Top Tips for learning a second language

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Top tips for learning a foreign language at home

I have been asked twice in as many weeks for a few top tips for learning a second language at home. So I thought I could share them here.

Language learning thrives when it is part of your daily routine. You cannot expect to make too much progress if language is squeezed into a weekly half hour slot. So here are four easy ways to get language into your household everyday. We as a family have used them all:

  • I would recommend playing games in a foreign language– real world games are better than on-line games. If languageCover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

    learning is seen as fun – then you are more than half way there.

  • If your children are younger, read foreign books together (starting with simple ones). You can read them beforehand to make sure you know the key words. This is a very powerful language tool – and much more effective than passively watching foreign DVDs and TV programs for instance. If you are reading for yourself consider using Kindle or similar e-reader to learn a second language.
  • Label items around the house such as the door, fridge, mirror etc. Every time you see the item, say the word.
  • Practice a few pleasantries at dinner (such as “Pass me the water please”).

These are just a few quick ideas to get you started. The key is to make language fun and part of the normal routine of the house so language can quickly grow. For more ideas check out My 5 Simple Rules Series

An award winning language game in French and Spanish

If you are looking for a language game to play at home – take a loook at KLOO. It has won 6 major awards including Dr Toys Best Classic Toy in the USA, and ToyTalk’s Best Board or Card Game in the UK. With KLOO you race to Madrid or Paris by learning words and making sentences…and believe it or not its colour code system means you can start making sentences in French in Spanish within 30 seconds – even if you’re an absolute beginner.

Why not watch how easy it is make a French sentence with KLOO cards with this short cartoon video:


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Does too much ICT silence our foreign language voice?


ICT v human interaction in language learning – humans should be more.

starshipWhen I walk into my daughters classroom it’s like the bridge on the Starship Enterprise. Screens all around, laptops, interactive white board. “Our co-ordinates please, Mr Zulu?”

And language learning has adopted ICT, bringing many marvelous programs to students. Point at this word and you hear the pronunciation. Multiple choice – instantly marked. Spellings corrected – as you write. You can even just ask your computer to translate from virtually any language – to any language.

At home we have some expensive language software and Muzzy and audio CDs. We have the internet of course. There are great little apps you can play with on your smartphone….you can listen to foreign TV and radio too.

And yet … and yet – I think there may be too much. Too much what? Well screens, mice, images, virtual stuff.

Language is the art of communication with another human being. 

Language is communication – being understood by and understanding another human. Call me old fashioned – but we benefit more when we practice language speaking with each other – rather than clicking a mouse or speaking to a computer and watching waves tell us if we pronounce correctly. There is plenty of research to corroborate that interaction with people is the best way to learn a language. What is more, the other person we are interacting doesn’t have to be fluent – just someone willing to learn too.

The Bilingual Edge: what language resources really work?

Linguistics Professors Kendall King and Alison Mackey of Georgetown University state in their excellent book The Bilingual Edge (Collins Living) that for language learning to be effective it:“must be with a real human being, and not a DVD, television program, computer game or talking toy. These edutainment devices, while extremely well marketed and popular, cannot substitute for a real human being and real interaction”

I urge you to read the book – it a revelation and not at all based on conjecture – but on solid research. They say that CDs, DVDs, software programs, educational toys make promises “that end in disappointment – in part because these products and programs are unfortunately not based on what science tells us about how children actually learn languages.”

Of course technology has its place – but I wonder if it should be the back up to human interaction rather than the default. Interestingly, children often adore real language games with human interaction. Our  foreign language game KLOO rewards children for making sentences and learning words. They can race to Paris or Madrid and the longer their sentences and the more French or Spanish words they learn en route – the faster they get there. The reaction of children, reported by teachers, is astounding. They report fast learning, renewed enthusiasm and fun. It seems that the kids want to break away from screens too.

The value of the humble board and card game

Learn French GameClass can’t be all hands on fun and games – but many teachers are reporting that the IT pendulum is jammed to the ICT end of the spectrum and when they bring it back to the middle – mixing ICT with games and human interaction – wonderful things happen.

I have no idea how much can be spent on IT for language learning. Many thousands of pounds I imagine. Our humble card and board game has won 6 major awards including the ToyTalk Best Board and Card Game 2011 and Runners Up as Language Product of the Year (to an on-line computer software program!).

Worth breaking open a pack of cards I think. Hands up if you can make a sentence 7 cards long and win 7 points?

