New French-Language Films: Omar m’a tuer and French Immersion

By   September 16, 2011

Even though I am living in an Anglophone country again, I still find ways to immerse myself in languages. Besides e-mail and Skype to keep in contact with friends, I am still using French quite a bit since my PhD research is on the teaching of variation in French. I’ve also been able to find other French-speaking expats in my area as well as find out about French Club activities through the local universities. I’ve subscribed to Quickflix for foreign DVD rentals (no streaming yet in Australia like with Netflix in the States), and SBS’s On Demand feature is quite handy for streaming foreign films that were recently broadcast. SBS is a free TV & radio channel so I don’t actually have to spend money to listen to languages even when I’m not connected to the internet.

One thing I do miss about living in a Francophone country are newly-released French-language films. If you remember the Omar m’a tuer case that I posted about earlier this year, the film about it was released in France this June.

Another film that I would love to see is French Immersion, by the creators of Bon Cop, Bad Cop. This is a Canadian film though, so it probably won’t even be released in France.

Any other new (i.e. not yet on DVD) French-language films that I’m missing out on?

Variation and Standardization: Romansh in Switzerland

By   September 8, 2011

An article about Romansh in the latest Weekend Australian is very interesting and relevant to my PhD research on the teaching of variation in language. Romansh has been the fourth official language of Switzerland since 1996, but there are five main dialects of the language among its 60,000 speakers, and none of the dialects are the official form (called Romansh Grischun or RG) that is taught in schools and published in books. Instead of unifying the speakers of the various dialects in an attempt to save the language from dying out, the standardized form has only brought about resentment and anger among students who do not want to learn from books written in a language that no one actually speaks.

My PhD research is on variation in the lexicon (vocabulary) of French, and if the variants are included in textbooks so that students can learn all forms of the French language as well as the cultures that are inseparable from it. The types of variation I am investigating are geographic and stylistic, or the various dialects of French throughout the world and formal vs. informal variants of words. Variation occurs at all levels of language, but I am focusing on the lexicon instead of the grammar because it the most salient feature of variation and the largest obstacle to comprehension for learners of French.

A lot of researchers argue against the standardized form of French that is taught in textbooks because it is actually no one’s native spoken language and students cannot acquire communicative competence by learning it, nor can they possibly learn the cultures of the various Francophone regions that are reflected in the varieties of language. Overcoming prescriptivism and language purism has always been difficult with regards to French, and the textbook publishing industry’s resistance to change because it could potentially lead to loss of profit have also contributed to the clone-like effect of language textbooks. Luckily some lexical variation has made its way into a few textbooks, though it seems mostly limited to Quebecois vocabulary of formal variants.

All variants of a language should be considered equal to each other, rather than one standardized (or even mother country) form being seen as superior to the others. American, Australian, and British English are all equal just as Canadian, Hexagonal, and Swiss French are all equal. Variation is a natural and inherent part of language; standardization is not.

Opponents of Romansh Grischun believe that it will only lead to the native dialects, as well as their cultures, dying out quickly. Proponents believe that it will allow Romansh to survive longer and prevent it from becoming a language only spoken by the elderly, though their justification for this is unclear. Standardization of a language may increase critical mass for statistical purposes and cut down on translation costs, but it does not prevent language death.

Even if Romansh Grischun becomes the native language of future generations (which is rather unlikely), the current dialects and cultures of the Romansh community will have died in the meantime. This unified Romansh language of the future would not be the same as the Romansh language of today (i.e. the collection of dialects with similar yet distinct properties), so could it really be considered as saved? Or should it be considered revitalized in another form? And what happens when variation inevitably starts to occur in the future Romansh?

Pronunciator: Free Vocabulary & Phrases in 60 Languages

By   September 3, 2011

Time flies when you’re having fun! It’s been nearly two weeks since I last posted and my only excuse is that I love working on my PhD so much that I spend all my time with my books and articles instead of my computer. I’m barely keeping up with updating the site and responding to e-mails, but I did receive a very nice e-mail yesterday that I wanted to share.

