learning a foreign language like a kid

4 Ways to Learn a Language Like a Kid (and Why It Works)

learning a foreign language like a kid

As an adult, learning a foreign language can be tough. But it’s certainly not impossible! Check out these tips from French teacher Carol Beth L. to bring out your inner kid and make learning easier…

 

Last week, we shared how learning a language as an adult is different from what you may have experienced as a high school student (or even earlier on, if you were raised bilingual).

While recognizing the challenges and advantages is a great first step, it’s also important to put things into action. If you’re interested in learning a foreign language, whether it’s just for fun or for career prospects, you’ll need to put in some time and effort — there’s no way around that! In this article, I’ll share a few actionable tips to try, but with a twist.

It’s time to let out your inner kid, and have a little fun!

How to Learn a Foreign Language Like a Kid

First, let’s address the common question: Is it really true that kids have an easier time learning languages?

Early on, it probably is. Many psychologists and educators speak of a critical window during a child’s life (usually between birth and age 12) when it is easier for them to learn a foreign language. Generally, the earlier the child learns the language, the better the chance at complete mastery.

So, why is that?

During the early stages of life, children are able to recognize and distinguish the sounds that make up their native language or languages, and their brain is primed to acquire new words and grammatical structures. In short, a large part of what contributes to a child’s ease in learning is developmental. Provided the opportunity for exposure to a second language, the child will learn to make sense of what they hear.

As we grow older, however, the brain develops and “weeds” itself out. It adjusts to use the knowledge we have within a certain framework, rather than to quickly intake knowledge as it did previously. The way in which many adults learn is thus in many ways fundamentally different from the way children learn.

We can still learn from children in their approach, however. Instead of getting frustrated, why not try out a child-like mindset? You may feel silly, but these strategies can really help. Here are my tips to make language-learning both easy and fun.

1) Incorporate humor.

Children love to laugh! And in fact, neuroscience research has shown that laughter and humor can help you remember things better. Learning a foreign language doesn’t need to be all serious; in fact, it’s often best if it’s not. Learn silly phrases in French, tongue twisters in Spanish, and funny songs in Japanese. Amuse yourself. Look for the bright and cheerful side of life!

2) Incorporate play.

When children play, they find a topic or activity that is relevant to them, including when they play make-believe. Adults may not typically play in the same way that children do, but we can imagine, and we do have activities we like to do.

So when you practice talking in your target language, imagine real-life situations that you might find yourself in. Or, take a class in something you enjoy — cooking, playing music, sailboarding, etc. — entirely in your target language. In some cases, this is easier to do abroad. In other cases, you may be able to find a teacher locally or online who speaks your target language and teaches the activity you enjoy. This type of “play” can even help stimulate your mind and boost creativity.

3) Immerse yourself in the language.

Children are surrounded by their native or target language. So for this strategy, you’ll need to create a similar environment of immersion. This could be through an immersion program, or a trip to a country that speaks your target language. It could also be by surrounding yourself with friends, classmates, colleagues, and acquaintances who also speak or are learning the language.

4) Learn with stories and songs.

Find children’s songs and books in your target language or that are bilingual. This could be something super simple, or even a series like Harry Potter, which has been translated in 74 different languages. If it’s something you’re familiar with, you’ll find it easier to pick up new words from context.

Children also love to read or listen to stories again and again… and again! Doing the same as adults allows us the opportunity to reinforce what we’ve learned, so we can better understand the story and remember new vocabulary with each repetition.

 

Children are natural learners, but given the right tools, adults can be, too. Some of the most accomplished people are life-long learners, continually seeking out new knowledge. Learning a foreign language later on may sometimes be more difficult, but age certainly never puts it out of reach.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

CarolPost Author: Carol Beth L.
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!

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how to be a successful musician

Do Perfectionists or Free Spirits Make Better Musicians?

how to be a successful musician

When it comes to practicing and playing music, are you a perfectionist? Or more of a free spirit? Learn how to be a successful musician using your strengths and weaknesses in this guest post by guitar teacher Wes F...

 

If you’ve ever taken a personality test, you may be aware that most traits are thought to inhabit a continuum — for example, if you’re thinking about the traits of introversion and extroversion, you either lean toward a solitary (introverted) or a more socially adventurous (extroverted) disposition. In my years of teaching guitar, I’ve noticed that students also tend to favor one of two extremes when approaching practice.

Some students will be perfectionists when it comes to practicing music. Others will be more of the free-spirited type.

Each of these extremes comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. One isn’t better than the other, but there are things you can learn from both sides to become a better musician. Below, I’ll describe each personality type, and offer tips for how to get out of your comfort zone.

Free Spirit Musicians

Most people take up an instrument in the hopes that it will be fun, perhaps inspired by a virtuoso player seen at a concert or online. They make it look so easy! It must be such a fun, free feeling to do what they do!

It is, but that freedom has to be paid for with time spent practicing and improving; nobody starts out on guitar playing Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover” as their first song!

For free spirits, this can wind up being a real problem. Sure, there’s a part of them that knows that becoming a successful musician is going to take time and work, but knowing that and experiencing it are two different things. Free spirits tend to lose focus if they don’t see results quickly. What happens most often is that they settle for “good enough” and convince themselves that they’re nailing a song when in fact they’re just not noticing where they can improve.

