Great Language Game Tests Your Ear For Foreign Languages

Welcome sign - foreign language game
Flickr, Sanctu

Any seasoned world traveler can tell the difference between Italian and Russian, but how about Tamil and Punjabi? Estonian vs. Slovenian? Do you even know where they speak Hausa?

Test your ear for foreign languages with the Great Language Game, compiled from audio samples of 80 languages (just a drop in the bucket compared to the six or seven thousand spoken in the world!) and presented as a multiple-choice quiz. Each correct answer gets you 50 points, the highest so far is 8600 points. The samples were collected from SBS Australia and Voices of America by Australian data scientist Lars Yencken. The easiest language is French, while the hardest to guess is Shona, a Bantu language native to Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Test your language skills at GreatLanguageGame.com

Learn Spanish With Lonely Planet’s Fluent Road

Learn Spanish Fluent Road
Courtesy of FluentRoad.com

Traveling to Spain or Latin America this summer and want to say more than “Donde esta el bano?” (though, that’s an important one to know)? Lonely Planet has just launched a new online foreign language program, Fluent Road, partnering with Spanish language program Fluenz. The focus is on Spanish for now, but you can choose from dialects from Argentina, “neutral” Latin America, Mexico, or Spain.

Fluent Road is designed for travelers to get the basics before a trip: Spanish for transportation, finding accommodation, ordering food, etc. It’s also a good stepping-stone to a more intensive learning program, and travelers could easily work up to a Fluenz course after completing Fluent Road. What differentiates this from other language learning like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur is a dissection of the language, showing you how Spanish works and providing explanations, not just rote immersion. Fluenz founder and avid traveler Sonia Gil guides you through obstacles, pronunciation, and practice speaking, writing and reading as a native speaker and “language geek.”

As with all online learning, you can go at your own pace; there are 30 video lessons that can be completed in one to six months. Other useful features include the ability to record yourself to compare pronunciation a native Speaker, and customizable digital flash cards to help practice. You can also contact the teacher and program designer via Twitter.

Take a free 12-hour trial now, subscriptions start from $9 for a month to $30 for six months of access, at www.fluentroad.com.

10 travel excuses not to make in 2012

ghana, africa So, you’ve always wanted to travel, but you just haven’t done it yet. Why not? Do you think you can’t afford it? Or, that you don’t have the time? When it comes down to it, obstacles shouldn’t be getting in the way of you fulfilling your dreams. This year, stop making excuses and travel.

Excuse #1: I can’t afford it

This is one of the most common excuses people make for not traveling. Traveling doesn’t have to mean staying in 5-star hotels and eating at Michelin starred restaurants. In fact, using less-expensive accommodation options, like staying with locals for free through Couchsurfing, volunteering on organic farms in exchange for room and board with WWOOF, or doing a homestay can give you more insight into the local culture of the place you are visiting. Hostels, a simple yet social form of accommodation, can also help you meet fellow travelers while saving you money. And, eating at restaurants that don’t have a big “English Menu Available” sign are not only cheaper, but more authentic.

You can also help yourself before your trip begins by saving up some money. Stop spending money on little things that you don’t really need, like a $4 Starbucks coffee (make it at home) or a $10 sandwich from the eatery near your job (again, make it at home). Also, stop splurging on bigger things, like new clothes, makeup, sneakers, big nights out, etc… Obviously you don’t want to deprive yourself, but cut back a little and look for alternative and cheaper options that can also be satisfying.Excuse #2: I don’t have anyone to go with

You don’t need anyone to go with! I’ve gone on backpacking trips through Europe and South East Asia by myself and have never had a problem meeting people along the way. If you stay in hostels, you will easily meet other travelers. Money exchanges, airports, markets, and walking tours are other prime spots for making friends. If you’re more interested in meeting locals, try a homestay, volunteer, or just seek out the cafes and bars where locals hangout and strike up a conversation. The best thing about traveling alone is you never have to adhere to anyone else’s schedule. Instead, you can wake up when you want, see what you want, and do what you want without having to feel the need to coordinate with someone else.

Excuse #3: I’m too young/old

You are never too young or too old to travel. If you’re young, why not do something abroad to help build your resume, like volunteer, study, or intern abroad. If it’s a matter of your parents being worried and you want to appease them, join a tour group like Intrepid Travel or G Adventures so that you’ll be with an experienced guide as well as other young travelers.

If you think you’re too old, think again. There are plenty of older people out there, not just traveling, but backpacking and trekking their way around the world. In fact, just this past October, 84-year old Richard Byerley broke a new world record and became the oldest person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. And before him, the oldest person to do this same feat was 82-year old George Solt in 2010. If you still feel skeptical, there are tour groups that cater to those in their retirement years, like Road Scholar and Grand Circle Foundation.

airplane Excuse #4: I’m afraid to fly

According to planecrashinfo.com, the chances of you being killed on a plane flown by one of the top 25 airlines is 1 in 9.2 million. And, even if you went with an airline that is deemed to have higher accident rates than the others, the chances are still slim at 1 in 843,744. If logic still doesn’t assuage your fears don’t get dismayed, you can still travel. Fill up your gas tank and take a road trip, pack a bag and travel by bus from city to city, or, for something a little more luxurious, opt for a relaxing cruise.

