Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning

By   January 2, 2013

The Telenovela Method, as explained by Andrew, is a great way to learn languages quickly, which a recent study suggests actually helps your brain grow. The main reason I like this method is the authenticity of language and culture which is usually lacking from language learning resources. Finding subtitles to go along with the movies or TV series can be a problem though, especially with telenovelas.

Ugly Betty Adaptations in Spanish

The most famous telenovela and the original Ugly Betty, Yo soy Betty, la fea, was made in Colombia and you can watch all of the episodes (many with subtitles in Spanish and English) at The European Spanish version, Yo soy Bea, also has a quite a few episodes on though not all have Spanish subtitles yet.

The Mexican version, La Fea Más Bella, is available on DVD through as a shortened/edited version with English subtitles only.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning Mexican version of Ugly Betty

Mexican Telenovelas

If you are interested in using Mexican telenovelas to learn Spanish, I highly recommend Las Tontas No Van al Cielo. It is actually better than La Fea Más Bella, even funnier and much more addictive. The DVD available on is, of course, a shortened version of just over 15 hours but the editing was actually done quite well. There was only one storyline that I don’t remember seeing the end to, but everything else made sense.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning Best telenovela ever.

The male lead is Jaime Camil, who was also the male lead in La Fea Más Bella. The female lead is Jacqueline Bracamontes… who also had a small role in La Fea Más Bella. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that the theme song, Esto es lo que soy, is sung by Jesse y Joy, my favorite Mexican band.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language LearningThis dude is hilarious.

If you prefer to have actual DVDs so you’re not stuck in front of a computer all the time, there are a lot of Mexican televenovelas sold on for less than $10 each. They will be the edited versions because the full versions that aired on TV are more than 100 hours long and that is a LOT of DVDs. They tend to only have English subtitles but their price is rather cheap for how many hours of Spanish you’ll get to hear. If you don’t mind using the computer, Andrew also has lists of sites for watching Spanish-language TV online as well as Spanish videos with Spanish subtitles.

Ugly Betty Adaptations in Languages Other than Spanish

For Portuguese, Brazil has Bela, a Feia and many clips can also be found on Youtube. There are no French or Italian versions, but Germany has Verliebt in Berlin and you can get the (many) DVDs which include every single episode on from third-party sellers (region 2 only though!).

There are two versions in Dutch, Sara from Flemish-speaking Belgium and Lotte from the Netherlands. A few clips from Sara can be found on VTM’s site and LotteTVChannel is still uploading all of the episodes of Lotte to Youtube. Plus Lars Oostveen is the male lead. You should recognize him as Sam Scott, a.k.a the American, from the Extr@ series. Now you get to hear him speak his native language.

Ugly Betty Adaptations and Other Telenovelas for Language Learning

And he’s instantly ten times cuter when he speaks Dutch.

A few other adaptations of Ugly Betty exist in languages such as Greek, Croatian, Polish, Russian, Tagalog, Mandarin, etc. but I don’t think they’re available on DVD. Some clips may be available online though.

Update: Learn Spanish by Watching Telenovelas (with recommendations for more telenovelas to watch)

Quotes from The Loom of Language on Classroom Learning and the Direct Method

By   December 26, 2012

I started re-reading The Loom of Language by Frederick Bodmer while travelling around Australia a few weeks ago. I only made it through the Introduction when I realized I had already added nearly 20 bookmarks and notes on my Kindle. I love this book so much. Even though it was published in the 1940’s, it is still highly relevant to the state of foreign language education in Anglophone countries and it remains the best book for gaining comprehension of the major Romance and Germanic languages.



Here are some choice quotes on why this is my favorite book. Bodmer tears apart classroom language learning, grammarians and the direct method. I wish I could marry this man. (Interesting fact: Bodmer taught languages and linguistics at MIT when they were developing their Department of Modern Languages. Noam Chomsky was his replacement when he retired in 1955.)

