6 Ways to Use Language

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Not everyone who studies a second language is interested in communicating with native speakers. But for most of us, it’s all about the INTERACTION and therefore it is important to consider Jakobson’s 6 Functions as we put our language use to the test. So how dynamic are you when it comes to speaking in a new tongue?

1. Describing- Can you describe what you see, what’s happening around you and how you feel? These are all important CAN-DOs that will help immensely when you arrive in the target country and need to a) tell airport officials your luggage is not present b) you really need your luggage because you have a train to catch c) you would be so happy if they would just find your luggage!

2. Expressing- Do you just state the facts or do you always add a little “Mais, oui!” or “Zut alors!” to your conversation? Interjections and expressions of your emotional state help make language more real and personal. If you haven’t already learned to decorate your phrases with these words, watch a few films or television sitcoms in your target language and pay careful attention to the dialogue, you will be sure to pick some up!

3. Commanding- We all like to order people around but do you feel confident enough in your target language to try out the imperative? It may be a warm phrase like “Go on, open it!” when you hand a gift to your host family or it could be a safety concern such as “Don’t touch- it’s dangerous!” Either way, imperatives are a great way to get someone’s attention and a skill every learner must master.

4. Choosing- How careful are you when you speak? Do you attempt to be eloquent or are words just words? Often, as we improve our command over the language, crafting a message for the sake of the words itself can be a fun way to put new vocabulary to use. It also helps us develop an appreciation for the literary and spoken word tradition of the target culture.

5. Engaging- Do you know how to make small talk and chit chat with people in a line– how about in French? Discussing the weather, the football or the traffic and knowing how to start and stop polite conversation is an essential skill for a language learner. You may not have all of the words you need to get by but just engaging will expose you to your interlocutor’s vocabulary, which is a veritable treasure chest of native speaker phrases!

6. Analyzing- Can you describe the new grammar rule you’ve just learned using the target language? Language to discuss language can be tricky but it really is the only way to escape your mother tongue and fully immerse yourself in another register. Try setting your dictionary to French-French and you’ll get used to it in no time.

Language use is an evolving skill. The more practice you get, the more highly developed all of the functions will become. The best way to achieve this is through lots of conversation and as much interaction as possible, either via real world immersion or an organized exchange like PenPal Schools. Remember, you can always use Lingua.ly to save the new words you are learning and find interesting local newspaper articles to inspire future conversations!

Best Practices for Vocabulary

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It may sound easy, but learning vocabulary can be more complicated than you think if you want your new words to make a lasting first impression. That’s because the manner in which you meet a word and the way it is initially saved in memory effects its storage over time. So how do you go about achieving those memorable results?

#1 Draw a picture Visually encoding a word helps your brain create a more dynamic memory. And you don’t have to rely on existing images either. Sit down and let the illustration begin! It’s not only fun but an excellent way to infuse some creativity into the language learning process.

#2 Say it out loud Not all of us are audio learners but no matter your strengths, being able to pronounce and recognize a new word by ear is key when it comes to language learning. Plus, matching sounds with letters comes with added benefits including the enhancement of reading comprehension skills– who knew?

#3 See it in context Drilling one word at a time is a great exercise for recall, but seeing a word in context is a far superior way of making more interesting memories. That’s because your brain will secretly be picking up on all sorts of subtle clues about form, meaning and use as you process a sentence. (TIP: Check out the feed to experience the cadillac of context based learning.)

#4 Look it up! You may think you know a word until you look it up in the dictionary and find it has a handful of alternate meanings and forms. It’s okay to concentrate on just one for the meantime because knowing variants exist will help you expand your vocabulary later on, when the time is right.

#5 Find its friends Words hardly ever show up on their own. Instead they tend to be found in the presence of collocates. Knowing which words your new vocabulary likes to “hang out” with can not only help you recognize it faster but enhance your knowledge of related terms at the same time.

These tips guarantee your new words will get some extra cognitive attention, which is the secret sauce of any good language learner. And if you’re really going for the vocabulary learning gold, control the amount of words you study per session and the frequency of review to give your memory an added boost. Now that you know what to do, which words will you learn first?

