More French Cultural Vocabulary: Proprietary or Brand Names

By   February 13, 2011

Proprietary or brand names are also a cultural aspect of learning languages. Many times people aren’t even aware that a word they use for a certain object is in fact a brand name and not the generic name. In English, we have several brand names that have become more common than the original terms, such as kleenex (tissue), Q-tip (cotton swab), and band-aid (adhesive bandage).  This also extends further than nouns because we have verbs such as to tweet and to google.  And of course, some dialects of English do not use the same proprietary names as others (it’s plaster and not band-aid in British English.)

Here are a few proprietary names (with their generic names) used in France.

critérium / portemine

stabilo / surligneur

tippex / correcteur fluide

sopalin / essuie-tout

cotons-tiges / bâtons ouatés

Check out other Cultural Realia of France.

Culturally Relevant Photos of French Objects: Learning the Cultural Significance of Words

By   February 8, 2011

Following up on my recent post about cultural differences in photos, I have begun taking pictures of culturally relevant objects in France as an extension to my realia project that originally included written objects in French, such as signs, brochures, menus, receipts, etc. Now I want to add realia pertaining to visual differences among cultures and how a word in one language sometimes cannot translate exactly to another.

For example, the closest thing to a washcloth (that Americans know as a square piece of cloth) in France is actually un gant de toilette, which you can put your hand inside like a glove. Should we say that a washcloth = un gant de toilette even though they are not exactly the same thing?

How about approximations according to what is most common in each culture? In the US, most modern homes are heated by furnaces while in France most homes are heated by radiateurs, whether cast iron or electric.  Some homes even have underfloor heating. Even though Americans know what radiators are since they are still common in older houses, how would you go about translating the concept of a furnace into French? Simply use the culturally equivalent item? But then if you had only learned vocabulary by memorizing the spelling and pronunciation of the translation from your native language, how would you even know that French homes don’t have furnaces?

Here are a few other objects that are almost the same, but with slight differences.

Paper has grids, not lines, and more holes along the side

Milk is sold in one liter bottles, and most do not need to be refrigerated before opening

A wall outlet tends to be round with two circular holes for the prongs

Once again, language and culture cannot be separated. If you don’t learn them together, you will never have a full understanding of either. This is why I intend to add photos to the flashcards and I have added another page to the Realia section for this Cultural Realia of France.  All of the photos I take in France will be released under the same Creative Commons License that I used for the French Listening Resources mp3s so that other teachers and learners of French may use them in their classes or for self-study.

Brainscape Flashcards: Website and Mobile Apps

By   February 2, 2011

Brainscape is a website that offers flashcards on a variety of topics – more than just foreign language vocabulary – using graduated intervals for maximum repetition and reinforcement of least-known items.  This learning technique goes by many names (spaced repetition seems to be the most common among language learning sites) and it is indeed based on actual scientific research that you can read about in scholarly journals. Brainscape explains the cognitive science behind their system and cites their sources, which is extremely important to a researcher like me who values empirical data and facts over random anecdotes of personal failure or success.

The concept is simply to rate how well you felt you knew each item on a numerical scale, starting at 5 for perfectly down to 1 for not at all.  The items that you rate lower will reappear more often so that you can focus your attention on them rather than spending time on the ones you already know fairly well.  Currently there are flashcards available in the subjects of Test Prep (GRE & SAT vocabulary plus Driver’s Ed), Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, ESL and survival Russian & Portuguese), and Knowledge Junkie (random facts for nerds like me). Audio is provided for many of the language cards and will be continually added for languages that do not already include it. Keyboard shortcuts are also available (spacebar and numbers) so you aren’t required to click constantly.

At this time, all of the flashcard sets are available for free on the website.  Just create an account or sign in with Facebook and add them to your library.  You can also create your own cards or import lists of items in XML or CSV format as well as share them with other users on the site. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, Brainscape also offers apps for each of the flashcard sets.  More than half are free through iTunes’ app store.  Eventually there will be a single app for accessing your library and syncing your progress between the website and app so that you can start learning on one platform and continue on the other with no interruption.

Even if flashcards are not your thing, Brainscape’s blog is still worth checking out for articles on learning, memory, cognition, education, etc. They update it quite frequently and have great guest bloggers and interviews.

