Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Dr. Paul Nation & Survival Travel Vocabulary

Anyone who has done research on vocabulary acquisition has come across Dr. Paul Nation’s articles and books. His 1990 book, Teaching & Learning Vocabulary, as well as his 2001 book, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, are the basis of most vocabulary acquisition classes at universities today.  He favors frequency lists, extensive reading, and the lexical approach to language teaching in addition to the need to teach students strategies so they can become autonomous learners. In case you haven’t read my previous posts on vocabulary in language learning, I completely agree with his methods.

Currently, Dr. Nation teaches at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and his homepage offers useful resources to download for those interested in vocabulary acquisition. The ZIP file Vocabulary Resource Booklet includes survival vocabulary in 19 languages, based on Nation and Crabbe’s 1991 article “A Survival Language Learning Syllabus for Foreign Travel” (which is also included), ideally for tourists who will be in a foreign country for only a few weeks or months. This survival vocabulary should take no more than 60 hours to learn.

Survival Travel Vocabulary

Here is the syllabus in English, from the article. Numbers in parentheses simply mean that the item occurs in more than one section.

1. Greetings and being polite

Hello/Good morning etc. + reply [there are many cultural variants of these, including Where are you going?, Have you eaten?]

How are you? + reply e.g. Fine, thank you.


Thank you + reply  e.g. It’s nothing, You’re welcome.


Excuse me [sorry]

It doesn’t matter

Delicious (6)

Can I take your photo?

2. Buying and bargaining

I want … (4, 6)

Do you have …?/Is there …?

Yes (8)

No (8)

This (one), That (one) [to use when pointing at goods]

There isn’t any

How much (cost)? (5, 6)

A cheaper one (5)

NUMBERS (5, 7) (These need to be learned to a high degree of fluency)



How much (quantity)?


all of it

(one) more

(one) less

Excuse me [to get attention] (4)

Too expensive

Can you lower the price? + reply  (Some countries do not use bargaining. In others it is essential.)

NAMES OF IMPORTANT THINGS TO BUY  (These may include stamps, a newspaper, a map.)

3. Reading signs






4. Getting to places

Excuse me (to get attention) (2)

Can you help me?

Where is …? (5)

Where is … street?

What is the name of this place/street/station/town?



Department store



Train station


Bus station







I want … (2, 5, 6)

How far?/Is it near?

How long (to get to …)?



Straight ahead

Slow down (Directions for a taxi.)

Stop here




5. Finding accommodation

Where is … (4)


How much (cost)? (2, 6)

A cheaper one (2)

I want … (2,4,6)

Leave at what time?

NUMBERS (2, 7)



6. Ordering food

How much (cost)? (2, 5)

The bill, please

I want … (2, 5, 9)



Delicious (1)

7. Talking about yourself and talking to children

I am (name)

Where do you come from?

I am (a New Zealander)/I come from (New Zealand)

What do you do?

I am a (teacher)/tourist

You speak (Chinese)!

A little/very little

What is your name? (Especially for talking to children.)

How old are you? + reply

NUMBERS (2, 5)

I have been here … days/weeks/months

I am sick

8. Controlling and learning language

Do you understand?

I (don’t) understand

Do you speak English? (7)

Yes (2)

No (2)


Please speak slowly

I speak only a little (Thai)

What do you call this in (Japanese)?


Do you agree with this list? Anything missing? Anything not that necessary for survival as a tourist?

Education Systems, Creativity, Motivation and Results-Only Environments

Being snowed in for a week meant watching a lot of TED talks online, and a few that really interested me focus on certain established environments and how they are not very conducive to education, creativity or motivation.

Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity and the need for a “learning revolution” throughout the world:

Language Mastery also brought my attention to the neat RSA animated talks, such as Changing Education Paradigms which goes along with the above TED talk on education systems.

Dan Pink on the science of motivation:

All of the recent talk about failing education systems makes me wonder why more people aren’t advocating for a Results-Only School Environment similar to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), especially for language education. It doesn’t matter how or where or sometimes even when you do something, all that matters is that you actually do it. It’s the same principle for work or school – as school essentially is work. Why should students be forced to learn something they don’t want to when they know it will not be beneficial to their future career? Or why should they be expected to remain in a certain classroom at a specific time every week? Or spend four years earning a degree when all of the material could be learned in much less time?

