Free Audiobooks in Foreign Languages

By   December 3, 2009

Looking for free audiobooks in foreign languages?

Some of these sites also include the text and translation into English.

Goodbye Thanksgiving, Hello Christmas

By   November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving came and went, and I did what I do every year in France: put up Christmas decorations and pretend that not celebrating Thanksgiving doesn’t bother me. Now we’re in the “3 weeks left of school before vacation” period and I’m trying to keep busy with planning what to do during my month off between semesters.  We don’t have big plans for Christmas this year since we’re staying in France, and I’m sure the weather will continue to be gray and rainy. A few friends are staying with us for 2 days after Christmas, but other than that, we have absolutely nothing planned. I’d like to go to Paris for even just one day to take pictures of the decorations and/or visit DisneyLand since it’s the closest thing I’ll get to an American Christmas experience. Plus I’d really like to see some people who are moving back to the US soon.

I actually got all of my Christmas shopping done online last weekend, mostly because the US dollar is so weak right now that buying things through American stores is like a permanent discount for me. Plus I didn’t want to deal with shopping in France (stores are busy enough when it’s not Christmastime!) or the post office, which keeps going on strike on random days so I never know when they’ll be open.

People keep asking me what I want for Christmas and I really don’t know. The only thing I need right now is a haircut. Everything else can’t exactly be bought. Oh, but if someone could pay off my student loans for me, that would be great too.

I was looking at pictures of the last time I was in Michigan for Christmas, and the dogs lying in front of the heater (notice how they are not on their beds) make me extremely homesick. Maybe next year…

French & France News

By   November 24, 2009

Twitter is now available in French! And yes, I recently joined – though I prefer to say to that my website joined since my username is ielanguages. I’ll most likely be posting more website info and language teaching & learning news and links on there, unlike this blog which usually includes personal stuff like missing Michigan snow and endless pictures of my cat.

Did you know that 90% of French films on DVD are NOT subtitled for the deaf or hard-of-hearing (or French learners)? The main television channels in France are supposed to work towards 100% subtitling through 2010, but there are no similar statutes for the film industry. How sad.  Especially for DVDs that are exported and encoded in other regions, it would be such a great resource for French learners to listen and read at the same time.

Fighting words from the Parti Québécois, upset about the recent overturn of loi 104, which now allows children to attend English public school if they’ve attended one year of English private school instead of having them remain in French schools: “Au nom d’une Constitution que le Québec n’a jamais signée, des juges nommés par une autre nation veulent nous empêcher de défendre ce qu’il y a de plus précieux pour la nation québécoise. La Cour suprême nous dit que notre manière de défendre le français ne lui convient pas. Eh! bien, au Québec, c’est la Constitution canadienne qui ne nous convient pas.”

Only 38% of French people say they base their identity at the national level compared to 45% who prefer the local or regional level. The largest percentage identify most with their city, followed by neighborhood, région and département.  This isn’t too surprising considering how many regional divisions there are within France, and it does seem to be a slight blow to Besson’s debate on national identity and how he wants everyone and your uncle to be proud to be French.

Speaking of Besson, his xenophobic views are at it again. In a circulaire distributed to prefets across France, he poses the following question: “Comment éviter l’arrivée sur notre territoire d’étrangers en situation irrégulière, aux conditions de vie précaires génératrices de désordres divers (travail clandestin, délinquance) et entretenant, dans une partie de la population, des suspicions vis-à-vis de l’ensemble des étrangers  ?” Why, France? Why do you let this man have power? He’s turning out to to be the Lou Dobbs of France, except he’s the freaking Ministre de l’Immigration!

The Simpsons parodied Sarko & Carla a few weeks ago, but there’s another video clip making the rounds in France. After Hortefeux’s racist comments were caught on camera, apparently it was Chirac’s turn.  I expect ignorant comments like that from ultra-conservative nutjobs like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, but Chirac was president of this country for 12 years. I don’t remember Bush ever making any openly racist comments and that man was a moron. Isn’t Chirac supposed to be educated (even if he has a very shady political past)?