How to succeed if you’re a free spirit:

  1. Be hard on yourself.
    Pay attention to what you’re playing. Make sure each note sounds really good. Focus on looking for where things are wrong rather than where they are right. You won’t be able to improve if you don’t perceive a problem. (Working with a private music teacher can also help with this.)
  2. Narrow your focus.
    Don’t simply play through the whole song and call it done; find sections that are causing you problems and play them multiple times (more slowly than you want to!). Too many mistakes to count? Chop that section in half and narrow your focus even more.
  3. Expand your attention span.
    If you’re bored or frustrated, you should take a break — but don’t stop what you’re doing immediately! Push through the discomfort for a few more minutes. Making this a habit will help you adjust to the more difficult aspects of learning your instrument. You may even someday find yourself enjoying things you never thought you would.

Perfectionist Musicians

Perfectionists have the opposite problem of free spirits. They can’t see past the mistakes they’re making — sometimes to the point that they struggle to have any fun. They suffer from a high degree of burnout, and spend a lot of time doing menial work that seems necessary to them, but is often counterproductive.

How to succeed if you’re a perfectionist:

  1. Vary the difficulty.
    Something that often goes along with perfectionism is a disdain for songs that are “too easy.” This can lead to a lot of needless frustration. It’s a good idea to designate songs as easy, medium, or hard, and make sure you’re always working on one of each. (Free spirits can probably benefit from this advice as well!)
  2. Goof off.
    You can actually learn quite a bit from simply playing with the sounds your instrument makes — as long as you are doing so in a mindful way. Feel free to sound like a screeching mutant ferret trying to sing opera, but make sure you’re aware of how you got it to sound that way and see if you can reproduce it! Your music teacher can also help you explore and connect with your instrument.
  3. Make time for play.
    Put a limit on the amount of repetition in your practice time. It’s a good idea to spend time playing all the way through your song without stopping to correct everything you don’t like. This will give you a new perspective and help you see what all that repetition is for. You should find that letting go and having fun is very motivating. (Tip: Check out these musician resources for finding people to jam with, too!)

How to Be a Successful Musician – Try Something New!

If you feel like you’ve stalled in your progress on your instrument, give these suggestions a try. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results doesn’t usually work out too well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; the most successful musicians recognize these and adjust their practice accordingly to improve. Good luck!

Photo by oh_debby

WesFPost Author: Wes F.
Wes F. teaches bass guitar, guitar, songwriting, and more in Atlanta, GA. He studied classical guitar and composition at Asbury College and later more in-depth guitar studies at the Atlanta Institute of Music. Learn more about Wes here!

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10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

Infographic: 10 Best Fitness Exercises & Stretches for Musicians

As musicians, it can be easy to forget that it’s not just our mind that matters — our body plays a role in learning music, too! And just as it’s important to find a great teacher to guide us toward reaching our goals, it’s also vital that we remember how to take care of ourselves.

Here are 10 fitness exercises, stretches, and activities you can do to stay in tip-top shape, for all types of musicians — from singers to guitarists to wind instrumentalists and more!

10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

10 Fitness Exercises & Activities for Musicians

Power yoga

What it is: Fitness-oriented classes that focus on breathing, alignment, strength, balance, and opening up the body
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Choose between heated and non-heated classes at a local studio or with a private yoga instructor; look for vinyasa-based classes that link breath to movement.

Learning how to properly and deeply breathe isn’t just important for singers! Taking full breaths is known to reduce stress and improve concentration. Breathing slowly and deeply, especially during challenging yoga poses, will help you to do so during stressful moments, calming both your mind and your body.

See also: 15 Yoga Poses with Powerful Benefits for Singers [Videos], Yoga for Musicians via Yoga Journal

Core strengthening

What it is: Exercises that strengthen the muscles in your torso, including your abdominals and back muscles
Best for: Vocalists, pianists, wind instrumentalists
How to get started: You can incorporate core work in many different workout formats, but especially in Pilates, yoga, and kickboxing classes. Or create a routine for yourself that includes planks, crunches, and oblique work.

Put simply, you need a strong core to hold yourself upright. It’s not just about having a six-pack; having a weak core can put strain on your back and ultimately cause chronic back pain. Core strength also helps improve your balance and stability — super important for all the sitting and standing we do!

See also: 8-minute Abs Workout, Beginner Pilates videos via Blogilates

Posture work

What it is: Exercises that help maintain proper alignment of your spine
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: This is usually incorporated heavily in barre and yoga; you can also try doing some simple exercises at home, such as wall sits or shoulder rolls — anything that encourages your shoulders back and down, your chin slightly tucked, and your feet parallel with each other.

Sitting at a computer all day, being hunched over our phones, and slouching in general can wreak havoc on our posture. Over time, our spine begins to morph into the wrong shape — chin jutting forward, shoulders hunched, feet forming a v-shape. Not to mention that a performer with poor posture just doesn’t look as confident or as professional!

See also: Posture and Breathing, via Brass Musician Magazine

Arm strengthening

What it is: Exercises that strengthen the biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles
Best for: Percussionists, pianists, string instrumentalists, wind and brass instrumentalists
How to get started: Most common in weight training classes; create your own circuit at home or at the gym, including push-ups and different weight-lifting exercises.

