Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Mutual Intelligibility between English and Scots

By   April 15, 2014

Frisian is often cited as the language that is closest to English, but Scots is actually closer (i.e. has a higher degree of mutual intelligibility with English). Not Scottish English, which is a variety of English, or Scottish Gaelic, which is actually a Celtic rather than a Germanic language, but Lowland Scots.


Map of the areas where the Scots language is spoken.

There are just over 100,000 native speakers and it is classified as a traditional language by the Scottish government and a regional or minority language by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Here is a lecture in Scots about the history of the Scots language. How much can you understand?

Free Peace Corps Language Learning Materials: Over 100 Languages Available

By   March 16, 2014

If you love free public domain language learning resources as much as I do, then check out the Peace Corps Language Courses Archive. Live Lingua has a large collection of Peace Corps manuals teaching languages ranging from Acholi to Zarma (over 100 languages are available!) and some also include audio resources in addition to the language manuals. If you have other PC manuals to share, please let Live Lingua know and they will add them to their site.

Free Peace Corps Language Learning Materials: Over 100 Languages Available

The Peace Corps does have their own Digital Library of Technical and Training Manuals if you are also interested in learning more about the work that PC Volunteers do. Although this library doesn’t seem to offer language courses, some of the manuals are written in French and Spanish so they can still be used as language learning resources.

How to Learn Languages by Reading Interlinear Books

By   March 8, 2014

Linas is a language learning enthusiast who founded His project aims to make literature more accessible to language learners. He wrote this guest post to introduce the concept of learning with Interlinear books.

If you have been reading this blog, you probably already know Jennie has strongly supported listening and reading to learn languages, and she has even published her own bilingual book to learn French. I would like to present you a further method for learning languages by reading bilingual books – Interlinear book translations, or, as we call them, Interlinear books.

Example of the principle behind Interlinear translation

What are Interlinear books?

Interlinear books are bilingual books, where each word or expression in the original language is followed by an English translation below. Because Jennie has been teaching French, let’s look at what an Interlinear translation of the first sentence of Le comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père, would look like:

Example of an Interlinear translation of the first sentence of Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

As you can see, each word is translated literally. Moreover, if the meaning is not clear by translating the word literally, an Interlinear text would add parentheses, which help understanding. Moreover, expressions are also joined together, so, for example, “c’est-à-dire” would be more likely to be joined and translated as “that is” and not as “it’s to say.”

What are Interlinear books good for?

Interlinear books make it possible for language learners to read and enjoy books in their original language without a dictionary.  Reading with Interlinear is fast because you don’t need to spend much time looking up the meaning of each word. Moreover, you also have the most appropriate meaning for each word selected by the translator, which means that you save time by not going over all the possible translations of a word and deciding which one fits best. You are enabled to understand nearly all of the story, which sustains your interest in reading. Finally, an Interlinear translation is, arguably, the closest to the original, thus reading one is good if you simply want to enjoy the language of the author to the fullest extent possible.

Can you have only books translated in Interlinear?

The project, Interlinear Books, has only been translating books so far. However, many things can be translated in the Interlinear format: short stories, plays, even poetry. Yes, poetry can be translated, although, admittedly, it would  not ordinarily make a very good tool for language learning. Here’s an Interlinear translation of a short poem (technically – an epigram) by Alexander Pushkin, the father of modern Russian literature, writing about a person he thoroughly disliked:

Interlinear Poem of Pushkin translated by

Where can I find Interlinear books?

At Interlinear Books, we have been working hard to make Interlinear translations. We have so far made four of them, enabling you to learn Lithuanian, practice Swedish, or improve your German or Russian with our books. In those languages, we have translated one book each. Those are books by classical authors, such as Franz Kafka, Leo Tolstoy or Selma Lagerlöf. All the translations are available for purchase as e-books on our website.

Here are a few examples of what our currently existing translations look like:

Example of Swedish Interlinear translation of "Skatten: Herr Arnes Penngar" by Selma Lagerlöf from

Example of Swedish Interlinear translation of “Skatten: Herr Arnes Penngar” by Selma Lagerlöf

Example of Russian Interlinear Translation of "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy by

Example of our Russian Interlinear Translation of “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy

What about Interlinear books in languages other than German, Lithuanian, Swedish and Russian ?