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What’s the best age to learn a language?

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When should we learn a second language?

On one level there is a simple answer to this frequently asked question and the answer is – now. That’s because learning a language bestows on the learner so many benefits – mental, social and even career – that it just makes a lot of sense whatever your age. So if you are reading this article and wondering whether it is worth learning a language or whether it is too late for you. The answer is yes – do learn a second language and, no – it’s not too late.

Do children learn a language better?

Many believe that the optimum time to learn a language is as a child – ideally under 7 and certainly before the teenage years. You often hear of parents of saying they have the missed the boat by not introducing a second language to their child at an early age. If we dig a bit deeper though, all is not as it first seems and they should not be despondent.

Children learning a language at home

When we compare child and adult language learning – we are often not comparing like with like. Let’s take a child in a bilingual home…well of course you would expect a child to become bilingual. They have been completely immersed in both languages. However, this language ability is not exclusive to children. Adults can do this too – no problem. So this does not really indicate a special ability on the part of a child….it’s just an environment that is good for language learning – whatever your age.

Families learning a language abroad

Sometimes we see a difference of performance when a family moves abroad. The kids pick up the language like magnets and the parents struggle. But if we dig a little deeper, we see that they are in completely different environments. The children often go to local schools

and are again immersed. The adults on the other hand are often leading a very different lifestyle. They go to classes for sure but otherwise are leading an essentially monolingual life. They can and do speak their first language at home; they mix with expats and friends from their own country; and, at work, if they are English speakers, they discover that everyone switches to English when they walk in a room. So we are comparing a child who is immersed for hours and hours every day with parents who go to lessons twice a week. The difference in performance is entirely predictable.

What if you lift the children out of the local school and put them into an English speaking school: is there then a difference between the language performance between the children and parents? Here I can talk from first hand experience. I was from the age of 6 to 9 brought up in Germany but I went to an English-speaking school. Result? My mother was the best German speaker – she had to do the shopping and made more of an effort. I learned German swear words but not an awful lot more. I can say all my little friends from that school were no better at German. All in all, a picture is emerging as to what actually is important in language learning – and it’s not necessarily age.

The next statement might surprise you (and hopefully inspire you)

You can learn a second language just as well as a child.

This is not wishful thinking – it is well researched and actually self evidently true.

What are the important factors in language learning?

Professors of Language, Kendall King, Ph.D and Alison Mackey, Ph.D in their excellent book – The Bilingual Edge (Collins Living), site that the environment has much more influence over the success (or otherwise) of second language learning than age. Many researchers believe that other factors such as motivation and anxiety levels as well as the amount of exposure have a bigger impact on your success than your age. Children will think nothing of trying another language (if they have to) and won’t mind getting things wrong. Adults will often avoid social interaction for fear of being seen as foolish. When they do this they reduce their exposure and performance naturally drops.

Can adults learn a language just as well as children?

Yes – given the same opportunities and motivation.

If age is not as important as many think, then what are the keys to your success in language learning?

1. Make time

2. Be motivated and not be afraid to make mistakes

3. Seek chances to trial your language with real people

4. Use the right language resources.

The last point is especially important. The same authors talk of the perils of learning with the wrong language resources. Many edutainment devices, DVDs, television programs, computer games and talking toys are, they say, close to useless.

On the other hand, they recommend language games, reading together and interacting with a real person (who does not have to be fluent in the second language).

foreign language game that uses language principles

KLOO is a multi-award winning language game that lets you make sentences and learn words as you play and interact with other learners. Players find they learn a language at least 200% faster and have more fun too! The game was designed around important language learning principles. Why not for instance check out how easy it is to make a sentence in Spanish using KLOO cards in the video below:


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What’s the best way to teach children a language?


How to teach kids a second language?

This is an important question. Numerous studies have shown that command of a foreign language can have a dramatic affect on so many aspects of your child’s life. Perhaps it is obvious that a child with a second language enjoys a different cultural perspective and can expect more enjoyable holidays. But did you know that children with proficiency in a second language can expect to earn more, have more career options, be more creative and even enjoy mental health benefits?  It is easy to see how a second language offers so much more than just another subject to notch up on the cv.

A second language is an asset that stays with you for life.

So the question really is: How best to acquire a second language for my child?

Language Acquisition for Kids

At the risk of sounding trite and stating the obvious – the first rules for language learning for kids is to make it fun. If learning is a miserable experience, you and your child won’t get far.

