Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Borges Thought on Dictionaries

It is often forgotten that (dictionaries) are artificial repositories, put together well after the languages they define. The roots of language are irrational and of a magical nature.
—Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian poet, short-story writer, and essayist, El otro, el mismo, 1969

Free French 1 Course on Login:

Password: french1

Use this course until June 27th, 2006

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Language Translation Software

Please see our Free Language Course Offer in the previous post!

Those of us toiling away, day in and day out, in the language salt mine we call like our mining tools to be sharp and effective. The clever folks at Babylon offered us amazing software - yeh, we took 'em up on the offer! - that we use all the time in our work. We got permission to reprint an article that we think sums up well why we think this Babylon software is so great. It also points you to another good language learning site we think you should look at. Go ahead and take the Babylon software for a free test drive. Once you use it you'll come to rely on it more and more, just as we do.

Babylon, A Software Liberating
Language Learners Worldwide

By Steve Kaufmann

The modern global village is forcing the world’s scattered people with all their different languages into regular contact with each other. Now the very technological revolution that is responsible for this intensity of international exchange is also providing the solutions to communicating across language barriers. The software which amazingly translates words, phrases and sentences in a single click, Babylon , is a brilliant example.

My name is Steve Kaufmann, author of The Way of The Linguist, A language learning odyssey. I speak nine languages fluently (6 European and 3 Asian) and I’m working on three more right now at the age of 60. I know what it takes to learn languages and one of the keys is efficiency. That’s why Babylonis so valuable.
HavingSpanish , French , Italian, Portuguese , Dutch , and over 60 other languages available at the click of the mouse is a major advantage in language learning.

One of my morning pleasures is to go to my computer and peruse newspapers and websites from around the world. I could not do this without Babylon, my handy-to-use online dictionary program. It does not matter if I am reading in Chinese
, German , Japanese or any other language. There are always words that I am not familiar with. For new languages that I am learning, like Russian and Korean, Babylon is even more important since it allows me to access a wide range of interesting content.

About four years ago I realized that the combination of the Internet and
MP3 technology would revolutionize language learning. We are entering an age when language learners will be free from the well intentioned tyranny of the language teachers and their text books. To convert the new abundance of interesting audio and text content now available on the Internet into an enjoyable language learning experience just requires the intelligent use of technology. That is why I founded The, and chose Babylon.

The Linguist is a revolutionary language learning system which accelerates vocabulary acquisition and the achievement of language fluency. Learners are able to learn from content that not only matches their interests and needs, but is at an appropriate level of difficulty and focuses on the vocabulary they need to learn. Our system could not function without a reliable and effective multilingual dictionary. We chose Babylon for its flexibility, ease of use, the variety of dictionaries it offers, and its reliability. Babylon interfaces ideally with our language students.

The ( )is an international community with users from over 25 countries. When our members encounter words that they do not know, they use Babylon to instantly see the meaning and translation into their own language. No longer do language learners have to deal with traditional dictionaries that are slow and cumbersome to use, only to quickly forget what they looked up. No longer do they have to limit their reading to boring text books. A whole world of interesting content has been opened up to them.
Language learners worldwide have been liberated, thanks to Babylon.

To purchase a license for this revolutionary software, click here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Free French 1 Course on

We have a winner! The people have spoken and starting today the French 1 (Interactive French 1) can be used free of charge until June 27th. We've created a special user ID to let you log on:

Password: french1 (all lower case)

Now you get to use this course just as if you had paid for it. Sweet! Enjoy, tell your friends and then enjoy some more. Any feedback would be most welcome. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Spanish Lesson Plan - Intermediate - Advanced

Here's a fun game from's selection of lesson plans.

DON'T FORGET - 2 days left to vote for the course we should provide free for one month. Click here for details.

Actividad: Cadena de palabras

Vocabulario: Cualquier vocabulario
Nivel: Intermedio-Avanzado
Materiales: Ninguno

Si tienes cinco minutos de sobra, éste es un juego divertido para practicar todo tipo de vocabulario en clase. En la "cadena de palabras" los estudiantes tienen que decir una palabra que empiece con la última letra de la palabra anterior. En clases de nivel más alto, las palabras no se pueden repetir.

Empieza tú con una palabra como "español" o "aprender." Intenta evitar las palabras que terminen en "z" u otras letras no muy comunes. Los estudiantes deben seguir con otras palabras, como "español - loro - once - esa - agua - año - oso - oreja -, etc".