Excuse #5: My boyfriend/girlfriend/parents don’t want me to go

While it’s understandable that the people who love you will miss you, they should also try to be happy that you’re doing something that will make you feel fulfilled. There is so much technology available nowadays that keeping in touch is easy. Video chat on Skype, send e-mails, or keep a blog to let your loved ones follow your travels and know that you’re safe.

If it’s a significant other that’s keeping you from traveling, ask them to come along with you. And if they can’t, you still shouldn’t give up going on a trip that will enrich your life. As for your parents, it’s only because they are worried about you, so try to ease their minds as much as possible. Call regularly and send them photos, make it clear how responsible you plan on being, and show them blog posts and articles from other travelers who have been to the same cities. Despite the fact that I’ve backpacked myriad countries alone, my parents still worry, and that’s something that will never change. But, these trips have helped me have experiences I never would have otherwise and have helped shape me into the person I am now.

Excuse #6: Traveling is dangerous

While I hear this one a lot, it’s always amazing to me that people can put such a blanket statement on traveling. Isn’t life in general dangerous? I’ve also heard that driving, smoking cigarettes, playing contact sports, drinking alcohol, and eating fatty foods is dangerous, but I’d say majority of the people I know do most of those things. You need to take risks in order to live a full life. Of course, you should take precautions. Walking back to your accommodation alone and drunk at 3AM in a foreign city (or even your hometown) probably isn’t the best idea. But if you use your brain, you should be more than fine.

One thing I always find, too, is that people perceive other cities as being more dangerous than they often are. On a recent trip to Ghana, Africa, my friends were extremely worried for my safety. On a hike in the Volta Region I asked a local who I had befriended if he would ever come to New York to visit me. His reply? “Isn’t New York one of the most dangerous cities in the world?”

Excuse #7: It’ll ruin my career

Most jobs give you time off (and if they don’t, maybe you should try looking for a new job), so use it. If you get two weeks take two weeks vacation, and try to plan it around holidays and weekends so you can add extra days into your trip. If you’re looking to go for longer, don’t look at it as the end of your employability. Traveling can help build and enhance your skills and also shows how adaptable you are as a person. You may also discover things about yourself along the way that can lead you into a job you didn’t even know you wanted, like teaching abroad, travel journalism, being a tour guide, or working for a nonprofit or travel company.

Excuse #8: I have a family

Take them with you! Just ask Meg Nesterov who writes Gadling’s Knocked Up Abroad, chronicling her travels with a baby. There will be challenges to traveling with a family, but with the right attitude and some planning it isn’t impossible. If your kids are a little older, they will be introduced to unique cultural experiences at a young age, and you can seek out destinations that have opportunities for learning. There are also tons of hotels out there that cater to families, and many homestays and volunteer programs that will accept families with children, as well.

Excuse #9: I’m scared of being culture shocked

Even the most well-traveled individuals can experience culture shock, and it’s completely normal. However, you shouldn’t let the possibility of some discomfort abroad stop you from seeing a foreign land. If it’s your first time traveling, start with a country or countries that are more Westernized and speak English. Once you get more comfortable with being away from home, you can start to branch out little by little. If you get to a place where you really feel uncomfortable, don’t run away but instead face the obstacle head on. Realize the unique experience you’re having and try new things that you never imagined you would. You can always sneak back to your hotel room and write your thoughts in a journal when you need a break.

Excuse #10: I don’t know a foreign language

Obviously, you can solve this problem by traveling to destinations where they do speak your language. However, by only sticking to primarily English-speaking countries you can miss out on a lot of great cities. You’d actually be surprised how many people in non-English speaking countries can, in fact, speak at least some English. And when they can’t, using hand gestures, pointing, and carrying a pen and paper to write down the names of landmarks or draw pictures can be very helpful. And just to be safe, a pocket dictionary never hurts.

10 reasons to travel to Ljubljana

Ljubljana travel
When I found cheap airfare from Istanbul to Ljubljana, I didn’t find many other travelers who’d been there or even say for sure which country it’s in. The tiny of country of Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey and its capital city isn’t known for much other than being difficult to spell and pronounce (say “lyoob-lyAH-nah”). After spending a few days there last month, I quickly fell madly in love with the city, and recommend to everyone to add to their travel list.

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Here are some reasons to love Ljubljana:

1. It’s Prague without the tourists – Ljubljana has been called the next Prague for at least the last 10 years, but the comparison is still apt. Architect Jože Plečnik is known for his work at Prague Castle, but he was born in Ljubljana and is responsible for much of the architecture in the old downtown and the Triple Bridge that practically defines the city. While Prague is a lovely place to visit, it’s overrun in summer with backpackers and tourists. In Ljubljana, the only English I heard was spoken with a Slovenian accent, and there were no lines at any of the city’s attractions.

