Sheet music with lyrics in Polish. Image from freeimages.com

Singalong-a-Language : Lyrics Sites for Learners

Music from other countries was a big early draw to foreign languages for me. The lyrics seemed magical, if only I could memorise and sing along to them.

As a wee young thing, I would sit rewinding and replaying CDs, tapes and videos (largely Eurovision, as that was the best multilingual source in those pre-web days) trying to transcribe what I heard. If I really liked a song, I’d get hold of a dictionary in its language, and try to match those rough transcriptions with a translation.

It was a labour of love, and often a labour in vain – like trying to climb Mount Everest before I could walk.

But those early games with lyrics prepared me more than I realised for all the language learning I went on to do. I not only learnt vocabulary and grammar, but accent, intonation, differing phonologies, relationships between languages, differences between language groups, other writing systems… The list goes on.

One-Click Lyrics

These days, of course, it’s a whole lot easier to get hold of lyrics to foreign language songs you love. Not that transcription isn’t still a great exercise for all the reasons above. But for when you just want to sing along, your hymn sheet is just a search away.

The thing about lyrics sites is that they have often not been the best examples of friendly, cutting-edge web design out there. You still find plenty of examples of clunky, basic sites, often peppered with ads to make them financially viable to run. But there are some gems amongst the chaff. Here are some of the best I’ve found for language learning!

Lyrics.com

As you’d expect from the site that bagged that URL, Lyrics.com is a pretty comprehensive lyrics search engine. It boasts a wealth of international lyrics, as you can see by their hefty catalogue of Gigliola Cinquetti’s hits, for example.

Genius.com

Genius.com likewise has an impressive number of non-English language songs included in its banks. I was particularly impressed at the number of Norwegian titles they had, as you can see from their page on norsk star Anita Skorgan. For me, that’s a good barometer of how many ‘mainstream’ language songs they must have, too!

SongLyrics.com

While not quite as slick as its two cousins above, SongLyrics.com is nonetheless a good place to go if you have little luck searching elsewhere. They have a great list of tracks by French singer Alizée, for example; you’ll be warbling along to Moi… Lolita in no time.

Diggiloo Thrush

Last but not least, and it’s one I’ve sung the praises of before, it’s Diggiloo Thrush. Dislaimer: this is all about the vintage Eurovision lyrics. It’s been lovingly maintained for years now, and has original contest lyrics as well as other language versions, translations and transliterations for many non-Latin scripts. Basically a goldmine if you dream of singing along with Edyta Górniak.

For the non-initiated, this is the least transparent site name of all. If you’re wondering, it refers to Sweden’s winning entry of 1984 (Diggi-loo, Diggi-ley) and the Eurovision 1992 mascot and national bird of Sweden, the song thrush.

Singing from a Different Sheet

So there you have it; four sites to go wild with foreign language lyrics. It’s also worth nothing that the Spotify app now includes lyrics that scroll along with many popular songs. I was very chuffed to find they’d given that treatment to a favourite French pop song by a favourite French band recently, Coma Idyllique by Therapie Taxi. Merci, Spotify!

If anything is missing in the mix, though, it’s a resource to browse for lyrics – and new songs – by language. Webmasters, if you’re reading this…

Greek microblog content from Instagram (screenshot).

The Way of the Microblog : Kitchen Sink Inspiration and Language Learning

It’s all about the foreign language microblog for me lately. Short, snappy snippets of target language piped directly to your social media streams: what’s not to love?

In fact, I’m practically drowning in them at the moment. That’s thanks to the notorious and mysterious algorithm (TM), of course, which is a fact of life these days; like one thing, and you get a ton more of the same thrown at you, for better or for worse.

Happily, in the case of us language learners, it’s generally for the better. Take my Instagram feed; its AI wisdom has decided to channel reams of Greek pop psych, heartwarming quotes and concise self help my way. It’s twee and a wee bit naff, granted. But every one of those posts is a 30-second language lesson.

This latest bite-sized adventure all started with a single Greek account, gnwmika.gr. It exclusively posts what you might call ‘fridge magnet’ content: folk wisdom and kitchen sink inspiration.

The great lesson imparted here, in true, lofty microblog style, is:

“Beautiful things will make you love life. Difficult ones will teach you to appreciate and respect the beautiful ones.”

