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Useful Tools for Language Learning

Useful Tools for Language Learning

By Chelsea Lachman

The ability to speak a language can make traveling and understanding cultures much easier. If you are lucky enough to receive an education involving a foreign language, then most likely you have some basics to whichever language you were taught. But if you never had that opportunity in school and you always wanted to learn, or if you wanted to hone your skills and practice another language, then there are quite a bit of options to pick from.

The most popular option is Rosetta Stone; this language learning program can be catered to extensive learning: it teaches reading, writing, and speaking. Or, upon installation and set-up of the program, you can toggle the program to specifically teach any combination of the above. The program is rather expensive, spanning from $274 (Memorial Day Sale) to over $600, but the program is efficient in teaching a foreign language, or 33 others. Not all languages are offered past Level 1, but many offer at least up to Level 3; each level is four chapters, and within each chapter there are four sessions. Rosetta Stone is rather user friendly and introduces vocabulary in topic sets. Overall, the ultimate decision lies between the cost of the software versus the efficiency of teaching a new language.

Another popular option, at least among the 20-something year olds, is DuoLingo, a free internet website used to teach French, Italian, English, Spanish, German, and a few others for a sum total of 12; however, not all languages are offered in full because they are still in development. The site allows forum conversations to ask questions, and speakers of the language you’re learning can respond and correct you; to repay the favor, you could even contribute to the courses in English to improve the program. DuoLingo is available as an app on smart phones and tablets.  It also allows for friends to follow and track each other’s progress. DuoLingo introduces vocab and grammar in relation to a topic, such as Travel, Places, Education, etc. Furthermore, the program works on points, promoting you for practicing, and in order to maintain your language, it shows which areas you need to review over a period of time. Overall, the program is easy to use and trains the learner in a variety of different vocabulary and grammar; on the downside, it requires internet service whereas Rosetta Stone is sourced from a CD.

Most smart phones and tablets offer an array of language learning apps, and often times these are geared towards more popular languages like Spanish and French. Finding a less popular language learning app is rather difficult. Busuu offers 12 languages total and offers free beginner levels for the language, but in order to proceed, you have to purchase the app. Living Language is another option, but it offers the first two lessons of the beginner level, to get past the second level, you have to purchase the app.

Obviously, picking a language learning program revolves around your language of interest (whether or not it is offered), the price, and usability of the program. In my personal usage, I have gone through all of the above four, and found Rosetta Stone really useful, but not practical due to the price, whereas DuoLingo has proven to be more affordable (it’s free!) and just as efficient in teaching a language (provided the language is already developed, like German).

How to Pack for Backpacking

How to Pack for Backpacking

By Katie Ford

I am about to embark on another backpacking trip, this time for 19 days. Whenever I plan these adventures, it never really occurs to me that packing for 19 days with a carry-on bag that will be RyanAir-approved is a lofty task. I seem to have come up with a method that limits the madness, and actually accommodates for my needs while I’m traveling. I’ve looked at other travel gurus’ websites to see what their packing tips are, and I’m never happy with what I see because most of these tips are written by men who scoff at the idea that women may actually need more than one pair of shoes to cover all of the anticipated activities, or that a woman may actually want to wear some make-up so that her face looks good in those photos she’s going to have for the rest of her life. Well ladies, here I am- a woman, a travel fiend, AND I actually like (most) of the photos I end up with after a trip.

When I plan a trip, the first thing I do is put all of my destinations in my phone’s weather app so that I can briefly look at it every day to see how it’s changing. When I start packing, I consider the fact that it might actually rain every day (plan for the worst and all), so I make sure I have appropriate clothes for that as well. For this trip, it was not feasible to pack for the entire 19 days without doing laundry, there’s only so many times that you can re-wear a pair of jeans, so I’m bringing a tiny little tupperware container with laundry pods in it.  Buying a single-use dose of laundry detergent can be expensive abroad, so it’s worth having some with you, that way you know you won’t get stuck.

I brought two pairs of jeans (plus I’m wearing one on the plane- always wear your heaviest/bulkiest things!), and a light pair of shorts because I noticed the weather is going to be beautiful and warm!  I packed 9 shirts that are easily washable without being separated so that I should only have to do one load of laundry. I’m wearing a pair of boots that are good for walking (and for rain) on the plane, and I packed my trusty TOMS and a small and cheap pair of black flats in case I want them for a night out. For traveling days, I have a bigger purse which will hold my wallet, passport wallet w/ travel documents, camera, sunglasses etc., but I packed a smaller over-the-shoulder bag for days when I only need my wallet and camera with me. As far as toiletries go, I have a clear but sturdy plastic case for my liquids.  Remember, in the US liquids are restricted to 3 oz for carry-on baggage, in the UK/Europe they’re limited to 100 ml. I have re-usable containers for shampoo, conditioner and body wash which are virtually indestructible. I think it’s worth buying these containers because one of my least favorite things ever is getting to my destination and finding I have shampoo all over everything in that bag.  Also be sure to get containers for travel-sized liquids with screw on tops, that way there’s minimal chance of leakage.

I put my make-up, contacts, razor, etc. in a Vera Bradley bag that’s served me well (also virtually indestructible).  I keep my jewelry in a small pouch which folds up to be very small and squish-able, but still keeps those items safe. I keep all of my electronic cords (camera charger, adapters, extra phone battery, etc.) in their own little bag so that they’re always together, untangled. My favorite travel toy is definitely my travel hair dryer- it has adjustable voltage settings that you can use it without an adapter in the US or in Europe, and it folds up to take up minimal space.  I realize that this particular item might be a luxury, but if it fits, I don’t see the problem!

