Robots exchanging gifts. We can exchange - and adapt - digital resources now, with Claude's shareable Artifacts.

Sharing Your Language Learning Games with Claude Artifacts

If Claude’s recent improvements weren’t already impressive enough, Anthropic has only gone and done it again – this time, by making Artifacts shareable.

Artifacts are working versions of the programs and content you, the user, prompt for in Claude. For example, they pop up when you ask the AI to write a language practice game in HTML, running the code it writes as a playable activity. Instant language learning games – no coding required.

Now, you can share your working, fully playable creations, with a simple link.

Instant Spanish Quiz with Claude

Take this simple Spanish quiz (very topical given the forthcoming Euros 2024 final!). I prompted for it as follows:

Create an original, self-contained quiz in Spanish for upper beginner / lower intermediate students of the language, on the topic “Spain in the European Football Championships”. It should be completely self-contained in an HTML page. The quiz should be multiple choice, with ten questions each having four alternative answer buttons – only one is right, and there is always one ‘funny’ alternative answer in the mix too.

Every time the quiz is played, the questions and the answers are in a random order. The student can keep trying answers until they get the right one (obviously after clicking an answer button, it should be disabled). Incorrect buttons turn red – correct ones green. Keep score of the player’s accuracy as they work through the questions (number of correct clicks / total clicks).

Make sure it looks attractive, slick and smart too, with CSS styling included in the HTML page.

If you have Artifacts turned on (see here for more). you should see your working game appear in a new pane. But now, you’ll also see a little Publish link in the bottom-right corner. Click this, and you can choose to make your creation public with an access link.

Publishing your working language activities using a share link with Claude Artifacts

Publishing your working language activities using a share link with Claude Artifacts

Remixing Artifacts

But wait – there’s more. When colleagues access your Artifact, they will see a Remix button in that bottom-right corner.

Remixing Artifacts in Claude

Remixing Artifacts in Claude

By hitting that, they can pick up where you left off and tweak your materials with further prompting. For instance, to keep the quiz format but change the language and topic, they could simply ask:

Now create a version of this quiz for French learners on the topic “France at the Olympic Games”.

It makes for an incredibly powerful way to network your learning resources. It’s also perfectly possible to take advantage of all this using only Claude’s free tier, which gives you 10 or so messages every few hours.

More than enough to knock up some learning games.

Have you created anything for colleagues to adapt and share on in Claude? Let us know in the comments!

A cute robot coding at an old-fashioned computer terminal. AI code generation is great for making language games!

AI for Language Games : We’re All Developers, Now!

I’ve been developing games for language learners for over two decades now. Learning those programming skills was a labour of love, started when I was still a classroom teacher. Honing my own coding skills took years of practice. But now, thanks to ever-improving generative AI models, you can skip that step.

All it takes to create interactive language games is a good set of prompts!

Generative AI is an uncanny fit for language learners and teachers, who quickly realised how useful it could be for authentic(ish) text creation. But it doesn’t have to be static. By specifying the kind of features you want in a prompt, you can come up with great self-contained digital ‘worksheets’ with self-marking activities.

It’s possible to go well beyond this – into actual interactive gaming. Today’s generation of AI platforms are capable of taking your brief, then coding it up efficiently and intelligently as a working game, without any further input from you.

Now, if you can imagine it, you can make it.

Language Tetris

Let’s take a classic gaming example: a version of Tetris with a language learning twist. Blocks fall from the top of the screen, labelled with a word in either German or English. Students must manoeuvre the blocks with the arrow keys in order to land German-English equivalents together, whereupon they pop and disappear from the stack. The game speeds up as students progress; the aim is to prevent the blocks from stacking to the top for as long as possible.

It’s fun, and fantastic for improving recall with a set of vocab items.

An AI-generated interactive language learning game. Blocks fall from the top of the screen - the student must match them and avoid them piling to the top.

