May 31, 2017

Travelling Corner: Prague with Kids

Planning to visit Prague with your kids? I visited Prague with my daughter and would like to share some of our favourite spots. Let’s start!

Prague with Kids-3

Aquapark & Ice-rink

If you’re into sport, you will enjoy going to sport centres in Prague. I particularly enjoyed the aqua park AquaDream Barrandov which is not far away from the city centre (you need to go by tube and then a few stops by tram). I visited at the weekend and on a week day and both times it wasn’t too crowded. In winter, there are many ice-rinks around the city (both outdoor and indoor) which are not too expensive, but check their opening hours before going there (especially the indoor ones).

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The Prague Zoo is an impressive size and has a lot to offer. There are many species of animal (including polar bears, elephants, hippos, monkeys, flamingos, etc.) as well as playgrounds, cafes and even a chairlift to the hill. Even though it was winter, we all enjoyed our visit. There were elephant families with the little ones and we found the little elephants so adorably clumsy in the mud.

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Concert halls

Why not have some cultural treats when travelling abroad? And what’s more, let’s enjoy them with our kids! We went to a wonderful concert sung by children at the theatre Stavovské divadlo. The tickets were inexpensive and the whole experience was magical!

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Divadlo Říše loutek

Prague is famous for their marionette puppet theatre Divadlo Říše loutek. The performance we attended was entertaining and our daughter really enjoyed the story. Even if you don’t speak Czech, I would recommend going, especially for the marionette puppets, decorations and music.

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La Veranda

It was a treat at La Veranda. The food was truly scrumptious (!!!) and if you visit on Saturday from 12-4pm, they have a children’s corner there. Worth booking, especially at weekends.

Prague with kids

Have you been to Prague with kids? What were your favourite spots? Please share in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

May 24, 2017

Learning a Language: Learn Spanish with BLS online & FREE!

We would like to introduce a new series of blog posts/videos where we teach you some useful phrases in different languages. Sounds amazing? Let’s start with Spanish!


Learning a language -- useful phrases in Spanish 2

Are you planning your summer holiday in Spain? Do you travel frequently to Madrid? Do you dream of exploring South America?

If so, we would like you to taste & learn some essential Spanish first. Below you’ll find a list of useful phrases in Spanish (greetings, polite phrases, closed question words, numerals & simple questions and sentences).

We also video recorded Noelia, our Spanish tutor to help you with reading, pronunciation and accent (available on YouTube).

We hope you’re going to enjoy this series and that you’ll come and learn Spanish with us! Good luck!

learning a language -- useful phrases in Spanish 1

Which language would like you like to learn next? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

May 17, 2017

Learning a Language: As easy as ABC? How to learn a new alphabet or writing system

When you learn a new language, you may have to learn to use a new alphabet or writing system too.  An alphabet is a set of letters that is used to write a language.  The letters represent sounds in the spoken language.  Other types of writing systems, that do not use alphabets, use characters that represent syllables or words rather than sounds.  A few of the languages you can learn at BLS (Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian) use an alphabet other than the Roman alphabet (the one English is written in) or a different writing system. Even some of the languages that do use the Roman alphabet have characters that are not used in English (e.g. Czech, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish).[1]

learning a language -- how to learn a new alphabet

Learning a new alphabet or writing system is not something we are necessarily used to doing (except if you specialise in maths, music or computing, perhaps), but it can be done.  These tips below should give you some pointers on how to go about learning and remembering a new alphabet or writing system.  It may only take a few hours or days to learn the system, actually – but then of course you need to keep practising it to make sure it sticks in your mind!  It is a good idea to try and learn the alphabet or writing system as soon as you can as it will make things easier as you go on.  It is harder to unlearn a substitute system you are using, like transliterating the sounds with an English alphabet that it is to learn the writing system of the language you are learning from the word ‘go’.  The language will make more sense to you as a whole as well if you learn the alphabet that it is written in.

Learn how the writing system works

First things first: familiarize yourself with how the writing system works.  What is different about it? Does it use syllables or consonants and vowels?  Are the vowels written above the letters? Does it connect its letters?  Do you read it horizontally, vertically, left to right or right to left?  This helps you get a feel for the writing system or alphabet and means there shouldn’t be too many surprises when you are learning what the words are.

