Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

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.

Basic Phrases with Pronunciation: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and Swedish Available

By   June 19, 2013

If you’d like to study basic phrases for French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, or Swedish, I’ve created new pages with the list of phrases and mp3s for each phrase (instead of one mp3 for all the phrases together). Now you can listen to each phrase individually before trying out the audio flashcards to test yourself.

Basic Phrases with Pronunciation: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and Swedish Available



Dutch and Danish will be coming next, and eventually I’d like to have audio on the Romance Languages Phrases and Germanic Languages Phrases pages as well.

So Much for the Asian Century: Loss of Language Programs at Australian Universities

By   June 10, 2013

The University of Canberra and Curtin University both recently announced that they would be cutting their language programs. At Canberra, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish will disappear while at Curtin, Japanese, Mandarin and a major in Asian Studies may be abandoned. These cuts are very unfortunate since it leaves these universities with no language classes or majors at all. It is also surprising considering the government’s push for a focus on Asian cultures and languages. Indonesian programs have also been closing in Australia, though luckily the programs at La Trobe and University of New South Wales have been saved (for now). The University of Western Sydney is keeping their Chinese and Japanese programs, but doing away with Arabic, Italian and Spanish.

Low enrollment is always the excuse for cutting programs, and universities claim that students can just take the classes at neighboring institutions and that it will actually strengthen those programs. Brisbane Universities Languages Alliance exists for this purpose and students enrolled at any of the three universities in Brisbane can take language classes at another and have the credits count toward their degree. The University of Canberra suggests that students simply take classes cross-institutionally at ANU, while students of Curtin can take language classes at the University of Western Australia. However, this rarely actually happens as David Hill points out and “it is a myth the closure of a language department at one university strengthens those of rivals.” It is much more likely that students will just stop taking language classes altogether. Trying to attend language classes at a different university (which most likely aren’t even required since no Australian university requires a foreign language for a BA) is too much of a hassle when factoring in the time for the commute and conflicting timetables among universities. Even students at my university who are based at the city campuses are less likely to travel 20-30 minutes to the humanities campus to take a foreign language.Open-Universities-Australia-OUA_large

Even though online class enrollments have been increasing, very few Australian universities offer language classes online. The University of New England is “the only [university] in Australia to offer a full programme of French by distance education.” My university offers first year Italian as an online course through Open Universities Australia, but you cannot obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Italian or any other language from OU. Perhaps if Australian universities invested in online education, enrollments would increase in certain subjects? With so many rural students and working students, I’m always surprised that distance education is not more of a priority in Australia.

Australian universities will be hit hard with a $2.8 billion cut next year in the most ridiculous decision ever made on education funding as the money will be used to pay for K-12 school reforms instead. Australian universities could save a lot of money by decreasing the astronomical pay of vice chancellors and putting their money towards academics instead of rugby. VCs should really be paid the same amount as casual staff so they know what it’s like to be overworked and underpaid rather than the opposite. Luckily most Australian universities do not have any involvement in sports teams so academics tends to be the focus, yet most of the money still goes to a few at the top rather than the teaching and research staff who do the most work for the university. Cutting language programs should be a last resort since universities are supposed to provide students with an “international and intercultural educational experience” but I suppose we can do that in English since all seven billion humans speak English natively and belong to the same Anglophone culture, right?

iTunes U Materials and MOOCs Available in Languages Other than English

By   June 5, 2013

I recently noticed that iTunes U now lets you browse the courses by language. Finally! Previously you had to go to the list of universities and look for a certain institution, which may or may not have had any real content. Now you can simply select Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Catalan, Portuguese, Korean or Turkish and universities that offer content in that language will appear.


The  MOOC provider Coursera also now offers 27 courses in other languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, German and Italian). You simply choose which language to browse when looking at the list of courses.

Miríada X and UNED are Spanish-language MOOC providers, though I can’t seem to find any French-language providers. Usually individual universities will offer open online courses, such as Universidad de Granada or EDUlib HEC Montréal, but the number and range of courses is very limited.