My review of some language learning websites that I posted 18 months ago in which I said “I just wanted to learn some vocabulary (and how to pronounce the words) online since my main focus on learning languages in the beginning stages is to simply understand what people are saying, and to be able to say a few phrases to get around while traveling. I don’t worry so much about forming grammatically correct sentences or having long conversations just yet.” inspired Robert to create a company and website to do just that.

Pronunciator launched on September 1st and it contains basic vocabulary, verbs, phrases, and conversation in 60 languages. There are 421 units of multiple lessons and 3 million pages for you to explore, all completely free. (Not all of the content is up yet, but it’s coming.) In addition to the audio flashcards, there are listening and reading exercises plus playback and vocal recognition modes where you can compare your pronunciation to the native speaker. Check out the site and thank Robert for putting so much work into it and helping others to learn languages for free!

Multicultural and Multilingual Australia

By   August 22, 2011

One of the many reasons why I love Australia: an official Multicultural Policy

Multicultural and Multilingual Australia

From the government’s Multicultural Policy released in February of this year:

“Australia is a multicultural nation. In all, since 1945, seven million people have migrated to Australia. Today, one in four of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas, 44 per cent were born overseas or have a parent who was and four million speak a language other than English. We speak over 260 languages and identify with more than 270 ancestries. Australia is and will remain a multicultural society.”

Multiculturalism in Australia produced the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), which offers television and radio programs in 68 languages. Luckily they have a free to air channel (as well as an FM channel) so I don’t have to pay extra to watch France 2 news every morning. They also have several podcasts available through iTunes (which is how I discovered them while still living in France.)

Australia is also the most multilingual of the English-speaking countries, and was the first to create a multilingual language policy. The most commonly spoken foreign languages are Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese. Most bilinguals or multilinguals in Australia are either Aborigines or immigrants who speak English as a second language. The majority of native English speakers do not speak another language, similar to the situation in the US and UK.

Though some states and territories do require the study of a foreign language at primary/secondary level, by the final years of secondary school, only about 10% continue their studies (Years 6-8 have the highest percentage of students). The main languages studied are (followed by enrollment figures for 2006):

1. Japanese 332,943
2. Italian 322,023
3. Indonesian 209,939
4. French 207,235
5. German 126,920
6. Chinese (Mandarin) 81,358
7. Arabic 25,449
8. Spanish 20,518
9. Greek 18,584
10. Vietnamese 11,014
11. Other 45,567

The situation at the tertiary level is a bit sad. Unlike the US, no Australian university requires the study of a foreign language and many language departments have been incorporated into schools of other disciplines. For example, my particular school is called Communication, International Studies and Languages. Only 10% of first-year university students are taking a foreign language, and less than a quarter continue language studies through the third and final year of a Bachelor’s degree. Thirty-one languages are taught at universities, though 12 are taught in only one jurisdiction while 8 are taught in all states (Chinese, French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin and Spanish).

For more information on languages in Australian schools, download the PDF of Second Languages and Australian Schooling from the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Multiculturalism Links:

Multicultural Australia (government site)

Australian Multicultural Foundation

Making Multicultural Australia

Free Two Week French Course + Accommodation in Brussels, Belgium: Giveaway from Easy Languages

By   August 15, 2011

Easy Languages is currently offering their first giveaway: two weeks of French courses in Brussels, Belgium, including accommodation in a residence, valued at €795.00 or approximately $1,100.00 (USD) / £700.00 (GBP). This prize does not include airfare or any ground transportation.

If you are a US or UK resident over the age of 18 who wants to learn French for free in the capital of the European Union, simply leave a comment on their Language Traveler blog post by 11:59pm EST, Monday August 29, 2011.

One winner will be chosen randomly on September 2, 2011, and announced via their Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck! Bonne chance !

Grand Place / Grote Markt

The Atomium

Manneken Pis

Take a day trip to Bruges / Brugge

View more photos of Belgium at the Gallery.

No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win giveaways. A purchase won’t improve an individual’s chance of winning. Please be sure to read eligibility and official rules.

