The Book That Will Change How You See Language Learning (+ Clever Notes & Action Plan FREE)

One of the most common things I hear from language learners is

becoming fluent book

"what is the best way to do this?" You want to know how to learn a language, in as much detail as possible.

And it's hard to answer that question once and for all, for everyone. People are different, and no one's going to teach you good habits overnight. I know there are plenty of players out there telling you that their way of doing flash cards or listening to native content is the real answer.

But seriously, guys. What it really takes is that you learn to understand your own smart and capable self. That's where a book like Becoming Fluent comes in.

By the way, I've gone ahead and done a little bit of hard work for you guys. You can now click the button below and download my book notes for Becoming Fluent along with a fab little action plan template so you know what to do next.

What Is Becoming Fluent?

Becoming Fluent is an impressive book in the field of language acquisition. It's written with the scientific background expected from academics. But that doesn't mean that language learners cannot apply it to their lives: Throughout the book, the authors mix explanations and practical tips. The book is written for adult learners who want to conquer another language, and goes into the following topics:

  • What do you have to do to make sure you become a successful language learner?
  • How can you choose the right target language to study?
  • What are the best
  • How important is it to know the culture and norms of people who speak your target language every day?
  • How can you get better at memorising and remembering more?

Why It's Awesome

There are many language learning books out in the market that tell you all about how wonderful the author's methods are. Most successful polyglot-style books follow this system. The logic is that if following certain steps made the author fluent in another language, then you can do the same by copying the steps.

In Becoming Fluent, I detected none of this. The authors do work from their own experience in languages but never claim to know all the answers. Each chapter is based on a new aspect of language learning and gives a neutral summary of what the science says, followed by practical advice.

I've never used or endorsed the "copy a winner" approach, and I don't think it's quite how things work for language learners. Success in language learning is about more than just playing the game right. The more you learn and discover about yourself, your habits, your preferences and strengths in language learning, the more you will approach a real ability to learn any language quickly.

So for me, Becoming Fluent was an outstanding book about language learning because it doesn't tell you what exactly to do. This one is about empowering yourself to find your own perfect method.

What Wasn't So Great

Becoming Fluent is smart and thorough and scientific, which is a big rarity in language learning. It's great to read such a sensible voice in our field. The book comes at language learning from so many different angles that some great aspects get a little lost.

I would have liked the book's action-focused tips to be highlighted or separated from the main text, making it easier to find exactly how to put new insights into action. As it is, Becoming Fluent does require you to put in a few hours for reading, but this is time well spent.

My Favourite Parts

  • All of chapter 2, which addresses the many lies and misleading beliefs that we hold in our heads before we even start learning. If you can only listen to/read one part of the book, this chapter is going to make a massive difference. It's a small window into how your brain trips you up.
  • This sentence in Chapter 3:

"The REAL test of how well you speak a language is how easily you communicate when you are using that language, and the pleasure you derive from speaking it."

  • The ideas behind common ground and the zone of proximal development, which are all about how you think of how good you are, how good other people are in comparison, and how you can get better step-by-step.
  • The focus on learning and speaking a language like an adult, not a kid or teenager. This focus builds great insights, for example the understanding that it's more important to be yourself in another language than to sound "exactly like all the native speakers".
  • The image of tutors and helpers as a Sherpa, i.e. Someone who's climbing the mountain with you, showing you the way, teaching you about the process as you're doing it.
  • The concept of cognitive overload, which explains exactly why and how and when you get tired.

Overall, I am very happy that I read Becoming Fluent and recommend you check it out too. I ordered my copy from the local library and am very glad that it's in their catalogue now. You can get your own printed copy in the same way, or order it from Amazon (here's the US link and the UK link).

Don’t forget, you can grab my full book notes (9 pages!) by clicking the button below. They include your own action plan template and a checklist of books to check out, so next you can be prepared on your next visit to the library or to Amazon.

If you want to try a faster read gives instructions on what to do, try Fluency Made Achievable (which is written by me, so you will definitely enjoy it if you like this blog).

Lindsay Dow's "Successful Self-Study" Course - A Full Review

Hi everyone, and strap yourselves in for today's review post all about a new course released by Lindsay from Lindsay does Languages. The course is called Successful Self Study, and it's all about every single step you need to follow for teaching yourself a language.

If you're a solo language learner hoping to meet an ambitious goal this year, read on to discover how Successful Self Study makes language learning easier.

Is This Instructor Worth Your Time?

You'll already know that Lindsay is my co-host on the Creative Language Learning Podcast. Lindsay is British, but she's one of the language-craziest people I know. She has studied over 8 foreign languages,.

Last year, she completed a self-directed university degree at the Open University. This means the end of 6 years doing a distance-learning course - the pinnacle of self study! And at the end of those 6 years, Lindsay has mastered a skill that so many of us struggle with: how to focus on your language studies and make real progress.

So before I go any further, let's go full disclosure: I have a lot of time for this person, and I believe she's totally trustworthy when it comes to language learning.

Lindsay has created the new course Successful Self Study, and allowed me a Sneak Preview so I can review it for you today.

The TL;DR Version: 7 Things You Need to Know

  1. This course is perfect if you're trying to learn a language by yourself and you struggle with

    1. Having no time to study
    2. Getting distracted all the time
    3. Loneliness
    4. Lacking the commitment to your studies
    5. Feeling like you're stuck
    6. Over-researching and reading too many "guides to language mastery"
  2. It's great value when you add up 60 items, consisting of videos + guides + the most incredible workbook I've ever seen + a private online community + downloadable bonuses
  3. The thing is this: If you're learning a language by yourself, this is going to save you so much money and time in the long run that it would be ridiculous to mess around on Facebook's "Polyglot Procrastination" forums any longer
  4. I liked the course structure and found that the approach throughout is totally about the practice - this is designed to make you do stuff!
  5. It contains 3 amazing webinars, including my excellent goal-setting class with Lindsay that we held right at the start of the new year
  6. That workbook really is the BEST language learning book I've ever seen, and I wish I could go into a book shop and buy a printed version. Do yourself a favour and download it today
  7. Overall rating: 4.5/5

If you're ready to find out more and see the full curriculum, head over to Lindsay's site and watch the first video.

If you want to know more about what's inside Successful Self Study, let's have a look together.

