Sunday, December 28, 2008

Watching Bolivia

To tell you the truth, I didn't make it through the movie. I stopped it after about 45 minutes. Too depressing!

Here's the plot: A portrait of Argentina as seen through the eyes of Bolivian immigrant Freddy. Working as the cook at a Buenos Aires grill, Freddy must deal with everyday discrimination from his boss and customers, while struggling to earn a meager living.

I thought the Spanish was hard to understand, and although I'm all about being conscious of the troubles of this world, I don't think delving in them will help change poverty, racism and associated evils. I'd rather pick a more uplifting story to learn Spanish!

On a scale of 1-10, I'd give it a 1 rating.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nathalie interviewed by Miles Mead on WUST

Nathalie talked to Miles about Vera Birkenbihl and her best-selling programs, the importance of self-confidence in language learning and, of course, the use of smart language learning strategies.

That's really the bottom line to successful language learning--think about the old adage "if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get the same results you've always got."

It's not through memorizing more grammar rules and 500 more vocabulary words that you'll suddenly start speaking, but rather after setting up your brain to soak up those grammar rules and instantly understand the words someone's using WITHOUT translating back to English, or whatever your native language is.

Listen to the interview here:

MP3 File

Friday, December 19, 2008

Listen To Foreign Holiday Tunes

Can you believe that the French Christmas song "Petit Papa
Noël" brings tears to my eyes? Then when I sing the German
Christmas carols, I feel the awe of a little girl thinking of
Christmas all over again.

Music has a powerful effect on our emotions. I'm sure you have
songs that you connect with memories of your childhood, a past
love, or a special time in your life. It's even more powerful
when you share music with family and friends.

Getting to know the music of another culture is a great way to
connect with the people who love it. It's very foreign at first,
because you might not feel much of anything listening to that
particular type of music. The more you listen to it, though, the
more you get used to it and start appreciating it, even if you
didn't fall in love with it from the get-go.

A great way to find out more about foreign holiday songs is to
get a list of titles and then go hunt for a recording on-line.
I've found some at the iTunes store, some on YouTube, and many
on Amazon as mp3 downloads.

To give you an orientation, I'll stick to the tradition I know,
which is Christmas, but you can find just about any holiday song
with the same search strategy.

Here are a few Christmas links with songs on




You can listen to two of my favorite Christmas songs here:

Petit Papa Noël (French)

Stille Nacht (Holy Night in German)

And here's a very popular Spanish Christmas song:

Los peces en el rí­o

Merry Christmas and enjoy your holidays!

© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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SpeakEZ Languages publishes "Language Learning Express," an
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eager to discover the secrets of efficient language learning,
transition seamlessly into a new culture and have fun on the way.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mike McConnell talks to Nathalie Fairbanks on WLW

It became quite obvious during this conversation that I don't play golf! Glad it was Mike that was laughed at for trying to speak golf-Spanish rather than me, because I would have made the same mistake (plus a few more golf-related ones, I'm sure...)

Being laughed at is part of the game of learning a language. Sometimes, we just say things that sound hilarious to a native speaker! I've been on both sides of this one, the laugher and the laughee, so to speak :)

Click this link to listen to the interview:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sam Greenfield and Nathalie talk on WVNJ

Sam wanted to know if the audio-lingual method is effective. My experience teaching for Berlitz allowed me to put this method in its place. I do like it, but not as the ONLY strategy to get a student fluent!

MP3 File

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Michel Thomas Spanish Course: Report 2

I'm now at the end of CD 5 of the Michel Thomas Spanish for Beginners course.

One of the things I love is how he focuses FIRST on what I'll need most in a regular conversation.

For example, to teach present tense conjugations, he starts first by teaching me how to say "I want to do something" and "you want to do something," as opposed to presenting the endings of ALL the persons.

How often do we use "we" and "they," compared to "I" and "you" in everyday conversation? Not all that often! So why not learn the forms we'll use most, derive the principles, and only then start looking at the other forms? It makes all the sense in the world!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Watching Azúcar Amarga (Bitter Sugar)

My Spanish movie for the week!

Here's the plot from IMDB (internet movie database):

"Gustavo is a young Havana Communist who believes in the revolution; he hopes for a scholarship to study aeronautical engineering in Prague. But his faith in the new Cuba is tested: his father, a psychiatrist, can make four times as much playing piano at a hotel for foreigners; his sweetheart, Yolanda, wants a career as a dancer and longs for the riches of Miami; his younger brother Bobby simply wants to play rock music, and as a result is in constant trouble with the authorities. When Bobby takes a shocking step of revolt and Gustavo is refused service at a foreigners-only bar, the contradictions in his resolve to become a "new man" push him to the breaking point." Written by {}

Although not exactly uplifting, the movie plays in beautiful modern Havana. The story is compelling (and true!) and gives a good picture of life in Cuba. Lots of dialog.

Easiest to understand: Dad, then Gustavo, then Yolanda. It's a little stretch to grasp everything they're saying, as articulation is not very clear, but hey, that's how they speak. I watched it once with English subtitles, then without. Knowing the story line and the content of the dialogs helps tremendously!

