Australia in the Asian Century: Focus on Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi

By   October 30, 2012

The Australia in the Asian Century White Paper was just released on Sunday, and it contains 25 major goals for Australia, some of which pertain to language learning. Essentially, the paper states that every Australian student (in primary or secondary schools) will have the opportunity to learn one of the four priority Asian languages: Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi. In addition, all students will leave school with a knowledge of Asian cultures. You can read the White Paper at the government’s Asian Century site as well as a response to it by the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations. A few other articles include:

Gillard: Australia must embrace ‘Asian Century’

Questions over white paper implementation

Australia’s Asian Literacy in the Asian Century

That last article by William Steed pretty much sums up everything I have to say about this paper. I’m glad the government is actively promoting learning languages and using technology to do so (with the National Broadband Network), but this is mostly a continuation of what previous governments have been encouraging for years. The switch from a focus on Korean to Hindi is a tiny bit surprising, and will probably require the most work to implement. Of course I am most interested in where the teachers for these languages will come from. Many universities have already shut down Indonesian programs because of a lack of interest, so how are we supposed to train students to become language teachers if they can’t even learn languages at university? And as a speaker/teacher of a European language, I wonder what this means for other non-Asian languages.

My university currently offers classes in French, Italian and Japanese, though students can take other languages such as Mandarin, Spanish, German and Indonesian cross-institutionally. Japanese and French have the highest enrollments, and almost all of the students in my class said they chose French because it is a global language and would be more useful in their future careers. So while I am happy that the government encourages language learning, I feel that focusing on Asian languages only is not necessarily the way to go about it. There are many other languages spoken in Australia, and students have many reasons for learning foreign languages, which include living abroad. Not every student is going to stay and work in Australia. I had a similar feeling in the US where Spanish is promoted as THE language to learn, and sometimes it is the only language offered. I knew that I wanted to leave the US and that Spanish would not be as useful to me as French. If I had been forced to take Spanish classes instead of being offered a choice of which language to learn, I don’t think I would have had much motivation.

And indeed, the motivation to learn a language is probably the most important aspect of language acquisition. If you have no interest in a language or its culture, you will not learn very much or very well. Motivation often comes from an appreciation and/or love of the culture, not the actual language itself. Future career or travel goals are also major factors. I’ve actually switched from a focus on Italian and German to Spanish (oh how ironic!) and Dutch/Afrikaans because I plan to travel to places where those languages are spoken within the next few years. Although there are some Italian and German speakers here in South Australia, I have slightly less motivation to study those languages because I know I will not be returning to Europe anytime soon.

Obviously I did not grow up in Australia or go to school here, but from what I’ve heard from teenagers who are thinking about going to university, languages are not valued or encouraged enough in the school system. Students said the classes were too hard or too boring, or they simply didn’t think they would ever need another language while living in Australia. And of course, only spending a few hours a week for maybe three years in no way guarantees that students will become proficient in the language. By the time they enter university, they have bad memories of language classes and choose not to take them anymore, especially when it is difficult to add elective classes to their timetables. And since there is no foreign language requirement in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree (not that I agree with required classes anyway…), very few students end up taking a language at university, and far fewer actually become fluent.

In a perfect world, all languages would be offered so students would have the choice of which language(s) to learn. This is possible with online classes and I am eager to see how or if the NBN will change teaching in Australia. Of course, the way we teach languages needs to change as well, but that’s another blog post (or thesis!)

Classroom Games for Introductory / Beginning French Classes

By   October 12, 2012

Every week in my first semester French class, we played games to review and reinforce what we did in the previous class. For other French teachers out there who are looking for more activities, these are what I actually used in my class this year. A lot of these I found on Pinterest, where I have a Teaching French at Uni board. Some of these classroom games require little to no prep, but having dice and maybe some playing pieces on hand is always a good idea.

Classroom Games for Beginning French Classes

Hangman is the first game I start with to practice the alphabet, though I change it to Escape from Alcatraz (draw the stickman jumping into the water and escaping from the island) to make it somewhat less depressing.

Bingo is an obvious choice for practicing numbers, and I have also used it with regular vocabulary. I only included the English words and did not allow them to write down the French words, but they did have to recite the words in French in order to win. I used a bingo card generator in Excel.

Battleship is pretty handy for practicing verb conjugations and putting sentences together. I used the clothes and porter one from the French Teachers in New Zealand site, and made my own for practicing être and aller with prepositions and places. [download .doc]

For family members, we play le jeu de sept familles and I have them alternate with using est-ce que tu as and est-ce que vous avez. I bought 5 decks from for about 20 euros instead of making my own.

Guess Who ? / Qui est-ce ? is the obvious choice for describing physical appearance. I just pasted in Francophone names. [download .jpg]

Où se trouve ___ ? is a speaking activity for prepositions and places that I adapted from a Spanish version. [download .xls]

Faire expressions just requires a dice. Students must say a sentence using an expression with faire in order to move to that square. [download .doc]

To review vocabulary at the end of the semester, we played Scattergories / Le petit bac, which requires virtually no preparation.