I know – deep, eh.

Anyway, I hit follow and thought little else of it… Until things escalated. Next thing, I’m being shepherded to not only more of the same, but anything and everything Greek. Poetry, history, celebs, TV… the lot. It’s become a rabbit hole leading to some well obscure (but fascinating) places. And, crucially:

…my Greek is so much better for it!

Fill Your Little (Microblog) World Right Up

It all plays in marvellously to the fill your world with target language strategy. Since our worlds are ever more digital, one of the easiest ways to do that is to follow the monkeys out of accounts we find fun and engaging. Add one or two, and let the system start popping more and more into your suggested follows.

Now, the only catch is that the algorithm (TM) is smothering me in Greek. I’d love a bit of Gaelic, Icelandic, Norwegian or Polish (and the rest). So, if you’re reading this and have some good microblog recommendations to kick the cycle off again…

…please let me know!

A group of toy gorillas - possibly singing cartoon themes? Image from freeimages.com.

Animated Language Learning with Cartoon Themes

There’s an underexploited, rich seam of fun, bite-sized authentic materials out there. Especially if you find yourself reminiscing wistfully on your childhood television memories. Bring on the cartoon themes – in translation!

Now, I’m not talking about the big, blockbusting Disney feature animations. Those are, of course, a different subtype of this genre (and no less handy for language learning).

Instead, this is about pure nostalgia of the small-time kids’ shows of yesteryear as an engine for language learning. It’s about reliving those half-forgotten, often very modest-budget productions with some of the catchiest tunes composed for TV. Many a bored moment I’ve spent idly browsing YouTube, wondering along the lines of “what did ‘Dogtanian and the Muskahounds’ sound like in Polish?”. And yes, YouTube really does have almost everything in its cartoon themes annals. As obscure as you care you conjure up, it’s probably there.

And go on then… While we’re at it, let’s throw Disney back into the mix. Just not the big cinema headliners, but the cartoon series of decades past with some of the biggest earworms of all.

Ah, the soundtracks to our childhoods.

It’s not just a trip down memory lane, of course. It’s the geekiest (and most satisfying) of language learning party tricks to memorise the lyrics to these wee jingles, ready to reel off and impress friends and family at the slightest cue. And, like all automatic, rote memorisation tasks (like the mass sentence technique), it’s a brilliant exercise for phonetic finessing of pronunciation, accent and prosody. That’s not to mention the extra vocab you’ll pick up along the way.

Cartuneful Lyrics

Remarkably for non-pop songs, some lyrics sites even include entries for these childhood gems, like this entry for Spanish Duck Tales (or Patolandia!). Failing that, some helpful native speakers have occasionally added them in the video comments themselves, as with this upload of Gummi Bears in Greek.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to transcribe them as you hear them first, of course. They just help with some of the more magical vocabulary. No way was I going to get that “περιπέτεια συγκλονιστική” meant “astounding adventure” without help!

Remember, too, that these shows touched the hearts of so many around the world. As such, they make a lovely way to make a native speaker smile. And probably think you quite odd, too, but there’s no shame in that!

Which cartoon theme tunes are you particularly fond of? And do they exist in your target languages? Let us know in the comments!

Global charity organisations are a great way to tap into target language and support good causes too. Image from freeimages.com

Sweet Charity : Supporting Good Causes Multilingually

An unexpected source of Spanish popped up in my inbox this week. It was a campaign video from Smile Train, a wonderful charity taking cleft lip and palate surgery and support around the world. The video featured the story of little Sebastián Álvarez and his parents, as they navigated the challenges of early life with a cleft.

Smile Train is an organisation very close to my heart, since I was one of those cleft babies – but lucky enough to grow up in a country where repairs are routine. It makes my heart sing to see the charity sharing that opportunity with those who might otherwise never get the support they need.

First and foremost, posts like these give us that heartwarming sense that there are good people doing good things in the world. We certainly need some of that lately. But it’s also a reminder of how powerful it can be to combine language learning with your passions for activism and goodwill. It cross-references your worlds, and paints another corner of it with your target language.

