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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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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Things I love: Bandbox bike helmets

Things I love: Bandbox bike helmets

Bike helmets. I know lots of people don’t like them, question their efficacy, and chafe against helmet laws. And while I appreciate how annoying they can be, I have also known a couple people who have avoided serious brain injury by wearing one. When you have a child and ride with them a lot, it is just easier to wear one than constantly argue about why they have to and why you don’t.

Bandbox bike helmet with beret cover

Bandbox bike helmet with beret cover

So – I’m going to wear a helmet, why not find a way not to hate it?

Bandbox is a small millinery/helmeterie (?) based on the east coast of the United States, and they make beautiful custom covers that fit over their bike helmets. I had been lusting over them for awhile, but let myself be deterred by cranky people on the Internet saying they looked weird. Why do I listen to these people? I will never know.

Bandbox bike helmet sporting their Hollywood helmet cover.

This is how it works:

You buy one helmet, and choose the strap colour that will blend in best with your skin or hair colour. Then, choose a cover, or covers. I have four covers for my helmet: a winter felt cloche, a wide brim blue straw hat with a big pink flower, a smaller brim black straw hat, and a black wool beret. I change them depending on what I’m wearing, or what the weather is like.

Changing hat covers is easy. Inside the hat is a drawstring-like arrangement, you just undo the cord and pop off your cover.

Bandbox bike helmet with their Louisville helmet cover and my own lily of the valley floral trimmings.

Bandbox bike helmet with their Louisville helmet cover and my own lily of the valley floral trimmings.

I love my Bandbox helmets, but the main downside is the cost. A helmet and cover will set you back 150 USD, and the covers on their own run from 50 – 80 USD. I started out with one summer and one winter cover, and only invested in two more a year later. Of course, once you own the helmet, you’re good. Could you just buy a big hat and put it on there…? Well, not really. I think you would need some millinery skills to fit it to the helmet, and affix the drawstring arrangement properly. The covers are all handmade.

For me, as someone who cycles every day and wears a helmet every day, I feel like my lovely helmet that looks like a hat was worth it.

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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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5 Things You Need to Commute to School by Bike

5 Things You Need to Commute to School by Bike

My seven-year-old son and I bike to and from school every day. It takes about 10 minutes each way, and is mostly flat, so it’s an ideal commute for a smaller cyclist. He is on his own bike and I am on mine. This isn’t an option for everyone, I know – in our last city his school was much too far away and up a giant hill. We’re now in a small European city with extensive bike lanes and an incredible amount of cyclists on the road, so it feels like drivers are much more aware of us.

There are a few bits of kit that make this much easier, most of them really inexpensive. I’ve lusted after cargo bikes and bakfiets, but the reality is with one child we just don’t really need it, nor can we afford it. So if you’re thinking about changing your commute, or just want to ride with your kids more often, take a look:

Bike rearview mirror

Rearview mirror

This bendy-armed thing might look a bit ridiculous, but it has made such a difference. It’s hard not to turn around constantly to see what your child is doing, but with this mirror I can always see him. It minimizes those bike-wobbling full body visual checks too, and allows me to keep my eyes on what’s going on in front of me as well. It just fits on your handle bars, no need to remove grips.

Front and rear baskets, bungee cords

Because we bike to school, there are school bags and sports kit, plus the unwanted jumper or coat on the way home. It’s quite hard to cycle with a backpack on when you’re small, so I have both a front basket, and a big rear basket with a four-hook bungee cord thing that spreads over whatever I have crammed in there. I find this set-up easiest so I am free from backpacks too, and my bike can accommodate whatever comes home from school.

Front and read bike baskets

Lights for everyone

In the autumn and winter, it’s quite dark during commute times, and if it’s raining, visibility to car traffic is tough. Having lights on your own bike and your child’s really helps. Lots of kids helmets also have lights on the back which is a great feature, as rear lights on kids bikes are quite low to the ground. My son has cheap LED USB battery lights on his bike, but I have dynamo-powered lights on mine. I have an after-market bottle dynamo, which is like a little bottle shaped thing next to my front wheel that I can click into place, and it rubs along my tire, generating energy that powers my front and rear lights. I like this because all my lights are screwed permanently in place, and never run out of power. It can make it harder to pedal, and it’s not quiet, but I do mostly city cycling, so it works for me. Also, if my son’s lights run out of battery, at least his helmet light works and mine always do.

biking to school

Gloves and cowl

These gloves don’t need to be fancy – in fact I buy a pile of cheap stretchy gloves from H&M, as well as his main pair, which are fingerless with a flip over top to make them mittens. In the autumn and early winter it can be 1ºC when we set out in the morning. He also has a cowl made from fuzzy fleece which can be easy to whip up on the sewing machine – it looks like a single loop, so no ends to flop about.

biking to school 2

Seat covers for wet weather

Sitting through school with a wet bum is pretty horrible, so we have a selection of waterproof covers to pull over our seats. What we’ve also used: plastic bags tied underneath or shower caps. And if you’ve forgotten to put one on and your seat is soaking, use the seat cover anyway and just sit on it, keeps your bum dry for that ride at least.

Do you cycle often with your kids? How about riding to school? Let me know in the comments!

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