Spotlight on Language Skills: Listening

Foreign language hacking ideas to raise your listening game

We’re constantly listening and processing speech in our first language without giving it much thought, so to reach the same level of ease in another language takes some practice! Listening is a receptive skill and there are two main types of listening activities; extensive and intensive.

Intensive listening focuses more on the form of the language such as grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary and is often for shorter bursts of time. Extensive is when you might listen for longer and not need to understand 100% of what is being said because the focus is on overall understanding.

Whether you’re learning for academic purposes or simply for fun, it’s also important to mix up your listening practice to give you exposure to varied language and keep things fresh. So, when selecting listening sources, ask yourself if you’re getting a range of the following:

  • Intensive listening activities – shorter pieces to focus on form
  • Extensive listening activities – longer pieces to focus on overall meaning
  • Formal speech in contexts and conversations such as work, law or professional presentations
  • Informal speech in contexts and conversations such as family or friendship based interactions

Below are some sources that I use to keep my listening skills up in French and Russian and to keep things varied:

Alarm clock radios – waking up to a Russian radio chat show while I lived in Russia was a great way to start the day and get the cogs turning in Russian.

Background radio when getting ready in the morning – most of us will have around 30 minutes to an hour getting ready as part of our daily routine – try putting the radio on in the background to soak up the language while you’re getting dressed.

Podcasts on the move – how about using your commute or travel time to listen to a podcast in the language you’re learning? I use SBS radio for a range of podcasts in Russian and French because they cover a range of topics such as culture, politics and economics. Find SBS podcasts in 20 languages.

Dictations – I’ll be honest, I hated these traditional exercises or ‘dictées’ in French at school, but now I’m learning independently, I find them a great way to practise listening and spelling skills and also check in on grammar points as well. They help me to scrutinise what I’m hearing to make sure I focus on accuracy as well as listening fluency.

Watching hobby-related videos – I find this is a great way to learn vocabulary for hobbies by watching ‘how to’ videos in the language you’re learning. I often watch French cooking videos on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube to pick up jargon and vocabulary for things that interest me.

Watch a film – it’s a fun and relaxed way to discover new vocabulary and hear the language being spoken by a diverse range of speakers. I like to watch award-winning films or films showcasing the country where the language is spoken. There are regional independent cinemas and for our UK-based readers, regular film festivals in London. The French Insititute regularly screens French films in the Cine Lumière in French and there is a Russian film festival once a year in London as well.

Watch a TV series on Netflix – I’ve enjoyed discovering foreign language programmes on Netflix and have recently binged on two drama-detective style series ‘Le Chalet’ in French and ‘Метод’ in Russian. I usually watch with subtitles on in the language, but you can often select subtitles in English to make it easier to follow the dialogue. I try to watch with a notepad to capture any interesting phrases and will often rewind to catch pronunciation or new vocabulary. It can be fun to discover new actors, genres and informal vocabulary in different settings that you wouldn’t come across in everyday life.

Audible audio books – these can be great when traveling for longer journeys and serve as a great way to practice some extensive listening. Discover the Audible range of foreign language books online.

Listening to music and learning the lyrics – whatever your level, there will be songs out there to enjoy as part of your listening practice! Whether it’s children’s songs or more complex rapping or fast-paced pop, find something fun that you like to listen to as part of your extensive listening practice.

We hope you found these suggestions useful – let us know how you got on trying them out in the Lingua Centra Language Lovers Facebook Group!

Spotlight on Language Skills: Speaking

There’s something so satisfying about being able to speak confidently and making yourself understood in a range of settings using the language(s) you’re learning. You might need to request something in a shop (without having to resort to wild hand gestures), or hold your own in a heated debate at a more advanced level.

These spontaneous interactions in another language can be exhilarating, but it can also be a bit nerve-wracking to be put on the spot! So, how can you practise expressing yourself verbally in a way that improves your confidence and fluency? Below are some tricks I’ve used over the years to work on my speaking skills, even in situations where I’ve felt out of my depth. Try them out and let us know how you get on in the comments below!