However, right here we need a big NEON WARNING SIGN because it is at this precise point that many aspiring parents make their first mistake and reach for the nearest and most fun looking resource for kids – without looking under the bonnet and seeing if it actually works. The fact is it is easy to be suckered by slickly marketed bilingual toys and materials that look like fun. They make some carefully worded claims. However if they do not embed proven language principles then they may provide fun – but will fall short of meaningfully teaching a language.

Language Resources for kids to avoid

Fortunately there is in fact a large amount of research on language learning for children to inform us what does and does not work. This unbiased information is often crowded out by all the noise around many slickly marketed products. To help us through the noise, Language Professors Kendall Mackey, Ph. D and Alison Mackey, Ph.D in their excellent book, The Bilingual Edge,  look through all the data and warn of the many resources that simply do not work. They are especially dismissive of:

  • Foreign TV
  • Language DVDs
  • Talking Toys
  • Many software programs

The fact is that that these and many other language products, in their words, make

“many promises that end in disappointment – in part because these products and programs are unfortunately not based on what science tells us about how children actually learn languages”

If these types of language resources are to be avoided, what does work?

Language Resources for kids that do work

Fortunately our language professors are equally clear about what characteristics language resources for children should have. We have already stated one: Fun!  The other key ingredient is Human Interaction. The human does not have to be a teacher or fluent in the second language – just someone who wants to support the learner…a helping parent is perfect.

Equipped with that knowledge we can now look for tools which will incorporate those qualities. Specifically our professors recommend:

  • Real Language Games (as opposed to virtual ones)
  • Reading stories with your child and working on the words together
  • Active Speaking – role playing – as opposed to point and click, repetition, TV or audio.
  • Incorporating language into everyday routines: naming food by their foreign name, singing silly songs together, exchanging pleasantries in the foreign language….
Please see at the end of this blog links to other posts with top tips to learn a language at home.

A foreign language game that ticks the boxes

We have created KLOO, a real world language game that incorporates all of the scientific language principles above. Players make sentences and learn words to score points and power little motor cars in a race to Paris, Madrid or London. It is fast, furious and fun – and learners are usually amazed at how quickly they pick up the language. KLOO has won 6 major awards – more than any other language game ever. In 2011 it won the Toytalk Best Board and Card Game. Many schools have started using the game to enthuse children and make it more fun.

The board game version comes with four decks each focusing on an important aspect of the language: ‘People’, ‘Food & Drink’, ‘Places’ and ‘Everyday Objects’. Currently you can learn French, Spanish or English as a foreign language with KLOO.

Check out how easy it is to learn how to make thousands of sentences with each deck of KLOO cards. Have fun!


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How long for a beginner to make a sentence in French or Spanish?

Education Personal

If you don’t know the meanings of words – how long does it take to arrange them to make a sentence?

Less than 20 seconds.

Even for an absolute beginner?


OK If you don’t know the meanings of words – how long does it take to learn how to make tens of thousands of sentences in a foreign language?

Less that 20 seconds.




Using KLOO’s unique award-winning colour card system. Learners love them..

Read the image below…that’s how long it takes. I can read it in 15 seconds.

Or you can also watch the cartoon video further below.

And the spin off is that you will learn the words at least 200% faster because they are in context. That’s really smart – and fun.

How to make sentences and phrases in French and Spanish:


KLOO uses European Community Registered Designed cards to make language fast easy and fun. It was developed by a professional games designer working with MFL teachers and language experts. In 2011 it won 6 major international awards including ToyTalk Best Board of Card Game and Dr Toy Best Classic Toy. MFL teachers are finding that their classes love playing KLOO (and learn fast).

KLOO French Games

KLOO Spanish Games

KLOO MFL Games in French and Spanish

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Introducing your amazing MFL resource – your Sat-Nav

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Sat-Nav – an accidental but absolutely brilliant MFL Resource

For some years I have had my Sat-Nav switched to Italian to help me learn “La Bella Lingua”. It’s so easy to do – go to the settings and choose the language you wish to hear your instructions in. On most Sat-Navs you  can also choose the gender of your guide  – I have a dulcet toned Italian woman gently guiding me through the streets of London. It turns out that Sat-Navs are totally accidental – but absolutely brilliant MFL Resources.

Having the instructions in another language is a form of total immersion. If you are travelling alone then this is the only language you’ll hear – maybe for some time. That’s cool. But what makes Sat-Navs a top MFL resource is that everything that the Sat-Nav says comes with accompanying directions. You can see ahead of you and also on the map exactly what she is saying.

