Lingoda review: The best way to learn German?

Lingoda review: The best way to learn German?

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I’ve approached learning German in several ways, most recently using Lingoda. Lingoda is a web-based language learning program that connects you with live teachers via audio and webcam. The system is based on the CEFR language certification (A1, A2, etc) which is what most people understand when you’re explaining to schools or employers your language proficiency level. You can also receive your certificates through Lingoda, without having to pay and take a test at a local language school. They offer courses in English, German, French and Spanish. 

I will write about my own journey with language learning shortly, but the tl;dr version is I’ve gone through Duolingo in German, group classes at university in French, to private lessons here in Germany in German – so I’m familiar with many ways of learning languages. I’m finishing up my A2 in German. 

My kitchen table desk set-up, where I'm often doing my Lingoda German lessons.

My kitchen table desk set-up, where I’m often doing my Lingoda German lessons.

How does Lingoda work?

You pay a monthly fee, and receive class credits. You can choose all group classes, all private lessons, or a mix of both. I went for a mix of both. I have to say, the group classes are very small, only 4-5 people, so you won’t get lost in the mix. I personally like the chance to gather my thoughts and plan an answer when I know my turn is coming up, so four or five people in the class is perfect. The classes are based on skills, conversation, reading, and writing. You can see all the options laid out for your particular language level.

You select days and a range of times, and your options for classes pops up. You select your classes from there. What I particularly like is being able to choose a class quite late on. Say you realize you have time this evening, you can still sign up for a class. Though by the same token, cancelling requires seven days notice, so I would suggest not to book everything ahead, but book as you go. You can do the lessons in order, or just pick what interests you to start. I picked a few at random to start, and honestly wish I had stayed more with the official order as I think I was a bit over my head to begin with!

I recommend having a notebook and pen beside you to make notes as you go along in class. It helps when you know you’re going to have to answer something as you can attempt to work it out a bit first, as well as making note of something you’d like to ask about later. For my learning style, it helps cement concepts in my mind to write them down. I recommend going through the learning materials before class starts so you’re not completely new to the subject matter.

Related: Five tips for not losing your mind when you move abroad

How were the teachers?

I’ve had a few now, and I would say they are quite good. They are experienced with the system and the material, so they kept things moving ahead, but I didn’t feel rushed. The teachers are all native speakers, which is so critical to getting your pronunciation right. I felt like they didn’t gloss over mistakes, but matter of factly corrected students, but didn’t get overly hung up on sentence structure when we were trying to answer more freeform questions. That is so crucial, because it’s so important to feel like you’re making some progress with conversational language, and it’s easy for language learners to get bogged down in details. 

As with any language learning experience, you get what you put in. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you don’t understand something a teacher has said and put yourself out there a bit. Obviously it’s important to wait your turn in class, and even more so when we’re all remote, but there’s a button for raising your hand. I understand feeling embarrassed for not knowing something, I so get it. In fact, I get a cold sweat before class starts sometimes! But you will enjoy learning, and your teachers will enjoy teaching you when you go into class thinking positively about participating. They can’t help you learn if you don’t try and make mistakes! 

How do I know my language level?

If you haven’t been taking language classes, I would start at the beginning, even if you know a little bit. Speaking a new language is as much about confidence as the vocab and the grammar, so if you have a little time to get into it without being faced with new words, that can really help. You can do a level test online – I tried this language level test online and it accurately reported what level I’m at – or book a customized private class on Lingoda and a teacher can tell you. I already knew what level I was at from my previous lessons, so I didn’t need to do this. 

The view out to the balcony from my kitchen table.

What I’m often looking at while I’m doing a Lingoda German lesson.

Is Lingoda any good?

It is good. As with any language learning experience, if you put in the time you will reap the benefit, so you need to buckle down and do your classes. Being able to structure the pace of classes to my timetable has been a huge benefit to me –– particularly when I have more free time I can take a few more, and slow down when things get busy. You get the benefit of a live teacher instead of automated system like Duolingo, so your pronunciation is corrected, as well as having to think on your feet. Lingoda has a lot of the benefits I was missing from a local class, but on my random schedule. 

Is it cheap? Well relatively yes, you are benefitting from native speaker teachers in a small-class size environment, so I would say it’s quite competitively priced. I can only find local language classes that are every day all day, or one evening a week, but nothing in between. This allows to me to study at a sort of middle intensive level. Granted I hear German spoken all day everyday around me, so your mileage may vary if you’re learning a language in isolation. However, I still think this would be the best way to do it, particularly when it comes to pronunciation as you will for sure have a native speaker as a teacher, which is harder to come by when you’re learning somewhere else. It’s so critical to getting your pronunciation right to learn it correctly the first time!

