Monday, December 28, 2009

Essentials for the New Year!

Just in time to fulfill your New Year's resolution to improve your French, brush up on your Spanish or fine-tune your English, Language Routes presents not one, but two new audio learning guides in all three languages!

Se présenter
How do you address someone when you first meet them? How do you introduce people? What questions do you ask and what can you say about yourself, your work and your interests? This audio CD will help you feel at ease when meeting French people and make sure you get off on the right foot! 60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Comment se renseigner
Finding your way around, getting information, reserving your hotel or asking for recommendations. Everyday dialogues to give you the questions you need to make the most of a trip to France. 60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

¡Buen viaje!
This audio guide is your passport for travelling around Spanish-speaking countries. Acquire the vocabulary and useful phrases you need when planning your trip, asking for directions, buying tickets, making reservations, renting a car and getting information. 60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

¡Vamos de compras!
Everything you need to know when shopping in Spanish. Learn how to attract the attention of the salesperson, try something out, ask for another size and enquire about prices and discounts all in Spanish. 60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Everyday Situations in English
Having a coffee with a friend, going to the doctor, choosing a gift, driving in the US or in the UK. These dialogues will help you improve your comprehension and give you the key phrases as well as the cultural information you need. Be prepared for everyday situations by listening to this CD. 60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Introducing Yourself in English
What do you say when you meet somebody for the first time? Do you know how to introduce somebody in English? What questions can you ask and what can you say about yourself, your job and your hobbies? This audio CD will help you feel at ease when meeting English-speakers and make sure you get off on the right foot. 60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The friendliest language lesson of the season...

Being away from family and friends is expecially difficult during the holidays. I know this is true because I've experienced it many times. One particular memory has stuck with me though - a friend who wished me a Merry Christmas in English at a time that I was feeling particularly homesick.

So in an effort to spread the joy around to your friends who aren't native English-speakers, try learning a holiday greeting in their language. I guarantee it will bring a smile to their face... maybe even a little chuckle at your pronunciation. But the sentiment will speak louder than any mispronounced words, so go for it anyway!

Mīlād Majīd ميلاد مجيد
Arabic for "Merry Christmas" as used in Lebanon and several other countries

Veselé Vánoce a šťastný nový rok
Czech language, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year"

God jul
Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, lit. "Good Yule"

Gajan Kristnaskon
"Merry Christmas" in Esperanto

Joyeux Noël
French for "Happy Christmas" used in France, French Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, Louisiana, Switzerland, the Lebanon and Francophone Africa

Frohe Weihnachten/Fröhliche Weihnachten und ein glückliches/gutes Neues Jahr
German for Merry Christmas/Merry Christmas and a Happy/Good New Year

Boldog karácsonyt
"Merry Christmas" in Hungarian

Buon Natale
Italian for "Happy Christmas"

Feliz Natal
Literally "Happy Nativity" in Portuguese

Feliz Navidad y próspero Año Nuevo
Spanish literally "Happy Nativity and prosperous New Year"

Mutlu Noeller
Turkish for "Happy Christmas"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Purest language spoken here

Most countries have a place where their language is spoken 'without accent' or where it's spoken clearly. So where is English spoken without accent in the United States? Apparently (and much to my chagrin) speakers from Nebraska and Iowa are accentless. As a Georgian married to an Iowan, I have to admit that little tidbit hurt. But it's true, as my in-laws have pointed out, that national news anchors often sound like they are from Iowa. Also, people in American films and in television also speak like my Iowan family, unless playing a character that specifically needed to have an accent from another part of the US.

General American accent spoken here

What about outside the US? In Spain, where my Iowan sister-in-law currently lives, it's in a place called Valladolid. Her university used to send Spanish students there so they could learn 'clear and correct' Spanish. But if you move across the globe, residents of Bogotá, Colombia, pride themselves saying that it's the purest form of Spanish, due to the supposed lack of intonation when it is spoken.

