Language Immersion: Terrifying at Best

“Rigor” takes on a whole new meaning when applied to studying a language at the University of Michigan. Adhering to the 4-semester LSA language requirement, many students find themselves in a100- or 200-level course during their time at Michigan, especially during their first two years as undergraduate students.

Whether it be French, Italian, Chinese, Hindi or Polish, most of these 100- and 200- level courses are taught completely in the language of study.

Thus, the students of these courses can relate to feeling like they’ve been tossed into a pool completely clothed, because that’s what language-study is like at U of M – as if you’re a kitten in a sudsy bathtub, drowning in conjugations and vocabulary and an extremely hard-to-replicate accent.

For those wet kitties who are reading this now, I want you to know: you are not alone.

Just this semester, I walked into my first day of French 101, eager to learn but without a shred of prior French experience. Much to my terror, when the professor opened his mouth, all that came out was a bombardment of oui and voilà and a slew of other French words that made absolutely no sense to me. I floundered, resisted the urge to burst out laughing or crying, and tolerated the 30 minutes of French until he broke into English.

“Welcome to French 101,” my professor declared once his lesson for the day was complete.

The entire class took a collective sigh of relief, and all at once, my every worry was mitigated: we were all baffled, I thought to myself. Not just me, but the entire class.

And with that collective sigh, I realized that even though immersion is terrifying and intimidating beyond belief, I wasn’t the only one confused or overwhelmed.

And since this realization, I have come to class each day (4 days a week!!) with an optimistic and hopeful attitude, knowing that if I understand anything at all, it is a victory.

Because I did just begin French a month ago, and if I can say even one comprehensible sentence or noun or verb, I have learned something, and that my friends, is called progress.

So for all you beginners, you bold under-takers, do not be afraid! There is much progress to be made and mistakes to learn from, and in that there is simply no shame.

After all, life (and language) is about the journey – not the destination – is it not?

–Britt Boyle


Stressed About Language Midterms?

Come check out the University of Michigan Language Resource Center; we can help!

The LRC has many resources to help students out in their language classes. Whether it’s expanding proficiency or just starting out, we have materials for every level!


Don’t have your textbook on you and need something for class? No problem! The LRC has copies of most 1st & 2nd yr language textbooks for you to use in the center and copy the pages you need.

Tutor Bank and Conversation Partners

Need some extra help before an exam? Check out the list of tutors the LRC has put together. The tutors are organized by language. Also provided is their proficiency, their pricing, and their contact information!

If you’d like a speaking partner to practice with, we can help you with that as well! Check out the conversation partners list on our website!

Need Help With Listening Skills?

We have hundreds of movies in dozens of different languages ranging from Harry Potter to old video projects for classes. Most of these have English subtitles to help you out. All Available for use in the center.

Independent Learning Kits!

If you’d like additional practice outside of the classroom, the LRC has dozens of self-teaching kits available to be checked out. These range from the basics to the higher levels of learning a language.

Mango and Yabla!

Whether you’re learning a new language or want to brush up on one you’re proficient in, check out two of our online learning programs. The LRC has purchased descriptions for students to use, just sign in with your unique name! These programs are great because they’re organized by topics and by levels. They also show you how long you’ve spent on each program!

Check them out here:

Translate-a-thon Oct 23rd-25th

Come help out your community this weekend by translating for non-profits around Ann Arbor! You can also bring your own project to work on! Work in groups or on your own! This is a great way to expose yourself to new material and realize how your language abilities can make a difference in the world!

As always, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to stop by the LRC in North Quad room 1500 from 8:30a-10p M-Th, 8:30-5:30p F, and 12:30-10p Sun,  check out our website, call, or email us!


Phone: 734.647.0759


Language Partnership Tricks


The words on every mercenary’s lips.  No longer just for career hitmen in bad movies, those picking up a new language can learn from this ideology as well.  Diving into a completely foreign language requires resources, time, the right contacts and energy.  Students will always benefit by utilizing the resources most beneficial to them, and in this field, finding a language partner can be a priceless resource.

If you’re new to this world:  A language partner is someone who is learning your native language and is fluent in your target language [the one you’re trying to learn].  Together you perform conversation exchanges, which are essentially bartering individual assistance in one language for assistance in another.  This takes advantage of both your skill sets.  They can take the form of formal lessons, casual tea meetings, or somewhere in between.  Culture discussions are also often incorporated into the experience.  Potential language partners can be found through your university, sites online ( seems to be one of the most reputable), flyers in your town, local clubs, and more.

Here are some fun tricks to find and maintain language partners with a strong foundation for growth, mutual benefit & friendship:

1)  Do your research first.  What type of structure does your potential partner want?  For example, some partners may choose to practice language A exclusively for 30 minutes, and then switch to language B also exclusively for the next 30 minutes; others at a beginner level may prefer to have each person speak in their target language the entire meeting.  How many times do you want to meet, and for how long each session?  