No matter if you’re a singer or you play an instrument, chances are you’re going to be holding something up, whether it’s your music, your instrument, or your arms. Some instruments may even require using the strength of your arms for certain techniques. Strengthening your arm and shoulder muscles can help prevent injuries, especially to the joints that end up fatigued when they aren’t supported by strong enough muscles.

See also: Is weight training safe for pianists? via Tim Topham, How Weight Training Has Made Me a Better Musician via William James

Intense cardio

What it is: Exercises that increase your heart rate and keep it high or raise it in intervals
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Try a spin class or do sprints, jumping-rope, or jumping jacks on your own.

Cardiovascular health is important for everyone, but musicians especially can benefit from the mind-over-matter mentality that it takes to push yourself past your limits. And increasing your heart rate during exercise can ease stress, relieve anxiety, and help you sleep better — all of which benefit both your practice and your performance.

See also: Burst Training for Beginners via Dr. Josh Axe

Dance classes

What it is: Classes (or videos) that include short snippets of choreography and a variety of genres of music
Best for: Vocalists, instrumentalists (especially those playing in any sort of ensemble or band)
How to get started: Try a Jazzercise, Zumba, or cardio hip-hop class. These classes are a great workout, and some formats include strength training, too.

Dance classes with choreography require you to stay present and focused, and to memorize moves in the context of the music. These skills come in handy when you need to memorize a piece of music, especially if you are singing or playing with others. They also require coordination and improve your rhythm by forcing your body to feel the beat. Lastly, dance classes can expose you to types of music you might not listen to on your own.

See also: 30-minute Aerobic Dance Workout via GoodHealth 24/7

Neck & shoulder stretches

What it is: Stretches that ease tension in your neck and shoulders and encourage them to stay relaxed, even after the stretch is over. These stretches also bring balance to your body
Best for: Pianists, wind instrumentalists, guitar players, string instrumentalists
How to get started: Do several stretches that include the front and sides of your neck and the fronts of your shoulders; do these several times a day, especially before and after practicing.

Keeping tension in your neck and shoulders while practicing can cause you to suffer more over time. Especially if you allow your shoulders to come up and forward, this can really weaken your posture and cause back pain, in addition to the neck pain already present. Tension can also inhibit your playing, since many techniques require your muscles to be controlled but in a relaxed way.

See also: 10 Essential Stretches for Musicians via Music Notes, 11 Stretching Exercises for Musicians via The Strad, 16 Simple Stretches for Tight Shoulders via Greatist

Hip flexor stretches & backbends

What it is: Stretches that open up the front of your body and counteract all the sitting and leaning forward we do
Best for: Vocalists, pianists, guitarists, drummers
How to get started: Many yoga postures are hip openers and backbends; take a yoga class, work with a private yoga teacher, or do a few stretches on your own at home.

Tension in the front of your body causes it to be imbalanced and ends up pulling on the back of your body. This takes a toll on your posture and can cause muscle and joint pain. Some say that we carry our stress in our hips, so opening them up would naturally help relieve that stress. Backbending opens your chest and lungs and can help you breathe more deeply.

See also: 4 Hip Flexor Stretches to Relive Tight Hips via Stack

Outdoor hobbies

What it is: Any outdoor activity that forces you to breathe and/or sweat!
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Go hiking, biking, or swimming; do a marathon or mud run; take a surfing or stand-up paddleboarding class.

In his piece “For Poets”, Al Young advises “Come on out into the sunlight/ Breathe in Trees/…Don’t forget to fly”. The message rings true for all artists — the best inspiration comes from being out in nature and experiencing life. Many musicians spend so much time holed up in studios and practice rooms, so it’s even more important to remind ourselves to get out there and have those one-of-a-kind experiences.

See also: 5 Things That Smart Musicians Do Every Day, via SonicBids

Meditation

What it is: Sitting in stillness, calming your mind, and focusing on your breath for a certain amount of time
Best for: Performers
How to get started: Take a meditation class or listen to a guided meditation.

Meditation not only reduces stress and anxiety, it also improves focus and memory. And when you have the skills to calm your mind anywhere, anytime, you can handle anything! For performers especially, practicing meditation will connect your mind and body and allow you to keep calm, no matter how many people are in the audience.

See also: Free Guided Meditations via UCLA Health, How Musicians Can Really Benefit From Meditation via GuitarHabits


Try these fitness exercises, get healthy, and give your music the strong, vibrant musician it deserves! And don’t forget one of the most important aspects of growing as a musician: a great teacher who will guide you and encourage you to be the best you can be. Good luck!

JasmineTPost Author: Jasmine T.
Jasmine T. teaches piano, academics, yoga, and more in San Diego, CA. She has her Power Yoga Level 1 200-Hour Certification, as well as a Certificate of Merit for Piano and Theory from the Music Teachers’ Association of California. Learn more about Jasmine here!

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left hand piano exercises

Videos: 4 Super-Effective Left-Hand Piano Exercises

left hand piano exercises

Struggling with your left-hand piano technique? Don’t worry — it’s a common challenge for beginners. Follow along with the videos in this post as teacher Liz T. shares a few helpful exercises… 

 

One of the hardest parts about playing the piano is coordinating your two hands. Often your left hand and your right hand will be playing different notes and rhythms, and it can be really frustrating for beginners!

You might also find you have one hand that is stronger than the other, which makes it even harder when you need to play difficult or fast patterns with your non-dominant hand.