Plug In to Multilingual Charity Initiatives

Smile Train in Spanish found me this time. But many global charities, like Smile Train, Cancer Research or the WWF, have information sites catering for many different regions and languages. A quick Google, like WWF España, for instance, is a great place to start looking for them.

Most also offer newsletter signup in those languages. Newsletter campaigns tend more and more to be packed with rich media, serving short and snappy update videos direct to your inbox. Like hacking your socials to drip-feed target language effortlessly, this is another way to lock in language practice regularly and unthinkingly.

As well as show support for your favourite causes.

What’s not to like?

Lastly, remember that there’s more than one way to support your charity. If you’re not in a position to donate, just signing up and sharing on social media is still valuable awareness-raising.

And if you’re doing that in your language learning social channels, you’re helping fellow learners, too!

Where to Start?

Need some inspiration? Here is my unapologetically unimpartial list for some examples! But charity is personal – make it your own.

Amnesty International France Germany  
Cancer Research Charities Institut Curie (France) DFKZ (Germany) CNIO (Spain)
Smile Train Latin America    
WWF France Germany Spain
A sundial - one way to measure the polyglot days! Image from freeimages.com

A Multilingual Manifesto : Daily Tactics for a Polyglot Plan

I’m always inspired by the work of other polyglot learners. This week, I was living for the enthusiasm in this post on working eleven active language projects into daily life. There’s inspiration if ever you needed it!

It’s not all work and no play, though. The post reminded me that keeping up your languages isn’t about interminable formal study sessions, or filling all your spare moments with strict heads-down books-open calendar scheduling. There is a place for that, of course, and many of us happily geek out over it.

But too much intensity will burn the shine off anything in the long run.

One antidote to this is to foster brief but very regular habits, or daily tactics. These draw on the trusty old little but often approach. But there’s a second, even simpler method for working this sage advice into your day: putting language in your path. Create an environment in which you naturally bump up against foreign language material in the course of your day-to-day, even when not officially studying.

Multilingual Manifesto

Setting this environment up requires just a little initial planning. It involves putting together a multilingual manifesto: a plethora of personal polyglot policies which create effortless exposure to language.

These tweaks, or displacements, help shift your focal centre to target language interactions with the media around you. Most importantly, they are dotted around, and embedded within you day. They are the kind of activities that work just as well for one or two languages as they do for handfuls of them at the same time – especially if you have both active and maintenance projects.

Here are a couple of my own personal favourites for levering in the languages almost imperceptibly!

Languages on Drip

I am a news junkie. I can’t help it – I just love knowing what’s going on. Under normal circumstances, I will be checking live UK news outlets multiple times a day. Yes, I acknowledge that this can be an unhealthy addiction in current times!

Predictably, bad news fatigue prompted me to make a change-up in my life. But this change-up could be useful; I decided that overseas, foreign-language news sources would now be my first port of call.

First, I shuffled my links and icons so that foreign sources (like the excellent NRK app from Norway) were more accessible. Next, I turned off notifications from English-language news apps, and turned on those in other languages. This is incredibly useful; I now get regular snippets popping up on my phone in multiple languages. I hear a ping, and get a little reading tester in any one of my languages. Bite-sized practice, drip-fed at regular intervals: perfect.

There’s another positive side-effect. The news is engaging again – the Fleet Street-induced media fatigue has subsided!

Subtitles and Chill

News-fixing via notifications is the perfect example of a zero effort change to make language pop up in your everyday. Another is to tweak your defaults on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Of course, the obvious (and most full-on) language learning advice for using streaming is to watch foreign language series or shows dubbed into your language(s). But that can be quite hard work, and there is actually no need to max it out all the time. Heaven knows, watching nothing but shows in a language you’re still learning can frazzle the mind.

Instead, simply switch target language subtitles on by default. That way, there is always some foreign language content in front of you, even when you just want to relax and not bombard your brain too much. Your eye will wander to the bottom of the screen now and again, catching the odd new word or interesting translation. Believe me, I’ve picked up some very interesting Polish vocab watching Star Trek Enterprise.

And of course, the full-blown, polyglot, stereo experience is always there when you’re ready for the mental gym.

Switch Your Sauces

Of course, you don’t get more everyday than food and drink. And foodies can mix it up a bit by introducing a couple of kitchen-specific personal policies.