InterlinearBooks is currently working really hard on providing even more Interlinear books. Currently, we have not yet announced what languages we are going to be translating, but you can be among the first to learn that by signing up to our mailing list. You can also be a part of the process of choosing new translations – we always like to hear ideas!

So, what do you think about this? What new translations would you like to see? Please tell us in the comments.

Frozen’s “Let it Go” in 25 Languages with Subtitles

By   January 27, 2014

Disney has released a multilingual version of the song “Let it Go” from the film Frozen. There are 25 languages total in the song, and luckily there is a version on Dailymotion with all of the lyrics and English translations available as subtitles:

“Let It Go” (All 25 Languages Transcript… by Ko Sherman

If you click CC at the top, you will see three options for subtitles:
1. EN (English): Translation
2. ZH (Chinese): Multilingual
3. FR (French) : Romanisation (of Multilingual lyrics)

You can also find the full song in several languages on Youtube, even those languages that are not included in this video. Just search for Let it Go in [language] and you’ll find that some videos have the lyrics and translations included, such as this Dutch version:

Using MOOC Videos and Subtitles to Learn Languages

By   October 1, 2013

Although there don’t seem to be any MOOCs on the major provider platforms for learning languages (Update: Finally, they do exist!), Coursera does offer courses in French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, etc. that you can use to help you learn the language. Most, if not all of them, provide subtitles for the videos so you can watch and read at the same time.

EdX has also started offering courses in Spanish and French, but unlike Coursera there is no option to sort courses by the language they are offered in so you will need to choose from the Schools & Partners list. For example, UAM, UC3M, UPValencia, OEC and IDB are all Spanish-speaking institutions while Louvain and EPFL are French-speaking.

Several courses in French and Spanish are available via FUN and Miríada X while iversity has a few courses in German. These platforms are more likely to offer subtitles since they are designed for native speakers of these languages.

Spanish language courses on Coursera

The great thing about Coursera is how easy it is to download all of the videos and subtitles at once. After joining a course, go to the Videos page that lists all of the available lectures. Using the free DownThemAll add-on for Firefox, you can download all of the files by using the Fast Filtering option to select only the videos and subtitles. (The subtitles are in .srt format and not hard coded into the videos so you can turn them off to test your comprehension.)

Down Them All Add-On for Firefox

FYI: Even if a course has already finished, sometimes you can still enroll and have access to the videos within the class archive.

European Day of Languages 2013

By   September 25, 2013

Just a reminder – the European day of Languages / Journée européenne des langues is tomorrow, September 26!


From the official website:

Throughout Europe, 800 million Europeans represented in the Council of Europe’s 47 member states are encouraged to learn more languages, at any age, in and out of school. Being convinced that linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent, the Council of Europe promotes plurilingualism in the whole of Europe.

The Great Language Game: How many languages can you identify?

By   September 4, 2013

Here’s a fun new game to get addicted to: The Great Language Game. Data scientist Lars Yencken has created a neat game where you listen to an audio clip and choose which language it is. All of the clips are from Australia’s SBS (which you should listen to anyway since so many languages are available). The number of possible responses increases the longer you play to make it more challenging. So far the highest score is 4,050. Can you beat that?


Dutch Heritage in the US: Holland, Michigan

By   August 2, 2013

I am currently in the US visiting family and I stopped by Holland, Michigan, since I hadn’t been there in 20 years. It was founded by Dutch settlers in the mid 19th century and a large majority of Dutch Americans still live in Michigan. There is also a city called Zeeland nearby. Holland is often ranked as one of the happiest cities in the US and one of the best places to retire.

I did not go to Nelis’ Dutch Village this time (where I bought my klompen – wooden shoes – when I was 10) but I did go to Windmill Island to tour the last windmill that the Dutch government allowed to leave the Netherlands, called De Zwaan. Ninety percent of the windmills in the Netherlands were destroyed during WWII so the remaining windmills are protected by the government and cannot leave the country. De Zwaan is still a working windmill and you can buy the flour that is ground there in the shops.

De Zwaan

Unfortunately it was too late to see the tulips, but there is a Tulip Time Festival in Holland every May (as well as a Dutch Winterfest every winter to celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas). Windmill Island Gardens is still pretty cute without the tulips:


The tour of the windmill also includes a short Dutch folk dancing performance:


There are plenty of wooden shoes around:


And signs written in Dutch, of course:



Many of the street signs in Holland have a tulip on them as well:


Admission to Windmill Island is $7.50 and admission to Nelis’ Dutch Village theme park is $10 though you do not need to enter the park in order to visit the shops and cafes.

