App Review – MindSnacks

As is probably now well known, I love language learning tools that are anything but a textbook. I often spend out on, or sign up to things that will give me an edge on my language studying hobbies.

A few months ago I read a great review on International House of Geek about the app MindSnacks. So, I decided to give it a go.

The app is free to download, but for the full version I think I paid about 3 Euros (tried to find the price on their website and on iTunes but found no info).

It’s pretty good for basic vocabulary. They build your knowledge with a series of games – the above one is Fish Tank, which is infuriatingly difficult. Even when I was practising only months, which are the same in Chinese as they are in Japanese, I was getting so much game rage that I kept messing up. You have to click on the answer that corresponds to the prompt before the water runs away and the fish dies.

ShutterBug is a game you can play after paying for the full version. It’s another of the better ones, as you are given an audio prompt as well, which helps me remember the new vocabulary.

Mystery Crate could be such a good and useful game with some tweaking. The aim is to press the incorrect crates and get rid of them before they reach the ground. Crates with correct words on them, that arrive safely to the ground will let the rhinos go free nicely. Ones that are incorrect that arrive to the ground blow up. Where this app goes wrong is that you are looking up at the top to spot incorrect words, when you see an explosion at the ground but don’t remember the word let alone have the chance to review what was wrong about it. Especially with Chinese, where an incorrect word could mean only one stroke going array, a review session after the game has finished is vital.

After being not 100% impressed with the Chinese version, I decided not to buy the German one, but to stick with the free games. One of those is this great spelling game called Word Birds. You click on the letters to spell out the word written above. If you click on the wrong letter, the birds are electrocuted. This is a really ace game and definitely one of their stronger ones.

Overall, although the games are fun and teach me new words, I’m not entirely sure I’m actually learning anything new from these apps. There is a nice tone game in the Chinese one, but again, me getting the answers correct seems to have little correlation to whether I am able to speak using the correct tones. I have just gone to a new level and have been bombarded with a load of new profession words, but since there is no review period it’s kind of hard to remember the words before I go into the games. I’d prefer to learn more verbs and things I’ll actually use before learning these kinds of words anyway.

Overall I’d say they are worth the initial download (they ask your level at the start so it’s not just for beginners). They seem to be aiming to improve the games a lot so it’s worth keeping an eye on the apps to see if they get better, which I’m sure they will. I really hope they do well though, because the designs are great and the idea to build these games is fantastic. They just aren’t for me right now.

I cooked something and it was awesome 27.02.2012

Not only is Mr a very good cook, but he is also Irish and so makes me yummy Irish food like colcannon. In an effort to show him some good hearty English food, I cooked him my favourite – corned beef hash. Looking at the wiki, it seems the way my family always has it is a little different to how it is supposed to be – we boil potatoes with some onions, then mash it with tinned corned beef, and then top with baked beans and cheese. Not the healthiest thing in the world but it sure is yummy.

The German version of this is called labskaus, with mashed potatoes, corned beef and then pickled fish and beetroot on the side. I’m hoping to make this soon, so I can compare and contrast!

Frankfurt Mardi Gras

Only a week late, but here is a small selection of photos I took at the Frankfurt Mardi Gras last week.

Trouble with Jeans

Uniqlo in London

When I was in Japan, I loved Uniqlo. Mainly because they were the only place I could trust to stock my size (UK 12 – not that big, but when in Japan you feel like an enormous monster) but also because they had lots of really cute limited edition stuff in their collaboration series.

One of the best purchases I have done there was from the year before last – a pair of jeggings (a jeans and leggings hybrid). They were tight like skinny jeans, but had the stretch in them not to create lumps and bumps, and were also not leggings enough to be considered indecent when worn as jeans (ie with no top or dress covering my bum). I wore them and wore them until they died a painful death last summer. So I went to get some more from the flagship store in Nagoya. Alas, they didn’t do them anymore. I got a black pair of jeggings that were similar instead, since I had a nice pair of blue Uniqlo jeans already.

