5 Creative Ideas for Boosting Results and Adding Fun in Your Online Language Lessons

Language tutors are a favourite resource in any successful learner’s arsenal. But it’s not always easy to stay excited about your language lessons, and to turn up regularly…If there’s no creativity in online lessons, no one gets to have the results or the fun that they should have. 

No problem! Check out the following 5 ideas for lessons in any language, and you’ll be on to a winner!

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How To Learn A New Language With Smart And Useful Goals

For a long time, I had a difficult relationship with goal-setting. As a fully-fledged questioner, I find it hard to take anything at face value, let alone the idea that I must have a goal to achieve anything.

When I was learning languages in full-time education environments like school and university, the goals weren't on my mind. My school sorted that out for me: turn up to classes, write essays, take exams. But since I've started working with independent language learners (and since I became one), goals have taken an entirely different role.

As an independent language learner, you need to know what to do. It's easy to think that you're already doing the work by stating what you want to achieve. But let me have an honest moment with you here:

Those goals don't help you do things.

smart useful goals

In this article, you'll learn about the two types of goals you need for language learning.

Goal Type 1: Vision Goals

Let's have a look at those language learning goals I see online again and again.

  • "I want to become fluent in Spanish"
  • "I want to have a 15-minute conversation in German" Or here is one that I set for myself last year:
  • "I want to speak Welsh at the Eisteddfod festival in August"

I am sure you have often heard about SMART goals. In many areas of life, our goals will only serve us if we make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

In my mind, these fail the SMART list on a bunch of counts:

None of this is a bad thing in itself. If you are motivated and driven by a vision of your future self speaking a foreign language without hesitating, then that is an amazing image to hold on to. It should be one of the many vague and inspiring concepts you hold dear, and in fact I would even advise you start visualizing your success.

But those visions aren't useful goals, because they just won't help you when it gets down to doing the language learning work. You need that vision.

And for times when you've carved out that half hour to get to business and really learn a language, you need goals.

Goal Type 2: Path Goals

In my Welsh studies, I've been completely independent from the start. I don't have that external structure of tutor, group class, exams, and it took a while before I found a way to use my time for language learning. At first, I tried ideas like "I want fluency" and even "I want to speak Welsh at the Eisteddfod in August". They worked as a motivator, but failed to give me a clear idea of the steps I wanted to take to learn a language.

My current path goals in Welsh

My current path goals in Welsh

I needed something that would help me know what to do when my study time comes. These goals are what I call path goals. They guide you when you're in study mode and mark the milestones on your path.

Here's what you need for making good path goals:

Structure

Structure is the thing that stops you from starting every study session wondering what you'll work on today. It's absolute gold for independent language learners, because you simply don't have the time to faff every single time. Decision fatigue is real, and it's going to paralyze you if you allow it.

  • Schedule the days when you're going to study your language, so you can treat them like any other appointment.
  • Use your path goals as simple "next steps" so you spend zero time deciding what matters.
  • Get some external structure. Follow an established course, work with a tutor, or use a textbook or online course. Even without that, you can be just as successful. Set your goals up to match the four core skills, and this should provide you with the sense of variety and progress you need.

Core Skills

The four core skills are the essential set of everything that makes language learning a success for you. You will want to focus on some more than others, but ultimately you need to put work into all four for becoming that inspiring future self.

The four core skills are listening, speaking, reading and writing. Structure your goals around improving in each one, and you're guaranteed to succeed.

There might be other areas you want to focus on too, such as improving your pronunciation and vocabulary. But if you've got the four core skills covered in your goals, I would advise you not to worry too much about any others. They will come naturally as you improve and respond to your needs in every situation.

Variety

Variety is a key component of the path goals you set for yourself. It's realistic to acknowledge that moods, motivation and focus can vary from day to day. So on one day you might be excited to crack open the textbook and work your phrases, but on another day all you want is speaking practice with a tutor.

Having varied goals (I recommend at least 4 to cover each core skill) allows you to pick from a short, focused list of tasks and make progress in every single study session.

Recap: The 2 Goal Types You Need for Learning a Language

So there you have it. Goal setting isn't the holy grail of productivity. But when you do it right and know your goal types, each step can give you the right support you need to progress today.

1. Set Vision Goals

You can call this an intention, a vision, a goal. This is the imagined, vivid image of your future self that will keep you going. Go deep with this, make moodboards (maybe on Pinterest?), be inspired. Blow that SMART stuff out of the water.

2. Set Path Goals

Path goals are not big visions, they are the structured next steps that will help you when it's time to work on studying. Your path goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. They should be anchored in what you can do now, and what you want to do next.

How to Structure Your Language Learning Routine

Do you want to follow the system I explained in this article and start to discover your ideal language learning routine? Then I recommend you check out the Language Habit Toolkit, my hands-on course to help you learn any language with personalized milestones.

