Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Tips for Learning French #1 -Beginners-

It can be pretty daunting to think about learning  another language if you have been out of school for a bit.
You've probably read those articles that say that if you haven't got it by around age 7, you will never be able to talk with a perfect accent.

I know how you feel after you read something like that.
Terrific, you think.
I'll be XX (fill in the year yourself) this year, so what is the use of starting to learn French?

Well, how old are you going to be if you don't start?  Hmmm?

Chin up. You can make progress at this if you work at it.  Truly.  And it is lots of fun when you get going.
If you have had even a little French in the past, you will be surprised at how much is still in there.
I took Spanish lessons before a trip to Buenos Aires, and I was amazed at how the words kept coming out in French -- words that I did not even realize I remembered from my two years of high school French.

Even if the only French words you know are Yves St, Laurent, you can learn.
And it will be good for you.
I have read that learning a new language at any age is supposed to be helpful in preventing Altzeimer's and dementia.  It supposedly wears new grooves in parts of your brain.
So let's make our brains groovy. 

Ok, you ask, how do I start?
Some people think that the only way to learn is to go to a month-long immersion class in France and soak it all in.
That would certainly be one way.
But that job thing or that family thing -- not to mention that money thing -- may make a long immersion in France impossible.

If you are someone for whom the word "summer" is a verb -- as in "I love to 'summer' at the Vineyard" -- I suggest that you try this immersion method.

If not, check and see if there is an Alliance France group near you (they list their locations on their internet site). They offer classes, and I understand they are very good.  Alas, I have none near me.

See if a community college near you offers classes or if a French high school teacher in your town would give you some lessons.  I really think it is a good idea to start with someone face-to-face who can get you on the right path with pronunciation and grammar.   

If that is not possible, then just go at it yourself with all you've got.
There are lots of tools to learn French, and it can be a bit overwhelming to try to wade through them all.
Here are some things that I used that I  thought were helpful when I started to learn French about two and a half years ago.  I am going to start with two items today, but I will be adding more in later posts. 

You need to start building your vocabulary, but you also need to understand the grammar structure as you learn.  Here are two items to get you started.  They won't break the bank, but they will get you a good foundation if you practice every day. 

The book French: How to Speak and Write It by Joseph Lemaire has pictures with vocabulary and grammar lessons that are easy to follow.  Many of the words are written out phonetically so you can see how to pronounce them.  The book was first published in 1962, and it is still in print.  It is pretty easy to find online if you cannot find it at a store near you. 

Here is a link  French: How to Speak and Write It (English and French Edition)

I really love this next item.  It is a set of CDs called Drive and Learn French.  The CDs tell the story of Jon and his French friend Jacqueline.  Jon meets Jacqueline at the gym , falls head over heels for her, and he decides he needs to learn to speak French to impress her.     

I especially liked this program because it has lots of catchy songs that help you remember the words.  There is one song set at a restaurant that I found very handy when I visited France after working with this CD  --
"We have a reservation -- Nous avons réservé"
This program teaches you greetings, numbers, colors, weather, directions, words to use on the telephone, how to order at a restaurant -- lots of useful things. 


 As you can see there is a Listener's Guide so you can read and follow along with the action and music (though not while driving, please).  
In future posts, I will be reviewing more items that I have been using to learn French.  I will include items for beginners and also for intermediate learners.  

Please let me know how you are progressing  with this beautiful language.

Au revoir. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Time to Reconnect with Albert Camus

Albert  Camus.  He died 40 years ago this month (January 4, 1960) in a car accident.  He was at the summit of his powers.  Only three years before the accident, he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Camus was forty-six years old when he died, and he believed that his work had not even begun.  The exquisite irony is that he did not even like cars, and he had planned to travel by train on the day he died, until a friend talked him out of it.  An unused train ticket was found in his pocket.  One can only imagine what Camus would have done with that material in one of his books.. 

I first became acquainted with Albert Camus in college when I took a course in The Philosophy of Existentialism.  Yes, I know that there is a big argument that he was not an existentialist -- that even JP Sartre was not really an existentialist.  That label does not really matter to me.

