Pinguistics: Using Pinterest to Learn a Language

Posted on 26. Nov, 2014 by in Language Learning, Trends

Many of you are probably already pinning away on Pinterest, a social media network in the form of an online pinboard. From recipes, hairstyle ideas, DIY crafts, and workout tutorials to frivolous puppy pictures, Pinterest has something for everyone. That includes you, language learners. If you haven’t considered it before, curating a Pinerest board centered around your language of interest is a fun (even addicting, I admit) way to stay engaged when you don’t feel like doing something dense or tedious.


When I don’t feel like reading the French news or cracking open a textbook, you can probably find me pinning up a storm on my Pinterest board, lovingly named Francophilia. But what, exactly, is there to be found on this platform? Here’s an inside look at my board, if you need some inspiration:

Inspirational pins:

Speaking of inspiration, Pinterest is a great source of it! My board is full of all things French that make me want to learn the language more than ever. There’s nothing like some stunning photos of the shores of Nice, the mountains of Grenoble, the quaint lanes of Colmar, and the bustling cafes of Paris to rejuvenate my desire to learn French. Perusing Pinterest for inspiration just might remind why you’re putting in the effort to learn another language.


Travel pins:

If you’re lucky enough to be heading abroad to put your language skills to use, Pinterest can be your guide. More than inspiration, these destination pins can help you plan your itinerary (or your bucket list, if it’s a little further off).pinterest3

Language pins:

It’s not all fantasies, of course. Pinterest is a great source for learning materials, too! Search for vocabulary—I’m always impressed at how fun learning vocabulary can be when it’s presented to me in a fun visual, like the ones below. Beyond simple vocabulary, Pinterest is a mecca for authentic language, from quotes to idioms to slang.pinterest4pinterest6


Recipe pins:

Pinterest is well-known for it’s collection of recipes. What better way to engage with another culture than to try their food?pinterest7


Culture pins:

While we’re talking about culture, you might also find pins about daily life in your target country. I’ve been able to find pins about social norms, taboos, holiday traditions, and beyond.pinterest8

Resource pins:

Pinterest is also a great way to organize your resources. Each pin links out to an external site, making it a great medium for discovering foreign music, books, movies, blogs, news sources, etc.pinterest9

Best of all, you can add your own pins. If you find a blog post you particularly enjoy (maybe even from one of our language and culture blogs!), you can add it as a pin.

So, if you’re not already creating language boards on Pinterest, what are you waiting for? And if you’ve beat me to the punch, share a link to your board(s) in the comments. I’d love to see what you’re all pinning!

“Hey Kids!”: Learning a Language with Your Children

Posted on 24. Nov, 2014 by in Language Learning

Image by Phil Dowsing Creative on Flickr

Image by Phil Dowsing Creative on Flickr

From carting them around to school, practice, recitals and beyond, to feeding them three square meals each day, making sure they’re doing their homework, and trying to fit our own personal needs in there somewhere, our children often become our excuse not to take on new hobbies or projects, like learning a foreign language.

For the parents among us, have you ever considered learning a language with your kids? It might seem like an odd idea at first, since studying a foreign language is often a very personal endeavor, but there are several benefits to learning to speak another language with your children. It will allow you to spend quality time with them and will help you develop and polish your language skills at the same time. Not to mention your children will receive all the same benefits! It’s really a win-win situation.

Naturally, there are a number of factors that must be taken into account before you begin. If you feel you are more suited to learning a language on your own, then by all means stick to your current method. However, learning a language with your children does not have to replace your current method, but can simply supplement it. Another factor to consider is your children’s age. Speaking from personal experience, I have a two-year-old son named Zack. His mother is Russian and speaks her native language to him on a daily basis. I speak both French and English and communicate with him in both of these languages. Some people have told us that speaking to Zack in several languages at the same time might have a detrimental effect on his developing brain. I’m no expert on the matter, but I believe the opposite. Zack’s brain is a little sponge and he is able to respond to all three languages. To me, the benefits are clear even at his age. For example, on occasion Zack will ask me something in Russian and I ask him to repeat his question in English or French. Sometimes if he poses a question in English, I’ll respond in French and vice versa. This might be confusing to an adult but children are able to adapt remarkably to different situations and Zack is able to respond accordingly.

