Videos & Subtitles are Best

By   July 9, 2009

In my nerdy, just-for-fun independent research on language acquisition, I’ve come across several articles about using video with subtitles in the classroom and how it vastly increases the rate of vocabulary acquisition. Hearing and reading the words in context is very important – now I just wish someone would tell producers of DVDs that… Subtitles in movies or even the closed-captioning in TV programs are not exactly consistent with what the actors actually say, but it’s better than nothing.

Here are a few free language websites that use video with subtitles or transcripts so you can read along and have a better chance of understanding:

French: and

Italian: Impariamo Italiano

German: My German Class (hilarious videos too!)


(Of course, you can always just search Youtube and DailyMotion for free language learning videos and I’m sure you’ll find many more.)

In addition, Yabla is a nice site that has many videos with subtitles and translations into English, but only a few are free as demos. You can slow down the speech, click on any word to get a translation, and play dictation games. It’s not cheap, but it seems really useful. It’s currently available in French, Spanish and English for ESL learners.

And thanks to a tip from, there’s a free library program called Sing & Study that allows you to copy & paste in song lyrics in two languages, and then add a Youtube video so you can listen to the song and read the lyrics in your foreign and native languages side-by-side.

Mélina’s First Birthday Party

By   July 6, 2009

Mélina a un an !

Gâteau glacé vanille fraise

Seulement trois cadeaux ?

Ça, c’est mieux !

[J’ai monté ce vélo pour elle parce que je suis la seule bricoleuse dans la famille ici. Merci le Midwest et papa !]

Dans la piscine avec maman

La petite reine des cadeaux (avec mamie)

She who studies during summer vacation.

By   July 4, 2009

Now that I’m not working and the apartment is almost finished (Why does it take soooo long to get furniture in France?!?!), I have a lot of free time on my hands. I have been working on my website a little – just uploaded a few lessons from Foreign Service Institute Italian FAST – but sitting at the computer all day when it’s unbearably hot is not ideal. And now that I’ve finally put all the books back on the shelves and I can concentrate on linguistics with few interruptions, I’ve been starting to do research again that I hope will lead into my eventual PhD.

Second Language Acquisition has always been my favorite part of linguistics since I study and teach languages, so naturally I’m interested in how humans actually learn them and therefore, what is the best way to teach them. Too bad I have such a broad range of interests, which is evidenced by the hundreds and hundreds of scholarly articles on my hard drive…

Vocabulary Acquisition: Learning vocabulary is the most important part of learning a language, because even if you know how to conjugate verbs and which gender a noun is, you still cannot actually say anything until you know the WORDS. Concrete words that can be visualized, the most frequently used words, and cognates with the native language are the easiest to learn; so the focus should be on abstract words and words that are the most phonologically different from the native language.

Listening & Repetition: And how do you learn the words? By listening to the language as much as possible. There is a strong link between the phonological properties of a word and how easily it can be stored in long-term memory. It is difficult to access and produce a word from your memory if you do not know how it is pronounced. And even though it sounds clichéd, repetition really is the key to remembering. Repetition helps make up for the lack of exposure to the foreign language, especially when you don’t live in the country where it is spoken. And without enough comprehensible input (i.e. without ever listening to the language), receptive skills cannot be learned and acquisition cannot occur. This is also the reason why it is nearly impossible to learn how to speak without learning how to listen first. How can you produce something from nothing?

Authentic Language: Slang is often ignored by language textbooks because it is seen as too informal or too vulgar. And since textbooks are often concerned with teaching the formal written language, usually for academic purposes of analyzing literature, informal language has no place in the curriculum. But for those students who just want to speak to French people, especially to their peers, it is very frustrating to have never learned the most common slang words or reductions in speech, even after years and years of study in school. Students need to hear the real language as it is actually spoken in everyday life in order to be able to reproduce it and sound more like a native speaker.

Classroom Materials: Textbooks seem to be written based on introspection rather than empirical research. There is a real need for corpora of written and spoken language to be taken into account when creating vocabulary lists so that the most frequent words are included. There is also a need for more independent listening materials since classroom time is woefully inadequate compared to the time needed to be devoted to listening comprehension. By using properties of computer-assisted language learning (CALL), we could develop useful audio and video components and exercises that students can do in language labs or at home. And by using the internet and realia, we could expose students to informal language in both its written and spoken forms that could also be used in or outside of the classroom.

So, from the best way to teach vocabulary and the importance of listening and authentic language to how to use corpora and CALL to design materials and break away from textbook reliance, how am I supposed to narrow that down to one little research topic for a doctoral dissertation???

The True North strong and free!

By   July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends and to those who just love all things Canadian (like me)!

I’ve been listening to the national anthem (in English and French, of course) and poking around for a while now. This linguistics-related article was interesting: Canuck-speak like learning a new language Oh, Bob & Doug, I’ve missed you. And I can’t wait to go to Tim Horton’s when I’m home (because we have them in Michigan even though we’re not a part of Canada… at least not geographically.)

Have a Happy Canada Day, eh?

Dual Citizenship

By   June 30, 2009

I just wanted to say Congratulations and Félicitations !! to two ladies who have gained dual citizenship. I am extremely happy and excited for them.  They worked very hard for this and survived the year-long application process. They give me hope that I’ll be able to become a dual citizen one day too.

+ Erica is American, and now French, as of April 21st.

+ Zhu is French, and will be Canadian on July 3rd.

To become a French citizen, you have to wait two years if you are working toward or have completed a graduate degree at a French university; four years if you are married to a French citizen and lived in France for all four years (otherwise, it is five years if you do not live in France); or five years if you have lived and worked in France continuously (sometimes a CDI is required though.)