The Look and Experience

This course is a combination of videos, workbooks, audio, and some extra downloads. It's hosted on the Teachable platform, which I can only applaud as this is what I chose as your best experience for the Fluent courses, too. The video selection is 50% Lindsay's friendly vlogging style and 50% screencast videos which demonstrate how different apps work.

The audio sections are going to be downloadable so you can listen and learn on the go (I haven't heard these yet, but they are announced for the release date.)

What's Inside The Course?

This course is divided into three main section, prefaced by a cute little introduction featuring Lindsay's own story as your instructor.

Section 1: Study Skills

The first section of the course is a short tour of the best practice in studying a foreign language by yourself.

The topic breaks down into aspects like motivation, productivity and how to build a language learning habit for the long haul. This section is what you think you already know, until you find yourself googling "how to speak a language tips" because you actually don't. Nice and useful to have it all in one place, and Lindsay definitely speaks from experience.

There's a definite focus on developing a routine, and it's just perfect for you if you're someone who needs to make every minute count. She's thought of every possible question: motivation, time management, confidence, productivity. It's like a secret library of self study shortcuts.

The course section can be kind of intense if you apply it all in one go, so remember that you have lifetime access and take it step by step. But you know...if we all wanted an easy hobby, we'd be Netflixing and not learning languages.

Section 2: Language Skills

Okay, this is a strange one for me but I bet you're going to like it lots. The second part of Successful Self Study is all about getting into learning a language (not just anything). It's structured perfectly featuring the 4 core skills (listening, reading, speaking and writing) together with vocabulary and grammar. Exactly how I would do it!

Lindsay is super practical She doesn't waste too much time telling you why each aspect matters, instead the approach here is this:

If we know we gotta do this thing, how can be make it the easiest thing ever?

As a result, it's motivating and very actionable. Within just a few minutes of watching these videos, I promise you're going to be excited to try out new tools and jump deeply into your new language.

She recommends the best possible tools for every aspect, so that you can come away with a roadmap for learning vocabulary, grammar, and every important language skill you need for fluency.

Section 2 is my favourite because it's the most "language-nerdy". I like background and research about what works for us from a scientific or social perspective. This isn't covered in the videos, but easily accessible with links to Lindsay's best articles around the web.

Section 3: Tech Training

The list of tech training resources is excellent - overall she's demonstrating 11 different websites, apps and tools. None of them costs any money at all, so this is like the ticket to the biggest free online playground you've ever seen. You're guaranteed to find something new to try - my favourites were Periscope and italki.

Some of these videos felt pretty basic and could be a little shorter. Things like joining Facebook groups seem obvious, and many of you have done this already. Having said that, remember that I'm pretty tech-savvy, I write a blog and it's my job to know this stuff.

I don't think as a learner you need to become hung up on the two videos about the tool you already knew. Use this section in line with your own priorities, and you'll have saved yourself a likely 300 hours of googling over the next year.

The key is that you don't just find it, but you do something with it. And the way Lindsay builds in this accountability is absolutely fantastic - let me tell you more!

Now THIS Is Going To Double Your Productivity

The absolute key to a course with so much content is to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Lindsay doesn't tell you when, how, or for how long you should work on this.

But this doesn't mean that you're left alone. Quite the contrary!

The course structure and delivery are solid, and Lindsay concludes every single lecture with an actionable exercise - you don't get to be passive. As a fellow online teacher, I rate this a very good thing.

The one thing you have GOT to do right after sitting down and clicking the purchase button (if you choose to) is download that amazing workbook.

It's an editable PDF. But that description does it no justice. Let me try and say it differently.

I Love This Self Study Workbook!!!!

This workbook is the single most awesome self study language learning resource I've ever seen. If you are one of the people who liked the 3-Week Planner in Fluency Made Achievable, you are going to faint with excitement at the sight of this thing.

I would really hate for super-keen learners to discover it halfway through the course. So do yourself a favour and listen to me here: You want to download this and have it by your side as the course companion, as it contains every planning worksheet, printout, notes section, EVERYTHING.

The one thing it was missing at the time I tested it was a table of contents to help you navigate through the book, but Lindsay has promised to add this in the next edition.

You can choose to have the workbook with you and make your notes on the computer, or to print it out. In fact, send the PDF to my local printer and have it bound. The workbook is just really, really good.

Bonuses

The bonus section contains starter credit for italki and HelloTalk plus four webinars with a bunch of experienced and knowledgeable guests (spot me and my super-cool hoodie) on topics like goal-setting and maintaining motivation.

Conclusion

Yep, we've got to a conclusion stage at the end of this super-detailed review.

Successful Self Study ratings:

  • For structure and engagement (workbook!), it's 5/5.
  • For video quality, it's 5/5.
  • The tech training is a 3/5 in my book, because I would skip a lot of it.

For the results you can expect from taking this course, it's 5/5 because if you do the work, it is guaranteed to

  • help you learn a language quickly
  • teach you that discipline so you don't feel overwhelmed and busy
  • boost your confidence so you actually start speaking within a few weeks
  • save you money - with all the tools, a new langauge can be studied very cheaply.

Overall rating: 4.5/5 - highly recommended for anyone new to studying by themselves or struggling because life is busy. So that's all of us then.

How to Get Started

You can join Lindsay's Course Successful Self Study today.

It's easy peasy:

  1. Follow this link to get to the course page and select the yellow course
  2. Click "Enroll in Course"

2017 Update: Lindsay has recently updated this course and added a huge amount of bonus content, including training for grammar, better reading, speaking, listening, and lots more. It's priced at $120 which currently represents ENORMOUS value. Go forth and try it - well done, Lindsay!

Here's that sign-up link again: http://www.fluentlanguage.co.uk/selfstudycourse

So you're getting

  • the world's most awesome workbook
  • tech training
  • 6 language study videos
  • membership in a private online community of language learnears
  • bonus webinars
  • PDF guides to help you master language exchanges, YouTube & more
  • practical self study tutorials
  • my audiobook.

Compare that to $500 spent on Rosetta Stone, or at your local Goethe institute. WHOAH. Go for it.

Tell Me More!

Have you joined Successful Self Study? How did you find it? I'd love to hear what you thought in the comments below.

*This offer's good throughout 2017.