When my Italian guide says: “Gira a destra fra due cento metri” – I can see the map showing a turning to the right in 200 metres. Very soon you don’t need to look at the map – repetition and context ensure you pick it up very quickly.

Just by having your Sat-Nav switched on you’ll learn a host of great directional and travel vocabulary – all in real time – all with accompanying notes. E fantastico!

If you have a Sat-Nav try it.

If you are nervous about getting lost you can switch it on just for journeys you’re familiar with.

I’ve not seen this idea anywhere else – so share it and enjoy it.

Bon Voyage!

Another great MFL resource for your travels

If you are looking for great language tools for travelling then KLOO Language Games fits the bill. Based on special word playing cards, players can easily make sentences in foreign languages and learn words as they play. The games are designed to make learning a language fast, easy and fun. You can play on your travels and speak when you arrive.

Travel versions of the cards come as double deck cartons and with each deck you can make tens of thousands of proper sentnces – even if you’re an absolute beginner.

In 2011 KLOO won Dr Toy’s Best Vacation Product while Conde Nast Traveler Magazine judged it to be one of the “10 Must pack items” for holiday. KLOO cards are available for learning Spanish, French and English.

Check out how easy it is to make sentences in this short cartoon video.


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The Best Travel Games to pack this holiday

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Top Travel Games that pack a foreign language

What makes a great travel game?

Fun? Well yes – of course.

Portable? That would be handy.

Keep you occupied when travelling? Of course – that’s the main point!

So fun, portable and engaging. Well there are some great games which tick those boxes: travel scrabble, travel Monopoloy, travel chess, Uno, playing cards, backgammon…and lots more. They all work and we as a family have actually taken all of the above on various holidays.

A travel game with a language built in

What if we add another criterion? What if we say the game should help you to speak the language of the country you are travelling to – so that you can play the game as you travel and speak the language when you arrive? How does that sound?

Good – but it still has to be a great game!

OK- how about if it had also won these awards:

Dr Toy’s Best Vacation Product 2011

Condé Nast Traveler Magazine: Top Ten must pack items

ToyTalk’s Best Card Game 2011

If you want to tick all of these boxes – then you need to be taking a look at KLOO.

Top Travel Game judged best for holidays

KLOO is perhaps the perfect travel game. It comes in handy sized, double decked packs and with each deck you can play 16 different games – the main difference being that you effortlessly learn a language as you play. Some games are quick fire quiz type games for kids (like Penalty Shoot Out – see video below), while others require card playing skills like Classic KLOO (see below). You can even play a solitaire game to build vocab for beginners (Under Starters Orders – see video). From £12.99 – KLOO offers games for learning French or Spanish while having fun.

Going on holiday? Want a travel game? Take a look at KLOO!

Language Learning Videos

Want a fun quiz game for the kids to build vocabulary? Watch KLOO Penalty Shoot Out


Make sentences and learn words to score points? Classic KLOO is a favourite


Want to play on your own and build words? Under Starters Orders is perfect


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Getting reluctant MFL students to learn fast and have fun – there is a way!


Winning students over to MFL!

For MFL teachers the aim is to get their students to learn a second language. Hook or by crook.

It is natural then for teachers to want to explain why learning a language is so important. The problem is that, although learning a language bestows huge benefits on the learner, some students seem impervious to persuasion and are, well, disinterested – and no amount of persuasion will move them. Many teachers (and parents) have told me how hugely frustrating this can be.

This is what a reluctant MFL student hears when you explain the many benefits of language learning:

“An important subject (blah, blah); good grades (blah, blah); career prospects (blah, blah); cultural understanding (blah, blah); useful on holidays (blah, blah and more blah).”

Students: What did she say? Is this lesson nearly over?

That seems terribly cruel – but unfortunately true because I was one of those 13 year old linguaphobes who could not wait for German to finish (sorry Mr Dobson!). My love of learning a language came after school and indeed after university. It was only when I married an Italian that I saw the light.

What to do?

If we can’t persuade them – we can entice them into learning a language!

This is where games kick in. A well constructed game can essentially lure the student into learning – without them feeling like its work. Let me explain.

I have been involved in sport and games for many years (I ran the 1995 World Chess Championships – see picture). Over that time I have seen countless times how games will motivate, energize and encourage players to excel beyond the norm.  The trick that games seem to do, is change the objective and tap into our innate competitive instinct.

