15 fun ways to learn languages better

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international harry potter

(Span­ish and French editions of Harry Potter)

Brit­ish people are really, really bad at learn­ing foreign languages, because we can arrog­antly rely on English being an inter­na­tion­al language, and it can be quite an insu­lar culture. People whose native language is spoken by fewer people have to learn anoth­er language, unless they want to spend their whole life in their home coun­try only exposed to local things or whatever someone has trans­lated. I don’t think our school system helps at all either. Everything is focused on exams and box-tick­ing, and learn­ing and regur­git­at­ing vocab lists and gram­mar points gets you better grades than genu­ine commu­nic­a­tion. Most of my lessons at school were in English, with endless exer­cises from the text­books and little oppor­tun­ity to have real conver­sa­tions or make mistakes.

With my own history with languages, I learnt French as a child, and have no form­al qual­i­fic­a­tions in it. My spelling is still appalling, like a dyslex­ic French person, but I under­stand pretty much everything, and happily read books in French without a diction­ary. I don’t speak it often though through not having many oppor­tun­it­ies to do so, so I struggle for words some­times talk­ing on the fly, and don’t feel like I express myself in the way I’d like to. I know the words, but I can’t quite summon them to mind fast enough these days.

I learnt German the “prop­er” way, via school lessons and a year at univer­sity. I took 6 years of classes at school, result­ing in an A-level, and took a C1 level class at univer­sity. That was thir­teen years ago though, so I’m not sure where to offi­cially put myself on the level system now. I used to visit Germany and Austria a lot for work, and spoke it a lot more then. My A-level classes weren’t that great, and what we were doing in class didn’t reach the level that was expec­ted from the exam, so I had to find ways to study on my own. Univer­sity was anoth­er step up again, we were read­ing Kafka stor­ies and histor­ic­al texts, and watch­ing Expres­sion­ist films and having debates. Quite a few of the other students hated it, because it strayed outside the safe confines of the school text­book mater­i­al, but I loved it, and would have contin­ued it through­out my entire degree if that had been an option. I also took a year’s accel­er­ated class in Itali­an for speak­ers of French or Span­ish, and a year’s course in Modern Greek.

Once I left univer­sity, I star­ted teach­ing EFL. I had a lot of students who had stud­ied English at home under much the same condi­tions as me at school and who hadn’t really got anywhere, and had come to the UK to try to improve matters. They found it frus­trat­ing not being able to commu­nic­ate with people in real life, and wanted as many tips as they could to help them­selves. I also used to teach a lot of teen­agers both in the UK and abroad, and the tips worked for them as well. It’s a common New Year’s Resol­u­tion to study anoth­er language. A lot of people buy a cd set, and play a bit of Duolingo, do some gram­mar drills, maybe even pack an even­ing class into their tiring sched­ule and then give up because they’re not getting anywhere. Here’s some tips to help you get some­where, and hope­fully enjoy the process

(Whenev­er I write “the language” here obvi­ously I mean the language you’re study­ing).

1) Don’t be afraid of look­ing stupid by making mistakes

At school in a lot of coun­tries it’s often better for your grades if you just stick to the mater­i­al taught and try to replic­ate it as accur­ately as possible, and you’re often penal­ised for trying to say some­thing more ambi­tious and getting it a bit wrong. Unfor­tu­nately in real life you can’t stick to discuss­ing how you played tennis with Jean-Baptiste and Rachida last Wednes­day and asking people how many broth­ers and sisters they have. In real life you’re going to have your own ideas and opin­ions and things happen to you, and have real conver­sa­tions with other people who say things that weren’t in the text­book. Try to have prop­er conver­sa­tions with people and piece togeth­er what you’re trying to say with words you already know and ideas you have about how sentences work. You might not get it 100% correct, but hope­fully people will under­stand. If you don’t know the word, try para­phras­ing. If you don’t know the word for coat hanger, try saying “the thing you put clothes on in the ward­robe” and the person you’re talk­ing to will prob­ably provide the word. A lot of people will be thrilled you’re trying to learn their language espe­cially if it’s not one that’s often stud­ied abroad, and will be keen to help you. No one is deduct­ing marks or fail­ing you on some etern­al mark­sheet of life. That time you got the irreg­u­lar past tense of that verb wrong doesn’t go on your perman­ent record.