“After two generations of experiment, educationists are not convinced that the results of school-teaching [of modern languages] justify the time devoted to them in English-speaking countries. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the prevailing attitude among American educationists is one of alarm at the poverty of return for effort put into the task. Subsidized by the Carnegie Corporation, the American Council of Education has undertaken a survey of methods and results in order to review the current situation in American schools. The published report is an honest admission of dismal failure.” p. 12 (This quote is actually in the editor’s foreword, by Lancelot Hogben.)

“…many would study [foreign languages], if they were not discouraged by the very poor results which years of study at school or in college produce.” p. 19

“The greatest impediment, common to most branches of school and university education, is the dead hand of Plato. We have not yet got away from education designed for the sons of gentlemen. Educational Platonism sacrifices realizable proficiency by encouraging the pursuit of unattainable perfection… Most of us could learn languages more easily is we could learn to forgive our own linguistic trespasses.” p. 19

“No one who wants to speak a foreign language like a native can rely upon this book or on any other.” p. 20

“It is a common belief that learning two languages calls for twice as much effort as learning one. This may be roughly true, if the two languages are not more alike than French and German, and if the beginner’s aim is to speak either like a native. If they belong to the same family, and if the beginner has a more modest end in view, it is not true. Many people will find that the effort spent on building up a small, workmanlike vocabulary and getting a grasp of essential grammatical peculiarities of four closely related languages is not much greater than the effort spent on getting an equivalent knowledge of one alone. The reason for this is obvious is we approach learning languages as a problem of applied biology. The ease with which we remember things depends on being able to associate one thing with another.” p. 21

“There is no reason why interesting facts about the way in which languages grow, the way in which people use them, the diseases from which they suffer, and the way in which other social habits and human relationships shape them, should not be accessible to use. There is no reason why we should not use knowledge of this sort to lighten the drudgery of assimilating disconnected information by sheer effort of memory and tedious repetition.” p 24

“Any one appalled by the amount of drudgery which learning a language supposedly entails can get some encouragement from two sources. One is that no expenditure on tuition can supply the stimulus you can get from spontaneous intercourse with a correspondent, if the latter is interested in what you have to say, and has something interesting to contribute to a discussion. The other is that unavoidable memory work is much less than most of us suppose; and it need not be dull, if we fortify our efforts by scientific curiosity about the relative defects and merits of the language we are studying, about its relation to other languages which people speak, and about the social agencies which have affected its growth or about circumstances which have moulded its character in the course of history.” p. 24

“One great obstacle to language-learning is that usual methods of instruction take no account of the fact that learning any language involves at least three kinds of skill as different as arithmetic, algebra and geometry. One if learning to read easily. One is learning to express oneself in speech or in writing. The third is being able to follow the course of ordinary conversation among people who use a language habitually… Whether it is best to concentrate on one to the exclusion of others in the initial stages of learning depends partly on the temperament of the beginner, and partly on the social circumstances which control opportunities for study or use.” p. 25

“Our knowledge of the words we use in expressing ourselves is not prompted by the situation, as our recognition of words on a printed page is helped by the context. Though the number of words and expressions we need is far fewer, we need to know them so thoroughly, that we can recall them without prompting.” p. 28

“The statistical method used in compiling word-lists given in the most modern text-books for teaching foreign languages evades the essence of our problem. If we want to get a speaking or writing equipment with the minimum of effort, fuss and bother, we need to know how to pick the assortment of words which suffice to convey the meaning of any plain statement.” p. 30

“The rules embodied in [Latin and Greek] conjugations and declensions tell you much you need to know in order to translate classical authors with the help of a dictionary. Grammarians who had spent their lives in learning them, and using them, carried over the same trick into the teaching of languages of a different type. They ransacked the literature of living languages to find examples of similarities which they could also arrange in systems of declensions and conjugations, and they did so without regard to whether we really need know them, or if so, in what circumstances… The effect of this was to burden the memory with an immense story of unnecessary luggage without furnishing rules which make the task of learning easier.” p. 37-8

“When sensible people began to see the absurdity of this system, still preserved in many grammar-books, there was a swing of the pendulum from the perfectionist to the nudist (or DIRECT) method of teaching a language by conversation and pictures, without any rules. The alleged justification for this is that children first learn to speak without any rules, and acquire grammar rules governing the home language, if at all, when they are word-perfect. This argument is based on several misconceptions… Since The Loom of Language is not a children’s book, there is no need to dwell on the ludicrous excesses of educational theorists who advocated the direct method* and fooled some teachers into taking it up. The most apparent reason for its vogue is that it exempts the teacher from having any intelligent understanding of the language which he or she is teaching.” p. 38 (Can I just say BURN!?!)