Most of the research on how the brain learns, and more importantly remembers, information goes against the established school schedule and curriculum. In addition to studies showing that self-study or mixed mode classes are better for learning, more and more schools should be catering to what educational research encourages in order to help students learn the most and in the most beneficial environment.  I’ve expressed my views on self-study in the past, and I still believe it is the best way of learning for motivated people. The problem is that current education systems in place do not provide this choice to the many motivated students, besides the occasional online courses which are still bound to schedules set by the school.

I learned everything in my Anthropology 101 textbook before the semester even started, and the actual class was nothing more than lectures of the various chapters of the textbook. I did not learn anything extra by going to class, but I still had to waste 3 hours every week for 15 weeks because the professor lowered our grades if we did not attend. It was incredibly frustrating to feel that more value was placed on students occupying seats in a classroom than on learning the material. In addition, I was only taking the class because it was a General Education requirement, and not because I wanted to or because it had any direct relation to my declared majors of French and Linguistics/Second Language Acquisition. An entire year of my four year Bachelor’s degree was nothing more than Gen Ed classes, all of which were similar to the Anthropology class: class time was simply a reiteration of the chapters in the textbook. Perhaps for students who did not actually read the book, the class was helpful, but for those of us who did the readings, it was a waste of time.

Even when I was in high school, I felt that I could learn much better and much more by studying on my own, away from the distraction of American high school life where sports and popularity were more important than academics. I was always tired (starting at 7:45am, seriously?) , hungry (25 minutes for lunch!) and uncomfortable (you try sitting on plastic chairs for 7 hours) which left me in a constant bad mood. I begged my parents for years to let me be home-schooled though I knew it wasn’t possible financially. I skipped a year of French by learning everything in the textbook over the summer because the other students were just holding me back. If I learn much faster than others, why do I still have to be in the same class as them just because we’re the same age? I did graduate at the top of my class with a 4.0 GPA, but I still felt that school was too easy and not enough of a challenge for me. I did not care for football or Prom; I valued education and learning. Unfortunately I wasn’t surrounded by people who believed the same.

Obviously, results-only environments cannot be applied to all forms of education and they do not work for all people, especially for those who have no interest in autonomy and think they need very specific schedules and deadlines to function properly. Nevertheless, I truly believe that simply giving students the choice and flexibility of learning the way that humans are supposed to learn would improve overall results, especially for foreign languages. When people are free to do what they want, when they want and how they want, they are more motivated and more productive – and the end result is what matters most, not how you got there. If you feel that you learn better at midnight instead of 8 am, or while eating instead of just before or after, or on the couch instead of in front of the computer, then by all means do the things that make you the most comfortable. The only question that should matter is: Did you learn something or not?

Never let your schooling interfere with your education. – Mark Twain

My two year-old niece will help you learn spoken French [New informal French video]

My two year-old niece was recently talking to David on the phone, and she asked t’es au boulot ? Are you at work? However, books will tell you to say es-tu au travail ? instead – or actually it’s more likely they will insist on êtes-vous au travail ? because foreigners never need to use the informal you, right? Most French books also still teach that using inversion is the best way to form questions, and they ignore slang vocabulary such as boulot in place of travail. Yet even my young niece knows that nobody talks like that in everyday conversations in France.

Real French is very different from textbook French. When I think about how many years I spent learning French before I ever came across the reduction t’es or the slang word boulot, I wonder what the heck kind of French these books are trying to teach. My niece may only be two but she can teach you real French much better than any French book found in bookstores. I’ve made a video of one of the eavesdropping mp3s available on French Listening Resources, with the transcript and notes on the informal words used, featuring Mélina eating a snack and wondering where her shoes (shushu) are:

Review of Language Learning Websites II: Mango Languages, LangMaster, LinguaTV, and Yabla

Six months ago I posted my thoughts on the popular language learning sites Livemocha, Busuu, LingQ and Hello-Hello. Now I would like to review four other language learning websites that I have used recently.  The previous four sites were “communities” where not only can you use their flashcards and exercises, you create a profile and interact with other languages learners on the site via chat or messaging. Mango Languages, LangMaster, LinguaTV, and Yabla are not communities but do offer just as much language input and are just as – and sometimes more – useful even without the social aspect. I am more interested in the actual language provided by the website and its pedagogical implementations rather than ways to get in touch with others. Interacting with native speakers is obviously the best way to learn, but you don’t necessarily need a language community website to find native speakers.