A Complete Review of the HelloTalk Language Exchange App

Übung macht den Meister.

C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron.

Usus magister est optimus.

Man, does every language have a proverb meaning practice makes perfect?

Practice is one of the key principles of learning, and probably one of the most demanding ones.

One of the most helpful way to practice your skills in language learning is to speak the language you're studying. No matter if you've just begun or were fluent 3 weeks ago, if you don't keep using that language it's likely to get pretty rusty.

In today's blog article, I'm going to give you the full review of an app that has been designed to help you with that need for practice. It's all about language exchanges. Read on to find out if this could work for you.

How Should a Language Exchange Work?

Language exchanges work on the basis that both people in the conversation give a little bit of their skills to each other. You find a person who studies your native language and help them by correcting them and chatting to them. And then you switch the exchange and benefit from the same help in your target language. And if you chat to them online, you don't even have to leave your house/bed/swimming pool.

Of course, the real challenge is getting to the point where your conversation with the practice partner is as easy as possible. It can be really difficult to find a native speaker of the right language who also wants to spend time practicing with you. And then you have to hope they want to learn your language, too. And then you still have to get over how to translate most of what they say.

A Language Exchange App On Your Smartphone

In the past, my language exchange experiences have never really delivered.

Even though I found people online and wrote to them, I felt like my own language skills didn't improve. It was scary to hop on Skype and share my face, voice and mistakes with a stranger. When I tried email exchanges, I felt bad because I couldn't write a long stretch of text.

It seems I wasn't the only person who had this problem. When HelloTalk contacted me earlier this year with an invitation to review their app, I was ready to try again.

First Impressions

My first impression of trying HelloTalk was very positive. The app is about making language exchanges on your smartphone as good as they can be. There is no course, no website and no payment system for tutors, and I really appreciated that focus.

After downloading the app, you'll be asked to fill in a profile. HelloTalk allows learners to register one native and one target language for free (though you can unlock more with an in-app purchase). You can connect your profile to Twitter, record a spoken intro, or write an introduction for yourself. For users who want to keep their details private, the app also allows you to hide details like your age or location in the advanced privacy settings, and to set how you want to appear in the search.

Test 1: How Easy Is It To Find Language Exchange Partners?

After signing up, HelloTalk directs you to its Search function so you can start finding people whose needs match yours. It automatically suggests matches that have the right native language/target language combination for you, but you will not be restricted by this at all.

When you find someone who looks like a great match, you can send them a message or a partner request. I found that most of the promising matches were not online straight away, so sending them a request that they could accept when they come online was a convenient alternative.

It seems that people who indicate "English" as their native language receive a lot more requests (for example, Shannon from Eurolinguiste found that she couldn't keep up) than other natives. Setting the app to "native German speaker who is learning Welsh" was a pretty tough ask, so I tried some search alternatives to find native Welsh speakers. With those options, it became simple enough and I was quickly able to get talking to several people.

Language Exchange App Review

Once the chat got started,I was impressed with the many tiny but useful features. For example, HelloTalk shows you the time of day where your language partner lives and supports emoji. You can send photos, voice messages and doodles. All these options make it very easy to start texting other people straight away.

Test 2: How Good Is HelloTalk's Interface?

HelloTalk's app has lots of buttons and settings, but none of them felt pointless.

I quickly found that the help menus and settings were simpler than they looked. HelloTalk can do lots of things, but it has pulled off a design that doesn't overwhelm users with all of them at once. Instead, the app takes advantage of how you use your phone, and the bottom menu makes it simple to keep track of conversations.

The quality of the app was fabulous as well. Even though I haven't had the chance to try the free phone calls, I was impressed overall. It was fast, didn't crash and the machine translations were pretty useable too. Overall, a big thumbs up for HelloTalk's design.

Test 3: Does HelloTalk Make It Easy To Use Your Target Language?

In previous language exchanges, I often found that it was difficult to keep up a balanced exchange between speaking my own language and my partner's language. HelloTalk has an approach to solve this problem: There is a dedicated Language Exchange Mode where you can set the computer to remind both exchange partners when it's time to switch languages. I was super excited about this feature.

The app also allows users to communicate in the way that works best for them. Free phone calls, instant messages, voice messages - no problem!

Once you've started chatting, you may find that you and your language partner need a few corrections. The app has a great long press feature for any message sent or received, allowing you to correct the partner's writing easily. For someone as enthusiastic about writing in another language as I am, the app's features make a great addition to the tips I've blogged about before.

The full long click menu offers even more features, such as:

  • Adding any message to your Favourites menu for review
  • Converting from the Latin script to other writing systems
  • Copying the message
  • Translating the message to the language that you have set as Target Language in your profile (even when I chatted to French people in German, I could still learn Welsh this way)
  • Get the computer to read out any message so you know what it sounds like

Test 4: Does HelloTalk Work?

If you want to keep studying based on what you're reading and writing in HelloTalk, there are a few really helpful features in the app.

language exchange with the hello talk app

The corrections feature automatically saves your received corrections to the favourites section where you can go back and review them regularly. In this area, I thought it would be cool to have a flashcards or other learning feature but on the other hand I was pretty happy to just use my notebook.

HelloTalk is not about acquiring another language by studying a linear course, but instead it brings real life practice to your phone and it does this one thing brilliantly.

The Best Tips for Using HelloTalk for Language Exchange

Even with an app as excellent as this one, it can still be daunting to start a language exchange. Based on my own experiences and tips from fellow language lovers like Olly from IWTYAL and Stephanie from To Be Fluent, here are three top tips to help you get the most out of your experience and your time spent using the app:

1) Be Clear About What You Want To Do

I found that it's easy to start chatting aimlessly, but much harder to get a true exchange going. Chatting to everyone who sends you a request or gets to know you through your profile can feel like a waste of time.

If you want to practice equal exchanges in a specific language, tell this to your partner right at the start and be a bit tough when you need to be. Working with the Language Exchange feature in HelloTalk felt great to me as it allows the app to do the policing.

2) Have Some Starter Topics Ready

Okay, so you've asked them where they're from and how old they are. What else can you chat about with your language exchange partner?

It helps to have a few topics up your sleeve that are comfortable for any user. For example, I chatted to a Chinese partner about food and got tips for new bands to check out from a Swedish music fan. Going beyond the first small talk is important for building rapport and getting the other person interested enough to keep talking to you.

