Monthly Archives: April 2013

Teacher Tips- How to Get your Students to Speak More in Class

Getting students to speak in class is one of the biggest challenges for a teacher, and its also the most essential aspect of the student’s learning process. Through my own experience in language learning, speaking always created the most anxiety, as I was being graded on my responses, or I was given open ended questions that I believed were too difficult for me to answer. More often than not, class time was spent listening to the teacher, and most of the class was spoken in my native language.  As you can imagine, results are disastrous in this type of learning enviornment.  As a teacher, there are a couple of ways that you can make students feel more comfortable when speaking in class, and in turn, see real progress from your students.

Create the Right Environment

The first thing that you can do is create a class environment that revolves around having students speak in class. There should be plenty of encouragement, and an understanding that language learning is full of making mistakes. In a classroom full of speaking, and not just the occasional question that puts students on the spot, there will be less fear and anxiety placed on the student.

Build Confidence

After creating a class that welcomes and encourages speaking, students should also be given lots of guidance when asked to speak so that they do not become confused and discouraged. Before asking your students a question, they should have received all of the proper tools to be able to give an answer.  No student likes to be placed on the spot with a question that they aren’t prepared to answer.  It helps to warm up the students with easy questions before moving to more difficult ones.

Using OpenLanguage to Speak More in Class

OpenLanguage provides some useful tools that can help teachers get students speaking more in class. The ‘Practice’ tab in the OpenLanguage lesson lays out 35-40 minutes of focused speaking practice that will help students master each lesson by reviewing the target vocabulary and grammar points. The lessons are simple to follow and easy to implement into any type of classroom.

practice screenshot

The ‘Practice’ lesson plans give students the opportunity to put to use all of the things that they’ve learned from the lesson, and getting your students to speak out more and interact in the target language will create a more enjoyable class experience.  Most importantly, your students will develop more confidence as they are given more opportunities to speak in class.

Does where you come from affect how you learn languages? (If not, what does?)

I was recently talking to a friend who ran an English school in China. After seeing our approach at OpenLanguage, he said, ‘you know Chinese like to memorize vocabulary when they learn English. You don’t need to spend all this money and effort developing elaborate courses with dialogues and supporting materials. Students just want a list of words grouped by functions. They think it’s an easier and faster way to learn English.’ What he said made me feel sad for his students. Being a Chinese and a learner of English myself, I couldn’t disagree more with him. Chinese might have been taught to memorize words and grammar rules in schools, but the failure of most Chinese to to hold a basic conversation in English after 10+ years of education speaks volume to the absurdity of the approach. But our discussion also got me thinking: does where one comes from affect how they learn languages, i.e. do Chinese or Russians or other nationalities really respond to a certain type of teaching and learning better than another? I’m not convinced that it’s the case. And if not, what factors are at play in determining how we learn?

Why I am skeptical of the ‘nationality’ approach: while people from a certain region might have been conditioned by a certain way of teaching, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best way. The test-oriented Chinese education system that suppresses creativity, practical application and common sense is a great example of failure. So why perpetuate a broken paradigm? Taking the vocab memorize approach for instance, I have yet to see anyone from China or elsewhere being able to effectively communicate in a language by primarily focusing on word memorization or learning grammar rules for the same matter. This kind of approaches usually are shortcuts to game a test, whether it’s a school test or an English proficiency exam. People whose language skills are not at a proficient level have to cram words into their brains because they need to take tests within a short period of time. Many test prep schools and books make it clear to students that their purpose is to improve test scores, not improving students’ communicative ability.

That’s why instead of saying Chinese prefer learning English through word memorization, the assumption should rather be students who are cramming for exams are forced to memorize words to pass tests. If the learner is not studying to pass exams, how should they learn? I suspect that we could try to determine the approach based on two essential factors: 1) what the students are trying to do with the language, i.e. their learning goals; 2) their lifestyle. Most students at OpenLanguage for instance are busy professional adults learning languages for practical reasons, whether it’s for chances of a promotion, to prepare for an overseas assignment or an upcoming holiday, to talk to their co-workers and friends or even as a hobby. This type of learners overwhelmingly see language as a tool to communicate, connect and broaden their perspective. They want to learn to speak, to make human connections and to explore a new culture. The teaching approach needs to help them achieve these goals. That’s why we’ve taken the communicative and comprehensible approaches to language acquisition. We want to expose learners to natural dialogues set in realistic situations filled with real emotions. Our learners want to learn from something alive and real, because that’s what they will be using the language for. Whether it’s a Chinese learning English or an American learning Spanish, I see students respond to approaches that showcase languages in their living and breathing form. That’s the type of language learning we should be celebrating.

