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5 tips for how to stay motivated when learning a new language

Motivation can be the hard part of learning any language. In this busy world it’s hard to keep a consistent level of excitement in learning a new language. Certain parts of every language can be a stumbling block, and even as we get better our goal of conversational or fluent ability can seem further and further away. But with dedication, and help from these 5 tips you should be able to maintain that motivation and power through any obstacles.

1) Pick a language for the right reason: genuine interest. If you’re not interested in the language you’re learning it will be hard to stay motivated. But if you have a good reason for learning, and you want to see it through, anyone can learn a new language.

2)  Find something to strive for. If you have a clear goal in mind, and a reason for learning, it can make everything simpler. Do you want to be able to speak to your girlfriend’s parents in her native tongue? Or maybe you want to be able to read a book, or watch movies in their original language. It could even be just to impress your friends or parents, but whatever the reason, hold it clear in your mind every time you plan to study and you will be able to find that illusive motivation you’re looking for.

3)  Travel to the country where they speak the language you’re studying. This is a great reason to travel. If you’re studying a foreign language, one of the best ways to learn is to immerse yourself in the language and culture. The best way to do that is to be in an environment where everyone is a native speaker. Not only that, but being able to get around and travel in a foreign language is exhilarating and can open doors that you might never have opened speaking English.

4) Fight off the urge to procrastinate. If you have trouble studying for longer periods, break your sessions into 10 or 15 minute blocks. This can help you by creating smaller, manageable goals. You can also set deadlines for yourself, or use language studying to procrastinate from doing another task :)

5) Create a study log. Keeping track of when and what you’re studying will help you understand when you are most productive. You can also record audio of yourself speaking the language and then you will be able to hear just how much progress you’ve made.

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! 

Google Glass could Revolutionize Language Learning…in 10 Years.

Amongst many cool things that Google Glass does is its ability to provide real time, text-based translations of what the people next to you are saying. This could be a game changer for language learning, making the process faster, more responsive or even redundantly for the survival phrase learners. For many language learners, the real time decoding of languages indeed has massive appeal. I am sure that as Google Glass gets perfected, it will start to make deeper impact on language learning. But as many entrepreneurs and innovators jump to find how they can use Google Glass for the next big product idea, I feel it might be healthy to maintain a level of procrastination and pragmatism unless you are Google. If you are a language startup, chances are Google Glass would impact what you do in 10 years.

I’ve come to this realization through hard-learned lessons. When mobile app first emerged in mid 2000’s, we got our team to build one of the earliest apps around, an Android app for learning English. We demoed it using the first generation Google Nexus phone at the Google office in Beijing to a crowd of Googlers without the phone themselves! We also started to pitch our ‘mobile learning’ solution to corporate clients in China. We thought the model made perfect sense. Have your employees learn English on their smartphones on their way to work, practice with a teacher once a week and review on their phone after the class. This way, you cut down work time spent on learning and help your staff learn in more personalized ways. We did some more demos and pitches to bewildered audiences. Back in 2006, you could count the number of smartphones in China with one hand and 3G network was a great 5-year-plan for China Mobile. We built a product when there was no devices and infrastructure to support it. Needless to say it went very well. Many startups do not survive the pursuit of cutting edge technology or get scarred by their first attempt and give up before the timing is right. We were very lucky to have survived and made a comeback with OpenLanguage.

I am often stunned by how little technology has touched language learning. We have medieval classroom models, industrial age textbooks and enduring inertia in academia. As frustrating as it could be for entrepreneurs who are convinced that things could be done a lot better using new technology, the winners (i.e. those who make the biggest impact) are not those who can ‘disrupt’ language learning per say, but those who can make new technology and pedagogy work with the old system. I’ve learned that a new product will always have its niche early adopters, but it’s extremely hard to cross over to the mainstream if you force your new vision on your stakeholders. In language learning, you have to be able to work with teachers, schools not just students. And if you really want to improve the way people learn languages, you really need to work with teachers since they are an indispensable part of the process and also dictate how students learn. The fact is neither the average teacher nor student will think about how Google Glass can change how they teach and learn. (If they need to think how to use it, they are not going to use it).  As an entrepreneur, I find it healthy to restrain myself from pushing boundaries and focus on real and unsexy problems that teachers and students are dealing with, such as how do I assign and mark homework and how do I find my next lesson.