Finally, I have five promo codes for the French Vocab Genius app for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch (normally $7.99) which includes nearly 3,000 audio flashcards. The first five people who e-mail me at ielanguages [at] gmail [dot] com requesting a code will receive one! [EDIT: All of the codes have been given away already!]

Spanish Resources for Teachers and Learners

By   January 28, 2011

Hi guys, my name’s Andrew, and I’ve been teaching myself Spanish on and off for over 3 years now, and in the process of doing so I’ve learned an enormous amount about how to learn a foreign language on your own and Spanish in particular, and of course I’ve accumulated a very large collection of resources that I’ve found to be useful in helping me. I talked about doing a guest post with Jennie because she has expressed an interest in learning Spanish herself and also said she wanted to get more information on Spanish up on her site, and she said that a list of resources (free sites, etc.) that I particularly liked would be great, so that’s what I’ve got for you below. These are only a very small fraction of the sites and tools that I’ve tried at some point, but they’re the best ones.

Tools: Dictionaries and Translators and Conjugators, Oh My!

First and foremost is my overall favorite tool: – The dictionary is excellent and works perfectly and everything, but it’s not just that, it’s that plus the translation tool you see there directly below it that, when you enter something in it to translate, runs it through Google Translate and Yahoo!’s Babel Fish and FreeTranslation so you’ve got 3 different translations to choose from (Google’s is almost always the best), plus the verb conjugator they’ve got there that produces what are easily the best organized and easiest-to-read conjugation tables of any conjugation tool I’ve found yet (you can get to it from the main page by hovering over the ‘More’ menu and selecting ‘Conjugation’).

The Spanish dictionary is the best I’ve used, the translator is the best I’ve used, and the conjugator is the best I’ve used, hands down. Awesome tool, and it’s so nice to just have one site that I have to have bookmarked and need to refer to whenever I need to do nearly anything reference-related with Spanish.

If you’re a flashcard person (I am, now that I don’t have to actually deal with the physical ones) then you’ll love Anki: it’s something called an SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) that functions like flashcards but much, much better in that it not only eliminates the actual paper ones but also deals with which card you need to review and when by using a special algorithm that takes into account when you last reviewed it, whether you got it right, how old it is, and how many times you’ve already seen it–you’ll go from initially reviewing a card once a day for a couple sessions quickly (if you get it right) onto once every 3 then 5 then 15 then 30 days then once every couple of months, this way you can have literally thousands of words and phrases that you review, you’re never allowed to forget any of them, and reviewing them only takes 10-30 minutes a day or so depending on how many cards you have (I have about 500 right now and my average review is 15-20 cards that takes all of about 3-5 minutes per day).

Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, is shutting down, so there are now going to be a LOT of people out there in need of a replacement, and I’m certain that Anki will get the lion’s share of them quite easily.

I don’t think I’ve heard this anywhere else, but I will tell you right now that the best source for looking up Spanish slang is…Urban Dictionary. Seriously. Nothing beats it.

Mind you, I’m talking about looking up a slang word that you heard in Spanish–if you want to find out if there’s a Spanish slang for something you know in English then Google is your best bet: “spanish slang for _____”.

Need to know what a “rolo” is? Urban Dictionary’s got your back (it’s a Colombian slang term for someone from Bogotá). How about the oft-heard Mexican slang term “pinche“? Yup. “Majo“? Yup (2nd definition is correct). “Chiflada“? It’s there. See what I mean?

Forvo is a very interesting website, and immensely useful to language-learners. It’s sort of like a dictionary in that it’s got most of the words currently in use in a language (and they’ve got over 180 languages at the moment) but instead of giving the definition for it they give you the pronunciation…in the form of an audio recording that you can listen to instead of that IPA gibberish that no one understands, that way you can actually hear a native speaker pronouncing the word you’re looking up! How awesome is that?