An AI-generated interactive language learning game. Blocks fall from the top of the screen – the student must match them and avoid them piling to the top. (Pictured is a ‘boom’ block that gives the students a lifeline!)

You can play a working version of it here, and you’ll see what I mean: it’s fun, it gets quite fast and furious, and it does a great job of drilling words. It may not look particularly pretty in its current state, but it’s completely playable; with a bit of visual sprucing, it wouldn’t look out of place on any language learning website.

It’s the kind of thing that would make a nice intermediate coding challenge for someone learning web app development. Maybe a weekend project, or something to do across a series of evenings.

But it took just a few minutes with ChatGPT.

Prompting for Language Games

Here’s the prompt I used for the initial version (and you’ll see some similarities with the interactive worksheet prompt, too):

Let’s create a language learning game in JavaScript, completely self-contained on a single HTML page. It will be like Tetris, adapted for language learning as follows:
– blocks will have either a German or an English word on them from a pot of ten vocabulary items on the topic ‘Clothing’
– blocks will descend from the top of the screen
– as they fall, students use the left, right and down arrows to manoeuvre the blocks before they land
– if a matching German block and English block touch (above, below or to the side), they go POP and disappear – and the game speeds up slightly
– ensure that ‘gravity’ is respected, so if there are blocks above one that ‘pops’, they fall into place accordingly
– the aim is to avoid the blocks stacking up to the top
– every few blocks (maybe every 5-10 at random), a ‘boom’ block falls that ‘pops’ every block it touches on landing (just to clear the space and make it a bit easier)

If you pop this into Claude Sonnet 3.5 right now – as long as you have Artifacts turned on – you should be able to play what comes up straight away. If you’re using ChatGPT or another platform, there’s an extra (easy-ish) step to do before you can play: you just need to save your code in some text editor as an HTML file.

Code output from a prompt in ChatGPT

Code output from a prompt in ChatGPT

Live Preview – Without Claude’s Artifacts

In fact, one free editor for coding – Phoenix Code – also shows you a live preview of the page working as you paste the code in, Claude Artifacts-style. If you really get into language games generation with AI, it’s well worth a download.

Using Phoenix to save and preview AI-generated language games

Using Phoenix Code to save and preview AI-generated language games

One important caveat: your game may well not be perfect on the first go. It might have a bug or two – AI might have missed the point occasionally. My initial version of Language Tetris, for example, allowed students to move the block across existing columns, unlike in the classic game.

But by prompting and re-prompting, requesting tweaks and changes as you go along, you can produce some amazing results. Change the styling, add features, include fiendish rules of play.

The sky’s the limit.

Pulling It All Together

Once you’re done with one game, it can serve as a template for others. It’s usually clear in the code where to change the vocabulary items to something else. Just change, Save As… a new filename, and build up a library of topical games.

A snippet of code produced by ChatGPT

It’s usually clear from a glance at the code where you can change the vocabulary.

In terms of styling, these games do tend to be graphically quite simple. That said, you can easily prompt for more visually appealing elements. And why not use a AI image generation tool like Bing to make some more attractive graphics to integrate into your creations?

Finally, you might be wondering if educational games developers like me are feeling a bit… well, put out by all this. My answer is a resounding not at all! If anything, AI code generation is a brilliant proof-of-concept, prototyping tool to try out new gaming ideas before setting fingers to keyboard. It’s incredibly useful to test if something will really work before pouring hours into coding it.

And of course, you can pick up with your own skills where AI leaves off, to create something even more special with that irreplaceable human touch.

Have you been using AI as your own coding assistant? Let us know in the comments what you’ve been creating together!

A language learning topic menu created by Claude AI.

Claude Artifacts for Visually Inspired Language Learning Content

If you create language learning content – for yourself, or for your students – then you need to check out the latest update to Claude AI.

Along with a competition-beating new model release, Anthropic have added a new feature called Artifacts to the web interface. Artifacts detects when there is self-contained content it can display – like webpage code, or worksheet text – and it pops that into a new window, running any interactive elements on the fly. In a nutshell, you can see what you create as you create it.