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Joke - on Translating Languages

Once again, please look at our earlier post (2 posts ago) on how to vote for a free course on

Let's add just a little levity to the Mexican / American boarder debate:

How to Make Money from Translation

A Mexican bandit made a specialty of crossing the Rio Grande from time to time and robbing banks in Texas. Finally, a reward was offered for his capture, and an enterprising Texas Ranger decided to track him down. After a lengthy search, he traced the bandit to his favorite cantina, snuck up behind him, put his trusty six-shooter to the bandit's head, and said,
"You're under arrest. Tell me where you hid the loot or I'll blow your brains out."
But the bandit didn't speak English, and the Ranger didn't speak Spanish.
As luck would have it, a bilingual lawyer was in the saloon and translated the Ranger's message. The terrified bandit blurted out, in Spanish, that the loot was buried under the oak tree in back of the cantina.
"What did he say?" asked the Ranger.
The lawyer answered, "He said, 'Get lost, Gringo. You wouldn't dare shoot me.'"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

This Guy Really Wanted to Learn English

Once again, please look at our earlier post (2 posts ago) on how to vote for a free course on

Today's post is something I bumped into about a 27 year old Guatamalan here illegally, who tried to pass himself off as an 18 year old to get into high school. This story is from September of last year:

TRINITY, Florida (AP) -- Authorities say a 27-year-old Guatemalan man arrested for posing as an 18-year-old Pasco County high school student told them he enrolled because he wanted to learn English.

Josue Oswaldo Ramirez-Mejia is charged with uttering a forged instrument.

He's being held on 5-thousand dollars bail.

Officials say Ramirez-Mejia used forged documents to enroll last month at J-W Mitchell High School.

The sheriff's office reports that someone also posed as his guardian.

School officials say Ramirez-Mejia was a good student and hadn't caused any problems.

His brother says he came to the United States three years ago and worked after classes at their Lake Worth business.

The F-B-I says Ramirez-Mejia entered the U-S illegally after being denied entry.

U-S Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun deportment proceedings.

Officials say Ramirez-Mejia would've been eligible for county adult education courses.

If only he'd had access to parlo courses... heck, we probably would have given him a free course!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Beyond Language - When Words Aren't Needed

Video sent by scienceprofessor
This is strictly for your and my amusement. I found this video on a website called They accurately describe this as, "A cool twist on Beatboxing by Lasse Gjertsen. Awesome editing!" Who can argue? Check out his silly deadpan expression. I won't be throwing too many of this kind of thing onto this blog since it is about languages. It was irresistable though. And now back to our regularly scheduled program...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Proverbs, both French & Spanish

Don't forget to vote for the free course on's home page See the previous post!

It's always enlightening to learn some proverbs of other cultures. I find that these nuggets of folk wisdom are very similar across cultures. Since they reflect on human nature they are bound to be similar. Enjoy.

French Proverbs
C'est le ton qui fait la chanson.
o Literal meaning: It's the melody that makes the song.
o Idiomatic translation: It's not what you say but the way you say it.

Cherchez la femme.
o Literal meaning: Look for the woman.
o Idiomatic translation: A woman is probably at the heart of the quarrel.

Dis-moi qui tu hantes, je te dirai qui tu es.
o Idiomatic translation: A man is known by the company he keeps.
o Literal meaning: Tell me whom you haunt and I will tell you who you are.

Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée.
o Idiomatic translation: There can be no middle ground.
o Literal meaning: A door must be either open or shut.

Ventre affamé n'a pas d'oreilles.
o Idiomatic translation: Words are wasted on a starving man.
o Literal meaning: The hungry belly has no ears.

Find more at Wikipedia

Spanish Proverbs
Justicia cosa muy buena, pero no en mi casa en la ajena. (Cuba)
Idiomatic translation: Justice is a good thing, only not in my house, but in my neighbor's.

La envidia sigue al m´e;rito, como la sombra al cuerpo. (Nicaragua)
Literal translation: Envy follows merit like the shadow follows the body.

I especially like this one because it is so vivid and I'm not sure what it means!!

Nadie ccon lamer engorda. (Guatamala)
Idomatic translation: No gets fat from licking food.

El que presta o´i;do es porque tambi´e;n quire hablar. (Argentina)
Idiomatic translation: If a man lends an ear it is because he too wants to speak.

Aunque la mona se vista de seda mona se queda.
Idiomatic translation: Dress the monkey in silk and it is still a monkey.

You can find more of these gems (seriously, they are wonderful!) below.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Free Language Course - Vote for your choice!