If you regularly cook from scratch, switch your sauces… I mean, ahem, sources. Find a target language recipe book or website, and commit to find dishes from there alone. It needn’t be for every meal. But once or twice a week, banish your native language from your meal prep.

2020 saw me resurrect my old, forgotten Greek, and initially through the medium of food. Making a night a week Akis Night has been transformational (at least for my food and drink vocabulary!).

The World’s Your (Polyglot) Oyster

This trio has worked a treat for me lately. But you can find polyglot tweaks to put languages in your path in all corners of your life. From gaming, to exercise, to background chatter while you work, there are ways to study multiple languages a day yet not be studying 24/7.

So what will your multilingual manifesto look like?

Vintage TV set for franchise hopping! Image by FreeImages.com

Franchise Hopping for Fun Televisual Language Learning

This week I’ve been practising my languages alongside tuneful trolls and celebrity sambas – all thanks to a bit of franchise hopping.

International rollouts of TV franchise successes are nothing new. I remember my excitement in the early noughties on discovering that the UK’s Pop Idol had a German version. Yes, it had the slightly unwieldy name Deutschland sucht den Superstar (Germany is looking for the superstar). But it was the same glitzy, shiny, melodramatic format that I loved in the UK.

Back then, of course, it was still pretty difficult to find clips online to watch (28.8k modem, anyone?). Needless to say, I came back from a trip to Cologne that year with both the series CD and DVD. I still have them somewhere, in my piles of foreign language authentica.

Nowadays, of course, it’s a completely different story. With whole shows widely available through national broadcaster platforms, there are few barriers to enjoying overseas versions of your favourite shows.

So what’s so great about franchise hunting as a language learner?

Franchise Fun

Franchise exports are excellent language learning resources for a number of reasons:

  • the format is familiar, so you can guess a lot of vocabulary from context
  • they are fun to watch, especially if you are already a fan of the original
  • franchise exports are often some of the biggest shows, so are both really easy to find, and have lots of supporting material on social media channels
  • transplanted shows often include local twists that give an insight in your target language culture
  • they can be a stepping stone to get to know well-known personalities in the target language country, which you can then track down in more home-grown shows

‘Easy to find’ is always a winner for language learning resources, of course. The simplest way to track down a particular franchise in a foreign language version is to locate its entry on Wikipedia. For instance, on the entry for The Masked Singer, you can find out local names for the show’s incarnations, and marvel at just how far the show has travelled.

The online encyclopaedia can throw out some quite surprising facts, too. Before my franchise hunt, I would never have guessed that the Masked Singer started life as a South Korean series. Now that’s a great excuse for Korean learners to watch some gloriously silly TV – not to mention further temptation in my way to learn Korean some day!

Local Twists

Another thing to look out for in franchise exports is how they are adapted to the local audience. There are often some lovely cultural twists; Norway’s 2020 edition of Maskorama, for example, featured the staple Nordic troll as one of the singers. And that’s not to mention the cultural crossovers. Looking up China’s The Singer (another South Korean export), UK learners can enjoy watching home-grown talent Jessie J storm to victory in the 2018 series.

Once you’ve located the show itself, you can then follow its social media trail for even more authentic material. Instagram is great for short texts and videos. For example, Skal vi danse– or ‘Norwegian Strictly’ to UK viewers – features bite-sized interviews and behind-the-scenes presentations which make for great listening practice. Likewise, the comments are great for reading some often very colloquial language (if you can handle the barbed tongues of irate viewers!).

Franchise telly might be as far away from highbrow as you can get with authentic material in the target language. But it can punch well above its weight as a bit of fun practice content!

Eurovision Cyprus 1993 - the song Μη σταματάς

Language Lessons from a Song [Eurovision 1993 : Cyprus]

Bravo, inventor of the three-minute, throwaway pop song. Not only does it provide a little well-needed escapist entertainment, but it also doubles as a fantastic little language learning tool.

I’m far from the first language learning aficionado to use music to learn, of course. Many learners arrive at a new language after first falling in love with its music. And countless language teachers regularly spice up their classroom lessons with a pinch of pop.

But why is the simple song such a great medium for vocab mining? Besides the sheer fun of it. Well, for one thing, your typical chart hit is a nice and concise text to work with. It is the embodiment of bite-sized.