 

Tips for Beginners

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You’ve made the decision to learn a language– lucky you!  While language is a life-long journey, the first few months are critical so keep these tips in mind and don’t let frustration get the better of you. Sure, you’ll have some memorization and homework to do, but the good times will always outweigh the bad if you keep a positive attitude and maintain realistic expectations. So what are you waiting for? 

Tip #1 Fall in love with the culture 
Need motivation to master those verb endings and conjugations? You won’t find it in a dictionary or grammar guide. Open your browser and dive into local culture as you learn about holidays, meals and traditions.  Discovering more about the people who speak your language, their history and culture will help you forget the hard parts of learning a language and inspire you to acquire more vocabulary and firm up communication skills. (Tip: Use an extension for google chrome and add new vocabulary to your dictionary as you browse.)

Tip #2 Skip the grammar guides
Save the introductions for later and go straight to the good stuff: the language itself. Open up an article or a webpage and start looking for patterns in the language you are learning. Search for definite and indefinite markers. Guess at the rules for plural and gender. Keep a language learning journal and when you feel you’ve got a good idea of how things work, open up a grammar guide and confirm your assumptions. (Tip: The abstract language used to describe grammar is not only demotivating but it doesn’t help you put the rules into practice either.)

Tip #3 Design your own language course
Don’t just memorize manwomanboy and girl because someone else decided those were good words to learn. Brainstorm a list of language that is meaningful to you, look it up and learn it! Maybe you’d rather go with smartphone and tablet than cat and dog or start with French wine and cheese words instead of office vocabulary. Whatever you decide, selecting your language up front means you have a much better chance of learning, practicing and remembering it in the long run. (Tip: Use flashcards to save definitions, images and audio for the words you look up and then practice them via a spaced repetition algorithm.)

Tip #4 Read, read, and then read some more
Who said beginners couldn’t read? Nothing beats the power of the written word when it comes to reinforcing everything we’ve already learned and introducing us to new vocabulary in context. With reading you have as much time as you need to make sense of the language you encounter and you’ll even give your listening and speaking skills a work out as you sound out new words. Literature, articles, poetry– whatever you choose keep things interesting and fresh by reading topics that appeal to you. (Tip: Our feed is based on the words you’ve added to your dictionary to ensure every article you get is within your reach.)

Alphabets, Grammar & Listening, Oh My!

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Does the thought of learning a foreign language give you heart palpitations? We often mistake fear of the unknown for fear of languages –as we cling to our mother tongues for dear life. But once you get over your fear and get familiar with the nuts and bolts of a new language, things don’t seem so scary anymore.

So, here’s the Lingua.ly TOP 3 list of what no language learner should be afraid of:

1. The Alphabet
How bad can a collection of new letters really be? Dozens of squiggles that read right to left and connect in confusing ways. Relax and thank your pre-school teacher for showing you a thing or two. Next, break out the songs, order some children’s books and get to it. You may be tracing along the dotted lines for a few weeks but it will be worth it in the end. Take on several new letters at a time and master a handful of representative words for each one (think A is for Apple). Remember to have some fun while you’re at it!

2. The Grammar
Vocabulary isn’t always so scary but grammar can be frightening, no matter what language you’re learning! Nevertheless, abstract rule descriptions are hardly what grammar is all about. Just like with your native tongue, you can learn to understand the grammar of a new language without formal study. You simply need to see lots of examples of natural language and pay attention to the patterns. Opinions differ on how much noticing you really do need to do, so once you’re feeling confident try to check your assumptions with a few Google queries. Above all, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to identify all the tenses by name –most native speakers can’t either!

3. The Listening
You think you know how a word sounds until it is said by a native speaker in conversation and suddenly there’s a stream of language coming at you faster than the speed of light. Your brain needs time to adjust to listening in a new language. Eventually, it will learn to identify where words start and stop by picking up on word ending patterns in the new sound system. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to give yourself a break and speed up the familiarization process with a little phonics and as much listening as possible.