No matter how long you’ve been study­ing, you’re going to make mistakes, and some­times they’re very weird or funny mistakes. I once cheer­fully told my land­lady in Austria that when I’d been for a stroll in the moun­tains I’d nearly fallen in some open graves full of slurry. She looked at me in horror, until we both real­ised that I’d got the words for graves (das Grab, plur­al die Gräber) mixed up with ditches (der Graben, plur­al die Gräben), and I remembered that the German word for mud Schlamm can also mean slime or slurry. “Ich bin fast in zwei Gräber voll mit Schlamm gefallen” turns out to be quite differ­ent to “Ich bin fast in zwei Gräben voll mit Schlamm gefallen”.

2) Use your language

Fear of making mistakes stops people trying. Try going to a language swap or a club for learners of that language if you can find one in your area. You’ll be surroun­ded by people keen to learn the language. If you drink alco­hol, a couple of drinks in a friendly social situ­ation suddenly makes it seem even less daunt­ing. Read websites in the language every day, even if it’s just one news item. If you have anyone who is will­ing to prac­tice with you, wheth­er in real life or online, prac­tice with them. Try writ­ing things in the language. If you can get someone to check and correct them, so much the better, but even if you can’t, it’s still prac­tice at express­ing your­self.

3) Prac­tice think­ing in the language

When you’re going about your daily life, try to narrate what you’re doing and name the things around you mentally in the language you’re study­ing. Your brain will prob­ably creak slowly and not come up with any partic­u­larly profound or flow­ing thoughts, seeing as it’s used to think­ing in a mix of your native language and non-verbal images. It’s still all good prac­tice though, and the more you can think in the language rather than constantly mentally trans­lat­ing word for word, the easi­er using your language actively will become.

4) How does it work? Why does it work like that?

Just learn­ing a load of gram­mar by rote doesn’t help you under­stand how to put it togeth­er in your own speak­ing and writ­ing. Gram­mar isn’t some­thing created to torture you, no matter how it might feel. The fiddly bits of gram­mar commu­nic­ate some­thing to native speak­ers. Things like verb aspect commu­nic­ate import­ant things about what the sentence is focus­ing on, and what the rela­tion­ship is between the differ­ent actions. If you under­stand why these things are used rather than just memor­ising them, it’s so much easi­er to use them in your own commu­nic­a­tion. Here’s two examples in English and French show­ing you the differ­ences between some basic verb tenses in the two languages.

I read books– I read books as a gener­al habit, any time
I’m read­ing the book– Right now, I am read­ing a book. I haven’t finished it yet.
I read the book (last week)- I read the book in the past, once, and it’s finished
I’ve read the book– I read the book at some time in the past. When and how many times is unim­port­ant. The import­ant thing is that now I have the exper­i­ence of read­ing that book.
I was read­ing the book– I was in the process of read­ing the book, and the import­ant thing is that it isn’t finished.

Je lis le livre– I read the book/​ I’m read­ing the book- there’s no differ­ence in French, the only import­ant thing is that it’s present tense
Je suis en train de lire le livre– Right now I’m read­ing the book, the process is the most import­ant thing
J’ai lu le livre- I read the book in the past, once, and it’s finished
Je lisais le livre– I read the book in the past as a habit or multiple times
Je lus le livre– I read the book in the past, and it’s finished. I’m writ­ing a novel or telling a story, and would sound totally bizarre if I said this in a normal conver­sa­tion

5) Prac­tice pronun­ci­ation a lot

Pronun­ci­ation can really let you down. If you mangle a big world­wide language like English or Span­ish, people will prob­ably be able to follow, but if it’s a smal­ler language where people are only used to hear­ing native speak­ers, they’ll look at you in total confu­sion. Prac­tice speak­ing along with record­ings at home and try to mimic the pronun­ci­ation exactly, even if it makes you feel a bit silly. You might also feel like you’re doing a comedy exag­ger­ated accent, but that won’t be how it sounds to someone else. If you dare, try record­ing your­self. Differ­ent languages involve differ­ent mouth shapes, and you’re prob­ably not used to them, and default to that of your native language. English tends to lurk some­where in the middle of the mouth, but French for example all happens much further forward and involves moving the lips more.