General Learning Resources

My personal favorite that I’ve used forever is Ben and Marina’s Notes in Spanish where you can listen to many, many, many hours of conversation between the two of them about all sorts of interesting things, and what makes it really outstanding is the fact that they’ve got 3 sections based on difficulty: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I can’t tell you how nice this is, each lesson not only has a conversation in actual colloquial Spanish but they also take time after each one to explain what they were talking about, go over vocab, slang, etc. The Beginner’s level has about 5 minutes of conversation and 10-15 minutes of explanation, and the conversation itself is done slowly using basic grammar and vocabulary, but it’s not textbook or childish, it really just works perfectly, you have to try it to see what I mean.

The audio lessons are completely free and that’s what I’m referring to, they also have worksheets that they charge for: although they’re very helpful, you absolutely do not need the worksheets; all they are, are transcripts of the conversation in Spanish (no English translation–that would make them worth it) with a little vocab afterward. has got 165 children’s books in Spanish available online for you to read. Do I really need to tell you what a fantastic learning tool children’s books in your target language are? They’re at a children’s reading level, they’re fun and far more interesting than a textbook, and they’re free!

Wikipedia’s section on Spanish grammar is probably all you’ll ever need, if that–there isn’t much you can’t find an adequate explanation of in there, however…I do have a Spanish grammar book that I absolutely love, it’s concise, easier to understand than any other explanation of Spanish grammar I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot), small enough to fit in a back pocket, and fairly thin (200 pages): Barron’s Spanish Grammar

The Spanish section of the BBC’s language-learning page is fantastic, tons of free videos, newscasts, radio broadcasts, lessons, etc.

On my own site I’ve got a very long list of websites where you can watch streaming Spanish-language TV for free that I highly recommend–unlike every other list I checked when putting that post together, there isn’t a dead link on there anywhere (that I know of, if you find one let me know in the comments and I’ll fix it) and I’m constantly updating it to remove sites that don’t work any more and add new ones. Most of them are TV stations and they’re all organized by country so you can pick a specific country if you’re especially interested in it. This is, by far, the most comprehensive list of such sites you’ll find anywhere online, I promise you (I know this because I looked at every other such list out there in the process of making this one).

Language exchanges can be very hit-or-miss, but they’re a fantastic (and for some people: only) way to find native speakers to practice with, plus you do it via Skype so you never have to leave the house. The one that I’ve had the best luck with, by a long ways, is The Mixxer. Keep in mind that you’ll have to message 5 or 10 people for every 1 that you manage to get to converse with you on a regular basis, but it’s extremely convenient and entirely free unlike paying for a tutor or something, and a lot of people live in an area where they just can’t find native speakers to practice with face-to-face so this sort of thing is their only option.


Mine!!! Well you knew that was coming, right? I presume that you’re doing this from home, alone, and don’t want to spend much/any money on it. I have published such fascinating and riveting articles as how to learn Spanish from Shakira’s music videos (there are two prior similar posts based on two of her other songs: Suerte and La Tortura that are linked to from that one), and the ever-popular Telenovela Method of learning Spanish.

The blog formerly known as ‘Actualidades’ but currently called Zambombazo (no clue why he did that, but anyway…): this guy is super-active, posting really good quality stuff about 2-5 times per day. What he does is use current pop-culture media like music videos, short clips of TV shows, pictures, news stories etc. that are from a Spanish-speaking culture somewhere (he does a good job of changing up the countries and giving you a good variety) and then turning it into a little mini Spanish-lesson where he has a series of questions that either you or your students are supposed to answer afterward. It’s just one guy doing all of it and the amount of work he puts into this site is just unbelievable, either he’s retired or independently wealthy, there’s no other explanation.

Fluent in 3 Months is a general language-learning blog run by ‘Benny the Irish Polyglot’ and he’s currently in the Philippines and focusing on Tagalog right now, but this is one that anyone learning any language for any reason ought to be subscribed to, Benny puts out awesome stuff and his lifestyle is fascinating and something I hope to somewhat emulate eventually: what he does is move to a new country for 3 months at a time during which he forces himself to get conversationally fluent in the local language (in 3 months, hence the name of the site). So far he’s done Irish, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and German using this particular method (he also speaks Esperanto). Fascinating stuff, good writer, and he’s walked the walk (taught himself multiple languages) and consequently earns the right to talk the talk and be taken very seriously.

I especially liked his post on ‘the smartest decision you will ever make’, which does an excellent job of explaining his philosophy on language-learning.

