almost anything, including several languages – but in Dutch, of course.)
  • Gramlink is a French site for learning German, English and Dutch grammar. There are exercises for almost all parts of speech, as well as grammar references for English and Dutch. [Some parts of this site do not work well in Firefox, so you may have to use Internet Explorer.]
  • includes exercises for English, French, Italian, Latin and Spanish, as well as other disciplines such as history, philosophy, sociology, etc.
  • Turkish Tutor is an interactive video program from UCLA for increasing your comprehension of spoken Turkish. is also a neat site, though it was not created with Hot Potatoes. It is a spelling and grammar checker for French. You simply type or copy & paste a few sentences or paragraphs of French in the box and it will help you correct your mistakes.

First Semester Language

By   November 2, 2008

We all laugh at these songs that make fun of beginning language classes and the somewhat useless words and phrases we learn. How many times in French have I ever said “Où est la bibliothèque ?” Um, probably never. But these videos also show the poor attempt at language teaching and/or the poor attempt at language learning that is so prevalent in English-speaking schools. Even though I’m laughing on the outside, I’m crying on the inside because I know there are so many students who finish years of study and retain nothing but these stock phrases.

Foo doo fa fa by the Flight of the Conchords

(Click here: Embedding disabled for this video)

First Semester of Spanish Love Song by RunawayBox

Second Semester of Spanish Love Song (with Erik Estrada!)

Anybody know of songs like these for other languages?

More Language Learning Tips

By   September 25, 2008

Websites I found these past few weeks:

Dialang is a neat program that you can use to determine your European Level in a foreign language. There are 5 tests – reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary – available for 14 languages – Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. It also gives you feedback, advice and an explanation of the European Levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). You can download Dialang for free here.

Goethe-Verlag has two sections for learning languages at the A1 & A2 levels: book2 is a non-profit project that includes 100 lessons in 40 languages and mp3s for 11 of the languages. There are also free language tests in 25 languages, with about 200 fill-in-the-blank tests each.

Verbs: There are a few websites for looking up the conjugation of a verb in a certain language, such as Verbix, but these sites usually have no audio to help you with the pronunciation of the conjugated forms. However, there is LearnVerbs which provides the pronunciation of several verbs in Catalan, English, French, Galician, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. But this site does not give the conjugated form – only the name of the verb tense – so you need to keep one window open on Verbix and one window open on LearnVerbs if you want both the spelling and the pronunciation.

Activities: Quia has a collection of shared activities and games for learning languages, most submitted by teachers for use in their classes. Paying subscribers can create a variety of activities in 16 formats, but just doing the activities is completely free.

Radio: has a list of European radio stations that you can listen to online as live streams.

Links: Mahalo has some good tips for learning languages and links to many sites. I especially love their page on learning German with the music of David Hasselhoff.

Studying or Learning Multiple Languages Simultaneously

By   July 26, 2008

I’ve been working on my French & German Comparative Tutorial this week, and also searching the internet to find other sites that help people learn more than one language at a time, or even multiple languages simultaneously. I am so disappointed.

[Update: I haven’t found many websites but I have found some multilingual comparative books for learning multiple languages simultaneously. Of course, you should check out my Romance and Germanic vocabulary and verb lists too!]

Studying or Learning Multiple Languages Simultaneously

I’ve found a few vocabulary lists, but they’re mostly just showing the similarities among Romance languages. I can’t find any sites that include lessons for learning two languages, closely related or not. I’ve never been able to find books like this either, which is somewhat surprising considering that almost all graduate students must learn two foreign languages and I know I am not the only person in the world who studies French, German and Italian at the same time. Where’s the multilingual love?

Instead, all I’m finding is some misguided “advice” that learning two languages at once is a bad idea. Says who? Every single person learns in a different way. Maybe it’s a good idea and maybe it’s not, but you should at least try. Maybe you can learn as a beginner in two languages without confusing them, or maybe you need to be advanced in one but beginning in the other. It all depends on your learning style.