Games have the same affect on me. I, for instance, despise running as a means of keeping fit – I mean really detest it. And yet I will run like an idiot to win a game of squash. This game of hitting a small ball between four walls, taps into some deep rooted instinct to try to win. We are all susceptible to it – and if harnessed, can be an amazingly powerful learning tool.

Harnessing the power of a MFL language game

With a language learning game, such as KLOO’s Race to Paris, the aim of the game is to reach Paris first – not learn a language. However, you get there by making French sentences and learning words as fast as possible to score points. In this way, learning a language becomes the means to winning the game.

If you do introduce a game like KLOO into the classroom or home, I urge you to sit back and watch the power of games in motion. It’s not that all of a sudden your students have miraculously fallen in love with language (if only it were true!). No – it’s because learning a language enables them to achieve an objective that is important to them at that moment – winning the game.

Often after a game both the students and teachers are taken aback by how much can be learned in a short period of time…and that it was it was fun. In fact not like work at all – just playing.

Careful – this learning a language gig might become a habit.

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What’s the best language for going on holiday?

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The Best Holiday Language

If you always go to holiday in France then this is an easy one – French. For Italy? Italian of course. So if you have a favourite destination then of course learn the language of that country.

There are, however, many people (and I count myself among them) who have no idea where they will be going on holiday and it depends on a whole host of criteria: children friendly, sun, affordability etc. So on the basis of not having a fixed holiday destination: what is the best holiday language?

Let’s consider what we have to take into account.

What’s the best language to learn? Here’s our check list

  • It should preferably be a relatively easy language to learn. (Trying to learn Korean for a trip to Korea might be too much to ask).
  • It should be a useful language – a true global language that you can use again and again throughout your life.
  • It should be a language that is spoken in countries that you are actually likely to want to visit.
  • A bonus would be if it helps with studies or reinforces your knowledge of other languages.

On all counts the answer is definitely: Spanish

Spanish as a holiday language

Spanish is a Latin based language giving us an immediate head start in learning it (as opposed to Japanese or Mandarin for instance). It uses the same alphabet and we can immediately have a good shot at pronunciation. As far as languages go, it is one of the easier ones to learn for an English monolingual. For ease of learning – tick.

It is the third most spoken language in the world with approximately half a billion speakers – a true global language? Yes. Tick.

Learn a language with Kindle E-Books

It is spoken in 24 countries as a first language – and some of them you would want to visit! There is Spain of course – a favourite destination of many holiday makers. But there are also the Central American countries – including Mexico and many countries in South America. You could go to different destinations every year and always speak Spanish. Great Holiday Destinations. Plenty. Tick.

A good language to learn to support academic study of language? Spanish scores highly here too. It is one of the most taught languages around the world and even if you are learning French for instance, Spanish will support your learning with many similarities structurally and also in vocabulary. Academically useful. Yes. Tick.

If you’re thinking about learning a language to make your holidays more enjoyable then Spanish ticks the boxes.

If you want to make learning Spanish fun and easy then perhaps consider taking a look at KLOO. With a double deck pack you can play up to 16 different language games and swiftly build your vocabulary. KLOO was judged one of top 10 must pack items in a Conde Nast Traveler Magazine and also won Dr Toy’s Best Vacation Product in the USA. Prices start at £12.99.

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Games are not just for the playing fields – they’re for the classroom


Let the Games begin – in your class!

With all the euphoria around the Olympics and the renewed focus on the benefits of kids playing sports, we should not forget that games not just for the playing fields.

Games are important in the classroom too. They can play a hugely important and effective part in a child’s education and have in-built advantages to many other educational materials. When we play games our senses are heightened and as a result:

  • We focus more
  • We are more alert
  • We try harder
  • We have fun

Of course a  game for school has to be more than just stimulating and good fun. It has to be educational.

A Language Olympics in the Classroom

So for learning languages you could, for instance, have a game which is about learning words and making sentences in order to score points and race your car to Paris or Madrid. This is essentially what KLOO is – a point scoring race! But the way you get there is by learning a language. Compete, race, overtake! First one to the capital wins.

As a games designer, I initially created KLOO to help make learning a language fast, easy and fun for my own children. Teachers who have taken the game into the classroom have been genuinely taken aback by the reaction of their children – much as I was by my own. That is the power of games working in the classroom

Take a look at our Amazon collection. Happy, enthusiastic kids learning a language fast from £12.99.

Click here to find out more about our MFL Games for the classroom 

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