Being a PhD / Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Student in Australia

By   August 12, 2011

Doing a PhD in Australia

Let me tell you a little about being a PhD / Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student in Australia. As the name implies, it is a research only degree that is supposed to take three years – meaning you don’t have any courses to take and your “full-time job” is to do research. You can teach/tutor if you want to, but it is not a required part of the degree.

Most universities offer Masters Degrees and PhDs as well as Professional Doctorates by Research, while the regular postgraduate degrees that require coursework include Graduate Certificates, Diplomas, and Masters Degrees. However, since Australia has the Honours system for their Bachelors degrees which adds another year during which students undertake a research project and write a thesis, many students go from an Honours Bachelors degree into a PhD without getting a Masters degree. Obtaining a PhD can be done in seven consecutive years (3 years for Bachelors + 1 year for Honours + 3 years for PhD), though it is more common to start a PhD later in life than directly after a Bachelors degree. The average age of beginning PhD students in Australia is 28 for science degrees and 38 for humanities degrees.

I was lucky enough to receive a full scholarship and living stipend so that my tuition and health insurance are both already paid for and I receive a “salary” every two weeks to cover rent and living costs. It is not a high salary by American or Australian standards, but it is much more than I ever made working full-time in France. Scholarships are quite competitive for international students though, and you must be full-time and doing research on campus (internal, not external, student) in order to receive them. The application itself for admission/scholarships was quite long (a lot of writing on your proposed research, obviously), but did not require the GRE or any other standardized test scores. My program provides a research fund that includes reimbursement for books or equipment that I might need to buy (which includes home internet costs!) and travel funds to pay for plane tickets and accommodation when presenting at conferences. Since I am also attached to a Research Centre within my School and Division, there are other grants I can apply for if I need more funding.

On campus, I have my own desk and shared office with other PhD students, but since I am a student and not staff, I still get the many, many perks of having a student ID (discounts galore! MS Office for $99, for example, and half price bus tickets). I don’t have any office hours, nor do I actually have to use my workspace if I don’t want to. I am free to work at home or in the library if I wish to do so. It is essentially a Results Only Work Environment (or perhaps Learning Environment) which I love, as it allows me to work when I am the most motivated. I have monthly meetings with my supervisors to make sure I am on the right track and actually doing something, but other than that, I am free to do what I want. So Research Degrees are not for everyone – if you have motivation problems, I wouldn’t suggest them – but they are great for those of us who work best independently and on our own schedule.

And don’t mind being buried under massive amounts of books and articles…

The UN’s Education Index ranks Australia’s education system as tied for first place with Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand. Canada is next, but the US is down at number 20. The average length of Australian PhDs is 4.5 years, while Americans PhDs average 8 years because of the extra coursework (and perhaps teaching). About 50% of people with PhDs in Australia do not continue in academia, and students are not required to publish or teach as much as in the US (especially in the Humanities), so the push to remain in academia is not as great. Since I am still not sure what I would like to do after I finish my PhD (become a professor or researcher or leave academia altogether?), I like the flexibility of my program and not feeling as though I am already being forced towards a career in academia, which is the impression I get when reading about American Humanities PhDs.

I do have a plan!

I’ve only been a student for about a month, and these are simply my own experiences and observations at my particular university for a humanities degree. I’d love to hear from other HDR students and PhD students in the US to know more about different programs.

For more information on the various Australian universities, check out Universities Australia and the Group of Eight (the Ivy League of Australia) as well as the Australian Technology Network, which is the best bet for international students – though don’t let the name fool you; my university belongs to the ATN and my PhD is in Languages & Linguistics rather than science or technology. There is also a forum at Study Connect if you want to talk to other students and find out about life in the major cities.

Feel free to ask me questions if you plan to apply. The main deadline for the International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (for commencement in early 2012) is August 31, 2011. There are other scholarships at the Australian Postgraduate Awards rate available for international students starting mid-year as well (July), which is what I received.

Aussie English for the Beginner

By   August 5, 2011

Australian English for the Beginner

And now for the post on Australian English!