You may notice in the photo above that all of my clothes are rolled. I pack this way for several reasons: the clothes tend to stay less wrinkled, they take up less space, and I’m able to quickly see all of my items without rummaging too much inside of my bag.  I actually store my clothes like this at home, too!  I also make sure to carry my bag of liquids and my iPad in my purse so that it’s even easier to get through airport security.

All of these items were able to fit easily into my backpack, and I’ll have no problem carrying it around airports, buses, trains, or wherever I have to go!  Backpacking is a really great way to see a lot of places in one trip, but the logistics can be stressful if you don’t plan ahead and stay organized.  This method works for me, and hopefully it’ll work for you too!

Traveling with Food Limitations

Traveling with Food Limitations

By Chelsea Lachman

Traveling as a young adult is difficult in a few aspects: you have to contend with parents, money, affordability, plus going to a country that speaks a different language adds a whole level of complication to exploring. But no matter how difficult the normal travel scenario may seem, planning and adventuring forth with food sensitivities makes it much more problematic; but don’t be alarmed! It is possible, and will take some extra prep work.

Before I continue, let me give some background. I am from an immigrant Italian family and speak the wonderful language, so when I first told my nonna almost three years ago that I can no longer eat her spaghetti with ragu Bolognese because I cannot eat gluten anymore, she thought I was speaking a different language (and I said it all in Italian). To add insult to injury, not only am I gluten sensitive but I am lactose intolerant, which also developed around the same time as the gluten issue. Now this became quite the issue. Nonna was convinced I was doing it to lose weight, because no Italian in their right mind would pass up homemade raviolis and a piece of la torta di bietola (swiss chard pie), but alas, I was disrupting the norm.

Fast forward to Spring 2013, I stayed at my aunt’s house for two weeks in Italy with my boyfriend, and the first thing she did when we came walking into the apartment with our luggage was plop down two heaping bowls of pasta. How do you tell your aunt that you can no longer eat this without being rude? Slowly within those two weeks my gluten sensitivity ate away at my well-being and I left the country feeling sick.

Winter 2012-2013, my boyfriend, his sister, and I visited their family in Ireland, and I had a bit more success being gluten-free. Now mind you, the flours in Europe are prepared differently than those in the United States, so depending on how sensitive you are, a little bit will not completely ruin you, but after a while it will: it took me a week in Europe to feel the same way I do after one day of having gluten in the States. In Ireland, I fared better; choosing potatoes over bread, and steaks over pastas was much easier than in Italy.

As I struggled to get my gluten sensitivity under control, I found myself in New Orleans with a smart phone in October 2013. Siri did a lot of work for me: Siri, find me gluten free alligator. Although Café du Mond destroyed me for the lactose intolerance after an iced café au lait, I still made it through New Orleans without any gluten, and the success came from the prep work, asking the wait staff, and ordering smart.

When going anywhere outside your normal living area, check for restaurants before-hand to get a good idea of their menu; some places will even post online an allergen menu, which is very helpful. If you do not see an allergen menu, or notes on the regular indicating whether or not it is safe based on food allergy, don’t be afraid to call the place (if you aren’t going to be charged for it, as with foreign calls). If you cannot easily call, because you find yourself going to, say, Denmark and you don’t speak Danish, trust the power of the internet. Google “Gluten Free in Denmark” or similar catchphrases, because chances are someone else was wondering the same thing.

Despite the success of Googling catchphrases, the expense of choosing an accommodating restaurant for food allergies/sensitivities can be quite costly. To offset the costs, you may choose to go to a more local/cheaper alternative to eat. If that is the case, check out:

They have cards written in many different languages to help you overcome the language barrier to communicate the gluten sensitivity. Also be sure to look up phrases to say: Non posso mangiare glutine/ sono senza glutine/Ich bin glutenfrei, etc. You don’t have to say it perfectly, but get the key words in and the wait staff will get your point.

Additionally, look for easy alternatives on the go. Breakfast foods in most European countries include a lot of gluten options, so grab some fruit that would keep you full, or go for a slightly non-traditional breakfast and add a little vegetables and meat if you’re worried about making it to lunch. Luckily, coffee and wine are gluten free, so feel free to drink up, but be careful with some beers because they typically include barley or some other form of gluten during the brewing process.

As I said, it isn’t impossible, but just difficult and requires some extra footwork. As I plan my next trip across Europe for late May, I am putting in quite a bit of effort to find accommodating and cost-effective places that offer gluten free. But I found the research even for domestic travel has made this whole process easier: check with the locals, eat some great local food, but don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, after all gluten sensitivity and other food allergies are becoming much more common and can be accommodated for.

Chelsea Lachman grew up in an immigrant Italian family and caught the travel bug at a young age. As a trained historian who specializes in the Middle Ages and food history, she loves to learn about cultures and languages, leading to her ability to speak fluently in Italian and be proficient in German, and can read both Latin and Spanish. When she isn’t looking at plane tickets and daydreaming of her next gluten-free adventure, she works as an expediter and translator for an Italian cosmetic company, is the martial arts and self-defense instructor of the YMCA’s in her area, and likes to lift obnoxiously heavy weights for fun.