Learn­ing the Inter­na­tion­al Phon­et­ic Alpha­bet, so you can make sense of the pronun­ci­ation guides in diction­ar­ies is a real boost. It also helps you see where the sounds differ from your native language. The full Wiki­pe­dia article is a bit over­whelm­ing, because it shows every possible sound in every known language, and no language uses all of them. However, if you look for the Phon­o­logy article for the language you’re study­ing, it will only show you the inform­a­tion for that language. Here’s the Turk­ish one. You can click on each sound, and it has its own article with a sound sample, and explan­a­tion and examples of how that sound is used in differ­ent languages. There are also a lot of simpler online guides just for certain languages. This poster with Brit­ish English vowels and illus­tra­tions of words using those sounds is in prob­ably every EFL classroom in the UK.

6) Look at connec­tions

Languages belong to famil­ies, aside from a few isol­ates like Basque. For example English belongs to the bigger group of Indo-European languages, which includes a wide range of languages like Hindi, Farsi, Itali­an, French, Swedish, Armeni­an, Latvi­an, Russi­an, etc. Languages with­in the same family come from the same source, and the further you go back in time, the more simil­ar they are. Latin and Sanskrit were very simil­ar, but modern Itali­an and Hindi are much more differ­ent. Language famil­ies also split off into smal­ler branches over time. English is in the German­ic branch with German, Dutch and the Scand­inavi­an languages. This means that they are even more simil­ar. English also took on a lot of influ­ences from French and Latin for histor­ic­al reas­ons.

So what does this mean in terms of learn­ing a language? Languages in the same family will share a lot of words and struc­tures. Hand is hand in English, Dutch, Swedish and German, hånd in Danish and hönd in Iceland­ic. Languages are often influ­enced by other languages from differ­ent famil­ies for histor­ic­al and geograph­ic­al reas­ons too – for example Muslim coun­tries picked up a lot of Arab­ic loan­words. This doesn’t always always mean the words look or sound exactly the same, because these things change over time and differ­ent languages use differ­ent spelling systems, but once you’re used to spot­ting the pattern of changes, you can identi­fy them. For example cabal­lus was an inform­al word for horse in Latin, which became cheval in French, cavallo in Itali­an and caballo in Span­ish. So if you know a bit of French, and you’re study­ing Itali­an and know what to look out for, you have a head­start. You have to beware of false friends though, words which are the same or very simil­ar in two languages, but actu­ally mean some­thing differ­ent. For example sens­ible means care­ful and reas­on­able in English, but sens­it­ive in multiple other european languages.

Of course this is only useful if the language you’re study­ing is related in some way to anoth­er language you know. You can still use connec­tions to help you remem­ber vocab though. If a word reminds you slightly of a word in your language, you can think of a bizarre mental image using the real mean­ing of the word and the word it reminds you of. For example boldog is happy in Hungari­an, so I remembered it by think­ing of a very happy and bold bull­dog.

7) Use Duolingo wisely

Duolingo can be fun, and is a good way to build up a strong beginner’s vocab, but it can’t replace everything, and has plenty of flaws. I’ve played to the end of both French and German, and after a certain level it just gets frus­trat­ing and full of errors. The begin­ners levels are solid, but things get weird as you progress along, because it relies on machine learn­ing and crowd­sourcing, the same as Google Trans­late. This works fine for basic sentences combin­ing the same words in unam­bigu­ous ways, but once you start branch­ing out to more complic­ated sentences with nuances and multiple ways of saying the same thing it goes a bit wrong, with the system not accept­ing a valid sentence that people say in real life, or push­ing an outright wrong or weirdly phrased one that no-one would ever say, lead­ing to scores of annoyed comments. The comments get acted on even­tu­ally, but the whole exper­i­ence would be better if they had got some real teach­ers to provide banks of mater­i­al for the high­er modules. I guess that would involve paying someone though. I was hoping the high­er levels would have solid prac­tice exer­cises for fiddly gram­mar points that catch people out, but the topics I was expect­ing to find weren’t there, or weren’t covered in much detail.