* The silliness of the direct method when tried out on adults was pointed out by Henry Sweet in 1899.

‘The fundamental objection, then, to the natural method is that it puts the adult into the position of an infant, which he is no longer capable of utilizing, and, at the same time, does not allow him to make use of his own special advantages. These advantages are, as we have seen, the power of analysis and generalization – in short, the power of using a grammar and a dictionary.’

The popular myth that it is more difficult for an adult than for a child to learn languages has been disproved by experimental research carried out by modern educationists. Much of the effort put into early education is defeated by the limitations of the child’s experience and interests. The ease with which we remember things depends largely on the ease with which we can link them up to things we know already. Since the adult’s experience of life and the adult’s vocabulary are necessarily more varied than those of the child, the mental equipment of the adult provides a far broader basis of association for fresh facts… Children learn their own language and a foreign one pari passu. The adult can capitalize the knowledge of his or her own language as a basis for learning a new one related to it.” p. 42

So… nothing has changed in seventy years. Learning languages in the traditional classroom with grammar books didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. People still believe the myth that children learn languages better than adults and that banning the native language will magically make students fluent in another language. It’s so frustrating as a linguist and language teacher to have to explain to people all. the. time. that neither one is true.

I’ve previously written about the use of the first language in the classroom and why I am also against the direct method. It is not supported by research in any way, which should be a good enough reason to not use it, but I still come across teachers who insist on banning the first language of the students. Research clearly shows that students need to use their first language in learning a second or third language, and in fact, that they cannot NOT use it. Helping students go between their native and second language and discovering the similarities and differences that can improve and increase the rate of acquisition is a much better “method.”

Also check out Language Learning Quotes from other resources if you’re interested in linguistic research on second language acquisition.

And can we bring back saying nudist method instead of direct method??

Extra Spanish, French and German Videos

By   November 25, 2012

A huge thank you to Andrew at and commenter Robin who led me to the Spanish, French, and German Extra TV series. They were produced by Channel 4 in the UK and are aimed at teenagers learning languages, but any language learner should find them useful. Unlike language textbook videos where the speech is too slow and unrealistic, these Extra Spanish, French and German videos are actually fun to watch!


The characters do speak somewhat slowly but that’s part of the plot since there is an American character who is learning the language.  The 13 episodes and 4 main characters, as well as the actor* who plays the American, are the same for all three languages. The basic story is that two girls, Lola/Sacha/Sascha and Ana/Annie/Anna share an apartment in Barcelona/Paris/Berlin. They have a neighbor called Pablo/Nico/Nic, and an American, Sam, comes to stay with them. The episodes are about 95% in the target language since Sam says a few things in English. The scripts aren’t exact among the versions but they are extremely similar so once you’ve watched one language, it will help you figure out what’s going on in another language.

Personally I find the Spanish version the best, mostly because Pablo is hilarious, but the German version is good too. The French version doesn’t work quite as well, but that could just be because French is my strongest language. The series remind me of a 90’s sitcom, complete with laugh track and abandoned plot points, even though they were filmed between 2002 and 2004. And even when Sam the American says things like flatmate, on holiday, and the washing instead of roommate, on vacation, and the laundry, I find it cute rather than annoying.

bromancePlus the bromance between Pablo and Sam cracks me up.

There is also a version set in London with an Argentinian character learning English (Pablo from the Spanish series) that has 30 episodes. All of the episodes can be found on YouTube and all of the transcripts and exercises/activities can be found either at the channel 4 site or this German site (in .pdf or .doc format). Madame Thomas also has a Wiki with the Spanish videos cut into smaller segments.