Of course there are other challenges when it comes to starting off in a new language. Speaking (particularly to large groups) can be a nerve wracking experience that’s made even worse when you are doing it in another tongue. Just acknowledge that mistakes are inevitable, keep a dictionary at your side (Lingua.ly’s is free, mobile and pretty handy) and stay positive. With language, new fun lies around every corner.

The Good Language Learner

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Do you know someone studying a language who makes more progress in a week than the rest of us do in a month? He or she might be what applied linguists call a good language learner (GLL). In the 70s and 80s, a number of studies were done to research the strategies and behaviors that set GLLs apart. So how can you be more like these language learning superheroes? Read on to find out!

Get active and stay involved
Good language learners are always looking for opportunities to use the new language they have acquired. If you aren’t living in a target language rich environment, then class twice a week just isn’t going to cut it. You need to create opportunities to engage with language on a regular basis– even if that means talking to yourself or a sympathetic listener like your pet!

See the big “language” picture
Yes, language is about mastering lots of vocabulary and grammar points but there’s so much more to it than that! Language is a system and good language learners are aware of the many components that come together to make up comprehensible speech. Learning native speaker phrases and idiomatic chunks alongside stock vocabulary can help you stay versatile while you practice building your own phrases.

Engage with native speakers
Grammar is important, but communication is king when it comes to language learning! The more you chat with locals (even if it is over Skype!), the better. Fostering an interest in the culture and local traditions also helps, as does seeing every interaction as an opportunity to engage.

Pay more attention to what you hear
Re-playing an utterance you have just made can help you notice errors or awkward phrasing in your choice of words. Listening to others speak can also provide you with models of a more native like construction. Good language learners pay just the right amount of attention to their language, i.e. not so much as to become distracted from the conversation but enough to recognize when they wish to re-phrase something.

Don’t worry about making mistakes
Mistakes can paralyze our productive abilities in a new language. Don’t let this happen to you! Good language learners are never afraid to sound silly. Making mistakes and using roundabout ways of saying things is part and parcel of learning a language. Take advantage of incorrect utterances to learn how a native speaker might say the same thing and remember that reducing errors happens gradually as you make more progress in your new tongue!

GLLs are always on the lookout for new language and they will go above and beyond to find it. That means looking outside of traditional textbooks and online lessons to acquire new words from conversations, books, music, films and websites. If you’d like to give some of these tricks a try, immersing yourself in the Lingua.ly feed is the perfect place to start as you’ll have access to authentic content and all of the tools (e.g. dictionary, flashcards, practice game) you need to make sense of the language you are learning.

4 Reasons Why Immersion Works

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You’ve probably heard that learning a language is a lot easier when you live, study and/or work abroad. So why is immersion so special and how can understanding what makes it work help us achieve our language learning goals?

1. You are motivated to communicate
Chances are, if you are living in a country where the target language is spoken, you will be highly motivated to learn in order to talk to the people around you. Whether it is to master the day to day exchanges e.g. I’d like a croissant please! or laugh along with the native speakers at dinner party jokes, using language to communicate brings social gratification and helps you meet your basic needs. To create the same effect at home, make friends who speak your new language either online or through local exchange groups and join a social media site where posts, likes and comments are in the language you are learning.

2. You are familiar with the context
Meeting unknown language in a real-life environment cues the brain as to the potential meaning. Picture yourself in a desert and someone comes up to you saying water and dangling a cup. You will guess at the meaning and more often than not, you will be right. In the same way, you may not necessarily know what the woman behind the counter has said but you can tell it was similar to thank you and have a nice day. To simulate context at home, choose content on topics that are likely to be familiar to you. Whether it’s a recipe for chocolate cake, an article on economics or a video about whales- you can apply your prior knowledge to make good guesses about what’s being said.

3. You encounter language often
The most obvious plus to an immersion environment is you are surrounded by examples of natural language. This means you are likely to encounter the most frequent words over and over and over again until you can’t help but learn their meaning. It can be difficult to simulate this aspect of immersion at home but you can certainly try. Go around your home and label everything you can see, leave foreign language newspapers and books on every coffee table and keep a running soundtrack of music and/or radio chat in the language you are learning to keep your ears and eyes busy.