Jeopardy was also great for review at the end of the semester. This site has lots of Powerpoint games to choose from.

Other games that I thought about  using but didn’t have the time to make (or money to buy) include:

Uno to practice verb conjugations (you must play either the same verb or the same conjugation); Teacher’s Discovery created Verbo

Connect 4 – you just need to create the boards with words/phrases or pictures and have some playing pieces

Word Roll – somewhat similar to Connect 4, especially if you only have dice and not enough playing pieces

Alphabet Game – students must think quickly to name words that begin with the letter they chose

Apples to Apples would be a good review of vocabulary. Teacher’s Discovery has a game called Cognate Frenzy that they bill as their version of Apples to Apples for first year French students.

Slap and Spoons are two card games that I’d like to try next year, while Pictionary, Taboo, and Password seem like they would be fun as well. If I do create more games for next semester, I will update this post!

Update I: Teaching Tools Tip of the Day: Dry Erase Sheets and Dry Erase Pockets

Update II: Bescherelle Le Jeu and Other French Language Games

Comparative and Multilingual Books for Learning Languages Simultaneously [UPDATED OCT 2014]

By   September 26, 2012

I’ve updated the list of multilingual sites for learning several languages together, but if you’re interested in books (some as PDFs) rather than websites, these are the resources I have:

A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish and Italian by O. W. Heatwole (1949) You may be able to buy it from third-party sellers on Amazon, but the prices tend to be very high.

A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish and Italian

This book was edited by Mario Pei and in the foreword, he explains why a book of this kind is needed:

“But how wonderful would it be if there were only a comparative grammar of the main Romance languages, that would enable me to compare at a glance a rule in the language with which I am most familiar with the corresponding rule in the language I know least!”

This work is an answer to the conscious and unconscious needs of these students and teacher of Romance languages. It is a book the necessity of which has long been felt, but somehow no one has ever taken the trouble to supply it.

There is some inconsistency in the fact that Departments of Romance Languages are far more common in our system of higher education than separate Departments of French, Spanish and Italian, yet nowhere are the Romance Languages taught as a unit from the comparative angle that would permit the learner to avoid major confusions and major pitfalls. Learning three related languages at once should certainly prove no more difficult than learning them separately.


Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Languages by Edwin A. Notley (1868) is a similar book though it is much older. The obvious advantage over Heatwole’s book is the inclusion of Portuguese but since it is so old, there are a few spelling differences (Spanish mujer is muger) and probably other features that have changed in the past 144 years! The good news about this book is that it is in the public domain, and I have scanned my copy so you can download it as a PDF (or flip through it online).


The Traveller’s Manual by Karl Baedeker (1840) is another book from the 19th century that includes vocabulary and traveller’s phrases for English, German, French and Italian. It also includes some Dutch vocabulary. You can read it online through Google Books.


The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages by Frederick Bodmer (1944) is where my love of comparative linguistics began. I reviewed the book on the blog a while ago, and it is still my favorite book overall. You can buy it through Amazon for $15 or access it online via


EuRom5 (2011) is the most recent multilingual book I’ve seen yet. It focuses on learning to read and comprehend five Romance languages. The book is written in French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese (so it is designed for native/advanced users of any of those languages) with texts and audio files available on the website. Unfortunately it is not available in electronic format, but you can buy it from or for under 30€. also sells it for about 40€ and a few used copies are available on but for nearly $90. I managed to buy this book in mid 2014 but have yet to really read through it. It does not appear to be as “comparative” as the other books in the list since it offers 20 articles in one language with some words glossed in the other 4 languages (i.e. the entire articles are not translated in the other languages). You can read my summary/review of it here.

Read and Understand Five Romance Languages


Comprendre les langues romanes: Du français à l’espagnol, au portugais, à l’italien & au roumain. Méthode d’intercompréhension by Paul Teyssier (2004) is obviously written in French. It’s not available via; however, I ordered my copy from the Librairie Portugaise & Brésilienne in Paris for 29€, and they do ship worldwide. I believe translations of this book in the other languages exist, but I’m not sure where to buy them.


EuroComRom – The Seven Sieves: How to read all the Romance languages right away by McCann, Klein & Stegmann (2003) is a European initiative to encourage EU citizens to learn each other’s languages. It  includes Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian and French and can be bought online as a PDF for only 6€ or as a regular book for 24,50€. There is also a German version of this book which can be downloaded for free.

EuroCom has also produced a comparative Germanic book entitled Die siebe Sieben – Germanische Sprachen lesen lernen by Hufeisen and Marx (2007) that includes Dutch, Frisian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic but it is only written in German. It can also be bought online for 7,45€ or as a regular book for 29,80€.


Exploring French, German, and Spanish by Jacob Steigerwald (1987) is a neat PDF explaining the similarities of the three most commonly taught languages in the US. Download the full text for free from


Lastly, I’ve found one book for Slavic languages, Slavische Interkomprehension: Eine Einführung, which you can buy at Obviously it is written in German, and it includes Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian/Montenegrin, Polish, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian. I haven’t purchased it yet, but I plan to.