I’d hoped to use the collect­ive trans­la­tion exer­cises as good prac­tice, but again they’re not care­fully chosen by a human and matched to levels that people have stud­ied. They’re randomly chosen articles, mostly from Wiki­pe­dia or Buzzfeed by the looks of it, and a lot of them are way beyond the right level. You end up with the frus­trat­ing exper­i­ence of you trans­lat­ing an idiom or gram­mar point correctly, and then someone else barging in and chan­ging the trans­la­tion to a word for word liter­al trans­la­tion that makes no sense, because they’re trans­lat­ing each word in isol­a­tion because the text is too hard for them, and no-one has taught them any trans­la­tion skills but they’re having a good go anyway. Appar­ently Duolingo was hoping to make money from crowd­sourcing these trans­la­tions at one point, but stopped.

There’s a reas­on people pay real trans­lat­ors, who have stud­ied to post­grad level and have a lot of cultur­al as well as linguist­ic know­ledge. Trying to make money via apps by short­cut­ting paying profes­sion­als for their know­ledge, skills or time by using crowd­sourcing or on-demand schedul­ing seems to be a major part of the current neolib­er­al world­view of the tech­no­logy industry. It might work for Uber (who I refuse to use because they’re under­cut­ting the live­li­hoods and worker’s rights of regu­lar taxi drivers who have to be vetted, take exams, and have prop­er insur­ance, wages, tax accounts and work­ing sched­ules, and who take all of the off-shored and untaxed profits but none of the respons­ib­il­ity when things go wrong) in the taxi industry, but I’m glad it’s not work­ing for everything.

Polit­ic­al rants aside, my tip for Duolingo is to use it for the begin­ner stuff, to drill basic vocab and gram­mar points into your brain. I espe­cially like the tablet version as well, because it speaks each word when you click on it, which helps to rein­force it. The computer speech they use will never teach you the natur­al flow and music of a sentence in the language, but it will help with the pronun­ci­ation. Once you’ve learnt the basics, try switch­ing to pretend­ing you’re a native speak­er of the language who’s study­ing English (or your native language). Most of the answers will have to be typed in the language you’re study­ing, and it’s very strict about spelling and gram­mar, which is good prac­tice. The instruc­tions will also be entirely in the language.

8) Read a book you already know.

If you pick a book you’re famil­i­ar with, you already know the context and the story, which will give you a major boost in under­stand­ing, and you can concen­trate on the form of the language and the new vocab­u­lary. Children’s books are ideal- a lot of people choose Harry Potter for this purpose. The language is fairly straight­for­ward, and popu­lar children’s books are likely to be avail­able in the language you want. If there are people who speak the language you’re study­ing in your local area, or it’s commonly taught in schools, your local library is likely to have a selec­tion. If not the inter­net, and second hand books are your friend.