Does anyone know of other non-English-language MOOC providers?

Readlang + Podclub = My Latest Language Learning Obsession

By   May 8, 2013

Readlang by Steve Ridout is a new site (still in beta) which helps you learn foreign languages by reading and translating words you don’t know. You simply import text from any website, click on words you don’t know in order to translate them into another language, and save these words so you can review them later. It  “uses a spaced repetition flashcard system to make sure you remember the words” that you’ve clicked on and has a feature to open a dictionary in a side panel if you want to look up more information on the word(s). You can read the blog to see the latest updates, such as export word lists to Anki and translations of phrases rather than just individual words.

Lately I’ve been using the transcripts from Podclub podcasts since I always prefer to have text plus audio. I imported the text of the latest episode of the Spanish podcast A mi aire, and I’m translating words into English. You can see below that I’ve clicked on discurso, it was translated into speech, and the dictionary panel on the left shows the entry in Wordreference. The word discurso has now been added to my list of words to review later.


Click on image to view actual size

Check it out and send your feedback to Steve so he knows what new features to add.

Free Children’s Books Apps in Foreign Languages

By   April 13, 2013

There are a lot of free language apps available nowadays but many of them are not very good or extensive. They tend to include some basic words or tourist phrases in flashcard format, but very few offer connected text (such as stories) in addition to pronunciation. Lately I’ve been looking for apps that include both text and audio in foreign languages, and I’ve mostly found apps that provide one or the other, i.e. ebooks or audiobooks but not synced together so that you can read and listen at the same time. I have found a few apps designed for children, however, that mostly include fairy tales but some include original stories. Many have a “read to me” and autoplay option so you don’t have to keep swiping the screen.

Free Children's Books Apps in Foreign Languages

Both Apple and Android

PlayTales Gold : download books for free, but ad-supported and internet connection needed. Stories available in 8 different languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin), and Japanese. [ Apple version is only a seven day trial so not quite as useful]

Luca Lashes : Original story available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Italian.

Hao-Ming Yeh /QLL Inc. : Apple version seems to only include English and Chinese but Android also has Spanish. Two languages can be displayed on screen instead of just one.

Verlag Friedrich Oetinger : German and English stories (but in different apps)



Tri-Software : Lots of classic children’s books (in different apps) available in at least two languages. Most are available in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian and some even have Portuguese and Chinese. The free versions only include the beginning of the story.

Readalong Spanish : Only in Spanish but you have the option of including the English text on the same screen.



Vienom Kids Books : Two stories available in French & German and two stories available in French, German, and Spanish. Four different apps though, and the free versions only include seven pages of the stories.


Any other useful (and free) apps to add to the list?


I didn’t include any “free” apps that make you pay for every book.

Dora will help you learn half a dozen languages

By   March 17, 2013

I often buy DVDs from the European Amazon stores to ensure that I will have a choice of at least one or two other subtitled/dubbed languages besides the original language. I’m not sure how, but I came across Dora the Explorer DVDs at the German Amazon and noticed that they offered FIVE languages, or at least that’s what the Product Details claimed. I bought Entdecke die Welt to see if it were true and I’m so glad I did! It is indeed dubbed in five other languages: German, French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. Even without subtitles, all the repetition and visual clues in the episodes make it so easy to understand – and if I can’t quite understand something, I’ll just watch the scene in English or French, then again in one of the other languages and try to translate what was said. Five foreign languages for five euros! Amazing! I wish I had bought more DVDs, like this Geburtstagabenteur one which has German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch AND Portuguese.

I decided to check the other Amazon stores to see if I could find any other languages, or any that also had subtitles (which is extremely rare for kids’ movies; sorry deaf kids!) Not only did I find a DVD at the Italian store with the same six languages, but three of those languages are also available as subtitles!  How cool is that?!?

Dora will help you learn half a dozen languages

Dubbed in Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch with subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch!

But that’s not the best part. I found a few DVDs at the Spanish and Italian stores that are dubbed in… wait for it… IRISH!!! Yes, Irish. Not English with an Irish accent. The actual Irish language! Whaaaaaat? SHUT. THE. FRONT. DOOR.