Luckily, with time (and practice, of course), it gets easier. The trick is to isolate each hand, and spend extra time and practice with whichever hand is your weakest. For many, that’s the left-hand piano technique.

Since the left hand usually highlights the bass line and drives the song forward, it’s important not to neglect it! If you are having trouble, I’ll show you a few exercises that will help. Follow along with the videos and let’s strengthen that left hand!

4 Left-Handed Piano Exercises

 

1) Simple Blues Pattern

This pattern is often heard in blues progressions, and it’s great for practicing arpeggios and scales with your left hand. For this exercise, start in the key of C and play 1-3-5-6-b7 (C, E, G, A, Bflat). Once you’ve got that down, try out different keys and work your way to a blues progression. For instance, try the chords of I-IV-V-IV-I (C-F-G-F-C). Once you’ve mastered this exercise, you will feel much more confident improvising!

2) Simple Blues Chords

Use the same I-IV-V-IV-I structure from the first exercise, but this time you will be playing triads. Let’s look at the key of C: first start out in root position, then 1-4-6, then last 1-5-flat 7. This is a common chord progression found in blues, jazz, musical theater, and country music. This is great for practicing navigating your way around chords and strengthening your little fingers!

3) Easy Classical Pattern

This bright, uplifting pattern is a great warm-up for the left hand, and it’s also fantastic for strengthening your pinky finger. You will often come across this style and accompaniment in the left hand in classical music. Let’s start with the key of C: start your pinky on C, then play the chord EG (1, 5), then move to the low G with the pinky. You can use the same fingering as you move through other keys, too.

4) Easy Blues Pattern

Now use a 1-3-5-6-5 pattern with the left hand with a bit of a swing feel! This is a common pattern you’ll hear in blues and jazz, and even some early rock (omitting the flat 7). As with the other left-hand exercises, try this in all keys that you’re comfortable with.

I recommend incorporating these four exercises into your daily practice. If you take time each day, and little by little, you will start to see major improvements in your left-hand piano playing!

And of course, if you’d like to learn even more piano exercises and really improve your skills, working with a private piano teacher is key. I’m available for online piano lessons, or you can search for a local teacher with TakeLessons!

LizTPost Author: Liz T.
Liz T. teaches piano, singing, and other music subjects online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

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skype with language exchange partner

6 Challenges & 4 Advantages Adults Have Learning Languages

It’s never too late to learn a second language! Sure, kids may have those “spongy” brains… but the reality is, there are many advantages to learning a new language as an adult. Here, Spanish tutor Joan B. explains… 

 

If you studied a language in middle school or high school, you might recall the days of memorizing verbs and vocabulary for your exams. Maybe you also recall learning with ease as you familiarized yourself with foreign sounds, words, and experiences.

As an adult, on the other hand, learning a new language is definitely a different experience. It’s not all bad, though: there are some big advantages, too! Understanding how adults learn differently will help you stay aware of possible challenges, while taking advantage of the benefits of being an adult learner.

Let’s start with the challenges of learning a new language as an adult:

1. You’ll need more discipline to make time for lessons and studying. 

schedule time for learning a language

“Adulting” takes time, and it can be hard to fit in regular lessons and study, both of which are essential for consistent progress in your target language. While you might not have afternoons free like you did as a child and young adult, I recommend blocking out times in your schedule that are distraction-free and one hundred percent focused on language learning. Even if the chunks of time are short, consistent study will lead to noticeable progress, so keep it up!

2. Losing your American accent completely can be difficult. 

speak with accent

When children learn a new language, they naturally assimilate the unique sounds, inflection, and rhythm of the language. As adults, it can be harder to completely master the accent, as the foreign sounds can be challenging to assimilate completely since speech patterns are already set.

There’s good news, though: if you were exposed to the sounds of foreign languages as a child, that can be enough to make learning a new accent easier, as studies have shown that just exposure as children, even without speaking, can familiarize us with the sounds at a later date.

And even without that exposure, there are many ways your tutor can help you improve your accent if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Working with a language tutor — as opposed to relying on prerecorded courses, videos, and apps — is key, as you’ll get feedback and corrections as you’re speaking.

3. You might not have the time for a thrice-weekly or daily class like you had in middle or high school. 

daily language class

You may have counted down the minutes until the end of the school day, whereas now you dream of uninterrupted time for study and self-development as a working adult. The upside is that there are many opportunities for adults to pursue intensive, serious study, as well. You might even benefit more as a serious adult student than you did as an adolescent.

Examples of study you could undertake include summer or winter intensives during time off of work, night classes, online group classes, and private tutoring sessions, all of which can fit into the busiest of schedules. With these ideas, you’ll be learning your target language in leaps and bounds!

4. Spontaneity is often tempered by fear of making mistakes. 

learning language kids

A big difference between adults and kids is that the latter group is often unhampered to try new things, even if it means looking a little ridiculous and making errors. Adults can be intimated by trying new things, and making errors is frowned upon.

This can make it challenging to learn well, as an inherent part of language learning is to make mistakes and experiment! You can remain aware of this downfall and work to overcome fear of mistakes by staying open, having fun, and trying new things.