--> Click here to learn more about the Language Habit Toolkit <--

Language Practice: Why You Don't Need A Native Speaker

language learning

The native speaker is often considered an absolute holy grail of language learning: They naturally know how language is used, they speak it perfectly and of course you will be immersed in your target language if you speak to one. But today, I'm writing to make you re-think your dependence!

Have you ever found one of the following problems when practicing with a native speaker:

  • It's difficult to understand regional accents
  • You ask them a question, and they respond with "it just is like this"
  • They always want to practice your language with you
  • You run out of topics after a few hours of discussing family, hobbies and weather

What if you have NO native speaker to talk to? Does that mean you will stop learning a language?

Why You Do Not Need A Native Speaker For Practice

In this blog, I'm not advocating that you avoid native level input and natural sources of your target language. They are what makes it come alive! By all means, make full use of Italki, social media and your own network to find a good language buddy, but please note the following:

You don't actually need a native speaker to practice with. This is so important to understand. You just need someone who's good enough or a little better than you. Sometimes it even helps not to have the native speaker, because a non-native speaker has learnt your target language too and can explain grammar and other problems more easily. Natives often don't even know which bits are hard for non-native speakers.

Why Practicing Online Isn't For Everyone

In addition to this point, some people just don't connect so well with the Skype or phone communication method. As an online language tutor, I work on Skype all the time, and it's a different to meeting in person - some of my students love it, some find it odd at the start. For some, I can just tell that it's not the right medium. So if you're In fact, the teenager who will practice his school French with you might actually be a better option than the French native speaker that you meet online.

Moral of the story: Make your own rules for what works for you.

What To Do About It

My advice would be to try a tutor, and that's just because:

  1. They work hard to make sure you understand, by reducing their own dialects and breaking sentences down to where you need them
  2. They will stick with you when you run out of the first 3 conversation topics with a language partner and research topics you need to talk about
  3. They won't expect you to spend any time teaching them your own language

Personally I learnt English before the internet was everywhere and still got from "pretty good" to "pretty fluent", through being taught by German natives and spending a lot of spare time listening to Pulp all the time and talking to myself. But I cannot imagine having done it without teachers. When your target language is German,

I think it's even more important that you find native speakers who understand your needs. German is that much easier to learn when you can make sense of the rules - and our spoken language is different from the grammar books. Trust yourself most of all, but if you have no native speaker around you please remember: It's not going to stop you.

How To Bring In Native-Like Practice

Of course, working without a native person to learn a language does not mean it would be wise to cut out all native-language content. When learning a language, it's important to know how it's spoken and to get a sense of the place where it's spoken.

You want to hear the sounds, the idioms, you want to know that there is a point to what you're doing here. In all learning, it's boring when it's just theory.

To get native-level practice into your studies before you go hunting for speakers all over town, try bringing in audio resources or even TV. It's easy to watch television in other languages or use cool software like Yabla.

And if you have regular access to native speakers, don't avoid them. Go out of your way to say even small things like good morning, and ask them "How do I say this in your language?" You'll soon find that every one of them is a small ambassador for their own language, just like you are for your own. And what's better than sharing?

How Soon Do You Work With Native Speakers?

Has it ever held you back that you can't find the native speaker? Or has shyness stopped you from talking to natives?

Leave your comment below to tell me more!

5 Reasons Why You'll Love Learning German in The Mosel Valley (A Big Announcement)

Dear Fluent Reader,

I'm so excited about what I'm about to reveal to you, but first of all let me take a second to honour you as a reader of this blog.

For the last four years, I've spent over 1000 hours teaching the German language to learners all around the world.

I have had the privilege of writing this blog for you guys, recording the Creative Language Learning Podcast and connecting with incredible language learners. You were here when I quit my job, wrote my first book, published new courses. Pretty cool.

But you know what? We've never yet had the chance to meet in Germany.

A Bold New Step For German Learners

Here's what's happening: Fluent Language is going to be hosting the first ever Fluent German Retreat in October!

I am so excited about this - the event is where I'll be showing you live how you can switch into "Deutschmodus", make 10x the progress of a usual week and have an unforgettable experience.

This is the most daring teaching step I've ever taken, and I'd love for you to be part of it.

Of course I'm also hoping that it will be just the beginning, with more languages, events and retreats to follow.

Why a Retreat?

If you're a dedicated language learner, you probably spend dozens of hour staring at books and screens. I know what that feels like.

It is undeniable:

Every language learner reaches the point where they are sick and tired of repeating the same activities. The point where it's time to bring your language skills to life. You're lusting for a new experience, a language immersion that can offer that coveted German breakthrough.

You can take language courses. But as you already know, simply learning in a classroom isn't enough. It also isn't what I dreamt of offering you, because I have been dying to show you how awesome my Germany is.

