Create a Communicative Language Classroom eBook

Posted on 25. May, 2016 by in education, Language News

communicative classroomThe communicative classroom, as you may have guessed, revolves around communication. Teachers using this approach strive to simulate real-life situations that motivate and prepare students to communicate meaningfully in a new language. But it takes time and creativity to create a successful communicative classroom, particularly to design a variety of engaging activities and exercises.

Some skills lend themselves to this method, particularly listening and speaking. Even those skills can be made more interactive and engaging with well-planned tasks and assignments. And what about reading and writing? Typically thought of as solitary, both skills can be practiced in a communicative setting with the right activities.

We know how busy teachers are, both in and out of the classroom. Let us take a few things off your to-do list and share some of our ideas with you (because the best teachers are the ones who share, right?!)

In our new free eBook, we’ll walk you through some of our favorite communicative activities for reading, writing, listening, and speaking, tested and perfected by a 20-year language teaching veteran.


Ich bin ein Hamburger (and Other Delicious German Demonyms)

Posted on 23. May, 2016 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Hamburgite

As you probably know, the English word “hamburger” has long caused confusion among children and the geographically impaired. After all, there’s no ham in a hamburger – it’s made of beef! How does that make sense? And what about wieners and franks? Why do hot dogs have so many odd names?

The answer is both in German demonyms (the word used to describe a person from a certain place – like “New Yorker” or “Dutchman”) and the German system for naming their traditional foods by identifying where it’s from.

But before we get to Hamburg, we’ve got to start with hot dogs.

You’ve probably heard of Frankfurt, the city in central Germany with a lot of banks and one of Europe’s largest airports. Well, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that in German, a Frankfurter is someone – or something – which hails from this fine city. Now, a Würstel is a type of boiled sausage – the original type brought over to the USA which became known as a “hot dog” (someone thought it resembled a dachshund, the sausage-like German dog, and you can probably connect the dots from there). A Frankfurter Würstel is the type of Würstel which comes from Frankfurt.

I can already see the gears turning in your head: “so if a frankfurter is a sausage from Frankfurt, a Wiener is a sausage from…Ween?” Very close, my friend. Wien (pronounced “ween”) is the German word for Vienna, the capital of Austria. And yes, a Wiener Würstel is the full name for the sausage which comes from Vienna…you might even have seen it called a “Vienna sausage” in English. This also will explain to you what a Wiener Schnitzel is: a schnitzel (a type of deep-fried breaded beef steak) which comes from Vienna. A Wiener Schnitzel is NOT a sausage, a fact made all the more confusing by the name of the American fast food chain Wienerschnitzel, which only serves hot dogs, not steaks. Your guess is as good as mine on that one.

The garnish on this whole dog is that Wiener Würstel is very rarely used in Vienna itself to refer to a Vienna sausage – in fact, most of these places only use the demonyms if they’re outside the city being referred to. More on that in a minute.

Krakauer / Nürnberger / Thüringer
Similar to WienKrakau is the German spelling of Krakow, Poland, from where this particular sausage – the Krakauer – comes. Same with the Nürnberger and the Thüringer, both names of types of sausages, as well as people from the German cities of Nürnberg and the region of Thüringen. This is making me very hungry.

Ah, here we are, finally: the hamburger. Easy enough: a hamburger is a cut of meat that comes from Hamburg. Right? Pretty much, except the difference with hamburgers is that they were given the name in the USA, not in Germany. The “Hamburg steak” was minced beef, eaten raw (a dish still enjoyed in Germany), and apparently thought to hail from Hamburg. Fear not, my America-loving friends: the hamburger itself IS an American invention.

The food is popular now in Germany, of course, where they use the burg suffix to make all kinds of puns – there are restaurants called Stadtburger (literally “city citizen,” but which can also be understood as “city burger joint”), Kreuzburger (referring to the popular Berlin district of Kreuzberg) and Burgermeister (the Bürgermeister, or “city master,” is the German word for “mayor” – but without the umlaut, “Burgermeister” becomes “master of burgers”). And speaking of Berlin…

You’ve probably heard the story of John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in Berlin, where he said “Ich bin ein Berliner,” and everyone laughed because Berliner means “jelly doughnut.” Well, that’s not true. “Ich bin ein Berliner” means exactly what JFK meant it to mean: “I am a Berliner,” as in, “I am one with the people of Berlin.”

However…a Berliner is, in fact, a jelly doughnut. It’s just that no one thought JFK was referring to himself as one. A doughnut in German is called a Pfannkuchen (a word also now used to refer to pancakes, which Pfannkuchen literally translates to), and a Berliner Pfannkuchen is a very particular Berlin-style jelly-filled doughnut topped with powdered sugar. They’re wonderful.