For the purposes of self-study when you cannot or do not have a native speaker to help you, I am looking for the most useful websites with regards to receptive and productive skills involving vocabulary. I am looking for authentic language with plenty of opportunities for active listening and self-testing – criteria that language acquisition research supports, and more importantly, criteria that I know works best in my own language learning experience.

Mango Languages

Previously, I did not review Mango Languages because they only offer one demo lesson, and I didn’t feel as if that was enough to really see how the website works. Mango for Libraries, however, allows me to use all of Mango’s features for free by logging in with my American library card number. Check your library’s website to see if yours has a subscription.

Mango offers 9 foreign languages and 3 ESL courses for individual subscribers (and even more for library patrons – 21 foreign languages and 15 ESL courses) and each of the 100 lessons is based on phrases and dialogs rather than individual words. I like that you have the option of turning off the narrator since a lot of language programs rely too much on instructions in English. There are also keyboard shortcuts for advancing through the lessons, and you can choose the Main Lesson or shorter Vocabulary and Phrasebook Reviews. Grammar and culture notes also appear throughout the lessons but they are not the focus.

The main problem is that the entire program is mostly receptive. You simply listen and repeat as there are no real productive exercises for self-testing. There are often “quizzes/flashcards” in the sense that you are presented with one word or phrase and need to say (not type)  the translation, but that’s not exactly effective self-testing. The recordings are obviously scripted and rehearsed so there is no real authentic language. Nevertheless, I have used it as a refresher for pronunciation and vocabulary but I most likely would not have used it if I didn’t have free access through my library. An individual subscription is $160 for 3 months per course.


I was initially impressed by LangMaster not only because their online lessons are completely free, but also because of the number of exercises and audio files available. For example, the Italian course includes: 125 chapters, 853 interactive exercises, 1,450 pictures and photographs, 117 minutes of sound, and 3,595 audio recordings. Even their software and listening programs are reasonably priced (13-27€) with a 14-day free trial plus Collins dictionary. The free online lessons are available in German, French, English, Italian and Spanish while the software also includes Russian.

There are plenty of opportunities for improving reading, writing, and listening skills and increasing your vocabulary. The lessons are completely in the target language so you may need to keep a dictionary open in another browser. There are cultural notes and grammar notes throughout but they are mostly examples until you get to the last chapter of each lesson, where there is a review explained in English (and which you can skip if you don’t care so much for grammar.) The recordings are mostly scripted but there are also some interviews with more authentic language, and examples of realia from the countries where the language is spoken (photos of signs, menus, brochures, etc.)  Usually the transcripts are provided, whether in the same lesson or later on, so you can check your comprehension.

A few of the disadvantages to LangMaster are that it is only available in the four main foreign languages and the audio is only streaming so you can’t download it. If you like flashcards, there’s no built-in system to review vocabulary, but you could easily create your own Anki decks while working. In spite of these few faults, it is the most complete language program available online for free so I recommend it.


LinguaTV is a German company that offers videos with subtitles in 5 languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. The videos are scripted and rehearsed so they are not quite authentic language, but they are helpful for learning basic vocabulary and phrases for everyday situations. The material is designed for beginners (A1-A2 level) and you can turn off the subtitles if you prefer. Grammar reviews and transcripts can also be downloaded as PDFs for each video, but translations are not provided. The quiz section has a variety of exercises including comprehension questions, crossword puzzles, dictations, fill in the blank, etc.

LinguaTV also has a community website called Lingorilla (in beta) where you can watch the first 9 videos in their Neu in Berlin German series, with transcripts and quizzes. They also have a section on learning languages with music videos but it’s not yet complete. Among their two websites and Youtube channel, quite a few videos are available for free so you can check them out before deciding to pay for a monthly subscription, in the range of 1-10€ depending on the language and course. I am a big supporter of using video and subtitles for teaching and learning languages, but these videos are somewhat limited in that they are not spontaneous, authentic speech.


