The myths around learning a foreign language

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How to learn a foreign language

We should slay the language myths

We firstly need to dispel some deeply ingrained myths about how to learn a foreign language. Research has shown the following myths to be untrue.

Myth 1: It is impossible to learn a foreign language after a certain age.

Untrue. Whatever your age, if you want to learn, you can learn. The best time to start learning is now…

Myth 2: Children are much better at learning foreign languages than adults

Untrue. Children and adults learn languages differently. Research has shown that given the right language resources and language input, adults can learn just as well as children and, furthermore, in some aspects of language learning, outperform children.

Myth 3: A child can only be taught a foreign language by a teacher or a native speaker.

Untrue. Children can learn from a parent who is not fluent. The important aspect is that the parent is available to learn alongside their child and interact. Fluency is not necessary.

Myth 4: Learning technical grammar is a pre-requisite to mastering a foreign language.

Untrue. Children have learned a language perfectly well without ever knowing the technical grammatical components of it. Some experts believe that excessive focus on grammar can actually impede learning.

Often people are put off learning a second language before they even start. They think that they are too old; don’t have a gift for languages; don’t have a fluent teacher; or that they will get stuck on grammar. Now we know we these are phantom problems, we can set about establishing the best, quickest and easiet ways to learn a language. More coming soon!

The key is to use the right tools – or in the case of language learning, the right MFL resources.

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Family Board Games are sooooo last century! Think again – we need them.

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Family Board Games and why they’re still important

Mum  : “How about a game of Monopoly or KLOO after dinner tonight?

Daughter: “But isn’t ‘X-Factor’ on the box at 8 pm?”

TV v Traditional Family Board Game – that’s a complete mismatch, right? It’s a David v Goliath struggle – that Goliath wins hands down in nearly every household. We have more channels that we can possibly watch. We have PVRs in case we miss something. There is video gaming too. Not to mention the Internet. And what about Smartphones?……

It seems that, without really noticing or understanding the implications, we have become neurally plugged into a virtual world that even Captain Kirk would have boggled at. And why not you might ask? It is fun. And what harm can it do? Ah…funny you should ask.

Before we complacently switch on the box – perhaps we should consider these truly horrific facts about screen time and its affect on our physical and mental health – especially in children. Here is the latest research. It should stop us in our tracks.

* 8 – 18 year olds watch on average 4 hours a day with a further two hours of screen time on computers and video games.
* Reading, playing and socialising are getting squeezed to the margins by screen time.
* Homework is losing out to screen time by 12 to 1 in terms of time allocation.
* Kids who watch at least four hours a day are more likely to be overweight.
* Kids who watch violence on TV and on video games are becoming desensitised to violent behaviour and lacking in empathy.
* Children spend more time in front of screens than they do in the classroom!

Screen time can be good for us. It can be educational, entertaining and diverting….but the sheer quantity of screen time that we are consuming is becoming a monstrous problem. Dr Aric Sigman, an American expert on the affect of TV on children says:

“There is a definite relationship between the amount of time kids spend watching screens per day and a range of physical, cognitive and educational problems later on. These include severe problems like ADHD and milder but still worrying damage to their ability to concentrate, their attention span and performance in school.”

And if you think he’s American and that these problems haven’t reached the UK yet – think again. The problem is here – and it is big.

“Kids with a TV in their bedroom are less likely to be able to read by the age of 6,” says Dr Sigman. “This is one reason Britain has such a poor literacy rate. Also, 37 per cent of British ten-year-olds play computer games for more than three hours a day – one of the highest rates in the world. This has a profound effect on their attention span, their ability to read and concentrate in school.”

It gets worse for UK children.

“Just because something is called children’s television, don’t assume it’s better for your kids,” says Dr Sigman. “These claims are made by the people who produce the programmes, not by scientists. In fact, a Carry On film is probably better for your child than a lot of CBBC shows, because they lack the fast editing and bright colours that do all the damage.”

The USA, which is usually ahead of us in addressing these issues, is wrestling with ways to deal with this monster in the room. They have even started a series of charitable websites to help parents combat excessive screen time. One organisation provides an arsenal of ideas on how to reduce and create alternative ways to have fun, entertain and occupy the family. Significant among them is “Game Night” where they encourage families to switch off the TV and instead play games, board games, card games, any game! Why? Because they help children in all the ways that screen entertainment don’t. They provide interactive play time. They help children build their social skills and can be educational. They anchor us in the real world!