Before you begin, it’s worth remembering that to be considered fluent in a language, you don’t have to speak it perfectly or without any mistakes (even native speakers can’t always manage that!) but the main focus should be on being understood in a variety of contexts, as per the Common European Framework Levels definition at C2 or ‘proficient user’ level.

1. Learn to sing a song in the language you speak – this will make learning the pronunciation much more fun and allow you to practice wrapping your tongue around the sounds without anyone listening in (depending on how loudly you sing along of course..!) Set up a playlist for the language(s) you speak and focus on basic nursery rhymes or chart topping hits depending on what level you’re at and what genre of music you’re into. It’s also a great way to discover more about the culture and will give you lots to talk about in conversations with native speakers!

2. Ask a native speaker or teacher to help with pronunciation snags – I found this very useful when struggling with the French pronunciation of the sounds ‘boule’ and ‘bulle.’ A French friend of mine spend a good half an hour coaching me how to say it properly and eventually I got it!

3. Write down some regular phrases and practice them aloud – these might be common phrases when ordering food in a restaurant, or even phrases about yourself that might come up when meeting people such as where you work, why you’re learning the language etc… Practising them like a script will help you sound more natural as you won’t be struggling to recall words or phrases, so will improve your conversational flow.

4. Use online apps and tools to practise on your ownDuolingo has incorporated speaking practice for certain sentences and this is a good way to practice and improve confidence without an audience.

5. Use online apps and tools to practice with other people – I use Lingora which is a free platform where you can record and upload clips of you speaking and native speakers offer constructive feedback within 48 hours. Discover Lingora through our recent blog post. I also use the paid platform italki for live conversations with qualified language teachers and informal discussions with native speaking language partners.

6. Speechling – this is a great website for practising speech, recording pre-set phrases and then getting feedback. You can monitor your progress and re-record as many times as you want until you feel happy with your pronunciation and intonation. Use the code ‘LINGUA’ to sign up and receive a 10% discount!

7. Attend Mundolingo or meet up groups for face to face speaking practice – Mundolingo is an informal gathering where learners of any language can meet to speak and attendees wear stickers to show which languages they speak. Discover more in our blog post on Mundolingo. There are also plenty of Meet Up Groups that focus on a specific language. Some that we’ve tried in London include a Russian pub social meet up and a French board games meet up. You’ll be sure to find like-minded people and lots of opportunities to practice!

8. Practice describing things – this may sound quite simple, but the chances are that in some circumstances you may not know the word for the item or concept you want to talk about, so you will need to find another way to convey it. For example, you might want to say ‘elephant’ but you don’t know the word in the language, so you would need to describe it as ‘an animal that is large and grey with four legs and large ears and long nose’ hopefully at this point a native speaker will step in and provide the word you need. This is a great way to strengthen your language-learning muscles as it forces you to think outside the box and use what vocabulary you do have to convey the idea you want to express. Chances are, you’re more likely to remember the word next time too!

9. Have a translation app open on your phone or laptop when conversing – when practising online with conversation partners, I often have Google Translate open on my screen so that I can quickly translate any key words I need and can’t describe. In face to face situations I have the Word Reference app open on my phone just in case there is a word that causes a stumbling block in the conversation.

10. Keep Calm and Carry On!  Being put on the spot to speak a language can be an anxious experience and it is well documented that stress can raise cortisol levels and affect memory and recall. If you’re going to be put on the spot speaking a language, the best thing you can do is prepare using the steps above and remember that most native speakers are very patient and understanding when they know someone is learning their language.

Good luck practising your speaking skills and let us know how you get on in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram !

Keep your Language Learning on Track in 2019 with Lingua Centra’s Language Practice Tracker

Have you made a new year’s resolution to learn a new language and not sure where to begin? Are you a seasoned learner, but losing momentum in your journey towards fluency?Lingua Centra logo

We know it can be difficult to keep your language learning on track while working full time or juggling professional, personal and family commitments. We had a whirlwind year in 2018 buying our first home, renovating, starting new jobs and getting married, and we noticed our language learning was taking a real back seat.