I took Intermediate French, Beginning German and Beginning Spanish when I was an undergrad and I never had a problem keeping the languages straight in my head. Apparently this is discouraged (!) at some American universities, like Georgetown: “Freshmen interested in pre-registering for multiple language courses must receive permission from the dean’s office. One of the deans will discuss your specific situation with you and help you determine whether or not studying a second foreign language is feasible.” You have to get permission to study languages?? How can studying a second foreign language ever be NOT feasible?? I. just. don’t. get. it. Quite a difference from French high schools, where students must learn two languages!

Of course, if you’re advanced enough in one language, you can always use it to learn another, i.e. learn German in French or learn Italian in Spanish. That’s precisely what I do when I buy language books here in France. I feel like I get two languages for the price of one. Even the cheap cahiers (usually no more than 5 € each) designed for collège-level students are useful for getting the grammar basics of German, Italian, Spanish and sometimes even Latin. LaRousse, Hachette, Magnard, and Hatier Chouette are all good ones.

Anyway, since I want to spread the multiple language love, here are some new resources that I’ve come across this week:

  • Pukka German is a podcast of informal German (slang, idioms, colloquialisms) from an adorable South African-German couple who live in Freiburg. It’s extremely useful since it’s the German that is not included in textbooks, i.e. the way people actually speak!
  • is a free Deutsch als Fremdsprache site with online interactive exercises. It’s all in German, which can be a bit intimidating if you’re a beginner.
  • Since there’s no, I searched around for online Italian bookstores where I can buy Italian as a Second Language books. I managed to find two, Internet Bookstore Italia and Libreria Universitaria, but shipping outside of Italy is not cheap.

Pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’allemand :

Pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’italien :

There are other sites for learning Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Latin and even Provençal! (The English version of the site only includes lessons for French, Spanish and German.)

So if anyone else can find free online tutorials in learning two languages together (not necessarily just French & German or French & Italian), please let me know!

Bread Machine in Italian & Books in German

By   July 19, 2008

I recently ordered a bread machine from because unlike most people, I do not like baguettes and prefer big loaves of bread with soft crusts. Plus the sandwich-style bread you can buy in France does not taste very good. Even though I had ordered it from a French company and the picture in the catalog clearly showed it was in French, all of the writing on my machine (as well as the instruction booklet and recipe book) was in Italian. This isn’t really a problem for me though, as I can figure out recipes with my limited Italian vocabulary.

Coincidentally, I also received a few German as a Second Language books today that I had ordered from Maybe this is a sign that I should really devote more time to studying languages. I’ve been slacking off lately on studying French too. And I can’t even remember the last time I majorly updated my language tutorials…

When I first moved to France, I thought naively that it would be very easy to study other languages because of the close proximity to Germany, Switzerland and Italy. However, I’ve discovered that’s not exactly true. Sure, we get a few channels in other languages (Deutsche Welle; which is in English half of the time & Rai; which cannot be broadcast in France at certain times for some reason…) and most good bookstores have a nice foreign language section – but it’s not much more extensive than what I found in the US. The internet is still the best way to learn languages, and the real authentic language that is not found in books.

Yet Europe does have an obvious advantage to learning languages: cheap & quick travel among the countries. I can be in Italy or German-speaking Switzerland in about 2 hours’ drive. I can fly to Berlin or Rome in an hour or so on a low-cost airline.  I can order books from German stores and have them delivered to my home in France for a few extra euros. (I’m wondering why there’s no though… where can I order Italian books from??)

A large part of the reason that I haven’t been studying languages is the lack of motivation. I’m not taking any classes, so I have no homework or tests to study for. I don’t have to use other languages every day. I want to learn though because I want to become fluent in more than just French. And travelling to these other countries makes me realize how much more I need to learn in order to survive there – or even just be a less-stressed tourist. One day, I may have EU nationality and then it will be (hopefully) easy to relocate to Germany or Italy. The only (major) obstacle will be the language barrier.

So I’m going to grab a slice of the pain français pane francese I made, and crack open my language books that have been collecting dust on the bookshelf. But now the hard part is deciding which language I want to study first!

Learning languages for free with the internet: Public Domain Materials

By   May 8, 2008

Tip of the day: Use the internet to take advantage of the public domain.