Trilingual English-Spanish-French Books for Children

By   July 26, 2013

I am constantly looking for trilingual (English-Spanish-French) books for my young niece and nephew. So far I have found two series on, Little Pim (which has 4 books of numbers, colors, feelings and animals) and I love to sleep/eat. Do you know of other trilingual books?

Trilingual English-Spanish-French Books for Children

Trilingual books for children

Trilingual English-Spanish-French Books for Children

I love to sleep and I love to eat are touch and feel books.

Trilingual English-Spanish-French Books for Children

Little Pim has flaps and tabs.


How Adaptation to Culture Affects Motivation in Language Learning

By   July 8, 2013

An article on sociolinguistic competence (Dewaele, 2007) introduced me to research on language learners’ ideological beliefs and conflicts with the target culture that can hinder language acquisition. Dewaele provides two examples from Kinginger (2004) and Kinginger & Farrell’s (2005) research on Americans studying abroad in France which illustrate the importance of intercultural understanding and adaptation to the target culture in language learning.

One student was annoyed that her French friend would not let her NOT have an opinion on politics and openly criticized the American government. She didn’t care much for politics and did not want to talk about it because she did not feel that it was an appropriate topic for discussion. Yet her friend would not let her change the subject. She consciously chose not to adapt to the French concept of “you must have an opinion” and decided to say nothing on the topic which created tension with her friend.

Another student purposely resisted French gender patterns because she found it “ridiculous” that French women were “obsessed” with their looks. She expressed frustration at the sexism and harassment of women she saw on a daily basis which made her “hate to go outside.” She refused to conform to what she believed to be stereotypical French standards of what it means to be woman (i.e. overly concerned about appearance) and thought it perfectly acceptable to attend class in sweatpants or pajamas, as she often saw at her university in the US. Because of this, she made little effort to spend time with French speakers and spent most of her time abroad speaking English with other students or friends and family in the US via the internet.

There have been many studies on the perception of sexism by American learners in study abroad contexts, especially in countries such as Russia or Japan. But the perceptions and ideologies of the learner needs to be understood in the context of how they help or hinder language acquisition for that individual. It is not enough to be motivated to learn a language – one must also be motivated to learn and experience the culture associated with the language. However, if cultural practices are considered undesirable by the learner, opportunities to use the language with native speakers will diminish as the learner resists or even rejects the target culture.

This is perhaps why the rate of language acquisition for students doing study abroad varies so widely. In fact, Kinginger & Farrell maintain that “systematic research has yet to demonstrate universal effectiveness of study abroad for language learning.” Living in a country where the language is spoken is not enough. There are many, many factors to consider including gender, personality, level of language competence before study abroad, time spent using the native language, etc.


de Nooy and Hanna (2003) also point out that “mere contact with other cultures may simply reinforce stereotypes and encourage hostility rather than fostering comprehension and mutual respect.” Spending time abroad in the target culture could (and unfortunately, does) cause learners to lose motivation and interest in learning the language if there are too many conflicts between the native and target cultures. Obviously, there will always be conflicts and differences between native and target cultures, but intercultural comprehension allows learners to occupy a third place between the native and target cultures with understanding and tolerance for both. Instead of judging the target culture based on how different (or better or worse) it is from the native culture, learners avoid falling back on their native culture to interpret the target culture and understand the value systems underlying the cultural differences between them.


de Nooy, J., & Hanna, B. E. (2003). Cultural Information Gathering by Australian Students in France. Language and Intercultural Communication, 3(1), 64-80.
Dewaele, J.-M. (2007). Diachronic and/or synchronic variation? The acquisition of sociolinguistic competence in L2 French. In D. Ayoun (Ed.), Handbook of French Applied Linguistics (Vol. Language Learning & Language Teaching 16, pp. 208-236). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Kinginger, C. 2004. “Alice doesn’t live here anymore: Foreign language learning and identity reconstruction”. In Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts, A. Pavlenko and A. Blackledge (eds.), 219–42. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Kinginger, C. and Farrell Whitworth, K. 2005. “Gender and emotional investment in language learning during study abroad”. CALPER Working Papers Series 2, 1-12. The Pennsylvania State University, Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research.