June 29, 2016

Language Learning Techniques: Develop your Writing Skills in Another Language

We hope you enjoyed our post on how to improve your reading skills in another language. Now we are back with tips on how to work on another skill – writing.  Each language has its own writing conventions for different genres. Practice these and you can write letters to your friends, write business emails, publish an article in a newspaper, keep a blog or even write novels in your new language. Here are a few tips for working on your writing skills.


Writing is an Active Skill
Unlike listening and reading, the skills we have looked at already, writing is not just about understanding what is being said to you or the text you have in front of you, it is about producing your own meaning.  Writing is an active skill. This means that you are using your brain actively, using grammar and making sentences.  You will need to practice writing to be able to do it effectively, but it is not impossible to learn!  One tip is to try to think and write in the target language rather than translating in your head or from a first draft.  This will come more naturally with practice.  Improving your writing will also have a knock-on effect on your other skills, as you will learn and remember (even complex) vocabulary better, understand grammatical constructions and become more creative in your chosen language. If you combine your learning tools (reading, listening, writing and speaking), you will engage all your senses in the learning process and therefore learn faster.

Don’t Forget to Read
Reading in your chosen language is a great way to get used to different writing styles that you can bring over into your own writing.  It will help you with sentence construction and spelling, and give you an idea of different writing conventions.  Think about how the texts you are reading are structured and which types of phrases or vocabulary are used in different situations and for different purposes – such as introducing a topic, description, comparisons, conclusions, etc.  Some people also recommend copying out texts to help yourself get better at writing in the language you are learning – it will help you get used to writing those letters in that order and those words in that order.  If you choose to do this, make sure the texts are interesting and you have a relaxing space to do it in and, ideally, a notebook dedicated to this exercise.

Close the Textbook
When you are practising writing, try to write long texts, rather than simply completing gap-filling or translation exercises in your textbook.  Make it personal to you, so it becomes more than answering questions and checking the answers.  Try writing a diary in your new language – write creatively about things you have seen that day, thoughts you have had, perhaps with illustrations.  If you do this you will automatically make the writing a part of you.  Remember, writing is expressive – so use it to write about how you feel.  Don’t worry if you don’t write everything correctly the first time, you can write and re-write your text as much as you like.  Having the diary will also let you see how much progress you have made – compare early entries to later ones to see how far you have come.  You don’t have to show anyone your diary if you don’t want to, but it will have helped you get down what you want to say in the language you are learning.  Of course, if you want to ask a native speaker to check your writing, you can do that too!

Have the Right Tools
If you want to write grammatically correct texts with creative use of vocabulary, remember to have a good dictionary (a monolingual one as well as a bilingual one if you can get your hands on it), a thesaurus to help you develop your knowledge of synonyms and a grammar reference if there is one available in the language you are learning.

Written by Susannah Young

June 22, 2016

Interview with Writer & Broadcaster Sophie Pierce

Sophie Pierce & Matt Newbury are the authors of “Wild Swimming Walks. Dartmoor and South Devon. 28 lake, river and beach days out.” The interview was conducted with Sophie Pierce.


1. How did you come up with the idea of writing a book on wild swimming and walking? Why Dartmoor and South Devon? Are these regions famous for their rivers, lakes and seafronts?
Matt and I have been friends for ages and both love swimming outdoors. Matt is born and bred in Devon, and lives by the sea in Torquay, while I live on Dartmoor with its many beautiful rivers and lakes. A few years ago we wrote our first book, about wild swimming in Torbay, and we wanted to do another book, but broaden it into walks as well. After all, you usually have to walk to the most stunning places! We just wanted to share the joy and fun of outdoor swimming, and show people how easy it was to have an adventure at home. Dartmoor and South Devon are where we live, and contain some of the most exciting and beautiful swimming spots in the world.

2. What were the most challenging and the most rewarding experiences in writing the book?
The most challenging aspect of the book was getting all the fine detail right, such as the distances, the map references, all the detailed information we have included, and being disciplined, taking notes as we researched the routes.   It was also a challenge to fit in the research as we both work full time.  Every weekend when the weather was good we were out there researching routes and trying to find new swims.   The field research though was also extremely rewarding, as well as being fun. We also got quite fit!

Mansands credit Aaron Kitts

3. Being a keen wild swimmer yourself, do you often meet many enthusiasts of wild swimming? Do you belong to a swimming club?
We have made lots of friends through wild swimming.  We meet up on the Devon Wild Swimming page on Facebook and if someone is going for a swim, they generally post the time and the place and people come along.  Generally, wild swimmers seem to be great fun, incredibly relaxed, friendly and non-judgemental. They are also great consumers of cake!

