A Video That Speaks to All Language Struggles

Bonjour mes amis!

I stumbled across this TED talk by an English teacher in France titled, “Why the French are useless in English.” Did you know 48% of executives in France feel uncomfortable speaking English? Funny to think of language intimidation working in reverse!

There’s a lot of good advice in here, but I’ll highlight this quote in particular:

“There is no miraculous method. The only method that works is the one that you follow in a regular and diligent manner — preferably with a good dose of pleasure.”

The speaker, Carol Bausor, also encourages making as many mistakes as possible when learning a new language. It’s how you learn! I love this video for anyone learning a language, but of course, especially enjoyed that the talk itself was given in French.

Bonus points to anyone who can comment with the quote I pulled above in the French original!

À bientôt!


A Language Learning Fail

Bonjour, mes amis! J’ai trouvé cette vidéo courte des Américains qui ont utilisé Duolingo pour apprendre le français. Comme vous verrez, sans la consistance c’était un peu inutile. Beaucoup de gens dans cette vidéo dit aussi que le plus efficace mode de améliorer était en conversation. Alors, c’est un bon rappel pour moi de continuer avec mon tutor sur iTalki.

J’espère que vous aimerez cette vidéo, et que votre apprentissage est plus réussi que le leur.

Hello, my friends! I found this short video of Americans who used Duolingo to learn French. As you will see, without consistency it was somewhat useless. Many people in the video also say that the most effective way of improving was in conversation. So, it’s a good reminder for me to continue with my tutor on iTalki.

I hope that you will like this video and that your learning is more successful than theirs.

À bientôt!

P.S. How’d I do?

BuzzFeed: A Great Way To Learn A Language

It’s common knowledge that reading articles in your target language is good practice. For a long time though, I always associated this with newspapers and magazines. The problem? I rarely read newspapers and magazines in English! What I do read is a lot of silly stuff that comes up in my Facebook feed. Solution? Start reading all those silly things in French  — or whatever language you are learning.

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How To Use BuzzFeed To Learn A Language:

At the top of Buzzfeed’s main page is a pull-down menu with the different countries they publish from. Select your country/language of choice and make it your homepage, or, click the “like” button for Facebook which will incorporate new stories into your feed. It’s a sure fire way to turn your daily procrastinating into a language learning opportunity!

Why This Works:

1. It’s usually pretty readable. Unlike serious news or magazine articles, the text in BuzzFeed articles is quick to read, and often colloquial. There are also pictures all throughout which keeps you interested and engaged, even if you don’t understand every word.

2. It introduces you to a wide variety of topics of interest in your target language. From Jake Gyllenhaal’s training routine for Southpaw, to hangover cures, to fifteen times Nicki Minaj was a feminist — it may not be the definitive guide to health or social issues but it sure can provide a fun introduction. Words I just learned from reading these articles:

  • to do crunches: faire des abdos
  • to do push-ups: faire des tractions
  • to hydrate: hydrater
  • sports drink: une boisson énergétique
  • sexism: le sexisme

3. Many articles include translations or have fully translated versions. For example, tweets in English are often embedded into articles with a French translation below:
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Or, you can always search for the article’s English version. Here are the links to the English equivalents of the Southpaw training and the hangover cure articles. It may not always be a word for word translation, but if you can point out the differences, all the more power to you!

Happy reading to all and thank you BuzzFeed for your endlessly entertaining antics in many languages.

What other fun websites do you follow in French?

How To Get Out Of A Study Slump


It has indeed been weeks since I posted last and I am very sad to say I have gotten off track with my 12 Week Challenge! Zut! While I’ve still been loving my weekly French class and iTalki conversation lessons, I definitely have been a little more lax about using the rest of my week to cram in as much French as possible. Workbook review exercises here and there, passively watching French movies with English subtitles, and listening to the radio in French. Still, I think it’s important to address how this can (and will) happen as you’re learning a new language, and how to move on without beating yourself up.

For me, it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed with the idea that I should be catching up on ALL the things. But the best thing to do is to pick one thing (seriously, just one!) to pick back up with the next day. And then go from there. Moi? I want to input the vocabulary from my last two iTalki sessions onto Anki tomorrow. That’s it. There are other things I want to catch up on this week, but I’m just going to pick that one thing I can tangibly wrap my head around for now. Do that, and you’ll find your way.

