3 Great Tools for Learning a New Language

Learning a new language can be daunting. Luckily, there are a huge selection of online tools to choose from which can help you to achieve your desired level of fluency in a new language.

The flip side of the problem, though, is how do you actually know how to pick which ones to use?

Lyon, France

The best way to learn a language? Travel to the country where you need to use the language of the host country. In Lyon, France, I improved my French skills.


I’m going to focus on a 3 tools that I have found to be the most useful when learning a new language, all of which I’ve been using for at least a year if not more:

(1) Conversation Exchange

This is a great website where you can search people’s profiles and connect with people who want to learn another language. You can search for someone who is located in your hometown or connect with them via Skype. I’ve met a few great French speakers this way (who live in San Francisco). Superb way to connect offline or online and practice your conversational skills.

(2) WordReference

This is a fantastic dictionary for a number of languages (it originally just had a robust dictionary for Romance languages but has since spread to other languages). They provide a number of entries for any given word, and the forums are well frequented and have great back-and-forth-discussion.

Necessary for when you’re online and need to look up something quickly – I prefer it to Google Translate, in particular because you can understand the nuance of words with their explanations. I’ve used this for French and Spanish translations.

(3) Memrise

Whether you’re looking to pick up 15 words in Japanese for a business trip to Tokyo, or you want to expand  your Spanish vocabulary to know more words, Memrise is an online system that helps you learn and retain new words. Within Memrise, you get to choose a set of vocabulary words, many collections which have been created by other users. Once you start learning the words in the collection that you have chosen, the system prompts you to pick a funny story in order to remember this new word or phrase.

These are just 3 great resources. There are many more which I haven’t used in too much depth (like iTalki or DuoLingo) but which I’ve heard great things about, and would encourage you to check out as well.

What tools have you used to learn new languages to meet your fluency goals?


Jen Burstedt

5 Tips for Scoring An Apartment in San Francisco

Moving into a new apartment in San Francisco, either from another city or from another district in San Francisco, is no small feat. If you find that you are not having any issue at all finding good apartments in decent areas of the city for a reasonable price, then you are either 1) extremely well connected 2) outside of budget constrained category (lucky, you!).

I’ve opted to live with roommates during the 6 years I’ve lived in the city for both financial and social reasons. My multiple apartment searches have required me to be creative and persistent, and have included sending off multiple emails, attending apartment showing and open houses and talking with everyone I know in order to get referrals for new places.

Like a job search, you need to be exploring multiple avenues at once in order to get a good place that will be a fit.

Here are 5 tips for getting a great apartment in the City by the Bay:

1) Prepare to spend at least a month for your search. Keep your weekend open for the month prior to move in – or block off your weekdays during that month. You’ll need to set aside a few hours at least a week in order to find something, assuming you’re looking for a shared situation (whether it’s for that connection who is your second-cousin’s-friend’s-neighbor or a completely random Craigslist stranger).

It can likely take time for this search – consider it a nice gift if the search takes less than a month.

Apartment viewing schedule

Scheduling your apartment viewings – essential to keeping organized during your apartment search.

2) Create a list of desirables (must-haves and want-to-haves) in your new living situation. Before you talk to anyone, you need to make sure you know what you want out of a living situation, and can communicate this to your potential future roommates. Know that you wouldn’t want to live with a cat? Need someone who can handle having overnight guests on the couch once every few weeks? Have a short list of these must-haves (and include a few nice-to-haves).

It will help you in the long run to avoid a situation that you’re not happy with (which would eventually re-launch you in the apartment search).

3) Create your “rental portfolio” before meeting anyone in person. 

This includes:

– Rental resume (like a resume but includes addresses and contact information of landlords from past 5 years)
– Credit reports (available for free download once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com) with birthdate, social security number and any account numbers blacked out
– Check book in hand (although I’ve never put down a check at a showing, it’s a good fall back item to have – especially if you’re looking to move on a very tight timeline)
– References (again, may not be applicable right away, but it’s good to have 3 people you know agree to be references – including old landlords, colleagues or friends that could act as a reference for you)

4) Use multiple online tools to track availability of new places:

Craigslist (be discerning and though don’t overlook places without images)

Apartment List (apartment hunting resource)

Apartment List robot

The Apartment List robot.