You can also apply for the 10 year carte de résident (instead of the 1 year carte de séjour year after year…) if you have been married to a French citizen for three years or if you’ve lived in France continuously for three years, but you have to prove your “worthiness” to the préfecture and have the mayor of your town approve it. And of course, some préfectures require five years and a minimum salary of something like 11,000 € for each year spent in France. (Don’t you just love how something as important as your legal status in France is completely random depending on where you live?

I haven’t asked my préfecture yet what their requirements are for the carte de résident. I have lived in France since September 2006, but until March 2008, I was on a travailleur temporaire card, so those don’t really count for anything. Maybe in March 2011 I can apply for it if I can convince them that there should be no legal difference between marriage and PACS. In any case, I’m hoping to apply for French citizenship once I’m a few years into my PhD, which I will hopefully start in 2010.

Zhu is doing a series of posts on immigrating to Canada, so check out her blog if you’re interested.

Homesick again

By   June 27, 2009

Today is my brother’s wedding reception in Michigan. I went to the wedding in April in the Dominican Republic, and since I’m already going home in July for my sister’s wedding, I couldn’t really afford to go home for this reception too. Now I’m realizing that I probably should have just gone home for 6 weeks because I am extremely homesick. We set up the webcams so I can talk to my family and watch the reception, and it’s making me happy and sad at the same time. They seem so close to me, but I know they are so far away.

I am going home on July 18 though, and will stay until August 7. My sister’s wedding is August 1st in Virginia and I am a bridesmaid. Unfortunately, David cannot come with me because he doesn’t have any vacation this summer. We’ll see about next summer though. I really miss Michigan in the summertime and I want him to see why it’s so great.

Only 3 more weeks…

I heart Michigan

How French bureaucracy will drive you insane

By   June 25, 2009

My préfecture allows applying for a new carte grise by mail, so I thought, Great! No waiting in line! I can just send everything by mail and be done with it.

Oh, but I was wrong.

I mailed my old carte grise, a copy of my CDS, a copy of the June quittance de loyer, and a stupid expensive return envelope with accusé de réception to the préfecture one week ago. Today I received all of that stuff back because the idiot working on my dossier would not accept the quittance de loyer as a justificatif de domicile and for some reason thinks I am a personne hébergée, even though MY NAME IS ON THE QUITTANCE DE LOYER WHICH IS ON THEIR STUPID LIST FOR UN JUSTIFICATIF DE DOMICILE.

I just don’t get it. Even when you follow their rules to the letter, you are still wrong. This is why living in France drives me crazy. And of course, I don’t yet have another justificatif because the agency is taking forever giving us a copy of the lease, and EDF screwed up and only put David’s name on the new contract for this apartment. The quittance de loyer from the agency is the only thing I have for the moment. So maybe I will have to be considered a personne hébergée after all.

Normally I wouldn’t worry too much about this type of thing but changing the address on your carte grise is the only thing that’s required by law and I don’t want to get a fine because it took me more than a month to do it after moving. And I don’t even know what date is considered our official moving date!  The lease is probably dated May 19 even though I didn’t really stay here until June, and our very first quittance de loyer is dated May 25. So if they are really picky about the dates, I am already screwed. Not that any French cop has ever stopped me and asked to see my carte grise (since that’s totally legal here), but there’s a first time for everything.

Bring on Les Soldes !

By   June 21, 2009

The summer sales period in France begins this Wednesday, June 24 at 8 AM and lasts until midnight on July 28. Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I will be on my computer ordering things for the apartment instead of dealing with crowds at stores. Thank goodness for LaRedoute and 3Suisses !

These huge sales are only allowed twice a year in France, once in winter and once in summer. They both used to be 6 weeks long, but as of 2009, they are both 5 weeks long, and the extra two weeks of sales can be chosen by the stores themselves as long as they are finished at least one month before the official 5-week long sales begin.

Word is, however, that the national sales periods are on the way out and eventually stores will be able to decide independently when they have all their sales. Interestingly enough, it is the DGCCRF, a.k.a who David works for, that decides all this.

New Long-Stay Visa & First Residence Permit Procedures for France

By   June 19, 2009

As of June 1st, 2009, holders of long-stay visas no longer have to obtain a carte de séjour after arrival in France or the DOM-TOMS* for students, assistants, lecteurs/lectrices, visitors, salaried workers, temporary workers, and spouses of French nationals (but not other EU nationals – then you don’t need a visa at all).

The visa will be valid for the entire duration of the stay, and visa holders simply need to register with the Office of Immigration and have the medical visit within 3 months after arrival. Then they will receive a registration stamp next to the visa in their passport that will serve as their residency permit.

This also means that traveling throughout the Schengen Space will become easier as there is no longer a restriction against those who have not yet received their first residency card. Free circulation throughout the Schengen Space is allowed during the entire duration of the visa, with a maximum duration of three months outside of France.

Obtaining the visa will become slightly more complicated though as many consulates are changing over to the new biometric visas, which require a digital photograph and all 10 fingerprints to be taken. So very few consulates continue to allow mail-in applications, and the time to receive the visa will increase to 2-3 weeks.

In order to renew the residency permit, a trip to the préfecture two months before the visa expires is still required. A change of status (such as assistant to student) may or may not be granted; it will still entirely depend on the préfecture. And if the renewal or change is not granted, you are supposed to leave France before the expiration date on the visa. I’m not sure what this means for those wanting to travel after the expiration of their visa… But I do think this means that those who successfully renew their residency permit will receive an actual carte de séjour.

For those of us already in France with a carte de séjour, I don’t think anything is changing. These new procedures seem to be only for new visa holders who are staying less than a year.

* New Caledonia in French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and Mayotte Island are NOT included.