About a month ago, I decided to buy another pair of jeans. Since I’ve never really had money to spend while being in the West, I’m not aware of things like which brands to go for, or even how much the nicer brands cost. A small look around the department store and I was shocked to learn that Diesel jeans cost around 100 Euros! I wasn’t expecting that at all… so I headed to H&M. I ended up buying a really lovely pair of jeans for around 40 Euros – around the same price I’d pay at Uniqlo. They were lovely, and fit around my bum just right; so much so I kept on checking out my own bum in the mirror.

Then, I took them home and washed them. Bad move. The blue ink coming from the jeans meant that I had no choice but to wash them, however, once washed they were just not the same. They are now baggy around the bum where they were once snug. And the waist doesn’t sit right either. I’m heartbroken. And yet, my Uniqlo jeans (the black jeggings had to be put down a few months ago, sadly) just keep going and going. They are amazing.

Shopping in Japan was a right pain in the bum and I used to complain about it all the time. But what I wouldn’t do right now to be able to pop into a nice big flagship store and go on a mini spending spree….

Being in my 20s

I just read an awesome post that was advertised on WordPress’ main page, about the troubles the writer experiences from being in their 20s. It was a really good post but I could only relate to so much. I am so lucky and grateful for the events that have lead up to me being able to have my own apartment, my own well paid job and my own adventure in a different country. But I do still feel – as is natural, I guess – that the 20s are a particularly tricky age to be. Thanks to social media like Facebook, a lot of people now experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I know I really do. I go on Facebook and see this person has a shiny new job in Korea, this other person just started on their masters, and, probably the most troublesome, this person got married and is now pregnant. Now, I’m just a simple girl. I like going out and being adventurous but if I was given a week to do whatever I wanted, I’d probably do nothing more than walk around, take photos with my big camera, then sit in bed and edit them, and blog, and read books. But with all these people doing all these wonderful things, I get anxious. What am I meant to be doing? I’m 25 already. My mum was married by the time she was this age. Am I meant to settle down now? Am I ready?

It wasn’t necessarily FOMO but I felt really awkward the other day when I looked on Facebook and saw photos of a girl I used to sit next to in high school, with her new born baby. This girl and I used to sit and giggle and make up silly names for each other. And now she’s all grown up. How can this baby faced girl I used to have laughing fits with be grown up enough to have her own baby, and I can’t even keep a potted plant healthy?

Academically, I feel pressured too. In studying linguistics, one of the most interesting topics for me was when I studied how children acquire their mother tongue. Within this topic, however, I learnt that when we reach 30, our brains change and we become much less able to learn languages. The chances are, a language picked up from scratch after the age of 30 will never be mastered.

Like I said, I’m 25 now. I know Japanese. But I want the whole set – Korean and Chinese too. Why? Why not! They are all amazingly interesting and quirky in their own ways. But I feel I need to rush and get them done right away, before time runs out. I’m sure it’s not like Cinderella and as the clock stikes midnight and as I turn 30 my brain turns into a pumpkin, but I would still like to master all three well. And it scares me that I might leave it too late.

Whats more, I feel increasingly jealous of the people around me who are much older, and have taken the time to do amazing things. Not only Mister, who has had so many adventures and I love nothing more than sitting down and listening to him tell me stories from them, but also people at work. There are people with master degrees, people who speak more languages than I could ever hope to learn, people who have gone off and taking years studying lots of different things all over the world. I would love to just take a year out and study in China or Korea. Is time ticking on me being able to do this? I have no idea but I am not about to give up everything I have here to do so. Not just yet.

But I still want to be like them. I want to be able to start a story about something cool I did that doesn’t start with “in Japan…” or “when I was an ALT…”

Within the blog post above, the thing I identified with the most is how the 20s feel like you’re stuck in limbo – not at uni anymore, not yet a fully fledged adult. Living with Facebook and snapshots into our highschool friends’ lives is quite an unhealthy way to determine whether we are on the right tracks or not. But we still feel pressurised and compare ourselves. I guess this is the new norm in our generation.