Spanish Only. Oh this is going to be fun: Benny (above-mentioned) and Ramses (guy who runs Spanish Only) not only use diametrically opposed methods (Benny knows that the correct way is to start speaking a language as soon as possible, Ramses religiously follows the belief that you should go through a ‘silent period’ first where all you do is listen and read) but they’ve also been at each others’ throats a bit recently (watching the back-and-forth cat fight on twitter was genuinely entertaining, haha), so I’m sure they’ll be ecstatic about seeing their sites right next to each other here. He does publish really useful stuff, though, but nowhere near as frequently as Benny (Benny publishes 3-5 times a week, Ramses is more like 2-4 times a month).

Language Fixation is another great language-learning blog that I really like due to his analytical approach and extreme emphasis on numbers, analysis, record keeping, setting very specific goals, and in particular doing a great job of keeping track of his results and then publishing them for other people to see. He’s also of the input-only-to-begin-with school like Ramses but has also published some great advice on how to get speaking practice on your own that I found to be especially insightful and valuable.

Randy over at Yearlyglot is on a similar sort of program as Benny in that he has a set time (one year) to learn each of his languages and then at the end of that year he travels to the country in question to test himself (he’s currently in Italy but has already started on Turkish which is what he’s learning for this year).

And, of course, if you’re not subscribed to Jennie’s blog, you should be (click me!)–she posts great stuff regardless of what language you’re learning.


My personal favorite regardless of what language you’re learning, and probably the biggest language-learning related forum on the internet, is HTLAL (How to Learn Any Language). Keep in mind that people there are very analytical and logical about how they go about doing things, but that has resulted in a level of quality of information that you won’t find anywhere else. I especially recommend people check out Iversen’s ridiculously long ‘Guide to Learning Languages’ (set aside a few days for that one).

Foro de Español is one that I don’t frequent much but that’s only for lack of time. It’s huge and specifically for people trying to learn Spanish (it’s the only one I know of entirely dedicated to Spanish).

Omniglot forum is in a very similar vein to HTLAL except that it’s not quite as big (though it’s still very active).

That’s it, guys. I didn’t want to do an insanely long list of every possible thing that might be useful to someone somewhere, I wanted to only recommend things that I, personally, have used and found to be really useful and valuable resources–the stuff above is probably 10% of what I’ve got in my bookmarks and such, but it’s the best. I hope you find it as valuable as I thought it was.



Cultural Differences in Photos: USA and France

By   January 25, 2011

In my English classes I taught at the university, we used flashcards with a photo of an object and the English word written out to teach and/or reinforce vocabulary. For most objects, there were no problems with the images provided but every once in a while, my students didn’t quite understand the connection between the image and the word because of cultural differences between the US and France.

For example, what word comes to mind when you look at this image?

If you are American, you would most likely identify it as a loaf of bread. All of my French students, however, thought it was a cake. Why? Because un cake in French is this:

Most Americans would probably call this a sort of quick bread, such as banana bread or zucchini bread, because the shape is similar to a loaf of bread. Loaves of bread are not all that common in France because pain has many shapes, whether a baguette, or pain de campagne, or petits pains. Sliced bread sold in loaves is just called pain de mie, or “American Sandwich” as it’s written on the bag, and it is not really eaten with meals but used almost exclusively for making sandwiches or croque monsieurs.

Another image that my students found strange was this:

Orange prescription bottles that are the norm in the US don’t exist in France. When you go to the pharmacy, you receive a box of medication but there is no printed label with the directions on it, or even your name or doctor’s name. All of that information stays on the prescription paper itself, which you must keep.

Students who watch a lot of American TV or films recognized the bottle, but it was still a foreign concept to them – just as not receiving an orange bottle is still a bit odd to me whenever I fill a prescription in France.

Now what image pops into your head when you hear the words crutches or vacuum?

If you’re American, I bet you think of these:

If you’re French, I imagine it’s more like these:

The forearm crutches and cylinder vacuum are also used in the US, but the underarm crutches and upright vacuum are relatively rare in France. I always thought it was strange when my students came to class with the forearm crutches after a car or skiing accident, because I only ever saw those used by elderly patients with lifelong disabilities or Kerry Weaver on ER. I don’t know which set of crutches is considered better for healing, but at least with the vacuums it makes more sense that the upright version is more common in North America – because we have a lot more carpet in our homes and businesses. I have yet to set foot in a home in France where there is wall-to-wall carpet instead of a few small rugs here and there. Since Europe prefers hardwood and tile floors, the cylinder vacuum is more convenient here.