Yabla is “language immersion through online video” and probably the most useful language website I’ve used so far. The videos come from a variety of sources, whether they are news reports, interviews, or just random scenes filmed in the country to illustrate authentic use of the language. Subtitles and translations appear under the video, which you can turn off if you’d like, and clicking on a word will search for its definition in the dictionary pane to the right.  You can also slow down the play back so the speech is slower, or put it on a loop to repeat a certain word or phrase.  Then you can choose the play game button to start the listening/cloze exercise and type in the missing word.

Currently, there are four languages available: Spanish, French, German and English as a Second Language. They’ve just added a new flashcards feature, and the Spanish & French sites also have blogs of language lessons on grammar and vocabulary. All of the languages have hundreds of videos available, and the French site does have some Quebecois videos as well. Monthly subscriptions are $9.95 a month per course, with discounts for 6 or 12 month subscriptions ($54.95 or $99.95) with a 7 day money-back guarantee.  You can download many of the videos through the website or iTunes as well to take with you instead of watching them all online.

Some of the videos are similar to the authentic/eavesdropping videos provided in the Français interactif & Deutsch im Blick online textbooks from U of Texas-Austin, but the main problem with those videos is that many do not have transcripts available unless you are a language teacher (you must prove your credentials to the university) which means they aren’t exactly useful for those who are learning on their own. The textbooks were designed to be used in the classroom however, and not as self-study materials. The advantage of Yabla, even though it is not free, is that transcripts and translations are available for everyone so it is ideal for self-study.

Regional Differences in France & Italy: Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis & Benvenuti al Sud

In 2008 when Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was released in France, it was an instant success. The plot focuses on the manager of La Poste in Salon-de-Provence, who is transferred to Bergues in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and all the negative stereotypes about the north of France, i.e. it’s always rainy and cold, the people are poor, ignorant and backwards, they speak a strange dialect of French called ch’ti, etc. This film is now the most successful French movie ever and Italy has just released their remake of the film, with one major difference – the main character lives near Milan and is transferred to the south, to a small town near Naples. Essentially the same negative stereotypes exist for people in the south of Italy as for the north of France, including the strange dialect that the main character has trouble understanding (Napoletano).

These movies are great for language enthusiasts to learn about accents, dialects and cultural differences within the same country. The French language or French culture doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere in France because it just depends on where you are in the country, which is true of every country and every language. I speak American English but I certainly don’t sound like someone from Alabama. Even if we all speak the same language, we really don’t. But in the end these comedies are about tolerance and discovering that people are people, regardless of differences in location or culture or language.

Another interesting aspect is the translations into English of the original French film. (I haven’t found English translations for the Italian film yet.) Obviously the translations cannot be exact when dealing with puns or words that sound similar in French but do not in English. Usually the English translation just add sh- to the beginning of words. However, the scene about the misunderstanding of siens and chiens (his and dogs) becomes fish and office in English. Here are the trailers of the two films in their original language, with English subtitles for the French film:

Allociné has the Benvenuti al Sud trailer with subtitles in French if you want to compare the two languages. Several clips are also available on Youtube, including Dany Boon’s cameo.

The American remake will supposedly involve both Will Smith and Steve Carell. The plot will essentially be the same, with a southerner being transferred to the north (North Dakota) instead of near the sunny coast (Hawaii).

Benvenuti al Sud will be released in France on November 24 (hopefully sub-titled and not dubbed!)

Languages of the European Union, Traveling in the Schengen Area, and Using the Euro (or Not)

The European Union’s official web portal,, is translated into the 23 official languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish. Each page on the site has the same layout regardless of language so you can easily compare them side by side, as I mentioned in my previous post on multilingualism.

In the next few years, Croatian and Icelandic will be added as Croatia and Iceland finish their accession negotiations and officially join the EU. Macedonia and Turkey are the other current candidate countries, while the rest of the Balkan states – Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia – are potential candidates, which would put the number of languages over 30. Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra and the city-states of Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City are not in the EU.

