“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?

Say Hello to the New Transparent Language Online

Posted on 17. Nov, 2014 by in Company News, Language Learning, Product Announcements

At last year’s ACTFL conference in Orlando, Florida, we unveiled our new lesson authoring tools in Transparent Language Online. What have we been up to over the past year, since then? We’re glad you asked. We’d like to introduce you to the new-and-improved Transparent Language Online!

With a brand new interface, learning features, and faster loading speeds, language-learning has never been so fun, fast, or effective. Let’s explore some of the best to come:

Brand New Look: The new Transparent Language Online looks better than ever! The new design optimizes your screen space, minimizes distractions, and feels more intuitive.

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More Personalization: The new Learning Path helps you and your students get started.  It takes your students where you want them to go. Say goodbye to boring text books! We’re giving you the reigns to create the program your students should follow. The Learning Path allows you to present assignments to your students so they follow the path that you set for them.  Assign lessons from our extensive collection or create your own – after all, it’s all about your curriculum, not ours.

Customized Activities: The customization doesn’t stop with the Learning Path! We know that learning a language is about more than acquiring words and phrases; it’s also about building skills. In the new Practice mode, students can choose from a suite of more than a dozen activities that focus on listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Do you have a student struggling with pronunciation? Have them select a few of our speaking activities, choose content from one or more lessons, and listen to them improve!

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More Platforms: So we now let you choose what and how you want your students to learn, but what about when and where? The new Transparent Language Online works on any Internet-connected device, including tablets.

Smarter Insight and Review:  We’ve added all of these features to help your students reach specific language goals, but part of getting where they’re going is knowing where they’ve been. In the new Transparent Language Online, your students can track their own progress with a redesigned Learned Items chart that shows how far they’ve come. Not only is it motivating, it’s also crucial for language retention. Learned Items logs each and every word and phrase they’ve learned, including how easy or difficult it was to learn those items. The system then prompts students to refresh learned material that they haven’t seen in a while. As we all know if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it—but we won’t let that happen to your students!

 

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No More Waiting: You’ve waited long enough for these new features, so we won’t make you wait a single second longer—literally. The latest HTML/JavaScript frameworks make Transparent Language Online ultra-fast. No more waiting for things to load—click and you shall receive!

Want a sneak peek at our new look? We’re giving you a first glance at ACTFL 2014! Come by booth 7035 for a free demo.

Not attending ACTFL? The new Transparent Language Online will be available to the multilingual (or soon-to-be!) masses soon. Stay tuned for future announcements.