This makes it incredibly easy to wrap your learning content up in dynamic formats like HTML and JavaScript, then visually preview and tweak it to perfection before publishing online. This favours interactive elements like inline games, which can be impressively slick when authored by Claude’s Sonnet 3.5; it turns out that model update is a real platform-beater when it comes to coding.

Using Claude’s new Artifacts Feature

You can give Artifacts a whirl for free, as Claude’s basic tier includes a limited number of interactions with its top model every few hours. That’s more than enough to generate some practical, useful material to use straight away.

First of all, you’ll need to ensure that the feature is enabled. After logging into Claude, locate the little scientific flask icon by the text input and click it.

Claude - locating the experimental features toggle

Claude – locating the experimental features toggle

A window should pop up with the option to enable Artifacts if it’s not already on.

Claude - enabling Artifacts.

Claude – enabling Artifacts.

Now it’s on, you just need a prompt that will generate some ‘Artifactable’ content. Try the prompt below for an interactive HTML worksheet with a reading passage and quiz:

Interactive HTML Worksheet Prompt

Create an original interactive workbook for students of French, as a self-contained, accessible HTML page. The target language level should be A2 on the CEFR scale. The topic of the worksheet is “Summer Holidays“. The objective is to equip students with the vocabulary and structures to chat to native speakers about the topic.

The worksheet format is as follows:

– An engaging introductory text (250 words) using clear and idiomatic language
– A comprehensive glossary of key words and phrases from the text in table format
– A gap-fill exercise recycling the vocabulary and phrases – a gapped phrase for each question with four alternative answer buttons for students to select. If they select the correct one, it turns green and the gap in the sentence is filled in. If they choose incorrectly, the button turns red. Students may keep trying until they get the correct answer.

Ensure the language is native-speaker quality and error-free. Adopt an attractive colour scheme and visual style for the HTML page.

With Artifacts enabled, Claude should spool out the worksheet in its own window. You will be able to test the interactive elements in situ – and then ask Claude to tweak and update as required! Ask it to add scoring, make it drag-and-drop – it’s malleable ad infinitum.

An interactive worksheet created by Claude.ai, displaying in the new Artifacts window

An interactive worksheet created by Claude, displaying in the new Artifacts window

Once created, you can switch to the Artifacts Code tab, then copy-paste your page markup into a text editor to save as an .html file. Then, it’s just a case of finding a place to upload it to.

Pulling It Together

After you’re done with the worksheets, you can even ask Claude to build a menu system to pull them all together:

Now create a fun, graphical, colourful Duolingo-style topic menu which I can use to link to this worksheet and others I will create. Use big, bold illustrations. Again, ensure that it is a completely self-contained HTML file.

Here’s the result I got from running that – again, instantly viewable and tweakable:

A language website menu created by Claude.ai, displayed in Claude's Artifacts feature.

A language website menu created by Claude, displayed in the Artifacts feature.

You’ve now got the pieces to start to stitch together into something much bigger than a single worksheet.

Instant website – without writing a line of code!

Have you had chance to play with Claude’s new Artifacts feature yet? Let us know in the comments what you’ve been creating!

Getting a Handle on Modern Greek : The Imperfect Tense

We all have a sticking point somewhere in our target languages. For me and Modern Greek, it was, for too long, the imperfect tense.

I noticed it in conversation classes with my teacher. I’d be narrating a story or incident, flowing easily enough when talking about single events in the past. I saw, I heard, I went… All simple past, or aorist, in Greek: είδα, άκουσα, πήγα (ída, ákusa, píga).

It all unravelled when I needed to express what was ongoing. I was talking, I was sleeping, I was thinking… The kind of thing we use the past continuous for in English. We use this device very frequently in storytelling, especially when one action undercuts or interrupts another. Think: I was watching the TV when…

All this means that if you only have a handle on the simple past, you can only really tell half the story.