Secondly, the language of popular music tends to be quite colloquial, and not too elevated. You can pick up some nice, common turns of phrase to use in conversation. That doesn’t stop it expressing some universal and familiar truths, though, as well as some lyrics that can provide lively talking points.

What’s more – and here is the clincher – pop music is just so incredibly accessible now. Where overseas music was once hard to get hold of, it is now just a YouTube or Spotify search away.

A Song for Europe

As far as prime examples go, nothing quite approaches the three-minute pop perfection of the Eurovision Song Contest entry. I have long had a deep-seated fondness for Eurovision songs as my learning tools of choice.

No surprise there, of course. Eurovision is the reason I know so many random bits and bobs of so many different languages (not to mention ‘love’ and ‘peace’ in all of them). The lyrics range between harmless cheese and works of poetic art (check out this rather dark classic from France in 1968). But they all make for brilliant vocab fodder.

Also, an added benefit of choosing a Eurovision song is the excellent lyrics database Diggiloo Thrush, complete with translations and transliterations to tailor the material to any learner’s level.

But don’t let me badger you into choosing Eurovision (as if I needed any encouragement). Any song will do! After selecting one, Google for the lyrics, and begin to work through, line by line. As you move through the music, record each new term in your preferred practice / drill tool. Anki is always forever my go-to.

Adding colour to your conversation

Whatever your source, the nature of the song can provide some very colourful additions to your conversational repertoire. It is a fun game to toss out freshly memorised song lyrics to tutors mid-flow, and see how naturally (and imperceptibly!) they fit into the conversation – or not.

This can occasionally lend quite the philosophical slant to your chat. “Some of us, my friend, are the beggars of happiness” I mused to one perplexed tutor in the middle of a practice dialogue on buying train tickets. Yes, lyrics-fuelled lessons are nothing if not memorable (and salience of our active language learning material is something we should all strive for).

All Greek to Me

I currently find myself levelling up my Greek, first learned twenty years ago through Eurovision songs and island hopping. Music (much like food) simply has to play a part in any Greek learning plan, naturally. By way of example (and to spread the love), here is my working for a particularly favourite Eurovision song of mine, Cyprus’ underrated 1993 effort “Μη σταματάς” (Don’t Stop).

By going through the text systematically, you see how much high-frequency vocab you can mine from working with even the simplest of songs. And of course, you get the added memory bonus of having the words and phrases lodge in your head with a particularly sticky ear worm.

So without further ado… Ladies and gentlemen! I present to you the conductor, George Theofanous. Let the music (and learning) begin!

Μη σταματάς

Verse 1

Στη ζωή μας όλοι ερχόμαστε γυμνοί In our life we all arrive naked η ζωή – life
έρχομαι (έρθω, ήρθα) – to come
γυμνός – naked, bare
Ίδιο τέλος μας ορίζει και αρχή The same end and beginning define us ίδιος – same; own
το τέλος – end
η αρχή – beginning
ορίζω – to define, designate
Μα είναι κάποιοι από μας, οι ζητιάνοι της χαράς But there are some of us, the beggars of joy κάποιος – someone
ο ζητιάνος – beggar
η χαρά – joy, happiness

Chorus

Μη σταματάς, στους ανθρώπους να δίνεις βοήθεια Don’t stop giving help to people σταματώ – to stop
δίνω (δώσω, έδωσα) – to give
ο άνθρωπος – human, person
η βοήθεια – help (cf. the verb βοηθάω, to help)
Μην προσπερνάς, μη φοβάσαι να δεις τα συντρίμμια Don’t walk on by, don’t fear seeing the debris προσπερνώ – to pass by
φοβάμαι – to fear, be afraid (cf. the word phobia)
τα συντρίμμια – the debris, rubbish, wreckage
Κι αν τη ζωή την πληγώνει συχνά η αλήθεια And if truth often hurts life πληγώνω – to hurt, wound
συχνά – often, frequentlyη αλήθεια – truth
Μη σταματάς, μη σταματάς Don’t stop, don’t stop  