Yes, an Amerikaner in German is someone who is American, but it’s also a particular kind of black-and-white spongy cookie. I myself grew up in the USA, lived there for 24 years, and never once saw anything like this – but I’ve since learned it’s popular in New York, and originated there. Live and learn.

This is the only one on the list you probably won’t want to sink your teeth into: a Pariser, while technically meaning someone hailing from Paris, is also German slang for a condom.


Parental Advisory: How Language Parents Help You Learn Like a Kid Again

Posted on 18. May, 2016 by in Language Learning

I’m a big believer in learning a language on your own.

But even learning a language independently, you can’t do it all by yourself: all of us can benefit from some on-the-fly coaching from those who’ve been in the game for years and know it well.

coaching language parents

Image via Pixabay under CC0 (public domain).

Entrepreneur and language coach Chris Lonsdale argues that one of the most important things you can do for your own language learning is to recruit a ‘language parent’ or two. In his TED Talks and elsewhere, Lonsdale highlights the crucial role played by parents and ‘motherese‘ in a child’s language learning process, and how this is one of the things we must actively seek to compensate for as adult language learners.

Language parents are a simple and pretty intuitive idea: they’re the people you feel safe speaking with in the language you’re learning, who are willing to help you along informally with the language and, in a figurative but important way, ‘raise’ you as one of their own.

learning with a language parent

Image via Pixabay under CC0 (public domain).

Your ideal language parent and your relationship with them should have a few important qualities. Here are some of the basic requirements for an MVP (most valuable parent):

  • The person is willing to speak exclusively or almost exclusively in your target language with you, and they have the patience for the times when that can be more slow-going and frustrating.
  • You understand their speech well. They should speak with a fairly standard accent, but also have the awareness not to speak too quickly or inarticulately with you.
  • You feel ‘safe’ with the person: they don’t rush you, interrupt you, make fun of you, or do anything else to induce extra foreign language anxiety.
  • They can generally understand you: they’re generally able to interpret your pronunciation, and are able to read paralinguistic cues like body language and facial expressions.
  • According to Lonsdale, language parents should never correct your mistakes. Rather than focusing on improving the mechanics of your language use, they should be focused on offering you a safe space to improve your usage and fluency. I would argue that, depending on where you are in learning the language, some tactful corrections can be helpful.

Other things to consider are the logistics of your relationship: do you see each other frequently? Are you interested in enough similar things to keep the conversation going naturally? Bonus points if your chosen language parent doesn’t speak English or your mother language–that way they won’t be tempted to help you cheat as you become better friends.

So once you’ve identified someone who can serve as your part-time informal language mentor, how do you pop the question? There are a few ways to go about it, but mostly, you don’t.

Locking Down a Language Parent

The frustrating truth is that in the real world, the vast majority of people aren’t willing to sit around and listen to us babble for free.

Don’t despair though–most language learners, especially those living abroad, can find a language parent somewhere in their environment if they go about it tactfully and considerately. Here are some tips on how.

  1. You don’t have to actually ask someone to be your language parent, because that’s sort of a weird thing to ask. Instead of typing up a contract, focus on identifying the right person who’s sensitive to your language level and can actively help you better understand things, and try to build a natural speaking routine with that person.
  2. Look to people you already know, or if you’ve just arrived somewhere, people you have a good first impression of and expect to be able to spend time with (because you’re in the same class, are roommates, work in the same office, etc.).
  3. Be clear about your language learning goals. Make sure they understand that you want to speak in their language, and that you’re hoping for some feedback as you go, but that you’re not looking for constant corrections or free lessons.
  4. Don’t be shy about showing your gratitude. “Hey, can I treat you to a coffee and we can speak a bit of Arabic this afternoon?” A meal now and then, offering to proofread a cover letter for them in English, or just the odd night out with no linguistic strings attached are good ways to keep yourself on the safe side of that line between practicing a language and using a friend for free labor.

I have a language parent here in Medellín, Colombia, and it’s been vital for continuing to improve my Spanish skills.

One of my housemates here is an English teacher from Bogotá, but at home we always speak Spanish. I never went up and asked her, “wanna be my Spanish mom?”, but instead mostly just developed a good dynamic. She recognizes the difference between my “como?” that means “I didn’t quite catch that” and the one that just means “???“, and she’s always willing to give me a thoughtful explanation in Spanish.

language parent guide

Image via Pixabay under CC0 (public domain).

I think the most important factor in finding a language parent is that feeling of social safety: just like Mom helped you understand what was going on in the world around you and the language it spoke, the right friend you can give you the space to flourish while learning a second language.

Editor’s Note: Can’t find a language parent in your area? Connect with a personal online tutor through Transparent Connect. Log in and learn when, where, and what you want.