2. Affordable Europe – While not as cheap as say, Bulgaria, Ljubljana is a lot easier on the wallet than other European capital cities and cheaper than most of its neighbors. I stayed in a perfect room above the cafe Macek in an ideal location for 65 euro a night. A huge three-course dinner for one with drinks at Lunch cafe was 20 euro, and a liter of local wine in the supermarket is around 3-4 euro. I paid 6 euro for entrance into 4 art museums for the Biennial, and the same for all of the castle, including the excellent Slovene history museum, and the funicular ride there and back.3. Everyone speaks English – Sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Everyone I met in Ljubljana spoke at least a few foreign languages including English; one supermarket cashier I met spoke six languages! While a language barrier shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a foreign country, it’s great when communication is seamless and you can get recommendations from nearly every local you meet.

4. A delicious melting pot – Slovenia’s location also means a tasty diversity of food; think Italian pastas and pizzas, Austrian meats, and Croatian fish. One waiter I spoke to bemoaned the fact that he could never get a decent meal in ITALY like he can in Slovenia. While I’d never doubt the wonders of Italian food, I did have several meals in Ljubljana so good I wanted to eat them all over again as soon as I finished. Standout spots include Lunch Cafe (aka Marley & Me) and it’s next-door neighbor Julija.

5. Great wine – Slovenia has a thriving wine culture, but most of their best stuff stays in the country. A glass of house wine at most cafes is sure to be tasty, and cost only a euro or two. Ljubljana has many wine bars and tasting rooms that are approachable, affordable, and unpretentious. Dvorni Wine Bar has an extensive list, and on a Tuesday afternoon, there were several other mothers with babies, businesspeople, and tourists having lunch. I’m already scheming when to book a stay in a vineyard cottage, with local wine on tap.

6. Al-fresco isn’t just for summer – During my visit in early November, temperatures were in the 50s but outdoor cafes along the river were still lined with people. Like here in Istanbul, most cafes put out heating lamps and blankets to keep diners warm, and like the Turks, Slovenians also enjoy their smoking, which may account for the increase in outdoor seating (smoking was banned indoors a few years ago). The city’s large and leafy Tivoli Park is beautiful year-round, with several good museums to duck into if you need refuge from the elements.

7. Boutique shopping – The biggest surprise of Ljubljana for me was how many lovely shops I found. From international chains like Mandarina Duck (fabulous luggage) and Camper (Spanish hipster shoes) to local boutiques like La Chocolate for, uh, chocolate and charming design shop Sisi, there was hardly a single shop I didn’t want to go into, and that was just around the Stari Trg, more shops are to be found around the river and out of the city center.

8. Easy airport – This may not be first on your list when choosing a destination, but it makes travel a lot easier. Arriving at Ljubljana’s airport, you’ll find little more than a snack bar and an ATM outside, but it’s simple to grab a local bus into town or a shared shuttle for a few euro more. Departing from Slovenia, security took only a few minutes to get through, wi-fi is free, and there’s a good selection of local goodies at Duty Free if you forgot to buy gifts. LJU has flights from much of western Europe, including EasyJet from Paris and London.

9. Access to other parts of country – While Ljubljana has plenty to do for a few days, the country is compact enough to make a change of scenery easy and fast. Skiers can hop a bus from the airport to Kranj in the Slovenian Alps, and postcard-pretty Lake Bled is under 2 hours from the capital. In the summer, it’s possible to avoid traffic going to the seaside and take a train to a spa resort or beach. There are also frequent international connections; there are 7 trains a day to Croatia’s capital Zagreb, and Venice is just over 3 hours by bus.

10. Help planning your visit – When I first began planning my trip, I sent a message to the Ljubljana tourism board, and got a quick response with a list of family-friendly hotels and apartments. Next I downloaded the always-excellent In Your Pocket guide, which not only has a free guide and app, it also has a very active Facebook community with up-to-the-minute event info, restaurant recommendations, deals, and more. On Twitter, you can get many questions answered by TakeMe2Slovenia and VisitLjubljana.

Tourists behaving badly: Lost in translation in South Korea (video)




This terribly embarrassing video making the rounds shows how learning just a little bit of the local language can help prevent a massive misunderstanding.

Robert J. Koehler of The Marmot’s Hole informs us that the incident occurred between a 24-year-old African-American English teacher and a 61-year-old man on a crowded bus in South Korea. According to Koehler, “The elderly man reportedly said “니가 여기 앉아” (a sign of consideration) but not knowing Korean, the man in question interpreted “니가” [pronounced “nigga” and meaning “you”] as the N-word which led to his violent outburst.”

Of course, the only accounts we have of this incident come from the Korean media. But, insult or not, this ugly American – an English teacher, no less – sets the perfect example of how not to act in a foreign country – or even in your own home town. Really dude, turn it down a notch, will ya?