Board Games for Children

Board Games are the antithesis of the virtual world. They are social, fun, engrossing and stimulating. What is more (and here’s a little known fact) – today’s children love them! Teachers have written to tell me that their children are “going crazy” for KLOO Language games – they’re words not mine.

Best of British Board Games

KLOO makes learn French, Spanish or English board games. Just by playing you learn a language. In 2011 KLOO Games won the 2011 “Best of British Board Game” at the ToyTalk awards. So if you’re looking to buy a Great Family Board Game and Learn a language – try KLOO.

So I ask again – anyone for Spanish KLOO? What about Hide and Seek?

PS If you are looking for new games, try this board games blog. Good reviews by games enthusiasts.

The Secret Holiday Upgrade – Speak the Language

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Holiday season is nearly upon us – kids have just weeks to go before the Summer break and if you’re like me, you are now frantically scrabbling around for a last minute deal. If you are not like me (ie you are organised), your holiday has been booked for months – I must try this.


Whichever camp you fall into, there is a simple and remarkable effective way to secure a better holiday and here it is: Make an Effort to Speak their Language!

Sound like too much effort?

It’s not – it can actually be fun (see below).

What is more your efforts will be repaid a hundredfold.  There is the basic relief of being able express yourself and be understood. Being understood means you get what you want; you receive the food you ordered; you understand the directions; you can shop with confidence; you can chat with the locals. What is more, the reception you receive from local people is that much warmer. They appreciate your effort to talk in their language.


OK I am hopelessly biased!

So let me start with some recommendations other than our products which I think are worthwhile.

If you like audio I recommend Michael Thomas CDs. I used these in the car to learn Italian and they are a great way to prepare for a trip.

If you prefer to read then I like the Collins Easy Learning Conversational Books – they are much better than the usual phrasebooks.


We are hopelessly biased when it comes to KLOO but we are not the only one who recommends it! At the recent Dr Toy Awards in the USA KLOO won “Best Vacation Toy 2011” as well as “Best Classic Toy 2011”. In the UK we won “Toytalk Best Board or Card Game 2011″. These prestigious awards are used by the US and UK media and parents as a guide to the very best toys and games to buy. Our American customers love KLOO. They liked KLOO because its totally portable, good fun and it makes learning a language easy. “You can play on your travels and speak when you arrive!”

KLOO is so effective because it embeds powerful language learning techniques in the game and how in just 10 months, we have won more awards than any foreign language game ever. Watch below how easy it is to make French or Spanish sentences with KLOO cards

So before you go – why not order a KLOO game!

What’s in a KLOO Language Game

4 decks

256 cards

000’s of sentences

lots of fun.

For the KLOO French Combo go here

For the KLOO Spanish Combo go here

I hope you’ll give KLOO a try. However, if I have not managed to persuade you to try KLOO, learn a language anyway. It is a rewarding thing to do and actually great fun to use on holiday.

Bon Voyage!

Learn how to make thousands of Spanish sentences with a single deck of KLOO cards. Easy!


PS If you know someone going on holiday why not send them the link to this blog if you think it is helpful.

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How to use Kindle to learn a language

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3 steps to using Kindle E-books to learn a language

Learn a language with Kindle E-Books

Volumes have been written about Kindle and the way it can revolutionize the way we read.  But did you know Kindle and E-Books also make learning a language a lot easier….read on.

As well as using Kindle for reading my usual books, I also use it to brush up my Italian. In doing so I have learned that the Kindle has made learning a language through reading, easier than ever. There are just 3 simple steps to more enjoyable and productive reading of foreign books.

Here they are.

3 Steps to using your Kindle for language learning

Step 1.. Firstly through your Kindle (or e-Reader), go to the Amazon Store and buy a digital book in your chosen language. I find that if I put in the term “Italian” lots of Italian language books appear. Choose one of the right level and download to your kindle. Simple.