4. The photos in the book are so spontaneous and lively that the reader immediately wants to join you and jump into these wild waters. Why do you want to inspire people to follow your passion of wild swimming? Why is it so special?
We have just had so much fun, and also some truly unusual experiences swimming in natural waters that it’s simply about wanting to share that.   A friend of ours has a phrase “You never regret a swim” and another friend says that when you come out of the water “your factory settings are restored”. Swimming outdoors seems to give you a natural high.

Shavercombe Waterfall credit Sophie Pierce

5. There are many references to local legends (quite dark, sometimes) in the book. How did you become familiar with them? Are they a natural part of the culture of Devon and Dartmoor, or did you come across them when reading books on these regions?
Bodies of water are often associated with legends, particularly on Dartmoor. Many of these legends go back hundreds of years into folklore and nobody really knows where they come from.  But in all cultures water is incredibly significant, it is necessary for life itself, it is used in rituals of course, baptisms etc., so it is not surprising that stories grow up around rivers, lakes and the sea.  Some of them we found out about through reading books, as there is a lot of literature about Dartmoor. Some we just found out about the traditional way – word of mouth.

6. What are your future plans? Do you have any projects you would like to work on?
Matt is working on a book about swims around the world, and is also thinking of working on a book about Cornwall. Sophie has started writing a novel set by the sea in South Devon.

Wild swimming walks 4

Brilliant, thank you, we will follow your writing and travelling projects eagerly.

Interviewed by Bristol Language School  
Photos courtesy of Sophie Pierce
If you would like to purchase a copy of “ Wild Swimming Walks”, you can do so here.

June 15, 2016

Travelling Corner: A Frenchman in America (Part 1)

Salut! I’m Nicolas, a French teacher and a new recruit at Bristol Language School. As I’m very keen on discovering new cultures, I love to travel.  But I had never left Europe – until I went to the U.S. a few weeks ago! Here is my report about this experience…

USA 4Day 1:
It was to be my first transatlantic flight, but I thought I would never arrive at the airport on time as the road to Gatwick was blocked by some trees that had blown down during the stormy night…not a good start! Fortunately, it was only the way to the North terminal that was blocked, and I was headed for the South terminal – phew!  Had I forgotten anything? I had my ticket, my ESTA visa, my luggage, a packed lunch, my sunglasses, a few dollars… And we were off!

The flight was from 2pm (here) to 5pm (there), so basically we followed the sun and it seemed like the day would never end! When you arrive in Los Angeles, you are greeted by a massive American flag and a picture of Barack Obama (I didn’t dare take a photo in the airport – I didn’t want them to think I was a spy!), then you have to fill in a form for customs, and then you have to pass through SECURITY.  I don’t know if anything like this exists in other countries, but there, the scanning gate is like a cross between Orwell’s Big Brother and a Star Trek teleport machine. And finally, you need to have all your fingerprints scanned, which doesn’t make you feel very at ease.

USA 9In total, it takes me almost 3 hours to reach my hostel, which is in Venice.  This is no country for pedestrians!!! I am not surprised, but I thought it would be easy enough to find a bus stop, but there are no shops, no pedestrians (it’s 7pm), and no one knows where my hostel is… or even recognises the name of the street it’s on!  Don’t panic! After a bit of trial and error, a man helps me find it, and I land in a comfy, although not very clean, place.

At last, I can have a proper local burger and fries! I have one with some other hostel guests. Some of them are from South America, others are from the East coast. I struggle to get used to their accent… I need to train my ear!

USA 12It’s midnight, and I realise I’ve been up for more than 24 hours.  I go to bed and fall asleep straight away… Tomorrow I will have more energy to visit LA!
To Be Continued…

Written by Nicolas Salmon

June 8, 2016

Magazine Review: On Languages, Translation and Travelling

Every month we publish a book review on our blog, but this month I have decided to write about some magazines on languages, translation and travelling that I enjoy reading (and yes, I am an old-fashioned lady, as I only have paper versions of them!). They are all available for subscription in the UK and internationally, but some are only available through membership.

Travelling: National Geographic
A classic. I had to include the NG here. I love their photographs: beautiful, intriguing and fascinating. The content can feed any desire from scientific and factual to artistic, and it is all highly inspiring. Also in the perfect format and size for any lengthy commuting or travelling.

