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

9 Ways to Stay Motivated

The desire to learn a language is the first hurdle – and not every 14 year old in French class gets over that hurdle. If you have chosen advanced Spanish in school or beginner German as an adult, you understand the appeal of languages, what they bring us and why they matter. How, though, do we keep it going?

  1. Picture the long-haul. Accept that learning and refining a language can be a life-long (headache) journey.
  2. Understand your reasons for learning. Needing a language for work or life can be motivating but also intimidating – learning out of interest has freedom in that sense, but does not give you a driving force. Work out how to push yourself or how to encourage yourself in both situations.
  3. Use the native speakers in your life for their expertise and to remind yourself you can still chat with them!
  4. Find other people who are learning the language so you can commiserate (see quote below).
  5. Vary the tools you use, whether it’s reading and writing (books, newspapers, flashcards) or listening and speaking (film, TV, podcasts, apps, tandem partners, Meet Ups).
  6. If possible, give yourself breaks – be it one day or a few.
  7. Immersion is valuable, but so is making the learning time count. You could watch an episode of Narcos, or spend 15 minutes making notes on a podcast or looking up words from a newspaper article.
  8. Make use of professionals if you can, either in a classroom or through a tutor. They can correct you, explain well, and untangle the grammar. They can also praise progress when they see it!
  9. Go back and reflect on the basics. If you have completed any beginner or intermediate levels, go and test yourself online and appreciate what you have mastered so far.

… [I] never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.

Mark Twain, “The Awful German Language” 1880

Why are you learning your language/s? How do you find your motivation?

German Verb of the Week (No.2)

Spinnen

Want to tell a friend they’re talking rubbish? Tell them “du spinnst”. It is related the English phrase “to spin a yarn”, but is more common and extremely colloquial – it basically means someone is “talking crazy”.

I like that it sounds whimsical in English, but vulgar in German. Don’t use it with strangers!

What Makes a Flu Spanish?

This month’s centenary of WWI has put the conflict back in focus. But what about the greater disaster which started in 1918?

In the UK, the mythology of the war has a long development which has slowly expanded to include discussions about trauma, conscientious objection, and the racist attitudes of various sides. (See the November 13th episode of podcast The Europeans for some introductory information of treatment of non white soldiers and labourers).

Lesser known is the Spanish Flu pandemic, which in my history class was barely mentioned. It lasted from 1918 to 1920 and wiped out between 2.5% to 5% of the world’s population (the huge margin shows how much epidemiologists still do not know). Last week I picked up Laura Spinney’s book Pale Rider which gives an great overview for dummies like me who knew nothing about the extent of this “Spanish” tragedy.

The flu was not a result of the war but the mass movement of people surely intensified its spread and the consequences. Tragically, it had the worst mortality rates for adults in the prime of their life, and often killed recently returned soldiers – whatever your view of the war, these deaths could not be seen as glorious. There were no memorials for these men, women and children.

Why Spanish? The flu almost certainly did not come from Spain, but the journalism did. The country, being neutral in WWI, was the first to allow wide reporting of the illness. The rest of Europe, unable to know the full extent of the flu in their own towns and cities, assumed the sickness came from Spain. The Spanish called it “The Naples Soldier”, after a catchy song of the time (get it).

Applying distance and stigma to the flu echoes the naming of many illnesses throughout history – such as syphilis, which was called the Spanish/French/German/Italian/Polish disease – depending on where you lived.

Also this week I learned that the Spanish dub of Terminator changed “hasta la vista” to “sayonara, baby” which to me makes him sound like that Simpsons character Troy McClure. You might remember him from such self-help videos as “Smoke Yourself Thin” and “Get Some Confidence, Stupid!”

German Verb of the Week (No.1)

Verunglücken

Everyone is familiar with the satisfying German loan words like “Schadenfreude” and “Doppelgänger”, but I have come to love these neat German verbs which slip into a sentence and describe actions or experiences for which English would require a whole phrase.

Verunglücken means “to have an accident”, and if you break down the sections of the word, it relates to “unlucky”.

Use the word, but stay safe! Ich hoffe, dass ihr nicht verunglückt!

Image: Lilith (Cat)