With the Fluent German Retreat, you can sign up for an unforgettable week of language immersion right in the heart of German wine country.

This experience is about taking a break from your usual life, switching gears and entering your own German mode. I'll be leading the experience, building up your speaking skills, supporting you with my years of experience and knowledge.

Discover Germany's Hottest Destination

Our amazing location, the Mosel valley, deserves its own moment of attention on our blog, considering it must be one of Germany's most thrilling landscapes. It's truly special, and it's also my own home which I cannot wait to share with you.

Allow me to tell you more about what makes this place the best location for you to learn German:

  • This region is hot in traveller circles right now. It was #34 on The New York Times's list of 52 Places to Go in 2016. Imagine telling your friends about how you learnt German on a wild stretch of German river, sipping the wine that was grown there..
  • This is fairytale Germany! You'll get lost in the charming Gassen of Bernkastel, chat to winemakers at a wine tasting and disccover ancient Roman amphitheatres and city gates in Trier - all in your target language.
  • The city of Luxembourg - a Unesco heritage city and polyglot paradise speaking 3 official languages - is only 20 minutes away.
  • If you're the active type, I'll have some amazing hiking trails to recommend to you. And if you not, you'll love kicking back on a relaxing boat tour.
  • The Mosel has been renowned for the quality of its wines for thousands of years. It is wine heaven. And we've all heard that language learner's wisdom about speaking more easily with a glass of wine in your hand.

Ready to hear how you can join us on the Retreat and have that German breakthrough?

You Are Invited To This German Experience

  • Are you a German learner ready for a week of immersion, fun and relaxation?
  • Does the prospect of speaking German for 5 days make you feel energised and excited?
  • Do you want to start speaking to native Germans and boost your speaking skill by 50%?

If you said yes to these questions, then it's your perfect time to join the Fluent German Retreat.

There are only five places available, and at the current time the applications have opened and are coming in. So if you're interested and would like to secure your spot, make sure you complete the no obligation RSVP form quickly to avoid disappointment.

It's so exciting to have put this event together and to open it up for your applications. Let's meet each other in Germany!

Podcast Episode 42: Could Language Make You Money?

language money

Today's episode returns to the topic of making money with languages. We ask if that's something you should be doing and how it can work.

In this episode, you get a look behind the scenes of our own careers, the jobs we've had and those that may be yet to come. All I'm saying is "flower lab!" 🌷

Three Reasons You Should Work With Languages

1) If you love it and you're passionate, it's a great way to bring excitement to your work
2) Working with languages will make you better at languages
3) You get to make great new connections with other speakers of your language

Our sponsor for this episode is Lindsay's new course, the Online Teaching Starter Kit. It's a complete guide to becoming an online teacher in five different parts. Check it out at www.fluentlanguage.co.uk/otsk.

Modern Languages students often look at the list of "related jobs" for their degree and ask "Is that all?!"

What you will hear:

  • What does it really mean to have a passion for something?
  • You're not meant to be good enough (not perfect) at languages when you go for a job interview
  • The disappointing list of "jobs related to a Modern Languages degree" on a leading careers website
  • The weird and wonderful list of "jobs where your Modern Languages degree would be useful"on the same website
  • How to bring languages into your career without applying for a new job
  • Our stories from applying for and working in the following jobs: translator, tutor, interpreter, teaching assistant, video game tester, export sales assistant, international recruitment manager
  • Why we work online and for ourselves, but we're not digital nomads
  • How to get started as an online tutor in particular, and the fantastic concept of timeboxing

"Self employment is self improvement." (Lindsay does soundbites)

Links From This Episode

Grammar ♥︎ Practice auf Deutsch: 3 Twists That Trip Up German Learners (And How to Overcome Them Easily)

german language lesson

Before I dive deeper into German grammar for this week's useful blog post, I want to take a minute to say "I know!" to all of you who think that German is a hard language to learn. Today's article is about to prove that you guys are not entirely wrong. Yes, the German language has some Tücken (twists).

But read on to discover how to get over each of these twists without ever worrying about them again.

Just like I did in our French Grammar Practice, I've selected 2 topics for German beginners and 1 twist for advanced learners. So there's something here for everyone.

Twist #1: sie is not Sie is not sie

The little words that can take the place of a noun or a name in language are called pronouns. They are placeholders that make it easier for us to communicate - just imagine how that previous sentence would work if I didn't have the words "they" and "us" for example! When you learn a foreign language, you start picking up its pronouns very early.

In German, this is particularly true as the verb doesn't do all that much by itself. The way pronouns are used is pretty similar to English, but here's the sting: 3 German pronouns look similar when they are not similar at all. I'm talking about the word sie, which you'll spot 3 times in the German pronoun table.