And it’s not a mistake or anything. This Italian one has an image of the back of the DVD where you can see that the language irlandese is really included. Wikipedia says that the Irish version actually teaches a few words of Spanish like the English version, unlike most of the other languages which teach some English.

Dora will help you learn half a dozen languages

I even underlined irlandese with a red crayon [brush in Paint].

I also looked at the US, Canadian, French, and UK stores to see if they offered other languages but it’s mostly French and/or Spanish or just English. So if you’re looking for as many languages as possible on one DVD, the German store has the cheapest shipping to the US or Australia, followed by Italian, then Spanish. But remember, the DVDs will be region 2 so you’ll need a region-free player.

P.S. Yes, I loved this and am totally geeked out for this.

Death of a language website: [UPDATED: There are at least 3 other sites with the same files]

By   February 26, 2013

UPDATE: All of the files are available at,, or, or you can use this torrent if you’d like to download everything.

If anyone knows what happened to, please let me know! It was the site that included all of the Foreign Service Institute courses in the public domain, and where I downloaded the courses in order to turn them into HTML pages for my FSI Project. For about a month the site has been unavailable with a 403 Forbidden message. There haven’t been any new files added since January 2011, but the site was still online as of this January. (Thanks Internet Archive!), where have you gone?, where have you gone?

For those who have been downloading the FSI files for a while, you may remember that was actually created when the webmaster of stopped updating the site. The files are no longer available through that original site either. I downloaded many of the courses, but not all of them, and although some are available as torrents, I don’t know of another way of downloading the materials. Were any mirror sites ever created?

If anyone has any information about – I believe the webmaster went by VagabondPilgrim on the forums – or if the files are available to download in another location, please leave a comment or email me. A lot of people spent MANY hours digitizing the books and cassettes in order to share them with other language learners, so we need to get them back online!



Try these sites (first three are mirror sites that should contain everything that is on the original site):

  1. – includes everything that was available on
  2. – includes everything that was available on
  4. – directory listings for both FSI and Defense Language Institute public domain courses
  5. – just the DLI courses
  6. Scribd
  8. Wayback Machine

If you want to download all of the FSI files that were available, Joni has created a torrent (20.8 GB) from a site rip done in January 2011. Please help seed it for others to download too!


Thanks everyone!

Adding Subtitles to Online Videos with Amara for Language Learning

By   February 8, 2013

Listening while reading a transcript of what is said is the best way to improve overall comprehension as well as pronunciation. Extensive listening and reading also contribute to vocabulary acquisition. I have previously talked about TV series and movies that may include subtitles, but what about online videos? Youtube does have an automatic closed captioning feature (that is notoriously bad) but you cannot add subtitles to videos that you did not upload. Luckily, Amara and crowdsourcing exist to fill that gap.


Amara, formerly called Universal Subtitles, is a tool for subtitling videos found on Youtube, Vimeo or coded with HTML5. You simply paste the video URL to add it to Amara, and then you and/or anyone else can add subtitles in any language. You can also link your Youtube account to Amara so that the subtitles appear on Youtube itself without having to use the embed code provided by Amara. (If the owner of the Youtube channel hasn’t synced to Amara, then the subtitles are only available through Amara.) You can also download the subtitles in many formats – SRT is the most common – through Amara, which is useful if you download the video and watch it through VLC Player.

For example, here is a video on my Youtube channel with subtitles that I added in Amara. You can watch it through either Amara or Youtube, and either way the subtitles appear.

Now here’s a video that I helped add subtitles to – but since the owner of the Youtube channel to which this video was uploaded has not synced to Amara, the subtitles are only available if you watch the video through Amara rather than Youtube. Usually this doesn’t pose a problem as long as embedding is allowed through Youtube.