When I spot a gap like this, I like to simplify it before tackling it. And with verbs, a nice simplification trick for learning is to only learn the parts you use regularly at first. For me, the sticking points came when talking to my teacher about what I was doing.

So I’d focus first on learning just the imperfect patterns for the first person, singular, the ‘I’ form.

The Imperfect Tense in Modern Greek – Egotistical Edition

Here – greatly simplified – is the ‘cheat sheet’ I used to get a handle on the imperfect tense in Modern Greek.

Type A (verbs stressed before the final syllable like γράφω – write)

The stress moves back a syllable – if there’s no syllable to move back to, you add a stressed ε- at the beginning. The first person singular ending is -α.

Example: γράφω (gráfo, I write) – έγραφα (égrafa, I was writing)

In many ways, this is the easiest one – it has the same pattern as the aorist, which many master early on, but without any root change. Compare έγραψα (égrapsa – I wrote).

Type B ( verbs with final stressed -ώ or -άω like μιλάω – speak)

These verbs have a whole set of endings to themselves – variations on -ούσα (-úsa). There’s no stress change – we just substitute the -ώ/-άω for -ούσα in the first person singular:

Example: μιλάω (miláo, I speak) – μιλούσα (milúsa, I was speaking)

Passive and Deponent Verbs (ending in -μαι like κοιμάμαι – sleep)

Now these are the strange ones. Although not so strange, if you’ve already learnt the word for I was, which is ήμουν (ímun) in Modern Greek. The verb ‘to be’ – irregular in so many languages – actually follows the endings of the passive verbs, so you already knew the pattern without realising. In the first person singular, the imperfect tense takes the ending -όμουν (-ómun):

Example: κοιμάμαι (kimáme, I sleep) – κοιμόμουν (kimómun – I was sleeping)

Roundup

So there you have it. Rather than learning a whole paradigm of six persons for three types of verb – 18 forms – you can get your first grip on the imperfect tense in Modern Greek by learning three examples. To round them up:

Group Present (1ps) Imperfect (1ps)
I γράφω έγραφα
II μιλάω μιλούσα
Passive κοιμάμαι κοιμόμουν

Needless to say, when you’ve memorised these, changing the person – to you, she, we and so on – is just a case of adjusting the ending slightly. The -α (-a) changes to -ες (-es) for ‘you’, for example, while the -όμουν (-ómun) changes to -όσουν (-ósun). But that’s for the next stage of your functional, chunked-up tense learning. In the meantime, you can enjoy being able to express what you were doing in the past when chatting with your teacher!

The one-form-at-a-time focus can be a motivation-saving shortcut for heavily inflected languages. It’s helped me with other tricky verb forms in Greek, as well as other languages. It’s part of the wider truth that nothing is too big to learn if you break it down into chunks – advice worth remembering when you keep coming up against stubborn gaps in your language learning knowledge.

Have you had similar experiences when learning conjugations? Which were your trickiest tenses? And how did you master them? Let us know in the comments below!

A digital imagining of Scotland

Scottish Gaelic : Chasing the Genitive Case

It’s typically the last of the Gaelic cases you cover in classes. And in many ways, it’s the most fiendish. Yes, it’s the genitive case, the case of possession.

I felt possessed at several times this week, I must admit – possessed by a language conundrum I couldn’t work out. It started with a puzzle. I had two example phrases I’d written from somewhere (where, I do not remember – a bit of a notes-taking fail, I’m afraid!). They are:

ann an diofar dòigh bho… (in a different way from…)
ann an diofar dhòighean bho… (in different ways from…)

I knew diofar (different) took the genitive. But I didn’t know what was causing that d > dh lenition in the plural. Do all plural genitive nouns lenite, or was I overgeneralising? I didn’t fit the pattern where there’s a plural definite article – that would be nan dòighean (of the ways/methods) instead, without lenition.

I’d obviously got quite an incomplete grasp of the genitive plural in my Scottish Gaelic memory banks.

