Everything You Need to Start Learning a Language

It is almost the new year and if you are thinking about your language goals, here’s all the most useful languageuntangled tips for apps, podcasts, books and vocab.

Everything You Need
to Start Learning a Language

Resources

Game Plan

German Vocab

A War By Two Names – Podcast Recommendations

Have you heard of the Falkland Islands? Or Las Malvinas? I am British and my awareness of this tiny territory next to Argentina has always been minimal. Among millenials – people I know – very little is known about the 1982 conflict, and the name ‘las Malvinas’ is known even less. In doing a little research, I found this video from The Guardian newspaper explaining why the military action was successful for the British, which is accompanied by scores of jingoistic and xenophobic comments.

I respect that the concern for the UK government at the time was that  British citizens – albeit a very small number of them – could potentially be forced into a dictatorship, but the issue is not black and white. It felt like a real wake-up call when the Duolingo podcast featured this story back in 2017, which examined one Argentinian soldier’s memory of the war. In what feels like a deliberately diplomatic stance, the episode covers an unlikely friendship between the young soldier and an English local.

In contrast, just last week NPR’s podcast Radio Ambulante put up an episode about two Argentinian soldiers’ experience of the war, which occurred six years into a dictatorship. (Available with transcripts in both Spanish and English). Their belief in victory was quickly shattered and hundreds of lives were lost.

I would be interested to learn more about the conflict, which is yet another example of how choosing to learn Spanish has challenged my assumptions about politics and history. Those depressing YouTube comments (yes, I know, don’t read YouTube comments) has strengthened my conviction to learn more, ask questions and look for more to the story.

Foreign Horror Tips!

Here’s some foreign-language suggestions for the spooky season – boost your listening skills while enjoying some scares…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dark
A German Netflix production which portrays life in an isolated small town where various children have gone missing over the decades… could it have something to do with the power plant? Or with what lies beneath it? Low-Medium Spooky

Los Ojos de Julia (Julia’s Eyes)
Spanish thriller about a woman who is quickly losing her sight to a genetic illness. Her twin sister, who recently killed herself, had the same condition. Was it a genuine suicide? The eye stuff brings this into the horror genre… Medium Spooky

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)
This atmospheric Swedish film, adapted from the novel of the same name, is one of the best examples of a vampire movie. It is creepy and effectively chilling but in some ways it is also quite moving. Medium Spooky

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
Would it really be Halloween without evil child ghosts in an abandoned orphanage? This is the best version of that. Very Spooky

REC
This tense zombie flick is one of the best examples of the found footage genre and uses a claustrophobic quarantined apartment building to excellent effect. Turn out the lights and try and remember to breathe. Super Spooky

Because it is almost Halloween and there are many amazing horror movies in English – especially in the last 5 years – here are some of the best (and scariest) I’ve ever seen:

The Babadook (2014)
Ghost Stories
(2018)
The Witch
(2015)
The Borderlands
(2013)
It Follows
(2015)
Hereditary 
(2018)

… and The Blair Witch Project, imo it’s still scary.

P.S. I am obsessed with the new Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, it is terrifying and I can’t stop watching!!

Wondering how to take your language to the next level?

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If you have made your way past the travel phrases and greetings to an intermediate language level, well done! Maybe you’re wondering how to keep the momentum going – if so, this post is for you.

The intermediate stage of a language is pretty fabulous, because you can have a conversation and month on month you can improve very quickly. Later on, there’s a bit more pressure. I use German daily for my job, and the word fluent still seems very loaded, and I can feel guilty if I come across words I don’t know. (Side note, when reading about Aretha Franklin after her death I learned the word Urgewalt, which means an ‘elemental force’ – how perfect is that?).

The intermediate stage is still all about discovery and you should enjoy being free of that nebulous term ‘fluency’ and just enjoy building on your comprehension. If it’s an option for you, group classes are the most effective way to improve at this stage. (I did it for German, and after a year of solo Spanish I am in the classroom again).

That being said, classes alone are nothing if not accompanied by reading, listening and speaking in your spare time (Exhibit A: mes quatres ans de francais en l’ecole).

Here are some great habits to develop which will maintain and propel you towards advanced learning!

