On The Need For Fun And Creativity In Languages

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What do you think of when you see the word “creativity”?

For me, creativity used to mean being particularly gifted in visual arts. Painters and sculptors were creative. In school, it was clear that being creative was how you got good grades in art classes.

I was a pretty terrible artist, and so I always assumed that I’m not creative at all.

But then I got a job and started noticing things. In work meetings, ideas for alternative solutions to problems would bubble out of me. When I started teaching and learning languages on my own, I felt constrained by the ideas of learning with a textbook and classroom structure.

Instead of putting off my ideas as delusions, I started to listen to them and put a few into action. And slowly I realised…I’m creative after all!

You Have The Tools to Be a Creative Language Learner

My own discovery encouraged me to start looking differently at language learning. I quickly discovered that adults learn best when creativity and fun come along for the ride. So I started to seek out creative ideas of learning.

If you are a first-time solo language learner who’s busy in her life and wants to know how to become fluent without sacrificing all your leisure time, creativity is what will get you to your goals.

I know lots of people who start off and and think “learning is the books and the app”, and when you box your language learning in like that, your motivation suffers as a result.

Creative Ideas For Language Learning

creative ideas language podcast

In this episode of the Fluent Show, Lindsay and I discussed the easiest ways to start building a fun and creative language routine.

Listen to the show here to get our full discussion:

Warning: These may not feel like study, but you’ll learn a lot anyway.

Language Learning With Music

Research and discover songs in your target language and music from the target country. Learn new words and expressions by understanding the lyrics of the songs you listen to.

Playing Games

It’s a common theme on this blog: We learn best when we’re having fun. Playing word games like Taboo, or even classic board games in your target language gives you a subtle way of creating a space where you learn a few new words free from pressure.

When you’re on your own, video games create another interesting option for language learning, and some of them are even [developed with language learners in mind.]

Games are especially handy when you want to share your language with kids.

Poetry and Literature

You might think you have to be an advanced level language wizard before you can even touch a book of poems in your target language, but that is not true! Enjoy a story with tools like [Interlinear books], try your first ever haiku, or lose yourself in a rhyming dictionary.

The key here is to express yourself freely and have fun in the process, getting out of your head and into the feeling that you want to have.

Technology

It’s the 21st century, which means you’re more likely to be reading this on a phone than on a desktop computer right now. And that means it’s time to get creative with tech in your new language.

Lindsay recommends creating a language space in social media that’s dedicated to learning your target language, for example a “Norwegian only Instagram”. I’ve tried this too through Twitter lists. The result is fabulous: it’s instant mini lessons, whenever and wherever you want them.

Exercise

Movement boosts memory! Have you ever thought about combining a language workout with a body workout? We had lots of ideas in the podcast, like example looking for exercise videos in your target language, and taking a language podcast out on a jog.

This one’s great for teachers of any age group, too, as you can create a whole new lesson plan when you think about different ways of moving around your classroom (or outside!).

Bricolage / Crafts

For thousands of people, getting creative means creating cool craft projects like woodwork, scrapbooks, or small art. With craft projects, you have so many options of incorporating language.

Of course you can search online for videos and instructions in another language.

Or you could take printed items from the target country and use them to decorate your home. Or make special art pieces celebrating the words you love the most. Or create a photo essay based on inspiring expressions.

Listen to the podcast to hear more about the special things I created as a teenager (Lindsay calls them ransom notes!).

Cooking

Everybody’s got to eat, and most people have to cook. So what could be more practical than cooking yourself a meal in your target language? From seaweed scones to the secret cuisines of Paraguay, we’ve tried this out and recommend it whole-heartedly.

It’s SO Easy To Get Creative in Language

When it comes down to it, we found that it’s almost impossible to be anything BUT creative in language learning. Yet…many learners avoid getting involved.

Or when we do play and enjoy in our target language, we feel guilty as if this isn’t “proper learning”.

So this made Lindsay and me wonder: why the heck did school teach us that language learning has to look like classroom-exam-teacher-class-snoozefest?

STUDY and LEARNING are concepts that feel like they should look a certain way, when in reality they are not.

Creativity is about permission!

In the podcast, Lindsay and I looked deeper into this idea of permission and allowing ourselves to let go of language learning guilt. Guilt does not do us any favours at all so we should learn to let it go.

Whenever you feel like your activity is not “real learning”, it might be time to reconsider and remind yourself to:

  1. Accept our mistakes (both in language and process and habits and study)
  2. Be kinder to ourselves (does it really matter if we break a streak?)
  3. Impress NOBODY but ourselves

How do YOU get Creative in Language Learning?

Do you cook, craft, run, or rhyme with your target language? Or are you worried that these activities mean you won't learn anything?

Leave a comment below and hare your thoughts!

Top 5 Fictional Languages (Podcast Episode 51)

Do you speak Sindarin?

top 5 fictional languages

The world of fictional languages is richer than a London billionaire, and we have researched and collected the most awesome fictional languages for you to learn about.