 * The American is played by a Dutch actor who is actually fluent in Spanish, Italian and German. And English, obviously.

Open Lectures, Course Materials, MOOCs, iTunes U: The Internet is for Learning

By   November 16, 2012

MOOC (massive open online course) providers such as Coursera, Udacity and edX have been in the news and featured on blogs recently. The free exchange of knowledge and ideas is an exciting concept for those of us who love learning for the sake of learning. However, Udacity and edX don’t seem to have very many courses yet, and even though Coursera has quite a bit more content, none of these MOOC providers offer language courses. The focus always seems to be on technology, math and science – which is great because let’s face it, everybody need more science – but I’m a little sad that no one seems to think language courses are just as vital.

Even other open source educational sites such as Khan Academy or The Saylor Foundation, which  let you go through the material at your own pace rather than enrolling in a course that has a specific start and end date, currently offer no resources for learning languages. MIT OpenCourseWare does provide materials used in their language courses (some of which might be available on edX in the future), though some languages only have PDF files rather than multimedia content. Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative is another great open-source site, except there are only 15 courses available for free. French is the only language offered, but Arabic is in the works.

iTunes U still seems to be the best place to find free linguistics lectures and language learning materials. Hundreds of universities, colleges, and even some secondary schools offer resources. The Open University [iTunes link] is one of my favorites. Another great aspect of iTunes U is that resources from non-Anglophone universities are also available so you can listen to lectures in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Swedish, etc. (Some universities offer podcasts of their courses through their own websites rather than through iTunes, such as UC San Diego.)

If you’re interested in language learning/teaching research, two talks I recommend are:

UCLA, Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona and La Trobe seem to have the most linguistics lectures on a wide range of topics. Besides The Open University, these universities offer language learning materials:

  • Yale (French, German, Mandarin, Brazilian Portuguese) [iTunes link]
  • Glamorgan (French, Spanish, Italian, German, Welsh) [iTunes link]
  • Emory University (lots of lesser taught languages) [iTunes link]

Although it is not available via iTunes U, the Center for Open Education Resources and Language Learning at the University of Texas-Austin has several amazing resources for learning languages, most of which can be downloaded as podcasts via RSS or iTunes. I’m sure I’ve mentioned these before, but they are really well-done and COERLL is adding more languages and resources all the time. Most of these materials are meant to accompany the actual course rather than act as an online course, but independent learners can use them as well. Some of the resources include:

Australia in the Asian Century: Focus on Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi

By   October 30, 2012

The Australia in the Asian Century White Paper was just released on Sunday, and it contains 25 major goals for Australia, some of which pertain to language learning. Essentially, the paper states that every Australian student (in primary or secondary schools) will have the opportunity to learn one of the four priority Asian languages: Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi. In addition, all students will leave school with a knowledge of Asian cultures. You can read the White Paper at the government’s Asian Century site as well as a response to it by the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations. A few other articles include:

Gillard: Australia must embrace ‘Asian Century’

Questions over white paper implementation

Australia’s Asian Literacy in the Asian Century

That last article by William Steed pretty much sums up everything I have to say about this paper. I’m glad the government is actively promoting learning languages and using technology to do so (with the National Broadband Network), but this is mostly a continuation of what previous governments have been encouraging for years. The switch from a focus on Korean to Hindi is a tiny bit surprising, and will probably require the most work to implement. Of course I am most interested in where the teachers for these languages will come from. Many universities have already shut down Indonesian programs because of a lack of interest, so how are we supposed to train students to become language teachers if they can’t even learn languages at university? And as a speaker/teacher of a European language, I wonder what this means for other non-Asian languages.