Another difference that I had never thought of came to me when I was flipping through Oops magazine this past weekend. Oops is one of those trashy celebrity magazines that I only look at to learn more slang or see what atrocities French has done to English words lately (relooké always kills me). There was a picture of Zac Efron next to a car holding a few things in his hands, one of which was a tube of Burt’s beeswax lip balm, which is very recognizable to Americans – as are most tubes of chapstick. [I believe this was the paparazzi photo if you want to see for yourself.]

However, the caption in French said that he was holding a tube of homeopathic pills. I don’t think that Burt’s Bees products are as popular in France as in the US, and homeopathic pills found in little tubes are very common, so it’s easy to see why the author was mistaken:

There are many other subtle differences that don’t lead to confusion (houses with siding vs. stone houses, cars with trunks vs. hatchbacks, top-loading washers vs. front-loading) that help to identify something as American or French/European. Searching for the English word on and the French word on will provide many examples. Can you think of any other items that could be mistaken for something else like the cake and tubes above?

Italian & French in Aosta Valley, Italy

By   January 19, 2011

For those who love both Italian and French, I recommend a trip to the Aosta Valley of Italy. It is an autonomous region in the northwestern corner of Italy, bordering France and Switzerland. Both Italian and French are official languages, though the majority of the inhabitants speak Italian as a first language. Valdôtain, a dialect of Franco-Provençal, and a dialect of Walser German are also spoken in certain areas.  In main tourist towns, such as Courmayeur and Aosta, French and English are widely spoken as well as some German.

I went to Courmayeur this past weekend because I had never been to Val d’Aosta even though it is quite close to where I live. Courmayeur is located on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, opposite Chamonix on the French side. The easiest way to get there from France is to drive through the tunnel under Mont Blanc. It’s about 11 km / 7 miles long and costs 45.90€ for the roundtrip toll. The only other options would be to take a SAVDA bus from Chambéry/Annecy, or a train to Chamonix, then switch to a bus there. It is also possible to take a train from Chambéry to Turin and head north towards Aosta, but it is much longer and the train actually stops in Pré-Saint-Didier so you will still need to take a bus to Courmayeur.

Surrounded by huge mountains

The weather is actually colder in this part of the Alps and there is plenty of snow in winter for skiing – yet there is plenty of sunshine and hiking opportunities in summer.  Courmayeur is touristy like Chamonix, but it also felt smaller and even a bit cheaper (at least for meals.) The food was similar to what you find in the French Alps: fromage (cheese) and charcuterie (meats). Their fonduta/fondue is made with fontina cheese and accompanies polenta and gnocchi. Mocetta, dried beef, is also common, and tegole, cookies shaped in the form of Alpine roof tiles, are a typical dessert.  The architecture is also similar with lots of beautiful wood chalets.

Snow above my waist

Besides skiing and hiking, the region is known for its thermal baths and spas. I hope to return for longer than a weekend next time so I can take advantage of them, such as the Terme di Pré Saint Didier.  Even if you can’t make it to the Aosta Valley, you can still go on a virtual roadtrip and check out the beautiful scenery thanks to Google Street View.

Can you spot the télécabine going up the mountain?

I’ve uploaded the rest of my Courmayeur photos to the Gallery and Flickr.

In Search of More Multilingual Vocabulary & Verb Conjugation Lists

By   January 12, 2011

In my never-ending search for websites that provide multilingual vocabulary lists for comparative study, I came across Poliglottus last week. They have two main sections: Basic Vocabulary of 1,300 words in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian and Basic Verb Forms in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Sardinian.  Yes, Sardinian!

You choose two languages, a “chapter” and click Final Exam, then choose Memorize for the lists to appear to the right.  You can also choose Simulator for a flashcard system or Examination to test your memory by typing the translation.