3) Have A Little Patience

This final tip is based on my own experience with HelloTalk. When I started the app, I was so excited to chat to people in Welsh and French and Spanish that I could not wait to get going. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that not everyone was online and ready to go!

HelloTalk works best as an instant messaging app when you give it a little time, wait a few days for the right people to find you or allow for a bit of trial and error. After all, language practice is a regular activity.

My biggest suggestion to make this app even better would be to add some learning features. Based on the chats, the system could create flashcards or prompts asking you to repeat new expressions so you don't forget them. And an in-browser version would help me type without having to switch the mobile keyboard to another language every few minutes.

Where to Download HelloTalk

All in all my verdict of HelloTalk is very very positive. As an app, this provides the nicest language exchange environment I've seen so far.

You can find all links for HelloTalk at www.hellotalk.com.

Have you tried HelloTalk yet? What's your impression?

Leave me your story in the comments below!

Olly Richards' Language Learning Foundations Course reviewed in Full

In every language learning story, there comes a moment where you start wondering whether you’re doing things in the right way. You may start off with a burst of inspiration and the certainty that you’ll be fluent in just a few months. Then weird things start to happen. You wonder how to work less, remember more, and whether you’re cut out for studying every day. You miss a day, you google “is this normal?”.

And before you know it, you’re caught in “what the hell should I do?” territory feeling like a loser.

If any of that kind of feeling sounds familiar, let me tell you one thing: You don’t need any more theories. You need to start doing sensible things and following simple steps. In today’s review, I want to share a course that is all about teaching those simple steps.

Course Structure

Language Learning Foundations by Olly Richards is offered through his popular site iwillteachyoualanguage.com. It is not a huge course that will take you weeks to complete. It consists of 10 video lectures. You could block yourself off half a rainy Saturday, get comfortable with a laptop and use the time to overhaul your whole language routine. I’d say that’s a lot better than overloading your whole system.

Language Learning Foundations answers some of the most common questions that I see language learners ask all the time, and in this course you will get some answers that really help you out. Olly provides tips and instructions that will help you learn more effectively and achieve your goals a little faster.

Every training video and slideshow can be downloaded. They require some concentration from you, but I was impressed because they were all designed for real life. There's no dry theory here, instead you get tips that you can apply immediately.

How to make progress and not get distracted

For example, Module 3 is called “How to make progress and not get distracted”. Olly goes into detail here about how to get started, advising first of all on the best criteria for a helpful textbook or resource. This alone could save you hours of failed attempts with materials that just don't work. He then brings a bunch of solid arguments for why learners should select this type of resource, and what makes them different from other higgledy-piggledy types of approaches.

In the same module, Olly then moves on to sharing his own views on what your learning mindset should be when working with materials such as textbooks. Finally, there's an exact strategy for the actions you should take with textbook dialogues and audio examples. His advice is very detailed and focused throughout, it's the real deal and so helpful if you want to know how to learn a language independently.

Each module’s video takes 10-15 minutes to watch, but I think you should allow a quarter hour to digest their content afterwards and really think about how you’ll apply what Olly just discussed.

What’s in the package?

Olly has put together two different course packages, starting from just $47 which is a kick-ass price for a course that will enable you to learn without Rosetta Stone, without classes, without hand-holding. You can even upgrade the course to get an ebook version and audio training so you can learn away from your computer. He also offers interviews with four experts:

  • Alex Rawlings (only the most multilingual student in Britain!)
  • Richard Simcott
  • Chris Parker (famously fluent in Mandarin Chinese) and
  • …me as the language learning and teaching poster girl.

Olly’s interview with me was excellent. He asked intelligent questions, made sure every answer I gave was practical and useful for all learners, and our conversation goes perfectly with what this course is all about. So in other words, if you have the extra pennies to invest in these expert videos, go for it.

The slides and audio quality are fabulous throughout, by the way, and Olly also does that thing I love in video teachers: he shows his face regularly and speaks to you as the learner so you know this is your dedicated instructor.

Who’s it for?

Language Learning Foundations is designed so it can benefit any learner, especially beginners or those who are keen to reach dizzy polyglot heights.

A course like this is best if you’ve never enjoyed formal language training and you want to learn a language in your own way.

If you hated language learning in school, then you will enjoy Language Learning Foundations.

Conclusion

Olly has gone into great detail in his language learning course. He is a teacher and language blogger and speaks 7 languages himself. The course is for those who are looking for the best method to teach them skills for learning a language independently.

At the end of Language Learning Foundations, you will

  • Know specific techniques for setting your intentions, staying motivated and experiencing language learning success
  • Be able to select the perfect materials FOR YOU and know how to cut through empty promises
  • Feel confident and ready to tackle the world in a new language
  • Have solid foundations for cutting out the things in language learning that have always frustrated you

It is an incredibly friendly experience, so go and try out Language Learning Foundations if you’re new to language learning.

You can purchase the basic or extended video course versions from Olly’s course page.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. The links in this article are affiliate links and support Fluent without costing you any more money. My review is not paid for and being an affiliate did not affect the content.

3 Useful Resources to help you improve your French (even if you last studied 10 years ago)

Mesdames et messieurs, I bet you have dreamed about the French many times. It’s the ultimate language of chatting in a streetside café or watching the sun go down over the Atlantic. But French is for more than just a fun trip, as it counts as a leading world language too.

French is the World's Most Taught Language

The French Embassy to the US delivers a fun fact about France in its list of 10 Reasons to Learn French:

French is the only language, alongside English, that is taught in every country in the world.

This means that almost all of you readers are likely to have studied French at some point in your lives. It's widely taught in Europe, in Africa and throughout Northern America. Personally, I have been learning French since I was 13, which makes it nearly 20 years now. It’s not always been easy, but throughout my journey I learnt a lot of awesome things and also realized that I can make myself understood in Belgium, Canada, Northern Africa and the Caribbean with the power of this one language. For example, the language became so much easier for me once I started explaining grammar as much as I was studying it. The French grammar can be aligned very well with that of German, my own native language. Explaining grammar became a true specialty of mine. If you check out my course Easy French Grammar for Beginners, you’ll get a glimpse of how I do it. I put the learner first and focus on outlining how things work step-by-step.