On a scale from 1-10 for Spanish learning, I'd give it a 7.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

German Christmas Traditions... And Cookies!

Obviously, even in German-speaking countries, traditions vary
from family to family, just as in every other country. There are
a few common threads through the Christmas season though, and
I'll share a few of the things our family does that I love.

This is this week's article in "Language Learning Express:"

What Does The Holiday Spirit Feel Like Abroad?

The year-end holidays carry a particular "flavor" with them,
one that affects all senses: traditional holiday dishes,
Christmas carols (in my tradition), decorations, the Christmas
tree, smells of cinnamon and home-baked cookies, and velvety
decorations all around.

If there's one thing that I am very attached to, it's Christmas
tradition. I remember the first time I spent Christmas with my
husband's family in the United States--what a culture shock! I
thought I was pretty familiar with American culture after living
in New York City for six years. Well, I found myself completely
disoriented and feeling out of place because everything felt so
foreign and "wrong."

So if you are in a foreign country over the holidays, make it
easy on yourself and bring just one little reminder from home,
something that embodies the spirit of the holiday for you. Then
dive into what your host country has to offer!

If you're celebrating at home but would like to get a taste of
how your new country does celebrate the holidays, I'd recommend
you do three things:

1. Try a holiday recipe
2. Listen to a holiday CD
3. Participate in a holiday ritual (go to Midnight Mass, light
Hanukkah candles, etc.)

Let's focus on #1 today. I want to share my very favorite kind
of cookie recipe with you.

Haselnussplaetzchen (Hazelnut cookies)

- 250 g sugar (250 g is about 1 cup, or half a pound)
- 250 g butter
- 250 g ground hazelnuts (filberts)
- 250 g all purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup apricot or raspberry jam

In a mixing bowl, mix together butter and sugar. Add the egg.
Then add the hazelnut meal and the flour. Knead it into a compact
dough, then let it cool in the fridge for 1-2 hours. If the dough
isn't cold enough when you cut out the cookies, they end up
melting in the oven, and that's no fun! (Can you tell I've done
that?) So make sure that the dough is nice and cold before you
start rolling it out on your counter.

Cut bite-size round shapes with a cookie cutter. Bake them for 15
minutes at 175 - 195 degrees Celsius (that's 350 - 385 degrees
Fahrenheit). They should be dark brown. The darker they are, the
stronger the nutty flavor, but there's a fine line between dark
and burned. Let them cool off on a cooling rack.

Optional: dip one side of each cookie in a plate of sugar while
they're still hot. The sugar will stick to the "outside" of
the cookie.

Once they're cooled off, spread a layer of jam on half of the
cookies and stick the other half on to make a little sandwich.

A little cultural side-story: In Germany, we use a lot of
hazelnuts and almonds in our baking. They're as common as
peanuts are in the U.S. In fact, I remember how at one of the
first Christmas parties I attended in South Carolina, I reached
for a chocolate-covered cookie that looked enticing. What a shock
to my senses to discover upon my first bite that it had a peanut
butter filling! I do like peanuts, but I had never connected
Christmas with peanuts before and it might take me another twenty
years to make that connection. :)

If you're not into baking, you can get some of the German
Christmas cookies online or at specialty stores. Trader Joe's
carries my favorite kind, Lebkuchen, which is a type of ginger
cookie covered with chocolate or sugar glaze. Here are a few
pictures for your cookie orientation, and a few places to get

My Mom always made sure that all the cookies were ready by
December 6th, which is "Nikolaustag" or St. Nicholas Day.
Typically to celebrate this, on the evening of December 5th
children set their shoes outside the window or by the door. If
they have been good, Nikolaus stops by to fill their shoes with
nuts, oranges and little presents. I don't need to tell you that
I was always very excited on Nikolaustag!

Hopefully, you've been a good girl or boy this year and can
expect some treats in your shoes on the morning of the 6th of

© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

You may, as long as you include this blurb with it:
SpeakEZ Languages publishes "Language Learning Express," an
award-winning free bi-weekly e-zine for language learners who are
eager to discover the secrets of efficient language learning,
transition seamlessly into a new culture and have fun on the way.
Get your FREE subscription and your FREE e-book now at

Monday, December 8, 2008

Michel Thomas Spanish Course: Report 1

I'm currently on the 3rd CD of the Michel Thomas Beginner Spanish course. I like his approach a lot - it's like a brain massage where I come out knowing all the basic structures I need in order to speak.

I'm amazed that I'm able to remember pretty much everything he's telling me, even days later, after going through every CD only once. My hunch is that it's because I've done so much Passive Listening of Spanish materials in the past, so I understand everything he says and know how it's spelled and written. I'm not sure how a total beginner would fare since there's no written materials.

I'll be sure to include his CD's into any of my language learning combos for future languages!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nathalie on the Chuck Wilder Show!

Nathalie discusses with Chuck Wilder why learning languages is one of the factors that can help boost the American economy in these turbulent times.