Step 2.. Now this is the really smart part. Buy a dictionary too. I bought an Italian-English dictionary and it automatically links to your Italian books!! What does this mean? Well in essence, when you don’t know the meaning of a word, you simply move your cursor in front of the unknown word and hey presto…the translation will automatically appear. It saves you an enormous amount of time. Usually you would have to put down your book, pick up a dictionary, then search for the word in the dictionary. It’s disruptive and time consuming. Now you can find the word in seconds and you never have to leave the book.

Step 3.. This last step is optional but is a powerful step. If you think the word is important then you can make a footnote in your e-book and enter the meaning. When you next come to read you can take a look at all of the words you have made a footnote against and remind yourself of their meanings. You read the word in its original context and this helps the word to stick.

For some time I have been switching between languages. One Italian book followed by an English book. But reading Italian with Kindle is such a pleasure.

Using Games to learn a second language

Another great way to learn a language is to play games. KLOO is an award winning game that lets you create sentences in a foreign language to score points and learn foreign words as as you play. It’s a lot of fun and was judged the UK’s Best Board or Card Game 2011 at the annual ToyTalk awards.

See how easy it is, for instance, for even an absolute beginner yo make foreign sentences in French with KLOO cards in seconds. Have fun!


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Best Way to Learn New Words in a Foreign Language

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How best to build our vocabulary in a foreign language

Dog is le chien in French

I am pretty sure that none of us had parents who, when we were very young, gave us lists of words to learn by next week. What generally happened is that we would point at something that we wanted to know the name of, such as a dog, and our parents said “Dog” and we repeated “Dog”. This is form of learning is called Discovery Learning  and it is the natural way we built our vocabulary when we were small.

Learning new words with Discovery Learning…Eureka!

Discovery Learning is when we discover what we want to know, when we want to know it. In these moments our minds are incredibly receptive to new information because they are actively seeking it. Some scientists call this the Eureka moment, or light bulb moment or Aha! moment. We have all felt it, perhaps when trying to crack a crossword problem or trying to recall someone’s name and it’s extremely powerful. But how can we harness it?

Learning foreign words with Discovery Learning

The power of Discovery Learning is widely accepted. The problem is that replicating Discovery Learning in the classroom is notoriously difficult. How do you hand over the initiative of learning to your students – so they learn what they want to learn – and it still coincides with what the teacher wants to teach them! It is tricky.

But not impossible!

Auto-learning Language Game uses Discovery Learning to build vocabulary

As a games designer, I was frustrated with how slowly my own children were learning new words. All of the language resources I had bought for them were ineffective and, if I am

honest, they didn’t enjoy them anyway. So I looked to build an MFL Language Game concept that would allow them to build their vocabulary and make sentences without the need for a teacher to sit in on the game. In essence I wanted to create a game that generated hundreds of moments where they needed to learn foreign words to score points – and then discovered them through playing. We played around with different game concepts with scraps of paper around the kitchen table – but the light bulb switched on when we played our first game of KLOO.

Vocabulary Building Game

Learn Spanish words by labeling items

How effective is it? In a single game of 25 minutes a typical player (child or adult), will learn 15 – 30 words without ever feeling they are studying or working. It just comes naturally. Many teachers will tell you how challenging it is to motivate some students to learn 20 words by next week or even next month through usual vocabulary building techniques. So to be able to build vocabulary by hundreds of words, just by playing a game is increasingly valued by more and more MFL teachers..

What foreign words would I learn?

The vocabulary for KLOO games are high frequency words (HFW) chosen by teachers to meet the needs of the curriculum and are also deemed to be most useful. With one deck of KLOO cards you can make tens of thousands of sentences in French or Spanish. You’ll have a lot of fun too. Watch this two minute video to see how it all works!


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How a young man learned to speak 11 languages fluently

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Top tips for language learning from man who speaks 11 languages

Alex Rawlings speaks 11 languages fluently. He is an inspiration and a true marvel. In this very impressive video he gives just one tip. I wrote it down word for word:


The importance of putting words into context has been stressed here at Language Pie and I have been inspired by this young man to return to the theme. In the meantime here is the wonderful video on the BBC.