In this episode, you'll hear the new Good, Bad and Struggling followed by the Ultimate Fictional Languages Chart. Here in the shownotes, you'll see our Top 5 and the best of all links available so you can follow along and listen to the show.

Our Top 5 Fictional Languages

  1. Elvish
  2. Nadsat/ Newspeak
  3. Klingon
  4. Minionese
  5. Simlish

And here is a little bit more background information to tell you which languages we discussed in the show, and what they mean to us.

Dothraki, High Valyrian and Game of Thrones

The languages in Game of Thrones were developed by David Peterson via a referral from the Language Creation Society. David says "You have to start with the language and the people..what might their world be like?"

No character is a better representative of their power than Danaerys Targaryen (Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi, Stormborn, and all that). This queen conquers her lover's heart by connecting to him in Dothraki, the language of the horse people who don't have a word for "boat". She also speaks High Valyrian, and gains an advantage in several scenes in which she understands what's said about her by oblivious fools.

Elvish, Quenya and Tolkien

These languages were made famous as part of the Lord of the Rings saga. Author J.R.R. Tolkien spent nearly 60 years working on Elvish languages: Sindarin, Common Eldarin, Quenya and more - there are roots and language families, and he created a whole language family tree and evolutions rather than just one language, and his world-building skills are breathtaking once you start getting into the endless back stories he created for Middle Earth.

While the Elvish languages remained at the center of Tolkien's attention, the narratives of Middle-earth also needed languages of other races, especially of Dwarves and Men, but also the Black Speech. It's a dystopian parody of an international auxiliary language, just like Sauron's rule over the Orcs is a dystopian parody of a totalitarian state.

Other languages by Tolkien include Kkuzdul (Dwarves), about 5 different Mannish languages, and my favourite, Black Speech of Sauron. What a dedicated life's work.

Klingon and Vulcan

Klingon is a famous alien language - could this be the most famous Alien language? - from the Star Trek world. It was developed by linguist Mark Okrand. Klingon is different from Tolkien's languages as Mark only had to write language for the film dialogue at first, but for the next movie this started growing into a full language. Mark himself has published "The Klingon Dictionary".

I love how Klingon mirrors the culture of its speakers, so that "nuqneH", the Klingon greeting, reportedly translates to no more than "whaddaya want?". There's no "hello" in Klingon.

Klingon has an incredible fan base, evidenced by the existence of the Klingon Language Institute, which provides meet-ups, a certification programme, a language corpus and language exams.

Na'vi

In James Cameron's movie Avatar, the alien race Na'vi were given a fully developed language by linguist Paul Frommer. This represented the demonstration of how advanced the race is, and how it contrasts with the soldier who enters their world.

Simlish

Simlish is a language not developed for a movie or a book, but for a video game. What started out as pleasant gibberish in Will Wheaton's first game in 2000 grew to become a beloved part of the game. Apparently, it's a combination of "Latin, Ukrainian, Navajo, and Tagalog."

Minion Language

The Minions in the Minions films are all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin. His parents are from France and Indonesia and he spent a lot of time working in London. They didn’t invent a full Minion language because they wanted to keep the funny random gibberish element for humour, and as such this language is a lot of fun for everyone, as there’s bound to be something you understand

Newspeak in 1984

Newspeak is thought control, designed to limit freedom of thought by making the language smaller. In the classic book 1984 by George Orwell created this language. He said "the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible." shudder

So here is a remarkable example of language used for evil, and you can spot Newspeak vocabulary like un, ante, plus and doubleplus, which gets combined with English words.

Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange

This language -- or is it a dialect? -- was created in the original book "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess, and later used by Stanley Kubrick in the film version. The name comes from the Russian suffix for "-teen", and it is indeed a teen speak. Burgess actually learnt some Russian and had a real interest in language. He learnt Malay, and taught himself Persian too.

Nadsat features many Russian-sourced words, such as devotchka, govoeeting, malenky and yarbokles.

What do you think?

Do you agree with our Top 5? Ready to chat a little more? Share your own favourite fictional language in the comments - and tell us if we forgot any important ones!

How to speak more fluently by building good Conversation Habits

No matter if you are new to language learning or you're a certified multilingualist, I bet you know the conversational wall. It's that feeling where you just don’t know how to say something. It could be a missing word, and sometimes you can’t find words for what you’re even trying to say.

The wall creates that awkward moment with your conversation partner, where you just stall the whole thing. You’re running on empty, grasping around for words, and in fact you’re feeling like an idiot. How frustrating it is for an articulate adult to fail when it comes to saying stupid basic things like “I don’t like boiled potatoes” or whatever. How far you have to go!

fluency habit building

In today’s blog article, I want to introduce you to the different ways that you can handle that wall. Trust me, some of these are a lot more beneficial than others. And in fact, I would say that this is where fluent speakers are made. Knowing how to handle a conversation breaker means knowing how to keep things flowing, and it’s the only way for you to approach fluency.

What you have tried before

The following three options might all feel pretty familiar and perhaps even helpful to you if you run into one of those walls. But are they really the best way of dealing with the problem?

