Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


The crepes of wrath

Filed under : International,Life in general
On April 8, 2007
At 4:45 pm
Comments : 15

Recently, after doing some J-Ball catch-up reading, Jan sent me an e-mail that said, “why the hell are you still learning French???????” I had to cut and paste that exactly because I wanted to make sure I got in all her question marks without having to count them. Those who didn’t have a squirming baby on their laps might remember that I said I would explain why that was, but thanks, Jan, for the handy intro.

Let me digress for a moment and say that this is a problem all bloggers must face: half their readers don’t know them except in pixel form and the other half know the living, breathing, 3D form and all of that form’s personal history. Or some other variation on that. I like to think that only 10% of my readers know me and the others think I’m a five-year-old in striped pants. Either way, I have to answer two, two, two questions in one.

1. Why would an adult take on another language when everyone knows it’s far easier to just die and be reincarnated as a non-English speaker?

2. Why would a person who previously had a reason to learn another language and had that reason snatched away want to now go ahead and learn it anyway, especially if it might remind them of that experience?

I’ll leave you smart people to figure out who is asking which question. But because I love all of you (except Crazy Digg Guy, you not so much) I’ll answer both questions. First off, let me explain the difficulty of this endeavor. See, I’m already weakly bilingual which is what convinced me that learning another language is about as simple as learning to grow another arm. I mean, I was spoken to in Hebrew as an infant, learned it in school for 14 years, took classes completely in the language, and I still can only have slow-ass, basic conversations. Reading is easier, true, which is good because this way I know what I’m buying at the local Israeli-stocked grocery stores (Milki pudding – thumbs up!). But it’d be nice to have interaction in Israel beyond “Does this bus go to Zion Square?” I think my brain is just wired for English. I try to listen to the news in Easy Hebrew occasionally to help myself but without immersion I think it’s just a lost cause.

So the answer to #1 is, time for a new second language! I mean, it’s hard, it’s really hard. I think going to Squeeze the Life Out of You University (where I took Hebrew Lit III for my language requirement) spoiled me on learning forever and it’s a hard habit to re-obtain. But I’m up to it! Every time I get a flashcard right on my software I think, “yeah! I can do this!” It’s the kind of feeling you don’t really get shilling CD’s and tabulating sales figures. And the fact that it’s for no particular purpose liberates me completely to Just Do It. I mean, who cares if I fail? There’s no pay-off except feelgoodness. (You’re probably thinking I could use a good English class too, I know).

Right, #2. Hm. The fact is, letting go has set me free and now that I’m over all that, I realize I invested in weeks of pricey French lessons, learned in other ways, and really, why see it as a loss? I’ve decided it was actually an investment and there’s no reason to waste it. It’s kind of like that expression, “when life hands you lemons, make la limonade.” It just adds to the sense of accomplishment, triumph of the human spirit, and all that blah blah. And truly, it doesn’t particularly remind me of anything except that I like a challenge and, as a plaque in our kitchen when I grew up said, “kef lilmod,” or, “it’s fun to learn,” (my mother was an educator, what can I say). I used to roll my eyes at it, even though it had a cute picture of a cartoon monkey holding a book. But I guess I’m the monkey now.

Adding to all this is the fact that I’m now learning for free (well, I spent $12 on flashcards but Borders is exorbitant, we all know that). It’s another of my challenges to find every free method of language education on the Interweb. Here are my myriad teachers:

1. French Pod Class with Sebastien. I picked this one out of the many on offer at iTunes because his slogan is “Pardon my French, I’m learning with Sebastien.” How could you go wrong with that? The podcasts include quirky music and have accompanying texts. My one complaint is that he’s too soft-spoken for the NY subway system. But otherwise, he seems willing to do anything for his listeners aside from donating a kidney.

2. Before You Know It software. You get a decent number of flashcard lists in the free version, it intuitively figures out when you get something and when you don’t, and the narrator enunciates like he needs deaf people to hear it. Plus he just seems so cheerful. When he says “la bière,” you kind of imagine he’s about to have some.