My university currently offers classes in French, Italian and Japanese, though students can take other languages such as Mandarin, Spanish, German and Indonesian cross-institutionally. Japanese and French have the highest enrollments, and almost all of the students in my class said they chose French because it is a global language and would be more useful in their future careers. So while I am happy that the government encourages language learning, I feel that focusing on Asian languages only is not necessarily the way to go about it. There are many other languages spoken in Australia, and students have many reasons for learning foreign languages, which include living abroad. Not every student is going to stay and work in Australia. I had a similar feeling in the US where Spanish is promoted as THE language to learn, and sometimes it is the only language offered. I knew that I wanted to leave the US and that Spanish would not be as useful to me as French. If I had been forced to take Spanish classes instead of being offered a choice of which language to learn, I don’t think I would have had much motivation.

And indeed, the motivation to learn a language is probably the most important aspect of language acquisition. If you have no interest in a language or its culture, you will not learn very much or very well. Motivation often comes from an appreciation and/or love of the culture, not the actual language itself. Future career or travel goals are also major factors. I’ve actually switched from a focus on Italian and German to Spanish (oh how ironic!) and Dutch/Afrikaans because I plan to travel to places where those languages are spoken within the next few years. Although there are some Italian and German speakers here in South Australia, I have slightly less motivation to study those languages because I know I will not be returning to Europe anytime soon.

Obviously I did not grow up in Australia or go to school here, but from what I’ve heard from teenagers who are thinking about going to university, languages are not valued or encouraged enough in the school system. Students said the classes were too hard or too boring, or they simply didn’t think they would ever need another language while living in Australia. And of course, only spending a few hours a week for maybe three years in no way guarantees that students will become proficient in the language. By the time they enter university, they have bad memories of language classes and choose not to take them anymore, especially when it is difficult to add elective classes to their timetables. And since there is no foreign language requirement in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree (not that I agree with required classes anyway…), very few students end up taking a language at university, and far fewer actually become fluent.

In a perfect world, all languages would be offered so students would have the choice of which language(s) to learn. This is possible with online classes and I am eager to see how or if the NBN will change teaching in Australia. Of course, the way we teach languages needs to change as well, but that’s another blog post (or thesis!)

Comparative and Multilingual Books for Learning Languages Simultaneously [UPDATED OCT 2014]

By   September 26, 2012

I’ve updated the list of multilingual sites for learning several languages together, but if you’re interested in books (some as PDFs) rather than websites, these are the resources I have:

A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish and Italian by O. W. Heatwole (1949) You may be able to buy it from third-party sellers on Amazon, but the prices tend to be very high.

A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish and Italian

This book was edited by Mario Pei and in the foreword, he explains why a book of this kind is needed:

“But how wonderful would it be if there were only a comparative grammar of the main Romance languages, that would enable me to compare at a glance a rule in the language with which I am most familiar with the corresponding rule in the language I know least!”

This work is an answer to the conscious and unconscious needs of these students and teacher of Romance languages. It is a book the necessity of which has long been felt, but somehow no one has ever taken the trouble to supply it.

There is some inconsistency in the fact that Departments of Romance Languages are far more common in our system of higher education than separate Departments of French, Spanish and Italian, yet nowhere are the Romance Languages taught as a unit from the comparative angle that would permit the learner to avoid major confusions and major pitfalls. Learning three related languages at once should certainly prove no more difficult than learning them separately.


Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Languages by Edwin A. Notley (1868) is a similar book though it is much older. The obvious advantage over Heatwole’s book is the inclusion of Portuguese but since it is so old, there are a few spelling differences (Spanish mujer is muger) and probably other features that have changed in the past 144 years! The good news about this book is that it is in the public domain, and I have scanned my copy so you can download it as a PDF (or flip through it online).


The Traveller’s Manual by Karl Baedeker (1840) is another book from the 19th century that includes vocabulary and traveller’s phrases for English, German, French and Italian. It also includes some Dutch vocabulary. You can read it online through Google Books.