Tomorrow night I have my French class and I’d like to start reporting on here what we’re working on so hopefully I’ll have another post up for you by Tuesday! Until then, I wanted to share an artist I’ve been listening to! Apparently this girl is only 18 and won France’s version of The Voice. In the states, this might put me off from giving it a listen but I heard her song on my French radio app a few times, looked her up, and found that her whole album is a good level of French for me to understand, while also enjoying the music enough.

So here is the song that I liked so much:

And another vide of the same song slowed down with lyrics:

I was very happy to hear the word “défoncer” which showed up in my workbook’s list of -cer verbs that add an circumflex accent to the c in present nous form (nous défonçons). I had added it to my Anki flashcards with the given translation in my book “to smash in.” You’ll imagine my surprise then when I double checked it today on google and this popped up:

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Ah! Quite different. I found a few other sources supporting this translation and am not quite sure what to think. It appears in the verse to describe their hearts as “défoncés.” Both smashed-in hearts and effed hearts hold a similar meaning, but of course, the connotation is quite different. Could one use “défoncé” in front of someone’s grandmother?

Report back if you know, mes chers! Until then, happy listening!

À bientôt,


A Video That Will Make You Want to Study and Talking About Reality TV and Dating In French

… Or maybe just want to watch every other video Babbel posted of Matthew Youlden. He also has a twin brother and they both speak 10 different languages fluently. So amazing.

In this video the twins share their tips for learning new languages.

As for me? I had my second informal tutoring session on iTalki this morning. I was running on about 2 hours of sleep after going out with a friend visiting from out of town the night before and I like to think that can explain why I was so bad at stammering out opinions today. But again, I left this session feeling really good because it was so much fun. My tutor had a list of topics to talk about and while I didn’t have much to say about young people being overly concerned with their looks or the incredible access to information we have on the internet, when she asked about my opinion on reality television I lit up and could not spewing incoherent French about how much I love watching bad tv.

Here are a few easy vocabulary terms I picked up in my lesson today while discussing my favorite guilty pleasure:

les émissions de télé réalité – reality tv shows
crier – to yell
se battre – to fight (both good for describing the premise of Jersey Shore)
tomber amoureux/amoureuse – to fall in love
très rapidement – very quickly (both useful for describing the premise of The Bachelor)
un rendez-vous – a date
sortir avec quelqu’un – to go out with someone, to date someone

One thing I asked about is whether dating has it’s own verb in French. In English you would say that you are dating someone, but I think we also talk about the act of dating in and of itself, without relation to a specific person. For example, if you say a date, or many dates, or dating someone specific, is terrible, that’s different from saying the act of dating is in itself terrible — (which yes, is exactly what I most frequently have to convey on the subject.)

I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has spent time living in France and knows if whether this imperfect translation of dating reflects a difference in the cultural practice of it. In my experience, it’s easy to become frantic about finding relationships in the US, especially with the rise of online dating and the rise of reality shows surrounding the subject (The Bachelor, Married at First Sight and First Love, Second Chance all come to mind). I always find myself comparing going on dates to going on job interviews because frankly, it feels like robotic unpaid work most of the time. Is dating in France a more casual practice? Or even a more personal one?

Next week, I’m signing up for two half hour sessions with my tutor as opposed to the one forty-five minute session we did today. I’m hoping that less of a gap between sessions will keep me on my toes and improving faster.

Until then, joyeux apprentissage à vous!

À bientôt,

Translation of the Day: Charlotte’s Web

Salut mes amis!

I am now on Week 2, Day 2 of my 12 Week Language Learning Challenge and that means one hour of reading! I would highly recommend “Le Petit Monde de Charlotte” for any early beg-intermediate readers of French out there. As I mentioned previously, there is a lot of farm vocabulary to get used to, but the new vocabulary is repeated often enough that it makes it easy enough to pick up on. (After this book I will never forget that le fumier means “manure” and yet I hope I will never have an occasion that requires me to use it in France…)

The best part about reading children’s literature in French is that it makes stories written for children sound very serious and somber indeed! It’s been a busy day for me but I wanted to share a quick translation from my reading today to show you what I mean..

La Citation:

“C’était vraiment le plus mauvais jour de sa vie. Il ne voyait pas comment il pourrait supporter cette affreuse solitude une minute de plus. L’obscurité noyait tout.” 

My translation:

It was truly the worst day of his life. He couldn’t see how he could bear this terrible solitude for one more minute. Darkness drowned everything.”

Pauvre Wilbur! I mean, I know that it’s a sad passage in English, but in French? That little pig is downright existential.

May your day be better than his, and stay tuned for happier updates from the farm!

À bientôt,


The Eiffel Tower on Google Today!