When I was doing A-level German I ploughed my way through the Neverend­ing Story (which is origin­ally in German), and it filled in so many gaps in my vocab­u­lary. At school we’d gone from the GCSE level of “where did you go on holi­day” straight to “discuss the German health insur­ance system”. I used to go once a week to visit a German co-work­er of my mum’s to prac­tice speak­ing. She enjoyed help­ing someone learn, and also hoped it would encour­age her son to speak German more often. I felt like I often struggled to talk about anything that wasn’t related to basic hobbies or the fairly dry social stud­ies topics in the A-level text­book. The Neverend­ing Story provided me with all sorts of new and useful every day words that we never once covered at school. I remem­ber clearly when I was read­ing the first chapter, I learnt the word for cliff (die Felsen– the moun­tain sort of cliff, the sea type is die Klippe) and it suddenly dawned on me how much more useful the vocab from the book was than the themed lists from the exam board we’d been assigned to memor­ise each week. (I still have phrases like unbedingt nötig – totally neces­sary, die Entzündung– inflam­ma­tion and of course die Anti­babypille– the pill drummed into my head from that though). I bought a copy of Emil and the Detect­ives (a clas­sic German children’s book that’s not well known in the UK) on a school trip to Cologne, but that took me much, much longer even though it’s a drastic­ally short­er book, because I didn’t have the same grasp of the basic story and char­ac­ters as the Neverend­ing Story, so I was trying to under­stand the plot and the words and the new vocab­u­lary all at the same time (and Erich Käst­ner‘s light-hearted 1920s slangy Berlin style too).

I wouldn’t jump straight in with the diction­ary though. Read a section first, and see what parts you under­stand already, and what words you can guess the mean­ing of from context. You learnt your first language entirely through context, and trying to under­stand without the diction­ary the first time helps you out for future occa­sions where you won’t be able to check the diction­ary. Then look up the new words in the diction­ary and write them down in your note­book (with the gram­mat­ic­al gender if that’s relev­ant to the language). If the language you’re study­ing has features like irreg­u­lar plur­als or counter words, and the diction­ary tells you this inform­a­tion or anything else useful, like special contexts you would use this word, write them down too.

9) Get a good diction­ary and use it well

As I’ve already said, always try to work out a word from context before going for the diction­ary. With a paper diction­ary, get hold of a decent qual­ity one for learners, not a bargain base­ment one that’s likely to be full of errors or not give you enough inform­a­tion. The range avail­able will obvi­ously depend on what language you’re study­ing and what your native language is. If you’re Portuguese and study­ing Ubykh, you might be on your own. Online and app diction­ar­ies vary enorm­ously in qual­ity, so try to find a good one. In German I have two go to sites- dict.leo.org is good and thor­ough at split­ting up phrases and giving you context and dict.cc is really good with idioms and slang. Once you’ve progressed a little, try using the stand­ard mono­lin­gual refer­ence diction­ary that native speak­ers of the language use. The words will all be explained in the language then, which will boost your vocab­u­lary and phras­ing.

10) Watch tv shows in the language, with local subtitles on

The oppos­ite way round from my recom­mend­a­tion for books, I would pick a show from a coun­try that speaks the language you’re study­ing (and to begin with, not a coun­try that has a very strong dialect/​accent compared to the “stand­ard” accent, if that applies). You can under­stand the story from the visu­als. If you pick one of the Amer­ic­an shows that is sold all around the world, some coun­tries will just show it in English with subtitles, which is no good, and some will dub it with new voice actors. Seeing a famil­i­ar actor speak­ing with a differ­ent voice can be jarring and ruin your concen­tra­tion, and the dubbing trans­lat­ors and actors some­times have to choose weird phras­ing or timing to make the new words match the mouth move­ments.

Find a popu­lar show origin­ally in the language which you will be able to follow even if you don’t get 100% of the words. Some­thing like a stan­dup comedy show won’t be very good for that, where­as a soap opera or drama will be clear­er what is going on. If there are subtitles avail­able in the same language for people with hear­ing prob­lems, watch with them on (don’t watch with subtitles in your own language– your brain will just ignore the audio). It will help you mentally split up the sounds you hear into words you recog­nise and make links between what you hear and what you’ve already learnt. It also means that if you want to look a word up, you know how it’s writ­ten. For languages where the spelling and pronun­ci­ation are very differ­ent, or where the writ­ten and spoken forms are almost separ­ate like Chinese, this is espe­cially useful, as it’s often diffi­cult or nearly impossible to guess the writ­ten form of that word you keep hear­ing.