  1. Read! You can try simple novels or children’s books (here some German suggestions), but the news will be most helpful. It will connect you with what’s going on, and the language will be a mixture of conversation starters (politics, culture, scandals) and every day vocabulary. Spanish: El País, German: Deutsche WelleDie Zeit. Some papers have ‘easy language’ versions of the news, such as Taz (German).
  2. Listen! I follow a bunch of Spanish-language podcasts, but the mistake I usually make is passive listening. It is still quite beneficial, but if you feel motivated, write down a few new words or phrases and look them up. Better still, write your own sentences with the new words. Links: Radio Ambulante (Latin American news from NPR), Coffee Break Spanish (see season 3+), Españolistas, TED Talks en Español. All in the usual podcast apps.
  3. Speak! Make regular conversation in your language, if you can! Major cities will have meet up groups for exchanging languages. See also Conversation Exchange – it’s a super basic but widely used website for finding tandem partners, I found a Spanish friend in the city and we meet up fairly regularly so we can each practice our languages! You can correct each other, give tips and explain natural, native ways of speaking.
  4. Be Active. Your new language is going to pop up in your head at random moments of the day. You might also find yourself wondering ‘how could I say that in Spanish? Do I know how to conjugate the verb?’ Here’s an old list of super useful apps which will allow you to consult a dictionary or a grammar tool on the go, so you can learn something at unexpected moments.

All of this has worked and continues to work for me – good luck! Let me know your own tips and tricks.

Language Tips of the Week

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Hola a todos und hallo zusammen! I have a handful of tips from my learning this week which will fit neatly enough into one post: my new favourite Spanish resources, and some real bad German words (i.e. DENGLISCH).

Entonces, el fin de semana que viene, voy a viajar a Madrid! Estoy muy emocionante para practicar el idioma y, ademas, para compartir mi experiencia con vosotros. Pero al primero…

Listening
Listening is one of the hardest skills for an intermediate learner – not necessarily in the classroom, but absolutely when you turn on the radio. Since I am always listening to podcasts (in fact, this weekend I was at the 3rd annual London Podcast Festival with all the other cool kids) I’ve naturally been on the look out for podcasts that’ll help me with my Spanish.

TV can be more helpful for language learners because you have the visual aid – but at least you can listen to a podcast when you’re out walking. On top of that, several podcasts have written transcripts you can refer to or even read while you’re listening. Por ejemplo…

Españolistos is a conversation podcast aimed at intermediate learners. There is definitely a ton of podcast options for beginners, which teach simple phrases, but these presenters (Colombian and an American) speak everyday Spanish at a manageable speed. Plus, it is comforting to hear the American guy’s good Spanish but distinct American accent – I guess we all go through the accent struggle!

Radio Ambulante is a culture and current affairs podcast about a myriad of topics from Latin America. They recently became part of NPR, and each week features a different story. It is advanced Spanish – I am starting B1 Spanish next month, and it is a real challenge for me. However, the transcripts are in both Spanish and English. Given the strength of the reporting and the stories which are being told, I find it worth following the episodes and referring back to the original transcript as well as the translation. I can really push my listening comprehension and overcome some of the “oh my god” feeling you get when you hear native level Spanish.

Another Language App
I am definitely not being paid by busuu to plug them, but I saw a half-price subscription offer for this app (which is similar to Babbel) and I am really enjoying it so far, based on the structure, topics, and grammar tips. The lessons also encourage listening comprehension (entire little conversations) and get you to provide written answers – it feels like the most proactive language learning app I’ve tried so far.

Last but not least I learned a new terrible ‘Denglisch’ word this week. You might have already heard of the German word ‘Oldtimer’ – over there it means a vintage car. But, even worse than Oldtimer is the term Youngtimer. If Oldtimer is a car from the 40s or 50s, Youngtimer is a slightly-less-old vintage car, i.e. from the 1980s. It-is-so-terrible-why

It reminded me of one of the word offenders, and oldest examples, of Denglisch: der Keks (pl. Kekse). Keks is the German for biscuit (cookie). But the word comes directly from the English word cake.

Given that cakes and biscuits are very dissimilar and that one is superior to the other (we all know which one) I have always found this very disrespectful to cake.

Further reading: British biscuit vs cake drama