Learning a Language the Fun Way

When learning a foreign language, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in tired, traditional learning methods such as flashcards or dusty grammar books. Of course, vocabulary and grammar are integral to language learning, and you’ll undoubtedly have to put in some hard work in these areas, but that doesn’t mean it has to be endless drudgery. Language learning can, and should, be fun. You’re much more likely to retain information that you learnt whilst enjoying yourself. There are a whole host of methods you can try; here are just a few of them:

  • Dubs and translations of familiar material

Strictly speaking, it’s probably best for you to watch and read content produced in your target language to further your cultural understanding. That being said, a dub of your favourite film or TV series can be a really effective way to boost your language skills. Think about it; you already know the story and therefore don’t need to worry about missing crucial plot details due to gaps in your language, and you’re bound to pick up new vocabulary naturally and effortlessly as you already know what everyone is talking about.

  • Browse the internet in your target language

How long do you spend each day procrastinating online? Why not turn this time into a valuable learning opportunity by visiting your favourite sites in the language you’re learning? Buzzfeed, for example, offers a version of its site in a variety of languages, so now you can take personality tests in French and call it productive!

  • Sticky notes

People might think that you’re a little insane when they come to visit a house plastered with sticky notes, but labelling household objects in your target language is a great way to learn vocabulary. You’ll see the word again and again without any conscious effort on your part, allowing you to avoid endless piles of flashcards.

  • Make friends with native speakers

This is the perfect solution, you get to relax and have fun with your friends all the while practising your language! It might seem a little daunting, and at first it can be exhausting to have to express yourself in a foreign language all the time, but if you manage to meet kind (and patient!) people you can build lasting friendships and will have a more concrete motivation for learning the language.

  • Keep a journal in the language

If you already keep a journal, why not switch it to the language you’re learning? You don’t have to feel embarrassed about mistakes you’re making as it’s strictly private, and you’ll find yourself needing to look up new words all the time, thus expanding your vocabulary. What’s more, you can look back on earlier entries and cringe at your old mistakes, whilst feeling smug about how far you’ve come!

  • Foreign language music

Take a look at the top charts in a country that speaks your target language, there’s sure to be something that suits your taste. You’ll learn to associate the words to the tunes and will be much more likely to remember them as a result, and it’ll give you common ground to talk about with natives.  Even if you’re struggling to distinguish words, it’s a good way of familiarising yourself to the sounds of the language.

So don’t despair, learning a language can actually be quite enjoyable. Mix up some of your more traditional study methods with these fun techniques and you’ll find yourself progressing without even noticing. If you enjoyed reading this blog, you can find more of the same here, and don’t forget to consult our job offers for bilingual secretaries in Paris.

What Does Fluency Mean to You?

As a company specialising in the recruitment of bilingual secretaries, it’s important to examine exactly what we mean by ‘bilingual’, or rather what is implied by fluency. The word is bandied around, laden with implicit meaning, in questions to language learners and expats alike (“But are you fluent yet?”) and as anyone with any experience in this area can tell you, the answer is far from simple.

Most would suggest a definition along the lines of ‘conversing accurately and with ease’, and indeed this seems to be the consensus amongst dictionaries. Does this mean that a fluent speaker must have a perfect mastery of the language? Certainly not. The myriad aspects of language are almost impossible to list, let alone to master. To any native English speakers: how many of you can provide a definition of the verb ‘to jargogle’? Does your likely inability to define this obscure word as the act of confusing or mixing things up demonstrate that you are not, as you had previously thought, a fluent English speaker? It seems that rather than demanding absolute lexical knowledge of a language as proof of fluency, we should look more towards contextual understanding of unknown words and the ability to use the target language to fill gaps in vocabulary. For example: the ability to describe a coaster as a small mat for a drink without knowing the word itself. Of course, excellent and consistent grammatical knowledge is necessary, but fluent second language speakers and natives alike will occasionally slip up in this regard; what matters is that communication is not impeded.

As far as accents go, some will go very far towards perfecting theirs in a foreign language, but only a handful will rid themselves completely of their native language accent – and should this really be the goal? A (slight!) accent should be worn as a badge of honour, as proof of the hard work put in to acquire your second language, rather than seen as something to be ashamed of. Few would claim that Marion Cotillard, for example, does not speak English fluently due to her slight French accent.

Then there is the romantic idea that dreaming in a foreign language is the ultimate indicator of fluency. The trouble with dreams is that they are particularly hard to measure and do not necessarily accompany fluency, although they are certainly a good sign of mental immersion. Furthermore, many beginners have been known to dream in their second language without understanding what is being spoken around them, which is quite probably gibberish!

