My best languages lesson: putting Spanish into practice with online books

Knowing that creative lessons are the ones that stick, José Picardo gets his Spanish class to write and produce their own virtual stories

Harry and Mukul

My best languages lesson: Harry and Mukul are really proud of the online Spanish book they created as part of their languages project. Photograph: Jose Picardo

My fondest memories of school are of the occasions when I made stuff. When I think about what other aspects of my learning I enjoyed most, I always come back to the basic principle of creativity. Getting me involved in creative tasks that result in tangible outcomes was one of the principal ways in which my teachers ensured that I remained engaged and enjoyed the process of learning.

Technology today gives us the tools and the possibility to enjoy making stuff and exercise our pupil’s creativity in new ways; now you can make stuff virtually as well as actually. My classes and I exploit these new possibilities by regularly embarking on projects which require exercising creative skills and, in so doing, allow us to go far beyond the confines of the curriculum and the walls of our classroom.

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Mistakes in learning foreign language

Admittedly, learning a foreign language is not easy. There is a myth that intelligent people better while learning the language. Indeed, the ability of language learning is influenced by daily habits formed through discipline and self-awareness.

Yet learning a foreign language will be more difficult if you make five errors. What are the common mistakes that ordinary people do when learning a foreign language?

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Thinking in a Foreign Language: How to Do It and Why

By Sam Gendreau

Thinking in a foreign language

Thinking in a foreign language is an important step in the long road that is fluency in a foreign language, but it’s a step that, for some reason, many language learners tend to ignore. Thinking in the language you are learning is not necessarily easy, but it’s something you can practice at any time of the day. Chances are you will NOT wake up one day thinking in a foreign language just because you’ve been learning it for X amount of months/years. Well, it can happen eventually, but I’d like to suggest an alternative that is a bit more, shall we say, efficient, and that will both jump-start your vocabulary acquisition and your fluency. What I’m proposing is that thinking in a new language is a decision you can make, and that you should make from Day 1.

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How to teach … languages creatively

The Guardian

The Eiffel Tower, Paris: inject some passion into your language lessons

The Eiffel Tower, Paris: inject some passion into your language lessons. Photograph: Eurostar

With languages becoming compulsory in primary schools from September 2013, but overall numbers of language students at GCSE, A-level and university declining at an alarming rate, there couldn’t be a better time to find inspiration in language teaching and learning. The Guardian Teacher Network has some resources to help inject energy and passion into language learning and teaching across all stages.

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Stephen Krashen on Language Acquisition

An interesting video on language acquisition.

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What Can Foreign Language Learners Teach Writers?

This guest post is by Write Practice Regular Afshin Mohammadi. Afshin is a writer and foreign language teacher in Iran. You can follow Afshin on Google+.

I recently presented a paper on how creative writing exercises appear to be useful in the foreign language learning  classroom. My findings were surprising. I found that writing stories can help language learners become better language users and, concurrently, allow them to become better creative writers.

Language Learning

Photo by Clever Claire

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‘Unborn babies can learn languages’: study

A Swedish-American team of researchers claims that babies begin learning their native tongue when they are still in the womb.

'Unborn babies can learn languages': study

“We showed that the foetus during the last ten weeks of the pregnancy not only listens to but remembers and learns languages,” Patricia Kuhl at the Washington University Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences told the BBC.

It was already known that babies during their last weeks in the womb could recognize their mother’s voice and vocal melody. After studying newborns, however, a Swedish-American team of scientists proved that the babies had learned a lot more than that.
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Learn Chinese Promptly

learning Chinese

Image Credits: Flickr

There have been recent debates on the best and easiest ways that people can use in order to learn foreign languages quickly. This is due to globalization and the need to work in a foreign land far from home. Well, if you are one of those people who have been called to work in China then this is the best time for you to learn a new language. The question that you should be asking yourself is: What are the best ways to learning Chinese? In order to learn Chinese in the most convenient way, consider the following advices and make a good use of them:

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Learning Chinese is Fun

There’s no question about it, Chinese is a difficult language to learn. And you are right to tell yourself that you can get by in China without any Chinese. But before you take the easy way out, take a moment to consider the advantages of learning Chinese for business.