4. Sights, sounds, tastes, smells
We find it easier to remember new language when it is wrapped into a dynamic memory or experience. After all, how stimulating are a group of letters on a page when you can hear the word for cookie, smell the butter from the bakery and see a sign labeling the tasty French treat you are about to eat? Give yourself a chance to make dynamic memories at home by creating opportunities for contextualized learning. Follow along to a cooking show or get creative with a DIY project in the language you are learning. You’ll find yourself concentrating hard to understand what’s being said and the physical nature of the activity will give your memory a boost!

While not every language learner can travel abroad, it IS possible to simulate an immersion environment at home via your digital world. Try setting your electronic gadgets to the language you are learning, take virtual field trips to foreign language websites with a browser extension and put together a learning plan where you dedicate a certain amount of time a day to your target language study. Make sure your environment is full of stimulating input and keep Lingua.ly mobile on hand to look up new words in the dictionary, create flashcards to practice and read article suggestions from the web that peak your interest and fuel your learning.

Who wants to sound like a native speaker anyway?

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Do you spend more than your fair share of study time trying to speak without an accent? You can identify all of the sounds that native speakers are making but for some reason it just doesn’t sound the same when you say it. The frustration of missing the mark when it comes to native-like pronunciation happens to all of us– but it doesn’t have to get you down. Read on to learn how accents work and why having one might not be such a bad thing.

Why is native-like pronunciation so hard?
Researchers know that our ears begin to tune to the language around us even before we are born. By the time we reach our first birthday, the babbling and attempts at speech we make are brimming with the sounds we need to speak our mother tongue. That means studying a language which contains new sounds later on in life, particularly after we’ve passed puberty, can be quite a challenge for the ears and tongue. Extensive exposure to and practice with the phonemes and rhythms of a new language can sometimes help us sound more native, but the odds are definitely against us when it comes to fooling someone completely.

Maybe sounding native shouldn’t be the goal
Most audiobooks, digital apps and classroom programs encourage learners to sound like native speakers of the language they are learning. However, there exists some disagreement over the native speaker standard in the applied linguistics community. That’s because linguists claim everyone has an accent, even in their mother tongue, and that maintaining your accent in a second language may actually be a fundamental part of establishing your identity as a speaker who comes from another culture and linguistic tradition. Consider this, twice as many people speak English as a second language than as a native one! So having an accent means you are actually in the majority and the same can be said for many other world languages.

Why intelligibility should be key
One of the biggest arguments for the native speaker standard in pronunciation is it helps provide a uniform model to ensure we all sound somewhat alike. After all, without a bit of phoneme continuity languages are likely to develop unintelligible variations in new geographies. But thanks to today’s online world and global media services, everyone sounding the same is less of a concern than before. So make sure your pronunciation is clear enough to ensure you will be understood and then give yourself a break when it comes to meeting those near-impossible native speaker standards. Try to be as proud of the way you sound as native speakers are of their regional accents!

Lingua.ly uses a service called Forvo to provide an audio sound-bite for every word you look up in the language you are learning. Sometimes it is a native speaker saying the word– and sometimes it is a second language speaker! Interested in learning more about audio dictionaries? Groups like the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Langauges are actually traveling the world creating recordings of dieing languages before it’s too late. If you love languages and want to know more, we encourage you to get in touch and get involved!  

Lingua.ly Opens “Data” Doors for Back to School

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Edtech startup announces word-list import/export for classroom users

Language learners who prefer studying vocabulary online will now find it easier to unify web-based and classroom efforts. According to the edtech startup Lingua.ly, information collected from surfing the Internet in another language can now be converted into working vocabulary lists for the classroom thanks to a new word import/export feature announced today.

Lingua.ly is an open learning platform that helps users find articles, make sense of language and learn vocabulary systematically as they browse the web in a second language. Its existing 300k+ web and mobile users can now fully integrate the program into their school and workplace activities by exporting lists of words collected on the system. Enhanced word import options will also help new-users quickly enter the platform’s learning loop and find authentic content based on their vocabulary.