On the genitive plural trail

Anyway, simple enough to look up, right? Nope. The puzzle led me on a bit of a wild goose chase. It turns out that there aren’t many really comprehensive explanations of the genitive out there. There’s plenty on the genitive singular, but just a little on the plural here and there – and only then just with the definite article.

Until I checked some older, out-of-print books (my super-economical secret weapon!). Two old Gaelic course books have really clear, cover-all-bases sections on the genitive case:

The first of these in particular was really no-nonsense and clear. In fact, there’s a whole section dedicated to the genitive plural. There, in section 68c, it states clearly:

When the article does not precede a genitive plural noun, the noun is automatically lenited. In other words indefinite genitive plurals are lenited, e.g.:
mòran ghillean (G, pl) a large number of boys, many boys
beagan bhòrd (G, pl) a small number of tables

Of course, mòran and beagan trigger that same indefinite genitive that diofar does. By now, I’d worked it out myself, of course – but it’s always good to have confirmation from a proper grammar.

It just shows that more up-to-date materials aren’t always the best. It’s frustrating that there wasn’t anything more comprehensive and current out there for Scottish Gaelic, although perhaps not surprising. But thankfully, older, fuller works are still available with a little second-hand digging.

Can’t find the answer? An old (maybe not even that old) book might be what you’re looking for.

(That said, there’s a very exciting new addition to the Routledge Grammars that’s coming out very soon – can’t wait!)

A robot making clones of its voice - now quick and easy with tools like ElevenLabs.

You, But Fluent – Voice Cloning for Language Learners

I could barely contain my excitement in last week’s post on ElevenLabs’ brilliant text-to-speech voice collection. I’ve had a week of playing around with it now, and if anything, I’m only more enthusiastic about it.

After a bit of deep-delving, it’s the voice clone features that have me hooked right now. ElevenLabs can make a digital version of your voice from just 30 seconds of training speech. And it’s fast. I expected a bit of a wait for audio processing the first time I used it. But no – after reading in a couple of passages of sample text, my digital TTS voice was ready to use within seconds.

For a quick ‘n’ easy tool, it does a brilliant job of picking up general accent. It identified mine as British English, captured most of my Midlands features (it struggled with my really low u in bus, though – maybe more training would help), and it got my tone bang on. Scarily so… I can understand why cybersecurity pundits are slightly nervous about tech like this.

Your Voice, Another Language

The most marvellous thing, though, was using my voice to read foreign language texts. Although not 100% native-sounding – the voice was trained on me reading English, of course – it’s uncannily accurate. Listening to digital me reading German text, I’d say it sounds like a native-ish speaker. Perhaps someone who’s lived in Germany for a decade, and retains a bit of non-native in their speech.

But as far as models go, that’s a pretty high standard for any language learner.

ElevenLabs' TTS interface with the custom voice 'Richard' selected.

ElevenLabs’ TTS interface with the custom voice ‘Richard’ selected, ready to read some German.

The crux of it is that you can have your voice reading practice passages for memory training (think: island technique). There’s an amazing sense of personal connect that comes from that – that’s what you will sound like, when you’ve mastered this.

It also opens up the idea for tailoring digital resources with sound files read by ‘you’. Imagine a set of interactive language games for students, where the voice is their teacher’s. Incredible stuff.

In short, it’s well worth the fiver-a-month starter subscription to play around with it.

A robot reading a script. The text-to-speech voices at ElevenLabs certainly sound intelligent as well as natural!

ElevenLabs Voices for Free, Custom Language-Learning Material

There’s been a lot on the grapevine of late about AI-powered leaps forward in text-to-speech voices. From providing accent models to in-depth speaking games, next-gen TTS is poised to have a huge impact on language learning.

The catch? Much of the brand new tech isn’t available to the average user-on-the-street yet.

That’s why I was thrilled to happen across TTS service ElevenLabs recently. ElevenLabs’ stunning selection of voices powers a number of eLearning and audiobook sites already, and it’s no hype to say that they sound as close to human as you can get right now.

