October 26, 2016

Language Learning Tips: Do I have time to learn a foreign language every day?

Do I have time to learn a foreign language every day? Of course, not! But, I think you may change your mind after reading this article, so let me explain.

Impossible possible?
First of all, I’m not talking about spending hours practising every day (although, that would be just perfect!), but about finding ways to include some language practice for as little as 5-10 minutes per day. Secondly, you do not actually need extra time to practise every day. You need to prepare yourself for learning and then follow your daily routine. Thirdly and most importantly, enjoy the whole process from the moment you decide to learn a foreign language to carrying out your everyday practice.


How does it work?

You can follow the 5 steps formula:

1.    Find the time. Think about when you could potentially learn, e.g. while driving a car/commuting, cooking/cleaning/ironing, taking a bath/brushing your teeth, walking, waiting for a meeting/appointment/meal/train/bus, etc… Yes, there are endless possibilities!

2.    Follow your interests. Research the topics that interest you, e.g. cooking (recipes), holiday phrases, music (singers), art (painters), (non-)fiction writing (writers), etc.

3.    Get the resources. Prepare/order/borrow/download books, e-books, audio-books, podcasts, radio programmes, CDs, DVDs, magazines/newspapers, grammar books, flashcards, apps, etc.

4.    Have a weekly plan. Plan what you’re going to do every day, (you can of course review it every week), e.g. on Monday it’s reading (from crime novels to news), Tuesday-listening (radio podcasts, audiobooks), Wednesday-grammar (some relevant exercises), Thursday-speaking (reading aloud or shadowing), Friday-writing (diary, emails), Saturday-watching films (with/without subtitles), Sunday-vocabulary drill (flash cards, dictionary).

5.    Learn EVERY DAY!


If you’re new to language learning or are very busy, I would recommend starting with the simplest routine you can implement and then trying to add new skills. And don’t wait until you think you’re ready, start learning a foreign language now!

If you follow everyday learning or any other routine, let me know more about your methods in the comments below.

October 19, 2016

How to Stay Motivated While Learning a Foreign Language

I am lucky enough to speak five languages and be learning a sixth.  Part of the reason why I have learnt them is because I have lived in several different countries, but you could say the other part is because I am motivated to learn them.  I enjoy the challenge and the voyage of discovery and I like to learn as much as I can about the place I am in, and that includes the language.  What better way to get to know people than to learn their language? I feel that it is also a sign of respect to learn at least some words in the language of a place you are travelling to: hello, thank you, goodbye, that kind of thing.

People sometimes ask how it is possible to keep up a second (or third, or fourth…) language, especially when you do not live in a country where it is spoken.  The key to doing this is wanting to maintain it – if it is important to you to maintain your skills in that language, then you are already half way there! I personally try to use my languages every day. I will read books and articles in my chosen languages and listen to the radio or watch films.  I try to treat each language equally but it is not always easy, it requires a bit of discipline.  But we all have favourites and I find that I spend a bit more time on my favourite language…


There are activities you can do to keep up your language competence, but maintaining your chosen language is also about a state of mind: remind yourself why you learnt it in the first place and why you love it, and you will want to keep on using it.

Here are a few activities you can do to maintain your new language, and tips on how regularly to do them.

If you like to read novels, read novels in your second language.  If you like to keep up to date with the news, read (online) newspapers in the language you have learnt.  If you like cooking, read (online) cookbooks and regale yourself with the delicious goodies you make using your linguistic knowledge!  If you pursue activities that you like, it will be easier to maintain your understanding and it will come more naturally.


Similarly, listen to the radio or listen to music you like in your chosen language.  This way you will keep your ear tuned in to what people sound like, stay abreast of what is happening in the country of your adopted language and enjoy that great music genre you discovered when you delved deeper into the language you decided to learn and its accompanying cultural artefacts.

Remind yourself why you love the culture of the country/ies where your chosen language is spoken by watching its/their films and tv shows (these can be found relatively easily on the internet these days; foreign language films can be borrowed from most libraries or bought for a relatively reasonable price at good record stores).

Speak to People
Find a meet-up group near you where people get together to speak the language and, of course, make friends.  Find an online platform where you can speak to language partners on Skype.  Move to a country where they speak your new language… Keeping in contact with people is a sure-fire way of keeping your language skills alive!


With this in mind, it is important not just to maintain your passive skills but to maintain your active skills as well.  To this end, you should try to speak the language and write in it as often as you can, to make sure you keep using it.  Perhaps you can write a blog in your chosen language, keep a diary, or write to a pen pal (not as old-fashioned as you might think!).  As the adage goes, use it or lose it!

If you are the kind of person who likes to stick to routines, and finds structure motivating, then you can decide to dedicate a specific amount of time to doing these activities, like an hour a day, or half an hour of each language each day if you have two new languages on the go.  If not, you can do what you feel like doing and when you feel like doing it, and it won’t feel like a chore to keep up your language(s).