5. Vocabulary acquisition needs targeted practice. 

spanish vocabulary

As an adult, it’s often not enough to just rely on exposure to acquire and memorize new vocabulary. As you learn, you’ll need to make a targeted and concerted effort to memorize new vocabulary. Children and adolescents can often pick up new vocabulary simply through exposure and repetition; the advantage adults have is that they can choose to focus on specific vocabulary sets that interest them. These could be highly specific (i.e. Spanish vocabulary for healthcare) or general; either way, you’ll be learning exactly what you want to learn, which should feel good! 

6.  Grammar won’t come naturally. 

learning grammar

Children learning new languages often pick up sentence structure and other grammatical points simply by listening and interacting. Adults, on the other hand, may struggle with structures that are different in their native language. Because of this, grammatical exercises and dedicated study are usually necessary.

However, adults can use the grammar rules they already know and understand as a jumping off point for learning a new language’s grammar. This can be advantageous as well as an interesting exploration if you have an interest in how languages function. To sum it up, adults can often explain the “why” behind a usage in a language, while children can only execute the grammatical function without the capacity to explain.


We’ve alluded to a few of the advantages already, but did you know there are more? The next time you’re worried it’s too late to learn a second language, keep these four things in mind.

1. Adults posses greater comprehension ability and organizational practices. 

learning language as an adult

Many parents choose to raise their child bilingual, since young brains can rapidly absorb new information. However, as an adult you will be empowered by your ability to organize, summarize, and comprehend things on a macro-level. Translation: you can see the smaller details within a language, as well as the bigger points you need to master to speak well.

This ability allows you to progress rapidly in a language — if you’re dedicated, consistent, and motivated. You may never be able to learn totally through exposure like a child, but with the above skills, you’ll find yourself speaking and understanding your target language in no time.

2. As an adult, you’re choosing to study language. 

learning language for business

As a high school student, you may have studied a language simply to fulfill a requirement — not the greatest motivator to fuel language acquisition. As an adult, you’ve chosen to study a second language based on your interests, goals, and motivations. Perhaps you want to travel and communicate with locals, use it in your work, or communicate with a loved one, romantic or otherwise.

Here’s your advantage: you can use this motivation to engage more deeply with the language, and simultaneously improve more rapidly. It’s the opposite of learning something only to replicate the information on a written exam to pass a class. Bonus: discuss your goals with your teacher or tutor so he or she can tailor your lessons to your interests!

3. You’ll pick up cultural nuances easier. 

culture in language

The subtleties and finer points of a language may (or may not) be unconsciously absorbed by children; however, adults can consciously notice these elements and use that information to enhance their understanding.

This can allow you to assimilate more easily into the foreign culture of the language you’re learning, plus pick up on nonverbal and social cues. You’ll appear more confident and informed when you find yourself interacting with locals while traveling or just in everyday life.

4. You have more opportunities for practicing your target language. 

skype with language exchange partner

As a younger student, your opportunities for practicing a language were probably restricted to the classroom setting. As an adult, the world is your oyster! You can practice during Skype calls with friends learning the same language, explore a neighborhood in your city that will give you more exposure, or even travel internationally.

Just remember to strike a balance; it’s important to study formally with language materials, but immersion learning will help you master the art of conversation and local dialects.


Ready to Get Started?

As you can see, learning a new language as an adult can be quite different from how you learned as a child! Hopefully you can also see the myriad challenges and advantages, and use them to learn intelligently and enjoyably as you gain fluency in your target language.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that each language learner is different; regardless of age or prior language-learning experience, everybody learns in a unique way. Think about your learning style and goals, and let your tutor know. Enjoy your journey!

Photo credits: The LEAF Projectx1klima

Joan BPost Author: Joan B.
Joan B. lives in Carmichael, CA and has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 18 years. A lover of language, she’s studied French, Arabic, and Italian and spent time living in Spain. Learn more about Joan here!

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learning music

Are You Taking the Right Approach to Learning Music?

learning music

Can you learn to sing on your own? Can you learn piano with online videos? Find out what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to learning music, in this post by guitar teacher Kirk R...

 

Dreaming of playing an instrument, or learning to sing? These days, there are many different ways to get started with music.

You could take private lessons. You could play in groups, whether that’s in school, group classes, or just jamming with friends. You could even start learning on your own through observation, or search for prerecorded video or audio lessons.

But what’s the most effective way to learn? You might be surprised to learn that it’s NOT the options listed above.

That is, not on their own.

Let’s take a look at each one, and the benefits and drawbacks they present.

Learning On Your Own

Spending time with your instrument on your own is essential to getting better. Anyone you ask about learning music will surely support your own private practicing and desire to learn new things outside of classes, lessons, and rehearsals.

I recommend reading books and blog posts (like you’re doing now, good job!) and listening to other musicians, even those from other instruments or styles. Doing so will help you recognize what you like and what you don’t like.

However, if you’re not around other musicians regularly, it becomes very easy to let your playing get way off track. Your brain can trick you into thinking the sound you’re making or hearing is the same as the sound you tried to create, even if it’s not. And if this goes unchecked, it can lead down a long path of mistakes until one day you play for someone and they don’t recognize the song at all!

It’s important to have a regular “check-up” for your playing. Even professional musicians get together regularly to play for someone else! As a beginner, working with a private music teacher is key.


Consider This: Is it Possible to Teach Yourself to Sing?

While learning notes or chords on your own on the guitar can be a great starting point, singers trying to learn on their own tend to struggle.