First, even basic Chinese conversation skills can be an enormous help if you are doing business in China. Whether you are attending a conference or going out to dinner, even minimal Chinese is enough to give you at least a sense of what is going on around you. This is a good feeling and the more you learn, the better it gets.

Speaking Chinese opens doors for you. The moment you say “你好” (“ni hao” or “hello”) Chinese will smother you with flattery about your great language abilities, laughing at your amusing pronunciation at the same time. But Chinese are proud of their language and at the end of the day, they respect foreigners who take the time to learn some Chinese.

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10 Free Foreign Language Learning Resources


10 Free Foreign Language Learning Resources | Inkwell Scholars

Start Learning A Foreign Language Today.

Looking for a way to boost your brain power? Why not learn a foreign language? Here’s a few from great suggestions courtesy of

Research from the National Education Association shows that speaking a foreign language enhances knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary, sharpens memory, strengthens listening skills, and improves reading comprehension. One study found that students scored significantly higher in math and language arts after one semester of foreign language study 90 minutes per week.

In this post, I’ve compiled 10 of the best free online language learning resources that you can use to kick off your foreign language studies.

If you are already studying a foreign language at school or independently, you can use these resources to supplement your studies. Keep in mind that the best way to gain conversational fluency in a second language is to converse in person with a native speaker.

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Benefits of Learning Spanish as Second Language

For millions of people, Spanish is their mother language, and millions more speak Spanish as a second language. Apart from the fact that this romance language is fun to learn, there are many benefits associated with learning it. Whether you are travelling to countries where they speak this language predominantly, or are hoping to do business with Spaniards or Latin America, it is all worth the trouble to learn Spanish.

Use of Internet

spanish-internetThe world is gradually becoming a village, meaning that we meet new people from diverse backgrounds every day. You may be surprised to learn that most of those you meet on a daily basis have at least some basic knowledge of Spanish. Given that most people spend more time on the internet than anywhere else these days, some knowledge of Spanish may provide a boost when it comes to making new friends. It could be great to chat in your newly learnt language, even if you make some mistakes.

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Child’s Second Language: Advantage, Distraction?

Research has proven that a child is ready to learn a second language since their early months!

You decide to teach your child one or two foreign languages and one day you find him coming over to you, shouting “Mummy! Awez miel on my yougurt!”(I want honey on my yogurt; mixing Arabic, French and English).

You panic and think to yourself, “What have I done!”  Well, don’t take it all too seriously, because it could turn out that you have done them one of the greatest favors in their entire life.

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How foetuses learn language

Two women, one pregnant, talk on a park bench Listening in: foetuses in the last ten weeks of pregnancy can process human speech

Babies are born with the ability to recognise familiar sounds and language patterns, according to new research. A glimpse into the fast-moving minds of infants.

Mastering a foreign language can be a frustrating experience and one that gets harder as we age. The younger you start, the easier it seems to be.

Now researchers in the US and Sweden have found evidence that we start learning language before we’re even born.

The study discovered that in the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, foetuses are listening to their mothers communicate. And when they are born, they can show what they’ve heard.

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ShaoLan: Learn to read Chinese … with ease!

For foreigners, learning to speak Chinese is a hard task. But learning to read the beautiful, often complex characters of the Chinese written language may be less difficult. ShaoLan walks through a simple lesson in recognizing the ideas behind the characters and their meaning — building from a few simple forms to more complex concepts. Call it Chineasy.

ShaoLan Hsueh has been a tech writer, an investor and entrepreneur, who now focuses on teaching Chinese through an engaging new method.

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What does English sound like to foreigners?

Ever imitated a language by speaking total gibberish? C’mon. We’ve all done it.