3. The news in français facile at Radio France Internationale. I took a page from my Easy Hebrew learning and I have to say, they have a great set-up (the French seem to really want people to learn this language). They provide you with a transcript and the option to stream or download the newscast. You can also do a quiz, albeit with ridiculously easy questions (“this event [TGV breaking the speed record] took place in a. France, b. Germany, c. Great Britain”).

4. Learn French at Tons of resources: listening comprehension, vocabulary, audio files, verb conjugations, mot-du-jour, sticky topics, etc. And the sound files are done by an American woman so you can almost imagine yourself pronouncing things correctly. Not this word, though.

5. The gTranslate plugin for Firefox. You can just highlight a word or phrase and right-click to translate it (it uses Google’s translation). Handy for my Le Monde RSS feed where I attempt to translate any interesting article I come across. I know way more about the French elections than the American ones and I kind of like it that way. I won’t tell you who I’m supporting but ensemble tout devient possible!

So the only loser in this is Mamadou, my Senegalese former French teacher. But on the plus side, now I can afford Ermin the cleaning lady so that I can have a sparkling apartment in which to scatter my $12 flash cards.

Pictures above (click to enlarge) by moi. Title comes from this early Simpsons episode.


15 Comments for this post

  1. NoShowMo says:

    There’s something to be said for not completely throwing away all good things, just because the original source/reminder/inspiration/connection is no longer relevant. I only know you in pixellated form and don’t know the history, but props to you for positivity.

    And I have SERIOUS striped-pants envy.

  2. KP says:

    The only French I know is “le jig le poof”, and I believe I made that one up so it doesn’t even count.

    Rock on my friend, in any and every language.

  3. Alex says:

    Wow, France wasn’t nearly so blurry when I was there. Of course, that was in 1976, so things may have changed a bit since then.

  4. JFB says:

    Donc on peut commenter en français ?

  5. Becca says:

    Nosh, thanks. I truly believe there’s always some good to be found in any situation.

    KP, that’s not a word!

    Alex, it was pretty blurry when I was there but you knew that.

    JF, bien sûr ! Mais je peux devoir utiliser mon plugin. 🙂

    Hm, I hope I got that right.

  6. imstilllearning says:

    Mais je peux devoir utiliser mon plugin. –> Je vais devoir utiliser mon plugin. That’s what you probably meant. Yeah, you should 🙂

  7. Becca says:

    I’m sorry, my head just exploded from irony.

    Anyway, are you sure? I mean that I might need it, not definitely (or definitively, as you say). Or are you saying you’re sure I’ll need it?

    Please to translate.

  8. Jan says:

    Oh, dear. “Le plugin” just sounds so … wrong.

    I’m embarrassed I used that many question marks. I’m usually much cooler.

  9. Becca says:

    Maybe it’s la plugin. No, probably not.

    No, it deserved that many, really.

  10. Jan says:

    I know this wasn’t your point, but any English word used in French is automatically masculine. Le weekend, le blue jeans, le plugin, etc.

    It’s the only gender rule that makes sense, a mon avi.

  11. Becca says:

    Excellent, merci! More free instruction on the Internets.

  12. JFB says:

    “bien sûr ! Mais je peux devoir utiliser mon plugin. ”
    sound correct to me.
    “I may have to use my plug in.”

    If you mean “I might” you need ; “il se pourrait que je dusse utiliser mon plug in” or symply “je pourrais avoir à utiliser mon plug-in”.

    We also use plug-in in France, i mean the word “plug-in”, not the plug ins themselves, though we do of course use some.

  13. Becca says:

    Thanks, JF. After some consultation with imstill (who shyly decided not to come back and comment again) I’m going to say that “je pourrais avoir à utiliser mon plug-in” most closely approximates what I was trying to say.

    That is, I may need to use my translation plugin for any comments in French. Hebrew ones I should be OK with, which is good because I haven’t yet found that plugin.

    And I had a feeling that plugins were a worldwide phenomenon!

  14. imstilllearning says:

    “Who shyly decided not to come back and comment again”. J’ai un travail moi madame! Et puis je suis revenu tu vois. This blog definitevely smells European.

    Un café pour moi, merci.

  15. Becca says:

    Haaaa, my mistake. We should all be so dedicated to our work.

    And it’s the design you see, I had it imported.

    I think you have me confused with, though. Or perhaps

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