Why Study a Language on Udemy?

I often mention Udemy as a great resource for online learners on this blog, and as an instructor and student on there I do know what I am talking about. The courses on Udemy are open to a learning community of over 6 million people. In my experience, this has made for a great advantage to the learner. You get to study your language whenever you want and repeat lectures as many times as you need, but at the same time there’s a tutor available in all courses so you can ask questions and get them to add more materials.

Step 1: Review the Basics

As students join my Easy Grammar for Beginners course and progress through it, I see that many of them were using the course as a refresher. The videos allow you to rediscover older concepts that you may have learnt in school, and to reframe them if things didn't make a lot of sense first time round. This is a wonderful way of getting back into a language. You're not overwhelmed, but you get that sweet confidence of taking the second chance. I particularly enjoyed the many reviews and emails I got from the students who said that they had a little bit of confidence, but felt their French skills improved by 100% after they took these classes. Many have asked me what the next step could be, so in today's blog post I wanted to recommend three great next step resources for intermediate French learners.

Step 2: Add a Course about French tenses

Once you are confident making basic sentences about yourself, your environment and your immediate situation, I bet you'll want to grow that knowledge into something new. That's where the verb tenses come in. You’ll need tenses for sophisticated communication. In my own French grammar course, I focused on the A1 range of grammar. That only contains three tenses, but in fact there are about 11 of them to master in French. So once you have covered and understood those essential nouns, verbs and adverbs from the Easy Grammar for Beginners course, you should cast your eye over tenses.

If you like the Udemy platform then stay and try French Tenses Simplified by Scott McElroy, a fellow French teacher on the Udemy platform. Believe it or not, this one is actually his smaller course. It covers those 11 important moods and tenses you need after finishing level A1. Scott’s course would be the perfect follow-on if you are ready to move on from my French grammar explanations.

The French Tenses Simplified course is about three hours long altogether, but Scott has broken his lectures up into simple 3-6 minute videos. It features even more than just French tense explanations. He has thrown in simple vocabulary lists, a full PDF of the course contents and four downloadable Flashcard videos. So all in all, we’re talking about a nice package.

Screenshot from the course  French Tenses Simplified.

Screenshot from the course French Tenses Simplified.

I tested this course on an aspect of French grammar that I’ve always found particularly difficult: the subjonctif. He approaches the topic with an awesome sense of humour right from the start. The topic is first introduced in English, with examples that demonstrate when you would use a subjunctive in French. To me, the reasons made a lot of sense here. There are clear rules saying “if this…then that” which is always something we can appreciate in language learning. The lecture could have benefited from slowing down, though. I paused it and took notes several times. Regarding the way the subjonctif is formed, Scott’s lecture was a fab refresher. I got 83% in the final quiz. Maybe you can beat me?

Instructor Quality

Right from the start, you will know that you’re in good hands with Scott’s explanations. He gives a comprehensive course overview to introduce you to French verbs and has SUCH good pronunciation.The thing that really stood out to me was the ease and friendliness in Scott’s explanations. When you take a video course, it’s always important that the instructor sounds like a nice person. You have to listen to these people for ages! Scott comes across as a friendly guy who knows his stuff right from the first second. I really liked his narration and French accent.

Beware if you’re a Beginner

If you’re a French beginner and have never come across any concept of French grammar before, then watch out. The course French Tenses Simplified goes through a few big concepts at qui[e a fast pace, so that I imagine a complete beginner would have to stop and slow it right down. For example, the course presumes that you as a learner are aware that French has three different verb groups for the regular verbs. It also skips over the fact that some verbs are irregular and introduces only three of the irregular ones.

So count yourself advised: If you are a complete beginner, start with my course Easy French Grammar for Beginners (it’s from zero) and arm yourself with a Bescherelle book before diving into the tenses.

Step 3: Analyze Content from natural French sources

In the past 2 steps, you saw options to use for getting your French grammar level up to a pretty sophisticated standard. And moving on from video courses, it is time to start working with real life content. Skip the Rosetta Stone and instructional podcasts, and start looking for simplified French sources. One of France's cultural strengths is their dedication to la bande dessinée (comics), and you'll find some awesome content in books like Astérix. I also like the TV5Monde series for French learners a lot.

The key at this stage is that you should make sure you recognise the stuff that you have learnt in the first two stages. Grammar is not abstract, it is a key to how language really works. If your goal is to speak confident and sophisticated French, then you must observe how the rules are applied in real life. That's what learning in step 3 is all about, so watch out for all those little things. Where is the speaker using an adverb? Can you spot all the -ent endings on 3 pages of comic? Challenge yourself here and enjoy playing language detective.

Do this at any Stage: Leave the Classroom, enter Life

After you have masstered the hard study and review of French grammar concepts, it's really time to break out from the classroom. If you have not done so already, start opening your eyes to natural French language content online and offline. With such a huge international community of speakers, it's incredibly easy to find a meetup of the French community. Here in Lancaster, I have practiced my French at the local language café and you can find your nearest European café at www.languagecafe.eu. The next opportunity to meet native speakers is just 3 miles away at the local university. Where is your nearest college hosting international students? If you aren't aware yet, consider contacting their student associations and meeting the French society or even the International Society. And should all those outreach options fail, there's always the language exchange option through sites like Speaky or Interpals.

For some learners, it's a confidence builder to get the grammar foundations ready before you go out.But in the grand scheme of things, I encourage you to go out and play in the real world right from day 1. You don't have to challenge yourself to do the impossible or conduct a full French conversation straight away, but I encourage you to make sure you keep an eye on the real world while you're studying the basics.

Re-Cap of the Resources in this Article

  • If you are a complete beginner in French, you'll benefit from my own online course Easy French Grammar for Beginners, which you can pick up for $19 using the code MOTIVATION.

  • More advanced learners looking for the next step should check out French Tenses Simplified by Scott McElroy. It's a fast-paced refresher course run by a positive online teacher, and contains lots of extras. For more help with the tenses and verb forms, the Bescherelle books can be invaluable. Get the course at 70% off if you use the link tiny.cc/step2french.

  • At several intervals in this process, you should work with real native content. Don't go out reading the French newspapers right away, but ease yourself in and find simplified French language resources.

  • No matter where you are at in your French study, you should also make sure that you make time to see those actual real French speakers. You can find them on each continent and everywhere around you in international hotspots like universities and meetups.