Back in the 1980s, my parents moved to Tours, France, to learn 'the purest' French. For German with the least dialect influence, go to Northern Germany. And in Florence you will find only the purest Italian (and some fantastic antipasti).

But as one who speaks Southern English proudly, I say a little accent builds character - don't y'all think? So which would you choose: learning a language in its purest form, or spicing it up with a regional accent?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Uh... fill in the gap

Linguistics fillers are, um, specific to a language. So when you're like, learning a new language, you should also learn the appropriate language fillers for casual language. In English we tend to use 'um' or 'uh', even 'like' or 'you know'.

But what about authentic fillers in other languages?
Did you know?
In American Sign Language, 'um' can be signed with open-8 held at chin, palm in, eyebrows down.
The French use the 'euh' filler most commonly, but also 'quoi' (what), 'bah', 'ben' (well), 'tu vois (you see), and 'eh bien' (well...). In other Francophone countries, the fillers change and may include 'tu sais' (you know). In Québec, additional filler words include 'genre' (kind of like), 'comme' (like) and 'style'.

Spanish-speakers call these fillers muletillas. You may hear 'e' or 'este' (this) as well as 'o sea' (I mean). Similarly, in Italian 'e' is used to fill in the gaps.

I don't speak Czech (at all!), but in Prague I picked up on people saying 'tak' often. It's a linguistic filler meaning 'so...'

What other lingustic fillers have you heard or do you use regularly?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 reasons to learn a new language

1. Euh... ta... eh ben... e... you can learn common lingistic fillers in other languages.

2. Impress your friends with your pronunciation of foreign words in everyday conversation, such as marinara, mozzarella and coup d'état.

3. So many choices: the language of romance (Spanish), the language of songs (Hindi), the language of love (French), the language of... whatever you want!

4. Find out what that guy at the kebab shop really said about your hair.

5. Learning languages boosts your brain-power.

6. Get back to your roots by learning a language spoken by your ancestors.

7. Chicks dig cool accents. (And, surprisingly, almost any accent is 'cool'.)

8. Dig deeper in your religion. For example, Christians may be interested in learning Hebrew, Aramaic and Biblical Greek; Muslims could learn Classical Arabic; and both Hindus and Buddhists could be interested in Sanskrit.

9. Self-imposed verifier of online translation tools. Go on - try it. Type a phrase in English, then check the translation using your new language skills.

10. “You live a new life for every language you speak. If you only know one language, you only live once.” Czech proverb (Anyone want to learn Czech?)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Appee Fanksgiveen!

Celebrating Thanksgiving outside the US is a very different experience.

Pro: You have a great reason to invite friends and neighbors for an American meal.

Con: Can't find Libby's 100% pumpkin purée, so have to start from scratch with a pumpkin from the market.

Pro: You discover pumpkin pie with fresh pumpkin can be even better than with Libby's.

Con: Being away from family is hard.

Pro: Skype!

Con: Explaining Thanksgiving in another language can be a challenge. (Tip: before attempting to do so, look up the keywords such as Pilgrim, harvest and feast.)

Pro: Even though it's not a French holiday, people still wish you a 'Appee Fanksgiveen!'

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Secret language passions

"For years, I'd wished I could speak Italian - a language I find more beautiful than roses - but I could never make the practical justification for studying it. Why not just bone up on French or Russian I'd already studied years ago? Or learn to speak Spanish, the better to help me communicate with millions of my fellow Americans? What would I do with Italian? It's not like I was going to move there. It would be more practical to learn how to play the accordion...

And it wasn't that outrageous of a goal, anyway, to want to study a language. It's not like I was saying, at age thirty-two, "I want to become the principal ballerina for the New York City Ballet." Studying a language is something you can actually do."

-- page 23, Elizabeth Gilbert's bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love

I read these paragraphs sitting on the métro in Lyon, France, and found myself nodding my head in agreement. Right now it would make so much more sense, be so much more logical for me to work on my French or another practical language.

But what I want to do is study Italian.