Foreign Service Institute Language Courses: Designed and written by the US government but with no copyright protection. You can download the texts (PDF format) and audio files (mp3s) for free. Not all languages are available for download as the site depends on user contributions and it takes a long time to scan the books and digitize the audio cassettes. Best for beginners because there is a lot of repetition and drills.

The following languages are available: Amharic, Arabic (Levantine & Saudi), Bulgarian (text only), Cambodian, Cantonese, Chinese, Chinyanja (link currently broken), Finnish (audio only), French, German, Greek, Hausa (text only, but see below), Hindi (text only), Hebrew, Hungarian, Igbo, Italian (text only), Kituba (text only), Korean, Lao, Luganda (text only), Moré, Portuguese, Romanian (text only), Russian (text only), Spanish, Sinhala (text only), Swahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Twi, Vietnamese, and Yoruba (text only).

If you plan on downloading several files, try the DownThemAll add-on with Firefox. Instead of right clicking and downloading each file individually, you can download them all (hence the name) in one click. Plus it makes downloading much, much faster.

Also check the Forum to see if more materials are available (such as .torrents), but have not been uploaded to the site yet. For example, Serbo-Croatian, Igbo and Hausa PDFs and mp3s can be downloaded as torrents.

Free Public Domain Materials for Language Learning
Project Gutenberg: Electronic version of books whose copyright have expired in the US (essentially all books published before 1923 and some published before 1964). Many classic books in several languages are available.

Children’s Library: Famous children’s stories in many languages (again, with expired copyrights), some with audio so you can listen while you read.

Thanks to the public domain, sometimes you don’t need to spend any money on language resources. If you do choose to buy language books, beware of certain publishers who copy the FSI courses and publish them for profit. For example, Barron’s Mastering Hebrew is the FSI course, which you can download for free!

P.S. The Defense Language Institute also produced language materials and they are available as micro-fiched PDF documents through the ERIC database. Unfortunately, there is no audio available and they’re a bit more cumbersome to download (you must do them one by one). The following languages can be found by searching for Defense Language Institute + the language + Full Text only: Albanian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Czech, French, German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean (advanced), Malay (intermediate advanced), Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Thai.

P.S.S Although is not technically in the public domain, all of the language learning resources are free.

Why I love Germany

By   May 2, 2008

A German with a sense of humor does exist. I was watching Deutsche Welle last night and it was actually in German instead of English. I swear every time I turn on that channel, people are talking in English… Anyway, there was a report on Moritz Volz (he’s a Fulham footballer/soccer player) and how he likes to ride around London on his bike. You have to check out his website. The song on the main page kills me.

See him cycle down the Fulham road
His German sausage in his hand

He plays football but he hardly ever scores

He dreams of Knight Rider and the fatherland

Ja, Ja, he is an alien, a humorous Westphalien

He’s a German man in West London

The Where It’s At page includes useful German phrases, such as Wo kann ich die neue David Hasselhoff CD kaufen? When is David Hasselhoff’s new album out? and Mir juckt’s in der Lederhose. My lederhosen are a little itchy.

The Hoff love is real. We all know that David Hasselhoff saved the world. Click on the picture if you don’t believe me. If it’s tagged on an abandoned building in east Berlin, it must be true, right?


By   April 19, 2008

There are very few language sites that offer useful, free information to help you actually learn the real language (slang, idioms, informal speech, etc.)’s language sites do include a lot of useful information, but the problem is finding what you want among the bazillion pages and sponsored links that look exactly like the content. I was reviewing the most common advanced mistakes in French this morning, and my hand cramped up just by clicking on the necessary links in order to read all of the information.

Each section of has a “guide” who adds content every few days and keeps a blog. Laura Lawless is the current French guide, and she recently moved to Hyères, next to Toulon in the south. She’s also the author of several French and Spanish books. Hmm, living in the south of France, working for a language website and writing language books. Why do other people get to live my life??

Anyway, I headed over to the German section to what’s new and discovered that is currently hiring a new German guide. Too bad I’m not fluent enough in German to apply.

If Laura ever decides to leave her job as the French guide, you can be sure I’ll be applying for it!