If you are in a similar situation and have small children, use language learning as an opportunity to bond with them. I have several French and English books that I read to Zack every day right before he goes to bed. I can see his mind forming the linguistic connections as I read and point to the images. Reading simple books in a foreign language will give your children an opportunity to learn and will reinforce what you may already have learned. You can engage in other learning activities besides reading books. Flash cards serve as a wonderful complement to book learning. Zack and I run through a set of flash cards displaying images with words. Foreign language word association exercises have helped Zack associate words with objects in both English and French. Playing board games or putting together puzzles can be educational and fun. Zack and I enjoy putting together puzzles representing maps of the United States and France. Zack recognizes images on the puzzles from the flashcards (baguette, cheese, the Eiffel Tower, etc.) and we learn about the different regions or states by saying their name and pointing to their location.

As your children get older and their foreign language skills progress, so will yours. I guarantee that your children will pick up the language much quicker than you and, over time, you might find yourselves speaking in this language with greater ease.

If your children are in their teens, you can still participate with them in language-learning activities. Take them to see foreign language films or join a cultural organization in your area where you and your children can practice your newly acquired language skills. For example, I used to be a part of the Alliance Française, an organization that promotes French language and culture in my area. Being a part of this group gave me an opportunity to brush up on my French and I made some good friends in the process. Find a similar organization and bring your kids along. You’ll be glad you did.

Language learning does not have to be a solitary venture. By including your children, you might learn more quickly and have fun in the process. In fact, they will likely look back on the quality time they spent with you and might parlay their language skills into a future career. Language learning should be fun and there’s nothing more fun than doing it with your children.

What have your experiences been learning a foreign language with your kids? Share with us in the comments section below.

How to Keep Multiple Languages Straight

Posted on 19. Nov, 2014 by in Language Learning

Itchy Feet: A Travel and Language Comic by Malachi Ray RempenLearning a new language is an immense challenge, what with all the grammar, vocabulary, expressions and idioms, and pronunciation to deal with. If you then toss another language or two (or five or ten) on top of that, the challenges compound themselves into a heap.

For me, vocabulary is the hardest—for every new language I learn, I know I have to learn yet another word for the same things, and I invariably get them mixed up. Even more frustrating is knowing a certain word in three languages, but not the one I’m speaking at that moment.

Then there’s getting the languages confused. For some reason, I find that my brain has a shelf labeled “foreign language”, and I’m allowed to stash one language at a time there. If I need to change to a different one on the fly, I have to will the gears in my brain to change, requiring a fair amount of time and effort (see above comic).

Depending on the language, though, you don’t always have to start at the bottom. Learning romance languages is great because the grammar is basically the same across the board, with a few exceptions and oddities here and there. Plus, since they’re all based on Latin, a great number of words are the same. And the more complicated the word, the more likely it is to be the same in all the romance languages. If you’re reading this article you have a huge head start on Spanish and French, since you already know words like “complicated” and “exception” and “pronunciation” (watch out for false friends like “embarrassed”, though, or you’ll be telling everyone in Madrid you’re pregnant).

A romance language would certainly be easier than picking up Russian, which requires you learn how to read totally new letters, or tonal languages like Mandarin and Thai, for which you have to learn how to make sounds again (in addition to totally new letters and, often times, even your way of conceptualizing the world).

I find it helps a lot to be in the country where they speak the language you’re trying to learn. That may sound obvious, but it’s much easier to speak German in Germany, and Italian in Italy. The words and phrases just seem to spring to your tongue in a conversation, quick and easy. Try speaking German in Italy, though, and you’ll feel like you’re dragging it up out of a thick mud. There’s something in the atmosphere that pushes you, like a breeze, to speak the language of the locals.

Since drawing the above comic, I’ve also learned to have a different “voice” for each language I speak. I create a literal cartoon character in my head when I’m speaking, and it comes out through the language. German is a stout, jolly mustachioed man, and Italian is a slickly-dressed charmer. It doesn’t just help to separate the languages mentally, it also helps you get into the proper cadence of speaking, which is usually quite tricky. Just don’t overdo it, or you’ll look and sound like an ass.

Most importantly, keep practicing. Many polyglots recommend at least a few hours a week for each language. The more languages you collect, the more hours a week you’ll have to practice. But it’s worth it.

What about you? What tricks have you polyglots learned to keep your many languages straight?