OK folks. We have a new gimmic--- uh, no, marketing tool... hmm, better yet, Sample Taste. We think that more people will try, enjoy, and yes, ultimately buy our courses if we let then try a course for one month at no charge. Here's how we propose to do it.

  • You go to and find a course that you would like to try.
  • Register with parlo (right there on the home page) and email to us the name of the course you would like to use free for one month. Please register or we can't count your vote and put your choice in the "Subject" line of the email. (write to "support - at -")
  • When our two week voting period is up we'll announce by email and on this blog which course will be free for 1 month. At that time we will give out a "Master User ID and password for this course.
Pretty sweet, no? Any questions? Please post them as a comment to this blog posting. Let the voting begin! (We reserve the right to end this offer at any time)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spanish Joke - Beginner Level

This one is too cute and a great one for beginning students. If you are a teacher see if your students can correctly write out the numbers after hearing it once. If the success ratio is low, give them another chance. Enjoy!

– ¿Diga?
– Perdone, ¿Es el nueve, tres, cuatro, tres, siete, siete, ocho, cinco, cuatro?
– No, sí, no, sí, sí, no, no, sí, sí.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Spanish as the Country's Unofficial Second Language

Oh my. More smoke and heat than light, not to mention, "More geese than swans"* My prediction? - in 25 years the English language will be alive and well and wonderfully enriched by the Spanish language. It will not be supplanted by Spanish as "the coin of the realm" unless uh, Chinese really takes off...

Spanish en los Estados Unidos adds to immigration heat
By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Politicians use it to win votes, the business community to boost profits and sizeable numbers of Americans see it is a threat to American culture --

Spanish in the United States.

There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than, for example, in the whole of Venezuela, according to census figures. First-time visitors to the United States are perpetually astonished by how pervasive the language has become. It is the country's unofficial second language. Read on...

The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approach'd, unlock'd her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.
Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
-Anonymous- 16th Century

President Bush's Spanish - How good IS it?

I wasn't going to post again for a couple of days but this story is too good to pass up. There continues to be way more discussion on the Spanish Language version of the Star Spangled Banner than the topic warrants but we must talk about it if it still occupies a place in the country's consciousness. President Bush's spokepeople are strongly denying that the president speaks Spanish well enough to sing the anthem in spanish but I've heard him speak and clearly that's nonsense. He speaks perfectly fine. He just doesn't want to tick people off who feel strongly that it's a bad thing. Here's a link to a story on Reuters depicting the latest...

More Beginning French Lesson Plans

Let's have another look into the lesson plans that we have in our "Teacher's Corner" in the French Culture section of This is the second of our Beginner French Lessons that we have available there and if you find this useful please explore them all. Naturally, we'd love to have you sign up for our courses so please have a look, try the sample lesson and jump right in!

Mais où se trouve...?

Cette unité est destinée à des étudiants de niveau intermédiaire (début) à partir du lycée. Elle peut prendre environ 2h.


Les étudiants vont apprendre à:
# Se repérer dans l'espace
# Lire une carte du métro parisien
# Demander leur chemin
# Indiquer le chemin
# Parler des pays et des villes

Outils pedagogiques:

1. Vocabulaire: Pour se repérer dans l'espace; Activité: Quelques indications
2. Grammaire: Les vacances arrivent
3. Grammaire: Les voyages
4. Lecture: L'invitation de Patrice


Activité I: "Warm up" (10 minutes)
Demandez aux étudiants s'ils ont déjà voyagé en France et s'ils ont dû y demander leur chemin. Que pensent-ils des Français? Sont-ils serviables? Plus ou moins que les Américains? Est-il plus facile de se repérer en France ou aux Etats-Unis? Quelle est la différence majeure entre les villes françaises et américaines? (donnez l'exemple de New York où les rues et les avenues sont numérotées, et Paris où les rues portent le nom de personnages célèbres). Cette introduction se fait en anglais.

Activité II: Vocabulaire (15 minutes)
En utilisant l'environnement de la classe, c'est-à-dire les étudiants, vous-même et beaucoup de gestuelle, vous allez introduire les expressions spaciales suivantes (vous pouvez leur distribuer l'imprimé joint).
"je suis en face de..., à cô;té de..., devant..., derrière..., près de..., loin de..., sur la chaise, le stylo est sous le bureau, entre..., au milieu de..., à droite..., à gauche...". Maintenant pour introduire les expressions suivantes "je continue tout droit, je tourne, je traverse, je suis la rue,...", vous allez dessinez un petit plan au tableau avec deux rues qui se croisent.