Meanwhile, thank God for the intrepid souls who keep pushing. If it weren’t for them, the iPhone and iPad would have been unthinkable. And then it’s our obligation to build for devices and technologies that people are using.

Habits Hinder Progress in Mobile Learning

In German we have a saying: Der Mensch ist ein Gewohnheitstier – humans are creatures of habit. And while habits are an important part of our daily routine and make us more efficient in the things we have to deal on day in and day out they are also killers of progress and innovation if we don’t challenge them from time to time.

As Mark Twain said “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” and I think it is time for Europe and North America to reflect on our perception of mobility and learning.

Lets take a step back and look on our perception of how and when we access the Internet. In most cases the access point is still fixed at a location, either our home with a personal computer or at our workplace. Sure, we have the mobile access through our smart phones and we use it to check emails, appointments, traffic, weather and the news but how far are we with the idea of learn anything, anytime, anywhere?

We still have the habit of doing “important” tasks on our personal computers or laptops which includes a lot of formal and informal learning. And I think we don’t challenge this habit enough. Why does it need to be this way?

I think it is part of the idea that learning also takes place at a fixed location, the university or college. Attached to this is a certain time window, usually from the morning to afternoon hours. Again, why do we think that learning has to take place at a certain location at a certain time especially when we talk about self paced learning?

Another part of the puzzle is that we have the luxury of choice. By the time the Internet became popular in the mainstream with affordable rates and good connection speed we also saw the rise of mobile phones. But both devices, the computer / laptop at home and the mobile phone got their own tasks attached to them. Not because mobile phones were not capable of displaying ebooks, doing bank transactions, receive weather or traffic data via SMS but because we could “just not do it on such a small screen”.

Interestingly all those services grew rapidly in regions of the world with no access to classic wired Internet. Putting copper or fiber optic cables in the ground were simply no option for India, China or countries in Africa and South America. Mobile Internet was far easier to implement and the result is that today those countries are leapfrogging Europe and North America in terms of mobile usage.

People are used to take their mobile phone and manage all sorts of tasks with them. It’s their personal computer and what we tend to promote as the dawn of the “Post-PC Era” is already reality in those parts of the world.

Countries like Saudi Arabia are investing massively in mobile learning, especially in the higher education sector, in order to build a post-oil knowledge based society. And students who grow up with a mobile mindset will have less cut and dried opinions (if any) when it comes to mobile learning.

This trend also comes with a pedagogic shift away from the teacher centric approach towards a learner centric one which is going to call for more self responsibility from the learner. But thanks to advances in personalized progress tracking, self assessments and adaptive learning solutions students will have far more insights on their performance as they have today in the classroom where the big surprise often comes with the exam notes.

The shift in technology, lifestyle and its impact on learning is what fundamentally driving our approach at OpenLanguage. We feel that mobile learning should not be about forcing learners to use their smartphones and tablets to learn. It’s about responding to changes in how people use technology. It’s also about taking affordances of new devices to reimagine language learning and deliver more to learners. That’s why the OpenLanguage Tablet Textbook app is not just a repurposed PDF. It’s a book with multidmedia support for learning and features that allow users to film themselves speaking the target language and share their work with their teachers. We also want to help language learners understand how and what they learn based on progress tracking and bite sized lessons that fit in a busy and mobile lifestyle anywhere, anytime.

SNL’s Rossetta Stone Thai Skit and Learner Aspirations

This SNL skit got one thing right: adult language learners have diverse learning aspirations. Some want to get back to their roots; some want to communicate with foreign friends and co-workers; and some are doing it in order to broaden their perspectives. But traditionally, all of these aspirations were obscured by the industrial-age language learning economics that thrived on mass production and mass markets. Learners with different aspirations and goals were given the same set of books and enrolled in the same kind of classes. Enter web 2.0, the old economics no longer needed to apply. Innovative learning solutions can offer a great degree of personalization to help learners pick and choose what they want to learn and achieve their specific goals. But too much freedom and personalization might not be a good thing. It might result in haphazard learning pathways and hit and miss results. I think the challenge for educators and entrepreneurs very much lies in how do we provide personalization but ensure that learners achieve their goals instead of going astray.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons in this regard from my work at ChinesePod. When we started in 2005, we wanted to create content that the adult learner could immediately use. Why force a learner to go through 10 chapters of content before learning how to talk to a cab driver or ask where the bathroom was? In order to support the self-study learner and their varied levels and interests, we adopted a very modular approach in our academic design. It means that learners at one level would be able to study any lesson in that level without prior knowledge of an earlier lesson. Learners loved this approach and the freedom it offered. And to this day, I live by the modular approach. But I also see many students get lost in a sea of content (2000+ lessons and counting). The fact is the majority of students need hand holding and structure. So we’ve spent the past 2 years trying to make sense of the massive body of content on ChinesePod and try to bring the necessary structure to it. I can tell you that retro fitting a very mature product isn’t easy. And given all the lessons I’ve learned, I feel that personalization and structure could be balanced. Here are a few things that I wish I knew:

  • Personalization isn’t randomness. It should be driven by high frequency and relevance. You need to know the type of learners you are dealing with and their different aspirations. Dividing them into key personas and map out their goals are crucial. It will help you determine the kind of high frequency language and situations they need. So in many ways, it’s a customer discovery process.
  • Offer structure in your courses, but modular lessons within courses. One problem I have with traditional language books is that lesson 5 is usually a significant jump from lesson 1, making it hard for most adult students to follow and remix the content. One way to balance that is to offer modular lessons within courses so that students will smoothly transition and be able to remix content that better suits their needs. Of course, this isn’t saying lessons should be modular in a way that there’s no progression at all. But easing off the transition is really important.
  • Balance function and grammar. I am rather pragmatic when it comes to grammar. I feel that if a grammar structure is not going to be used by the student, they probably won’t learn it by heart. So let’s expose them to grammar that they actually use for the purpose that they are trying to achieve. Start with natural, high frequency language and distill the grammar structure from it instead of the other way around.
  • Always give students structure to fall back on while encourage them to venture out and personalize. The way we do it on OpenLanguage is to compile courses that chart out a clear road of progression while having extra content in the library that students could search by level, topic and function. In short, a student should never not know what lesson they should study next nor should they not have the ability to study a lesson that’s more relevant to them.

These are some of my quick thoughts on understanding learner aspirations and designing language learning materials to help them reach their goals. As more and more educators curate their own material, I hope the lessons I’ve learned would be helpful to you. And I’ve love to hear your thoughts!

The Philippines and Globalization

One of the effects of globalization is the migration of workforce and therefore often their native languages. Two of the latest languages that are now on the way to spread globally are Filipino and Tagalog, both spoken in the Philippines but spreading with its population that chooses to work and live abroad.

For example in Canada Tagalog is the fastest growing language. In the 2011 census 279,000 Canadians said they speak Tagalog at home which is a 64% growth compared to the 2006 census with the biggest Tagalog-speaking population living in Vancouver.

This trend also makes Tagalog the fifth most common non-official language in Canada and permanent residents from the Philippines surpassed those from China and India in 2010 and 2011.

Because of the good level of English in the Philippines (more on that in a minute) it is easier for these expats to find jobs and work in the U.S. or Canada. But this also leads to a risk that children born overseas might lose their linguistic and cultural connection to their home country.

For that reason Dr. Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo, a multi-awarded poet and playwright, made it her personal mission to promote Filipino worldwide. When the government pushed for Spanish and English in schools in order to make the country fit to better serve global business, Dr. Mabanglo mobilized a protest petition.

She identified Filipino language courses and created learning material which is now available around the world in order to support parents who want to teach their children their native language and culture.

“You cannot learn a language without understanding its culture so I have developed many courses. I have a course on Philippine films… on Filipino food, music and rituals. Language and culture: they are like twins.”

On the other hand, the Philippines play a major role in the ESL (English as Second Language) space. As the country is a former colony of the United States and also powers most of the call centers for companies based overseas many Filipinos speak a clear English with a convincing American accent.

Combined with relatively low cost for students compared to courses in the U.K., New Zealand or Australia the Philippines managed to become one of the major players in the English teaching market over the past years. A 60-hour course costs about a third of what students usually need to spend.

Student numbers from across the world are growing rapidly, from 8,000 who applied for a study permit in 2008 to 24,000 in 2012. And the country is planning to ramp up its efforts to attract even more foreign students, not only for English but also graduate and postgraduate courses in other fields as at the country’s top universities all classes are held in English.

Today the country markets itself as the third largest English-speaking nation behind the United States and the UK with most people speaking at least a rudimentary English. On the other hand, with a growing population of Filipinos living and working abroad it might be worthwhile to learn some Filipino or Tagalog as well.