Any world traveler has invariably been faced with that awkward language-learning moment of trying to fake an accent. Unfortunately, reshaping the very motions of your mouth is the one necessary embarrassment to developing fluency.

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European and Asian languages traced back to single mother tongue

Eurasiatic languages from Portugal to Siberia form ‘superfamily’ with root in southern Europe 15,000 years ago, scientists claim

Bark chippings

The words for bark in at least four of the languages studied were found to have a common root. Photograph: Alamy

Languages spoken by billions of people across Europe and Asia are descended from an ancient tongue uttered in southern Europe at the end of the last ice age, according to research.

The claim, by scientists in Britain, points to a common origin for vocabularies as varied as English and Urdu, Japanese and Itelmen, a language spoken along the north-eastern edge of Russia.

The ancestral language, spoken at least 15,000 years ago, gave rise to seven more that formed an ancient Eurasiatic “superfamily”, the researchers say. These in turn split into languages now spoken all over Eurasia, from Portugal to Siberia.

“Everybody in Eurasia can trace their linguistic ancestry back to a group, or groups, of people living around 15,000 years ago, probably in southern Europe, as the ice sheets were retreating,” said Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at Reading University.

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A strategy for language learning

lingosteve has some interesting videos on language learning

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Could the United States become bilingual?

Could the U.S. become bilingual?

Could the U.S. become bilingual? (shutterstock)

Luis Clemens in his well-crafted, and truly thought-provoking post in CodeSwitch (April 28, 2013), hits us hard with the question: “Will Spanish survive as a language widely spoken by Latinos in the United States?” My answer is “no”, as I have stated often in several of my writings… but I have a plausible and arguable scheme to make it survive.

Luis Clemens’ arguments can be found in my earlier post at VOXXI, “Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby’s misguided fears of Spanish,” where I discuss Gabriel Gomez’s run for the US senate, speaking “lousy” Spanish, as Mr. Clemens calls inadequate knowledge of the language. In his article Luis Clemens charges against actor Vin Diesel.

He is right: by third generation, Spanish, or any other language, becomes so diluted it ends up boiling down to “gracias”, “mi gente” and other similar expressions. He also points out that “Certainly, there are thousands and thousands of Latino parents who are working hard to ensure the language of Cervantes thrives in the United States.” In my article “Keeping the Hispanic Heritage”, VOXXI, July 25, 2012, I explained about the University of California, Riverside, and Dr. James Parr’s efforts to bring Hispanics to Madrid to improve their Spanish Language and learn about their roots. No small feat. But the effort is there.

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We Have ALL Five Thai Tones in English Too!


I’m always running into foreigners learning Thai (or giving excuses on why they can’t learn Thai) who say, “I can’t hear the tones. English doesn’t have tones”.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble or take away yet another excuse about why you can’t learn Thai… BUT…

In English we have ALL of the five tones used in Thai. We just use them for different things. Plain and simple, in Thai the tones are used to delineate words, use a different tone, get a different word. However, in English we use tones to carry emotive value. No one, not even Stephen Hawking (who speaks thru a computer generated voice), speaks English without using tones. It’d be a very robotic and flat language if we did.

Here’s my take on how we use the five Thai tones in our every day spoken English. And we do it totally without thinking.

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Good things that come from studying a foreign language

Korean temple in autumn

Hey guys! This week we have a guest post from Billy, hailing from Billy initially caught my attention with his professional-looking, entertaining, and instructive YouTube videos on how to learn Korean. Billy speaks Korean fluently, a language he started learning back in 2005. Besides Korean, he has a good command of Japanese, and has studied French, Mandarin, and Cantonese in the past.

Hope you enjoy today’s post, and don’t forget to visit Billy’s site and say hi!

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Parallel influences in language

To paraphrase John Donne: No language is an island, entire of itself. And the death of a language diminishes all of us because languages are part of mankind.