Learning Languages – Michel Thomas

When I was living in Japan, time and time again I met (usually male) people who had lived in Japan for years and years and yet could not function in even basic Japanese. I really didn’t understand how they could be in a country for so long and not make the effort to learn the language.

Then I met German. It’s a challenge but I seem to be doing well with my lessons and also with the Michel Thomas tapes. I started with him in German and then I got the Chinese too.

His method is really good because he doesn’t teach grammar, but building blocks. So within 30 minutes of listening to his cd I was able to make a good number of sentences by myself. He starts with “Can you..” and “Would you like to..” and then builds up from there. It’s not just him talking to you, he is teaching two students at the time, and you can answer with them and feel like you are in a classroom setting. It’s funny because often I’ll make the same mistakes students, so it’s like Michel is correcting me.

With the German cd there is both a male and a female student. I’m not sure but I think he chose people who are purposefully a little dippy to make the listener feel better about themselves. The guy forgets words all the time (like he’ll forget the “now” in “can you bring me that now”) but I’m fine with that because I often forget the same things. I’m at the start of the second cd right now and he sounds really tired and pissed off, almost like a grumpy teenager. Michel is getting increasingly frustrated at how he messes up “mir” and “mich” all the time and there is a beautiful rant he has I think in the first track of the second cd where he says “DID I SAY TO ME?! NO! Then DON’T use MIR!!!”

The woman I think is a little deaf. She is really terrible at repeating things that are said to her. Her “nicht” grates on my nerves in particular, “ni h ku tuh” every single time. Again, Michel rants at her too, with her pronunciation of “haben”, where he says “haaaaaaaben” to which she replies “haiben”.

But enough bitching about the students, haha.

It’s an excellent course for German and I have found it really helpful in conjunction with my lessons. It really gave me confidence when I first got here that I was able to make so many sentences so early.

Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same about the Chinese cds. It’s not Michel Thomas doing them, but some American guy. It might be the same woman student again because her 想 sounds like a cat “shiiiiaaaaaaannnng”.

The American dude has a long winded and complex story for every single new word introduced. I am all for using stories to remember words (for example, lecture in Japanese is 講義 – kougi, which sounds like corgi. So, to remind myself I think of The Queen sitting in a lecture with all her dogs sat around her). But these stories are just embarrassingly long winded and cheesy. It’s also a shame they have the native speaker to back him up – it would be nice if they had a Chinese person who is able to teach well in the method. It’s a little complicated having the four voices going round.

I use the Chinese ones on the way to my classes on Fridays when I’m on the tram to get me in the Chinese mood. But I wouldn’t use them in the same way as I do the German ones since they simply are just not as effective.

Michel Thomas sadly doesn’t do Korean but I have the Pinsular cds for that. Maybe when I have some time I’ll sit down and listen to those too so I can compare and contrast.

Weekend in Bamberg

I spent a lovely weekend in Bamberg, Germany. I highly recommend it to anyone in the area.

It was so cold the river had frozen over!

I decided I want to live in a house that backs onto a river, and have a little boat out the back of it.

Of course, the food was excellent too.

I was a little nervous because I expected people in “real Germany” to be less forgiving with my lack of German skills, but everyone was super friendly and lovely. I think they are used to lots of English speaking tourists :-)

It made a wonderful weekend adventure. 

Make Up Monday 13.02.2012

While I was in Galeria the other day, I saw an OPI nail varnish that was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Its name was Princess, and it was pink and glittery. And 16 Euros. Gah. I stood staring at it for what seemed like forever, assessing the pros and cons of spending 16 Euros on one nail varnish. In the end, I decided against it, and instead went on search for slightly cheaper ones.