The key is to get a good balance between video or book study and real life experimentation. And of course, I wish you bonne chance with that.

Learn Languages, Skip Hassle and Have Fun: Does Guerrilla Language Learning deliver?

If you have ever spent a little time learning online, you may have noticed that there are lots of great video courses to help you learn languages. Udemy is one of the leading platforms that offers language courses on video. There are courses for learning any language from German to Hebrew, courses about memorizing words (I reviewed Anthony Metivier's course before) and also general courses aimed at helping you develop great learning routines.

guerrilla-course

Just in case you are unaware, I am both a teacher and learner on this platform. I like hanging out on Udemy, because their learning interface is impressive and it allows the instructors to provide special offers, add lectures at any time and reply to questions from participants in lots of detail.

Guerrilla Language Learning

In today’s article, I’ll be reviewing “Guerrilla Language Learning” by Wiktor Kostrziewski, who writes and coaches at 16 Kinds. He’s also an experienced language teacher. I am in contact with many fellow language bloggers, but haven’t had the chance to get to know Wiktor yet, so I’ve been looking forward to trying this course out. It promises that we are going to “learn languages, skip hassle and have fun”.

I have also bagged a fabulous discount for you, making this course available for only $19 if you use the code FLUENTSPRING by May 2015.

Course Structure

Guerilla Language Learning is divided into three sections called “On how things are”, “On how things can be” and “On how things should be”. I am loving this encouraging structure.

Section 1 contains a friendly introduction and a wonderfully strong case for becoming multilingual. Wiktor goes into detail about the promises, hopes and truths of language learning. There is a slightly outlandish lecture comparing languages to food (I’d say skip that one), and a great video examining how language schools actually do their business. Lecture 4 is particularly great, and I feel that the whole section comes down to the essentials right there.

In Section 2, Wiktor focuses on practical approaches to getting things done. He goes into deep detail for learners wanting to develop a routine that works for them. How does learning work for you? How can you make your own textbook? What are tests and certificates good for? In Section 2, those questions are addressed in depth.

And finally, Section 3 was the most interesting one to me! This is the part where you will really make significant changes to how you learn. From improving how you interact with teachers, to optimising how you use internet resources, Wiktor covers an excellent array of how language learners can improve. Out of all the three sections, I would recommend this one the most.

Value for Money

The course is listed in the Udemy Marketplace for $19 (This is especially for users of the code FLUENTSPRING which Wiktor provided me with after I wrote this review), which strikes me as a worthwhile investment. It contains the video lectures, worksheets, live sessions and 2 free books as well. You’ll easily save this much money, many times over, if you have the determination and drive to work through Wiktor’s ideas rather than spending money on language schools. It also requires a significant investment of time. This is no quick fix. Allow at least 2 weeks to work through everything.

Course Pacing

I am not the most patient person and found the 20-minute videos quite overwhelming. I often found my attention getting diverted. The course contains a full five hours of content, but it had me wanting to skip ahead to the next point throughout.

One solution for making yourself work at the right pace could be to download the videos and watch them on long train journeys or listen to the audio in the car. The slides are not required for learning success.

Video Quality

The videos follow the classic concept of presenting slideshows with a voiceover. Both voice and slide quality are high throughout. As always in a lecture like this, I found myself wishing Wiktor had addressed the camera himself on occasion. I want to get to know him better! Video is such a versatile medium and I feel like slideshows with voiceover fail to take advantage of it.

The most important quality aspect that I perceived was the material. Every lecture comes with its own PDF worksheet. And those worksheets are GOOD! They contain thoughtful prompts, further reading recommendations and exercises.

Instructor Quality

I really like Wiktor’s voice and the way he responds to any and every learner question. With over 2000 participants, it’s also clear that he is well-liked. The best thing about him is the sheer focus and depth that he brings to each lecture. He has researched his topic and cannot provide enough information. Sadly, this is also the worst part if you are expecting a quick course. Wiktor’s approach and style work only when you have a good 30 hours to focus. It requires commitment.

Overall Rating

One of my main criticisms is that a few of the lectures in this course feel like musings or blog posts that were converted into a video. It doesn’t make the course a bad investment of time or money. In fact, I found myself agreeing with Wiktor’s sensible perspectives throughout. His recommendations are powerful and they really do work.

But as a result I felt that the course was not well-paced. The lectures needed to be more concise and entertaining, with some of them being cut completely.

The PDF downloads were excellent and delivered Wiktor’s information and exercises in a format I enjoyed.

Final verdict: 4/5, but not suitable if you want something fast

Try the Course Today

Use this link to sign up: http://tiny.cc/guerrillalanguage. And please don't forget that the code FLUENTSPRING will get you an awesome deal and this course for just $19. So worth it, that's a bargain.

Have you joined Guerrilla Language Learning? Are you a Udemy student? I’d love to hear what you thought about my course in the comments or over in the course on Udemy.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.

It's a free app loved by millions. Is Duolingo wasting your time?

If you enjoy this article and topic, check out my 2017 update 3 Tutor-Approved Ideas for Improving Your Duolingo Experience, which discusses where language learning is at right now.

Whenever I hear that someone new is starting language learning, I get excited. They’re about to enter into this world of verbs and nouns, expressions and exclamations, new culture and new countries. When I hear you say “I’ve started learning a new language”, I want to give you a big ol’ high five.

duolingo review

That is, until you mention Duolingo. The little app with the friendly owl has become the absolute go-to resource for newbies trying to acquire any language. It’s free, it’s accessible and it is based on solid research. What’s not to love, right?

Here is the thing: I don’t love Duolingo. In fact, I don’t get it. I want to enjoy using this little app. I want to be part of the club of people who sit in a doctor’s waiting room levelling up their vocab, but somehow I just don’t get it. In today’s post, I’m going to try and give you some insight into what it is that is making Duolingo so unattractive to me. And by unattractive, I don’t just mean that I personally don’t want to use it. It’s that I actively stay away from recommending it to people as their first language learning contact. When someone asks me how they can get started learning a new language, I don’t want them to start with the Duolingo app. Why?

1. It’s not the Interface

Duolingo is well-designed, pretty, engaging and takes away a lot of the “dusty books” image from learning. It’s an app designed for modern consumers. The mascot is very cute too, so there is very little to dislike about how Duolingo is designed.

