8 Mistakes That Haunt Language Learners (and How You Can Avoid Them!)

Posted on 29. Sep, 2014 by in Language Learning

Language learners of all abilities and backgrounds have something in common: they make mistakes—lots and lots of them. Language teachers and experts actually encourage making mistakes, as each false friend you employ and every verb conjugation you mangle is a learning opportunity. Learning by doing (even doing wrong) is powerful. So, keep on makin’ mistakes, language learners… as long as they’re productive mistakes.

Beware, though! Some language learners make the wrong kind of mistakes—disastrous errors actually prohibit them from improving and progressing. Are you inadvertently sabotaging your language-learning efforts? Check out this SlideShare to see which mistakes are haunting language learners, and learn how you can avoid them.

Not Ready to Completely Flip Your Language Classroom? Try the Sideways Classroom Model

Posted on 24. Sep, 2014 by in Language Learning, Trends

You’ve heard of it by now: the flipped classroom model. To oversimplify a bit, this educational model requires students to listen to traditional lectures (delivered in video format) at home, thereby freeing up classroom time for more interactive learning activities. Here at Transparent Language, we’re big fans of helping teachers flip language classrooms, but this model is not without its critics.

Image by Alan Levine on Flickr.com

Image by Alan Levine on Flickr.com

Asking students to take active responsibility for their own learning is a daunting step, both in terms of students’ discipline and their access to new technologies. All teachers know how hard it can be to motivate some students to do their homework. Asking them to watch and absorb lectures at home? Forget about it. Even in an ideal world where all students feel inspired to learn on their own time, it’s unrealistic to assume all students have access to computers, tablets, or internet at home. A WiFi connection may feel ubiquitous to those of us living in the land of smartphones and tablets, but the reality is that nearly 30% of households in America do not have internet access. So, while the flipped classroom model may allow teachers to fill class time with hands-on lessons and group activities, it’s not for every school, or every student.

But don’t flip out! There is a way to reap the benefits of flipped learning without turning your classroom on its head. You can ease into flipped learning by simply tilting your classroom to the sideways classroom model. Like the flipped classroom, a sideways classroom leverages technology to deliver instruction outside of the classroom, but does so via after-school programs. For a well-equipped school district, this alleviates concerns about at-home internet access and motivation. Students still consume video-based lectures, but in a controlled environment that provides all the necessary tools and supervision. This sideways setup still frees teachers from giving the same lectures repeatedly to multiple classes, and opens up classroom time for more applied, interactive lessons.

As author Emily Ko so nicely puts it in the Edudemic article:

“While flipped learning is about transferring control to students to make them more involved and more responsible for their learning experience, sideways learning is about making learning and study tools accessible to all students. The delay [between] the lesson and feedback is minimized, and there is greater connection between students, study groups, and teachers.”

This flipped classroom alternative is ideal for schools equipped with computer labs and similar technology, lessening the burden on students and giving teachers the quality classroom time they work so hard for. So, if the “flip” seems like too great a leap, consider working with your school administration to tilt your language classroom a bit to one side instead.

Have you flipped or tilted your language classroom? What advice do you have for other teachers considering the change?

Looking for language-learning technology to integrate into your flipped or sideways classroom? Check out Transparent Language Online and see how other schools have benefited from the program.

Silly French Numbers: “Four Twenties and Ten” or “Ninety”?

Posted on 22. Sep, 2014 by in Language Learning

Itchy Feet: Four Twenties and Nonsense

Last summer I spent a little over a month in the DRC, or Democratic Republic of Congo, for work. As the DRC is a Francophone country, and my trilingual colleague did not feature French on his résumé of tongues, it was up to me to break out my rusty français.

It did not go as well as it could have.

I hadn’t spoken a word of the language of love since I left Morocco almost two years prior, and even then it was teetering between “conversational” and “insulting.” I never studied French a day in my life, and in fact French was never on my to-do list until I moved to Lyon for . . . well, for love. Go figure.

So I wasn’t the best-prepared French speaker in the Congo. We had a driver (it wasn’t a fancy thing—if you don’t want to get stopped by military police looking for bribes, you need a driver and a mean-looking Jeep) and I recall joking to him that my French wasn’t very good. “It’s true,” he said seriously. “Your French is not very good.”

I also had a hard time with the local accent. In Western DRC, the local language is Lingala, which is an extremely simplified vernacular with about 7 words (give or take). As such, they fill in the considerable blanks with French, or French-ish Congolese slang, and these odd figures of speech and idiosyncratic jargon bled into their regular French. Even on a good day, it’s tough to understand a native French speaker going all-out, but add to that a layer of linguistic color Congolese-style, and you might find yourself quite lost.

That said, there were certain quite wonderful aspects. The first, of course, is that since for the locals French is an adopted language, nobody really cared if you butchered it. They did it too (probably on purpose, to spite the former colonies). The second were the fun little phrases you did pick up—for instance, a common greeting in French is the simple ça va? This just means, “going well?” The usual response is ça va again (“yep, going well”) or, if you’re really off your game, ça va mal (“going badly”). In the Congo, they would rarely admit to things going badly. Rather, they said ça va en peu (“going well, a little bit”). It’s such a subtle understatement, it’s almost too French.

But the final specific thing I loved about Congolese French was that they didn’t use the utterly absurd French counting system, as demonstrated in the above comic (essentially, for 70, 80, 90 they literally say “sixty-ten,” “four-twenties,” and “four-twenties-ten.” This can get confusing very fast if you’re not used to it). For you see, the DRC used to be the Belgian Congo, so they’re actually speaking Belgian French. And in Belgium, like in Switzerland, they use the perfectly reasonable and civilized system of saying “seventy, eighty, ninety,” for which I love them.

Funnily enough, I looked into it, and it turns out that nobody really knows why the French still use this bizarre way of counting. We do know that in the Middle Ages, it was even worse—they had vingt et dis (“twenty-and-ten,” for 30), deux vingts (“two twenties,” for 40), trois vingts (“three twenties,” for 60) and even quinze-vingts (“fifteen twenties,” for 300). Maybe they wanted to teach everyone basic arithmetic and this was the only thing they could think of.

But have no fear! Those days, grâce à Dieu, are dead and gone.

So if you’re studying French or living in France, and your daily life is made a little bit more miserable thanks to their silly way of counting, just know that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can always move to Belgium, or Switzerland, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

That’s ça va beaucoup (“going well, a lot”) if you ask me.

What about you? Are you learning a language and struggling with something that isn’t at all difficult in other languages?