Top 5- Ways to Achieve Fluency in a Foreign Language

This week’s Top 5 answers the question that every language learner wants to know- how do you achieve fluency in a foreign language?  There are no magic shortcuts, but simply studying from your textbook every week probably won’t get you the results you’re looking for.  The following tips will get you out of the textbook and push your language learning to the next level.

Consume Media-  The most fluent language speakers I’ve encountered are consumers of media in the target language.  Whether its tv shows, movies, or music, regularly listening to the language will attune your ears to the sounds of the language and allow you to better understand native speakers and speak with more natural intonation.

Experience the Culture- Plunging into the culture is a great way to begin speaking more of the language that you study.  If you enjoy food, drink, dance, or other hobbies of a specific region of the world, it helps connect you to the language in a whole new way.  You’ll find yourself picking up new vocabulary and be able to converse with the natives on a deeper level.

Follow Your Interests- Turn your hobby into a learning opportunity.  Whether it’s art, music, sports, or anything else, learn the vocabulary of your interests and develop the confidence to talk about it in the language that you study.

Chat with Natives- If you are in the country of the language you’re learning, this is easy!  Walk outside and chat with people at the convenient store, chat with your cab driver, or simply order food at a restaurant using the language.  Fortunately, even if you aren’t living in a country that speaks the language you’re studying, the internet makes it easy to converse with natives through online social networks for language learning.

Immerse Yourself in the Language- This one really sums up the best ways to learn a language. And you don’t have to live in a country that speaks the language to do this. All of these things revolve around finding ways to incorporate language learning through things that you can enjoy.  Find things that interest you and find people that speak the language that you’re learning and talk about those things.  Watch movies or listen to music that you enjoy. Speak as much as you can, and don’t worry about making mistakes.  Creating an environment that revolves around the language you’re studying is the best way to truly emerge as a fluent speaker.

Teacher Tips- The Tablet Textbook- Teaching with OpenLanguage

The tablet textbook, or digital textbook, is being embraced by many teachers and schools at the forefront of technology. The old days of students lugging around all of their textbooks are quickly being replaced as tablets and mobile devices are becoming cheaper and more accessible for all students. These changes will eventually make it easier for both teachers and students, but some teachers may find it difficult to cross over into unfamiliar territory and move away from using the standard textbook in the classroom.

tablet on books

Last week we wrote about the general use of OpenLanguage in the classroom and the various ways that teachers are using the product. This week I’d like to talk about how to use the OpenLanguage tablet textbook to teach your class.

OpenLanguage has several key features that give teachers the ability to push their language class to the next level. Each lesson contains a dialogue spoken by native speakers, key vocabulary, expansion vocabulary, grammar, exercises, practice, and a task. Some lessons will also have a culture tab to give advice that allows you to more easily interact with the native speakers of your target language.

The practice tab is the most useful for teachers to get as much practice as possible during their class. Each practice lesson provides material for about 35 minutes of speaking practice with students. The practice makes use of the lesson vocabulary and grammar, and will also note other practical language necessary for fluent communication. It gives simple, straightforward, and practical speaking exercises for teachers to practice with their students.

lesson screenshot

In addition to the practice you can do in class, you may also choose to go over the exercises that are provided. The exercise tab tests the students’ comprehension of the material with matching, multiple choice, dictation, and sentence reordering exercises. If the students have difficulty with grammar, there is a grammar tab that allows you to teach and review key grammar points from the lesson.

As you can see, teaching with OpenLanguage makes it easy for the teacher by providing a template to structure your class around, and it also provides flexibility to go even deeper into the material with expansion vocabulary, cultural topics, and real native language expressions that aren’t covered in most standard textbooks.

If you’re a teacher and interested in trying OpenLanguage in your classroom, please come sign up for your free account at and try it out!

OpenLanguage’s Weekly Report!

Hello, dear Language Learners!

This week we had some pretty cool new lessons here at OpenLanguage!

One of the lessons Arabic Anywhere published this week was a very useful one where one of the characters, Sam, haggles with the landlord over the rent. It is very difficult to deal with landlords sometimes, specially if it is in a foreign country and using a language that’s not your

In OpenLanguage Spanish, we learned the proper Spanish words to deal with immigration and customs. There are 2 ways of addressing someone in Spanish, “tú” and “usted”. The first one is mostly used with people you know, friends, family. The second one is the formal way of the Spanish language. Most English native speakers have a big problem making a difference between these 2 words, so check out this week’s lesson for a more detailed explanation!