  • Do you want more formal lessons or conversation practice?  
  • What are your partner’s specific language goals—do you feel you can help with that, and vice versa?  
  • Does your partner live nearby, or are they willing to do an online session like over Skype?  
  • Does this person seem genuine, helpful, kind and serious about making progress together [as opposed to only focused on their own growth, or too much of a procrastinator]?  

Some of this stuff can only be determined better after a first meeting, but these are just some questions to get you thinking about your own needs and if you have found a partner that is a good fit.

2)  Informal sessions can be a great way to get to know your partner as a friend; enjoy hanging out at a restaurant or other local haunt.  Some may fear that meeting in a less formal setting may disrupt the dynamics—for example, if you agree to practice 30 minutes Chinese and 30 minutes English, it can get tricky to precisely stick to the timetable when dealing with real-life interruptions [ordering from the menu, figuring out the tip, etc].  

However, it’s important to practice foreign language in these settings, so that you’re prepared to face the challenges once you don’t have the crutch of a translator to help get you through.  My personal development philosophy is that it’s better to be over-prepared and relieved upon an outcome, than under-prepared and in a state of shock.  Case in point: do you buy more toilet paper than you think you’ll need, or less and hope you can make do?

3)  Keep it fair. A way to figure out how to equally distribute the language-practice time during informal sessions such as at restaurants is to play a rapid fire game.  Try Language Switch: Choose a very short amount of time, such as 10 minutes, and switch the language you’re speaking every time this amount passes.  

The trick is that you have to maintain the same topic before and after a particular language switch.  If you were in the middle of a sentence about the colonial war days in English and it’s time to switch to Swahili, you still have to continue the sentence in the new language.  Good luck.

(Bonus points for confusing the waiters.)

4)  Keep accountable to both yourself and your language partner.  Canceling sessions occasionally is fine, though it starts to slip when you go three or more sessions without actually meeting.  Make a promise, albeit an unofficial one, to yourself and your partner to devote this partnership to growth.  Even if you are studying language for fun and don’t have a rushed timeline, it’s beneficial for progress to carve a regular time in your schedule and your mind, so that you can get the most out of your experiences together.

5)  Take notes.  Are you going to remember what your partner said to you over the loud noise of a crowded bar about the Croatian word for “crowbar”?  I don’t think I’d even remember that in a quiet diner: I mean, who studies foreign words for crowbar?  If you’re reading this blog, I suspect you might be the kind of person that just enjoys language learning for the sake of it, and eventually you might get around to some of the weirder words such as toolbox lingo.  Who knows?

6)  Play people-watching games!  Pick a person in the distance, and have your friend pick someone that that person is talking or interacting with.  Roleplay a humorous version of what you imagine their conversation might be, in your target languages simultaneously.  

Hey, people-watching is not a spectator sport.  These people move fast once they realize you’re watching them, which makes it perfect for speaking a foreign language and thinking on your feet.

7)  Food-eating contest.  Clarity will be a challenge when you speak a foreign language.  Going off of the principle that it’s better to over-train, why not have an eating contest with your favorite foods while maintaining conversation practice?  If you can talk about your new job or the details of a house rebuilding while scarfing massive piles of lasagna, you’ll be certain to impress at the business presentation where all you’re expected to choke down is water.  If an eating contest is too much food for you, going out to a buffet, downing some extra-thick smoothies or cooking lunch together are also great options.

Overall, a language partnership can have many rocks in its progress, and these tricks and games certainly aren’t all-inclusive, or one-size-fits-all.  I encourage you to explore what works for your potential language partners, and what your needs are as an individual seeking growth.  Maybe it’ll be extreme sports or cleaning house that bond your foreign vocabularies together, rather than any of these things that I’ve listed here.  Whatever you do & wherever you go, the spirit of mutual discovery and spontaneity is something that can be vastly beneficial in your global communications–even if you only perform trades because you’re up to no good.

— Alaska Lam

Want more time saving tips and tricks? Follow Alaska on Twitter at@thebusypinata and check out her amazing new productivity website!

The Advantages of Esperanto

Note: Esperanto is a constructed language created by the Jewish Polish doctor L. L. Zamenhof, who lived in the Russian Empire, and published after many years of work in 1887. Its original intention was to serve as an international auxiliary language (IAL), or a universal second language for people of all countries. There have been numerous different proposals for constructed IALs over the years, but Esperanto, with both its long history and its estimated two million speakers worldwide, is generally regarded as the archetype and most successful of the IALs. Other especially notable IALs include Ido (which is itself a derivative of Esperanto sometimes referred to as “reformed Esperanto”) and Interlingua.

