Archive for the ‘At Home with French’ Category

Tired new daddy octopus.

source: superdad.gr

A LOT has happened over the last 8-9 months since my last update. As I’m currently beyond exhausted, I’ll try to keep this post brief, and will fill you in more when I hopefully score a few hours of sleep and a hot shower sometime in the new year.

First of all, my little baby girl was born last week. She’s gorgeous and now snuggling in nicely at home with new mommy and daddy. We’ll be spending our first Christmas together as a family in just a few days!

Earlier in the year, my wife and I left the islands of Hawaiʻi for the first time in 4 years, taking the time off to visit family and friends back in England and Russia during May. My wife also attended her PhD graduation ceremony, which made me very proud. It’s tough for both of us living approximately 7,000 miles away from loved ones, so it was great to see everyone over those few weeks (as well as practice my Russian with the in-laws of course 😉 ).

Minor Language Russian (182h)

Prior to visiting Russia, I spent an additional fortnight chatting with around a dozen professional Russian tutors on italki. As my in-laws don’t speak any English, I quickly picked up speed in Russian during my 2 week stay in St Petersburg, and the initial preparation with italki helped me hit the ground running. I also won the 6 Week Challenge on the Language Learners forum during this period with Russian as my target language, which was a nice encouraging bonus.

Minor Language Latin (86h)

Every new semester, I enroll in a language course at university to keep in touch with how other professors teach, and more importantly, what it feels like to be a student in the classroom. I find this helps me with my own teaching in terms of developing a genuine empathy and partial understanding of what many of my students are going through. In Fall, I chose Latin, with a view to building a grounding in Latin grammar and reading, and I hope to follow this later with the Lingua Latina series at home.

Minor Language Hawaiian (55h)

In the previous spring semester, I rounded off my Hawaiian with an advanced conversational class for fourth year students. As many of my classmates were fluent speakers or worked with Hawaiian on a daily basis, it was really quite a challenge, but I managed to hold my own and did a fair bit of immersion in the language. I also had my first real vivid dream in Hawaiian, which is the source of one of the middle names we gave my daughter, but more on that another time.

Minor Language German (40h)

My German is at a point now where I can enjoy computer games, tv series, movies, and literature much more than before. On that note, I completed a few games and a couple of tv series during the year, and look forward to more of the same in the new year (ideally some more extensive reading).

Major Language French (35h)

When I started my little odyssey in French, I envisaged all kinds of progress by the end of the year. However providence had different plans for me, and so my aventure française is still very much in its (*ahem*..pun ahead) infancy. I did however collect some great resources earlier in the year which will keep me busy for a good while, and having recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite on a Black Friday week deal, I’m now looking forward to adding more digital content to my collection.

(Total time spent on learning languages during 2016 altogether: 410 hours)

With Christmas just round the corner and a new year on the horizon, I wish everyone the very best in achieving their hopes and goals in 2017, and Mele Kalikimaka from all 3 of us here!!


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Alye parusa (red sails).

source: orion-art.ru

It’s been an age and a half since my last update, but don’t worry, I’m still treading the boards of my little linguistic playhouse. I admit my steps have been small and piecemeal over the past 6 weeks, but it is movement (or at least circles) in the right direction none-the-less.

At the moment, I’m centre stage to a cacophony of drills, sledgehammers, and jackhammers all around me (the management are currently installing new central air conditioning throughout the condo), so please bare with me if I write anything bizarre for lack of being able to think straight with all this noise.

Major Language French (1.5h)

I honestly can’t recall what I did in French over the last 6 weeks, but whatever it was, it didn’t add up to much more than an hour or two. I’m looking forward to reading more difficult texts next, but have to put this on hold for the time being, as there’s an important short-term project planned on the horizon for Russian.

Minor Language Hawaiian (12h)

My Hawaiian conversation skills have improved a bit recently, which is partly down to thinking in the language in spare moments (usually before going to sleep at night, or first thing in the morning upon waking), and partly a result of more conversational activities in class (e.g., composing and performing dialogues together with another classmate, repeated reading aloud to work on fluency and pronunciation). With little over a month left of my conversational class at university, I’d be happy if we stayed focussed on these type of activities.

Minor Language Russian (1.5h)

Much like French, just an hour or two have been invested into Russian since my last update, although I’ve been talking to my wife a bit more in the language (which I don’t generally count in my overall hours due to practicalities). The big news with Russian this week is that I hope to travel to St Petersburg next month. I’m not sure whether my wife and I can arrange the visas needed in time, but we’ll certainly try. In the meantime, I’m going to focus predominantly on improving my Russian through a variety of activities, and will treat this as an intensive short-term project lasting about a month. Having spent an impressive grand total of…say…30 seconds…on dreaming up a new title for the project, I’ve decided to label this one light-heartedly: “Putin on the Ritz“! 😉

Minor Language German (23h)

Having completed “Der Tatortreiniger”, I moved on to and completed another popular German series: “Stromberg”. I enjoyed watching Der Tatortreiniger much more, but found Stromberg relatively easy to follow, as I’d already cringed through the entirety of “The Office” back in the UK (upon which Stromberg is originally based), and had watched a bit of the German series beforehand too. My next quest will probably be to finish off a computer adventure game on my iPod called “Inner World”, as I find I’m at a level now in German where I can really get a lot out of playing games rich in dialogue.

(Total time spent on learning languages over the last 6 weeks: 38 hours)
(Total time spent on learning languages during 2016 altogether: 143 hours)

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Der Tatortreiniger

source: play.google.com

Having fallen ill, I’ll keep today’s post to a minimum.

Major Language French (9h)

Whilst stuck in bed, I’ve taken the opportunity to finish off some short novels in French. With the first level of Blaine Ray’s easy readers out of the way, I’m on to the second level now, which includes slightly more complex features such as the subjunctive mood. Altogether, I’ve read over 50,000 words, and the level in this series remains very easy.

Minor Language Hawaiian (1h)

In contrast to French and German, my motivation in Hawaiian is falling at a rate of knots. This is partly due to being ill and having to miss some classes, and partly because we don’t really engage in much conversation in the “conversation course” I audit at university. I pretty much spend each and every lesson listening to our teacher talk at great length about politics or linguistics (which goes well above my head!), or spend it on other activities which involve input or output but little or no actual interaction (e.g., transcription of poorly recorded audio). This is sadly not what I signed up for.

Minor Language Russian (<1h)

I’m searching for easy novels in Russian that more suitably fit my intermediate level of reading. I bought a contemporary novel recently in the hope of finding a happy medium between Red Kalinka easy readers and “Война и мир”, but the language was quite shocking and the writing style atrocious. And as I don’t really want to fill my head with unneeded expletives and trashy Russian at this stage, the search for suitable materials is still on…

Minor Language German (12h)

On a much more fun note, I’ve finished watching all 24 episodes of “Der Tatortreinger”, and will most likely watch it all over again real soon. This is my favorite German tv series to date, and I really hope they bring out a sixth series – das war der Hammer! I’ve also been dreaming in German quite a lot (usually about food for some reason), to the extent that I find myself babbling away in German inside my head as soon as that head hits the pillow and the lights are off. I put this all down to watching German tv more extensively in the last few days.

(Total time spent on learning languages over the last 2 weeks: 23 hours)
(Total time spent on learning languages during 2016 altogether: 105 hours)

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Parts of a reader.

source: lenguatercerciclo.wordpress.com

It’s already that time again to update my little corner of the cybersphere and let you know what I’ve been up to in my languages…

Major Language French (5h)

I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about French lately, as it’s taken a back seat to other languages like Hawaiian and German. So to remedy this, I’ve stepped up my reading programme and completed 5 short books for beginners. My wife and I have also collected a nice little plunder pile of easy readers and novels for French children (i.e., 8-12 years old), which I look forward to diving into over the next fortnight. Here’s some of what we’ve collected so far:

Let's Read series

French beginner level reading (Let’s Read series).

Blaine Ray's TPRS series

French reading at various levels (Blaine Ray’s TPRS series).

Short novels by Marc Thil.

Intermediate level reading for French children aged 8-12 years old (short novels by Marc Thil).

More study and reading materials

Some more French reading and study materials at various levels.

Minor Language Hawaiian (15h)

Hawaiian has been very tough terrain for me recently, as we’ve been spending a lot of time on intensive transcription activities, and the audio materials so far have been exceptionally poor quality. All the microphone feedback and background noises are essentially driving my tinnitus up the wall, so I really hope we get back to the goal of improving conversation in class soon. I also did a quick reading test of 300 words taken from “Ke Keiki Ali’i Li’il’i”, and the good news is that my lexical coverage has risen from 90% (tested 8 months ago) to 95% now (probably enough to start reading some intermediate level texts). If I manage to fit in lots of extensive reading and conversation over the coming months, I’ll hopefully (touch koa!) be on track for reaching a B2 (higher intermediate) level in Hawaiian by the end of this year.

Minor Language Russian (1h)

Not much has been happening on the Russian front again, although I do speak at least a little bit with my wife every day. I really need to get hold of some more novels or short stories that are closer to my current reading level. Every time I try to jump back into Ночной Дозор (which has been on my shelf for what seems an eternity!), I encounter so many unknown words that I feel like a beginner again. Perhaps something more intermediate first would help me bridge from easy readers across to War and Peace classics. Any fun suggestions?

Minor Language German (3h)

In addition to my French plunder (pictured above), I’m also stockpiling German novels. Here’s a photo of what I have lined up so far, and there’s more to come in the post soon…

German novels.

German novels at various levels.

I’m simultaneously reading a play (“Biedermann und die Brandstifter”) and a novel (“Homo faber”) by Max Frisch, as they come highly recommended by colleagues, and I’m also enjoying a more lighthearted stroll through Otfried Preußler’s children’s classic “Das kleine Gespenst” on the side. I don’t understand everything in the more highbrow literature, but it’s enough to comfortably enjoy the storyline without recourse to a dictionary, and get the majority of the detail along the way too. It’s also interesting to note that children’s books contain some very bizarre words and expressions from time to time, which makes advanced novels situated in more familiar adult context ironically easier to read.

(Total time spent on learning languages over the last 2 weeks: 25 hours)
(Total time spent on learning languages during 2016 altogether: 82 hours)

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New provisions.

New provisions arrived today!

I’ve been working like billy-o on both my PhD and in preparing materials for classes I teach this semester. So weekends have been full and intense, whilst sleep and language study have been minimal and light. I do now, however, have a workable little system for keeping up-to-date with all my flashcards and not letting it get on top of me…

Namely, I look at the week ahead in my statistics for all decks in my flashcard app (i.e., Flashcards Deluxe), and if I have 50 or more cards due for review on any of those days, I go into “safe mode” and only allow myself to add 5 new cards in total in any one day (i.e., 4 cards for my main study language, e.g., French, and 1 for any other language) until all numbers fall below 50 again.

And with new cards waiting to be learned (which can always pile up in the background and start to feel more like a chore if you let them)…if I spot over 50 cards queued up in any deck, I try my best not to add any more cards to that deck until its number falls back below 50.

Finally, if I do end up with 50 or more cards due today (as sometimes I might let things slide or take time off), I simply push the overall date back for all decks by 1 day, or by as many days as it takes for today’s number due to fall below 50.

Of course my decks are relatively green, having only started them at the beginning of this year, and I settled on the number 50 as it’s what works well for me right now and fits my goal of spending no more than 15-30 minutes a day on reviews. At the moment, with around 600 cards across all decks, I only need to spend about 15 minutes a day on keeping my flashcards fresh and up-to-date, and moving on upwards. However I imagine this number will increase as I add more cards over the next year, so I’ll probably need to reevaluate my approach if that number starts to creep over 30 minutes a day. So far though, it’s working really well!

Major Language French (4h)

My French studies have certainly slipped due to other commitments, but the good news is…new reading provisions have arrived (see photo above)! I’ve read 4 small books written for beginners since my last update here, and am now venturing into reading territory for real French kids aged 8-12 (see “To read” below). I feel like I’m coming of age…

– L’Étranger dans la neige
– Le jumeaux et la machine du temps
– Le rocher rouge
– La course de chars

To read:
– Histoires à lire le soir 1
– Histoires à lire le soir 2
– Histoires à lire le soir 3

Minor Language Hawaiian (14h)

Looking at my hours spent on studying languages during this first month, Hawaiian is clearly demanding most of my time (roughly 50% altogether across all languages). Most of this is in preparation for my conversation class at university (after all, I don’t want to look like a wally in front of everyone, especially as they’re all light years ahead of me). Another aspect is that many of these tasks are new to me, e.g., making transcriptions of poorly recorded audio tapes from the 70s bearing the wisdom of old kūpuna. I also try to think in Hawaiian from time to time, especially in the morning whilst getting ready for work, and I think this is helping me out in terms of developing fluency in the language. As for writing and general proficiency, I’m able now to send emails and communicate without the need of a dictionary, and despite errors, this realisation instills further confidence.

Minor Language Russian (2h)

Just flashcards and some emails over the last fortnight. I also speak with my wife in Russian a little bit every day, even if it’s just during stolen moments when we’re relaxing at home or going out after work in the evening. However I don’t count the cumulative hours, and just treat this as a change of habit in my lifestyle.

Minor Language German (1h)

I enjoyed listening to a philosophical podcast in German about Star Wars yesterday (courtesy of a link from Montmorency on the Language Learners’ Forum – danke!) And now that “Das kleine Gespenst” has floated into my apartment, I feel enchanted, dare I say compelled, to pick up that little book and start reading away (maybe I’ll seek out some audio for it online too).

(Total time spent on learning languages over the last 2 weeks: 23 hours)
(Total time spent on learning languages during 2016 altogether: 57 hours)

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Wile E. Coyote

source: looneytunescaps.blogspot.com

The first two weeks of 2016 have proved predictably hectic, but for all intents and purposes, I’m still standing (or just about). I’ve started teaching a new semester of students, which initially requires a lot of time to set up properly and prepare, and have also moved apartment recently into the bargain! And that’s not to mention my ongoing trek through PhD or my difficulties with relapses in illness lately. However, in spite of the whirligig of events that seem to always dominate the beginning of any new year, I’m keeping up with my language learning. Yes, I’ve taken some days off here and there, but altogether, I’ve kept at it and made a positive start to chasing my stormy goals in 2016.

Major Language French (13h)

The Language Learner’s Forum has been a hive of activity this past fortnight, and I’m really inspired by the sheer energy and number of supportive posts so far from members taking part in the TAC competition and engaging in language groups. In terms of my own studies, I’m up to lesson 41 in “Assimil New French With Ease” (NFWE), and have been trying to listen, read, speak, and write in the language to some extent every day. As readily admitted above, I’ve had to take some days off whilst moving apartment and starting a new term, but I’m enjoying the learning process (nothing too heavy so far!), especially as I can now share some of these activities with my wife (e.g., watching videos on “ARTE junior – en français“, a YouTube news channel for French kids aged 6-13). My focus is particularly on listening this year, as my reading skills in French are not too shabby, but when it comes to listening, I still find colloquial, mumbled French a complete quagmire, bearing little resemblance to written French at all. Hopefully, segmenting words and phrases whilst listening will get easier with time…

Minor Language Hawaiian (12h)

I’ve just finished my first week of 3rd year level “Hawaiian Conversation” classes, and it’s been quite a shock to the system. Having only studied Hawaiian for a little over a year, and having never really focused much on listening or speaking in class before (i.e., we mainly did grammar and translation exercises), I found the transition from classes in English and a little mix of Hawaiian, to everything now in Hawaiian where English is strictly forbidden, quite the Jordanesque leap. My ears are still trying to attune themselves to an hour and a quarter of fast and furious Hawaiian each session, whilst my mouth and brain stumble around together like drunken best buddies exiting a club to find the words they need for presentations and conversation. Having spoken to several of my classmates, it appears that most of them have learned Hawaiian for at least 4 years and are majoring in the language, whilst many others have either spoken it at home since childhood or are now using it in the workplace. This means I feel a bit like a languishing, out-of-place Wile E. Coyote surrounded by fluent and spriteful roadrunners…by the time I catch up with one segment of discourse, I’m left behind in their dust trails for the next segment, perhaps with just a fleeting “beep-beep” hovering on the wind. I’m trying my best though, and can at least just about get my meaning across ok in class, as well as pick up the gist during the bulk of conversation. This new phase in my Hawaiian will truly take lots of patience and determination…

Minor Language Russian (6h)

I made a commitment to speak at least an hour a week on average in Russian with my wife this year, and so far, I’ve easily met that goal. To be honest, I’m only now keeping track of the hours to satisfy a requirement of an output challenge I joined on the Language Learner’s forum, where I said I’d aim for 50 hours of speaking throughout the whole year. In future, or once I’ve got those 50 hours out of the way, I’ll try to just make it more of a habit and speak predominantly in Russian at home on easy topics and day-to-day things.

Minor Language German (2h)

I’ve started playing “Inner World” again on my iPod, which is great fun!! I get to read and listen to loads of German whilst playing the game, providing a virtual world of opportunities for practice and review, and I don’t even realize the hours fly by until I need to recharge my iPod again.

(Total time spent on learning languages over the last 2 weeks: 34 hours)
(Total time spent on learning languages during 2016 altogether: 34 hours)

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At Home With French

Reader’s Digest: At Home With French (1968), source: ebay.co.uk

As you can probably already guess from the title of this new blog, my major focus will be on French in 2016. However I also hope to periodically move forwards in my other minor languages as well (i.e., Russian, Hawaiian, and German), and will report back on my progress in all 4 languages here every fortnight. But first a little background on my main target language for 2016, French…

I only ever studied French for about 9 months in high school, and this was split amidst 10 other GCSEs over 25 years ago! We were supposed to have been given 2 years to prepare from scratch in school (French was only a later option for GCSE), but after a series of spectacular nervous breakdowns by teachers in the French Department (it was a pretty rough school back then), we were lucky to finally get someone who stayed at all. Fair to say, she was one of the worst teachers I’ve ever encountered, and most failed to do well in the final exams.

Nevertheless, I had a secret weapon to make up for lost time – one of the first language courses I ever bought – a dog-eared but virtually scratch-free second-hand “Reader’s Digest: At Home With French”. I picked this gem up in a church jumble sale for a mere 50 pence, and probably got about halfway through the course on my record player (judging from the reminiscent record covers in the picture above). Finding a photo on Amazon of this 1968 course brought on serious waves of nostalgia, and I really wish I had held onto these materials now. Long story short though, this gave me just enough extra help to ace that GCSE.

Since then, I’ve done very little with French at all. I went on a business trip to Marseilles for 5 days back in 2008, but spoke very little French beyond complaining about the tap-dancing rats in my room. Other than that, I spent about 34 hours last year watching French films and tv, and doing a little bit of Assimil (the first dozen lessons). So the start of this blog should be interesting in revealing how much of those 9 half-hearted months back in the Jurassic period of my school education are still locked away somewhere in my white and grey matter.

As French is very close to English for me (false friends aside), I find reading relatively easy. Yet an “A” grade at GCSE is aligned with an A2 level on the CEFR scale at best, and I’m not really sure how much of that is left after quarter of a century!? I was certainly lost whilst trying to watch “Les Revenants” with my wife last year without subtitles, and I don’t fancy my chances of extending a conversation beyond French pastries and the weather. So let’s say I’m probably starting out as a dusty A2 commode, but that my reading ability is for one reason or another much higher.

So how far can I get in one year, with all of life’s bumps and pukas (Pidgin: holes) in the road ahead of me? Well, for starters, I’m hoping to complete both Assimil’s “French with Ease” and “Using French” course books to refresh and complete my foundation in the language, and then move on to studying more challenging texts and media (and perhaps finish a light novel and tv series or two), in order to reach a B2 level by the end of 2016 and finally feel more “at home with French“. I’ve already received several doubtful side-glances and dubious practical comments from friends and family as to whether it’s indeed even possible to rise from A2 to B2 in the course of a year whilst also teaching undergraduate courses and completing a PhD, but as always, I’m up for the challenge.

To help me on my way, I’ve joined the French TAC team and language group “Les Voyageurs” this year (over on the Language Learners’ Forum), and I look forward to following other French learners’ blogs (be they taking part in a challenge or not) for ongoing inspiration, encouragement, and sharing notes and resources. My wife will also continue her studies in French this year, having already completed the passive wave of Assimil’s “French with Ease”, and we’ve agreed to join forces on the home front to help each other out.

I’m really curious and excited to see how 2016 will unfold and bloom. And whatever your goals for next year, there will always be a cosy hammock and complementary Mai Tai waiting for you here, in case you care to drop by or leave a message, and I wish everyone the best of luck in achieving what they set out to do. Bon courage!

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