Each chapter has 48 words or verb conjugations total, with 12 appearing at once. Vocabulary words are not in thematic categories, however, and seem to be just random. The verbs are not actually labeled for tenses (though there are two chapters per tense in this order: present, present perfect, imperfect, future, conditional, past conditional, past perfect, subjunctive, imperfect subjunctive, and past perfect subjunctive when I chose Italian/French) but the same verbs are used for each tense – be, have, do, go, want, know, etc. – and they are always in the classic I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural), they order.

In addition to the sites I’ve previously mentioned such as Book2 and Internet Polyglot, Unilang also includes a MediaGlyphs Wordlist and Basic Phrasebook for comparing two languages. Yet the only resource I’ve found so far that includes more than two languages side-by-side, except my own Romance and Germanic vocabulary & verb pages, is Frederick Bodmer’s Loom of Language which was published in the 1940’s – meaning many of the words are no longer used and words related to technology are completely absent.

I’m still looking for a website, or even a spreadsheet, that includes multiple languages instead of just two that can be customized or modified.  I’m just wondering if a master comparative vocabulary list with words grouped thematically already exists somewhere.  Someone mentioned this on the forum a while ago, but I don’t know if anything ever came of it.

The Power of Babel by John McWhorter

By   January 7, 2011

The Power of Babel is a book about the natural history of language that I read recently while getting over my Christmas cold. (As you have probably noticed from the lack of website updates, I’m still recovering and not doing much besides sleeping and reading.) The book is rather inexpensive at Amazon though it is not available for Kindle, which unfortunately seems to be the case for many language and linguistics books.

Click image for page

Since I found the book to be rather entertaining and insightful, here are some interesting factoids from a few chapters.

  • The future tense in Romance languages derives from combining the main verb plus the conjugated forms of have in Latin. I will love was amare habeo in Latin and it transformed into amerò in Italian. So having to learn various endings for all six person and tense combinations in Italian, French, Spanish, etc? Thanks Latin!  Inflections are transformed this way in many languages, but thankfully English had a simpler process with fewer endings overall (did became -ed for all six, for example.)
  • Much like inflections, tones developed over time from sound changes to distinguish meaning between words. In Vietnamese, for example, tones did not originally exist but then final consonants wore off of many words, changing the sound of the preceding vowel. Now it is these tones that distinguish the differences in meanings instead of the final consonant.  Inflections and tones were not present in the earliest forms of language and they are not necessary to human communication. They are merely accidental changes of words and sounds that produced a more complicated form of the language.
  • The Normans who invaded England in 1066 did not speak a standardized or Parisian French that many people think of, but rather the Norman dialect. The “French” words borrowed at that time were actually the Norman pronunciations, where Norman had k and ei but Parisian had sh and oi (compare carbon/aveir and charbon/avoir). This is also why Montréal is not Montroyal – it was settled by people from Northwestern France rather than Paris.
  • Most people know that double negatives used to be grammatically correct in English, but there are other features of contemporary non-standard dialects that are in fact closer to early modern English than today’s English. Even though thou went out of fashion by 1700, the singular you did not and its corresponding verb conjugation for be in the past tense was, in fact, was.  Letters written by educated people in the 1800’s indicate that “you was” was the standard and it was only because prescriptive grammarians decided that it didn’t sound correct that they stamped it out of modern English by rewriting grammar books.
  • One of the few examples of Scots that still exists, or at least is recognizable, in modern-day English is auld lang syne, literally old long since or “days of yore.”
  • The human proto-language (if you believe that there was one) was very similar to today’s creoles in that the grammar was much simpler – no inflections or tones, or even relative clauses, because these complex features developed due to sound changes and the fact that most language became written instead of only spoken.
  • And of course, my favorite part: the acknowledgement that French is actually two languages: written and spoken. McWhorter mentions a few of the parallels (nous vs. on, ne…pas vs. pas, est vs. c’est) and how textbooks do not do a very good job of informing the learner that the gap between these two is wider than for most other languages.  Written French was codified centuries ago and rarely changes, but the spoken form is highly dynamic, even for non-colloquial speech by the educated. It should be no wonder that c’est was the basis for is instead of est in French-based creoles – se in Haitian creole – because that is what the people always heard in everyday speech.