Obviously every platform has its downsides, and my main issue with Lingoda is the seven day class cancellation policy. I definitely value teachers’ time, but even three days would be more realistic. Because you’re dealing with an online platform, sometimes there’s some messing around with students losing the connection to the class, or your teacher losing their connection and having to come back in. In my experience, it’s been minimally disruptive, as the teachers seem to have a good handle on the system. 

The bottom line: should you try Lingoda?

If you’re serious about learning a language, and you’re finding it difficult to find live classes that fit in your schedule, Lingoda is a great alternative. Having native speakers as teachers, and being able to take more classes when you have more time, and fewer when you have less is great for parents, working people with unreliable schedules, and freelancers. If you’re looking to pick up a language in a casual way, this will probably be more than you want, and I’d encourage you to find a once-a-week class at a local community college or try Duolingo for free for a bit. As an immigrant trying to learn the local language, it’s a life saver. 

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Tourtière: the Glorious Canadian Meat Pie

Tourtière: the Glorious Canadian Meat Pie

As a Canadian living abroad, I’m sometimes called upon to provide a meal from the old country. Even though the last city I called home in Canada was Vancouver, and about as far from French Canada as you can get, I still have a special place in my heart for that clove-scented meat pie from my childhood. I did grow up in small village close to the Quebec border, and my mum is from Montreal, so we did have tourtière when I was small.

It’s generally thought to have been made since about 1600, but to be honest, the meat pie is a typical medieval dish – small pieces of meat, together with vegetables in a pastry crust was found all over Europe. Like those medieval pies, tourtières take advantage of whatever meat is fresh and available. For French settlers in Quebec, that would have been pork, veal, beef, or game meat. The pies I had growing up tended to be all pork, and the dominate seasoning was cloves – from my reading I now understand that to be Montreal-specific, which makes sense.

Mmm.. homemade tourtière.

The most recent tourtière I made here in Germany was a pork and beef mixture, with the addition of summer savoury as per the recipe in [amazon_link id=”0997660848″ target=”_blank” ]More Than Poutine, Marie Porter’s book of Canadian recipes for those of looking to recreate some of our favourite things from home[/amazon_link]. The summer savoury makes sense as Porter is from Winnipeg, and that’s a very Manitoban addition.

Marie Porter's cookbook for Canadians abroad, looking to recreate some favourites.

Marie Porter’s cookbook for Canadians abroad, looking to recreate some favourites.

If you’re looking to recreate your favourite Canadian chocolate bars or bakery treats (*cough*Jos Louis), this is a handy book to have. However, if you’re from the west coast, like I am (at least partially) a lot of these recipes may not seem familiar. Atlantic Canadians, however, will rejoice I suspect!

Regardless, I am happy to have this easy tourtière recipe. As with most meat pies, tourtière is excellent eaten warm or cold, and makes an excellent addition to any picnic. I personally eat mine with thick slices of sweet and sour German pickles, but it’s great all on its own too.

Tourtière

Recipe courtesy of [amazon_link id=”0997660848″ target=”_blank” ]Marie Porter’s More Than Just Poutine: Favourite Foods from my Home and Native Land[/amazon_link]

I added allspice in deference to my Jamaican Canadian heritage, but feel free to leave it out if you don’t have it. Never ever leave out the cloves however! I added half the milk and stock noted below in the recipe and found it almost too moist, so I would suggest add half and see how the filling goes, add more if it looks dry.

Serves about 8 

500g /1 lb ground pork

500g /1 lb ground beef

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 celery ribs, finely chopped

2 carrots, grated

125ml / 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

1-2 tbsp / 15-30ml dried summer savoury

1/2 tsp ground allspice [my editorial addition]

2-3 tsp / 10-15ml ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tsp / 5ml salt

1/4 tsp / 1ml ground cloves

2 cups / 500ml milk (see headnotes)

1 1/2 cups / 375ml beef or chicken stock (see headnotes)

2 pre-made pie crusts, or double pie crust recipe of choice, prepared

1 large egg

1 tbsp / 14ml cold water

  1. Combine meats, vegetables, and seasonings together in a large pan or pot, stirring until everything is relatively uniform. Add the milk and the broth, stirring once again. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium and simmer – stirring often – until the liquid has cooked off, and the meat has broken down almost to a paste. This should take about an hour, give or take. Once it’s ready, remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 220ºC/425ºF.
  3. Line a deep dish pie pan with one pie crust, carefully working it into the corners. Fill pie pan with meat filling, spreading it into the corners and mounding it in the center.
  4. Use the second pie crust to cover the filling. Crimp the edges as desired, poke a couple of slits in it. If desired, roll any extra dough very thin, cut into shapes, and apply to the crust for decoration. Whisk together egg and water, brush over the entire top of the pie.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, turn heat down to 190ºC/375ºF and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Serve warm or cold.

