NEW DOMAIN Saturday, Dec 26 2009 

Please go to http://www.babystepstofluency.com/blog to visit this blog.

I have changed to a self hosted WordPress, I hope to see you all on the other platform!

Taking Advantage of Speaking Opportunities Saturday, Dec 26 2009 

This year, my family and I went to visit my extended family in California for Christmas.

On Christmas eve, my uncles side of the family (who all are Hispanic) came, and a long, fun day was had eating tamales, handing out presents, and watching the kids all get pictures with Santa.

It was a Spanish learner’s heaven. Everyone, and I mean pretty much everyone but my immediate family, who don’t speak Spanish, were jabbering on in their native tongue.

And I, I am sad to say, did not take advantage of this amazing opportunity. I spent the day with my English speaking cousins, playing American video games and eating chocolate.

What kind of language learner am I?

That day, I wasn’t a very good one, but sadly this is seen a lot with language learners. They are afraid, or don’t have the confidence, to speak with natives.

If this doesn’t apply to you, great, good for you. I’m envious. But, many language learners – especially beginners – are afraid to take a little risk of looking stupid or messing up, and miss out on opportunities such as this one.

The thing is, everyone sucks at first when learning a new language. To learn a language, you must be able to speak it. To be able to speak it, you must… guess what?! Speak!

You won’t be perfect at first. But you won’t ever be perfect if you don’t practice.

Note: If you have a fear of public speaking in general, read this great article about meeting new people that may help you jump over that hurdle.

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Skype and Language Learning Friday, Dec 25 2009 

I’d like to start of this post by saying, MERRY CHRISTMAS/PRETTIGE KERSTDAGEN/FELIZ NAVIDAD!!! I hope that everyone has an amazing day and a wonderful time with family and friends.

Today my post will be, as promised in yesterday’s post, about Skype. What is Skype? Skype is a program similar to MSN, where you can talk to others using text, voice, and video. It’s is 100% free, unless you want to make actual international phone calls through it, in which case there is a small subscription fee.

It is a good alternative to MSN, and not only that, it is amazing for language learners. Why’s that? You ask.

There are many language exchanges that use Skype. A language exchange is where you hook up with another language student – preferably one that is studying your native language, and whose native language you are studying. So, for example, I’d talk to a Russian student learning English.

Then, you spend some time helping them in their target language, talking to them in that language, after which you switch and it’s your turn to practice.

Nothing beats face to face contact, but if you live in an area where your target language isn’t spoken, this is a very good alternative.

Some language exchanges out there include The Mixxer and xLingo. Many language learning message boards such as How to Learn Any Language and Unilang also have special threads for Skype language exchanges. Unilang also has a large group chat on Skype for general language discussion, which has been very useful increasing my own knowledge about more technical aspects of languages.

With the possibility of text, audio and video, Skype should be a tool in every language learner’s tool box.

If you have Skype, how has it been useful for your language learning? Let me know in the comments section down below!

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Creating an Immersion Environment Thursday, Dec 24 2009 

If you love learning languages, you are bound to study a language at one point that is not a language commonly spoke in your community.

Studying through immersion is often touted to be one of the better ways to truly excel in your language, so if there are no native speakers around, and nothing on TV in your target language, it can be hard to get to the level you would like to be.

So, I’ve put together some tips to create this immersion environment within the comfort of your own home.

On the Computer

In this day and age, people spend a lot of time on the computer. In fact, if you are reading this, you are on either a computer or a phone yourself!

When I started learning Russian, the first thing I did was create this immersion on the computer, as that is where I spend the majority of my time every day. I found that it helped immensely with learning my target language.

If possible, change your commonly visited websites to your target language.

• For Facebook: Go to Settings, then Account Settings, and then Language
• For Myspace: Go to My Account, then Account
• For Youtube: Go to the bottom of the main page and change it there

You can also change your Internet display language, this is simpler than it sounds. For Internet Explorer, simple go to this link which will give you instructions on changing your language settings. For Firefox, you need to download the the Quick Locale Switcher and that will easily let you switch your display language. For Google Chrome, click the Tools menu, select Options, click the Under the Hood tab, click Change fonts and language settings, and click the Languages tab.

Other things for which you can change your display language are Skype (Tools, Change Language) and your computer display language.

There are also many online communities that may be available in your target language, often about all kinds of topics. Websites such as http://www.how-to-learn-any-language.com and http://www.unilang.org are also useful, because not only are there areas to discuss your language and write in your language, the language learners there (some that are probably native speakers of your target language) have knowledge about how languages work – they’ll often be able to better explain concepts that may be alien to you.

Audio and Video

Being able to hear a language is a very important part of language learning. If you can’t hear the language, it’s much harder to learn exactly how a language is supposed to sound.

Even if you don’t have native speakers around, you can still get a healthy dose of your target language through several methods.

There are many online locations to find movies and TV shows in your target language. Simply do a Google search and you can find many of both. Another wonderful place is Youtube – you can pretty much find anything there, and if your target language is spoken by more than 10 people, you are likely to find that language on Youtube.

There is also a lot of foreign music online. Radio channels and bands can both be found through the amazing Google search. It would be beneficial to invest in some headphones for the sanity of people around you. ;)

Skype is another useful tool for getting some native audio in – there are many language exchanges where you can connect with other people that may want to learn English or your native language. If you help them out with their target language, they are probably going to be more than willing to help you out. I will be writing about this in more detail in tomorrow’s post.

Everyday Life

For when you just don’t want to be on the computer, there are still several methods that you can use to create your own immersion.

Flashcards are useful in more way than one. Other than the traditional uses (which I will be talking about in more detail in a couple days), flashcards – or pieces of paper, or really anything you can write on – are useful for… ready for this?… are very useful for marking different objects. Learning the word for ‘door’? Write that word on a flashcard, and tape it to the door. Then, whenever you go through the door, call it by it’s name in your target language.

You can also get many books – both fiction and non-fiction – in your target language as well. These are often available on Amazon.com or online bookstores such as Multilingual Books. There are also a lot books freely available online that you could easily print out for enjoyment at any time.

Another way to incorporate your target language in daily life is to simply use it, even with people that may not understand the language. Know how to say ‘hello’ in your target language? Greet people that way! Not only will you get practice in your target language, the people in your life might learn some random phrases in your target language as well. You do need to be careful about this one, however, if you are asked to stop, you might want to do so if you want to salvage that relationship. ;)

So, there you are folks, some tips to help immerse yourself in your target language. What techniques do you use? How have you been able to get immersed in your target language even if it isn’t spoken around you? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Welcome to the Blog! Thursday, Dec 24 2009 

Welcome one, welcome all, to Baby-Steps to Fluency!

Over the past couple years, really since high school, I have been very interested in languages and language learning. I grew up speaking both Dutch and English, and knowing the two languages made me interested in the languages of the world at an early age.

So, though I have been dabbling in languages for many years now, I have decided to focus more formally on two languages – Russian and Spanish (with perhaps a little dabbling here and there as well).

BSF is my blog to document that journey. I hope to both share my progress and give you hints and tips to help improve your language learning – so please check back often, and you may just find something that is the secret to your language learning journey. ;)

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