It’s also useful to immerse your­self in the way people really speak. It used to frus­trate my poor English students so much when they came to the UK to study, because all the listen­ing activ­it­ies that accom­pany text­books are acted in this very exag­ger­atedly slow and clear way that bears no rela­tion to the way people really speak. Even when they had a cover version of Imagine to listen to it was slowed down and over-enun­ci­ated! If they came from a coun­try where tv shows and films were dubbed, that might be the only English they regu­larly heard apart from songs (and a lot of people don’t really pay atten­tion to song lyrics). So when they talked to real people, they felt lost and couldn’t under­stand.

11) Listen to music in the language, and sing along

English domin­ates music world­wide, with some coun­tries like France passing laws requir­ing radio to play a certain percent­age of music in the nation­al language to stem the tide. Lots of people around the world are more motiv­ated to learn English, because they want to find out what that song they like is actu­ally about. Find some popu­lar artists in the language in a genre you like, and find the lyrics online (look up the word for lyrics in that language and use it in your google search to help you). As well as expand­ing your listen­ing abil­it­ies and giving you new vocab, it also helps you to become more famil­i­ar with the culture of the language you’re study­ing.

There can also be other unex­pec­ted bene­fits. Listen­ing to Kraft­werk helped me to remem­ber an annoy­ing and fiddly gram­mar rule in German. Kraft­werk fahr’n auf der Auto­bahn (dative case), they’re driv­ing along not leav­ing the motor­way and not chan­ging their loca­tion. If they were fahr’n auf die Auto­bahn (accus­at­ive case) that would mean they were driv­ing on a differ­ent road, and then joined the motor­way from outside and changed their loca­tion. Gram­mar is more fun with Kraft­werk. (It’s also more fun to compute with them). When I was study­ing German, I saw a load of the German editions of Kraft­werk albums for sale second hand and bought them. Now it seems weird to hear them in English.

12) Listen to talk radio in the back­ground

Find an online talk radio station you like in the language- lots of coun­tries have a high-qual­ity nation­al one- and put it on in the back­ground when you’re potter­ing around at home doing things like wash­ing up. The words will go in some­where, and the constant expos­ure can dramat­ic­ally improve your listen­ing skills and pronun­ci­ation because you’re so much more famil­i­ar with the sounds and flow of the language.

13) Use the mundane

Instruc­tions and signs are boring. Adverts are annoy­ing. Local news is dull. You hardly look at pack­aging. You barely read the menu items on your phone or what the buttons on Face­book are labelled. Buzzfeed is full of vapid nonsense that takes about two minutes to read. However all of those things are avail­able in the language you’re study­ing (with the possible excep­tion of Buzzfeed, but that’s also avail­able in a lot of languages), and are full of every­day useful words and phrases. You’ll also feel a tiny sense of achieve­ment when you manage to decipher any of these every­day items. if you’re not a total begin­ner, try chan­ging the inter­face on your phone and Face­book account to the language. Read stupid Buzzfeed articles. A lot of them are trans­lated from English anyway, but some of them are locally produced and will help you pick up cultur­al refer­ences.

14) Label your house

Cover your house in post-it notes with the name of all the objects, if it doesn’t annoy the people you live with too much. You’ll subcon­sciously absorb the words just by going about your daily life.

15) Have fun

Learn­ing a language isn’t a terrible punish­ment to torture your­self with, and perfec­tion is unreach­able, so you might as well enjoy it. I must admit I spend more time mentally beat­ing myself up for not being a flaw­less native-sound­ing wunder­kind who never makes silly errors with adject­ive endings or word order or ever struggles for the partic­u­lar word I’m look­ing for than I do think­ing speak­ing my other languages any kind of achieve­ment, mainly because I’m compar­ing myself to people who have flaw­less English from being surroun­ded by English-language media and need­ing it to get any kind of better paid job. I’m always wait­ing for someone to trip me up, going “Hah, you’re a massive fraud, that article should have been dem rather than der! Get out!”. That’s never actu­ally happened though. The only negat­ive reac­tion I’ve ever had is from other Brit­ish people who don’t speak any other languages, and I’ve come to the conclu­sion that they can do one.