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What it’s like, living in Germany, a year and half on

What it’s like, living in Germany, a year and half on

Sixteen months we’ve lived here, nearly a year and a half. We’ve acclimatised in some ways, and are still figuring it out in others. I meant to write an update on our one-year anniversary, but it didn’t feel right yet.

I’ll answer some of the questions I get a lot… and you can add any others in the comments below.

The gorgeous Burg Hohenzollern

The gorgeous Burg Hohenzollern

So, are you fluent now?

Ha, no. I can order food, sort out problems with a delivery person, ask questions in a shop, have a short conversation with my neighbours, and give directions. Conversations longer than ten minutes means I am struggling, and I still flounder around trying to respond. I understand much more than I can respond to right now, which is the normal progression of learning another language. Is it hard? No, not really. It takes constant practice and work, and a willingness to learn. There are many things about German that are similar to English. Obviously being in Germany makes it much easier, because I’m hearing and using it all the time.

Probably the biggest difference now, to say, a year ago, is my accent is better and people are willing to speak to me longer in German. I’m in no way coming across as a local, but I think I sound more competent.

My son, on the other hand, is much more fluent. Just the other week he ran up to some kids in a museum play area and spent 20 minutes playing in German. His German reading is great, possibly ahead of his English reading. He has some good friends who don’t speak much English at all, which is a real step forward as previously his friends were all English native speakers. Doing his homework with him has been like another German class for me, as he’s working on a lot of grammar things I haven’t learned yet in my classes. Tellingly, he only knows the names for nouns and verbs in German right now. My favourite things are the words he only says in German: ‘mittel’ for middle, ‘milch’ for milk. Even in the middle of English sentences.

The private language classes that were part of our relocation package from my husband’s company are ending soon, and I’ll be starting some online courses on my own.

Chicken hanging out with some eggs at the weekly market in Mainz.

Chicken hanging out with some eggs at the weekly market in Mainz.

And do you like the food now?

The one thing I mentioned at the six month mark that was not my favourite was the food here. The thing with living in a smaller town is the lack of dining out options. Heidelberg is lovely in so many ways, but the restaurant scene is not all that diverse. There are a few nice traditional German places with Flammkuchen, Schnitzel, and Käsespätzle, a couple decent places to get a burger, some fancier places for a celebratory meal – but outside that, well, it’s not great. That’s been good financially, as it means we’re not eating out constantly, but sometimes I want to have takeout that isn’t pizza.

Finding diverse ingredients is a bit of challenge too. Your average German grocery store in our town is great for cheese, sliced meats, and every kind of preserved vegetable in a jar. Kale? No. Broccolini? No. Fresh coriander? Sometimes. Salsa? One kind. I’m not trying to recreate the cuisine of the old country, but it was a struggle initially recalibrating my usual go-to recipes when any kind of Mexican ingredient requires special ordering online, and all the cuts of meat are not only called something different, but are not the same cuts at all. I do still find it challenging that you can’t buy a package of chicken thighs (quarters only!). Obviously moving from a coastal city to somewhere practically smack in the middle of mainland Europe is a bit of an adjustment too, as I was used to eating much more seafood and fish than I do now.

The cutest shop in Heidelberg – also where I get more unusual spices.

The cutest shop in Heidelberg – also where I get more unusual spices.

So I subscribed to a bunch of German recipe sites, bought food magazines, and learned to make some more local recipes. Pork is everything in this region, which is good because we all like it. We’re right in the middle of lots of farms here, so we can buy straight from them farmers through their shops or their excellent vending machines. Compared to Canada, the grocery prices here are incredibly low. I am buying locally, and in some cases bio (organic) as well, and it’s a third less than I would have paid in Vancouver.

My love for German cakes is never ending, of course. I have always loved a good cream-based cake, and that’s a popular format here. Your average German cake tastes about half as sweet as any North American equivalent, and it is so perfect. I feel like I’m tasting the cream and fruit instead just SUGAR.

Our amazing neighbourhood in Heidelberg

Our amazing neighbourhood in Heidelberg

Have you made friends?