Thanks to Australian friends and the internet, I had learned some Australian English words before arriving so I wasn’t lost when reading about diggers in the news or picturing the wrong thing when hearing the word thongs. Being a linguistics nerd, I am endlessly fascinated by the mixture of British and American terms used here, plus the words borrowed from the languages of the Aborigines. This cute website from the National Museum of Australia gives a nice overview of Aussie English and Australia Network has several video podcasts mostly designed for ESL students but still useful for native speakers of English who want to learn about Australia and the variety of English spoken here.

Some words are the same as in British English (zed for Z, holiday for vacation, fringe for bangs, boot for trunk, porridge for oatmeal, car park for parking lot, mobile phone for cell phone, torch for flashlight, trolley for cart, hire for rent, etc.) as well as the spellings (tyre, colour, socialise, etc.) Oddly enough though, the Australian Labor Party does not use the u in their official name because they kept the spelling that was preferred in Australia in the early 1900’s. In other cases, there are similarities with American English, such as eggplant and creek, though I am still a little confused as to the series/season distinction when referring to television shows. (Any help here, Aussies? Brits say series where Americans say seasons to refer to the year, as in Everyone loved season one of Heroes, but man, season two sucked.)

Most Americans are familiar with outback, bush, g’day, no worries mate, crikey, and that’s not a knife; that’s a knife, but the phrase that still catches me off guard is How are you going? I’m expecting to hear How are you doing? or How is it going? and so I always hesitate for a second before replying to make sure I don’t say something weird like I’m going good.

Other Australian words that I have actually heard in the past few weeks include:

tucker (food)
take a burl (take a whirl)
bung (broken)
sanger (sandwich)
salads (vegetables)
ute (truck)
capsicum (bell pepper)
light globe (light bulb)
anti-clockwise (counter-clockwise)
serviettes (napkins)
bathers / swimmers / togs (swimsuit in most areas / New South Wales / Queensland)
paddock (field)
oval (field for Australian Rules Football WHICH I DO NOT UNDERSTAND AT ALL)
bogan (lower-class person)
flat white (espresso with steamed milk; I don’t think you can find this drink often outside of Australia/New Zealand)
short black (espresso)
long black (espresso with water; similar to regular American coffee)
bottle shop (liquor store)
fair dinkum / dinky-di (true, genuine)
dunny (toilet, though usually outdoors)
Macca’s (McDonald’s)
pom (Englishman/woman)
snag (sausage)
ta (thanks)
good on ya (well done)

Bastard is a term of endearment, while root/rooting has a very vulgar meaning so Americans should never say they’re rooting for someone… Numbers and letters are often said as double or triple instead of saying each one individually. My name is J, E, double N, I, E. On most forms, you have to fill in the name of your suburb, and not your city.

Abbreviations and shortening of words is very common, especially with the addition of -y / -ie or -o:

bikkie (biscuit / cookie)
brekky (breakfast)
barbie (barbecue)
mozzie (mosquito)
sunnies (sunglasses)
pressie (present)
arvo (afternoon)
garbo (garbage)

Here in South Australia, stobie pole is used for electricity pole while heaps is a common intensifier (instead of very). And back to the beginning, a digger is a soldier and thongs are flip-flops (though I’m sure older Americans still remember when they were called thongs in the US too, but to us young’ins, it now refers to G-string underwear.) Even though Paul Hogan did say “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you” in a tourism video aimed at Americans, Australians actually use the word prawn. Oh, and Foster’s is NOT Australian for beer because no Australian would ever drink that stuff.

I have now been in Australia for one whole month! More cultural observations and comparisons (for America and France) to come!

Catalan Tutorial, Affiliate Program, and Australia Photos

By   July 31, 2011

Thanks to Jonathan, we have another Romance language tutorial on Catalan!

Catalan is spoken by 11.5 million people, mostly in eastern Spain (Catalonia, Valencian Community, Balearic islands) as well as in southern France, Andorra, and Sardinia, Italy. Barcelona is the largest Catalan-speaking city, and Catalan is recognized as a co-official language with Spanish in the regions where it is spoken in Spain. The first page of the tutorial is now available.