In more ways than one, languages are intertwined and not one escapes the influence of other tongues. Dominant languages, world languages, borrow heavily from less favored ones, less favored economically or politically, of course, which in turn pilfer terminology from their big brothers. This has been going on since the dawn of our species but now the interrelationships are more numerous and faster. For good or for bad, we have now a small world, a truly smaller world.

It has been said that a more powerful and developed culture imposes its language on the underdogs. Not so.

Spanish and English belong to two different language branches. The former is a Romance language that evolved from Latin, like French, Portuguese, Italian, for example. The latter is Germanic and arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England. It is, of course, related to Dutch and German. These facts are well known.

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English is trying to colonize world languages

English is trying to colonize world languages.

Through illegal immigration, English is trying to colonize world languages, especially the variety of Spanish spoken in the Iberian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)

Through illegal immigration, English is trying to colonize world languages, especially the variety of Spanish spoken in the Iberian Peninsula. English words are coming in illegally, taking over the jobs of native words which are being displaced. The native Castilian vocabulary is protesting to the cry of: “Illegal English words, go home!”

English is the most taught language in the world and has become important in trade, business, science, politics, law, health and sports. The influence of English is seeping into all world languages by means of vocabulary, idiomatic expressions and vogue slogans. No country and no language are safe from being embattled by the attacks of English words that push their way into everyday vocabulary, especially the parlance of the young.

English sells, of course, and that is why advertising companies would rather use an English word instead of a native, local one, because it sounds trendy, catchier, snobbish… whatever. With portable Internet, we can all have instant access to what is happening in the U.S. in real time, right now, this very instant. Internet is teeming with English words eager and willing to colonize other tongues.

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Breaking the language barrier

The Thai and Cambodian governments are locked in a contentious legal case over disputed border territory, but at the social level, the shared cultural space of the two neighbours is evident and inevitable. As an example, we talk to a Thai woman who teaches Khmer to Thais and a Cambodian man who taught himself Thai from childhood _ and they believe there will be no winners or losers, no matter how the court rules.

Sompen Krutanon speaks Khmer as fluently as she does Thai. Born in the Northeast and once a resident of Phnom Penh, she returned to Bangkok two years ago and is now teaching Khmer language courses at Chandrakasem Rajabhat University and privately. In the process she’s become a small bridge that can perhaps narrow the perceived difference between the two nations.

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Spanish language influence over English began earlier than we think.. and continues

Spanish - English

Antonio de Nebrija. (

English language borrowings from Spanish began earlier than people might think, probably as soon as Spain became a vast Empire and its weight in the world awed European nations. Perhaps it all started in 1492 with the discovery of America and Antonio de Nebrija’s Spanish Grammar (Gramática castellana), the first in a vulgar language.

Dr. John Simpson, Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the most influential lexicographer in English, favored me with a prologue for my “The New Dictionary of Current Sayings and Proverbs, English and Spanish” where he says: “My introduction to Spanish proverbs occurred when I was working on the letter A for the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. The earliest piece of evidence I had for the proverb. It takes all sorts to make a world come from Thomas Shelton’s seventeenth-century English translation of Don Quixote: ‘In the world there must be of all sorts.’ I think the information has stuck with me all these years because I wasn’t expecting the first reference to an English proverb to come from a Spanish source. I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting this: After all, English (at least since the Norman Conquest) shares much of its … heritage with the countries of continental Europe.”

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The truth about being bilingual

In a recent news story, a first-base umpire threatened to eject players and a coach from a baseball game for speaking Spanish. His demand was not in response to any complaint being registered, rather, the English-speaking official’s objection ultimately was rooted in his own personal inability to understand what was being said.

The umpire’s protest underlies a common misconception about being bilingual. Many who speak only one language assume that a bilingual’s language use is the result of a conscious choice. Consequently, it’s often presumed that if a Spanish-English bilingual uses Spanish in the presence of someone who speaks only English, they must have intentionally chosen to do so in an effort to conceal something from the English speaker. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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