Why’s that? Learning how to use your instrument (your voice!) is a whole-body experience, which often requires the instruction of a teacher, whether online or in-person, who can easily identify the root issues — whether that’s poor posture, unsupported breathing, or something else.


“Canned” Music Lessons

The internet is a huge part of our society now and I think it is a huge advantage to musicians everywhere. You can find tons of videos and online courses, and these types of lessons are a great way to gain some knowledge.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that prerecorded videos don’t tell you if you’re doing something wrong, let alone what it is. Similar to learning on your own, mistakes can easily become habits. I have had guitar students who learned chords on their own, and in their first lesson actually played all the chords upside down. Needless to say, it didn’t sound great, but they were used to hearing it and didn’t even notice the mistake.

If you want to learn the notes or chords for a specific song, YouTube is a great option. But if you’re looking for lessons with substance, steer clear of prerecorded lessons. The reason? These videos assume your prior knowledge of music, which isn’t always effective.

Learning music is not a linear process; in fact, teachers don’t always agree on the order certain things should be taught. Often, it depends on the particular student and their goals. This is why working with a teacher — who can create personalized lesson plans for you — makes a huge difference.


Consider This: Can you Really Learn Piano Online?

Many students are leery of online piano lessons. After all, how can a teacher properly see what you’re doing with your fingers and if you’re placing your hands correctly?

Fortunately, the answer is yes — and online lessons are a great option for many students. Experienced teachers know how to angle their camera so you can see their hands clearly, and will direct you to adjust yours so they can provide feedback. Just remember the advice above: don’t rely on canned video tutorials alone!


Group Music Classes

Learning to play music with others is essential for any musician of any style. Collaborating with other musicians will force you to pay attention to details, like precise rhythms and a careful balance in volume, which may sneak past you when playing on your own.

Many beginner students get their start in band or orchestra, and many adult students, too, flock to group classes because it’s less daunting than private lessons. However, I don’t recommend relying on group sessions alone if you really want to improve. The reason behind this is that with group classes, you will receive little, if any, individual help.

Likewise, more advanced musicians shouldn’t rely on jamming with friends to improve their skills. Other musicians may be able to share some skills, but even good players often make terrible teachers! Learn from them, but be cautious not to pick up bad habits or get frustrated if you’re not able to pick up something right away; perhaps your friend took a subtle skill for granted and didn’t think to explain it as an experienced teacher might.


Consider This: How to Find Musicians Near You

If you’re taking private lessons, but missing the group component, don’t fret!

Younger students, consider attending band or orchestra camps in the summer to get ensemble practice. Older students, try asking your teacher to put together jam groups, or search through the myriad websites for finding musicians near you to jam with. We like Jamseek, Bandmix, and MeetUp!


Private Music Lessons

Individual lessons are a great starting place (and continuing place!) for almost any musician. Since your teacher is right there observing you, you’ll get feedback in real-time. And that can save you a lot of time searching on your own. In the midst of trying to get the right pitches, rhythms, and articulations, identifying when something is going wrong on your own can be nearly impossible, even for more advanced players.

The only drawback to individual lessons, however, is that you only receive one perspective on your playing: your teacher’s. However good the teacher is, as a musician and a teacher, they have only one perspective of many.


Consider This: How Do I Find the Best Music Teacher?

A simple search on TakeLessons can pull up tons of teachers for guitar lessons, piano lessons, and more. But how do you find the right teacher for your needs, goals, and schedule? We’ve got you covered. Check out our tips here.


So, How SHOULD You Be Learning Music?

Now that we’ve reviewed these four options for learning music, here’s my point: to really improve your skills, you need to combine all of the methods above. Here’s what I recommend:

  • If you’re a part of a group class at school or in the community, sign up for private lessons as well to get individual help.
  • Same goes for if you’re working your way through a prerecorded course or relying on videos. Take some time each week to meet with a teacher, to make sure you’re on the right track. With online music lessons, you don’t even need to leave your house! Review what you’ve learned in your course, and get their feedback on your technique.
  • If you’re already taking private lessons, see if your teacher can connect you with other students to get some group experience. Most teachers will be thrilled to hear that you’re interested in collaborating with other students!
  • Keep practicing and learning on your own, too. Treat practice like a lesson that you give yourself. If you’re not sure what to do to improve something, try searching online, or simply experiment! Ask yourself, “What if I use this finger? Or if I breathe here, instead?”

Have you been playing music for a while now? We’d love to hear what ways you went about learning. Leave a comment below and share your story! 

Photo by Daniel Davis

Kirk RPost Author: Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelor’s degree in guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!

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Video- how to not sing flat

Video: How to Not Sing Flat | Singing Tips

Singing on pitch take practice — and if you’re struggling with singing flat or singing sharp, you’re not alone! Even some famous singers have trouble hitting the notes perfectly at all times.

Fortunately, there are some great ear training exercises you can do to get better at recognizing when you’re off. Then, use the right vocal techniques to correct yourself.

In this video, singing teacher Arlys A. demonstrates how to recognize if you’re singing flat, and how to not sing flat once you notice it:

Video Recap: How to Not Sing Flat

  • Singing flat means you are singing below the correct pitch.
  • Use a tuner or a piano to check yourself!
  • Try sliding up to find a note until your pitch matches the correct note.
  • Having trouble? You’re not alone! Keep practicing intervals and individual notes in the song you’re working on.