Another piece of news about the site is that I have started an affiliate program for sales of my French Language Tutorial e-book. If you have a website or blog related to French, languages, linguistics, etc. and would like to earn 50% commission for each sale, then click here to sign up to be an affiliate at e-junkie.

Last, I have finally uploaded photos from Melbourne and Adelaide to the Travel Photos Gallery. Follow the links below to see the beauty (and adorable animals) of Australia:

Melbourne, Australia

Adelaide, Australia

Moving to the Other Side of the World, Part 3: Settling in Australia

By   July 20, 2011

I have now been in Australia for two weeks, and things are going amazingly well. I arrived via the Overland train from Melbourne. It does take 10.5 hours but time goes by quickly. I definitely recommend it for those who do not like flying or driving long distances.

I have settled in my apartment, obtained my student ID/discount card (oh how I love being a student again!!), met with my supervisors at the university, and explored the library already. I have had absolutely no problems with the paperwork or university bureaucracy, which is a miracle. The day after I arrived I was able to obtain my student ID right away as well as receive my login credentials for the university system and e-mail. Then I signed my lease at the accomodation office and received the keys to my apartment. I managed to get the electricity in my name within 2 hours and since the unit is internet ready, I simply plugged in my ethernet cable and set up a pre-paid account for the data usage. I don’t have a landline or cable TV because I would never use them.

I am less than a 5 minute walk from campus, and a 2 minute walk to the post office, grocery store (open on Sundays!!), bakery, fruit & vegetable vendor, etc. There is a bus stop across the street where I can hop on a direct, and sometimes express, bus to the CBD of Adelaide every 15 minutes (and thanks to my student ID, one two-hour trip is only 81 cents!) My apartment is very quiet as I was lucky enough to be in the building that is not on the street, but back in the corner by the parking lot.

I have received my bank card and PIN so I no longer have to use American dollars (thankfully, since the exchange rate is not so good). Here’s a timeline of what opening by bank account was like:

  • One month before leaving France: Opened account online and transferred money into it
  • Two-three weeks later: Received first bank statement and welcome letter in France, stating which identification documents would be necessary n Australia
  • After arrival: Went to a bank branch that was not my own (remember, I arrived in Melbourne and then came to Adelaide later on), gave them my passport, signed two papers, got my telephone/online banking set up, ordered my debit card and could start withdrawing money immediately. I did not need any actual proof of my address in Australia – I simply told them what it was, and they printed out an official paper just in case I did need to prove my address (such as buying a cell phone on contract.)

Then I went next door to the cell phone store and bought a pre-paid phone. I only needed to tell them my address and show my passport. I could not believe how incredibly easy everything was. So there you have it. Housing, bank account and cell phone are completely taken care of, as are utility hookups in my apartment. Now I’m just finishing up some shopping for little things for the apartment.

I haven’t been experiencing much culture shock, but I have noticed that I automatically behave or think how I used to in France because I’m more used to the French way than the American way. The first time I went grocery shopping, I started to get ready to bag my own groceries and then realized the cashier was already doing it for me. I had second thoughts about ordering the debit card while at the bank branch in Melbourne because I was afraid that it would not be delivered if my name wasn’t on the mailbox at my apartment in Adelaide. But just like the US, your name isn’t always on the mailbox and the post office just uses the number. While at the large shopping center, I started looking to see how much change I had so that I could use the bathroom and then remembered that they were free to use.

Other things throw me off a little: cars driving on the left, not receiving mail on Saturdays, data caps on home internet, most stores closing at 5pm on Saturdays (I understand closing at 5 on Sunday, but why so early on Saturdays?) Not having a car is probably the only “problem” I have, but I would really only need one for bringing home larger items that I can’t carry. Fortunately my colleagues are helping me out on the weekends.

I am doing rather well and the weather is lovely. It’s good to know that this winter is “unusually cold,” which at 15° C / 59° F is a nice spring day to me. It hasn’t really set in yet that this is as cold as it will get all year. That is perhaps the best part so far! Besides the cute animals, of course.

