January 25, 2017

Language Learning Tips: How to Use Your Language Skills Daily

What happens to a skill that you don’t use in a while?  You will be familiar with the phrases, “I’m out of practice” or “I’m a bit rusty…”.  It is a well-known fact that if you don’t keep up a skill you can forget it or it won’t come as naturally as it once did.  Well, it’s the same with languages. Any linguist will tell you that it is very important to keep practising your languages, because you can lose fluency very quickly if you don’t.  As they say, ‘use it or lose it’!

So how can you keep up your new language(s), especially if you don’t live in a country where it is/they are spoken?  To keep your skills alive, you should try to use them as often as you can, even every day if possible.  So how do you do that?  Here are a few tips on how to use your new language every day – for the fun of it too, not just to make sure your skills stay intact.




You could try to read the news in your chosen language when you start your day or when you have a break, or read a novel in that language before going to bed.  Reading helps keep your vocabulary and grammar intact, and reading aloud helps you keep practising your pronunciation and helps your mouth stay used to making the sounds.  Try and read a variety of different styles so you remember what their registers are like.


If you want to keep up your speaking, you could join a MeetUp group or a conversation club, or you could look for a language partner online.  Otherwise, you can put up an advert asking for language exchange partners in your community centre or on one of the many Facebook groups for different language communities living in your city (in Bristol there are ‘Italiani a Bristol’, ‘Españoles en Bristol’, ‘Nederlanders in Bristol’, ‘Français à Bristol’, and the list goes on…).

This may sound strange, but another way to keep up your speaking skills is to talk to yourself.  Of course this is not always easy but if you are in the car or in the kitchen, or somewhere else where it’s just you, you can go over what you have to do that day or describe what you can see out of the window (or other things!) out loud to yourself in your chosen language.  You can easily fit this into your daily routine so you don’t need to make extra time to practise.  See our previous post on studying every day for more tips on how to do this.


study every day 26.10.16


You can listen to your chosen language on the radio when you have things to do around the house.  It is a good way to keep your mind occupied when you are doing things that don’t require language, like hanging the washing out or doing the ironing.  You can also sit down and listen to radio documentaries or the news that require more attention.  You can listen to music as well, which you can also do on your mp3 player whilst out for a jog, or in your car.


When you relax in the evening you can watch a film in your new language, or if you have a subscription, watch TV in that language.  There are lots of news bulletins, documentaries and interviews to watch online as well.  This is a good way to maintain your listening skills and keep up to date with the latest events in the country (countries) where the language you are learning is spoken.

Contact your friends

Do you have friends who speak your new language?  These days it is very easy to stay in touch with them, by text message, on Facebook or on Skype.  Just drop your friends a message or ring them on Skype to have a quick chat.  If you prefer writing longer texts, you can always write them a letter, which will help you keep up your writing skills.  You can ask your friends to correct you if you like.  And of course, it’s important to stay in touch with your friends, whichever language they speak!

Written by Suzannah Young

January 18, 2017

Travelling Corner: My 5 Favourite Places in Belgium

Belgium is an interesting country with three different languages, five parliaments and 1150 different types of beer!  There is a lot to see there too.  I used to live and work in Belgium and spent six years in the country in total, three in Brussels and three in Antwerp.  In that time, as well as learning Dutch and improving my French, I got the opportunity to travel around quite a bit, on the (very affordable) train and by bike!  Here is a breakdown of my five favourite places in the country.  Perhaps it will inspire you to take a visit!


Magritte Museum

One thing that Belgium is famous for is its love for all things surreal.  René Magritte, one of the most famous surrealist painters, was from Lessines, in the French-speaking part of Belgium.  His work is celebrated in a new museum in the heart of Brussels.  It is possible to visit the museum in several different languages, including three sign languages.

The Red Star Line Museum

From 1871 to 1935, the Red Star Line, which had ports in Antwerp, Southampton and Liverpool, took European emigrants from many countries by boat to North America.  Two million passengers travelled on the ships, including some people who were to become famous.  The Red Star Line museum in Antwerp celebrates the stories of some of the passengers and reminds us that migration has always been and always will be part of the human experience.

Ghent (Gent)

Ghent is one of the main cities to visit in Flanders.  After Antwerp, it is the biggest city in Belgium, and is the capital of East Flanders.  It is built on a series of canals and is a port city.  It also has a prestigious university.  It is famous for its ten-day-long annual Gentse Feesten (Ghent Festival), which receives about 1-1.5 million visitors every year.