Ah, this is a tough one. I have a few good friends, mostly other parents from my son’s bilingual school and a friend of a friend. But I am pretty lonely. I knew this was coming – when we moved to London it took a few years before we found our people. But knowing it conceptually and dealing with the reality is two different wurst entirely. I am grateful for the community of English-speaking German people on Twitter who are always around for a good chat. This is one of the reasons I am so keen to get my German up to speed, I really want to be able to meet people here and take classes and all that. As we’re here long term, the expat community are not really my speed. They are much more rooted in their home country and talk a lot about when they go back ‘home’, and don’t seem to settle down here much. It’s understandable, they are often only here for two or three years. But we’re just not on the same page at all.

Our neighbours have made a big difference too. We have been so incredibly lucky in our housing situation. Not only did we land in a spectacular neighbourhood just a short walk from the river and one of the best playgrounds in the city, but our flat is huge and super affordable. This did not guarantee good neighbours, and I have heard some horror stories – from both Germans and non-Germans. Both our upstairs and downstairs neighbours are lovely older folks who routinely invite us over for a glass of wine or tea, and they are the sweetest. I genuinely love chatting with them, even if it stretches my German skills to the limit.

I know I will get there and make friends eventually, I just have to hang in there and keep working on my language skills.

Looks like France, but nope - it's southern Germany.

Looks like France, but nope – it’s southern Germany.

Do you like Germany?

This is a hard one, because the longer I live here the more layers I find to this country. From the outside looking in, we tend to think things or foods or people are ‘German’, but in reality, this is a very fractured and very young nation. The regions have identities that are so strong, internally they can override national identity easily. Bavaria, for instance, was a kingdom unto itself for hundreds of years before there was a Germany, and they have their own Bavarian language, which is technically a German dialect but… yeah. This is not even taking into account the more recent split of West and East Germany, which also carries with it massive differences in culture and behaviour. So, do I like Germany? Yes, I really do, but I only know my little south-western corner of it, living in a mid-sized university town. I don’t live in the Bavarian heartland of Munich, nor am I up north in complicated and cool Berlin. It’s a massive country with so many fascinating distinct identities within it, I feel saying something like ‘I don’t care for German food’ is doing an incredible disservice to this place. We are starting to explore further and further afield here, and we’re enjoying it so much.

There are little things I love, like the way loads of people bring beautiful wicker baskets to do their shopping in – not just at the weekly markets but also in the grocery store, the corners of farmers’ fields dedicated to pick your own flowers, the prevalence of farm-side vending machines for everything from fruit and vegetables to jam and milk, and the fact that I see 75-year-olds cycling around with their newspaper clamped on their rear rack, a beret on their head, and a pipe in their mouth. Literally, there’s a guy in the neighbourhood who does this.

Tell me, what do you want to know about living here?

PS – I wrote about how we’ve changed since moving to Germany, and if you’re moving abroad, there are a few things you can do to hold on to your sanity

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Five tips for not losing your mind after moving abroad

Five tips for not losing your mind after moving abroad

When you move an ocean away from your family and friends, the first few months are full of practicalities and excitement. Everything is new! This is so exciting! Where do I buy toilet paper?!

Three to five months in, the everyday routine is no longer new. That’s when some of the longer-term challenges start to appear, it gets really tiring and the loneliness hits hard. After a few overseas moves, I’ve learned a bit about how to make it over this midterm speed bump. Here’s what I’ve learned.




Go for quantity over quality when it comes to making new friends

Now that you’ve figured out the groceries and things, go out there and meet people. When you’re not in school or work, it can be difficult, but you’ve got to think of this like getting your electricity hooked up. It’s just as important really. If you speak the local language – sign up for classes, join a walking group, get a community garden plot. If you don’t, look up expat meet-ups on Internations or expat.com, seek out local expat FB groups. Even better, look for a tandem language partner and combine language learning with making new friends. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not finding people you connect with right away, just keep going to things, having coffee with people. My husband and I made a rule to always say yes when we first moved to London. Dinner, the pub, whatever it was – just go. We met some of our best friends through other people, so it will happen eventually. It’s both harder and easier when you have kids – there’s the school parents and toddler groups to go to, but it’s harder to go out in the evenings.

Don’t stop exploring

I know you’re tired. Living somewhere new is exhausting, and that’s something your friends and family who have never done this will have a hard time understanding. It’s tempting to settle in and stop going to places you don’t know because you’re sick of new things. For sure, take a mental health day and relax, but don’t fall into a pattern of never seeking out new places anymore. This is part of the reason you moved here, remember? Do your research and find a new neighbourhood, a historic site, or even just a new restaurant. Instagram’s location tags are a fun way to finding new places nearby.

Make medium term future plans

I’m not good at this one. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other, day after day, and realize two months later you haven’t done much. Make plans for three months in the future for an overnight stay two towns over, or that festival in the town square. It gives you something to look forward to, and gets your head out of the everyday.