Even better, you can sign up for a free account that gives you 10,000 characters of text-to-speech conversion each month. For $5 a month you can up that to 30,000 characters too, as well as access voice-cloning features. Just imagine the hours of fun if you want to hear ‘yourself’ speak any number of languages!

Using ElevenLabs in Your Own Learning

There’s plenty to do for free, though. For instance, if you enjoy the island technique in your learning, you can get ElevenLabs to record your passages for audio practice / rote memorising. I make this an AI double-whammy, using ChatGPT to help prepare my topical ‘islands’ before pasting them into ElevenLabs.

The ChatGPT > ElevenLabs workflow is also brilliant for dialogue modelling. On my recent Sweden trip, I knew that a big conversational contact point would be ordering at coffee shops. This is the prompt I used to get a cover-all-bases model coffee-shop convo:

Create a comprehensive model dialogue in Swedish to help me learn and practise for the situation “ordering coffee in a Malmö coffee shop”.

Try to include the language for every eventuality / question I might be asked by the coffee shop employee. Ensure that the language is colloquial and informal, and not stilted.

The output will be pasted into a text-to-speech generator, so don’t add speaker names to the dialogue lines – just a dash will suffice to indicate a change of speaker.

I then ran off the audio file with ElevenLabs, and hey presto! Custom real-world social prep. You can’t specify different voices in the same file, of course. But you could run off the MP3 twice, in different voices, then splice it up manually in an audio editor like Audacity for the full dialogue effect. Needless to say, it’s also a great way for teachers to make custom listening activities.

The ElevenLabs voices are truly impressive – it’s worth setting up a free account just to play with the options and come up with your own creative use cases. TTS is set to only get better in the coming months – we’re excited to see where it leads!

A robot interviewing another robot - a great speaking game on ChatGPT!

So Interview Me! Structured Speaking with ChatGPT

The addition of voice chat mode to ChatGPT – soon available even to free users in an impressive, all-new format – opens up tons of possibilities for AI speaking practice. When faced with it for the first time, however, learners can find that it’s all a bit undirected and woolly. To make the most of it for targeted speaking practice, it needs some nudging with prompts.

Since AI crashed into the language learning world, the prompt bank has filled with ways to prime your chatbot for more effective speaking practice and prep. But there’s one activity I’ve been using lately that offers both structure, tailored to your level and topic, and a lot of fun. I call it So Interview Me!, and it involves you playing an esteemed expert on a topic of your choice, with ChatGPT as the prime-time TV interviewer.

So Interview Me!

Here’s an example you can paste into ChatGPT Plus straight away (as text first, then switching to voice mode after the initial response):

Let’s role-play so I can practise my Swedish with you. You play the role of a TV interviewer on a news programme. I play an esteemed expert on the topic of ‘the history of Eurovision’. Conversational turn by turn, interview me in the target language all about the topic. Don’t add any translations or other directions – you play the interviewer and no other role. Wind up the interview after about 15 turns. Keep the language quite simple, around level B1 on the CEFR scale. Are you ready? Start off by introducing me and asking the first question!

The fun of it is that you are the star of the show. You can completely throw yourself into it, interacting with your interviewer with all the gusto and gumption of a true expert. Or you can have some fun with it, throwing it off with silly answers and bending the scenario to your will (maybe you turn out not to be the expert!).

Either way, it’s a brilliant one to wind up and set going before you start the washing up!

A musical, emotive robot. OpenAI's new model GPT-4o will make digital conversations even more natural.

GPT-4o – OpenAI Creates A Perfect Fit For Language Learners

Just a couple of weeks after the excitement around Hume.ai, OpenAI has joined the emotive conversational bandwagon with a stunning new release of its GPT-4o model.

GPT-4o is a big deal for language learners because it is multimodal in much more powerful ways than previous models. It interacts with the world more naturally across text, audio and vision in ways that mimic our own interactions with language speakers. Demos have included the model reacting to the speaker’s appearance and expression, opening a path to more realistic digital conversation practice than ever.