Huy is a town in the south of Belgium.  It is home to a huge ‘citadel’, an 1818 fortress that towers over the town.  The ‘Mur de Huy’ (Huy Wall) is a 128-metre high slope that is a feature of many cycle races in the country, including the Flèche Wallonne (Walloon Arrow), of which it is the finishing climb.  Every seven years, a religious procession commemorates the ending of a drought in 1656. The last one took place in 2012.

Béguinages / Begijnhoven

A beguinage is a building or series of buildings built to house beguines: religious women who lived in a community but did not take vows or retire from the world.  Belgium boasts a number of impressive and beautiful beguinages built around courtyards.  They are very peaceful places and offer a welcome (and surprisingly quiet) respite from the hubbub of the city.  This is a bit of a cheat because there is more than one beguinage but I couldn’t choose just one to mention!


I hope you enjoyed this whistle-stop tour of some of the sights Belgium has to offer.  Why not visit the country and send us a list of your favourite places?

Written by Suzannah Young

January 11, 2017

Book Review: My reading companions to Crete

What did I read when I travelled to Crete? A rather eclectic selection of travel writing, which I enjoyed reading and from which I learnt a lot more about Crete.

Greek Islands, Lonely Planet

I think I have a good relationship with the Lonely Planet guidebooks. I’ve been using them for a while and find them easy to use and follow, but I must mention that I only read their sight-seeing suggestions, I don’t check their recommendations on restaurants or accommodation.


Xenophobe’s Guide to the Greeks by Alexandra Fiada

If you read this blog, you will know I love this series and I adore the Xenophobe’s Guide to the Greeks written by the Athens-born Alexandra Fiada. The author introduces her culture with all the quirkiness it brings and entertains the reader with many examples of the funny habits, customs or obsessions the Greek have. A very pleasant read.


The Greek Islands by Lawrence Durrell

First published in 1978 and even now The Greek Islands by Lawrence Durrrell still gives us a flavour of the Islands. The chapter on Crete is a 50-page-long description of Cretan life, character, scenery and associated myths (with particular attention to the Minotaur: a half-man, half-bull creature). It is an informative, interesting read with some thought-provoking questions which Durrell himself attempts to answer.


The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller

Henry Miller was a very good friend of Lawrence Durrell, so I decided to also read about Miller’s travels to the Greek Islands in 1939. It is a beautifully written story of his life on the Greek Islands with some philosophical digressions here and there, like “I was never more certain that life and death are one and that neither can be enjoyed or embraced if the other be absent.” An excellent read, to be enjoyed on a deserted beach, perhaps?


What are your favourite reading companions to Crete? Please let me know in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

January 4, 2017

On Languages: Russian

What do we know about the Russian language?

Russian is the 5th most widely spoken language in the world with 277 million speakers. Russia itself has 142 million native speakers and is the world’s largest country. Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Due to the size of the Soviet Union a significant part of the world understands Russian.

Russian comes from the Slavic group of the Indo-European languages. Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian languages form the East Slavic part of this group.


The difficulties of learning Russian

The difficulties of learning Russian alphabet are often exaggerated. Though the Cyrillic alphabet is based on Greek, it still has a resemblance to Latin. There are 33 letters in the Russian alphabet, most of which are pronounced and read in words the same way as they are in the alphabet. You will be surprised how easily you can read Russian aloud once you have mastered the alphabet.

Russian words have one stressed syllable. The stressed syllable is longer and articulated more tensely than the unstressed ones. Unstressed vowels in Russian lose their full value.  An unstressed word without any syllable accented will still be perfectly correct and understood, especially when spoken by a foreigner.


A little bit about Grammar

  • Russian nouns have 3 genders: masculine, feminine and neuter, which are distinguished by the gender endings
  • there is no article in Russian: “the table” and “a table” are both translated “стол”
  • auxiliary verbs are hardly used in Russian, the present tense of “to be” is not used as it is in English, for example: He is here– Он тут
  • Russian is a language with a case system. Nouns appear in different cases, indicated by different endings, according to the role they fulfil in the sentence. There are 6 cases in Russian: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental and prepositional.
  • Each verb in Russian is conjugated based on person, number, tense and gender

It is important to know that the main difference between Russian and other languages is in the way of thinking: in the philosophy of the language. Understanding the mechanism of developing the language structure, including Russian word-building based on the semantic connection within groups of words which bind themselves to various aspects of life helps to reveal the philosophy of Russian and other Slavonic languages. Once this is understood, the language is not difficult.

Start reading as much as you can as soon as you master the alphabet.

Russian literature is best read in Russian to gain the full benefit of the richness of the language. Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment), Tolstoy (War and Peace), Pushkin (Eugene Onegin), Gogol (The Nose) and Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard) are all writers of international prominence and form just a small selection of the great Russian writers.

Written by Natalia Adkins