PadMapper (aggregates Craigslist data)

Going through a realtor for your rental is another option. As a renter, you don’t have to worry about realtor costs – the landlord is the one who is paying for the cost of the realtor.

5) Have a back-up plan. If all else fails: where would you go if you aren’t able to find a place by move-in day? Give up, move outside the city or to a neighborhood that you really don’t want to live in?

Short term options exist, such as sublets (commonly found through Craigslist) or weekly rentals. Airbnb in a less expensive part of town might even be in option, since it will allow you to commit for a shorter amount of time.


Oh, and read this Bold Italic article, too – “The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying to Rooms on Craigslist.”


Remember: the search takes time! Good luck in your search.

These are some tips I’ve picked up through the years. What advice do you have for the tough apartment hunt?


Jen Burstedt

Some Days, You Just Have To Race

Some days, you just have to race.

Here is a photo of me before the Across the Bay 12K, a great race which goes from Sausalito and across the Golden Gate Bridge, finishing in Aquatic Park in San Francisco.

Across the Bay 12K 2014

Minutes before the start of the Across the Bay 12K race in Sausalito.

Why do I support the idea of organized races instead of DIY runs?

  • I love feeling the excitement of running with others
  • It’s great to be held accountable for your time (with a device that accurately measures your time and posts it on a publicly displayed list)
  • Nice knowing that you can’t quit without a crowd of people watching you (and so… you don’t quit)
  • Encouraging to be cheered on as your run to the finish line (that doesn’t happen a lot when you run solo)

These are all great ways to step up your speed a notch. I know that this race allowed me to become a little bit faster in my short runs.

Race times

Race times for Across the Bay 12K! I’m on there, overall #469.

Anyone in the mood to join me for a run in San Francisco sometime? 



Jen Burstedt

Life is a Journey: 5 Great Personal Development Quotes

Personal development is something that I consider to be a worthy, life-long endeavor. I credit my dad with instilling in me that principle of: “slow and steady wins the race” – a lesson from parable story of the tortoise and the hare.

The story? The tortoise and the hare decide to race one another; the tortoise starts in a slow crawl and the hare in an energetic sprint, leaving the tortoise in the dust. The hare laughs at the slow tortoise, who is moving along. Eventually, though, the hare runs out of steam, has to rest and recover. Meanwhile, the tortoise has been chugging along at the same speed, and eventually crosses the finish line, beating the hare (who is still in recovery), winning the race.

The moral? It’s better to work slowly towards your goals, steadily (like the tortoise) than start off with a high-energy sprint, only to lose steam and give up half way through the race (like the hare). Building to your success takes time.

Related to this personal development philosophy, here are 5 great development quotes that inspire me as I seek to develop and grow in my life:


“Part of abandoning the all-or-nothing mentality is allowing yourself room for setbacks. We are bound to have lapses on the road to health and wellness, but it is critical that we learn how to handle small failures positively so that we can minimize their long-term destructive effects. One setback is one setback—it is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your journey toward a better you.” – Jillian Michaels, The Biggest Loser

Life is a journey.

Life is a journey, not a destination.

“Your life is a trajectory. Every choice you make alters that trajectory, in a positive or negative way. Will you categorize that dinner with friends as a business expense? Will you be honest with your daughter? Will you take more credit than you’re due? These are just the small questions that we face every day, and little by little, the answers influence the trajectory of our lives and beings.” – Donald Van de Mark, former TV anchorman & author


“Fear less, hope more, eat less, chew more, whine less, breathe more, talk less, say more, hate less, love more, and good things will be yours.” – Swedish proverb

Guests for dinner.

Inviting friends over for a home-cooked meal is something that contributes to my overall sense of life satisfaction.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs


“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”  – George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright


What quotations or stories inspire you in your life?


Jen Burstedt

A Blind Experience: The Blind Cafe in San Francisco

What would you do if you were to go blind today? If you lost all sense of sight and were pitched into darkness?

Saturday night, I experienced a tiny sliver of the experience that blind people have each day at the Blind Cafe in San Francisco. Previously mentioned in this blog post, the Blind Cafe is also called a pop-up restaurant. It’s a 3 day event: 3 night of dinners with a concert included.

The Blind Cafe - a community event.

The Blind Cafe, a community event where people connect, learn and grow in the dark.