Sign up for local news

Find out what the local newspapers are, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Sign up for the newsletter from the city council or neighbourhood association. If it’s not in your local language, make good use of your best friend, Google Translate. This is how you find out about those local festivals that can be such good fun and remind you why you made this crazy move in the first place!




Keep working on your language skills

Oh it’s so tempting, after getting to the point where you can interact with the grocery store cashier and order a coffee, to stop trying. I’ve been there, for sure. But even when you’re feeling frustrated, do your 10 minutes of Duolingo every day, watch films you know in the local language, and set up a weekly walk with a tandem language partner. I have to constantly prod myself into these, despite having language class twice a week. Don’t forget how far you’ve already come! Remember when even going to the store felt insurmountable? You can totally do this.

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Kids’ Travel Journal DIY

Kids’ Travel Journal DIY

{This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission, with no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!}

I was doing some research about how to get kids interested in their surroundings when they travel, when I came across the idea of travel journals.

What I like about this concept is you can tailor it to your particular child, and what they like to do. My son likes to draw, but he loves taking photographs. He likes those smash a coin flat machines and terrible souvenir shops. So when I made his travel journal, I included lots of envelopes for storing the little bits and pieces he collects, and blank pages for pasting in photos afterwards. I was totally unprepared for how much he loves adding to and showing off his travel journal – it’s been such a big hit.

Travel journals don’t need to be expensive or complicated. You can certainly buy a ready-made one, like this [amazon_link id=”1441318143″ target=”_blank” ]Kids’ Travel Journal from Peter Pauper Press[/amazon_link]. But making one is really easy.

Putting little envelopes in the journal means you can capture little souvenirs.

Putting little envelopes in the journal means you can capture little souvenirs.

Things to consider before you start:

  • What does your child like to do? Do they take lots of photos, or draw, or prefer colouring in?
  • Will you be traveling to several different locations, or just one big trip?
  • How transportable does this have to be?

Gather some supplies

I bought a [amazon_link id=”B01KB7VETC” target=”_blank” ]sketchbook with medium-weight paper and a coil binding[/amazon_link] to accommodate all the extra stuff to be pasted inside.

You will need some of each of the following:

  • Small collection of pencils or pens, and a pouch [I use an old Ipsy cosmetic case with airplanes on it, but this is [amazon_link id=”B01EINGM38″ target=”_blank” ]cute colourful pencil case[/amazon_link]]
  • Selection of neat envelopes to be pasted in – [amazon_link id=”B00TOVXDGO” target=”_blank” ]I love glassine envelopes as you can see inside[/amazon_link]]
  • [amazon_link id=”B001IVZMBM” target=”_blank” ]Mini glue stick[/amazon_link]
  • Coloured card stock
  • [amazon_link id=”B01BULDSMO” target=”_blank” ]Washi tape[/amazon_link]
  • Travel-themed stickers [amazon_link id=”B007OLJJRS” target=”_blank” ]these stickers look like passport stamps [/amazon_link]]

I used the coloured card stock to make some section headers, as we do many little trips. I pasted the envelopes into random pages, leaving some blank for photos later.

This is a drawing of the Eiffel Tower – it has 1,000 bolts in it, my son learned on the tour bus.

This is a drawing of the Eiffel Tower – it has 1,000 bolts in it, my son learned on the tour bus.

Drawing and writing prompts

I wrote in a few drawing prompts, like:

  • What did you eat for breakfast?
  • What was the tallest thing you saw today?
  • What was your favourite sweet thing you ate?
  • Draw all the types of transportation you took
  • Did you see any animals?
  • What does the flag look like for the country you’re in?

Though these could easily be adapted to writing prompts, if that’s what your small people like to do.

Things you can suggest they store in their travel journal:

  • Public transportation tickets
  • Souvenir tokens
  • Tourist maps and brochures
  • Receipts from cafes and restaurants
Finally, a use for those little tourist booklets!

Finally, a use for those little tourist booklets!

Taking photos

You may not want your child using your DSLR, so consider letting them have an old smartphone not connected to a network (you can download the photos later, by attaching it to a computer), or get them to art direct your photos. When you get home, make a time to go through your photos and let them pick a specific number to get printed for their journal. I was really surprised at the ones my son chose – including one he took of my husband and I.

Travel journal pride

This travel journal has been much more of a hit than I ever expected. What started out as a way to get my son engaged with our travels has become a project he takes very seriously. When his grandparents came to stay with us recently, he sat them down to go through his travel journal. I love that it keeps these journeys alive in his mind, and he gets so much more out of it, not only as we’re on the road, but afterwards.

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