You can listen to the recording here:

MP3 File

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Claudette helping out in Cameroon

SpeakEZ Languages donates 10% of its profits to causes close to our heart. IDAAS is one of them.

Here are a few pictures of Claudette in Cameroon. She was so inspired by the work her friends Glory and George had done that she decided to help them set up a non-profit organization (IDAAS) to provide training on sustainable and self-reliant organic farming practices.

Claudette serves as their U.S. officer and is happy to report that Glory and the IDAAS farms have brought jobs, joy, organic food, education and sustainability to the people of Wum and Bambili (small towns in NW Cameroon)!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nathalie talks to Scott Sloan on WLW

I talked to Scott Sloan about the LPGA decision to have their foreign players pass an English test to participate in the tour - more about that story at

During our conversation, Scott raised a valid question: why should Americans learn a foreign language, since it's not a necessity for them as much as it is for Europeans? I'm not sure that my answer convinced him... so do me a favor and respond to this post with what I could have said to win him over!

Here's the recording for you:

MP3 File

Monday, September 8, 2008

Jean Dean interviews Nathalie Fairbanks on WRVC

Nathalie had a lovely conversation with Jean Dean about learning a language in Europe vs. the U.S., how to keep up your language skills, whether or not to study Latin, and what's different between learning a language as a child vs. learning as an adult.

Click here to listen to their exchange:

MP3 File

Friday, July 25, 2008

Catherine's Birthday

Here's Catherine blowing out her first birthday candle with Mommy's help. I opted out of making a cake for her -- not knowing about sugar is a blissful state of being!

She very much enjoyed the bananas, strawberries and blueberries...

Monday, July 14, 2008

SpeakEZ Spanish Release on July 19

The time has come. Our SpeakEZ Spanish I course is just about ready, and we'll release it with a big bang on July 19.

Why July 19? It happens to be a very special day: María del Carmen Muley, our Spanish expert and co-author of the course, will be celebrating her birthday in Germany and... it's Catherine's first birthday!

We're inviting you to join the birthday spirit by offering you a special 20% discount on your copy of our brand new SpeakEZ Spanish I course. Starting Saturday, July 26, the price will be set to $97, so don't miss out!

If you have friends who've been waiting to learn Spanish, now's the time for you to join our affiliate program. All you need to do is sign up to get your affiliate link. Then send your friends an e-mail with the affiliate link and you've made an easy 25% on the sale.

Here's the affiliate sign-up page:

Get ready to start your Spanish learning adventure!

Friday, July 11, 2008

APEX Award for Language Learning Express

We are very honored to have been granted an APEX 2008 award for our free newsletter, "Language Learning Express."

Actually, let me re-phrase this: We're so excited that we've been jumping up and down all week!

You might ask: what's APEX? It's an Award for Publication Excellence. You can find out all about it at

If you haven't subscribed to our e-zine yet, now's the time! Just go to and you'll receive your next issue within two weeks! You can also browse the site for articles published in previous issues. That'll give you plenty to work on while you're waiting.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Baby Catherine... Then and Now

We've been promising pictures of baby Catherine... here are two!

Nathalie and Catherine one week after her birth.

Catherine in action! She's a little over eight months old and just got her 4th tooth today. Yeay!

Claudette's Wedding

Happy Anniversary, Claudette and Ollie!

I was so thrilled to be a bridesmaid! Little baby is hiding in the tummy behind the flowers :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

SpeakEZ Spanish I Course

It's been many months now since the birth of baby Catherine, and I'm finally getting back to updating our blog.

Apart from learning how to be a Mommy, I've been putting a lot of time into the details of our Spanish I course. The dialogs were written by María del Carmen Muley, who has become a good friend of mine in the process. She has extensive experience in using the Birkenbihl Approach teaching Spanish in Germany, and was recently asked to lead a teacher training at the FH Coburg, a university in Germany. That's great news!

So for the past few months, in between her teaching and my playing with Catherine, we were on the phone discussing decoding from Spanish to English. If you are unfamiliar with "decoding," it means translating word by word into your native language.

Decoding the main vocabulary is straightforward, and I learned a great deal just doing that. Since I knew the content of the dialogs, it was easy to guess the meaning of words I didn't know yet. The tricky part is decoding expressions that just don't have an exact equivalent in English, such as "tengo que" (I need to/I have to) - it doesn't make any sense if you translate literally.

We found ways around it that work. What's interesting, too, is that new trouble spots come up with each different language pair. Since Carmen was used to decode from Spanish to German, some of the questions that came up were new to her as well.

I can only encourage you to decode all you can. I see it as an intellectual challenge that takes me deeply into the structure of the language and leads me to ask the right questions. If you are a beginner, you'd want to start by using texts that were decoded for you. The grammar will seem so clear right from the beginning that you won't experience the typical "grammar fog" I've seen on so many students' faces over the years.

Later on, though, you'll learn a lot by trying to find out what exactly a phrase like "hoy tengo ganas de ir al restaurante italiano" means and how it's put together.

We plan on publishing the course within the next month - we'll keep you posted!