I ended up in Claire’s Accessories, which I know is not so good for a girl over the age of 17. But I like it in there and they have some cute things (though the one in Frankfurt, despite being no smaller than other ones I’ve been to, has a disappointingly small range of goods). I bought the 4 nail varnishes above, which came to 15 Euros all together. They said on them that they are chip resistant, so I decided to try them out and see if that is true.

As you can see, they apply pretty nicely. They do take ages to dry, which was annoying because, despite liking to paint my nails, I rarely have the time to sit and wait around for it to dry. With a layer of top coat from a different brand, they did actually chip after a few days, but I put that down to me having been impatient when it was drying, causing it to warp and clump, and that it was just too thick with all the layers. I have the chocolate colour with glitter tips with now, without a top coat, and I have no chips after 4 days.

I guess I should be aiming at buying more expensive brands, but these, despite not being Princess by OPI, create some really cute designs and have some really cute colours. What’s more, the Frankfurt Claire’s Accessories has some of the friendliest staff I have encountered in Frankfurt so far! Winners all round!

We drank something and it was awesome – 10.02.2012

In the world of Frankfurt alcohol, apfelwein is king. Made by Possman’s, the deliciously thirst-quenching cider is the drink of choice for those wanting to embrace German culture, those wanting a cheap way to get drunk or those who are just plain thirsty.

Ever since the Christmas period ended, there have been oodles of mega cheap alcohol on sale in my local Rewe. From 2 Euro wine to 60 cent beer, we’ve been able to sample some pretty good discount stuff over the past month or so. But then, we found something very special indeed – Apfelwein Cola!

It was sooo yummy, though I have no idea where you can buy it normally. I guess just putting normal coke with apfelwein would give the same effect.. It would be nice if it was available all over Frankfurt. The bottle design had all the key parts of Frankfurt too – the skyline, apfelwein, and a semi-clad slutty lady. What more could you want from a very Frankfurt drink?!

If you happen to spot a bottle of this for sale, do buy it – it’s well worth it!

The Nintendo Life

It was my dear friend’s birthday yesterday, so I took him to dinner. He also works at Nintendo. As we ate we sighed and wondered why there is such a thing as the Nintendo Bubble; why is it that people who work with us rarely have lives, friends, love outside the people we work with.

When I first joined the company (only 6 months ago now) I was determined to make local friends, German friends, people to hang out with outside of work. It was at my birthday party in October that I looked around the table of 20 or so people who had gathered to celebrate with me that I realised that I should stop trying so hard and accept that I love the people around me.

The people who work at Nintendo are COOL. Like, properly cool. There are so many amazing people with so many different life experiences and skills that it’s hard not to be in awe there. One of the most amazing things is how many people can not only speak their native European language, not only English fluently (so much so they can spot mistakes in my English in an instant!) but also speak Japanese as well. How I’d love to have 3 or more languages…

Another reason why it’s just easier to have in-house friends is that it does pretty much take over your life, even when it’s not a challenging project. The current project I am on, despite  not being involved enough for me to feel the stressful parts, is controlling me so much that I am dreaming about it, and thinking about it and the contents as I am walking down the street. When we have get-togethers the boys usually talk nothing but video games, so much so that I feel so sorry for the few non-Nintendo wives who have to put up with all the boring shop talk haha.

And then, it’s good to be close to people and be able to talk openly with people who know what kind of troubles you are going through. The current project is very different to my previous two and I’m finding more than before that I have to work harder to bridge the gap between my co-workers who have years of experience and myself. Being able to talk about this over Sunday brunch with people who have been there is so nice. We are unable to talk about most things to do with work as, of course, we work with so much delicate information, so I can’t just phone up my mum and tell her all about it. 

There are about 400 people working at our office in Frankfurt. Within those people I only interact with very very few people, but everyone is so nice and friendly even if we don’t know each other by name. It’s like a secret club we have going on, where we know all the secrets and have secret handshakes and all that. I’m sure I could never get bored of the Nintendo family.

So I don’t mind being in the Nintendo bubble at all. It’s a pretty cool bubble to be in.