Remember Better with Toons and Tunes

Posted on 26. Jan, 2015 by in Language Learning, Reference/Usage Tips

Itchy Feet Asian Languages Comic by Malachi Ray Rempen

The comic above was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. When I drew it, I thought I’d just get a laugh out of imagining what different Asian scripts might look like. Since then, though, it’s actually helped me out quite a bit identifying which written language I’m looking at. For instance, thanks to this comic, I can now look at a photo of any random Asian city street and have a good chance of guessing which country it’s in just from the writing on the storefronts and street ads. What started as a silly joke actually became a useful reference tool.

In college I took a German class to fulfill my language credit. I’d no idea I was going to move to Germany, nor had I any desire to learn it fluently. That was almost seven years ago, and I remember nothing that the professor taught me except for two incredibly annoying songs to help us remember prepositions and cases. Aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seid, von, zu are the dative ones, and durch, für, gegen, ohne, um are the accusative ones. Believe it or not, I didn’t even have to look that up, because she made us sing the former to the melody of “the Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss, and the latter to that military “I don’t know but I’ve been told…” cadence call (“durch für gegen ohne um, Deutsch zu lernen ist nicht dumm!”, or in English, “through for against without around, learning German isn’t stupid!” . . . it rhymes in German).

I remember these things because annoying, funny, or stupid tricks actually embed themselves deeper into your brain than just rote memorization. You may have noticed that some airline safety videos are getting funnier these days – it’s been proven that humor helps you remember information better, and songs as well. The Germans took this idea to its wicked, German extreme in this absolutely insane forklift safety video (not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned!).

What about you? What silly songs or rhymes or games have you learned to remember otherwise boring grammar tables or vocabulary?

Transforming the Economics of Language Learning (Part 1)

Posted on 21. Jan, 2015 by in Language Learning, Trends

Learning another language for professional purposes takes too long and costs too much.

For many recreational learners, the economics, logistics and reliability of acquiring another language are not all that important. For them, the joy is in the journey, and concepts such as time to proficiency, reliability of outcome, or the availability of personnel for operations are not front of mind.

government language training

Image By ganatlguard on

It’s different when individuals or organizations need better language capability to address military, diplomatic, commercial, medical or similar professional requirements. Suddenly the economics are critical. The more disruptive and costly something is, the less it can be used. Imagine that someone is removed from their normal job and sent to a schoolhouse somewhere for language training. Add up expenses for travel, facility, teachers and administrators, student food and lodging. Add to that the estimated dollar value of the disruption to operations because that person is now unavailable to do his or her job.

A two-week training course, typical for many professional skills, is expensive enough, but developing language proficiency takes much, much longer. Beyond the beginner levels, even two more months of training moves the needle only slightly.

America’s success in defense, commerce, security and diplomacy is not optional, and it is widely recognized that to succeed the US needs much better language skills. Unfortunately however, the US is infamously not very language-capable–it’s hard to hire the needed language skills–and budgets are tight.

The only practical solution is to train languages much faster, more compellingly, and more reliably. As Dr. Richard Brecht, founder of our national research lab for language put it, “Train in half the time.” And train with certainty. Don’t let skills fall off after training. At Transparent Language, we’ve made that our mission. We serve many types of customers, including libraries, schools, and corporations, and we love anyone who loves language learning or teaching. But our primary mission is supporting “language transformation” in the most stringent and rigorous language training schools and programs in the US Government.

Smart people have been teaching and learning languages for centuries, so is there any hope that all of a sudden we will be able to “train in half the time,” more reliably, more visibly, more enjoyably, and with less fall-off after training? Surprisingly, the answer is “unequivocally, yes.” Emerging technology makes it possible. Finding one’s way around was revolutionized almost overnight by GPS and mobile devices, and that same degree of change is now available to language learning and teaching, including for less-common languages and for language for specialized professional purposes.

Technology is not the total solution; it’s just the new ingredient in the mix. It’s true you can get better at a language without any technology, or with only technology, but we have found that the best answer by far is blending human instruction or coaching with emerging technology, using each for what each does best. Technology can:

  • execute some aspects of instruction faster and more reliably than human instructors
  • beneficially shift the time or place that work is done
  • drive user engagement with progress and game dynamics
  • bring dispersed people together
  • seamlessly incorporate current, culturally rich authentic materials
  • make under-utilized “stovepiped” content archives more useful and accessible
  • make user time on task and progress significantly more visible and reportable to administrators

And–important for our customers and purposes–this is true not only for general proficiency in the most common languages, but for every different course of instruction, specialized domains, and for less-common and under-supported languages.

How to Create ACTFL-Aligned, Authentic Language Lessons [Webinar]

Posted on 19. Jan, 2015 by in Company News, Events, Language Learning

At Transparent Language, we don’t just support learners of a foreign language, we support teachers, too!  That’s why we started our Education Webinar series earlier this year. We’ve received so much positive feedback from attendees—and requests from educators unable to attend—that we’re repeating the series in early 2015! Up next: advice for creating ACTFL-aligned lessons using authentic materials for learners of all experience levels. You can preview the webinar slides and register to join us below!

What is an authentic lesson?

Authentic texts have been defined as “…real-life texts, not written for pedagogic purposes,” meaning they are written for native speakers and contain “real” language. Authentic materials have been produced to fulfil some social purpose, such as relaying breaking news or telling a story, in contrast to non-authentic texts designed specifically for language-learning purposes.

Authentic also means linguistically and culturally genuine. So, when thinking of authentic lessons, think of blog posts, poems, news stories, magazine articles, etc.

Why create authentic lessons?

One of the major benefits of authentic lessons is that they enable students to work with the latest news and events in real time. Students love working today’s news, ads, magazines, etc. They are exposed not only to the language, but to the culture and society of the target country. Especially when compared to a textbook, this approach is more motivating, engaging, and exciting.

There are more pragmatic reasons, too, of course. Authentic materials expand students’ vocabulary by exposing them to words and phrases used in different ways, such as idioms, slang, and other elements of a language you might not find in a textbook.

When the topics are modern and exciting, students are more likely to engage and participate in class, improving their speaking skills. You can also choose to introduce and reinforce grammar embedded in your chosen authentic materials, improving students’ reading and writing skills.

How do I create authentic lessons?

This part is better left explained in person! Want expert tips from a 20+ year veteran teacher of French and Spanish? How about suggestions of where to look for authentic materials and how to incorporate them in to your lessons? Join us at our upcoming webinars:

Monday February 9, 2015 7:00-8:00pm EST

Thursday February 19, 2015 4:00-5:00pm EST

Have questions or comments before, during, or after the webinar? Connect with us on Twitter using #TLedwebinars.