Hit more Books

Many people who are new to language learning feel like their only way of dealing with the wall is to give up trying to have the conversation and return to the books. The logic is that if you don’t know how to say everything, you obviously haven’t studied enough yet. But in reality, this is a sign that your learning mindset needs a breath of fresh air.

A student once told me “I’ve always been used to excelling at the things I put my mind to. Law exams, university grades, that all didn’t feel so hard to me. So why can’t I ace this language!?”. As his language coach, it’s my duty to remind him of several trap doors that he’s opening up with that kind of thinking.

Firstly, believing that first time mastery is the only way to be a good language learner is a way of closing a door to true growth in your own mind. And moreover, it’s important to recognise that language learning is not only graded by what you remember and express correctly. Creativity, flexibility and conversational confidence play a huge part in fluency and form part of the learning experience.

The key is to understand that you’re not failing when you run into a wall. You are actually succeeding at discovering your skills. Keep on exploring.

Change the topic

Changing the topic may help you save face, hide that panic and manoeuvre your conversation back onto safer ground. Overall, it’s a pretty solid option and one you can try if you are feeling particularly embarrassed. Remember that everyone loves to talk about themselves, so your sneaky way back from the conversation wall is to put the focus back on the person you are talking to. With a little bit of luck, they may even say exactly what you were thinking - and they’ll show you how to express it in your target language.

If this is a good option, why isn’t it the best one? The answer is simple. How many times are you going to change topic before you realize you still haven’t said what you need to say?

Look up words in an app or a dictionary

The part of you that considers herself a solid and obedient learner will want to do this. The part of you that wants to demonstrate that you are truly accomplished will want to do this. The easy way out of not knowing something is to look it up. Of course! And yet I urge you to consider the negative effects of looking up words every single time.

First of all, your smartphone battery isn’t going to last forever. Secondly, it’s not actually all that polite to keep your conversation partner waiting while you whip out a phone and start googling for an answer. They’re right there! They might just be dying to help you. And thirdly, you’re training your brain to know where to look, but not to remember anything that you are learning. Neither your brain nor your mind will thank you for relying on a lazier way of thinking.

So with all those kind-of-okay options ruled out, what could be the way a truly fluent learner approaches the conversation wall? From my observations in lessons and in my own language learning experiences, it comes down to a few significant shifts in attitude. Remember that Growth Mindset I’m so very fond of? Here is where you use it. Here is where you show your head who’s boss!

Here's how to be fluent in Conversation

Step 1: Walk through the Awkwardness

If you’re a perfectionist or someone who holds themselves to high standards you’re not going to like this option at all. A way through? You mean I’m telling you that you should admit when you don’t know something and sit there all awkwardly looking like an idiot? Yes. That is exactly what I am telling you to do. There are so many learning benefits from finding your way through that awkwardness. First of all, you’ll quickly realise that missing a word in foreign language conversation is a pretty common thing.

Lindsay Dow and I discussed this on the podcast recently and she referred to the British nursery rhyme We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. In the story, the brave bear hunters encounter all kinds of obstacles. Mud, snowstorms, rivers, everything is in the way. There’s no way under it. There’s no way over it. So they decide to go the only way that they can: through it! When you are facing your own linguistic obstacles, remember that you can’t go over or under. You’ve got to get through it. That awkward moment when you feel restricted and stupid because you don’t know how to say what’s on your mind? That’s normal. Just notice it’s happening, take a breath and continue to Step 2.

Ideal Step 2: Accept the Challenge

The idea of accepting a challenge sounds like this is a big thing, but I assure you that this is an attitude shift that will become your best new habit within a matter of hours. So you don’t know a word. So someone’s looking at you and waiting for you to say something and you don’t know how. So WHAT! What can you do next? How are you going to go from awkward to outspoken?

Ideal Step 3: Describe what you want to say

Okay, here is where you flex your real fluency muscles. A confident foreign language speaker is not intimidated by gaps in her vocabulary. Instead, she will embrace the learning opportunity and look for a way around the gap. The first step to take is to prepare a set of useful fillers in your target language. These filler lines should become as comfortable to you as hello and thank you. You will need them for ever and ever - trust me, I’m so fluent in English and words still fail me on a regular basis. 

Good filler expressions include the following:

  • “I don’t know how to say, but I mean a thing that…"
  • “Help me out here…how do you say…?"
  • “You know, it is a little like…"

The key component in a good filler line is that they all allow you to describe the thing you are trying to express. No matter if it’s a noun, verb or expression you are searching for, the key to fluency is in opening yourself up to learning the word from your conversation partner.

It’s absolutely essential to remember that these moments of hitting the wall are where you really show your skills in language learning. Not because you are measured by how many times you encounter the wall, but by how many times you get through it, over it or under it. This is the way that you will have confident conversations in weeks, not years.

So are you ready to start having truly fluent conversations?

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. Please like this post on Facebook or share on Twitter using the Share buttons and leave me a comment below. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.