Naturally all of these languages was the reason I loved the idea of the EU, and being an EU citizen is the golden ticket since you can live and work in any other EU country just as if you were a citizen of that country, with some exceptions. Imagine having the right to work in 27 countries, plus any other countries that eventually join the Union. For someone who needs to be surrounded by languages, becoming an EU citizen would be like winning the language lottery. The Schengen Area (making traveling easier) and the Eurozone (making money issues easier) also contributed to my desire to live in Europe, but in the end, these three entities make the idea of “Europe” even more complicated, whether you live/work here or are just visiting as a tourist.

The Schengen Area includes most of the EU members, except the UK and Ireland, plus Norway, Switzerland, and the city-states; while Liechtenstein, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus have yet to implement the Schengen rules. For tourists who don’t need a visa to visit Europe anyway, there are no more passport checks at every border, but there are still random checks on trains and buses. It makes crossing the border faster, but that’s about it. Personally, I really miss getting stamps in my passport. And neither the EU nor Schengen Area actually means that European countries are united together like Americans would probably think of. It still costs a LOT of money to leave a rental car in a different country, even if the distance is rather short between the two agencies. We paid 350€ to leave a car in Lyon when we picked it up in Turin (3.5 hour drive), though leaving that same car in Naples (8 hour drive) would have only cost 75€. Flying between European countries sometimes also requires you to go through security and passport control again at airports when you have layovers. In theory, flying within the Schengen Area is supposed to be flying “domestically” but in four years and dozens of flights later, I have yet to experience anything similar to “domestic” flying in the US where you get off one plane directly at the gate and wander over to a different gate to get on another plane. Your departure, arrival, as well as transfer airports must all be in the Schengen Area, but that’s actually difficult since most transfers go through London and some airports require everyone to go through passport control & security again anyway because they don’t have Schengen vs. non-Schengen zones.

The Eurozone currently includes only 16 out of the 27 EU members, though Estonia will adopt the euro in 2011. Some non-EU countries use it as well, such as the city-states and Andorra, Kosovo and Montenegro. The UK, Denmark, Sweden and most of the eastern countries do not use the euro. Honestly I don’t understand why the UK, Denmark and Sweden have gotten away with not using it when the newer members (Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) must eventually adopt it. What’s the point of the EU is there are opt-outs to certain laws and regulations? It’s just as unfair as states in the same country having different laws (talking about you, not-so-United States.)

I would love if the EU and Schengen Space were the same – I really wish Norway and Switzerland would join the EU! – but I’m not so keen on the euro. For tourists, it is great to not have to exchange money all the time. But when you live here, it just makes the cost of living ridiculously high and it’s very unfair when one country has higher salaries and a lower cost of living, but the next country over has the exact opposite (ahem, Germany and France). If you’re all going to use the same currency, why can’t prices and salaries be the same too? The euro has been in the news a lot lately because of the economic problems in Greece and Spain, and every French person I know complains about how expensive everything is with the euro. Ten years ago a baguette cost 2.50 francs (or 0.38€) and today it costs 0.85€ while salaries have barely increased, unless you’re the lucky ones who work in Luxembourg or Switzerland.

I suppose all of these differences depend on what union is supposed to mean. I know there is no real United States of Europe, and in any case, I would not want something similar to the United States of America. I have a lot of problems with states having more control than the federal government in a country that is supposedly rather homogeneous (in what world is it fair that some human beings can marry who they want but other human beings cannot depending on what state they live in, even if they are citizens of the same country???) yet at the same time, I would not want a strong federal government controlling states in Europe that are so diverse because of history, culture and language. Of course, I’m more of an observer and outsider since I am not an EU citizen. I can’t imagine what it would be like for my country to join a union of other countries, change its currency, and no longer have control over its own borders. Perhaps EU citizens can enlighten me on your feelings about it?

Thank you Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland for your Multilingualism

The other main countries in Europe that speak French are Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland; however, they do not just have French as an official language. Belgium also has Dutch and German; Luxembourg has German and Luxembourgish; and Switzerland has German, Italian, and Romansh. What that means for language lovers is that certain websites have multiple translations and you can use one language to learn another as well as learn about the culture of the country at the same time.