Award Winning Foreign Language Game automatically puts words into context

Make useful foreign sentences with French KLOO cards

With KLOO, players win points by learning new words and forming sentences. The longer the sentences, the higher the score. The unique aspect of KLOO is that even absolute beginners can play and instantly start making sentences up to 10 words long. No study, no grammar, no work – they’ll learn how to make thousands of sentences in seconds. It is one of the reasons that people learn faster (and have more fun) with KLOO.

KLOO games are available in French and Spanish. Watch how easy it is to make thousands of sentences in French with KLOO cards:


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The key to learning a language is context

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Context helps lock foreign words in the long term memory

I was struck by the recent news of a young man who is fluent in 11 languages. There is a lovely piece on him on the BBC where he does in fact speak in all 11 languages. It is significant that he said only one thing about what makes it easier for him to learn new languages and I wrote it down word for word. He stated:


This is something that I agree with and is in fact supported by research into language learning. It is all the more shocking therefore that this mode of learning is often ignored in favour of vocabulary lists (bottom of the class for performance).

So below I am re-posting a blog I wrote a year ago about this very point. Interestingly when I look back at my blog stats I can see that this post is one of my most popular. Maybe people have a sense of its importance.

Make It Meaningful – The Importance of Meaningfulness and Context in Learning  a Language

Research shows that words and phrases need to be learned in context in order to avoid the dreaded fate of “Systematic Forgetting”. At all costs, therefore,  you should avoid learning from random lists, phrase books, and vocabulary drills. It is a waste of time!

However if you learn words when you need them and then immediately place them in context with known words (i.e. make a sentence) YOU’LL LEARN FAST! By putting words into context you give your new vocabulary meaning. Meaningfulness is a central plank for getting words into your LONG TERM MEMORY.

Meaningful learning means connecting new information with information that is already known. This creates what is called a cognitive structure – in essence the new information is “hooked” in by the known information. And the more hooks there are, the more “anchored” the new information becomes.

Dr Brown says that this theory “provides a strong theoretical basis for the rejection of conditioning models of practice and repetition in language teaching. In a meaningful process like second language learning, mindless repetition, imitation and other rote practices in the language classroom have no place.” He goes on to expand the point: “Too many languages are filled with rote and practice that centres on surface forms. Most cognitive psychologists agree that the frequency of stimuli and the number of times spent practicing a form are not highly important in learning an item. What is important is meaningfulness. It appears that contextualized, appropriate, meaningful communication in the second language seems to be:


So there yo have it. Have a meaningful relationship with words and they’ll love you and stay with you. KLOO is a language game that places new words in sentences to make sense. It is not surprising, therefore, that tests show people learn words 200% faster with KLOO – and often even faster than that.

Dr H. Douglas Brown is a professor of MA-TESOL at San Francisco State University and has written many books, articles and textbooks on language teaching.

Here is a lovely video that makes the same point – with animations!


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Languages and games help old age and dementia

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Languages, mfl games, old age and dementia

games and old age

Old age is increasingly common. Did you know most of the people who have ever lived to be older than 65 are alive today? As for living to 100 that will become common place. Children born today have very good prospects for a long life.

While longevity is a good thing, it brings with it many challenges – not least our mental capabilities dim in old age. And yet there is much we can do. Exercise and a good diet can play their part. However it is increasingly accepted that we can keep our mental faculties sharp in old age through playing games. Chess, cross word puzzles, Sudoku and bridge all have been shown to help keep us quick witted. Anything that exercises and challenges the grey matter is a good thing!

At the same time there is growing evidence that attaining a second language also has many mental benefits. It makes us more creative, articulate and improves our cognitive skills. These are skills we can benefit from throughout our lives. However there is more good news. It was recently reported in the Daily Telegraph that having a second language even helps to fight the onset of dementia in later life.

The best of both worlds – a language game

If languages and games benefit us in old age – then why not combine them – why not play a language game? Many grandparents buy KLOO language games in French and Spanish for their grand children studying at school….but how about the family buying a language game for the grandparents? You’re never too old to learn a language (contrary to the myth put out there). Our KLOO boxes say our games are for ages 8 – 100. Do you have relatives living to 100 – why not play KLOO with them? Learn a language, have fun and health benefits for the grand parents too.

There are 16 great games you can play with KLOO cards. Check out below how easy it is to play and learn French or Spanish words with KLOO Games:


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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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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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