Lingua East

People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

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Bored? Try These Language Learning Programs

I have found that when learning a second language, the best way to drill insane amounts of vocabulary and language usage is to repeatedly expose yourself to the material in reading, writing, speaking, and listening formats. And it’s even better if you get feedback about your accuracy so you can improve.

There have always been self-study programs on the market for second language learning, including books and recorded material. With modern web and app design, excellent programs with interactivity to make learning happen naturally are now so ubiquitous, you can now get a pretty decent language education for free.

Granted, these programs do not replace the inherent value of immersing yourself in a second language or culture, nor do they provide personalized pronunciation feedback from a certified speech instructor. If that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, then try one of our programs.

In just a few minutes a day, over time, you can significantly improve your language skills. Check out the programs below to easily improve your skills.

Sporcle offers a number of user-created quizzes that have users racing against the clock. Try this quiz where users are challenged to come up with the 100 most common words in English in a race against the clock. Can you name them all in time? You might be surprised by some of the words on the list.

Memrise has multiple lessons available, ranging from a single list of items, such as idioms or vocabulary, to entire courses with multiple units. What’s more, they have a helpful app for iOS so you can learn on-the-go.

And then there is Duolingo. Notably bankrolled by cook kids like Ashton Kutcher, Duolingo is now the go-to resource for language learning for users of all ages. Engineered to maximize learning while minimizing frustration (so users don’t lose their motivation and momentum), and with a well-designed app, users can challenge themselves to maintain week-long streaks of practice with the number of days practiced straight featured on the screen during every practice session. I know people in their sixties who have used Duolingo to go from knowing just a few words of a language to being able to speak fluently with native speakers.

Finally, there’s Rosetta Stone. I’ve never used the version for purchase of the yellow packaged language learning program you see in airport bookstores, but I did use a trial to learn enough Turkish to successfully navigate the markets and taxi rides in Istanbul. The difference between RS and Duolingo is price – RS is a product that you pay for. What you get, according to Rosetta Stone, is patented voice recognition software. Whether that is as good as an in-person session with a speech instructor, I don’t know.

Do you have experience with a language learning program, either online or an app? Share your experience in the comments section.

Listening Between the Lines

If you have spent considerable time in a culture you didn’t grow up in, then you have likely found yourself in a situation where there was a misunderstanding, but it wasn’t due to the words that were spoken. What we refer to in English as reading between the lines indicates picking up on information that is not explicitly said, but rather, implied by context. The level to which we rely on our implicit understanding in a conversation is cultural, and this is an area of cultural communication where we often go wrong without even knowing it.

In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer describes a scale ranging from low-context, where one participant in a conversation makes no assumptions about what another participant knows, to high-context, where the information that is read between the lines can be much more important than what is explicitly said. The United States is the most low-context culture in the world. Latin American cultures, including Mexico, are considered high-context[1].

In the US, we value transparency and factual statements that are both explicit and specific. When it’s time to get down to business, we do not like to beat around the bush. In Mexico, such is not the case – as I have learned firsthand.

When I first started communicating with individuals from Mexico (friends, family of friends, businesspeople, etc.), I noticed that before [what I saw as] the actual conversation takes place, there is a ritual of politely saying “hello, good morning/afternoon/night,” and asking how the person is doing, sometimes followed by lengthier small talk. Being a low-context estadounidense, I tend to breeze past these pleasantries without realizing. Paulina, a friend of mine from Mexico, has confirmed that skipping this initial stage of the conversation can come off as brusque, unless both participants in the conversation know each other well.

Sometimes we have to alter the way we communicate with others in order to successfully get our message across. When I am consciously trying to have a positive interaction with someone from Mexico, I remind myself to greet them politely (with appropriate reference to the time of day) and to ask them how they are doing.

Usually, I am anxious to get to the real reason for the conversation. As a time-obsessed low-context communicator, the pleasantries feel like a waste of time. However, they are most certainly not. They serve as a small investment toward building a relationship of trust that is important for business, community, and culture.

Our patterns of cultural communication are ingrained from the moment we are born. Therefore, making an adjustment in order to effectively communicate with someone from a different culture can be difficult. Despite the difficulty, sharing your ideas with other people in a way they can easily understand is one of the most valuable things on Earth.

Whether you come from a low-context culture like the United States or a high-context culture like Mexico, make a conscious effort to accommodate your listener’s cultural communication style. Let them hear your ideas.

[1] …although not at the extreme end of the high-context cultures. Japan has the honor of being the most high-context culture in the world.

Why Gestures Matter in Communication

We communicate with a lot more than our mouths. Think of communication as an art. An artist has a number of tools they use to produce their art. A painter uses many different brushes, spatulas, and pigments to create a painting. A poet uses words and phrases with punctuation and page space to create a poem. A good communicator uses their mouth and upper airway as well as facial expression and gesture to share their ideas. Gestures enhance spoken communication.

Gestures are movements, usually of the hands, that enhance the meaning of spoken communication. You probably do not have to think very long to come up with an example of gestural communication, whether you happen to know American Sign Language or you’re trying to merge onto I-77 at midday.
Many gestures are fairly universal, such as the hand out, palm up gesture. Other gestures are culture-specific, such as the OK sign – whose meaning varies from the United States, where it means, “all okay,” to Argentina and Greece it is more offensive.

We can use our hands as an addition to spoken communication, to help our listeners understand us. In order for gestures to be understood, they should be produced within clear view of the listener, usually in front of the upper torso or face. Unless you are using a specific gesture that your listener is familiar with, keep it simple. The simpler the gesture, the more likely your listener will understand what you mean to say.

What are you saying with your hands?

The position of your hands has an impact on your message.

Hands open with the palms up is a more positive gesture, and is inviting – especially with outstretched arms.