If you like art, the Museum of Modern Art Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM)’s website is in French and German.  Maybe you’d like to know train vocabulary in German, French and Italian. Try Switzerland’s official rail company. Need to learn words for various food and grocery items so you know what to ask for at the store? is available in French and Dutch thanks to Belgium. (Just choose a store that is on the border, such as Leers.) Then just use two browsers and put the windows side by side to compare the vocabulary.

Of course there are many other websites that provide translations into other languages, such as Wikipedia, but the content isn’t always the same so it’s much harder to compare. Another reason to use websites based in multilingual countries is so you can be sure (well, almost) that the translations are correct. Multilingual countries make much more of an effort to ensure quality translations by hiring professional translators – and not using computer translations – so that all of their citizens can have access to information in their native language(s).

Even though France is a monolingual country, a lot of resources are translated into English for tourists, but I’ve come across too many French websites with English translations that were obviously copied from Google Translate. The official tourism website,, does offer translations in four languages and even though I haven’t seen any mistakes in the English translations so far, the content is not exactly the same or even in the same place on each version so it’s difficult to compare and use it properly as a learning tool.

Portugal and Portuguese: First Impressions

Portugal was a nice break from the strikes in France last week and I am already planning to return to see more of this adorable country. Lisbon is one of those capital cities that makes you forget how many people live there and the fact that it is such a large city. The subway was incredibly clean, the architecture was beautiful and colorful, the people were nice, the prices were low, and I never once felt stressed or scared or annoyed as I often do in other large cities (especially Paris!)

The public transportation system is easy to use so you don’t have to spend 15€ on tourist hop-on hop-off buses if you don’t want to. The train to Sintra is 3.50€ and a day pass for the entire system is 3.75€, which we took advantage of the second day to visit Belém for the pastéis (tram 15) and the modern eastern side of the city where the World Expo ’98 took place (red line on the metro). In addition to the 1.45€ fare for bus 22 to & from the airport and 2.60€ for the bus to return to Sintra train station from the Palace of Pena (we walked the entire way to Pena, which I do not recommend because it takes 1.5 hours, all uphill with no sidewalk), I only spent around 13€ on transportation. Our lovely hotel only cost 49€ a night, and I doubt I spent more than 25€ a day on meals. Even a cup of coffee was only 80 cents!


Our biggest expense was the plane ticket since we took a regular airline, but free food and drinks and knowing that we wouldn’t be treated like dirt was worth it. Thanks to the strikes in France, we had to waste an extra 20€ to get to the airport in Geneva by taking the expensive bus since there were no trains. And of course the bus was late and we got stopped at the border because French customs apparently had nothing better to do than annoy people trying to leave the country. Shouldn’t they be more concerned about people entering the country?

Once we arrived in Lisbon, my frustration with France disappeared instantly. There is a tourism center at the airport where you can get a free map of Lisbon and the bus stop for either the Aerobus (which you should take if you have lots of luggage; costs 3.50€ but your ticket doubles as a day pass for the public transportation system) or the local buses is directly across from the exit. Our hotel was incredibly easy to find and so clean and bright and the reception was helpful and pleasant. The downtown area of Lisbon is completely walkable and I saw very few people begging or harassing tourists for money. Normally I despise large cities because of people who try to harass you on the streets, but I did not experience that at all in Lisbon.


Obviously I loved Lisbon, and as a linguistics nerd, being surrounded by the Portuguese language was interesting since I’m familiar with many other Romance languages. Even though I haven’t yet really started studying Portuguese, I was able to understand a few words and phrases; and when we came across the one person who couldn’t speak English, we were able to communicate in French. I sat down at a bus stop before getting on the metro to head to the mall because I was feeling sick and an adorable old man was concerned that we were at the wrong stop because he had seen me look at the map and point to a place that he knew the buses didn’t go. How cute is that? Seriously, the Portuguese are very good at English, probably because they subtitle instead of dub TV and movies.