Additional Resources for Improving Your Pitch

Want to learn more? Check out our live, online singing classes taught by professional singing teachers, or sign up for private voice lessons!

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Video- How to Do a Vocal Cool-Down (3)

Video: The Importance of a Vocal Cool-Down | Singing Tips

You probably already know all about vocal warm-up exercises… but do you know the importance of cooling DOWN your voice after singing? The “vocal cool-down” is a great way to end the night if you’ve been singing for a long time, such as at a performance or gig.

In this video, teacher Francisca M. demonstrates three easy exercises to try out…

Video Recap: How to Do a Vocal Cool-Down

  • The Siren Wail – move from your highest (comfortable) note on an “ahh sound,” sliding down to the octave below
  • Chords – move from your highest note down 5 steps
  • Bubble Trill – Similar to your vocal warm-up exercises, incorporate lip trills into your cool-down

As Francisca mentions, try to spend around 10-15 minutes cooling down your voice after a performance or gig, until your voice feels comfortable and normal again.

Additional Resources About Vocal Cool-Downs

Want to learn more? Check out our live, online singing classes taught by Francisca and other awesome singing teachers, or sign up for private voice lessons!

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9 Language-Learning Tips for Summer

9 Proven Language-Learning Tips Just for Summer

9 Language-Learning Tips for Summer

We get it — summertime often means vacations where you’ll be out of your regular routine, and maybe even taking a break from your classes or lessons. Here, Spanish tutor Joan B. offers some tips for avoiding the dreaded learning loss, while still enjoying your summer…

 

Practice makes perfect, and language skills are no exception. And while we don’t recommend taking time off from learning, we understand the summertime mindset.

If you must take a break, you can avoid major learning losses — while still having fun and enjoying your summer. Use your free time to explore the language you’ve been studying in new ways, so you’ll return in the fall with increased skills, fluency, and appreciation for the language you’re mastering.

Continue reading for tips specifically for summer, aimed at strengthening the skills you’ve already developed, exploring new facets of the language, and maintaining motivation and momentum in your target language.

Summer language-learning tips for parents

Summer Language-Learning Tips for Parents

  •  Hire an au pair with a specific language background.

Au pair arrangements can be ideal: you provide someone with the opportunity to travel with you or stay in your home, and in exchange, they offer child care, in the target language alone or in combination with English. Not only will your child improve his or her language skills, they will also make a new friend and learn directly about the culture behind the language.

  • Make new friends.

As a parent, you’re probably always looking for activities to keep your kids busy in the summer; seek out like-minded parents whose children are either learning the same language or are growing up speaking it, and plan a play date! You can even offer to host it. During the play date, you could encourage the kids to have a tea party in the target language, have the dolls or stuffed animals speak in the target language, or even put on a Disney movie dubbed into the target language.

  • Look into summer language camps.

Going to a language camp can create a lifelong love of learning and languages, as it can be a uniquely profound and immersive experience for your child. Research camps to find one at the right level for your child, and you’ll see their language skills soar!

Summer language-learning tips for adults

Summer Language-Learning Tips for Adults

  • Keep up with your workbook, listening activities, and other supplementary materials.

If you or your tutor is out of town, there’s plenty you can do on your own! Using a textbook that comes with a workbook and/or audio activities is a great idea, since you can check your work with the answer key. For bonus points of education and enjoyment, try working on your workbook in a café that offers cuisine from the culture. For example, if you’re learning French, head to a French cafe and enjoy a croissant and an espresso while working.

  • Attend outdoor cultural events.

Summertime is made for outdoor dancing, film screenings, and picnics. Research events in your community to find which activities are culturally oriented toward your target language. While you’re attending these events, you may make new friends, practice the language, and experience the culture first-hand.

  • Join a book club, in person or online.

Reading is a summertime pastime that can go wherever you go; you can read at the beach, on a plane, or in a garden, and you’ll be building new vocabulary, increasing your reading speed and comprehension, and enjoying yourself in your target language. Try either joining a club where you can discuss what you’re reading, or create your own personal reading challenge for the summer – choose several books and commit to finishing them by a certain date!

Summer language-learning tips for everyone

Summer Language-Learning Tips for Everyone

  • Reinforce language skills in the car. 

If you’re planning some summer travel, make use of that time stuck in a car, plane, or train! For kids, consider bringing along some flashcards or language-focused card games to keep them occupied and engaged. You could also download language-learning apps and games onto your iPad or iPhone. For adults, queue up some interesting podcasts in your target language. (Editor’s Note: Check out our top picks for Spanish podcasts!)

  •  Join a cultural center.

Organizations that are dedicated to a specific culture offer loads of fun and learning in the summer, when it’s a great time to be out and about. Between film screenings, organized trips to museums and cultural institutions, and picnic gatherings and social hours, cultural centers will offer you or your child creative ways to engage with the language.

  • Travel!

If you’ve dreamed of exploring Spain, Germany, Italy, or anywhere else, summer is a great time to do so! You’ll return home refreshed, along with immersing yourself in the language. Plan ahead of time how you’ll maximize your time spoken in the target language and minimize the use of English.

 

Of course, these language-learning tips are just the beginning — use your imagination and incorporate your target language into whatever activities you enjoy! Enjoy your extracurricular enrichment, and don’t forget to schedule your next lesson or class for the fall, as you’ll want to continue building on all the new skills you developed in the summer!