Associate letter shapes with familiar objects

Try to associate the shapes of letters with familiar objects: some letters may look like letters or numerals in your own alphabet, others may remind you of animals, objects or people. You can use the word association technique we looked at in a previous post to help you think of stories to go with these animals or people to help you remember the sound/word the letter or character represents.  A good example from this webpage is how to memorise the Japanese character の, which is pronounced “no”.  The character looks like a “do not” sign, which you can associate with the phrase “no smoking”, which gives you the “no” sound represented by the character.  This blog post recommends doing this for every character and abandoning ‘romanisation’ (trying to transliterate sounds into the Roman alphabet) altogether.  Actually, in Chinese and Japanese, some of the characters already do this for you, because they developed from trying to represent objects visually anyway.  Sometimes you can recognise what they are, such as the symbol for moon in Mandarin Chinese, 月亮, part of which, 月, is used to write the month of the year (一月 January, 二月 February, 三 月 March, and so on).  The concept of months arose with the cycle of moon phases, so this makes sense.

Also try to see whether letters are similar to each other; this can mean that they have a similar sound.  For example, the sound ‘ga’ in Japanese is represented by the symbol が, which looks like the symbol for ‘ka’(か) with two apostrophes added to it.

Learn a few letters or characters a time

Try to learn the letters or symbols a few at time rather than all in one go.  Try to learn them according to a system as well.  For example, in Japanese, the symbols can be grouped by initial consonant sound, e.g. か(ka), き(ki), く(ku), け(ke), こ(ko) or final vowel sound e.g. か(ka), さ(sa), た(ta), な(na), は(ha), ま(ma), や(ya), ら(ra), わ(wa) and so on.  You can use flash cards or another system to look at the letters, symbols or words repeatedly and remember them.  Try to learn at least one word that uses each letter or character you have learned (this takes longer with a writing system than with an alphabet!).

You should be careful of letters that look like letters in the alphabet you already use but are ‘false friends’, i.e. they look like letters you already know but do not have the same sound. For example, in Russian the following letters look like English letters but are pronounced differently: B = [v], H = [n], C = [s] and P = [r]. As an example, the Russian word ‘PECTOPAH’ means ‘restaurant’ and can be transliterated as RESTORAN.  This can be the case when you learn languages that do use the Roman alphabet too, where the same letters have different sounds.  Have a look at these Italian words as an example: the ‘z’ in ‘zaino’ is pronounced ‘dz’ (‘dzaino’), ‘gli’ is pronounced a bit like ‘lyi’ and the ‘c’ in ‘cena’ is pronounced a bt like ‘ch’ in ‘cheese’ (‘tʃena’), which is not what you might expect from how those letters are pronounced in English.

Write the letters or characters out a hundred times

It really helps you to memorise the letters or characters if you write them out by hand.  Trying to memorise them by looking at them in a book or on a computer screen will not be as effective as if you write them down.  This is because writing engages your brain in a more active way than reading does.  Practice writing the letters as often as possible.  If you find it helpful to learn them by following a pattern, write them down according to that pattern.  Learning the standard way to write the letters: i.e. the shape, direction and order of strokes, will help you to memorise them and help you to write them legibly.  If you can find teaching materials that children use to learn to write at school, that will help a lot.  If the language you are learning uses special paper to teach people to write on, try to get hold of that.  For example, Chinese languages use writing sheets with boxes and grid lines to help you keep the characters to a uniform size and shape.  If you can, take a calligraphy or writing class.  This will help you improve your handwriting and get used to other people’s handwriting and computer fonts.  Getting used to people’s handwriting is useful even if you are not learning a different alphabet as people form letters in different ways in different countries.  Here is an article about how French people learn to write, for example.

Read anything you can get your hands on

Read texts written in the new alphabet as often as you can. Even if you don’t know all the letters or characters yet, you will be able to make out some of the words and to guess the others. Look out for people’s names, place names and loan words from your own language as these can be easy to recognise.  Label things around your home or office in the new alphabet. This will help you recognise key words and phrases.