Our OpenLanguage English team went traveling this week and showed us how to check-in at the airport. Wether it’s for business or pleasure, every time we travel we must be on time to avoid losing our flights or paying penalties for being late. In this lesson we hear a dialogue that takes place at the airline counter in the airport. Enjoy.

With OpenLanguage French, we learned about raining season in France! Some people say that rain is annoying, but others are big fans of rainy days. So check out this lesson to learn how to say “rain” in French, plus some other idiomatic expressions that will come in handy during your next trip to France!

If you have any questions or any suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment in this blog or contact us at!


Happy Studies!

-The OpenLanguage Team! 

Top 5- Language Learning Blogs for Students

This post is going to kick off our Top 5 series, showcasing the best of various language learning tools.  Today we’re going to have a look at general language learning blogs. These blogs should be suitable for the polyglots out there as well as those of you that are simply trying to master one language.  Several of these blogs are written by guys that have dedicated their lives to learning multiple languages, and have plenty of insight to share. So without further ado, here are the top 5 blogs for learning a foreign language.

Fluent in 3 Months


If you have ever studied a language and looked online for guidance, you’ve undoubtedly run across Benny Lewis and his  Fluent in 3 Months website.  Benny calls himself the “Irish Polyglot” and has earned this title by learning to fluently speak multiple languages and sharing his tips and adventures along the way. The site is full of language hacks and resources for learners of any language.

AJATT- All Japanese, All the Time


Clearly this site is dedicated to Japanese, but the principles can be carried across to learn any language.  The author, known as Khatzumoto, preaches the importance of immersing yourself in a language and having fun with it.  Even though I don’t have the discipline to surround myself in a foreign language 24 hours a day, the way the author does, there is still plenty of insight to be gained from his methods.

The Polyglot Dream

blogpic polyglot

The Polyglot dream is another popular language learning blog, written by an Italian named Luca, who has been learning languages for the last 20 years. Luca explains the acquisition of language in his blog, and reiterates what nearly all of these polyglots are telling us- learning a language in the traditional classroom setting is not effective! Check out his blog for many of his tips and techniques, and look out for his upcoming book this year on his methodology- the Luca Method.

The Mezzofanti Guild

blogpic mezzoguild

The Mezzofanti Guild is written by a guy named Donovan, a graduate of Applied Linguistics. His mission is to pursue his passion for languages and share all that he learns in this blog.  Along with his own stories and experiences, his site attempts to bring together a community of language learners, with a forum for sharing language learnings tips and techniques.

Everyday Language Learner


The Everyday Language Learner posts weekly tips to help you start learning a foreign language.  Their free email course, The Ten Week Journey, gives you 10 weeks of language coaching and resources to put you well on your way to speaking your target language.

Teacher Tips- How to Use OpenLanguage in Your Classroom

Unfortunately, most language teachers are still teaching in the old, traditional textbook method, spending valuable class time lecturing to students and having them repeat the target language and dialogue.  OpenLanguage gives teachers an arsenal of new tools that  will make teaching easier and more enjoyable.   Here are some of the ways that teachers are incorporating OpenLanguage into their classrooms.


The Flipped Classroom: The flipped classroom is a new approach to teaching and learning where the student studies the material at home and then comes to class to practice with a teacher.  With OpenLanguage, the student is able to listen to native speakers read the target dialogue and vocabulary, and then the student is able to practice using the language with the teacher.  Within the lesson contents are classroom activities for the student to practice with the teacher, as well as exercises for the students to complete.

The Traditional Classroom: While we think the best method of teaching involves flipping the class to allow the student as much speaking practice as possible in class, some teachers may prefer to first try a more traditional approach with OpenLanguage.    Under this method, you may go over the dialogue, vocabulary, and grammar with your student, and assign practice exercises for homework.

Supplementary Material: While there are more than enough lessons within OpenLanguage for complete courses, some teachers have used it as a supplement to fill in the gaps of their current curriculum.  Using OpenLanguage as a supplement allows you to search for topics by keywords or ability level to find lessons relevant to your students.

Class Management: Along with all of the great in-class practice material, there are also built-in class management tools that allow you to assign courses to your students and track their progress. Teachers have the ability to create and assign courses from our large lesson database,  assign and check online practice assignments, monitor student usage, give tests, and receive feedback through surveys.  These tools make it easy for teachers to track student progress, create class lesson plans, and receive feedback about the course.

Feel free to sign up for a complimentary teacher account at and explore the OpenLanguage platform to learn how to transform your classroom.  Also, check out this video below for more information on using OpenLanguage with your students!