And one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in a long time: a group of students at a high school in Paris sent an insulting and threatening letter to their English teacher because she had ::gasp:: banned cell phones in class! She got fed up with them constantly texting in class when they should have been paying attention, and the students think that they can do whatever they want, so they demanded that the teacher change her behavior or be replaced. At the risk of sounding old, what is wrong with kids today???

Premières Papillotes

By   November 23, 2009

We’ve already started eating Papillotes even though it’s not really Christmastime yet. I’m a bad American and should wait until after Thanksgiving to do anything Christmas-related, but too late, I’ve already started listening to carols and bought all my gifts. Papillotes are chocolaty goodness though, so I don’t feel bad for eating them. Plus they come with witty (eh, maybe not all of them…) quotes and proverbs.

La Papillote, le chocolat des fêtes de fin d’année

These are the first three quotes I got:

On s’étonne trop de ce qu’on voit rarement et pas assez de ce qu’on voit tous les jours. – Madame de Genlis

Une idée qui n’est pas dangéreuse ne mérite pas d’être appelée une idée. – Oscar Wilde

On ne doit cesser de se taire que quand on a quelque chose à dire qui vaut mieux que le silence. – Abbé Dinouart

Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching by Jeff Stanford

By   November 22, 2009

Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching by Jeff Stanford is the latest instructional book on Moodle, the popular Course Management System (CMS) for creating educational websites and communities, to be published by Packt Publishing. It is not written for true beginners who have no experience with Moodle, as it does not explain how to install it, but it is a “how-to” book for teachers who are at least familiar with the basics of Moodle and who are looking for specific ideas on activities to create for their language classes.

The first two chapters explain why Moodle is a great resource for language teaching and the basics of the CMS. The following chapters provide, in detail, explanations on how to create activities for all language skills: vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, speaking and listening. In fact, chapter 8 Listening Activities [PDF – 1.3 MB] is available as a free download so that you can see Stanford’s directions and screenshots of listening activities using a wide range of web 2.0 tools, such as Inwicast media player and the NanoGong recorder.

Several sample activities are provided for each skill within the framework of Communicative Language Teaching, using English as a Second Language as the target language. Obviously, these activities can be modified to use any language, and most of the recommended websites for finding materials such as sound effects or public domain images are language independent.  Additionally, Stanford includes external programs that can be used with Moodle, such as Hot Potatoes for different types of quizzes, Audacity for audio  resources, and Jing and Picasa for image capturing and editing to enhance the activities.

Chapters 9 & 10 offer assessment information and extended activities that go beyond Moodle (such as Webquests).  Technically, that is where the book ends, after 494 pages. But Packt Publishing has already made available 2 more chapters, for free, on their website. Chapter 11 [PDF – 3.7 MB] explains how to improve navigation and materials, and chapter 12 [PDF -2.5 MB] explains how to help students get accustomed to using Moodle.

Personally, I do not have the chance to use Moodle in my language classes (not yet, at least) as we are only working with HTML and Hot Potatoes. But I have used the majority of the online resources Stanford mentions and found them all to be extremely helpful in designing and writing course materials. It is also possible to use a demo version of Moodle online or download a portable version that works directly from your Windows desktop. They are both free and allow you to test out the functions and get used to the Moodle interface before you actually install the CMS on your server.

As a strong supporter of Internet-based and Computer-assisted language learning, I love the idea behind Moodle’s community approach to online learning, whether it’s pure distance learning or blended courses that include some face-to-face contact. I believe that autonomous learning is a large part of language learning because humans do not all learn in the exact same way and they certainly don’t learn best by sitting in a classroom. I wish the internet had been more advanced when I was first learning French so that I would have had access to so many valuable audio-visual resources. If I could have taken an online French course instead of sitting through 4 nerve-wracking hours each week on campus, I’m sure I would have learned much faster.  Moodle allows language learning in a significantly less stressful environment, where everyone has the opportunity to participate and can work at his or her own pace. Its overall intent is communication and collaboration among people not limited by geographic, or even linguistic, boundaries – and isn’t that precisely why we learn languages?

Other Moodle books from Packt can be found here and all are available as PDF eBooks for immediate download.