What interests me now is whether my view of him has changed now that  I am older and wiser. Well, definitely older -- not sure at all about that wiser part.

And I also believe that for me to get a more complete picture of France today, I must try to get a better understanding of the French history in North Africa.. His writings subtly deal with themes of colonialism and the problems that it leaves in its wake. 

People like Camus were known by the term "pied-noir" -- black foot.  This term referred to people who were colonists of French European ancestry who lived in Algeria before independence.  It also refers to colonists who were repatriated in France after Algerian independence.   The name "black foot" is believed to have come from the firemen, the coal stokers, on steamers who worked in bare feet colored black by coal. .  They were most often Algerian natives.

Camus was born to a working-class family in Algeria in 1913.  He worked at various jobs in North Africa to pay for the courses he was taking at the University of Algiers.  He next turned to journalism, and he also ran a theater company that produced plays by Malraux and others. (He would later say that Malraux should have been the one who received the Nobel Prize).  During WWII, Camus was a leading writer for an underground newspaper of the French Resistance.

The writings of Albert Camus include his fiction, The Stranger, The Plague, and the Fall, and his essays, The Myth of Sisyphus  and The Rebel.    He stresses themes of survival and resilience, together with the difficulty man faces when he must accept the "absurdity" of the universe -- themes that certainly resonate today.

I am going to reconnect with Monsieur Camus.  I am not sure whether to start at the beginning with The Stranger or start with my dog-eared copy of The Plague that I kept from college.  I wish I could read them in the original French, but I am pretty stretched in my attempts to read Harry Potter in French (see previous post on Learning French with Harry Potter).

My favorite quote by Albert Camus:
Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.

If any readers have suggestions on how to reconnect with Albert Camus, please let me know.   
Here is a link to find The Stranger The Stranger

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another January Natural Disaster - The Paris Flood of 1910

As the world watches the terrible news from Haiti and fervently hopes that relief efforts can soon help the people dealing with this catastrophe, the City of Paris is marking The Great Flood of 1910.

The exhibition Paris inondé 1910 is at the Galerie des bibliothèques from 8 January to 28 March 2010. 

Check out this link for more pictures

There is also a new book out that chronicles what happened, and it looks like it will be an interesting read.    

The book is getting great reviews. One reviewer noted how the author, a history professor at Rhodes College (Memphis Tennessee USA), writes in detail about the causes of the flood and the physical destruction left in its wake. But perhaps the best part of the book, according to this review, are the parts where he also highlights the political, cultural and social context of the time.  I am definitely buying this one, and perhaps we can discuss it in the blog.  Here is a link if you want to buy the book   Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910

Trust the French to find humor even in difficult times. (Be sure to look at her hat.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Learning French with Harry Potter - Part 1

Ok, so how could I possibly be learning French with Harry, the quintessential English wizard?

Well, ce n'est pas facile.  (It is not easy.)  The book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first in the series, and it is called  Harry Potter à L'école Des Sorciers in French. (If you are a Harry P fan, you will note the different picture on the cover, too)

I will be posting ideas in later posts for those who are at the beginning of their journey learning French, but this is for advanced beginners or intermediate learners.  (I think that is about where I am).

I have found it fun to read children's books as a way to increase my vocabulary.  I know (and love) the Harry Potter story, and I have the book in English and in French.  It is fun to try to read it in French, although I certainly cannot read it quickly.  I have found that the best way is not to try to look up every word, but to read to get the general idea and look up words (or check the English version) only when I have to.
Here is a link to the French version if you want to join me:
Harry Potter a L'ecole Des Sorciers / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter (French)) (French Edition)

Here is some vocabulaire for you:
Les hiboux -- owls
La baguette magique - magic wand
Collége Poudlard -- Hogwarts School
des Moldus - Muggles
Tu-Sais-Qui - (He who cannot be named -- You Know Who -- also known as  VOLDERMORT)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Day in the Life of an Unrepentant Francophile

More on how I got to this place in life in a later posting.  Earlier posts below (titled  Loving France?)  give some hints.

But how does My Life as a Francophile affect me right now?

I work every day to improve my French language skills.