Perhaps the most sensible way to view fluency is as the ability to function in your second language in the same capacities as your native one. Evidently this will mean different things for different people and therefore adds a personal aspect lacking from the ‘accurately and with ease’ definition. For example: the ability to discuss astrophysics would be irrelevant for most, whereas for a German scientist working in an Anglophone environment this might be an integral part of bilingualism.

What does fluency mean to you, and would you classify yourself as fluent in any languages you’ve learnt? Do any of these definitions really matter? Maybe you think we’d do best to get rid of the label completely and simply focus on being able to communicate with one another!

If you enjoyed reading this, you can look at our blog for more of the same. Also if you’re searching for a job, don’t hesitate to look at our offers.

3 Trésors gratuits en ligne pour maîtriser une langue étrangère

Vous avez un très bon niveau dans une langue mais vous ne la parlez pas encore couramment ?  Comment trouver ainsi des ressources en ligne pour perfectionner votre maîtrise ?

Si on débute l’apprentissage d’une nouvelle langue, il est facile de trouver des logiciels en ligne adaptés à votre niveau : Duolingo, par exemple, nommé application de l’année 2013 par l’entreprise Apple, propose des exercices ludiques pour vous enseigner, et il y en a beaucoup d’autres qui suivent ce modèle.

Quant aux locuteurs adeptes, le défi consiste cependant à trouver des outils en ligne correspondant à leur niveau supérieur.  Acquérir un vocabulaire de base, comme « dog » et « cat », ne vous sert à rien si le besoin est d’étoffer un lexique technique.  En plus, à quoi bon faire des exercices pédagogiques si vous souhaitez maîtriser un anglais des affaires courant ?  Ne vous inquiétez pas parce que voici plusieurs suggestions pour vous :

WeSpeke

Imaginez un mélange entre Skype et WordReference, et voilà, vous pensez à WeSpeke.  C’est un réseau social qui vous permet de joindre des locuteurs natifs aux quatre coins de la planète et avoir des conversations avec eux en temps réel.  Choisissez votre niveau de langue (1 pour un débutant et 5 pour un natif) ainsi que vos intérêts et vous serez prêt à vous lancer dans une communauté globale ! Vous parlez à tour de rôle dans votre langue maternelle d’un thème qui vous intéresse, les deux pendant un certain temps avant de changer de langue.  Ce site est tellement populaire qu’il connaît un succès grandissant depuis son lancement en 2010.  Inscrivez-vous ou trouvez plus de renseignements ici.

Linguee

Vous parlez couramment une langue mais vous avez du mal à traduire certaines expressions techniques ou spécifiques ? C’est Linguee que vous cherchez !  Un dictionnaire en ligne qui propose des traductions contextuelles, l’outil ramasse ses données des sites officiels qui ont été traduits par des traducteurs professionnels.  Donc, la prochaine fois qu’il vous faut trouver l’expression équivalente de ‘produit intérieur brut annuel’ en anglais, allez sur : www.linguee.fr !

Meetup

Etre bilingue à partir d’un logiciel… c’est probablement une promesse trop belle pour être vraie.  Cela dit, vous pourrez profiter du web pour rencontrer des gens dont la langue maternelle est celle que vous désirez perfectionner.  Meetup propose une manière de joindre les gens dans votre région qui ont envie de se retrouver.  Il y a beaucoup d’échanges linguistiques dont vous pouvez bénéficier.  Il faut simplement créer un compte pour découvrir l’adresse de votre prochain rendez-vous… n’hésitez pas !

Si vous avez d’autres astuces pour se perfectionner en langue, partagez-les avec nous en les écrivant en dessous.

Et ne pas oublier de visiter notre site pour découvrir toutes nos offres d’actualité pour les personnes bilingues ici.

Working in Tandem:Language Exchanges

The time had finally come; I had arrived in Paris to put the years of learning French to the test. However, I had come up against a brick wall: despite the fact I was speaking in French, the response was regularly in English.  So what was I to do? Skimming through all the events on Meetup.com, I discovered language exchange events such as Paris English French Conversation exchange, Franglish and Café Conversation and I decided to try one out.

The event I went to had a concept similar to that of speed dating (without the awkward chatting up), with 7 minutes each to speak in French and English. After the time is up, you move onto another table, meet a new partner and repeat the cycle.  Simple.

Language exchanges are successful because they provide a medium to meet native speakers in a relaxed environment. There is no need to feel embarrassed or anxious when making mistakes, as everyone understands the difficulty of learning a language. It is also a brilliant compromise, as both parties get the opportunity to put their language skills into practice. Additionally, the events attract a wide variety of people which allows for a large scope of conversation topics.