Portuguese is the 5th most spoken language in the world with 260 million speakers (the most in Brazil, of course), though it is not studied as much as Spanish, French or even Italian. Most language learning communities, such as Livemocha, Busuu and Mango, all offer Brazilian Portuguese, but few offer the European accent from Portugal. I hope they add the European dialect someday, and I certainly plan to incorporate it into the Portuguese tutorial currently available on If you are interested in reading authentic European Portuguese from everyday life, I’ve already uploaded Portuguese realia.

Portuguese is closely related to Galician, spoken in the northwestern part of Spain. At one point, they were considered the same language, but political boundaries have separated the two. Portuguese is not quite mutually intelligible with Spanish (Castillian), but the written language is easy enough to decipher if you do know Spanish. Understanding the spoken language is much harder. Portuguese is closer to Catalan and French in pronunciation because of the sibilants and nasal vowels, and some people say it sounds more like a Slavic language rather than Romance.

For those who speak Spanish and want to learn Portuguese, there are some resources available, such as Foreign Service Institute’s From Spanish to Portuguese and the University of Texas-Austin’s podcast Tà Falado: Brazilian Portuguese Pronunciation for Speakers of Spanish.

If you are planning a trip to Lisbon, the official tourism website is Visit Lisboa and I’ve written up some travel tips about my experience in Lisbon, Sintra, and getting to and from the Lisbon airport. Also don’t forget to check out my Lisbon & Sintra photos to see for yourself how beautiful Portugal is!

Lisbon & Sintra, Portugal

I adore Portugal.









Lisbon & Sintra in the Photo Albums

Views from Lisbon & Sintra on YouTube

Travel Tips: Lisbon, Sintra, and Lisbon airport

Portuguese Language Realia

Losing my Native Pronunciation: The Case of ArchipeLAgo or ArchiPELago

I’ve been contributing to RhinoSpike lately by recording myself reading texts in English for other language learners to use in their independent studies. This weekend, however,  I could not remember how to correctly pronounce a few words in my native language. I still use English often in my day to day life, but it’s mostly in written form. Obviously I don’t speak English as nearly as much as I used to when I lived in the US. So when I came across certain words in the texts, I was stumped on how to say them because I had momentarily confused the British pronunciation with the American one (herbivore), or was influenced by the pronunciation of the same word in French (recompense). But when it came to archipelago, I was completely lost.

I thought that archipelago was pronounced with the stress on the penultimate syllable (ar-kih-puh-LAH-go), but all the dictionary and pronunciation sites I’ve consulted say it is pronounced with the stress on the antepenultimate syllable (ar-kih-PEL-uh-go).  The way I pronounce it doesn’t sound 100% correct to me to be honest, but the other pronunciation sounds a million times wrong. So so wrong. As in it hurts my ears to hear it pronounced that way.

Even the British pronunciation has the same stress pattern (ar-kih-PEL-uh-go), and the French word is simply archipel (ar-shee-pel), so why in the world do I think the stress should be on the penultimate syllable in American English? Maybe it’s merely a case of never using this word very much so I’ve forgotten how I used to say it, or perhaps it is a regional thing and some other Americans or Michiganders pronounce it the way I do?

For the love of science, how do you pronounce archipelago?!?

In my classes, whenever students asked which phrase was correct (for example, keep in touch or keep me in touch), normally I could instantly reply which one was correct, and every once in a while I just had to repeat the phrases to myself to discover which one sounded right. Yet in the case of archipelago, I’m not quite sure which one sounds right – it’s just that one sounds more right than the other, but I’m not convinced that either pronunciation is “correct.”  Is it the British influence? I’m definitely pronouncing a few vowels differently nowadays, but I have yet to change the stress (no way I will ever say adVERtisement instead of adverTISEment.) Perhaps I’m just assuming the American stress should be different.

It’s very frustrating to doubt yourself  in your native language. A study from 2007 (Why Learning a New Language May Make You Forget Your Old One) touches on this phenomenon of forgetting words, but states that it mostly happens in the beginning stages of language study and it refers to not being able to recall the word. In my case, I do remember the word, and the spelling and the meaning, but I do not remember the pronunciation.

Are there any other Americans out there who say ar-kih-puh-LAH-go or am I really just forgetting my own native language?