Namke Learn Quebec French: Canadian French made in Quebec [Update: Website is no longer available]

By   January 3, 2011

Sadly, Namke Learn Quebec French is no longer online. If anyone knows what happened to the site or how to get in touch with the owners, please let me know! (The original post is below; note that most of the links will not work.)

I have previously mentioned the Namke Learn Quebec French site because they offer the wonderful software KitQC2 which includes 4,500 mp3s of Quebecois French.

Lately they’ve been updating their Learn Quebec French blog more and more (filling in the void left by the demise of with more useful tips and resources on learning the Quebecois accent. Until March they are uploading an mp3 a day to accompany the Ulysses book Canadian French for Better Travel, which is also available as a PDF download if you don’t want to pay for shipping. In fact, you can download all of the mp3 files in one zip file instantly if you already have the book and don’t want to wait for scans of each page to be uploaded.

Their blog also includes information on using the internet to learn more vocabulary with audio – they’re currently featuring the Le Dictionnaire Visuel online – as well as a music with lyrics section for listening to and learning from some great Quebecois bands. There are several links in the right sidebar leading to more sites for help learning international and Quebecois French, including sites where you can watch Quebecois shows online if you’re already in Canada. (I’m still looking for a free VPN that provides a Canadian IP address like HotSpot Shield does for US addresses.)

In addition to the TUFS Language Modules of 40 Quebecois French dialogs, Namke Learn Quebec French is another great starting point for those wanting to learn Canadian French to live, travel or work more easily in Quebec and other French-speaking regions of Canada.

The Joys of Travelling in Winter

By   December 30, 2010

Even the mighty NY blizzard couldn’t prevent me from coming back to France after Christmas. I got back at 2:15pm Tuesday – only 7 hours later than originally planned – because I was lucky enough to change my flight to Lufthansa that didn’t require any layovers in the Northeast. My original Continental flight on Monday was Detroit – Newark – Geneva but obviously that was not going to happen with all of the snow the NY region received this past weekend. Even though Continental would not let me rebook online or over the phone (seriously, this is 2010 people!), there was no line at Continental’s counter at Detroit airport so I was able to get on the Lufthansa flight leaving at 6:50pm Monday evening instead of waiting until the 31st when Continental had automatically rebooked me. Crisis averted.

nyc snow storm
© nyc snow storm by Downtown Traveler on Flickr

In addition, I was able to check a second bag for free. Lufthansa’s carry-on weight limit seemed a bit low to me (only 8 kg) but I actually didn’t mind checking the bag since I hate trying to find a place in the overhead compartments anyway and they didn’t make me pay for it. Whether they were just being nice for the holidays or whether they just let it slide since I’m a Miles & More member, I don’t know, but I didn’t have to pay $50 so I was pretty happy.  Then I got to security and had to scowl at all the people who didn’t think to take off their coats before getting to the front of the line. Or their belts, or shoes (US airports still make you take them off), or watches, or change out of their pockets.  The security line would go much faster if people weren’t so lazy and were actually prepared to go through a METAL detector.

All of the normal stress of flying, plus dealing with winter weather and knowing there is always a possibility of getting stranded somewhere, was bad enough without also feeling sick. Unfortunately, I got a sore throat just before Christmas and it turned into a cold/possibly the flu by the time I left Detroit. I’ve been in bed about 80% of the time since I’ve been home. We had planned to drive up to Colmar yesterday and stay the night for their Christmas markets (they’re up until January 2) but we had to cancel, which unfortunately means we lose 164€ on the hotel reservation. If I had known that the hotel was prepay and the cancellation fees were so high, I would have never booked but Colmar’s Office de Tourisme website didn’t mention any of that. From now on I am only using for all hotels.

I can’t tell if I’m suffering from jet lag or not since I’m basically tired all the time, so maybe being sick is a good remedy. It sure helped get me through the 8 hour flight to Frankfurt. I was actually able to sleep for a few minutes here and there and it made the flight seem shorter. The free wifi (available on select international Lufthansa flights until January 31) also helped to pass the time.

I haven’t even finished unpacking yet and I am getting more and more behind on website work and e-mail responses. It took me two days just to post this!  Hopefully I will be a little better by 2011. In the meantime, I’m going back to bed.