Needless to say, the concept can become repetitive and you do find yourself saying the same spiel over and over again.  The constant chopping and changing also has a downside as you often have to leave conservations unfinished when you’ve reached an interesting point. Lastly, as an intern, I found the event I went to a bit expensive at 8 Euros (12 Euros without student discount). However, the price does include a drink.

Complaints aside, I feel it is a worthwhile investment and the opportunity to meet native French speakers, who are willing to help me with my French, is priceless. The road to fluency is often a long and frustrating one but a language exchange offers the prospect to do so in a welcoming and non- intimidating atmosphere. I would highly recommend participating in language exchanges to anyone who wishes to improve their language skills, regardless of their level of fluency.

What do you think of language exchanges? Do you have any other innovative ways for learning languages?

What does it mean to be fluent? The different stages of learning a foreign language

Image via KEXINO (Flickr). kexino.com

While working as an English Language Assistant in Germany, I was surprised to hear that many of the older pupils considered themselves to be fluent in English, and although I taught several students who spoke very well for their age, it is debatable as to whether or not they could be described as fluent. The dictionary defines fluency as the ability to express oneself easily and articulately, but is it really as simple as that?

Those who study languages will often be asked if they can speak at a fluent level. Upon being asked this question, it is very easy to say no, just because you don’t have a flawless command of the language; however, it is virtually impossible to describe fluency in such black and white terms. It is not simply a question of being either fluent or not fluent, but rather establishing the point at which you are at within the various ‘in between’ stages which constitute the process of learning a foreign language.

Like with all subjects, this process starts properly when you begin to pursue an interest in learning a language. This may be deciding to study languages at university or taking higher level language classes. Making this decision and getting on to the first rung of the language-learning ladder is an important step in your quest for fluency.

However, there is only so much you can learn from reading books and practising grammar. There comes a point when you have to use what you have learned actively for a prolonged period of time. For most people, this will be on their year abroad and it can be a daunting experience to have to fend for yourself linguistically for the first time in a foreign country. Add in the pressures day-to-day life and it is easy to feel lost and confused. Simple things such as buying a sandwich can seem daunting, but there is no need to panic because you will soon start to see rapid improvements.

You will quickly find that your comprehension of the language becomes less and less of an issue to the point where you can understand most things, but at the same time not necessarily be able to express yourself in the way that you want. Nevertheless, you should soon find that you go from being able to concentrate on one conversation at a time, to picking up things from conversations going on around you, just as you would be able to in your native tongue. This is a big milestone in the language-learning process. How quickly you improve is normally determined by the level of exposure to the language you experience.

Having got to this stage, the wheels are now in motion and being able to understand everything means that you will pick up lots of everyday phrases and begin to get a feel of how the natives use their language. The more things you pick up, the more confident you feel to use them yourself. So despite feeling like you may still lack a lot of vocab, you will notice that you start to express yourself more like a native would. This will, in turn, lead to a level of language where you don’t have any trouble saying what you want to, and although you might not be able to find the exact phrase which corresponds to the point you are making, you will be able to find another equivalent expression. That’s the beauty of languages – there’s almost always more than one way of saying something.

Reaching this stage is a real achievement and you should give yourself a pat on the back for getting this far. On the other hand, there is still one final elusive stage. Understanding and replying without problem doesn’t really show off your personality. The best way to communicate who you really are is to spend as much time as you can with natives in as many different environments as possible. I found a very good way of doing this is to socialise with the locals – if a group of colleagues are planning a picnic on a National Holiday or going on a bike ride at the weekend, ask to go with them. You have to live the culture and the language rather than just appreciate and understand them. Be a part of what makes France French or Germany German.

It is by far the hardest stage to achieve and does require real persistence and determination. Don’t be put off though – you’ve come this far – why stop now? It is true that reaching this level of ‘fluency’ may well require living abroad for a more prolonged period, but it can be done if you put your mind to it.

As far as languages go, you have to play the long game. The longer you stay in a particular country, the better you will become. You also need to factor in time to adapt to different cultures and traditions. It can be frustrating getting to a certain stage whilst abroad and then finding you have regressed the next time you go back to that country. Fear not for this is completely normal, and having reached a particular level, you will find that each time you return, it takes less and less time to get back into the swing of things and start improving once again. Obviously everybody learns and improves at different paces, but these different stages are attainable and can be achieved by anyone if they persist and have the desire to improve. The important thing is to have confidence in yourself and your ability. The rest will take care of itself.

So there you have it. Everybody defines fluency differently, but this should give you a better indication of how far down the language-progression line you really are. So the next time that somebody asks you if you are fluent or not, tell them where you’re at and let them decide!