Amara is a great tool though it does have a few minor problems. I can’t seem to delete any videos that were added automatically from my Youtube channel (such as travel videos that are silent) or videos that I added only to find out embedding was not allowed. The subtitle sync tool is a bit buggy and hard to use. The search feature is not very good, and it is not possible to simply browse videos in a certain language. You can choose to sort by spoken language and subtitle language, but you must also type in a search term. Sometimes people have identified the video incorrectly. I came across some English and German videos even though I sorted by Dutch for both spoken and subtitled language. One video had numerous misspellings and typos though, as if the subtitler didn’t speak the language well. (This is one of the major problems with crowdsourcing: quality control.) Finding videos that include subtitles of the spoken language can be a pain, but I do believe that Amara will get better over time as more native or advanced speakers help to add subtitles.

Amara emphasizes the need to make videos accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as reaching as many viewers as possible by translating and subtitling into other languages. Yet they don’t seem to emphasize how extremely important subtitles are to language learning. And it isn’t simply watching/listening and reading at the same time that helps language acquisition. Adding subtitles to videos can also be a language learning exercise.

First, request a transcript of a video on Rhinospike. Once someone has provided the transcript, you can then add the subtitles to the video on Amara by copying and pasting. You must listen a few times to make sure the subtitles are synced correctly to the video, so it’s a way of making sure you repeat the material over and over. As a bonus, you are making more resources available to other language learners AND helping out the deaf population who truly need subtitles.

I’ll continue to try out Amara for subtitling the French Listening Resources videos. I am also requesting transcripts of videos in other languages on Rhinospike so that I can add subtitles in Amara and create listening resources for Spanish, Italian, German and Dutch.

Amazon or Similar Stores with International Shipping for Foreign Language DVDs

By   January 8, 2013

If you’re looking for DVDs of movies or TV shows in European languages with the subtitles in that language, you’ll most likely have to look to European stores. Even though you  can often buy foreign movies from or, the subtitles will usually be in English only or there will be a weird combination of dubbing and subtitles in mismatched languages (e.g. a French movie dubbed in Spanish with subtitles in English and German, why???) Not all foreign DVDs include subtitles unfortunately, but a lot of countries are starting to be kinder to the deaf population and are making an effort to include them. Just make sure to check the DVD specs before you buy.

Amazon currently has French, German, Italian and Spanish stores based in Europe that offer international shipping; however, the DVDs are region 2 so you’ll need a region-free DVD player. Luckily most DVD players in Australia are region-free (even my cheap $29 one I got at Kmart), but it’s still not a standard feature on American DVD players. There is also a Dutch store called that sells books and DVDs though there is a rumor that Amazon might open a store based in the Netherlands soon.  If you’re in America and do not have a region-free player, you can still take advantage of the large Spanish-language DVD selection on and get French Canadian DVDs from For those in Australia who would like Mexican Spanish-language DVDs, ships to Australia for $5 per shipment + $5 per book or $1 per DVD with delivery taking anywhere between 18 and 32 business days.



Canadian French:

to US: $8 per shipment + $2 per book or $8 per shipment + $2 per DVD (8 to 16 business days)

to Australia: $11 per shipment + $7 per book or $5 per shipment + $3 per DVD ( a whopping 10 to 12 WEEKS)


European French:

to US: 7€ per shipment + 1,50€ per item (10 to 12 days)

to Australia: 10€ per shipment + 1,50€ per item (12 to 15 days)



to US: 3€ per shipment + 3€ per kilo (8 to 12 business days)

to Australia: 9€ per shipment + 4€ per kilo (7 to 19 business days)



to US: 17,35€ per shipment

to Australia: 19,80€ per shipment



to US: 10€ per shipment + 5€ per kilo (10 to 15 days)

to Australia: 14€ per shipment + 5€ per kilo (12 to 15 days)


European Spanish:

to US: 10€ + 7€ per kilo (10 to 12 days)

to Australia: 20€ + 10€ per kilo (12 to 15 days)


There is also a Brazilian Kindle store if you want to read Portuguese. No word yet if this store will eventually sell actual books and DVDs.


Anyone know of other stores to add to the list?


All prices are for standard shipping. Expedited and priority are often available if you want to pay more.