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)

Fluent in 3 months challenge – week 1 Portuguese progress report

The last time I picked up a new language was over 8 years ago so understandably it was a bit of a shock to the system after taking a degree in French and Russian and speaking them fluently, to find myself back to square one with Portuguese this week!

Read on for my highs, lows, and reflections for the week and let me know your thoughts in the comments if you have been down this road recently or have any general tips on Portuguese to share. Portuguese map puzzle

Portuguese is an official language in 10 countries

Why Portuguese? 

I visited Portugal quite a few times on holiday when I was younger and tried to learn a few key phrases such as ‘my name is…’ and ‘thank you’ but didn’t progress any further. I would also love to visit Brazil at some point in future, so I’m getting myself language ready for Carnival!

At my current place of work there is a Portuguese cleaner who I often speak with, but English isn’t her first language (and gesticulating can only get us so far) so I’m on a mission to be able to have an basic chat in Portuguese with her before the end of the first month.

What I’ve covered this week:

  • Basic vocabulary on people, food and animals using the Duolinguo app during my commute to work.
  • Introductions, asking questions and responding to questions, including learning more varied responses to ‘how are you? (tudo bem?)’, using the Rocket Languages website
  • Bedroom furniture vocabulary using Post-it notes around the room.
  • Subject pronouns (the person doing the verb) and differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese.  

    My learning resources from week 1

Highs:

  • Noticing the similarities between French and Portuguese vocabulary. Speaking another romance language has definitely helped me along with recognising vocabulary (even if pronouncing it is a bit trickier!)
  • Having a fresh start with a language as an adult learner. I’ve always had a passion for languages but when learning French and Russian as academic subjects a lot of my motivation became wrapped up in passing exams. As an independent hobbyist adult learner, I can really set the pace for my learning and focus on what I feel is most useful for me in my everyday life, which has been really refreshing.
  • Starting Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 months book and gaining lots of invaluable tips and approaches for purposeful and successful language learning.

Lows:

  • Feeling like I’m back at the bottom of the mountain with a long climb ahead to get to conversational level – although I’m very determined!
  • Finding time to focus on Portuguese as my ‘sprint language’, with Russian being my ‘marathon language’ of focus for this week.
  • Discovering the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese and being torn between which one to focus on speaking and writing. I have decided to focus on European Portuguese because I’m based in Europe, but am using a Teach Yourself Portuguese book, which features both alongside each other, so I aim to recognise both.

    Learning a language can feel like a roller coaster of highs and lows, jump on and enjoy the ride!

Mini Missions for weeks 2-4.

  • Find out what direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns are
  • Mastering conjugations of key verbs in present tense such as: to live, to work, to go, to have, to be, to like, to want, to do.
  • Learn numbers.
  • Learn time referents.
  • Continue with vocabulary learning of important everyday topics such as: the weather, clothes, shopping, cooking, hobbies.
  • Have conversation with the cleaner at my place of work in Portuguese.
  • Take a class on italki with a Portuguese tutor.

Keep an eye out for videos of me speaking my pidgin Portuguese coming soon to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram ..! Follow us to keep up with my language learning challenge and let me know how your learning is going in the comments below.

Introducing… Clare

Clare from Lingua Centra
At a rooftop terrace bar in Rome

I’ve been a language lover since an early age when a school dinner lady taught me how to count to ten in French during a lunch break at the age of 6! Now I speak four languages (English, French, Russian and British Sign Language) and am working on my fifth (Portuguese) and am keen to discuss and share my experiences with others on the journey of learning or mastering a language.

I started learning BSL age 11 when I attended a language lunch club at school to learn how to communicate with Deaf peers who were integrated into some of my classes. I’m now fluent and regularly attend events in London with Deaf friends as I can’t get enough of this visual-spatial language and being able to express myself without saying a word.

I started learning French at secondary school aged 11 and then picked up Russian for GCSE and continued both at The University of Exeter where I was social secretary for the Russian Society (more on this another time!). I lived in Russia for a year as part of my uni course, where I learnt a lot about language, culture and the ‘sink or swim’ feeling of being totally immersed in a language. During the year, I spent many an evening in cocktail and shisha bars with Iain on a mission to test out what we’d learnt in the classroom with our Russian friends who, luckily for us, were all very patient and supportive despite our limited Russian..!

Since graduating, I’ve regained my motivation for studying languages for the pure pleasure of traveling and socialising and have become much more focused on communication as a goal, rather than working towards an exam. This passion for raising the profile of language learning in the UK and unlocking languages to link people across the globe is why we established Lingua Centra. Through our website we are compiling a growing directory of language schools to help fellow linguists of any level or proficiency learn at home or abroad as well as listing other resources for you to realise the Lingua Centra mission that anyone, anywhere, on any budget can learn any language.

Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion and share your top tips for learning! @LinguaCentra