Tag Archives: French

Last Minute Lyon

Procrastination is the road to perdition. The original plan was to spend a long weekend in Lisbon, but when it finally came down to booking the trip a mere five days before it was meant to happen, air fares had shot up to stupid levels. Pushed for time, my friend and I plonked for Lyon instead, courtesy of some very reasonably priced EasyJet flights. Neither of us had been to Lyon before, and I was kinda keen (and terrified at the same time) to practice my abysmal French.

I came to regret this snap decision the very next morning. That’s when I heard about the escalation of the strike situation in France. I had been  vaguely aware of some ongoing disputes to do with employees’ rights or something, but I’d not really been on the ball about the ramifications of this national crisis: oil refineries blocked off by burning barricades, a third of petrol stations out of fuel, public transport up the spout, air traffic controllers about to join the fray,  etc.

And into the disaster zone we go!

And off into the disaster zone we go!

**Spoiler alert: I fretted over nothing!**

In the end, we weren’t impacted by the strikes in any way whatsoever. Our trip turned out to have been very fortuitously timed, slotting in between two big bouts of industrial action.

Our only two complaints were the shitty hotel – our floor was stickier than a marshmallow factory – and the copious rain, but it was still a great weekend with lots of laughs and good food (except for a lunch involving gristly dry sausages – probably the only type of French food that a German can authoritatively criticise*).

Lyon is stunningly beautiful – I was agog whenever the curtain of rain parted, and everyone was really friendly and helpful. Even the staff of Marshmallow Towers.

The city stands at the confluence of two rivers and so there’s an infinite number of photogenic bridges:

Lyon Bridge

A shot of me taking the above shot

A shot of me taking the above shot

Lyon Bridge

 

Lyon view

Lyon views

Lyon Town Hall

Grafiti

Hinterhof

Penguins

Lyon has tons of cute cafés…

Lyon Café

Lyon Café

Lyon Café 1

 

Here's one where you can play any conceivable type of board game

No, it’s not a café with slot machines, but one where you can play any conceivable type of board game

Lyon Café

Flashy and with great ambience for sure, but a tad expensive. €23 for sausage and lentils? Forget it! In Spain, you can have that for a fiver. And the sausage will be up to scratch.

Lyon Café

Roses

It also seems to have been moving day in Lyon:

Got a shelf to move but no car? Just pop in on a skateboard!

Got a shelf to move but no car? Just pop in on a skateboard!

Kill two birds with one stone: Use mattress as rain shield

Kill two birds with one stone: Use mattress as a rain shield

Can you guess what's coming?!

Can anyone guess what’s coming up next?!

Yup. Cakes!!! What else?!?

Lyonese praline tart - fancy stuff!

Lyonese praline tart – fancy stuff!

...unfortunately, the one I tried wasn't all that great. Way too sweet and the pastry seemed to be made of bulletproof cardboard

Unfortunately, the one I tried wasn’t all that great. Way too sweet, and the pastry seemed to be made of bulletproof cardboard

Poached pear anyone? Now this one was absolutely delicious :)

Poached pear with gooey chocolate sauce anyone? Now this one was absolutely delicious 🙂

...but sometimes all you need is a crepe and a nice cup of tea :)

…and sometimes all you need is an apple sauce crêpe and a nice cup of tea 🙂

And some nice poppies to finish off :)

And some happy poppies to finish off.

So, did I get to practice my French? Well, yes, a little… with mixed success. I understood virtually all the written information I came across, which would have passed me by a year ago. Also, the mere attempt of communicating in French with wait staff etc was received very well. Some chose to switch to English or Spanish, but they did it in good cheer, since, I guess, we had at least tried to make an effort. I hope to do better next time 🙂

*Find my German sausage post here: Nothing separates a German from their sausage

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I Spoke French. And God, Did It Hurt!

I’ve been learning French since May, shut away at home, curtains drawn, eyes (and ears) glued to the computer screen. But there comes a point when the input of a real living, breathing human being is required.

Some of you may remember me mentioning a few months ago that my goal was to join a local French conversation group in September. Well, it didn’t happen. Why? Coz I cannot speak. And who wants to be sitting there like a nun in a condom factory? Not me.

I know from previous experience that there’s only one remedy for my selective muteness: Brute force. It’s a job for a professional bully, for someone who sits down opposite me and won’t budge until the cake lady talks. A cat o’ nine tails would speed up the process, but not many language teachers carry that one in their resources folder, I have found.

Yup, that would bring out my chatty side...

You really want to bring out my chatty side…?

So, a friend of mine recommended a teacher, and on Thursday, I trotted off to my first lesson.

Poor woman, I should have prepared her. As you may have guessed by now, I’m not a terribly rewarding student first off. It’s not that I complain or turn into Miss Bossy Boots. But it can’t be much fun crowbarring sentences out of somebody while they pull a face like they’ve been sucking lemons injected with battery acid.

I also have a list of activities/subjects I absolutely detest in language classes. One of them is poems. My new teacher hands me a list of tongue twisters, which is kind of in the same category, only a million times worse. She tries to convince me that it is the best way of nailing the pronunciation. I do NOT agree. To me, it’s like being plonked into Bombay city centre at rush hour for your first driving lesson. Surely the best place to learn how to start a car and lurch along in first gear is a quiet parking lot?  My sour lemon face reaches a level of contortedness on a par with the Gordian Knot. Slightly alarmed, she lets me read aloud through a couple of short texts aimed at preschoolers. That’s better.

Contents of my head

Contents of my head

Still smiling and chirpy, she drags me through the French alphabet, gives me a couple of handy pronunciation hits, cajoles me into squeezing a couple of half-baked sentences through my gritted teeth.

She tells me I have gazpacho in my head. I like gazpacho, but I can tell it’s not meant as a compliment.

Before one of us has the chance to collapse in a sobbing heap on the floor, the doorbell rings and the next student arrives. I leave so frazzled that I forget to pay her.

I’ll be back next week. Unless she’s left town…

You never know, I might graduate to bouillabaisse one day...

…and you never know, I might graduate to bouillabaisse one day…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *

[Why am I learning French? See here for the answer: Scratching a 30-Year Itch

 

 

 

 

Is Learning Three Romance Languages At The Same Time A Route To Insanity?

I ask myself that question every day. And whether an overdose of irregular verbs can make one go blind. I think the only reason why my grey matter hasn’t liquified yet and made a gushing exit through my left nostril is that I’m at different stages with my languages, so the learning activities I engage in are quite varied. Every time terms like “partitive carbuncles” or whatever give me the urge to go and drown myself in the toilet, I remember that, in the end, it’s all about wrangling a bunch of words into the right order, and that if a four-year-old can do it, so can I.

Spanish – Airily Advanced

The frustration-fun balance has decidedly shifted in favour of the latter. But it sure took a lot of blood sweat and tears to get there. Those of you you’ve been with me from the beginning will probably remember my whiny rants and tantrums. I’ve been living in Spain for nearly four years now, although I don’t have what you’d call “full immersion”. I work from home in English all day. Hence, my progress was a lot slower than I had initially expected.

It’s been a very different experience from the one I had with English when I moved to the UK 25 years ago. I had a job in a local company and was sharing a house with British people, and so I was forced to communicate in English all day long. It was tough in the beginning, but I made progress at lightning speed. My situation here in Spain is very different, and so I’ve had to learn to moderate my expectations without feeling like a total failure. I’ve come to accept – gnashing my teeth an’ all – that it will take a good while longer until I get to squirt the icing on the cake and achieve the level of competence I strive for.

Nevertheless, I can read proper books and watch films without struggling. I can have in-depth conversations about complex topics. I can hold my own in groups.

I still very much consider myself a learner: I look up words every day, I google expressions, I bug my long-suffering friends with questions, I ask them to correct my grammar. Besides the odd clarification, though, I no longer need “special consideration” from the people around me.

Of course, my Spanish nothing like my German or my English. I’d say I’m about 70% there. I’m even starting to “sound like myself” on occasions. Being able to communicate, even if you’re fairly proficient, is a completely different kettle of fish from sounding like your true self. I have tackled the subject in this post, for those of you who are interested:

Language Matters: Do You Sound Like Yourself?

Blue Flowers

Portuguese – Interminably Intermediate

This has been tricky. It’s virtually impossible to find any good quality intermediate-level teaching materials in European Portuguese. It’s all smooth, melodious Brazilian, when what I want is the bushy, impenetrable Peninsular version replete with shshtshshtshshhh sounds, dog-chewed vowels and pronoun arrangements that make ikebana seem like kindergarten foolery, because, when I travel abroad, it tends to be to nearby Portugal – I love it there.

So, I had to take special measures. I have a Portuguese teacher (from Lisbon) whom I see once a week for 1-2-1 lessons. I watch children’s cartoons, which is something that I’d never even considered before, but if you’re stuck for resources, you have to take what you can get. I’m also chatting to a bunch of nice Portuguese people over Skype two or three times a week (I found them on conversationexchange.com).

And yet, It’s my Portuguese, which I’m struggling with most right now. The intermediate stage can be disheartening, and it drags on forever. It’s also extremely dangerous territory: If you stop, even just for a few months,  you risk losing everything, while, at the same time, you gaze with trepidation at the vast expanse of treacherous linguistic swamp you’ve got to wade through before you get any good.

It’s not like being a beginner, when you’re swept up in the initial thrill of new discovery, or when you’re an advanced learner having fun filling in the gaps. I’ve written about this vexatious stretch of language-learning hell here:

The Messy Morass of the Intermediate Language Learner.

French – Bare Bones Beginner

I’m now in my third month of French (see here how and why that started) and still very much in the honeymoon phase where everything is new and exciting. I’m determined to stretch it out to the max. Please do not tell me about how crazy the sentence structures are going to get later on, I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW! Thanks.

Unlike hapless learners European Portuguese, budding Francophones are spoilt with a wealth of free online resources, which means that I can cover the same topics by watching six or seven different YouTube videos without getting bored.

There is also an unexpected benefit to being a beginner in French: Portuguese is no longer my worst language! I feel stupidly happy about this 🙂

So, to sum up, I don’t think that learning several languages at once is necessarily a recipe for disaster. Having said that, I did bang my head against the wall more than a few times when I first started learning Portuguese two years ago, because my Spanish was still quite wobbly back then, see here:

Project Multilingual: Two timing troubles.

Next up: The Italian challenge!

…OK, I am not that crazy…

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

 

Scratching A 30-Year Itch

Learn French? Moi? Nevah in a million years! That is SO NOT part of my linguistic plan for world domination… I’ve got enough on my plate with Spanish and Portuguese.

That’s what I would have told you four months ago.

I guess it may have been another classic case of the Lady Of The Cakes doth protest too much.

Deep down, not knowing a word of French (besides “merci”, which is a German chocolate brand and “bonjour”, which was plastered in glittery letters all over a T-shirt I owned in the 80’s) has always bugged me. Maybe French had been on my subconscious agenda for long time…after all, living first in Germany, then in the UK and now in Spain, I’ve been circling La France like a hyaena an unsuspecting antelope.

I started not learning French thirty years ago. The first missed opportunity presented itself at school in the form of elective classes. We had four options to choose from to supplement the standard curriculum. One of them was French and another one was EDP (Electronic Data Processing). I was torn. Heart vs. head. My Dad said that computers were the future. Since when did I ever do what Daddy told me to? Never. Except this time.

It was a terrible decision. IT class in the 80’s was a black screen with angry dark green letters on it. You had to type in stuff like C:\DOS\>path of despair<\ and wait for something mindnumbingly mundane to happen. Except that it didn’t, because you had forgotten a colon or your slash had leanings to the right instead of the left. That’s if you got to type anything at all, because one computer was shared between four people – the school could only afford eight machines, because its entire tech budget had gone on installing a state-of-the-art language lab that we were ushered into once a year, made to stand in awe of for thirty minutes, but not allowed to actually use.

But I digress… back to my Computersaurus Studies … does anyone remember punch cards…? This is how data was saved, as holes in bits of cardboard, before floppy disks, before diskettes, before USB sticks, before humans even knew what to do with their opposable thumbs.

Source: SAS und Chiffrierdienst

Ever glimpsed one of these?! Extracted by Computerpalaentologists from a bed of fossilised Betamax deposits, dating from the days when The Cloud was but a wet fart on the horizon…. (Source: SAS und Chiffrierdienst)

I abandoned ship after one torturous year. By then, unfortunately, it was too late to join the French group, and I missed out on three years of French. I still remember the teacher, a doe-eyed woman with short brown hair, whose upper jaw never moved when she spoke. How did she manage to produce any sounds at all, never mind French ones? I never got to find out 😦

In the ensuing decades, not knowing any French has been, if not an outright impediment, then at least a niggly, twisty, and slightly shameful thorn in my side. Two years ago, for example, I discovered Stefan Zweig (a long-dead Austrian author), who had the annoying habit of slipping smatterings of untranslated French into is prose. Also, people around me tend to make the assumption that I know French, like you’d just expect The Queen always to be wearing knickers, and pharmacies to carry Alka-Seltzer, anything else would be unnatural. A few months back, when a friend responded with “chez nous” to my question of where we were meeting that day, I had to feed these two words into the Obliterator Of Linguistic Common Sense, aka Google Translate, just to be sure.

And so, two months ago, I finally decided to bite the baguette. I’ve not yet uttered a single word of French to any living soul, but I’m listening to grammar and vocab podcasts daily in tandem with other online teaching resources. Luckily, there is a wealth of free material of excellent quality out there, especially at beginner’s level.

A girl needs a goal to keep herself motivated. To this end, I’m going to join a French conversation group in September, although it is making knees rattle just a bit when I think about it. Two of the guys from my German book club go regularly. They meet every week in a bar across the square from my building. It couldn’t be any more convenient. However, I have no illusions about my upcoming performance. I’m painfully aware that my conversational “level”, if you can even call it that, dangles somewhere south of zero while the other attendees are all fluent. I know from experience that my having a basic-but-coherent conversation in French is still a year away, possibly two. Only one paltry month and a half stands between me and total humiliation. But at least, that’s the one thing I’m getting pretty good at, as those of you who read my last post will know.

I shall need plenty of this to keep up my energies...

I shall need daily helpings of these to keep up my concentration…