The venue was the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, a local community center. The main multipurpose room was transformed into the dark room, and this is where the blind experience began.

Pulling back the curtain, a guide escorted me through the maze created to maintain the total darkness within the large room which served as the dining hall and concert venue. I hadn’t thought that the cup of red wine I was holding could easily be a hazard in a room of “temporarily blind” individuals.

As my guide pulled me through the room, he whispered to me, “stand here.” I clung to his arm as I tried to get my bearings in the completely dark room.

Without my eyes, I wish I could have walked around the room, touching everything, running my hands along to feel the rough, splintery wood walls, or the protruding upraised stage, and feel the placement of the plastic tables and folding chairs around the room. I couldn’t, though, as Rosh, the performer, sang on stage. It likely would have meant a collision with another individual would have spilled red wine on my white button-up shirt…

Conversation and laughter bubbled up from around me, sporadically, but I couldn’t tell from where. After while of struggling, trying to pinpoint and analyze the layout of the room, and the people, and the decor, I let it go. For a night, I could give up my reliance on my sight and experience some of what a blind person might experience.

I remained where I was, relaxing as the concert went on, hearing more clearly than before as Rosh sang along with his acoustic guitar on stage. I saw this as a chance to listen a little closerwithout the distraction of my eyes and sight – to take comfort in the cloak of darkness and relishing the fact that I could focus on one less sense, at least for a night.

One Eye Glass Broken website.

One Eye Glass Broken performed at the San Francisco Blind Cafe.

Events by Collette organized the event, Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken came to play, blind guests of honor represented and spoke, blind waitstaff were involved, individuals such as Chef Kaz from Breakthrough Sushi donated their services to the delicious vegan menu and many other volunteers staffed the event. An incredible effort of many – awesome job to everyone who was involved, attended and supported the event!


Jen Burstedt

Stirring Empathy in Others: A Video

Empathy: how do you teach someone to look outside themselves?

I thought this short video did an amazing job of showing a glimpse inside people’s heads to teach (at least, in the short term) what is means to be empathetic.

Kudos to the marketing and communications team at Cleveland Clinic who produced this! Also, thank you to Connie Davis, Dr. Damara Gutnick and Kriss Haren for introducing it to me through their motivational interviewing workshop in Burbank.

empathy video by the Cleveland Clinic

A video made by the Cleveland Clinic on “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care.”

Spontaneity and Improv

“When you act or speak spontaneously, you reveal your real self, as opposed to the self you’ve been trained to present.”

Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

Keith Johnstone's Impro book.

The cover of Impro, a book on improvisation by Keith Johnstone.

Improv class: I’m currently in week 4 of 6 weeks of improvisation class – “Foundations 2” or the second level of improv at the BATS School of Improv in San Francisco. This past Thursday night, the small class of 7 students plus teacher and TA worked on the improv concept of spontaneity.

Being spontaneous has never been a strength of mine, but over the 3 hour session, I explored parts of myself and got to act out a few scenes myself. Apparently, I haven’t been traditionally good at it because I haven’t practiced it enough.

I refer to Johnstone since his book “Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre” is required reading for the course. Johnstone is British, pontifical and hilarious. Along the lines of spontaneity, Johnstone also says, “If you improvise spontaneously in front of an audience you will have to accept that your innermost self will be revealed.”


My scene, which I played with a male classmate, Rob, started out with a suggestion of a location.

“Ice skating rink!” yelled one of our improv classmates.

Rob and I stood in an awkward pose, with me half-bent over, as if falling, and he reaching out his arm as if to hold me up. The scene starts, and I immediately justify the pose.

“Whoa, almost fell there!” I exclaim.

“You’re catching on pretty quick,” Rob says, “learning how to ice skate. You’ll have it down in no time.”

I smile, as we continue to hold arms and pretend to skate across the stage. “Yeah – best first date ever!”

We just created a scene – I’m doing improv – and, obviously, as a single woman, this common theme has spilled out from me onto our scene: dating.

Somedays, improv is like group therapy, where you get to reveal and discover parts of yourself that are locked up, showing yourself for the raw, vulnerable human being you are. And this is yet another reason why improv is amazing.

Bonus: improv games that you can try at home – some of which we play in my class.


Jen Burstedt

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