At first you may have to sound out letters individually before being able to decipher the words.  Later on, you will be able to recognise words by their shapes and will only need to sound out the letters of unfamiliar words. You probably went through the same process when learning to read your native language.  Even writing systems such with Chinese and Japanese characters can be learnt by breaking them down into parts.  Try to read aloud in your new alphabet as often as you can as this will help you get used to the sounds the letters or characters represent.

Online material and apps

There are lots of tips on how to learn new alphabets or writing systems on the internet, such as this forum.  You can find exercises to help you learn too.  There are also several apps specifically for learning and practicing alphabets, and you can even find less common languages there too.

I hope you enjoy learning a new alphabet or writing system and feel proud of your achievement!

[1] E.g. á, à, ä, â, ą, ǎ, ć, ç, é, è, ë, ê, ę, î, ì, ï, ll, ł, ñ, ň, ô, ò, ǒ, ö, ř, ś, ß, ť, û, ù, ü, ú, ǔ, ů, ý, ż, ź, ž.

Written by Suzannah Young

May 10, 2017

Learning a Language: Learning Vocabulary with Word Association Techniques

There are several techniques that can help you learn and remember vocabulary in the language you are learning.  In this post, we will explore techniques that help you remember what a word means by associating it with an image in your mind.  Association links new information with old information stored in your memory.  If you link a word with an image, it can be linked with other information already stored in your memory and so you will remember it better.  For example, to remember a person’s name, you can relate it to a feature of their appearance.  Here are a few more examples of using images to help you remember vocabulary.

learning a language--word association techniques

Linkword Technique

The Linkword mnemonic (memory-aid) technique, developed by Michael Gruneberg, uses an image to link a word in one language with a word in another language. Here are some examples from French vocabulary for English speakers: the word for “rug” or “carpet” in French is “tapis”.  To remember this, the Linkword technique says you should imagine an image of an oriental rug with the picture of a tap woven into it in chrome thread.  “Tap” is found at the beginning of “tapis” so should help you remember the word when you visualise a rug.  Next, the word for “grumpy” is “grognon”, so you should imagine a grumpy man groaning – “groan” sounds like “grognon” so should help you remember it.  Other examples from German and Spanish are: to remember “Raupe” (German for “caterpillar”), you should imagine a caterpillar with a rope around its middle.  To remember the Spanish word for cat, “gato”, you can imagine a cat eating a chocolate cake, or “gateau”.

Visualisation Technique

It is not always necessary to think of words in your own language in the visualisation.  It is also possible to learn vocabulary by associating the word with an image.  This technique uses the idea that when you hear a word, you visualise things that are associated with it in your mind.  For example, when you hear “bird”, you think of what a bird looks like.  When you hear “sweet”, you think of things that taste or smell sweet such as desserts or flowers.  This is how we understand the word’s meaning, according to this technique.

Teachers teaching languages can show students a picture representing the meaning of a word they are trying to teach them.  Otherwise, they can act out the meaning.  They can ask students to think of things that are associated with the word, such as food if the word is “tasty” or a successful or hardworking person if the word is “ambitious” (and abstract concept).  If you are learning by yourself, you can draw pictures of the words you are learning or think about images that the word conjures up.

This visualisation technique can also help you learn connotations of words (ideas or feelings that a word invokes beyond its literal meaning).

The Town Language Mnemonic

An extended example of the visualisation technique is the town language mnemonic developed by Dominic O’Brien.   It is based on the idea that the core vocabulary of a language relates to everyday things – which can typically be found in a town or village. To use this technique, you should choose a town you are familiar with and use objects there as cues to recall images that link to words in your new language.  Here are some examples:

Nouns in the town

Nouns should be associated with locations where you might find them: the word for “book” should be associated with an image in your mind of a book on a shelf in the library. The word for “bread” should be associated with an image of a loaf in a bakery.  Words for vegetables should be associated with a greengrocer’s shop. If there is a farm outside the town it can help you remember the names of animals.

Adjectives in the park

Adjectives should be associated with a park in the town: words like “green”, “small”, “cold”.  People in the park can help you remember adjectives for different characteristics or hair colour or

Verbs in the gym

Verbs can be associated with a gym or playing field. This allows you to make associations for “lift”, “run”, “walk”, “hit”, “eat”, “swim”, “drive”, etc.