This morning my "alarm" went off.  Instead of music, the alarm clock is set to a Pimsleur French CD.  Today we learned how to ask for gasoline at a gas station.

On the way into work I listened to the podcast Learn French By Podcast.  This is available FREE on Itunes.  You can just download it into your ipod and get a lesson on-the-go.

While at work, I listen to live streaming of Radio France.  I don't always understand everything, but I pick up phrases here and there, and I hope that I am learning even more by osmosis.

I used to have a French tutor, and I am going to take steps today to hire another one.

Would love to hear of any other tips for learning French, and I will pass on all that I hear.

Au revoir.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Loving France? Not Yet. -- #2

continued .... This post is a continuation of  the Loving  France ? thread that tells how I became a card-carrying Francophile.  You can read earlier posts and read them in numerical order, if you wish.

So I grew up.  (Sort of.).

I got a job and found a life partner.  Traditionalists would say that I married the love of my life, my husband, Rob.  Rob came from one of the "French" (Candian) families in town, with cousins named Jacques, Francois, Suzanne, and Marie.   He took eight years of French with the French nuns and four more years with the Brothers of the Holy Cross in high school.  He still insists that all he had to do was memorize vocabulary lists.
But perhaps there was something Gauloise, even then, that appealed to me.

Rob and I both love history, art, and outdoor activities.  Our travel budget when we started out together was small, but we had fun.  We traveled by car throughout the United States, visiting lots of  museums, battlefields, forts and many fantastic state and national parks, .

Because of a lack of funds, we often stayed in our tent.  Please be aware that sleeping in a tent is much more fun if enormous quantities of gin are consumed (with only small bits of tonic).

Friday, January 8, 2010

Loving France ? Oh No, Not I -- #1

The first post in the Loving France thread -- How I Became a Card-Carrying Francophile

There was no way that I was ever going to become a silly person who fawned over any country, let alone France.  Famous last words.  Pride goeth before a fall, and all that.

It happened to me before I realized what was going on.  I started loving France.  Yes,  I became a Francophile.  Yikes. (or, rather, Mince!).

Just last week I finished reading a terrific first novel by Nancy Horan called Loving Frank.  This historical novel tells the story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, an upper middle class wife and mother in Oak Park, Illinois who falls head over tea kettle for the married father (and famous architect) Frank Lloyd Wright.  She leaves her home, her husband (who was not a bad guy) and her two children to follow Frank to Europe, Japan, and back to his boyhood home in Wisconsin.   She is torn up by her obsession, but she cannot seem to help herself.  (Along the journey, which has a horrendous end, she discovers the new budding feminism in Europe and makes some interesting comparisons between that and the movement in the United States).  This book was a good read, and I recommend it highly.

Well, sometimes I think I am in the same boat as Mamah was when Frank Lloyd Wright swept over her like a tidal wave.  It started slowly, but then I became engulfed.

This enchantment did not happen to me in my youth.  It has come about in middle age.  Perhaps that makes it a bit embarassing.  Perhaps I should know better ... guard myself more.

Ok.  With a name like mine, you might think that France and things French were sure to be a part of things. Not so.  I grew up in New England (the northeastern part of the United States) where there were many families like mine with French, well Canadian French, roots.  Our town was filled with Frechettes and Dufresnes and Ethiers and Dupres.   My Nana grew up speaking French and she would use certain phrases that I still remember.

So I took French in high school.  Other than talking a bit with Nana and some of the other "mameres" (grandmothers),  I had little chance to practice.  There was no money in my family for trips to Paris or study abroad while in college.   Thoughts of French culture were as foreign to me as that of Albania.  We did take some trips to French Canada (La Belle Province, Quebec), and I tried to speak a bit without much success or joy.   

I stopped the French classes after two years.  I decided to take up the clarinet in the band instead.  I wish I had somehow found a way to do both.  I think I have a good ear and that I could have enjoyed becoming proficient in a language.   But we all know that hindsight is 20/20.  I was young and silly, and I thought I knew better than anyone else what was good for me. 

So what happened to put me on the road to Francophile City?  Stayed tuned.