This was really disappointing for us as we are super passionate polyglots, so we tried to find a way to make it easier to work our language learning into our lives by breaking down learning into smaller, more manageable chunks. This led us to design our own Language Practice Tracker that works really well for us that we want to share as it might be helpful for you too! By following this tracker, we’re feeling more confident with our French and can see how much progress we’re making in a way that fits in around our busy lives.

So how does it work?

We found it was so much easier to break down language learning into a few fun chunks that you can embed into your everyday routine that, (when followed consistently) will give you a varied exposure to the language and help you on your way towards fluency. Check out the Lingua Centra Language Practice Tracker here as a PDF:

Lingua Centra Language Practice Tracker 2019

We created this tool to help keep up with our French, which we speak at advanced level, so you may see some of the tasks as more challenging. This is true, but some tasks can be adapted if you are just starting out with a language as a beginner. The main aim is to provide a range of activities you can complete each month to help you work language learning into your daily routine. The practice tasks we’ve included are based on key areas of language learning such as receptive listening and reading tasks, productive speaking and writing tasks, vocabulary acquisition and grammar tasks.

We’ve tried to include a real mixture of activities, with some tasks being independent and others involving communicating with others online, certain tasks being via video call or phone and some being intensive and extensively focused.

Download the chart above to kick start your own learning journey this year and use it to keep your momentum up with your language learning in 2019. Give it a go and let us know how you get on in the comments below or our social media channels!

Lingora – feedback from native speakers at your fingertips

If you haven’t tried Lingora yet, it’s definitely time to add it to your language learning toolkit. I signed up to Lingora to practise my French (advanced), Russian (intermediate) and Portuguese (beginner) and am so glad I’ve discovered this fantastic platform where a community of native speakers review my writing and speech and give feedback for free!


What does the feedback cover?
 So, there are 2 sets of criteria depending on whether it’s a written text or a spoken audio clip and native speakers can leave comments and rate your post on the following:

Audio files: Accent, fluency, pronunciation, intonation.
Written texts: Grammatical Accuracy, punctuation, spelling, style

So how does it work? It’s very simple and it’s completely free! You just:
1. Sign up on the Lingora website
2. Select the language(s) you’re learning and your level
3. Write a short text or record an audio clip of you speaking the language (there are really useful prompt topics and ideas to start you off)
4. Post your text or audio clip to the platform and wait for feedback to come flooding in from native speakers!

Watch our walk-through and review of Lingora:

Lingora is a great tool for your learning no matter your level – I tested it in French, Russian and Portuguese that I speak at very different levels and here are some practical tips and examples of how Lingora can help you improve at any level:

Beginner – post audio clips of basic sentences to get feedback on your pronunciation, intonation and stress. Or post short written sentences to get feedback on spelling and syntax (word order).

Intermediate – post written texts or audio files on specific topics to receive feedback on fluency, grammatical accuracy and style.

Advanced – find native speakers and use the chat and audio function to share more complex messages and set up tandem language exchanges.

Another fab feature is that each time you post, you earn Lingorocks that can earn you discounts on classes in the Lingora store. You can also earn Lingorocks by giving feedback on other people’s posts in your native language.

Lingora stands out from a lot of other language learning platforms because it gives you access to thousands of native speakers who can provide detailed, honest and constructive feedback for you on the written texts and speech snippets you share.

The best thing about being able to ‘prepare before you share’ any audio files or written texts is that you can check through your grammar and re-record sections until you’re happy to share the final result, unlike many live chat platforms where you can often feel under pressure to get everything 100% accurate first time.

Lingora provides a relaxed platform to improve your speaking, writing, pronunciation and grammar and you can be sure to get some really useful feedback too – within just 24 hours I had received 3 pieces of feedback from different native speakers on each of my posts!

Sign up to Lingora for free today and let us know what you think in the comments below and share with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram !

(You can discover more Lingora features like lessons, podcasts, and amazing Lingorock discounts here on the Lingora website FAQs)

Podcasts – for language learning on the go

What you need

  • Smartphone (or tablet)
  • Headphones
  • Internet access (not necessarily mobile data)

Step 1 – find and install an app

Any podcast app is likely to do the trick, but I’m going to recommend one that works well and probably does and has what you need. Either way, install an app of your choice.

I recommend Podcast Addict. It’s available on Android, and it’s free! Apple has its own ‘Apple Podcasts’ for iOS, so you could either that or search for an alternative on the App Store.

Step 2 – find something to listen to

You have a couple of options for your approach here and it may well depend on your language level.

Option 1: search for language learning podcasts, of which there are many. On Podcast Addict, you search for podcasts like this:

Podcast addict homepage
Click the ‘plus’ button in the top-right of the screen

Type of search
Choose ‘Search Engine’

Search for something
Search for something

Language learning results
Check out the results

Option 2: have an interest? Mine is technology; yours might be politics, travel, art, or anything else. I won’t guarantee it, but you’re pretty likely to find a podcast for any interest in any language.

So, search for podcasts relating to that interest in the target language. Podcast Addict makes this pretty easy. You can choose the languages that the search will return like this:

Filter by language
Tick ‘Filter language’ & click the ‘aA’ button.

Pick languages
Choose one or more languages, then press your back key

Enter your search terms
Enter your hobby or interest and go for it!

Step 3 – download and listen

You’re all set once you’ve followed the above steps, but I’ve put some (hopefully) helpful bits below about app settings for Podcast Addict.

Got a recommendation for a good podcast app? Let us know in the comments.

Extra info

Settings – downloading and deleting

Set up the Podcast Addict to download whenever is good for you.

Find settings
Settings are in the three-dot menu

Settings > download
From settings, click “Download”

Download settings
Change the download settings to suit you

Once you have set up your download settings, you may wish to setup the app to delete podcasts that you’ve listened to already, just to save space. Here’s how to do that:

Settings > Cleanup
Select “automatic cleanup” from the settings menu

Automatic cleanup
Change your automatic cleanup settings to suit you

Settings – WiFi vs. mobile data

Not everyone has unlimited data. If that’s you, you may wish to change your settings to download new podcasts and updates only when you’re connected to the almighty WiFi.

Network settings
Set you network settings to suit your data needs

 

Maximising language practice on your holiday

For many of us, holidays are a great opportunity to put into practice the language skills you’ve learnt so far whilst soaking up the sun, sea and culture. Below are some of the language rituals I embed into my trip whenever I hop across la Manche (the English Channel) to France to make the most of the time I’m there for maximum language gains. It’s really helped me to come away feeling a sense of achievement and given me lots of stories and vocabulary to weave into my learning and practice at home too! 

My holiday challenge to you is to pick one or two activities to do each day that you’re away, so you can make the most of practising and learning the lingo on your holiday:

  1. Order food or drink at cafés and restaurants – this can seem nerve-wracking especially if the waiter’s or waitress’ English is very good or it’s a busy service. But remember – you are the customer and staff are being paid to be patient with you when you’re ordering your food, so make the most of it! If you’re looking for an extra challenge, try initiating a conversation by asking for a recommendation or enquiring how the meal is prepared or where the ingredients are sourced.
  2. Listen to the radio in a hire car – this was a lifesaver for me when working at a car hire company in France for 2 months and turned a lot of solitary driving into a useful learning experience! News bulletins and debates are good for formal register and call-ins or competitions might be better for informal language, but make sure you find a station that plays your kind of music so you can enjoy the road trip and maybe even find a new favourite singer or band in the language that you’re learning.
  3. Watch the morning news in the language – most hotel rooms or hired apartments will come with a TV, so make the most of your leisurely morning routine to watch a bit of news; it’s a great way to see the country from an internal perspective too.
  4. Talk to the hotel reception staff in the language – again, the staff here are paid to be patient and give top notch customer service, even if it means humouring you as you test out your language skills – so give it a go! If you get stuck for things to say, maybe ask for recommendations for places to visit, local restaurants or the best travel routes and, if all else fails, there’s always the weather to keep the small talk going.
  5. Use written or audio tour guides in the language – it’s so easy and comfortable to pick up an audio or written guide in English or your native language, but stretch yourself by picking up one in the local language so you can learn at your leisure during your visit and tune into the accent. You can always rewind and listen again if you miss something. I often pick up written guides in both languages to look at how words and phrases are translated too, so try this if you’re looking for an additional challenge.
  6. Do a cooking class in the language – this is a firm favourite of mine as I love to eat! TripAdvisor has lots of recommendations on cooking workshops in cities across the world, so see if you can meet a local teacher and get taste the city from their perspective. If a cooking class isn’t available, perhaps a wine tasting instead and insist the staff explain the process and the wines in the language. Iain and I did this on a recent trip to France and it was a really fun way to use the language (and discover new tipples too)!
  7. Take an activity class in the language – as above, another favourite of mine. I’ve taken salsa classes in Russian and French, horse riding classes in both languages and art and singing classes in Russian. It will open you up to a whole new domain of vocabulary and maybe a new hobby too! If you already have a regular hobby, why not take time to seek out a local group or sports team that you could visit or train with while you’re out there? You’ll already have something in common with the members and they’re likely to be chuffed that someone from overseas is interested in meeting with them and practising the hobby in their language. You never know, it might be the start of an annual trip or tournament!
  8. Write a travel diary in the language – many of us keep travel logs of our holiday adventures so that we can relive the memories when we’re back to our daily routines at home, so why not write it in the language you’re learning? It will help practice the past tense in the language and help you feel more confident when talking to someone about your holiday because you’ve already learnt all the vocabulary.
  9. Haggle at markets in the language – this is definitely not my forté, but Iain is an absolute pro at this! It’s a great way to practise your numbers, your negotiation skills and your nerve in the language whilst picking up a bargain or too. Give it a go – if you’re brave enough! 
  10. Request restaurant menus in the language – don’t be shy, make sure they give you the locals’ menu! You can ask for clarification if needed and you will begin to get used to local dishes and ingredients and how they’re described. If you do make a mistake and order something you weren’t expecting, it’s a sure fire way to make sure you never forget that vocab next time! This happened to me when I accidentally ordered bitter ‘jus de pamplemousse’ (grapefruit) juice instead of sweet ‘jus d’ananas’ (pineapple juice) in Ladurée in Paris aged 11 – you’ll never make the same mistake twice!
  11. Practise phone conversations using room service – talking on the phone in another language is one of the hardest tasks to navigate because you can’t rely on visual clues, body language or hand gestures. That makes it the best training ground – go on, pick up that phone and order yourself a treat to the room!
  12. Haggling with taxi drivers – once again, this one might not be for you but is an essential skill for travelling abroad. If you can haggle and use numbers convincingly, you’re less likely to get ripped off by taxi drivers taking advantage of tourists, so well worth swatting up on your numbers.
  13. Pick up free newspapers or magazines to read (and translate) – I’m a self-confessed newspaper hoarder and always pick up at least one when I’m away. They give you a snapshot of local news and events and will give you something to talk to the local people about as well. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, why not try translating an article back into English or your first language?
  14. Go to the cinema – another favourite of mine, especially if the weather is unexpectedly bad for your holiday: you can turn it into an opportunity by hitting the cinema to see a film and picking up some new vocab. I’ve found that translated films are much easier to understand, but home-grown films provide more of a challenge, as they are more likely to use more colloquial, everyday phrases. You’re much more likely to get a sense of the culture and humour by seeing a film in the original language, plus you don’t run the risk of having distracting subtitles or poor dubbing!
  15. Pick your holiday reading list in the language – whether you’re a book or kindle fan, most of us will spend some downtime on our summer holidays by the pool catching up with some essential reading, so why not pick a book in the language you’re learning? Depending on your level, you might want to look for a dual language book where both English (or your native language) and the target language are featured side by side. 