Sure, I'd love to be fluent - but I'd be happy knowing just enough to have a simple conversation... in beautiful, melodious Italian.

What about you? Any secret language passions you want to pursue? How are you going to vivi con passione?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Language taking shape

This weekend I was browsing through posts by some of my favorite bloggers when I came across a linguistic work of art - literally.

19-year-old Sharanya, a student in Mumbai, turned a poem by Yves Bonnefoy into concrete poetry. Calligrammes such as this one are in the style of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, born in Italy to a Polish mother. The words (or even letters) of the text are arranged to make up a shape - often a shape connected to the subject of the text or poem. In this example,

Sharanya chose Bonnefoy's poem La Lumière du Soir and illustrated it as a hand moving over a half-sun and a half-moon.
La Lumière du Soir, by Yves Bonnefoy
Le soir,
Ces oiseaux qui parlent, indéfinis,
Qui se mordent, lumière.
La main qui a bougé sur le flanc désert.
Nous sommes immobiles depuis longtemps.
Nous parlons bas.
Et le temps reste autour de nous comme des flaques de couleur.

And the English translation by Emily Grosholz:
The Light of the Evening
These birds who talk together, indefinite,
who peck and quarrel, light,
The hand that moves along the silent flank.
We have been motionless for a long time now.
We're whispering.
And time lies round about us like pools of colour.

Sharanya's representation of the poem made me think about using calligrammes as a language learning tool. What better way to disect a beautiful piece of poetry in another language, then put it back together in a way that is uniquely yours.

I'm thinking of tackling a poem by Léopold Sédar Senghor. What about you?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

And the award goes to...

On November 2nd, France's highest literary honor was bestowed upon French-Senegalese author Marie NDiaye for her book Trois Femmes Puissantes (Three Powerful Women).


First, let's take a rabbit trail on the award - the famous Prix Goncourt.

The award recipient is selected annually by the 10 members of the Académie Goncourt for "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year". Keeping in mind the award is for 'imaginative', guess what the 10 members of this group are called? Les Dix, which means 'the ten'. Isn't that funny? Anyway... The members meet up on the second floor of the Restaurant Drouant in Paris on the first Tuesday of each month (not in summers - this is France, after all) to discuss amongst themselves that year's books. The award is announced in the fall and the recipient receives the prize money: 10 euros.

Surprising, isn't it? The highest literary honor in the country comes with a check worth $14.77 by today's exchange rate. However, the book is guaranteed to zoom to the top of the bestseller list, so that's not half bad. And you might be interested to know that last year's Prix Goncourt winner was Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) by Jonathan Littell, an American author who writes in French.

Interested in reading Marie NDiaye's Goncourt-winning book? Here's a description from the Guardian:

Trois femmes puissantes weaves together the stories of three women: Norah, who arrives at her father's home in Africa; Fanta, teaching French in Dakar, who is forced to follow her partner back to a miserable life in France, and Khady Demba, a young, penniless African widow who is trying to join her distant cousin Fanta in France.

Buy it here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Idiomatically yours

Considering the following French idioms and their significantly different English counterparts, it's no surprise that I occasionally get a little lost in conversations with my neighbors and friends here in France. But the fun part is finding the idiom's equivalent in your own language.

For example, my sister-in-law in Spain just had a baby. They were trying to decide who the handsome little guy resembled when an English-speaker made a joke about the mailman. But the Spaniards quickly pointed out that they would have said he resembled the plumber. Interesting, isnt it?

Here are some examples I've come across recently in France.

The French say: Elle a trouvé l'oiseau rare.
It means: She found the rare bird.
I say: She found Mr. Right.

The French say: Mon petit doigt me l'a dit.
It means: My pinky told me.
I say: A little bird told me.

The French say: Ils se ressemblent comme deux gouttes d'eau.
It means: They’re like two drops of water.
I say: They're like two peas in a pod.

The French say: Il est haut comme trois pommes.
It means: He's as tall as three apples.
I say: He's knee-high to a grasshopper.

The French say: Il faut toujours qu'il ramène ses fraises.
It means: He always has to bring his strawberries back.
I say: He always has to put his two cents in.

The French say: J'y perds mon latin.
It means: I lose my Latin there.
I say: I can't make heads or tails of it.

What do you say?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My week's worth of language lessons

I'm getting my week's worth of language lessons as I type this. I'm not in a language class or studying verbs. I'm sitting on the floor watching Le Roi Lion with my neighbor's daughter. You may be familiar with the plot line: A lion cub named Simba learns about the Circle of Life, gets scared away by a jealous uncle named Scar, makes friends with two unlikely characters named Timon and Pumbaa, but hakuna matata, he gets the girl - Nala.

So why are we watching this film in French? Because the little girl sitting next to me is French and she didn't want to watch it in 'that other language'. The French dialogue is great...
Simba: - Bec de banane est terrifié.
Zazu: - MONSIEUR bec de banane.
-- Le roi lion
...but the real language lessons have been in chatting with the small fry (la frite?). There's a whole world of kid-speak in French that I've never learned. Crash course right now! But it's great. She's taught me the names of games like cache cache (hide-n-seek) and un-deux-trois-soleil (red light, green light), that spinach is berk (yucky), and in order to settle in she needs her doudou (security blanket).

Bonus points: Did you know that hakuna matata means 'no troubles' in Swahili, an East African language spoken in Kenya and Tanzania? Simba means lion and rafiki means friend. I'm getting two languages at once out of this deal!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Say that one three times quickly!

This morning as I was catching up on tweets, I read from a friend:

"I learned this word in German today: Bundesverbraucherschutzministeriums."

It got me thinking about the longest words in various languages, so I started doing a little research.

In English, 'antidisestablishmentarianism' (28 letters) is the longest non-technical word. I can take a good guess at its meaning, but am not likely to use it in conversation any time soon. However, a friend of mine uses the word as a pronunication exercise when teaching English.

The longest French word is 'anticonstitutionellement' (24 letters).Say that one three times quickly! If you can, give these a try - 'anticonstitucionalmente' (23 letters) is one of the longest words in Spanish and 'anticostituzionalmente' (23 letters) is the longest Italian word in common use. But the Portuguese 'inconstitucionalissimamente' (27 letters) beats them all.

German is a whole new kettle of fish because it tends to string words together to form new vocabulary. The longest word is considered to be 'Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän'. It means Danube steamship company captain.

But why break it down when it can be a lovely 41-letter challenge for our friends learning German?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Learning French is easy...

...according to The Sketch Show's Mary Lynn Rajskub.

Although I wouldn't recommend her technique for learning languages, I do think it's important to keep an element of humour and fun in the learning process.

There comes a point when verb conjugations and grammar lessons just won't cut it anymore. Try freshening your approach with new material, such as the French Expressions or Authentically French audio learning guides. As you acquire new expressions and learn when and how to use them, you'll also be picking up verb tenses and vocabulary.

Think outside le box.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Extra, extra!

Issue 46 of English Now magazine is hot off the press!

In this issue:
- improve vocabulary for ordering in a restaurant.
- learn about applying for a job in English.
- read about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
- find out how Britons and Americans spend their money.
- see the differences between UK and US spelling.
- learn keywords and phrases for food in the refrigerator.
- learn about Broadway theatre in New York City.
- discover a new side of London through day trips!

For whom is English Now written?
Our international team of language specialists designed this 52-page magazine for French-speakers wanting to improve their English in an enjoyable way. The magazine is full of interesting articles on the language and culture in the UK, US and other English-speaking countries. Click here to view sample pages from a recent issue.

Each article has keywords translated into French. You'll acquire idiomatic expressions and up-to-date vocabulary, receive news and practical information, and even learn some slang. For advanced beginner and intermediate learners, English Now is also valuable, authentic teaching material for teachers. The English Now CD (optional) includes over 60 minutes of articles from the magazine read by native speakers as well as pronunciation and intonation exercises. Click here to listen to an MP3 sample.

Short, varied articles that are specially written for language learners and an attractive layout make the magazines an enjoyable and stimulating read. The audio component, using native speakers, helps complete the language learning experience.
* varied, specially written articles
* different language levels
* keyword translations
* attractive layout
* stimulating language activities
* modern, idiomatic language
* cultural background information
Published every two months, English Now is a complete and enjoyable English learning experience. English Now magazine has subscribers in over 40 countries.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New release: Good Pronunciation in English

If you forget to pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of words, if you don’t make the distinction between ‘law’ and ‘low’ and omit the ‘h’ sounds where it’s needed (and use it when it’s not), this CD is for you.

From the alphabet to tongue twisters, learn how to pronounce English sounds correctly.

60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Click here for more information.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New release: Shopping in France

Everything you need to know when shopping in French. Learn how to attract the attention of the salesperson, try something out, ask for another size and enquire about prices and discounts all in French.

60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Click here for more information.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New release: British conversations

Improve your spontaneous conversations in English. Meet four British friends and listen as they discuss topics at a natural speed. Test comprehension with exercises and build your skills to interact and participate naturally.

60-minute CD with transcription booklet and exercises.

Click here for more information.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New release: Bon voyage!

This audio guide is your passport for travelling around France. Acquire the vocabulary and useful phrases you need when planning your trip, asking for directions, buying tickets, making reservations, renting a car and getting information.

60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New release: Simple dialogues in English!

Gain confidence when speaking English with this audio learning guide featuring practical dialogues for common situations when travelling in an English-speaking country. Reserving a hotel, asking for information, eating out… it's all here!

These dialogues will give you the helping hand you need. 60-minute CD with transcription booklet.

Click here for more information.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On a lighter note

A mother mouse and a baby mouse are walking along, when all of a sudden, a cat attacks them.

The mother mouse yells, "BARK!" and the cat runs away.

"See?" says the mother mouse to her baby. "Now do you see why it's important to learn a foreign language?"

Monday, September 7, 2009

Getting back to Hindi roots

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm big into etymology, but I do think it's cool when I find out that words I use regularly have roots in places I've never set foot. For example, today I learned that a word that seems very common to me (shampoo) actually comes from a language I don't speak at all: Hindi. (When I say 'not at all', I really mean 'not at all'!)

Hindi is one of India's two national languages, the other being English. It is spoken mainly in northern states and alongside regional languages like Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi or Bengali throughout north and central India. Outside of India, Hindi is also understood in the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

But maybe we already speak more Hindi than we realize. Guru, karma, Garam masala... Let's take a look at some commonly used words in English that came to us from Hindi.

Avatar - means incarnation
Bandana - from bandhna, to tie a scarf around the head
Bangle - kind of bracelet
Cushy - from khushi, easy, happy, or soft
Chutney - from chatni, to crush
Jungle - from jangal, wilderness or forest
Loot - from lūta
Pundit - from pandit, a learned scholar or priest
Thug - from thag, a thief or conman

Now all together...
As John was leaving his cushy lifestyle for the jungle, he tied on a bandana, threw a jar of his favorite chutney in with his loot, then headed out of town before the thugs could catch him.
Our Hindi is coming along rather well, wouldn't you say?

Monday, August 31, 2009


One of the true wonders of my visit to France this past spring was the TGV. My previous exposure to so-called bullet trains was the Amtrak Acela Express, which was unveiled during the time I was commuting daily from New York to Philadelphia. The hype was tremendous: Speeds up to 150 mph! Comfort beyond compare! 21st century amenities! The reality was and is far less spectacular: Track limitations and regulations reducing average speed to under 80 mph. Ticket prices rivaling commuter flights. The look of a Star Trek set, but all style and no substance - not even wireless internet, which even buses have these days.

The TGV, which took me from Auxerre to Lyon and then back to Paris at the end of my trip, was a completely different story. Capable of reaching speeds in excess of 350 mph and having some trips with an average start to stop speed of more than 250 mph, the quiet-as-a-Prius TGV truly lives up to the bullet train moniker.

My friend and host Hether had accompanied me to the station and helped me buy my ticket, for I had yet to take even my first French class. She got the track and departure time, handed me my ticket, and sent me on my way. The train arrived, I boarded and took my assigned seat, and proceeded to spend two extremely comfortable hours watching the glorious French countryside fly past my window.

All the while, I was waiting for a conductor to stop by my seat and check my ticket, yet I arrived in Lyon and departed the train without encountering a single TGV employee other than in the cafe car when I got my coffee. When I brought this up to my colleagues in Lyon - How can they simply let people travel without checking their tickets? - I found out that I was lucky not to have had my ticket checked.

As many of you probably know, what I had failed to do was composter my ticket. At the entrance to every track is a machine into which each passenger is meant to insert their ticket for validation, and failure to do so subjects the traveller to potentially significant fines.

While some of the content will be beyond my learning level, I'm looking forward to the arrival next week of Bon Voyage !, one of our two new audio learning guides. How and when to composter is one of the cultural notes in the guide, which covers all of the essential elements of traveling in France from your arrival at Charles de Gaulle to picking up your rental car to asking for directions.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Getting further in a language faster

I can't help but laugh every time I watch this clip from The Sketch Show. I can identify with each character's challenge - some quite a bit more than I care to admit! But the truth is that if we open our mouths and make the mistakes, we'll get much further faster than if we waited until each sentence was perfectly formed. (Isn't we?)

I hope this video made your Wednesday a little funnier and makes your lanaguage learning experience more enjoyable. Bonne continuation !

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The most difficult languages

A wise man once told me that the hardest language to learn is the one you are currently learning. That sounds pretty accurate, doesn’t it? But which languages are actually the most difficult to learn?

There’s not a definitive answer to this question as it depends on the person’s native language and previous exposure to language learning. Let’s take for example adult native English-speakers. Which languages would be the most challenging to acquire?

According to the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State, of the 63 languages analyzed, the five most difficult languages to reach proficiency in speaking and reading are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese, with Japanese taking the prize for the most difficult. These languages fall into the category of ‘88 weeks of study to reach proficiency’.

“Japanese is without question the most daunting language for a native English speaker to tackle,” agrees Richard Brecht, Deputy Director of the National Foreign Language Center, noting that the State Department allows its students three times as long to learn Japanese as it does languages like Spanish or French.

In an online poll, Chinese was chosen as the most difficult language to learn. Reasons given by poll participants included the writing system being different (every word is a different symbol and no phonetic clues as to how it is pronounced) and the tone system used. One participant hit the nail on the head: “Everything is different.”

What about German’s four cases or the seven cases and seven genders used in Polish? Learners of Hungarian have 35 cases to master. (How do you say ‘ouch!’ in Hungarian?)

So how do you stay interested and motivated when learning a difficult language?

My advice? Find interesting reading and listening material in the language. After spending two years immersed in a language spoken in a very small area, I didn’t want to lose what I had learned when I moved away. So now I watch the news from the local television and radio stations broadcasted online. It helps my ear stay tuned, broadens my vocabulary and keeps my knowledge of the culture and politics up-to-date.

What are your tips for language learners?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Unanswered Questions

I'd like to thank and welcome everyone who has registered for our new forums on speaking French, Spanish and English. However, to many of you, I have to say one thing: Don't be shy!

We've had some great posts and interactions, beginning with a fun discussion of "chansons retros" on the French forum that had me bouncing around Youtube listening to Charles Trenet (a great new discovery for me) and, of course, Charles Aznavour. Andrew then asked for some assistance with how to say "Just browsing" in French, and thanks to those of you who provided help.

But we have a member who has been left hanging: La petite Americaine is planning a trip to France this fall, and is looking for some suggestions for interesting and affordable destinations. Personally, I'd suggest Lyon for its architecture, people and incredible cuisine, but I bet there are many of you out there with strong opinions on this subject. Once again, don't be shy!

Vee posted a query on which of the many Spanish dialects is the best to learn. With some help from Lyon and a bit of research I found that Standard (or Neutral) Spanish, which is a hybrid of European and American Spanish, is the most commonly taught form (and is also used in our Hispanica Esencial audio learning guides).

Vincent christened our English forum with an incredibly inspiring post that really should be read. Let me just say that all of the challenges he is taking on at age 49 have me feeling a lot less daunted about learning French at 43.

Bon-weekend, everyone! I hope to see you on the forums, and I'll be back early next week with a preview of Bien-dire issue no. 66.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is it grave?

The accent grave in French always sounded so intimidating to me. And then when I figured out that the accent aigu actually means the 'acute accent'... Well, to be honest, it just seemed unnecessarily serious. On top of that, remembering which direction is grave and direction one is accute was always difficult for me. Couldn't we just call them the left and right accent instead?

About a month ago, a fellow Georgian living in France told me her secret for remembering which direction these two accents go. (And now I'm going to pass it on to the blogosphere!) It's a very simple three-step process you can do in your head.

1. Write the letters G A in caps.

2. Draw two lines to form a V over the letters.


3. The line over the G = accent grave
The line over the A = accent aigu

Accents are not optional in French. Using them incorrectly (or leaving them off completely!) is misspelling the word. Capital letters are often left unaccented, but that's the only exception.

Did you know that an accent aigu is only used on the letter E? Often it means that there used to be an S after the E, such as in étudiant (student) or état (state).

The accent grave, on the other hand, can be used on the letters E, A, U.

Et voilà!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Got a language? Give!

With all the benefits knowing another language gives you, don't you think it would be cool to give something back as well? Have you considered using your language skills as a volunteer translator? Many organizations are recruiting volunteers to translate documents either to or from English. Your language skills could be an asset you offer to help a cause of field of interest. These listed below are just a sampling to get the wheels turning...

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Now accepting translator registrations for languages that Kiva may need additional help with in the future: Arabic, Armenian, Bahasa Indonesia, Dari, French, Khmer, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Vietnamese and more. More information

UN Volunteers is currently seeking translators for 45 projects in French, Spanish, Albanian, Turkish, Zulu, Japanese, Malay, Somali, Amharic, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, Tamil, Gujarati, Polish, Bengali and Marathi. More information

The International Education Committee (IEC) has launched the Volunteer Translators Network Program to make American Society of Microbiology web-based materials more accessible to international members. Currently, the IEC is working with Spanish, French, and Portuguese-speaking members and actively seeking additional volunteers. Other languages will be added in the near future. More information

Action Against Hunger needs help from bilingual volunteers to translate between English and Arabic documents. Volunteers should be native English speakers with good knowledge of Arabic and be familiar with the nuances of translation. The ideal volunteer will have experience translating documents, articles or technical reports in nutrition, water, sanitation and agricultural techniques. More information

Since 2004, the French daily newspaper, L’Humanité has an on-line English language version of selected articles. This project is produced by a team of translators from across the world including French to English translators and proof-readers. More information

ICVolunteers is an international non-profit organization specialized in the field of communications, in particular languages, communication technologies and conference support. Through volunteer effort, they cooperate with organizations in the humanitarian, social, environmental and medical fields to implement projects and conferences at local, national and international levels. ICVolunteers recruits and coordinates volunteer translators for French, Spanish and other languages. More information

Volunteer to translate Google's help information and search interface into your favorite language. By helping with the translation process you ensure that Google will be available in your language of choice more quickly and with a better interface than it would have otherwise. There is no minimum commitment. You can translate a phrase, a page or the entire site. Once enough of the site is translated, it will be made available in the language you are requesting. For example, Urdu is at 88% complete, Belarussian at 86% and Estonian 79% - almost there! More information

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