Magazine Review on lang trans travel--NG

Travelling & Languages: Cereal
Elegant. Minimal. Exquisite. A very tasteful read. Bi-annual magazine.

Magazine Review on lang trans travel--Cereal

Travelling: Cornwall Life
Inspirational. With my heart soaked under the beauty of Cornwall, I inspire myself monthly by learning about new places to visit, stay, eat or relax.

Magazine Review on lang trans travel--Cornwall Life

Translation: ITI Bulletin
Practical. When I decided to become a translator, I wanted to learn more about this profession and all the links led to this bi-monthly bulletin published by the Institute of Translation & Interpreting. It is highly informative, with good advice from fellow translators and a wide range of interesting topics (from marketing, finances, networking and website-building to events, workshops and recommended reading). Available only through membership.

Magazine Review on lang trans travel--ITI Bulletin

Translation & Languages: The Linguist
All-in-one. There is a good combination of translation-, interpreting-, language-, communication-, education-, linguistic-related topics. It is published bi-monthly by the Charted Institute of Linguists. Available through membership, subscription or online.

Magazine Review on lang trans travel--The Linguist

Languages: Babel Magazine
Curiosity. It is a real linguistic pleasure. I think I am often surprised by the articles published here; I mean positively surprised. I have been a subscriber from the very first issue and still enjoy every issue out of 4 published annually.

Magazine Review on lang trans travel--Babel

This is my list. Do you have any favourite magazines or journals on languages, translation and travelling? Please share your favourites in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

June 1, 2016

On Languages: Italian

Do you want to get a real taste of Italian life, travel around this beautiful country with ease, appreciate its art and architecture and be able to compliment the chef when you try the local delicacies? This guide to learning the language of the Bel Paese should give you a head start.

On Languages--Italian 2

Say what you see
Unlike English, Italian spelling is phonetic. That means that the spelling of a word tells you how to say it (except in a few isolated cases, such as homonyms like ‘pesca’ (fishing) and ‘pesca’ (peach), and of course regional variations). It also means that words that have the same ending will always rhyme. For example, ‘cane’ (dog) and ‘pane’ (bread) will always rhyme (compare with English ‘chalice’, ‘police’ and ‘lice’, to give you an idea!). Italians pronounce every letter in a word, including vowels, so ‘aiuola’ (flowerbed) is a-i-u-oo-l-a and ‘cappello’ (hat) is cap-pel-lo. One thing to watch out for though is the stress pattern in words: in words with two syllables, like freddo (cold) and dito (finger), the stress falls on the first syllable, unless there is an accent on the last syllable to tell you that it is stressed (compare ‘papa’ (Pope) and ‘papà’ (dad)). In longer words, there is no predictable stress pattern, so you will need to learn them.  Uomo avvisato mezzo salvato – forewarned is forearmed!

Italian speakers move their mouths a lot when they are speaking.  They open their mouths wide and form the sounds with their lips – they don’t mumble!  They do this to say the vowel sounds clearly.  Have a go: try pronouncing the Italian letter ‘a’ – you just have to open your mouth wide and say ‘aahh’! Try this with new words you learn – practice pronouncing them in front of the mirror and make sure you get your mouth moving!

Get your hands moving
Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Italy or around Italians will have noticed that Italians move their hands a lot when they talk.  The insider knows that this is not just for emphasis – unlike some languages where speakers have more or less idiosyncratic hand gestures that they use to stress what they are saying, or to try to make it clearer, Italian hand gestures each have an individual meaning.  They are so vital to communication that Bruno Munari even published a (humorous) Supplement to the Italian Dictionary all about hand gestures (the text is available in Italian, English, French and German). You can also find numerous videos on the internet that explain their use. Try and learn a few to make your spoken (and silent) Italian more authentic.

Regional variations
There are many different regional accents in Italian, which means that consonants, vowels and the melody of the phrase change depending on where you are in the country. Most areas, but particularly villages and rural areas, also have a dialect that is different from standard Italian.  Dialects are mostly used at home and with friends, whereas standard Italian is used for more formal occasions and between Italians from different regions so they can understand each other. Read more about regional variations here and read about the use of different expressions here.

Take your pick
Italy has a lot to offer, be it music, art, literature, food, sport, architecture, history, travel or fashion.  Pick your favourite one of these and learn all about it – in Italian!

Written by Suzannah Young