Verse 2

Όσα έχεις τόσα έχω, αδερφέ Whatever you own, I own, brother όσα… τόσα… – what …, that’s what … (cf. ‘όσα δίνεις, τόσα παίρνεις‘, ‘you get what you pay for‘)
Μα είναι κι άλλοι που δεν γέλασαν ποτέ But there are others who never laughed άλλος – other
γελάω – to laugh
Ειν’ το βλέμμα τους θολό, και σηκώνουνε σταυρό Their sight is unclear, and they carry a cross το βλέμμα – look, glance, stare (cf. βλέπω, to see)
θολός – dim, cloudy, blurry
σηκώνω – to lift up (cf., σηκώνομαι, to get up)
ο σταυρός – cross

I said it was bite-sized – three minutes of music doesn’t take long to work through. And there is some great, high frequency vocab to take away from that.

Deconstructing a favourite song

As you can see, deconstructing a favourite song in a foreign language does sometimes take the mystery away from it all a bit. Didn’t it all seem a bit more serious and credible before I translated it into complete banality? Now, it all sounds a little bit over-the-top. Walking past the debris? Everybody arriving naked? Hmm.

That said, I will always love this song, and not only for the extra vocab it’s given me. I adore how the lads are taking it all so seriously. I celebrate the oomph the backing trio are giving it. And I applaud the cheesy sax solo.

Even if the juries didn’t quite agree.

The Parthenon at the Acropolis, Athens. Image from freeimages.com.

Eating my way back to Greek

Sometimes an old, long-neglected language project will rise up and demand attention again. “Remember me, old friend?” The reasons can be many. But the call can be hard to resist. Over the past few weeks, my former passion for Greek bubbled up from the linguistic Lethe, that river of oblivion where loved ones drift off to be forgotten. And the trigger? Food. This is fast becoming a theme…

Now, this taste for all things Greek is nothing new. I was always a bit of an unabashed Hellenohile. Some of my earliest solo expeditions, learning about the world as a travel-mad youth, were to Greece.  In fact, my first trip abroad on my own was island-hopping back in 1997, armed with just a one-way ticket and a rucksack. Admittedly, it wasn’t a complete success – I had money stolen from my debit card and had to come home early and dejected (although a happy ending: everything was reimbursed by the bank on my return, thankfully). 

Richard West-Soley in Athens, Greece in 1997

On a Greek adventure in 1997.

But naive rookie tourist mishaps aside, there is no denying the touch of paradise to the region. Cast an eye over a Santorini or Mykonos sunset and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

And yes, Greece and Cyprus have brought some of my all-time favourite entries to the Eurovision Song Contest. You know me by now – Eurovision is always somewhere in the language learning mix. Before I even began to learn in earnest, I knew a host of terms of varying usefulness. These included αγάπη (love), άνοιξη (spring), αστέρι (star), ελπίδα (hope), Φωτιά (fire), θάλασσα (sea), σταφύλι (grape) and all the other lovely things people tended to sing about in Greek at Eurovision.

Yes, songs about grapes. Food was connecting me to Greek even back then.

Greek Cobbler

In fits and starts over the years, I cobbled together what you might call holiday Greek. Although I probably never strayed beyond A1, I have always been pretty proud of that achievement. After all, it was one of my very first self-taught language projects. Very few materials were available besides phrasebooks and basic primers back then, mostly tailored to holidaymakers. But it was enough for me to Get By In Greek, as one of those 90s titles went.

Learning Greek as a purely functional, transactional language for travelling meant that there was rarely much academic rigour to that study. But as a result, when I do come to use it, even today it seems more serviceable and everyday useful than some of my more ‘serious’ languages.

Also – and this is a consequence of the performance pressure we put ourselves under with close, considered study – I think I might even be a little less nervous about speaking a language I openly admit is (very) imperfect but useable. If it works when popping to the φούρνος (bakery), that’s enough for me.

A Taste of Greek

But back to food. And there is honestly nothing quite like Greek food. It is arguably the best comfort cuisine in the world. And a chance TV encounter earlier this year stirred that long-time love of Hellenic language and culture.

Akis Petretzikis already has a big following in Greece. So the BBC show Ready, Steady, Cook must have seemed like the perfect springboard to a more international following.