Most of all, keep enjoying your language learning and practising what you have learnt.  That is the key to maintaining motivation and retaining your new-found skills.

See more tips here.

Written by Suzannah Young

October 12, 2016

Book Review: Maintaining Your Second Language by Eve Lindemuth Bodeux


“The big ‘secret’ to improving second language skills is practice.” Eve Lindemuth Bodeux (p. 9)

I became in love with this book from the very first page. The author, Eve Lindemuth Bodeux is an experienced second language user and the content is predominantly based on her own experience. This, I think, is what makes the book so special. As a reader, you want to implement many ideas and tips immediately, as you feel truly inspired by the strategies and techniques presented by Eve Lindemuth Bodeux.

I would need to re-write the whole content to praise it enough, but instead, I am going to introduce the book by one of its first chapters: ‘Define Your Goals’. I think it is important to know why we want to improve our language skills, what we want to achieve, what learning journey we will follow and how much time and energy will be involved in achieving our goals. I have answered the suggested-by-the-author questions for my two languages: Czech and French. It is only the beginning of this fascinating journey of maintaining and improving my language skills, but I have already started working on my Czech and French by watching films, reading out loud and having language exchange meet-ups.

Maintaining your second language is a practical and approachable guidebook for any second-language user, linguist, tutor, translator or language enthusiast. As enthusiastic as I sound I cannot recommend this book enough!

If you know more than one language, how do you maintain your second language skills? What is your favourite activity? Please share your tips in the comments below.

[All quotations and mentions come from Eve Lindemuth Bodeux, Maintaining Your Second Language, Spectacle Book Press, 2016.]

Written by Kinga Macalla

October 5, 2016

On Languages: Spanish

Spanish is spoken as a first language by more than 427 million people throughout the world and around 21 million people are learning it.  It is the second most common native language in the world.   It is the third most studied language in Europe, with 19% of school pupils learning it as a second or additional language.  Its speakers can be found in South and Central America, Europe and Africa.  Given this diversity of locations, there are also many varieties of Spanish spoken.  In the UK you will most likely learn Castellano, Castillian Spanish, as in the Spanish of Spain, but there are other varieties of the languages and ways of pronouncing it.  You are also free to choose which variety you learn, perhaps if you have a special connection to one or other variety.  Teaching and learning materials may be slightly more difficult to find for them but the internet will be of great help here.

Spanish is a romance language and so shares much cognate vocabulary with languages such as French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian.  Unlike some of these languages, though, following several centuries of Arab rule in the Spanish peninsula, 8% of Spanish vocabulary is derived from Arabic.  This can be seen, for example, in words beginning with ‘al’, such as ‘alfombra’ (‘rug’) and ‘almohada’, (‘pillow’), and also one of the words most associated with Spain, ‘aceituna’, ‘olive’.  Many place names in Spain and ones that have been transposed to Latin America reflect Arab roots, such as Guadalahara (river/valley of stones).

Spanish is a phonetic language, so once you have learned the sound each letter makes, you will have no problem reading words aloud or spelling words you hear.  Spanish has some letters that do not feature in the English alphabet, but most of the sounds do exist in some form, such as ‘ll’, which is a ‘y’ sound (‘sh’ in some parts of Latin America) and ‘n’, a ‘nyuh’ sound, found between some words, such as ‘phone you’ in English.  One sound that is more difficult is ‘j’ (‘Jesús’, ‘jornada’) or ‘g’ before ‘e’ and ‘i’, (‘gestión’, ‘gimnasio’) which is pronounced a bit like ‘ch’ in the Scots word ‘loch’.  Depending on which variety you choose to learn, the pronunciation can be slightly different.  In some parts of Spain, ‘c’ and ‘z’ make a ‘th’ sound, but in other parts of Spain and Latin America, they are pronounced ‘s’.
The stress usually falls on the penultimate syllable of a word, and when the stress is somewhere else, the word is usually spelled with a helpful accent over the syllable to be stressed (guanábano, habitación, inglés).

Again, Spanish grammar depends on which variety you choose to learn.  The main differences between the varieties is that some use the ‘’ and ‘vosotros’ forms to mean ‘you’ (singular and plural respectively), and others use ‘vos’ and ‘ustedes’ for the same groups, and the associated verb forms change slightly.  For example, ‘you have’ can be ‘(tú) tienes’ or ‘(vos) tenés’.  There is also more use of the present perfect in Castillian Spanish, whereas other forms tend to use the preterite (similar to UK and US English…).

Why Learn Spanish?
As Spanish is such a widely spoken language and the countries where it is spoken have influence in the world, speaking Spanish can give you a competitive advantage in business, give you access to popular culture such as film and music, enhance your travel experience across the world (you will be able to speak to the locals!), give you a head start in learning other romance languages, help you understand our not-so-far-away neighbours, and let you have fun!

Written by Suzannah Young