First Impressions of Australia

By   July 12, 2011

I arrived in Australia a week ago today! These were my first thoughts:

This is winter?

Everyone speaks with such an adorable accent.

It’s not that expensive.

After two pleasant flights with Etihad Airways that seemed to go by extremely fast (I highly recommend them!), I arrived in Melbourne last Tuesday night. Customs went smoothly, the airport staff was kind, and the sniffer dogs were too cute. I boarded the SkyBus (buy and print your ticket online to avoid waiting in line) to head to Melbourne CBD, i.e. the central business district, or what I would call downtown. I was only wearing a sweater and cardigan, but did not feel cold when I stepped outside at 7pm. Even during the hour-long train & bus rides back to my friend’s place in the suburbs, I never once put on my jacket. I nearly laughed when I looked up the record low temperature for this area: -2.8°C / 27°F way back in 1901. So this is winter, eh?

Even though I arrived in Melbourne, I won’t actually be living here. I am currently visiting a friend from the States, and will head to Adelaide soon where my university is located. I absolutely love Melbourne and imagine that I will feel the same in Adelaide. Melbourne may be the second largest city in Australia, but it doesn’t have that big city feel to it that I don’t like about many of the other large cities in Europe (especially compared to Paris). There aren’t that many skyscrapers blocking out the sun, you can walk everywhere in the CBD – plus there are free trams and buses for tourists to get to all of the major sites – and there are beautiful parks on the edge of the city with plenty of green areas. Even a two minute walk away from the CBD you will find pretty residential areas. This is what (my idea of) a city should be like.

Besides the sightseeing, I’ve mostly been shopping for stuff that I couldn’t bring with me and finishing up the administrative things. Everyone has been so helpful, and it’s certainly a change when the cashier starts up a conversation with you while bagging your groceries and the bank employees fill out all the paperwork and wait in line with you to make sure you’re able to accomplish all of the things you need to. Everyone seems so polite and kind and ready to chat with you even if they don’t know you, which is a major difference from European culture that I had been missing. I’m already learning some Australian words, such as Flybuys (loyalty program owned by Coles), Maccas (McDonald’s), esky (cooler), sultanas (raisins) and tasty (cheddar), and the shortened forms of other words such as brekky (breakfast) and bikkies (biscuits, or cookies/crackers since a biscuit is an entirely different thing to me).

Prices are not as high as some (Americans) have complained about. Coming from France and the euro, it’s pretty much the same. Melbourne’s population is about 4 million people, so it’s a bit difficult to compare to Chambéry or Annecy in France with their populations of 50,000. Thanks to the strong Australian economy and dollar, the capital cities are now among the most expensive in the world with regards to cost of living. Sydney and Melbourne are now ranked between Paris and New York, while Perth and Brisbane also made the top 20. Luckily for me, Adelaide has the cheapest rent out of all of the capital cities (not to mention the driest weather).

From what I’ve seen so far, groceries are nearly the same as in France, gas is definitely cheaper (more like 1€ a liter) but restaurants and books are a bit more expensive. Clothes and electronics seem to be the same – that is to say, higher than American prices because of the exchange rates, but then again, what isn’t cheaper in the US? The only thing that does seem cheaper in Europe is internet. Unfortunately Australia has broadband caps on internet usage (same as Canada, New Zealand and AT&T and Comcast in the US), so paying only 30€ for unlimited internet plus cable TV and free calls to several countries is one thing I do miss about France. Nevertheless, I think I will be better off in Australia because I will have a higher income to compensate for the higher rent.

I am slowly resisting the urge to say bonjour to everyone instead of hello – Chinese and Italian are the major foreign languages here – and discovering the subtle, or not so subtle, differences between Australia, France, and the US. Australia definitely has a lot in common with the US (stores open on Sundays!), but it does share some similarities with Europe that are a welcome change from the American way (you only pay for calls you make, for instance.) I’ll post again soon about all the differences and similarities among the three.

Once I get into my apartment on Friday, I’ll update with part 3 of moving to the other side of the world. I nearly cried at the bank here because of how easy it was. Oh Australia, I hope I never have to leave you.