As with Hume, its voice capabilities have been updated with natural-sounding emotion and intonation, along with a deeper understanding of the speaker’s tone. It even does a better job at sarcasm and irony, long the exclusive domain of human speakers. Heck, it can even sing now. Vocal, emotional nuance – at least simulated – does seem to be the latest big leap forward in AI, transforming the often rather staid conversations into something uncannily humanlike. And as with many of these developments, it almost feels like it was made with us linguists in mind.

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s no wait to try the new model this time, at least in text mode. OpenAI have rolled it out almost immediately, including to free users. That suggests a quite confidence in how impressed users will be with it.

As for the multimodal capabilities, we’ll have to wait a little longer, unfortunately – chat updates are being propagated more gradually, although you may already the next time you open chat mode, you may already get the message that big changes are coming. Definitely a case of watch this space – and I don’t know about you, but I’m already impatiently refreshing my ChatGPT app with increasing frequency!

Lots of Swedish flags!

Malmö Calling! Language Learning Meets Eurovision 2024

It’s been quite the experience, Sverige!

If you’ve kept up with my copious social postings, you’ll know that I’ve spent the last week in beautiful Malmö, following my Eurovision language dreams. Perhaps not the calmest of years to choose – the contest itself was mired in controversies that just seemed to be compounded by poor decision after poor decision. At times, the atmosphere felt incredibly on edge. Needless to say, the joy that was Switzerland’s Nemo winning was the tonic we all needed.

As for my language goals, though, it’s been a blast.

Since the moment Loreen snagged the prize in Liverpool, I’ve been seriously cramming Swedish. My chief strategy was to use my B2-ish Norwegian to leap-frog to its close cousin language, using my understanding as a scaffold to access more interesting, higher-level content, while focusing on similarities and differences between the two languages.

I put all that to the test this week. And I think I can finally say, without piquing my impostor syndrome to breaking point, that I speak Swedish. Ja, äntligen pratar jag svenska! Granted, coffee shop counters have been the main playground for my newfound skills, but with each interaction I’ve felt more and more confident using it.

Avoiding (Un)Helpful hands

One obstacle I was very wary of at first was the helpful English-speaker. You know the type if you’ve been to a country with really strong, widespread anglophone knowledge. You try out your target language, only to get English back at you by default. It’s often enough to scare you back into your shy language learner box and accept defeat.

In Malmö, however, it didn’t happen once. That’s perhaps more to do with my obsessive fascination with mimicry, rather than Malmoans’ inherent desire to help learners of Swedish. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Swedish podcasts and watching Swedish series to train my ear. Then, in my spare time, I’ve rehearsed speaking phrases out loud, laying it on thick with the accent and paying particular attention to the Swedish tones. I’d clown around with it, role-playing an authentic Swede. Melodifestivalen introductions were particularly fruitful ground for this – låt nummer ett : Carola! I’d pronounce in the shower, in my finest continuity announcer svenska.

It may all sound completely bonkers, but it worked a treat. I ended up sounding decent enough for Swedes to assume I had a better grip of the language than I probably (certainly) do, but it stopped the dreaded automatic-switch-to-English, and gave me more precious time practising with real people. Once my level became apparent and the deception was revealed, I could hop in with a jag lär mig svenska (I’m learning Swedish), which resulted in some nice compliments and occasionally, a new word or two explained by the other party. My favourite was vispgrädde, whipped cream, explained by a very patient and lovely Espresso House barista!

So, I’ve come out of my Swedish adventure with a refreshed appreciation of accent-training as an indispensable part of any language learning regime. Podcast-shadowing, talking to yourself, singing in the shower – however daft it feels, it just works. Give it a go if you’re sceptical – I bet you’ll be surprised.

The only thing I have to do now is relearn how to speak Norwegian again without sounding Swedish…