2. It’s not the Gamification

Personally, I don’t feel that giving a language learner three lives to pass a lesson is an idea that you’d ever get away with in real life. Imagine if I carried that message into my lessons? Three errors and you’re out? Same error three times, let me start you again? If any IRL teacher did this to a student, they’d be asked to come in for a review with the pedagogy council. If nothing else, the “three lives” concept can actually deter a student from really learning something by understanding it. It prompts learners to guess their way through lessons by remembering what isn’t correct. The addictive nature of game playing makes it tempting to try again, but it doesn’t help with linguistic understanding.

Now why is this not a huge problem with the app? The thing is it seems to be what millions of people want. People enjoy the gameplay aspect of Duolingo so much that its user base grows every single day. And there’s no arguing with the masses. Maybe the gamification aspect is an ineffective gimmick, but it does make language learning accessible. I would argue that it doesn’t make it more fun, but if a label says “game” on it, you’re just more likely to try.

In other words: I don’t think you need a language learning game in your life, but I like that it makes you want to play.

3. It’s not the Business Model

In Episode 12 of the podcast, Chris Broholm and I touched on Duolingo’s business model, which includes selling user generated translations in exchange for providing free language training. I’m not 100% comfortable with this, partly because we would all be up in arms if Flickr or Facebook did it. Paying with your information is an accepted economic fact on the 21st century internet. In effect, Duolingo is not free. It just doesn’t take your money. As long as you're aware of it as a user, then go for it.

2017 update: Duolingo's business model is always evolving, and I feel confident that this is bringing lots of improvements and more transparency than ever. Thank you, Duolingo.

4. It’s not the Results

Hey, if there have been studies saying that this works then I am not qualified to argue. Duolingo officially works for getting people to do well on tests. In fact, I think as a pronunciation trainer it is doing a pretty good job. Will the system make you love your new language? Will it make you excited to go out and speak, or to read road signs from abroad? Those are the results I care about when a language learning app comes out, but they’re a lot tougher to measure.

So what is my problem?

Here we get to the nitty-gritty of what drives me crazy about Duolingo. Not the general issues or concepts, but the real reasons that I close down the app within minutes of opening it.

2017 Update: If you would like to learn more about how to overcome the problems below, check out the updated Tips for Improving Your Duolingo Experience.

1. It’s the Vocab

Duolingo telling me what my problem is.

Duolingo telling me what my problem is.

When I first started with Duolingo, I tested right into lesson 52 of French. This got me to a vocab level where the app thinks I should handle the following sentences:

“We needed fire.”, “You have to be big.”, “You must eat more.”

I’m not sure that I could come up with many sentences that I am even less likely to use in my life, or to enjoy translating. Because the app generates its sentences automatically, you don’t really get anything that’s very in-depth. In fact, this sentence from a critical review over at Hacking Portuguese sums it up perfectly for me:

The sentences are so far removed from anything that you might actually want to use in conversation that I doubt how much value there is in rote translation.

2. It’s the Translation Pre-Sets

Now, again this is the complaint of an accomplished language learner and not a beginner. I understand that Duolingo isn’t really built with me in mind. For the sake of this post, I tried out both a language I’m proficient at (French) and one that I didn’t know well at all (Danish). Yet I feel it’s justified to complain if they’re going to offer high-level grammatical structures that no one encounters before year 3 or 4 of French, then the computer just needs to become better at knowing that there is way more than one possible translation for most sentences. For a system that builds user habit and loyalty based on little hearts, I lose way too many hearts because I phrase my answers slightly differently than the computer wants me to do this. This is so incredibly frustrating, and so far removed from a joyful and challenging approach to language acquisition that it makes me want to shut down the app straight away.

3. It’s the Machine

I cannot tell you how much I dislike the computer voice. It doesn’t intone, it doesn’t emote, it’s just blank. A blank canvas of words coming at me. Who learns a language for that? Languages are about people. I wish they’d play and work with snippets from media shows or real people’s recordings. Just think of the big efforts Audio Lingua and Rhinospike are making in this area, and you can see that automated heartless computer voices really don’t need to be used in automated language instruction.

Whenever I switch on Duolingo, I get to a place that sits between boredom and outright irritation. Its mechanical, box-ticking structure reminds me of the worst in education, when learners are simply put in front of a multiple choice test and made to regurgitate whatever they had crammed into their minds before. This is not what language learning is about, and this is not how to become good at it. I just straight out refuse to believe that Duolingo can incite the same excitement that a book, a conversation or a foreign tv show could. It doesn’t do it for me.

4. It’s the Lack of Explanations

So here is the thing: Immersion is fine, but I don’t think it’s the answer to all of an adult learner’s language issues. Starting with this app means making up your own explanations for why things are right, it means trial and error. I get the sense that here is where “immersion” becomes completely pointless. In this app, you learn by parroting phrases without even beginning to cover the background stories that grammar and pragmatics tell. I have seen so many forum posts and emails from language learners who felt like they were completely losing the plot and ever wondering “Why am I getting this bit wrong?”. Duolingo would make me so much happier if it provided grammar references, even the most basic ones, and a perspective telling the user “Here’s why people say things this way”. I just cannot fathom how any self-respecting adult learner would put themselves in this babylike position where they simply take the word of a robot as the law. Language learning should make you curious, while this feels to me like it wants to create robots.

Perhaps surprisingly, the aspect of explanation is another thing that the Tell Me More version of Rosetta Stone has been doing rather well. Rosetta certainly isn’t free, but I think it is not comparable.

In Conclusion

This review of Duolingo might fly in the face of what many language beginners experience when they first start interacting with the app. In fact, our regular writer Angel has recently shared her own experiences and lauded Duolingo for a lot of the good stuff it does. The “learning game for adults” aspect of the app is brilliant, and I commend Duolingo for giving millions of people something to do when they feel a little bored online.

I've recently examined Duolingo's advantages in this article, which is exactly how to use this app to really learn a language.

My thoughts come from the point of view of a language teacher, someone who wants people to get into feeling the language instead of simply mastering its technical aspects. Just like the promise of fluency that many tools throw at you, I want you to feel that you have a right to make up your own mind about the Duolingo system. You can use this once a week, you can use it intensively for a few days and run out of steam, or you can just never try at all. Whatever you do, it won’t make you a better or worse language learner.