The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages by Frederick Bodmer (1944) is where my love of comparative linguistics began. I reviewed the book on the blog a while ago, and it is still my favorite book overall. You can buy it through Amazon for $15 or access it online via


EuRom5 (2011) is the most recent multilingual book I’ve seen yet. It focuses on learning to read and comprehend five Romance languages. The book is written in French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese (so it is designed for native/advanced users of any of those languages) with texts and audio files available on the website. Unfortunately it is not available in electronic format, but you can buy it from or for under 30€. also sells it for about 40€ and a few used copies are available on but for nearly $90. I managed to buy this book in mid 2014 but have yet to really read through it. It does not appear to be as “comparative” as the other books in the list since it offers 20 articles in one language with some words glossed in the other 4 languages (i.e. the entire articles are not translated in the other languages). You can read my summary/review of it here.

Read and Understand Five Romance Languages


Comprendre les langues romanes: Du français à l’espagnol, au portugais, à l’italien & au roumain. Méthode d’intercompréhension by Paul Teyssier (2004) is obviously written in French. It’s not available via; however, I ordered my copy from the Librairie Portugaise & Brésilienne in Paris for 29€, and they do ship worldwide. I believe translations of this book in the other languages exist, but I’m not sure where to buy them.


EuroComRom – The Seven Sieves: How to read all the Romance languages right away by McCann, Klein & Stegmann (2003) is a European initiative to encourage EU citizens to learn each other’s languages. It  includes Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian and French and can be bought online as a PDF for only 6€ or as a regular book for 24,50€. There is also a German version of this book which can be downloaded for free.

EuroCom has also produced a comparative Germanic book entitled Die siebe Sieben – Germanische Sprachen lesen lernen by Hufeisen and Marx (2007) that includes Dutch, Frisian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic but it is only written in German. It can also be bought online for 7,45€ or as a regular book for 29,80€.


Exploring French, German, and Spanish by Jacob Steigerwald (1987) is a neat PDF explaining the similarities of the three most commonly taught languages in the US. Download the full text for free from


Lastly, I’ve found one book for Slavic languages, Slavische Interkomprehension: Eine Einführung, which you can buy at Obviously it is written in German, and it includes Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian/Montenegrin, Polish, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian. I haven’t purchased it yet, but I plan to.


Anyone know of other comparative books that teach more than one language at a time?


Topic vs. Frequency in Vocabulary Learning

By   August 24, 2012

Teachers and learners of languages, I am looking for your input in the topic vs. frequency debate. Almost all textbooks and coursebooks introduce vocabulary in chapter topics or themes such as food, clothing, transportation, etc.  These related words are often used to fill in the slots of functional phrases, which a lot of current books are based on thanks to the  popularity of the communicative approach. For example, one of the chapters in the French textbook that I use in my class combines the functions of offering, accepting and refusing with the topic of drinks. So students are expected to memorize the question Voulez-vous boire un/e ____ ? and the vocabulary list is full of nouns such as un verre de lait, une tasse de thé, un coca, un chocolat chaud, etc. (The conjugation of vouloir is not actually taught in this or any preceding chapters.)

The problems with presenting vocabulary like this, however, is that it goes against vocabulary acquisition research. Many researchers have argued that grouping vocabulary into topics (and therefore semantic sets) actually hinders acquisition and confuses the students more. The topics tend to represent concrete concepts as well and can easily be illustrated in the chapters with pictures or photographs – which consequently leaves out abstract ideas. Plus words grouped according to topic mean that the words are not grouped according to frequency, which is the most important criterion for selecting vocabulary to teach/learn first.  Of course, frequency is not the only criterion, but it should be the starting point for vocabulary selection.

Learn opposites together = forever confused

If frequency is supported by research and topic is not, then why do all textbooks teach vocabulary based on topic? Is it because it easier to write textbooks in this way? Is it easier for the instructor to teach in this way? Is it considered less boring and more engaging for students to learn in this manner even if it goes against vocabulary acquisition research?

I’ve heard arguments that students should learn vocabulary in topics so they can talk about them right away, but that doesn’t make sense if the students don’t even have the basic vocabulary needed to construct sentences. Even if you learn all the articles of clothing, what exactly can you say about them? How can you have conversations about clothes if all you know if a list of nouns? In my class’s textbook, students learn to say Je porte un/e ___ and then some adjectives to describe the clothes. I really don’t see how that is going to help them communicate in the real world.