I didn’t find Esperanto until midway through high school, but when I did it was something of a revelation. By that point, I had struggled conceptually with Spanish through three years of middle school instruction and two more in high school, and the first great draw of mine to Esperanto was its simplicity and incredibly logical structure. I had never studied a constructed language or even encountered one before, and I was amazed at how much more conceptual sense it made than any of the languages that I had studied before (Spanish and English) or would study after (German). After especially struggling with Spanish’s grammatical gender and relatively complex verb conjugations, I thoroughly enjoyed the lack of grammatical gender and beautifully simple verb conjugations in Esperanto; to this day, I can conjugate any verb in Esperanto: the suffixes are -as for present tense, -is for past, -os for future, -u for imperative, -us for conditional, and -i for infinitive. (Esperanto also has a full set of participles, both active and passive, that logically share vowels with the tense to which they correspond.)

Esperanto also has plenty of other substantial advantages over the other languages that I have studied, ranging from its completely phonetic alphabet (essentially a Slavic alphabet written in the Roman script) in which there is a universal one-sound-to-one-character relationship to its use of regular suffixes to denote parts of speech and numerous prefixes and compound words to reduce the absolute vocabulary necessary to gain a command of the language. However, its most interesting element to me is how it naturally enables more logical thought patterns through the very way in which it is constructed. The simplest example is how any noun (all of which end with the suffix -o) can be easily transformed into an adjective (-a) or adverb (-e), which allows for the much easier construction and communication of a thought along the lines of “[noun]-like”. For example, if you wanted to describe another sport as being like soccer (futbalo), you could easily call it futbala or refer to a related action connoted by a verb as futbale. While studying Esperanto, this functionality really made an impression on me and certainly made me wish that this was easily done in English as well.

Even more striking to me was what is called the “table of correlatives” in Esperanto, a completely logical grouping of the correlative terms that is entirely unlike anything I’ve seen in the other three languages I’ve studied. The basic idea is that all correlatives consist of a prefix and a suffix that they share with the other words to which they have a logical relationship. For instance, the word for what (kio) shares its suffix with the other “things” tio (that) and nenio (nothing) while also sharing the question prefix “k” with kiam (when), kie (where), and kiom (how much). Predictably, never is neniam and there is tie. To me, the table of correlatives is truly brilliant and is perhaps even Esperanto’s “killer app”.

Taking more of a broad view, I was also fascinated, and continue to be fascinated, by two purposes that Esperanto can serve and indeed has been advocated for serving over the decades. The first is as an international auxiliary language (IAL). Due to both its sheer simplicity and the fact that it is (relatively) neutral and not the native language of any nation, people, or government, Esperanto has been suggested as an IAL on a number of occasions since its creation in 1887, most notably when it was proposed as (although it ultimately failed to become) the working language of the League of Nations in the interwar period. While critics have observed that it is not perfectly logical and noted other factors that have helped prevent its widespread adoption as an IAL, I still believe in the premise and really do think that a worldwide language landscape in which Esperanto (or some other IAL) is adopted (nearly) universally as a second language would be vastly preferable to the current use of non-constructed, “natural” languages (especially English) as international languages for a variety of reasons, ranging from ease of learning languages to protection of (especially smaller) endangered languages to basic concepts of fairness.

In my opinion, another (fairly different) advantage can be gained by studying Esperanto at a relatively young age (probably in elementary school), which has long been argued by a number of experts in pedagogy as being beneficial for the learning of other (more difficult) languages later in life. Looking back on my own personal experience, I believe that I began studying foreign languages too late in my life, in sixth grade. If I could do it all over again, I wish I could have studied (and mastered) Esperanto in elementary school before starting Spanish classes in middle school. I personally think that Esperanto would serve as a great option for a foreign language for students who do not have a strong desire to learn a specific foreign language (especially the fairly common choices of Spanish, French, or German) or even learn a foreign language at all. The simplicity and logical structure of Esperanto are incredibly reassuring while studying, and I know from personal experience that it can be a much more fulfilling language to study than more difficult and frustrating non-constructed languages.

I believe that in a perfect world, Esperanto (or a similar neutral IAL) would serve as a global auxiliary language studied by all, while then the study of other truly “foreign” languages would be directly connected to cultural immersion and programs such as study abroad. In other words, an IAL (such as Esperanto) would serve the more functional purpose of international communication while studying a third language (or more additional languages) would be much more about studying or connecting with the culture that speaks that language on its own terms, instead of in a neutral international setting with an essentially neutral IAL. Personally, I think that this would be good for both the IAL and other “foreign” languages, in addition to language learners everywhere.

–Michael Barera

The Land of Tulips & Wooden Shoes & Tall People: Alexandra in Amsterdam

A University of Michigan student shares her experiences in Amsterdam. Is there anyone else still traveling before the school year starts?