Joan BPost Author: Joan B.
Joan B. lives in Carmichael, CA and has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 18 years. A lover of language, she’s studied French, Arabic, and Italian and spent time living in Spain. Learn more about Joan here!

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French vocabulary for summer

52 Fun French Vocabulary Words and Phrases for Summer

French vocabulary for summer

Summer, summer, summertime! It’s the perfect time to relax and have some fun. Plus, it’s a season full of fun French words and phrases! Read on to learn some vocab from French tutor Beth L. 

 

Summer is coming, and France is a wonderful haven during this time of year (if you can avoid the heat)! The weather is warm, and delicious, fresh food abounds. Children are on vacation from school, and many families take advantage of that to travel. For many, the allure of nature and the great outdoors is difficult to resist.

What will you be doing with your summer? Beef up your vocabulary so you can tell your friends about it – in French!

One of the first things summer brings to mind is the excitement of vacation and travel.

1) l’été – summer
2) les vacances – vacation
Note: les vacances d’été – summer vacation
3) voyager – to travel
4) un voyage – a journey
5) juin – June
6) juillet – July
7) août – August

Now, let’s use these words in a sentence! For example…

  • Pendant mes vacances d’été, j’aime bien voyager! (During my summer vacation, I like to travel!)
  • Je peux choisir le mois de juin, le mois de juillet, ou le mois d’août pour mon voyage. (I can choose the month of June, the month of July, or the month of August for my trip.)

Many people enjoy the extra time and warmer weather to enjoy the outdoors.

8) le parc – the park
9) la pelouse – the lawn / grass
10) un pique-nique – a picnic
11) de la glace – some ice cream
12) la plage – the beach
13) le sable – sand
14) la piscine – the swimming pool
15) la mer – the sea
16) l’océan – the ocean
17) un maillot de bain – a swim suit
18) un lac – a lake
19) un bateau – a boat
20) nager – to swim
21) le Jardin – the garden
22) jardiner – to garden
23) une fleur / des fleurs – a / some flower(s)
24) une plante – a plant
25) un arbre – a tree
26) la nature – nature
27) les montagnes – the mountains
28) dehors – outside
29) marcher – to walk
30) courir – to run
31) jouer – to play

Editor’s Note: Get a refresher on conjugating -er verbs.

Example sentences:

  • Pendant l’été, nous jouons souvent dans le parc. (During the summer, we often play in the park.)
  • On prend un pique-nique pour déjeuner déhors. (We bring a picnic to eat lunch outside.)
  • J’aime surtout le jardin d’enfants avec ses fleurs et ses arbres. (I especially like the children’s garden with its flowers and trees.)
  • J’ai toujours aimé les bateaux. (I always liked boats.)
  • Quand je suis à la mer, je fais du bateau à voiles. (When I’m by the sea, I go sailboating.)
  • Quand je passe du temps à un lac, je regarde l’eau et les arbres, et j’écoute la silence. (When I spend time at a lake, I look at the water and the trees, and I listen to the silence.)

With the outdoors, of course, you’ll need to be able to talk about the beautiful weather, as well.

32) le soleil – the sun
33) la chaleur – the heat
34) le vent – the wind
35) les nuages – the clouds
36) le ciel – the sky
37) le sud – the south

Example sentences:

  • Quand on va à la plage, il faut se souvenir de son maillot de bain! (When you go to the beach, you must remember your bathing suit!)
  • Comme ça, on peut courir dans l’eau et dans le sable. On peut se bronzer sous le soleil, sentir le vent sur la peau, et apprécier la beauté de l’eau et du ciel. (That way, you/we/one can run in the water and in the sand. You/we/one can tan yourself/ourselves/oneself in the sun, feel the wind on your/our/one’s skin, and appreciate the beauty of the water and the sky.)

In addition to the words above, below are some common phrases and expressions related to summer.

1) Je vais dehors – I’m going outside
2) Il fait chaud – It’s hot
3) Il fait du soleil – It’s sunny
4) Il fait beau – It’s / the weather is beautiful
5) Il fait du vent – It’s windy
6) donner de l’ombre – give / provide shade
7) se limoger – to distance oneself
8) faire du camping – to go camping
9) faire du bateau à voile – to go sailboating
10) aller à la (f.) / aller au (m.) / aller aux (pl.) – to go to
11) prendre l’autoroute – take the highway
12) tomber en panne – break down
13) un coup de soleil – sunburn
14) prendre un coup de soleil – get a sunburn
15) se bronzer – to sunbathe / to get a tan

Check the same regular verb list linked above for help conjugating the regular -er verbs on this list. Several more expressions use the verbs faire and aller. (Learn more about irregular conjugations here.)

Example sentences:

  • Aujourd’hui, on a voulu se bronzer à la plage. (Today, we wanted to tan ourselves at the beach.)
  • Mais on est tombé en panne quand on a pris l’autoroute. (But our car broke down when we were getting onto the freeway.)
  • On a perdu toute une journée d’été! (We lost a whole day of summer!)

So, what are your favorite French words and phrases for summer? Here are ours:

Fun French Vocabulary Words for Summer

As school lets out and the summer begins, don’t be the first to lose your French – instead, continue practicing with your friends while you’re out having fun!

CarolPost Author: Carol Beth L.
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!

Photo by Tommie Hansen

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