When hands are in fists or face down, it tends to be received by the listener more negatively, and may serve to give you more time to speak during your turn in a conversation.

Hands up with the palms forward is a limit-setting gesture. It communicates to your listener to stop what they are doing.

Take a moment to think about how you use your hands when you speak. What is the message you’re communicating to others, beyond what comes out of your mouth?

What is a Dialect?

A dialect is a form of a language. Languages can have one or many dialects, differing in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammatical features, and that fuzzy stuff that laypeople refer to as “reading between the lines” and linguists refer to as pragmatics. Dialects are usually shared by a subgroup of people with something in common, be it ethnicity, geographic region, social class, or something else. Usually, people who speak different dialects of the same language can understand each other.Dialects represent the beauty of language: it’s so fascinating that two people who use different communication systems can not only understand one another, but also share, learn, and laugh together about the eccentricities of their respective dialects. The first time someone used the Southern phrase “slap your mama good” to describe some tasty food I laughed for a week.

Unfortunately, dialects can also be at the root of injustice. All over the world, people face discrimination based on their dialect. Again and again, we see that when an individual has an accent that is different from that of a superior – a hiring manager, for example – chances are disturbingly good that they will be seen in a negative light.

It seems that dialect discrimination affected the court proceedings following the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin. One of the key witnesses in the trial was Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Martin’s who had been on the phone with him before and during his fatal run-in with George Zimmerman. John Rickford, linguistics professor at Stanford, pointed out that had there been another speaker of African American Vernacular English serving as judge, transcriber, attorney, or jury member, Jeantel’s critical testimony would have been understood, and the outcome of the trial would likely be very different. Marguerite Rigoglioso with Stanford News published an excellent article on this topic here.

According to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA):

Given that SAE [Standard American English] is the linguistic variety used by the government, the mass media, business, education, science, and the arts in the United States, speakers of other varieties of American English may find it advantageous to be able to speak SAE. In these cases, the role of the speech-language pathologist is to assist in the acquisition of the desired competency in the second dialect without jeopardizing the integrity of the individual’s first dialect.

Being able to speak the mainstream dialect of English can, without a doubt, open up a whole new world of possibility for native speakers of other dialects. However, as ASHA indicates, the goal is not to replace the way you walk with the language they speak on television. It’s about code-switching, communicating in the most appropriate dialect, given the situation.

However, when it comes to the topic of dialect/linguistic discrimination, the solution cannot be focused on the behavior of the speaker. While there is certainly no single, simple solution, and linguistic discrimination is just a part of the systematic discrimination that occurs against minority groups every minute of the day, part of the solution must be to listen to and learn more about the different dialects of speakers you know and are likely to meet. The more you hear these dialects, the more you will understand. In short, listen more.

If you are interested in code-switching, let us know. People should hear your ideas, not your dialect.

7 Tips for Talking to People Who Are Hard of Hearing

According to the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association, 28.6 million people in America have problems with their hearing. That’s more people than there are in Nepal. That’s more people than the number of ping pong balls you can fit in a Hummer. That’s more people than there are bicycles in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland combined. You get the idea: it’s a heck of a lot of people. If you talk to people, chances are good you’re going to run into someone with hearing loss at some point or another. Read on for seven great tips for communicating with people who are hard of hearing.

by Das Fotoimaginarium

These guys are doing it right. (Photo: Conversation, by Das Fotoimaginarium)

  1. Look at the person. It’s not recommended to stare at the person like a creep, but it’s a good idea to look the person in the eye when you’re talking to them. That way, not only do you know you have their attention, but they can see your mouth and get a better idea of the words you’re saying, and they can read the expression on your face. If you’re trying to talk to someone who is behind you, there’s less of a probability that they will know what you’re saying.
  2. Have good lighting. Having the person be able to see you doesn’t help if you’re in the dark, unless they happen to be a lemur and can see in the dark. 

    Don't worry about lighting with this fella. (Photo: Brown Mouse Lemur, by Frank Vassen)

    Don’t worry about lighting with this fella. (Photo: Brown Mouse Lemur, by Frank Vassen)

  3. Increase the volume of your voice without losing your intonation. It can be helpful to speak in a louder voice, but try to keep the ups and downs of your speech; otherwise, it might sound like you’re shouting at the person.
  4. Some people hear better on one side than the other. If someone says they hear better on their right side, talk more into that ear, but try to do so in a way that they can still see your face.
  5. Cut down the background noise. It’s never a good idea to try to have a conversation with someone in a construction site; similarly, turn down background music and turn off the television. If you are in a room with a lot of other people, look for a quiet spot to talk. Background noise can be distracting to the listener and can make it harder for them to hear you.

    Not an ideal place for a conversation. (Photo: Crowd, by James Cridland)

    Not an ideal place for a conversation. (Photo: Crowd, by James Cridland)

  6. If someone is having trouble understanding, rephrase what you’re trying to say. Try to stay away from words with s, f, and th sounds. (Those sounds are the hardest to hear.)
  7. If you’re not sure if the other person is following you, ask!

Good communication involves a speaker and a listener. If you want someone to be thinking about what you have to say, try to set up the conversation for success. It only takes a small effort to share your big ideas.


American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association: ASHA is the resource for speech-language pathology. The site is packed with helpful information for professionals looking to improve their communication skills.


CORSPAN: The CORporate Speech PAthology Network is an excellent source for corporate speech pathologists and individuals looking for information about how to communicate better in the workplace.


Praat: Praat (from the Dutch word for “talk”) is by far the best way to get a visual image of the speech signal on your computer. It can show you the subtle differences between vowels and consonants, even if you can’t hear any difference!


LSVT Global: The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment is the only evidence-based voice treatment for individuals with Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological conditions. LSVT Global is your portal to the latest LSVT research and resources.

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