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I was so happy to come home from my first day of French class at the Alliance Française to find this very appropriate cartoon on Google! March 31, 2015 marks the Eiffel Tower’s 126th birthday and graphic artist Floriane Marchix created this very cute Google Doodle in celebration.

Here’s a nice quote about the Eiffel Tower, and my spin on how it can be applied towards learning languages:

La Citation:
“Dans leur idée, la tour Eiffel était ce qu’il y a de plus beau au monde. Mlle Minnier dit que c’est le Parthénon. Moi, je crois que tout ce que les gens font est beau.” – Béatrix Beck, La Décharge, 1979

My translation:
“In their minds, the Eiffel Tower was that which is most beautiful in the world. Miss Minnier says that it’s the Parthenon. Me, I think that everything that people make is beautiful.”

My take on this quote:
Since starting this blog, I’ve heard many references to French being “la plus belle langue.” Sitting in my class tonight though, you probably wouldn’t have thought so. I was somewhat relieved to find that the other students also hesitate and stumble in their speech as they work to conjugate and place pronouns correctly. It may not have sounded pretty to a native speaker, but me, I think that any language you make your own is beautiful.

I’m a big fan of the movie Paris Je T’aime, and I especially love this segment which fits nicely with today’s post:

Joyeux anniversaire à toi, belle tour! May you forever beckon people young and old to learn your beautiful language and make it their own.

À bientôt,


The Struggle Is Real: Conversation Practice on iTalki for the First Time

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“Struggle is the father of all things.” – Heraclitus

Oh là là… A few things! First, I wanted to give you all a look at what the first week of the language learning challenge looked like for me:

Lundi: 30 Minutes of exercises from the Complete French Grammar Workbook followed by 30 minutes of Living Language Audio and Text.
Mardi: 1 Hour reading Le Petit Monde de Charlotte.
Mercredi: 30 Minutes of Duolingo followed by 30 minutes of flashcard input and review on Anki.
Jeudi: Day Off! Briefly reviewed flashcards on Anki.
Vendredi: 30 Minute Composition on iTalki followed by 30 Minutes of Complete French Grammar Workbook.
Samedi: Day Off! Again, quick Anki flashcard review.
Dimanche: 30 Minute Review/Preparation for 30 Minute Informal Tutoring Session on iTalki.

A ton of materials to check out, and many that I will come back to in another post to review and evaluate. For now, I just want to talk about my first tutoring session on iTalki! First, it was super easy to set up. I really like that you can watch introduction videos for every tutor on the website. I chose by price, but also because my tutor’s profile expressed a focus in conversation as a teaching method. Something I am in dire need of! It was WONDERFUL that the website shows you a tutor’s availability in your own time zone. When it came time for my scheduled lesson, I kind of sat around waiting on Skype for a minute before realizing I should add, and call her. And sure enough! My tutor was there smiling, ready to go, and had me start by introducing myself.

Now, mind you, I had prepped for this. Last night I made a list of topics I could expect to talk about in our first lesson (where I live, what I do for work, what my family is like, places I have traveled to, why I want to study French) and this morning I spent a good 30 minutes reviewing how I’d talk about these topics. Still, when it came time to actually open my mouth and spew out all the lovely and coherent phrases I’d prepared, I totally blanked. “Euhhh… Bonjour, je m’appelle Zena. J’ai…. euhhhh… vingt-cinq ans. J’habite à Portland?”

It was like being in my 8th grade French class all over again.

Vraiment pathétique.

It got a little better as we talked more in our half hour session, but honestly, not by much. I realized that while I may have covered other tenses long ago, that understanding how to form them in my review books now, does not mean I have any grasp of them in conversation. I was lucky to use even the passé composé and imparfait correctly. So, so humbling. 

Still, the most surprising part of today’s session is how I felt afterwards. I had been so nervous to speak and knew that I was going to make a mess of it and have to face exactly how far I have to go, but even after butchering the language for 30 minutes, I felt very happy and proud to have taken the first step in becoming a better French language speaker and was not ashamed or embarrassed, but rather, incredibly motivated and excited to improve.

I went for a 4 mile run later in the day and thought about how difficult it used to be to run even one mile. A good reminder that being bad at something doesn’t mean you’ll always be bad at it. Dedication and consistency go a long, long way.

When I got home I got in the bath and put on The French Minister (on Netflix) and thought this quote from the movie was the perfect expression of this week’s experience. And if I were Heraclitus, I’d probably add that struggle is the father of all things worth doing.

Struggle on, people!

À bientôt,