Try It Yourself

As well as being powerful tools for learning and memorising vocabulary, these techniques can be fun and can keep you interested in learning new words.  Lists of words can be useful too but images can help jog your memory.  You may remember the words better if you write them on a whiteboard too – you are active and moving around when you do this so your brain is stimulated more than when you are sitting at a desk.  We hope you find these tips useful.  Let us know if they work for you!

Written by Suzannah Young

May 3, 2017

On Languages: German

German (Deutsch in German) is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe but is also found all over the world.  German has a broad range of dialects that are spoken in Europe and further afield.  It is an official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), Belgium, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.  It is also recognised as a minority language in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Namibia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, the Vatican City and Venezuela. There are German-speaking communities in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Paraguay, New Zealand and Peru as well.

on languages--german

German is the most widely spoken native language in the European Union.  Standard German (Hoch Deutsch) has about 95 million native speakers.  Around 30 million people speak other varieties of German as their first language too.  About 80 million people speak German as a second language, and many others study it as a foreign language.  It is the third most widely taught foreign language in the EU (after English and French), the second-most widely used scientific language and the third most widely used language on the internet (after English and Russian).

What is the German language like?

Learning these few facts about German grammar will give you a head start if you want to learn the language.

One of the particularities of German is that has three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter.  You can sometimes tell the gender of a noun from its ending: for example, words ending in –ung (-ing), -schaft (-ship), -keit or –heit (-hood, -ness) are feminine, words ending in -chen or -lein (diminutives) are neuter and nouns ending in -ismus (-ism) are masculine.  You can’t always tell just by looking at a word, though, and some endings are used for more than one gender, e.g. -er (see for example Feier (f.), celebration, party, Arbeiter (m.), labourer, and Gewitter (n.), thunderstorm).  German capitalises all its nouns.

German nouns also take four cases: nominative, accusative, genitive and dative.  Cases show the role a noun is playing in a sentence.  The nominative case shows the subject of a sentence.  The accusative shows the direct object of a sentence, i.e. the thing having the action done to it.  The dative is used for the indirect object of a sentence, i.e. the thing being affected by the action.  Finally, the genitive is used to show possession, i.e. who something belongs to.  Read more about cases here.

German is a descriptive language. Nouns are often made by combining an object and a verb, such as der Staubsauger – the vacuum cleaner, consisting of the noun Staub, ‘dust’ and the verb saugen, ‘to suck’, so a vacuum cleaner is a ‘dustsucker’.  Another example is das Fernsehen – ‘the television’, combining the words fern, ‘far’, and sehen, ‘watching’, so the television is literally the ‘far-watching’.  The longest German word is Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft (Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services) made up of 79 characters!  Most German vocabulary is of Germanic origin but it also has quite a few loanwords from other languages, mostly Latin, Greek, Italian and French.  English words have recently started finding their way into German vocabulary too.  There is even a word for them: ‘Denglish’, (the D is for Deutsch).  This makes for words such as die Airconditioning – air conditioning, babysitten – to babysit, joggen – to go jogging or running, das Handy – the mobile phone.  There are also many loanwords from German in the English language.  Here are a few examples: abseilen – to abseil; Bildungsroman; Delikatessen, Doppelgänger, Glockenspiel, Kindergarten, Leitmotiv (leitmotif in English), plündern – to plunder, Poltergeist, Schadenfreude, Wanderlust, Wunderkind and Zeitgeist.

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Where can I learn German?

If you are not content with speaking Denglish, you can do a course in German at Bristol Language School! You can take Complete Beginner’s, Beginner’s Plus, Elementary, Upper-Elementary, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced German courses.  We also offer one-to-one tuition.

Several organisations promote the use and learning of the German language, such as the Goethe-Institut, Verein Deutsche Sprache and Deutsche Welle.  They can help you find German courses and have online exercises too.  There are also many websites where you can learn German, such as the BBC website, Alison and Deutsch-Lernen.  You will find more general information on the German language and courses here.

Viel Spaß!

Written by Suzannah Young