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  1. Hello! Thank you for this fine article. You’ve inspired me to pick up French again. I’ve real­ised that I aban­doned it out of frus­tra­tion because I could never read, write, speak and under­stand the language at the same level.

    Are there any French websites or radio stations that you partic­u­larly enjoy/​would recom­mend?

  2. Yes lots!
    1) I would recom­mend read­ing comics in French. They’re called Bandes Dess­inées or BD for short, and they’re much much more popu­lar in French speak­ing coun­tries, and cover a much wider range of story genres. Tintin is much better in French, the English trans­la­tion is a bit bland. Asterix is exactly the same in feel and level of jokes, because Anthea Bell is an excel­lent trans­lat­or. I used to really like Lucky Luke, Becas­sin and the Duck Tales comics too. Local librar­ies in the UK often even have them.

    2) Try magicrpm.com – it’s a music magazine in France that has pretty good artl­cles

    3) French music radio is truly awful. Honestly. Lots of Mylène Farm­er, who is basic­ally the french Madonna if she was also a seri­ous poli­tique artiste in her own mind and Johnny Hall­i­day, the french Cliff. Radio France Culture covers a lot of stuff the same as Radio 4 http://www.radiofrance.fr/ and there’s RFI which is more news and current affairs http://www.rfi.fr/

    TV5 is a French language chan­nel you get on digit­al in the UK, and also online. They’ve got some decent stuff, and they’ve also got Count­down, which is origin­ally French. It’s called Lettres et Chif­fres. http://www.tv5monde.com/

    Engrenages/​Spiral is a good French detect­ive show as well. BBC4 showed it with English subtitles a while back. http://www.canalplus.fr/c-series/pid4559-c-engrenages.html Canal + are the main cable company in France and make a lot of good shows (like les Reven­ants). French TV is pretty decent.

    4) Try some cara­m­bar jokes. Cara­m­bars are some chewy sweets that come with a christ­mas crack­er level joke inside the wrap­per. Lots of them are really really terrible puns that you’ll only get from read­ing out loud. Here’s a huge assort­ment of them http://blague.carambar.free.fr/blagues/blague.html

    5) They’re really big on dicta­tion exer­cises in France, because there are so many silent letters. There’s some free ones for school kids here http://bescherelle.com/dictees-audio (collège is KS3& KS4- lycée is 6th form & the school years count back­wards, so 1é is the final year of school)

    They love it so much they actu­ally have a nation­al dicta­tion bee that kind of like the Great Brit­ish Bakeoff of spelling. http://www.tv5monde.com/TV5Site/dictee/dictee.php

  3. Great post. I just spent a whole after­noon mess­ing about with Duolingo, which I had no idea exis­ted. You’re right, it’s not perfect, but it is good fun! I hope it adds more languages. I did surpris­ingly well in German, which I haven’t touched since I was 16, got all enthused and settled down to watch a German film without subtitles – which promptly got switched back on after ten minutes. It was a good film, though – this one: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0276216/ . Any other German films you would recom­mend, or German-specif­ic tips? I have plenty of Kraft­werk. 🙂 And vari­ous things from the Morr label.

    1. Sorry it took me so long to reply! Here’s some German films I recom­mend:

      East German/​ Ehem­a­lige DDR
      Good­bye Lenin- an obvi­ous choice but a good one
      The Lives of Others

      2nd World War
      The Tin Drum (die Blechtrom­mel)
      Das Boot
      Soph­ie Scholl- the Final Days

      The Cabin­et of Dr Caligari
      The Blue Angel

      Fitzcar­raldo (some of it’s in Span­ish too. Wern­er Herzog has a lot of other films too)
      The Edukat­ors
      Chris­ti­ane F (also gets called Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo – has a Bowie soundtrack as well)
      Run, Lola Run /​ Lola Rennt
      The Enigma of Kaspar Haus­er (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle)
      The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
      Die Welle
      The White Ribbon
      The Silence (Das letzte Schwei­gen)

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