Category Archives: Website

My new favorite applet for teaching and learning languages online: NanoGong

By   October 1, 2009

I just discovered this awesome applet called NanoGong from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. It’s a mini-recorder that you can use on webpages (and Moodle) and it will work perfectly in my vocabulary classes! The students listen to my pronunciation (by using flash mp3 players that I already embedded into the flashcards) and then they can record their pronunciation of the word and compare the two. They can also save their recordings in .wav or .flv format. I am so geeked out by this! I can’t wait for them to try it next week!

This is what it looks like, though this is just the image. Try it for yourself on NanoGong’s site or my FSI Italian flashcards. I plan on adding it to other flashcards when I get the chance.

I ♥ technology.

Learning the Départements of France

By   March 29, 2009

After a 6 month break, I finally got David to do some more recordings for the French tutorials. We finished up French VII and sections on education, politics, television, geography of France, etc. There are a lot of games online you can play to test your knowledge of the geography of France, but I hadn’t yet seen any flashcards or any that include pronunciation. So I decided to make some audio flashcards for learning the départements and their numbers as well as their régions.

Département Flashcards: Name + Number (Part 1)

Département Flashcards: Name + Number (Part 2)

Département Flashcards: Number + Name (Part 1)

Département Flashcards: Number + Name (Part 2)

Département Flashcards: Name + Région (Part 1)

Département Flashcards: Name + Région (Part 2)

One of these days I’ll get around to adding more sets, especially to include the préfecture of each département. And I’ll probably have to add Mayotte if they vote yes today to become the 101st département! (Their status as an overseas département wouldn’t become effective until 2011 though).

I also added an RSS button to the top of each page, for those who want an RSS feed of the updates of the entire site and not just the blog. I hope this will inspire me to work on my website more often. I have a ton of plans (like the American English, Teaching French, and French Conversation sections…), but it just takes so much time to write and format each page, especially if I’m working with a bunch of sound files. I hope to focus on my site a lot more this summer when I’m not traveling.

Links Roundup for Learning Languages Online (Audio Version)

By   January 29, 2009

I’ve been slowly going through my Language Links page to delete dead links and add new ones. Some new language sites that I’ve come across since my last links post include audio prominently:

SWAC Audio Collections provide pronunciations for a wide range of words in 11 languages: Bielorussian, Czech, Chinese, German, English, French, Dutch, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Ukrainian. The audio collections can be downloaded as well, in flac or ogg format. (If you’re looking for a pronunciation dictionary in Italian, try DOP from Rai.)

LangMedia “features authentic language videos filmed in country, depicting everyday situations and conversations. These videos were filmed between 1999 and 2002 by international students from the Five Colleges. Transcripts, translations, audio clips, and still images are also included.” Over 30 languages available.

Sit back… Watch… Learn is a blog that gathers YouTube videos for learning languages: Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, Italian, Swedish, Sign Languages, and Welsh. More languages will be added over time.

Internet Polyglot has vocabulary lists and games for over 20 languages, most with audio. You can also choose a combination of languages rather than just the target language + English.

Sons en français is a large collection of audio and video clips to help with oral comprehension of French. A great resource for advanced learners who need more listening practice.

Spanish NewsBites is a “free language-learning website designed to help you learn Spanish at the same time as you learn about what’s happening TODAY throughout Spain and Latin America.” Listen to the article, and then do the exercise to reinforce the vocabulary.

Transparent Languages recently started language & culture blogs for 9 languages: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish. They still have their Word of the Day widgets as well, with pronunciation of the word.

French Phonetics: Listening & Repetition Exercises

By   January 7, 2009

Have trouble hearing the difference between les and lait ? How about jeune and jeûne ? Um, yeah, me too. Still can’t say bûche correctly? How many silent letters are there in prompt ? Do you want to cry when you’re forced to pronounce serrurerie ?

Since I’m still on vacation, I’ve been working hard on making a pronunciation tutorial and exercises for French. Thanks to David, I’ve finally got the sound files recorded, edited, and uploaded to go along with the new French Phonetics page. I made two versions of the listening exercises – one in plain ol’ HTML and another with Hot Potatoes – and the repetition exercises have the transcripts available in case you can’t understand what the heck David is saying. (He talks fast sometimes.)

I hope to expand it in the future, but for now I’m already exhausted with just these hundred or so sound files. I love Audacity, but editing sound files is boring de chez boring.

So now, which one is it: les or lait ?

P.S. You can hear my lovely (ha!) Midwestern voice in the stress and intonation sections comparing English to French.

Major Website Updates this Summer

By   September 21, 2008

Summer is over and I go back to work tomorrow, so I wanted to post the major updates to my website that I’ve done over the past few months. I’m not sure how much time I will have to devote to my site once the semester gets into full swing.