Audio Links Roundup for Language Learning

By   November 21, 2009

Books can’t exactly teach you how to speak or understand a language. Listening is the most important skill to master when learning a language. And that is where the internet comes in. So here’s a short list of audio-heavy websites, most of which I’m sure I’ve already posted about, and many of which are multilingual:

Words & Simple Sentences

  • Forvo: All the words in the world. Pronounced.
  • Swac: audio collections that can be downloaded
  • Le Dictionnaire Visuel: French only obviously, but very specific & technical words
  • LanguageGuide: pictorial vocabulary guides
  • Internet Polyglot: vocabulary in several language combinations, with games
  • Learn Verbs: verb conjugations pronounced
  • Book2: 100 lessons of basic phrases; mp3s can be downloaded
  • Learn with Youtube: collection of videos specifically for language learning
  • very extensive site with thousands of sound files
  • LangMaster: hundreds of hours of free lessons in French, Spanish, German, and Italian

Slow Speech, Natural Speech & Reading

  • Yabla: language immersion through videos and subtitles; more videos can be accessed for free through the podcast
  • LangMedia Videos: everyday situations and cultural information; transcripts & translations available
  • Ashcombe School MFL Videos: conversations, talks, interviews; transcripts & translations available
  • Audio Lingua: short recordings on various topics; no transcripts available however
  • ListentoFrench and Sonsenfrançais: great collection of French listening resources mostly from TV & films; transcripts available
  • Radio France Internationale: listen to the “easy” news and read the transcript, though it does not match exactly what is said; no translations
  • Un Giro in Italia: videos of Italian culture, with transcripts but no translations
  • Librivox: audio books in the public domain; with texts provided
  • Logos Library: famous children’s books; with texts provided
  • Euronews: videos of news in (mostly) Western European languages
  • Catálogo de voces hispánicas: videos and transcripts of the various varieties of Spanish (and even some Catalan)
  • RAI Corso di Lingua: interactive elementary Italian course
  • France-Bienvenue: interviews on various topics, with transcripts and explanations of cultural vocabulary
  • Deutsche Welle: tons of learning German resources! Why can’t other countries produce material like this?
  • Slow German: articles read at a slow pace, with transcripts and translation of individual words possible
  • watch videos with subtitles in Dutch or both Dutch and English


I am too lazy to list other language podcasts and I cannot decide which ones I like best. Search for them in iTunes because there are a lot available nowadays. One caveat about podcasts is that many require fees for the transcripts. I’ve tried to include mostly free websites in the links above.

Other Audio Findings that I was Happy to Stumble Upon

  • Agricultural Labor Management: the University of California provides audio for learning basic phrases and agricultural words in Spanish
  • Italian Lives: the University of Western Australia did an audio-video project on Italian migrants in Western Australia

Someone Else’s Tour du Monde

By   November 19, 2009

David’s friends Max and Pauline are currently on their “tour du monde” – trip around the world. I still don’t think I would like to to do one long trip around the world, but I sure do miss traveling.  I haven’t left the country since August. Three whole months!

They’ve been posting beautiful photographs, most recently of Lebanon and Jordan, on their blog: D’ouest en est

So many places to see, so little time money…

Featuring Canaille

By   November 17, 2009

Not much going on here these days. After tomorrow, only 4 weeks of classes left for the semester and I only have one more lesson to prepare. December is going to be so easy. Except for all the correcting of recordings and tests.

The weather was actually very sunny and warm these past few days, but I was stuck inside at work the entire time. Oh well, the clouds and rain will be back soon and I’ll be happy to be stuck inside with the heat.

Thanksgiving is next week and I’m trying not to think about it. At least I don’t have to work. But I don’t know if that will make me feel better or worse…

I’m off to watch RAI or listen to Warum Nicht podcasts. And since I have nothing interesting to say: cat pictures!

Stretch to the left!

I shall wait until you look away before I start digging.

This chin scratcher is excellent. (He either rubs his face on it or sleeps on it. Never scratches it with his claws.)

Why is no one rubbing my belly?

I fit on this thing quite comfortably, actually.