“This is an exciting next step in Lingua.ly’s move to support classroom-based language education,” said CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Jan Ihmels. “Enriching teacher driven activities with real language collected by users surfing the web reminds students that they play an active role in discovering both the language and culture they are learning.”

The patent-pending technology behind the startup’s algorithm uses big-data paired with cognitive science and applied linguistics research on learning to teach language via digital immersion. Lingua.ly released a WebApp tool in June to add to its browser extension and mobile apps and says its focus is on enriching every language learner’s study ecosystem.

“We encourage our users to take a balanced and dynamic approach to language learning,” explained Ihmels. “We are a complementary program and we hope users will see the value in incorporating online language into their classroom learning routines.”

How to speak confidently in a second language

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Ever find yourself unable to answer when someone speaks to you in a foreign language? You know what they are saying and you have the words you need but your mind is racing and you are afraid to make a mistake. Something is interrupting the free flow of language and getting in the way of your speech. So what can you do about it? Have a read through this post for starters. 

Pay less attention to what you say
Easier said than done. Nonetheless, making a concerted effort to focus less on what you are saying and more on how you are communicating will make a big difference. How often do you re-play a set of words you are about to use before you speak? We don’t usually pre-plan phrases in our native language, rather we tend to just blurt things out. Second language learners sometimes struggle with the tendency to self-monitor their own speech in an effort to correct mistakes before they are made. But once you stop worrying about how you sound, you can focus on developing your fluency!

Nerves can make you tongue-tied
It happens in our first language so why not in our second? When we are nervous or feel embarrassed our brains tend to shut down and it becomes very difficult to speak. Second language learners often find themselves in such uncomfortable situations when they are overly worried about making mistakes. So how can you overcome your fears? Realize that mistakes are going to happen regardless of your best efforts. Every learner makes them, even native speakers! Give yourself a break and if you really feel obliged, apologize in advance and then just go for it!

Practice makes perfect
That doesn’t mean you should memorize set phrases or rehearse what you are going to say hours in advance. Natural conversation is a somewhat unpredictable beast and you need to be prepared to create new sentences on the fly and re-formulate your thoughts to fit whatever questions might come your way. So how can you do this? Practice speaking about new topics, anticipate what you might be asked and develop different responses as you go. Stringing together practice speech will light up your brain and make it easier for you to access the same verbal pathways later on when you need them.

For more tips check out our post on strategies for improving speaking skills. You can use Lingua.ly’s practice games and dictionary to help activate your language and keep words fresh so they are ready for you to use in fluent conversation when you need them. Don’t forget to check out our article suggestions to keep on top of current events and ensure you never find yourself without an interesting topic to discuss!

Lingua.ly Re-imagines Browser Based Learning with Extension Upgrade

ChromeExtensionAnnouncing new look, feel and streamlined functionality for Chrome language tool 

Lingua.ly, a free cross-platform solution that allows users to learn a language while browsing the web, announced today the release of a new version of its popular Chrome Extension tool. The upgrade provides users with enhanced control over word collection and display options and defines a separate web-based learning zone for practice and review. The slimmer, drop-down design also reflects the tool’s enhanced suitability for learners in professional and office-based settings.

Lingua.ly is an open learning platform that helps users find articles, make sense of language and learn vocabulary systematically as they browse the web. With the new extension, users visit a website, select the words they want to learn, receive in-page definitions and create flashcards to view later. Unlike translation and dictionary tools, Lingua.ly now divides the experience into two complementary stages: learning vocabulary from context and dedicated practice and review.

“Surfing the web in another language is an essential learning activity because it unites learners with real language that is relevant and meaningful to them,” explains CEO & Co-Founder Dr. Jan Ihmels. “Going without whole-page translation acclimatizes users to target language rich environments and teaches learning from context. The new extension is also a pretty handy tool when you need to interact with foreign language text in a professional or research based settings.”

The patent-pending technology behind Lingua.ly’s platform uses big-data paired with spaced repetition to help users bootstrap their way to fluency. Lingua.ly released its first Chrome Extension last August and has since grown by 300k users, adding a web and mobile apps for iOS and Android to its ecosystem of learning products.  The new extension is available for download for free in the Chrome Web Store.