And he is ready for it – he has a ton of content online, from his own recipe website to the full gamut of social media feeds, full of foodspiration. But as it stands, much of that is in Greek, tailoring for that faithful home audience.

So if you really want to access his edible world of wonder, you would do well to dig out the Ελληνικά.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Akis Petretzikis (@akis_petretzikis) on

As far as social media is concerned, live content streaming is one of the best and most accessible sources of authentic materials for language learners. Watching in real time is a brilliant way to feel connected to your target language right now, in the real world. And throughout lockdown, Akis* has been live-streaming from his kitchen regularly, making – and eating – the tastiest samples of Greek cooking for his fans. Let me tell you, it is hard not to get hooked back into the country and culture when a plateful of πορτοκαλόπιτα (orange pie) is staring you in the face.

*other Greek chefs are available. See this for starters!

Not to mention the fact that Greek, at least to my ear, comes across as one of the most clearly articulated European languages. It has a staccato, precise flow that somehow matches your perception of the word written on the page, without everything mushing together as it comes out of the mouth.

(As an aside – I have no academic backup at all to claim this of Greek. I’d love to hear of research into the clarity of Greek speech patterns if you are aware of any!)

As a perpetual Greek beginner, this makes it easier to pick out familiar words in normal, free-flowing and sometimes very complicated speech. Listening to those feeds, that handful of familiar words just pops out: γάλα (milk), φράουλα (strawberry), ψωμί (bread)… and it is so satisfying to feel like you understand. Even just a little.

Greek Revival

So whats does my Greek revival look like? Well, a bit of Duolingo now and again is a good (if predictable) start. Appropriately, food vocab one of the first things you’ll learn in many of these courses. That has been immediately useful!

Brushing up on Greek food vocab in Duolingo

You probably know what comes next, fellow language enthusiast. With the Greek bug taking hold, out came all the old books, including one of my first ever language learning purchases, Linkword Greek.

But was that enough? Of course not. My copy of Essential Greek Grammar arrived in the post today. Incorrigible, I am.

Aren’t books almost as delicious as food, though?

Has anything inspired you back to your language learning roots lately? Please let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!

Books for learning Greek

Out come the old books.

A picture of a little yellow flower. Image from freeimages.com

It’s the Little Things : Serendipity and Lockdown Learning

It’s the little things that keep us going in challenging times. And no exception this week, which brought a tranche of serendipitous rediscoveries that kept the housebound language learning ticking over, preserving at least a modicum of precious lockdown sanity.

Many of us now have a heap of extra time on our hands at home right now. So clearly, many of these archaeological finds proceed from the fact that a lot of surprise spring-cleaning is going on. And from old, forgotten but effective study tools, to long-misplaced books, the little things keep coming.

It was the spirit of serendipity that gave me the biggest language-learning smile-moment of the week: my old Bose SoundTouch 20 WiFi speakers, resurrected to new life.

A picture of my Bose SoundTouch 20 Wifi speaker, playing the Norwegian radio station NRK P2.

Long shelved media equipment comes into its own. My old Bose SoundTouch 20 now serves as a precious connection to target language countries.

I’d shelved this heavy-duty media beauty some years ago, as it lacked BlueTooth. Instead, it works across WiFi only, interfacing with devices on the same broadband connection. Smaller,  more portable Bluetooth speakers just seemed less cumbersome and easier to connect to now and again.

But what has this to do with language learning?

technically magic little things

Well, the SoundTouch has a special magic trick: six chunky preset buttons sitting on the top of its hefty frame. Once paired with your device, you can tune these to Spotify playlists or world radio stations of your choice. And, after that, you don’t even need your device to be connected to play them. Just tap a preset button and it bursts into life.

I put these to great use all those years ago, when the machine was shiny and new. I tuned three of the presets to foreign language music playlists on my Spotify account. The other three, I pointed at various radio station live feeds from countries of study. Then, whenever the mood took me, I could immerse myself in the target language at the touch of a button, no fuss at all.

How could I have forgotten about this wonderful piece of equipment?

Needless to say, it is sitting proudly in the living room again. This time round, it is primed with two foreign music playlists, and four radio stations: NRK P2 (Norwegian), RÚV Rás 1 (Icelandic), NDR Info (German) and Polskie Radio 24 (Polish). Instant immersion at a tap. And as always, the quicker and easier a language learning habit is to implement, the more I do it. It doesn’t get much quicker and easier than button-pushing.