Vous allez fixer ces expressions en posant des questions aux étudiants: "Où est X? Il est devant Y. Qui est derrière X?..." Maintenant, écrivez toutes ces expressions au tableau. Ensuite demandez - leur de faire l'exercié "Queloques indications" et corrigez - le avec la classe. (Réponses: 1. droit; 2. coin; 3. rue; 4. à droite; 5. jusqu'à; 6. traverser)

Activité III: Grammaire: Les vacances arrivent (20 minutes)
Cette activité a pour but d'introduire, de manière inductive, les prépositions de lieu (à, dans, chez, en, au, aux, etc.). Vous allez distribuez le texte joint qui contient en contexte la plupart de ces prépositions. Tout d'abord, revoyez le dialogue avec la classe pour vérifier la compréhension. Ensuite, vous allez demander aux étudiants de lire le dialogue, de repérer les mots soulignés et d'essayer de trouver, dans leur groupe, la "règle" grammaticale. Par exemple, pourquoi dit-on en Finlande, et pas au Finlande, ou encore aux Etats-Unis et pas en Etats-Unis,...?

There are 3 more activites available in this French lesson plan so please click here to get the rest.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Spanish Star Spangled Banner and Immigration Protests

Today is May 1st and across the country there has been a call for immigrants to demonstrate, pray, not attend work or school and to refrain from all economic activity to show the effect of immigrants on America's economy. Among immigrant groups there is no unanimity of opinion as to whether economic boycotts or leaving work are the best methods to achieve the reform of immigration laws. Some feel that writing letters and sending petitions to politicians is a more appropriate way to voice their opinions while others feel that they will not be heard with anything less than a demonstration of their economic value to our country. There is a fear that there could be a backlash and no one wants that.

This is an election year and already we are hearing the anti-immigrant rhetoric heat up. Both sides know that the current situation of illegal immigrants being exploited works well for businesses wishing to pay less than minimum wage, offer no benefits nor necessarily guarantee safe working conditions. But the anti-immigrants do not want to "reward" those who have come here illegally by granting them citizenship and are rallying their supporters with the claim that jobs are being taken away from Americans. (I know I sure want to be a migrant worker when I grown up!)Additionally, businesses do not want to have workers who must be paid minimun wage in keep in safe workplace. On the pro-immigrant side are those who wish to make it easy to come to this country and become a citizen and want nothing punitive done to those who have come here illegally. This election year many races (election, not ethnic) will be hotly contested and even control of Congress is thought to be at stake. It's not the best climate for reasoned reflection on a hot button issue like immigration.

Now along comes the release of a Spanish version of the Start Spangled Banner. This gasoline (at over $3.00 per gallon!) thrown on the fire is unlikely to cool down the discussion. From the cultural / language enthusiast standpoint it's interesting to note where the spanish lyrics deviate from the original english (American?) lyrics. The fun here is just beginning...

"Nuestro Himno" (Our Anthem")
Amanece, lo veis?, a la luz de la aurora?
lo que tanto aclamamos la noche al caer?
sus estrellas sus franjas

flotaban ayer

en el fiero combate

en señal de victoria,

fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertad.

Por la noche decían:

"Se va defendiendo!"

Oh decid! Despliega aún

Su hermosura estrellada

sobre tierra de libres,

la bandera sagrada?

Sus estrellas, sus franjas,

la libertad. Somos iguales.

Somos hermanos. Es nuestro himno.

En el fiero combate en señal de victoria,

Fulgor de lucha

Mi gente sigue luchando

al paso de la libertad

Ya es tiempo de romper las cadenas.

Por la noche decían: "!Se va defendiendo!"

Oh decid! Despliega aún su hermosura estrellada

sobre tierra de libres,

la bandera sagrada?

It's sunrise. Do you see by the light of the dawn

What we proudly hailed last nightfall?

Its stars, its stripes

yesterday streamed

above fierce combat

a symbol of victory

the glory of battle and the march toward liberty

Throughout the night, they proclaimed:

"We will defend it!"

Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave

above the land of the free,

the sacred flag?

Its stars, its stripes,

liberty, we are the same.

We are brothers in our anthem.

In fierce combat, a symbol of victory

(My people fight on.)

and the march toward liberty.

(The time has come to break the chains.)

Throughout the night they proclaimed, "We will defend it!"

Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave

above the land of the free,

the sacred flag?