It seems to me that it’s more of a classroom vs. real world debate. We want students to be able to use the language as soon as possible, even if that means teaching things that will only ever be used inside the classroom. But isn’t it our job as educators to prepare students as much as possible for the future when they will leave our classrooms? Or are we simply just trying to make sure they don’t fall asleep in class?

I’ m not saying that students should just learn the 2,000 most frequent words of a language in sequential order. That would be rather boring and frustrating. But there is a much better way of presenting vocabulary – the most frequent words among a few topics presented in story format, for example – that textbook authors keep resisting. And I want to know why! Is it because the textbook publishing industry does not want to change and try something new (for fear of losing money)? Is it because too many people think it’s more logical to learn vocabulary in semantic sets regardless of what research says? Personally I feel it is much more logical to learn the words that you are most likely to encounter, i.e. the most frequent words. Even if there are problems with frequency – such as, what texts were used in the corpus to generate the frequency data? – it is actually supported by research, and that is what is most important to me.

How many first year French students do you think really need to learn the words arc-boutant (flying buttress) or fluocompacte (energy-saving) but not tel (such), également (also), soit (either…or), mener (to lead), appartenir (to belong to), atteindre (to reach), entier (whole), moindre (least), or intérêt (interest)? These are all words that are not taught in the active vocabulary lists of ANY of the 12 first year textbooks that I am analyzing and they are all ranked among the top 500 most frequent words in French.

So what do you think?

Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching

By   August 9, 2012

Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching by Keith Folse (2004, University of Michigan Press) is a great introduction to the gap between practice and research in vocabulary learning and teaching.

I highly recommend the book, but if you’d like a shorter summary, Folse’s article “Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary: What Recent Research Says” [TESL Reporter 37,2 (2004), pp. 1-13] is also available if you have access to online journals.

The eight myths are:

  1. Vocabulary is not as important in learning a foreign language as grammar or other areas.
  2. It is not good to use lists of words when learning vocabulary.
  3. Vocabulary should be presented in semantic sets.
  4. The use of translations is a poor way to learn new vocabulary.
  5. Guessing words from context is as productive for foreign language learners as it is for first language learners.
  6. The best vocabulary learners make use of only one or two effective specific vocabulary learning strategies.
  7. Foreign language learners should use a monolingual dictionary.
  8. Vocabulary is sufficiently covered in our curricula and courses.

Think about your language classes and how many of these myths were prevalent in the textbook or even encouraged by your teacher.  These myths make teaching languages as well as designing textbooks much easier for the teacher or author, but they go against second language acquisition research on how learners should go about learning a language and tend to make learning even harder.

Mind the Word extension for Chrome: Learn languages as you browse the web

By   March 15, 2012

If you use Google Chrome as your web browser, Mind the Word is a useful extension to help you learn vocabulary in another language while you browse the web.

From the description: “In every webpage visited, it randomly translates a few words into the language that you would like to learn. By exposing you to only a few new words at a time and keeping them within context, it makes it easy for you to infer and memorize their meaning. If you need, you can hover the mouse over the translated word and the original word will be shown to you.”

Here’s my last blog post with the extension set to translate to Dutch and with the cursor hovering over meer:

Obviously it doesn’t do idioms well since it simply offers translation of single words, and you can’t really choose which words it will translate or not, but it is an easy way to make sure you integrate some language learning into your everyday internet routine.

Thanks to for bringing this to my attention.

International Women’s Day and Encouraging Women to Learn Languages

By   March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

Improving the lives of women is very important to me, especially since women continue to be oppressed all over the world – including in my own country. I truly believe education is the key to empowerment and equality for all human beings, but more specifically, the knowledge of foreign languages is essential.

So how can we encourage more women to not only learn foreign languages, but also to show their skills to the rest of the world in order to encourage even more women to learn? Here is a conversation among three female polyglots, Susanna, Jana and Fasulye on this topic. I wasn’t able to participate, but I did send some research on the issue of gender in language learning which Susanna mentions, though sadly there is very little to no research on gender in language learning in independent settings, i.e. self-study instead of classes.