Many German learners are aware that Sie is the polite "you" in the German language, addressing a person from a point of distance or respect. It's corresponding to the French vous in this way. But if you think that's all you need to understand sie, it is time to take a look at the full verb table:

german verb table

Sie pops up three times, but each time this word stands for a different person. There is more to it than just the polite "you".

There are three different kinds of sie

  • It stands for the female 3rd person singular pronoun - that's "she" in English

Examples:
Sie heißt Melanie. - Her name is Melanie.
Das ist meine Schwester. Sie kann auch Spanisch. - This is my sister. She speaks Spanish too.

  • It stands for the 3rd person plural pronoun - that's "they" in English

Examples:
Sie kommen aus Deutschland. - They are from Germany.
Das sind meine Geschwister. Sie können auch Spanisch. - Those are my siblings. They speak Spanish too.

  • It stands for the polite "you" (grammatically that's also the 3rd person plural, kinda like addressing a royal "we")

Sie kommen aus Deutschland, Frau Krämer. - You are from Germany, Ms Krämer.
Wie heißen Sie? - What is your name?

How To Know The Difference

The first distinction is so easy to spot that I wouldn't even call it a "language hack". When you see Sie and the first letter is a capital letter, it's the polite you. Make sure you use it this way in your writing too.

If you're in a conversation (and you can't hear the capital letter), check out what the verb is doing.

When the verb ends in -t, you're looking at a "she".
When the verb ends in -en, it's most likely "they" or "you"...and then you have to figure out what the sentence is about and take other clues.

Twist #2: Prefixes are Everything

If you're going to learn one thing about German at an early stage, it's that the little things make all the difference. For example, take the concept of the separable verb. At the heart of it, you've got a verb like machen (to make, to do) or kommen (to come). Add a little prefix (usually 2-4 letters) to the verb, and suddenly you've twisted the meaning.

The good news here is that learning prefixes pays off a billion times over, as you'll be able to add them to pretty much any verb going to make yourself understood in spoken German. Prefixes split off when a verb is used in the sentence, so make sure you look out for them at the end of the sentence. So in other words, the final word in a sentence is very important in German. Sometimes it can twist the whole meaning.

Check out the following video from my German Grammar video Course for a detailed explanation.

Here are a few example sentences:
Wir kommen am Freitag. - We're coming on Friday.
Wir kommen am Freitag an. - We're arriving on Friday.
Ich komme heute. Er kommt am Freitag nach. - I'm coming today. He'll follow on Friday.
Wir fahren nach Berlin. Kommst du mit? - We're going to Berlin. Are you coming?

Test Yourself

How many words can you spot that carry the prefix auf? When you think of it's generic meaning "up", how many meanings can you guess from the following list?

  • aufmachen
  • aufgehen
  • aufstehen
  • auflegen

Let me know what your guesses are in the comments.

Twist 3: For Advanced Learners, werden becomes complex

The dictionary meaning of the German verb werden is "to become", plain and simple.

But watch out for two other ways that the verb is used. It teams up with another verb to build two advanced structures.

When werden works with another verb, the sentence structure is always:

Subject + werden + (any adverbs) + (any object) + the other verb

The other verb is what's really happening. If it stands in the infinitiv (that means it's not changed at all from how you find it in the dictionary), the sentence is in the future tense. For example, Ich werde etwas essen means "I will eat something". If it stands in the participle (this is that past tense form with ge-), then you're looking at the passive voice! For example, Etwas wird gegessen is not future tense at all

Examples:

Ich werde nach Berlin fahren. - I will drive to Berlin.
Ich werde nach Berlin gefahren. - I'm being driven to Berlin.

Ich werde den Käse kaufen. - I will buy the cheese.
Der Käse wird gekauft. - The cheese is being bought.
Der Käse wird gekauft werden - (combining future and passiv) The cheese will be bought.

So whenever your form of werden pops up, pay attention and make sure that you don't end up confusing future and passive. They're pretty different.

How to Escape The Werden Trap

One easy tip to speak German without the pains of werden is to avoid using the future tense altogether. That's what native speakers do all the time, simply using the present tense together with words like morgen (tomorrow) or gleich (in a minute). It's so simple, it's practically Chinese grammar! (Someone once told me Chinese doesn't have conjugation. I was like "whoah"!)

Where To Look For More German Grammar Explanations

If you're studying German grammar in your first year, you will find answers to every grammar question in my video course Easy German Grammar for Beginners. It contains dozens of simple videos, quizzes and workbooks to help you become a confident speaker.

For advanced learners, the best grammar book I know is Deutsche Grammatik, supported by a great website and useful tables. It's helped me explain so many rules in clear terms, and was a support when I made the full video course.

Which Parts of German Grammar Do You Find Tricky?

Word order, verbs, cases...there's a lot to discover in German grammar. Has any of it tripped you up? Let me know in the comments!