Well here’s where I talk about Amsterdam. I’m from West Michigan where most of my friends are from Dutch ancestry. Here’s a little secret about Europeans while we’re on the topic: they hate when Americans say they’re “½ Dutch and ½ English”. We’re Americans, and if we’re white, that’s what our parents were and that’s where we’re from, and our connections to Europe are not notable to them. Just a warning.

Anyways, I thought I knew a few things about the Netherlands. Well, I had a lot to learn. Like, there are way less tulips than I imagined. And way more canals. Oh man are the canals beautiful. I also learned that the Red Light District has such a solid history that very rarely do churches or anyone else besides foreign business men interfere with its business. I learned that most prostitutes in that area choose to be there, want…

View original post 391 more words

Hello, Hi, Goodbye?

Greetings and goodbyes are such a strange concept. We come up with these silly phrases to signal the beginning and the end of a conversation, and often they fail to capture what is really meant in the greeting or goodbye – the essence of it. You wouldn’t think much about them, considering how mundane they are, but greetings and goodbyes speak volumes about the culture in which they’re spoken.

Take Swahili, for example. During my month-long study abroad in Tanzania, I had the opportunity to speak Swahili with native speakers after having learned the language for a mere two years. Greetings seemed – initially – like they would be the easiest to say and understand, considering they are rather basic and among the first phrases I learned. But when walking through the market and arriving at home or school, the greetings I heard threw my brain in a tizzy, and “Hellos” I gave were sometimes met with laughter. Why was this?

It seemed, that the “Hellos” and “How are yous” I had concocted were merely the closest translations of my standard American-English greetings. For example I would say, Habari za asubuhi, which literally means news of the morning, or “How are you this morning?,” or Hujambo, which means “Are you not well?” but more colloquially, “Hello.” Although these greetings were perfectly acceptable, they were sometimes silly to the Tanzanians I was greeting because they could sense the “American-ness” of such greetings (not to mention the lack of practiced slang of the area).

I was using only the best Swahili counterparts to my American-English phrases. But when I took the time to learn the greetings and goodbyes of Tanzanian-Swahili, not only was I able to communicate better, but I also got a glimpse into the lives of east Africans.

The greeting Umeamkaje? summarizes this idea perfectly: this simple word literally means, “How have you woken up?” but could be roughly translated to “Did you sleep well?” With this information in mind, I began to see how genuinely Tanzanians care about the well being of one another. I would be greeted this way often in the streets on my walk to the bus stop each morning. In the streets! By strangers! I imagined myself being asked the same question on the street by a stranger in Ann Arbor and I scoffed at the idea – nobody would dare greet a stranger in such a way (or even greet a stranger at all for that matter).

When asked Umeamkaje? so frequently, I soon realized that greetings and goodbyes are more than just easy phrases to initiate or conclude a conversation. They are, rather, a small snapshot of how people in that culture relate to one another.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her book “North to the Orient” touches on the same idea, elaborating on the weaknesses of some goodbyes, rather beautifully:

For Sayonara, literally translated, “Since it must be so,” of all the good-bys I have heard is the most beautiful. Unlike the Auf Wiedersehens and Au revoirs, it does not try to cheat itself by any bravado “Till we meet again,” any sedative to postpone the pain of separation. It does not evade the issue like the sturdy blinking Farewell. Farewell is a father’s good-by. It is – “Go out into the world and do well, my son.” It is encouragement and admonition. It is hope and faith. But it passes over the significance of the moment; of parting it says nothing. It hides its emotion. It says too little. While Good-by (“God be with you”) and Adios say too much. They try to bridge the distance, almost to deny it. Good-by is a prayer, a ringing cry. “You must not go alone, unwatched. God will be with you. God’s hand will be over you” and even – underneath, hidden by it is there, incorrigible – “I will be with you; I will watch you – always.” It is a mother’s good-by. But Sayonara says neither too much nor too little. It is a simple acceptance of fact. All understanding of life lies in its limits. All emotion, smoldering, is banked up behind it. But it says nothing. It is really the unspoken good-by, the pressure of a hand, “Sayonara.”

Hello, hi, goodbye…they all just seem so plain to me now, knowing what I do about the richness of other phrases. And while asking my roommate Umeamkaje? in the morning might be a good-hearted idea, and saying Sayonara each time I must part from someone is certainly romantic, it seems doubtful that these words will ever amount to more than just a cutesy-foreign phrase when borrowed in our daily English jargon.

I do, however, think that it’s time for our English counterparts to mean more… for us to mean more when we say “Hello” and “Goodbye” because our conversations these days seem to be lacking in sincerity.

So when someone concocts the English equivalent of Sayonara, let me know. But until then, Farewell.

— Britt Boyle