You’re not going about this the wrong way - in fact, if you are just getting started with a new language, here’s my advice: don't make Duolingo your first stop because it's too likely to be your last. There are lots of cheap ways to start learning a language, so make sure that you put something into place that really is productive and doesn’t just feel that way because you earn 200 meaningless points on an app every day.

Have you had good experiences using Duolingo? Have you stuck with it for more than two weeks? I'm sure there are many ways in which you could argue I'm wrong, and I'd love to hear a few in the comments.

If you Enjoyed This Article..

In addidion to playing with the little owl, go ahead and subscribe to Fluent and receive a copy of my free resource guide to see what else is out there.

The Best Apps for Travelling the World

top travel apps

There is a German saying that sums up all that is annoying and all that is important about travelling:

Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter. Es gibt nur schlechte Kleidung.

This means "there's no bad weather, there's just bad clothing". While single-handedly giving you and explanation for all those German tourists dressed in pro-level hiking gear, the saying also talks about attitude and preparation. Without good prep, travel won't be fun, so today I thought I'll share a few tools that I use every single time I travel abroad. And no, it hasn't stopped me from doing some remarkably stupid things such as forgetting my passport at home (ouch) and turning up at the airport a whole 24 hours too late. But imagine how much less organised I could be!

Be Smart about App Usage on the Road

It's important to watch your smartphone's data consumption when you travel. The EU roaming fee law that we all waited for has now been pushed back until 2018, so even from the UK to Germany it's important to ensure you've researched before you go.

I'm UK-based and have found the best deals for using my smartphone abroad with Three and o2. More information for UK-based users is available on the always excellent Money Saving Expert website.

No matter where you are, here are my top phone tips before you go travelling:

  • Get your phone unlocked and research buying a local SIM if you stay longer than a week, you travel to another country regularly or you're planning to use a lot of data.
  • If in doubt, switch off international roaming.
  • Research where you can get free Wi-Fi access.

The List of Apps and Services

This is the list of travel apps that I am never without on my phone. Most offer app options for iOS and Android. I'll be linking to their websites so you can select your download option. None of the links in this article are affiliate links, but I've used my "Refer a Friend" where I've got it.

1. tripit

Oh my god, I'd be lost without this site. TripIt creates a master travel itinerary. You can forward most train, car hire, hotel and flight confirmations to their plans@tripit.com email address and it reads them automatically and puts them into the calendar. The service also integrates with online calendars, so your diary is up to date.

The best thing about TripIt is that I can share my itinerary and allow others to post things to it. It's completely stopped that irritating "What time is our flight again? Which terminal?" conversation I used to have with my partner on every single trip. Instead, we just say "it's in the TripIt".

2.airbnb

The above link gets you free travel credit, feel free to use it!

I started using Airbnb in 2011 and it's become one of my go-to travel tools since then. Airbnb has been a big success story. It allows people with a little extra room, from a spare couch to a tree house, to rent out that space to travellers and visitors. I know that Couchsurfing runs this for free, but after years of business travel I just became a little spoilt and I'd rather set up a transaction with my host and have guaranteed safety and comfort in return.

I've now used Airbnb on trips to Cardiff, Kendal, San Francisco, Portland and London and have never had a bad experience. One of my friends has also started hosting on there, so if you're ever going to Edinburgh, email me for more details.

3.Award Wallet

Click the link above. The first 10 people to use the code "free-siaumd" get an upgrade coupon through my account.

If you never use your frequent traveller miles, you're not alone but you're missing out. AwardWallet is a website that tracks your airline and hotel loyalty schemes - something no one can really keep track off properly, right? The site will give you one central point to check your balances of every loyalty scheme going, including expiry dates and links to the original scheme websites.

Last year, I travelled around the USA and back for just $500, by the way. That was entirely due to using my frequent flyer miles, so this is worth looking into!

4. HotelTonight

My Referral Code KHAMMES will give you a £15 discount.

When I travel on my own, I like to be as free and unrestricted as I can. Road trips, spontaneous day trips and added nights in beautiful places are commonplace for me, so that means I rarely book a full itinerary in advance. There always has to be an unorganised bunch of nights in there, allowing me to feel free to roam. And HotelTonight has got to be the BESTEST EVER THING FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME.

The app is pretty, reliable and so easy to use it's unreal. Originally a last-minute reservation service for "tonight" only, they've now expanded their offering and allow you to use the app for reservations up to 7 days in advance. The rates are always competitive and their range of hotels is gorgeous. Without HotelTonight, my road trip to California would not have been as much fun.

5.Parkopedia

A new addition to my travel arsenal, Parkopedia is a British website listing reviews and tips on the best and most affordable parking spaces in 52 countries. It's saved me hundreds on my most recent Christmas trip by simply showing us a cheaper car park 500 metres away from our hotel. Absolutely worth looking into!

6. Kayak and 7. SkyScanner

Both of these websites are designed to deliver straightforward flight searches, allowing you to get the best connections all around the world. There are of course millions of flight search websites out there. Google has recently added its own service to the market as well after they bought the awesome ITA Scanner a few years ago. But for a bargain hunter like me, the two above are always worth checking out.

Kayak is great as a starting point for major airline connections and offers you a search featuring nearby airports, flexible dates and lots of route options. They miss out a bunch of low-cost airlines, so Skyscanner is my second favourite place to check for flight options because they will include Ryanair, easyJet, WizzAir and so on. Invaluable for Euro travel.

8. Happy Cow

If you're a vegetarian on the road, use Happy Cow. If you are looking for quirky restaurants that offer awesome healthy food, use it too. Basically: Use Happy Cow! This restaurant guide has listings of veggie-friendly places in even the most unlikely locations like Moscow and Lisbon. I've often dragged friends and travel partners to Happy Cow locations and had the best meal of my whole trip. The app offers you directions and opening hours and also lists health food stores. For going beyond the usual travel fare, this is your new best friend.

More App Recommendations

The list above is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. I also make regular use of TripAdvisor and the LEO Dictionary app. And I am always on the hunt for a really good packing list app, I've just not found one yet.

What are your own favourite apps for travelling? How do you prepare for a trip abroad?

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.