What’s more, it has become a valuable portal to a global village while travel is shut down. If you are struggling with your big world suddenly feeling very small and restricted, you can take advantage of this remedy without fancy equipment. Even placing the link to a free radio app on the first screen of your phone will make the world feel a little closer.

Tidy little things

Bringing objects of love and fascination closer is a recurring theme. Not only forgotten overseas sounds, but long-missed books resurfaced during these long, quiet evenings.

The aim of the exercise was to move the books from my most active language learning / maintenance projects to sit right next to my desk for easier access. This was no mean feat; thanks to a rather hectic peripatetic lifestyle pre-shutdown, there was quite a bit of disorder to tackle.

The resulting bookshelf rummage was a revelation. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are, how much we have. From the depths of obscurity, I plucked a wealth of beautiful books that had almost entirely slipped my mind. Not defunct old tomes, but materials worth going over again (or for the first time, in some cases – the shame of it).

Treasured books are indeed some of the very best little things.

A picture of some of my language books, organised neatly on shelves.

Is there anything more satisfying than reorganising your home library?

Talking of serendipity, as I sit here writing this listening to NRK P2, my favourite Norwegian language programme, Språkteigen, pops on unexpectedly. I always listen to this as a podcast, never on broadcast radio. It feels somehow more special now. All the little things in their rightful place again; the language gods are happy.

What have you rediscovered in lockdown from your language learning past? Let us know in the comments!

A picture of a freshly cooked chocolate brownie. Image from freeimages.com.

Baking up a distraction

Such a thoroughly  strange week draws to a close. The first of many weeks, no doubt, by the end of which strange will be normal. After the first run of stay-at-home social distancing, I expected to have blitzed my languages. Instead, what have I been spending my excess time on? Baking. Yes, consuming home-made cake instead of grammars. What sort of procrastinating distraction is this?

A simple sponge cake on a plate with a blue rim pattern

Cake by Rich – it doesn’t look much, but it was mighty tasty.

A bit out of the blue, too. A long-time lover of fast food conveniences, I was as surprised as anyone to find myself whisking and whirling in the kitchen. But then, strange things happen in strange times.

I guess that in unusual, stressful periods, we reach out for ways to feel in control. Given the scare stories in the media on supermarket supply lately, cooking from scratch has seemed a good way to feel in command of my personal food chain. That makes baking quite a useful distraction, actually. And, after all, beyond the languages, cooking is one thing I decided I could do with spending more time on in terms of self-improvement during these isolated weeks.

But could it be… well, a bit more languagey?

A cultural distraction

As ever, the online polyglot community came good. For some reason, baking and languages intersect quite neatly for a lot of my friends and colleagues on social media. In fact, I am the one who is late to the party; many have been sharing baking pics for as long as I have followed them, their culinary posts nestling surprisingly comfortably amongst the motivational language learning anecdotes.

And why not? Food is a cultural journey in itself. Instagram attests to the appetite for food stories from trips overseas. If anything, the connection had been staring me in the face for years. One of the biggest treats of exploring somewhere new is, for me, the food. While the planes are grounded and the borders are closed, I will really miss that.

Or maybe, I don’t have to. Within minutes of proudly sharing my tasty (but rather flat) sponge cake creation on Twitter, I had a recipe for Scandi-bread (in Swedish, joy!) and directions for Polish egg bread in my DMs. Yum.

Now this I can see myself incorporating into my language learning regime. Baking – and eating – my way through the cultural landscape of my target languages.

Cake is the spice of life

Variety, of course, is something to strive for in both language learning and everyday life. And it has rarely felt as important to follow that rule as now.

And that leads me excitedly (and rather unsubtly) on to #LangJam! No, not cake filling, but my first time taking part in the annual surprise language dabbling weekend. As well as the international baking, this seemed like a great way to inject a bit more sugar and spice into my routine.

As for the flavour, the great jam sorting hat gave me Ukrainian for my first taste. Now, where are those recipes for yabluchnyk?

Have you rustled up your own language learning / baking crossovers? Any recipes you’d recommend? Please share in the comments!