So these are just a few of my top tips for making the most of your holiday breaks abroad to really get you speaking, reading, learning and generally soaking up the language and culture as much as possible while you’re overseas. I hope it’s a useful starter for ten and let me know how you get on in the comments below!

What are your top tips for speaking / reading / listening or practising your language skills when on holiday? Let me know in the comments below or via social media on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Mastering a language: accelerate your learning using these 3 simple steps!

Step One: Become the master of your own learning:

Learning is a skill in itself that you can hone by getting to know your natural style of learning. This will help you make real leaps and bounds in your language acquisition at a much faster pace and make the process more fun too! The first step is discovering whether you’re an Activist, Reflector, Theorist or Pragmatist learner using the Honey Mumford learner types questionnaire:  http://resources.eln.io/honey-mumford-learner-types-1986-questionnaire-online/

Other learner types include Visual, Auditory, Reading, Kinaesthetic (VARK) so might be worth trying quizzes online for these as well.

These kinds of quizzes only take 5 minutes maximum to complete, but it will be the best 5
minutes you dedicate to your study, as it will save you hours of unproductive learning! After taking them I found out that

 I’m an activist learner with an auditory style preference. So now I make sure I use interactive, challenging activities that include lots of socialising, films, YouTube cooking tutorials and music. Over the last year since applying these techniques, my French learning has really taken off and, on a recent trip to France, I could communicate much more fluently with everyone I met and have rediscovered my passion for French. 

Take it from me, when you tailor your learning to fit your own personal style, it will make your journey towards fluency much faster and more enjoyable!

Step Two: Master your motivation.

Let’s face it, there’s no ‘quick fix’ when it comes to language learning and, for many of us, learning to speak a language confidently is a process that can take many months and years of practice. I like to think of athletes preparing for the Olympics – you won’t be ready to go for gold overnight! But often that means we lose sight of why we ever started in the first place and can leave us feeling lacklustre and demotivated during the process.

To avoid these learning ruts, it’s essential to get to the bottom of what motivates you about your language learning. You can do this, by asking yourself some probing questions like:

“Why am I learning this language?

“What do I want to use my language skills for? How will this skill impact my life?”

“Have my reasons for learning the language changed or evolved since I started learning?”

Answers to these questions will vary from person to person and at different points in time, but checking your motivation regularly will help keep you enthused and on track. Are you learning to pass an exam? To keep in touch with a friend overseas? To make a good impression on a spouse or partner’s family who speak another language? To move or work overseas? For your work or a hobby you pursue?

There is no such thing as ‘bad motivation’ but, it is generally accepted that having an intrinsic motivation for doing something rather than extrinsic motivation makes it easier to stay focused and enthused. See the Very Well website for more on motivation.

 

Step 3: Mastering goal setting for success.

Having an aim or destination helps make any learning journey smoother, otherwise how will you know when you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve? Regularly asking yourself the following questions along the journey will really help:

“What does success look like for me in my language learning?”

“How will I know when I’ve achieved what I set out to in the language I’m learning?”

 

Success for you might be ordering a meal on holiday or asking for directions confidently in the language (then understanding the responses..!). As you achieve these goals, you might progress onto writing a letter or email to a friend, reading a book or delivering a presentation in the target language. Whatever success looks like for you, it will take a series of small steps rather than one giant leap to get there, so setting yourself SMART goals will help keep you focused and help you recognise when you’ve achieved it, will in turn keep you more motivated! SMART goals must be:  

So, depending on your starting point, if your ambition is to learn a new language fluently or write a 2,000 word essay in the language within 1 month this might not be achievable or realistic. Equally ‘being fluent’ is difficult to measure (more on fluency another time!), so perhaps try thinking more about what it is you want to do with the language, then working towards achieving that specific task as a stepping stone towards fluency. Good luck!

For more on SMART goals see Mind Tools: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

Thanks for reading – hope you found this useful and it makes your language learning more tailor made and fun! Let us know how you get on mastering the language(s) you’re learning on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter