I can’t believe this is what I’m reading now

Tomorrow Is Another Day by Lori Nelson Spielman

After weeks of laboring through one inscrutable page per sitting, I finally finished my French Patti Smith book and was ready to move on to something kinder and gentler on my French reading disposition. While in a convenience store at Charles de Gaulle on the way back from France, I realized that the airport would be the best spot to find exactly what I was looking for: super easy and formulaic chick lit whose thread I could not possibly lose even in a foreign language.  Continue reading


a record-setting week

taboo francais

Last night I left my work holiday party early to head back to FIAF for the second time in one week. This time it was for “Faites Vos Jeux” – game playing in French.

My love for board games knows no bounds. It is extreme and borderline obsessive. (When my sister introduced me to Carcassonne this summer I played so many times in a row that I started dreaming about tile placement and had to go cold turkey.) So the moment I heard about this monthly event I put it firmly on my calendar as a recurring appointment, though I wasn’t sure whether it would be more fun or work to play Taboo in French. It turned out to be both. I loved it.

So that’s four days out of five that I have spoken French – my best week yet. As I was walking home last night, a man moved out of my way on the sidewalk and without thinking I said to him, “Merci.” That’s immersion, baby!

On that note, the weekend feels well-earned. Have a good one! Til next week, I leave you with links:

I’m on an Argentine travel company’s mailing list and they sent me this delicious-looking traditional recipe.

Revamping the Louvre to lose that lost feeling

The New Japanese Masters of French Cuisine

stockpiled links

bathroom readers

Have been meaning to share these for awhile… Luckily none of them are time-sensitive and perhaps they even get better with age. 🙂

Awesome idioms from around the world (my favorite is the Polish one)

Andre in Argentina! (My personal motherlode – French practice & Argentine nostalgia)

Ways (beyond Duolingo) to learn Spanish on your phone

A new (beautiful) French bookstore has opened in NYC

How to be French

This book sounds right up my alley

So does this one about French food idioms

the slow decline

star wars lego man sisyphusI don’t know why I’m so discouraged. I have been going to French conversation Meetups every Monday, and this past Monday I even Skyped with Philippe from home and then immediately hopped on a train to talk French some more and then caught myself talking to myself in French on the way home.

But I originally committed to a half hour a day of French and a half hour of Spanish, and I have now all but abandoned Spanish and reduced French to conversation alone. I’m afraid all the progress I made through the hundreds of hours of work I put in at the outset are going to disappear.

So, I need a new plan. I am thinking about signing up for a Spanish class, maybe through Fluent City. I also think my company may have renewed its Rosetta Stone license in which case I can try to do a Spanish course that way. I’ll try to watch one episode of Destinos every weekend because I do wonder whatever happened to Raquel and whatshisface (sure sign it’s been too long). Oh yeah, Arturo! I wonder what happened with Raquel & Arturo’s overwrought romance.

And maybe I will start reading French books as a way to jog my memory about verb forms and vocab I keep forgetting. I need to bug Thomas for one of his novels. Thomas, if you’re reading… bring on the books!

I guess I was overambitious and need to lower my expectations for myself. There have been other things I’ve become interested in doing that I wouldn’t have time for if I kept up the hour-a-day routine. It’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because I lead such a jam-packed, engaging life. Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself…

(Photo: Kristina Alexanderson)

oh, duolingo

duolingo reminders

I was in Vermont for a wedding this weekend and on the train trip back to New York I opened Duolingo for the first time since completing the Spanish and then the French lessons a couple of months ago. One of the app’s neat features is its built-in review component that allows you to do a quick and dirty refresh of the sections you’ve already passed. So I did a little bit of Spanish and a little bit of French.

I was reminded why I love Duolingo so dearly when I was served up this gem for translation into English:

Soy un pingüino.

Sure, why not?

The next day I got two emails in a row from Duolingo, one a reminder to keep up my Spanish studying and another a reminder to keep up my French. Apparently in the Duolingo food chain, it’s a penguin’s job to keep the owls happy. (I’m not doing such a great job these days.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 4.41.27 PM

better hurry up!


Though this article reveals the side benefit of learning language at a later age, I choose to focus on its glass-half-empty takeaway: time is running out to become proficient in another language. I better get this show on the road if I ever hope to bavarder with the best of them (not to mention hablar or leh-soh-kheh-ahkh – that’s chitchat in Hebrew).

To that end, I spent my last day off finally figuring out Anki and creating flashcards for the fifty or so words I’ve jotted down so far. I also read a random article about the special needs of refugee children who come to France, and I was delighted to discover that I understood every single sentence if not every single word. And tonight I’m going to queue up another episode of Destinos, which has taken a rather boring turn now that I’m about halfway through and she of the scrunchies and pastel pantsuits, Raquel Rodriguez, is back in Mexico after adventures in Spain, Argentina and Puerto Rico. I’m hoping the energy will pick up again soon, once Raquel is reunited with her Porteño love interest, Arturo, who’s en route to join her at the moment. Not that there is anything remotely sexy about them – I have only ever seen them hold hands and stage-kiss and giggle together. I suppose that’s what’s to be expected from a soap opera made for high school students.

(Photo: Swim Parallel)

un brin de causette

Thinking Please Wait

Last week I had my first “language chat,” with a man named Philippe from the suburbs of Paris. We talked for about an hour via Skype call – he spoke in English and I spoke in French. It felt strangely intimate despite the anonymity. I got self-conscious because his English was way better than my French. I had thought that speaking without face to face contact would make me feel less vulnerable but it almost made it worse. I’m telling you, learning another language takes a lot more courage than it seems. You have to lean in to sounding like a fool on a repeated basis.

One thing that I found helpful about being on Skype was that when I struggled to find words and he filled in the gaps for me, I could write them down to practice later. If I ever figure out how Anki works – it requires some technical setting up that in turn requires patience I do not seem to have at the moment – I’ll program those words in as my first set of flashcards.

Philippe and I had a good rapport so we arranged to talk again this week…

It feels just like Jordan described – online dating with linguistic in place of romantic aims.

(Photo: Wade M.)

le three day week-end!

Détail de "Blah, blah, blah" du studio Louise Campbell (Maison d

I only remembered yesterday that I had taken today off from work, which was a very, very pleasant surprise. I’m about to pack up my laptop and head to a neighborhood cafe in the hopes the cute environs will make my apartment searching just a little more palatable. I also used the morning to sign up for not one but two language chat programs. I learned about both of them – Conversation Exchange and Shared Talk – through people I interviewed for this blog. I knew this little enterprise would pay off!

I didn’t actually do any chatting through the chat programs today. I just signed up for them and called it a (baby steps) day. I couldn’t even get my mic to work with one of the sites but whatever, it’s a good start after many weeks of moping around doing not an ounce of anything language-related.

May the weekend bring lots of joy and plenty of bavarder!

(Photo: Detail of Louise Campbell’s “Blah, blah, blah,” by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

done with duolingo

wooden human looking out window

Finally made it through Duolingo’s French exercises last week so now I have to figure out what’s next. I think I’m going to start doing vocabulary flashcards using Anki and/or sign up for an online language chat buddy. And keep forcing myself back to French Meetups.

Spanish has pretty much fallen by the wayside at this point, except for the occasional Destinos episode. I don’t want to lose the very little progress I made over the two months that I spent studying it but on the other hand this linguist told me that trying to learn two related languages at once is inefficient and will only result in confusion. So I’m taking his advice and focusing on French, which is the one of the two languages in which I am way further advanced.

I had been whiling away my time with Duolingo far longer than I probably should have. Now I turn to the great unknown, wistful already for the zany phrases I won’t be hearing again: ‘Pour qu’il vive je dois mourir.’ / ‘So that he may live I need to die.’ And: ‘Vous mangez des frites bien que vous soyez riches.’ / ‘Even though you’re rich you eat fries.’

Adieu, Duolingo! Parting is such sweet sorrow.

(Photo: Abdulrahman BinSlmah)

made it to Meetup!

entree a la clavier

So I finally got myself back to a French conversation Meetup for the first time in at least a year. After putting off thinking about it all day, then purposefully making myself late to leave work, feeling nothing but dread walking the six blocks over to the location, and using all my resolve to actually walk through the door, I prayed that the bar would be empty. But nope, a crowd of people were clustered together, chatting away.

Within a matters of seconds I broke into a conversation and everything was fine. The usual self-consciousness that paralyzes my French-speaking brain like a parasitic fungus calmed down after the first few words came out of my mouth, and I felt inexplicably at ease for the rest of the evening. I had thought I’d have to force myself to stay for a half hour, but by the time I left an hour and a half had breezed by without me realizing it.


First I spoke with Dalia, an Arabic teacher who is originally from Palestine but moved here 15 years ago and now lives in New Jersey. She was super impressive because she learned French when she was young, forgot it all, picked it back up and started teaching herself just one year ago – and she was speaking beautifully, like she was fluent. Two good online tools she told me about that I will definitely be checking out in the hopes they can do for me what they did for her: Shared Talk (a free service provided by Rosetta Stone for language chats) and Anki (flashcards for vocab building).


I also had a long conversation with Dykeman, a publisher of books about the South, from which he hails (Tennessee/North Carolina to be a little more exact). Normally I just shoot the shit in French and make banal small talk but we actually covered a lot of interesting ground that I would have been just as happy to chat about in English: he suggested I watch an Antonioni film set in Barcelona (the Passenger), we discussed our angst about contemporary media distribution models, and I was excited to meet someone who knew about the Lost State of Franklin.

All in all an excellent and encouraging evening. I think Duolingo is to thank for getting me out of my habit of translating and thinking through every word before I say it out loud. Sure, when I speak as quickly as I did tonight (which, sadly, is still quite sluggish), my sentences come out sloppy. But on the other hand when I can actually say something without turning bright red, halting and/or reversing course every five seconds, that’s got to be an improvement.

I’m looking forward to going back in a couple of weeks. Which makes it official: facing down fears is my new favorite thing. (Don’t tell that to any roaches.)

(Top photo: Frédéric Bisson. Middle and bottom photo: Me.)