  • First, I have created an RSS Feed of major updates so that you can add it to your blog reader and be notified instantly of any changes or additions to the site.
  • Thanks to Dan, the first page of the Norwegian tutorial is now up!
  • David & I have almost finished recording the mp3s for the French tutorials. I would love to add audio to the other language tutorials as well, so if any native speakers want to contribute, let me know! (You can use Audacity, which is a free program and really easy to figure out.)
  • The Realia page only contains French and German materials for now, but it includes scans of train tickets, receipts, menus, brochures, etc. so you can see the real language in use.
  • Myles helped me convert most of the pronunciation on French I to standard IPA symbols, which should show up on your web browser correctly if you have a Unicode font installed on your computer.
  • The biggest project this summer has been converting the Foreign Service Institute language courses to HTML pages. Since this is a very time-consuming project, I’ve only finished units 1-2 of French & units 1-3 of German so far.

And of course, I’ve been continuously updating the English Assistants in France guide as well as the ESL Lesson Plans and Language Links pages.

I plan to continue working on the comparative tutorials and to add more interactive exercises, and I’m also thinking about creating an English for Francophones / Anglais pour les francophones page, especially to help with pronunciation – and this way I can record all of the mp3s myself!

How’s my accent?

By   September 14, 2008

I finally got David to record more mp3s for the French tutorials (we’re now halfway done with French VII, vocabulary for those living in France), and I decided to record myself speaking French as well. I just read the sentences from the first topic on French VII.

David (native speaker of French)


Me (native speaker of American English)


I hate my voice.

Frustration & Creation; or Why I Spend Hours Working on my Website

By   August 19, 2008

It began with foreign languages. Actually it began with the movie While You Were Sleeping that I saw when I was 14 years old. Sandra Bullock’s character wanted to visit Italy so badly that it made me want to learn Italian. And then I started high school and began learning French. A year later and I had learned enough HTML to attempt to make a website. I was typing all of my notes from French class anyway, so why not put them online so others could benefit from them too?

And so it continued throughout high school, undergrad and graduate school. I added more languages and linguistics resources from my university courses. People offered to write tutorials for languages I had never studied. I gladly put them online because I know there is someone somewhere who wants to learn that specific language and cannot find any other resources for it – or at least, not any free resources.

I became more and more frustrated at the lack of free language learning materials, or at the lack of quality. Most books cater to travelers and don’t teach the real language that is spoken. Even after ten years of searching, I’ve still only found a few that teach informal language and slang. I’ve known for a while that the internet is the best tool in language learning, yet I could not find many sites that offer informal language either. Where are all the native speakers and why are they not teaching us their language? Teach us the pronunciation, the slang, the idioms, everything we need to know to survive in your country. I can only do so much with my limited knowledge, and frankly, it’s draining my energy to feel as though I need to teach every facet of a language that I don’t speak perfectly.

Then I began the English assistantship in France and continued increasing my ESL plans and materials. Again I was frustrated by the lack of information available about the program. I wanted real advice, real anecdotes, real facts, real data. So I created my incredibly detailed Assistants Guide, hoping to ease the stress of future assistants who wanted to know what they were getting themselves into. Even teaching English in the US, I could never find exactly what I wanted online, so I allowed others to download everything I’ve created for my classes and private students. What’s the point of creating plans to only use them once and never look at them again? Other teachers will appreciate the gesture of free resources, I thought.

And now I’m focusing on expatriates in France and everyday life. Everything I’ve gone through, all my experiences, could possibly help one person in France and that’s why I do this. I want to alleviate the frustration of figuring out French bureaucracy. I have been there. I know how exhausting it is. And I want to help, not for monetary gain, but because I wish someone else had done this for me – and maybe, just maybe, it will inspire others to do the same.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I’m trying to teach things that I’m not really an expert in. But no one else seems to want to do it. No one else wants to share their knowledge or resources. Creating websites is increasingly easy, and everyone has something to share, something to teach; yet I still have trouble finding websites that are completely free or that have specific and correct information. Either they charge for premium content or they just exist as a placeholder for ads. There is very little on the internet nowadays that is worthwhile unless you pay, it seems.

Why should those with money have access to a better education than those without? What is so wrong with the free exchange of knowledge and ideas? Whatever happened to teaching for the simple joy of helping others learn?

All in a Day’s Work

By   August 3, 2008

Instead of going to the Fête du Lac yesterday in Annecy where I knew there would be thousands of people, I decided to stay home and work on my IE Languages website. I spent all day redesigning the layout (for about the 17th time since I created the site), and I think I’m happy with the way it turned out. There’s now a collapsible menu on the left side of every page to help with navigation.  I’ve also added a Contribute page if anyone wants to help me out with adding more content.  I’m most interested in adding audio files and IPA transcriptions to help with pronunciation. And if anyone knows of a way to generate the HTML codes (decimal numbers) for IPA symbols just by using the keyboard (such as the Unicode Phonetic Keyboard), please tell me. Typing the numbers or copying and pasting each individual symbol takes such a long time!

And if you have no idea what IPA means, shame on you and go here or here. It is seriously the best invention in the world.

Studying or Learning Multiple Languages Simultaneously

By   July 26, 2008

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

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

Studying or Learning Multiple Languages Simultaneously

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’allemand :

Pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’italien :

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

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