Anyone know of other comparative books that teach more than one language at a time?


Beliefs of American University Students Towards Foreign Language Requirements and Textbooks

By   September 4, 2012

I’ve been reading articles and dissertations on students’ beliefs and perceptions of foreign language study recently, and came across two with some incredibly painful quotes that I had to share.

Foreign Language Requirement

Price and Gascoigne (2006) reported on 155 incoming (directly out of high school) college students who responded to this essay prompt:

One goal of a college education is to become a well-educated person. In the past, most degrees required that students study a foreign language, but many degree programs have dropped that requirement. As a new student, write an essay in which you explain both sides of this issue: why students should and why students should not be required to study a foreign language. Include your personal opinion in your response.

[Currently in the United States, around 50% of higher education institutions (according to a recent article in Forbes) have a foreign language requirement for students earning a Bachelor’s degree.  In the mid-90’s, the figure was 67.5%.]

Some choice quotes from the not-so-well-educated teenagers:

“If you come to the US, you speak the language spoken in the US. Everyone in the US should not have to learn Spanish.”

“The US was founded in English, let’s keep it that way.”

“We are Americans and our language is English.”

“There are so many foreigners entering our country, both legally and illegally, who do not know the English language, that we now have to learn their language just to get by from day to day.”

“In the Constitution of the United States you have to be able to read, write, and speak English.”

I just… ugh… what?

The United States was not “founded in English” nor is it the official language of the US and English is certainly not mentioned in the Constitution. I’m a little confused as to why these students decided to complain about immigrants instead of actually talking about Americans learning foreign languages. Do they really think that  Americans learning other languages equals immigrants in the US no longer needing to learn English? That the only reason to learn another language is to cater to immigrants? What about cultural understanding, breaking stereotypes, better job opportunities, travel, self-improvement, cognitive benefits of bilingualism, appreciation of other human beings?  Youth of America, I cry for you.

To be fair, there were many “pro” comments that were intelligent and not borderline racist. Overall, 57% of the students had a positive attitude towards the foreign language requirement. So there is still hope…


Foreign Language Textbooks

Virginie Askildson’s (2008) PhD dissertation from the University of Arizona, “What do teachers and students want from a foreign language textbook?”, gives us some great quotes on what students think about French textbooks. Over 1,000 students of French at American universities responded to the questionnaire. Agreeing with the statement “I trust the cultural content of my textbook,” the students explained why:

-“its a text book for a reason, if the cultural info was false it wouldnt be printed or chosen by the department. So I do believe the cultural topics.”

-“it’s proofread and someone will pick up the fact that it’s wrong if it is indeed wrong.”

– “its published in my book”

-“ if the cultural info was false it wouldnt be printed or chosen by the department.

– “I figure it had to be read by multiple people who know the material well.”

-“Because it was written and published by professionals”

– “They wouldn’t get into so much detail over something if they were going to lie about it. It simply seems unlikely that it’s made up.”

– “it is written by professors and i just trust it.”

And my personal favorite:

“books can’t lie. It’s unheard of.”

Yes, that’s right. A university student believes that books cannot lie.


I am speechless.

Topic vs. Frequency in Vocabulary Learning

By   August 24, 2012

Teachers and learners of languages, I am looking for your input in the topic vs. frequency debate. Almost all textbooks and coursebooks introduce vocabulary in chapter topics or themes such as food, clothing, transportation, etc.  These related words are often used to fill in the slots of functional phrases, which a lot of current books are based on thanks to the  popularity of the communicative approach. For example, one of the chapters in the French textbook that I use in my class combines the functions of offering, accepting and refusing with the topic of drinks. So students are expected to memorize the question Voulez-vous boire un/e ____ ? and the vocabulary list is full of nouns such as un verre de lait, une tasse de thé, un coca, un chocolat chaud, etc. (The conjugation of vouloir is not actually taught in this or any preceding chapters.)

The problems with presenting vocabulary like this, however, is that it goes against vocabulary acquisition research. Many researchers have argued that grouping vocabulary into topics (and therefore semantic sets) actually hinders acquisition and confuses the students more. The topics tend to represent concrete concepts as well and can easily be illustrated in the chapters with pictures or photographs – which consequently leaves out abstract ideas. Plus words grouped according to topic mean that the words are not grouped according to frequency, which is the most important criterion for selecting vocabulary to teach/learn first.  Of course, frequency is not the only criterion, but it should be the starting point for vocabulary selection.

Learn opposites together = forever confused

If frequency is supported by research and topic is not, then why do all textbooks teach vocabulary based on topic? Is it because it easier to write textbooks in this way? Is it easier for the instructor to teach in this way? Is it considered less boring and more engaging for students to learn in this manner even if it goes against vocabulary acquisition research?

I’ve heard arguments that students should learn vocabulary in topics so they can talk about them right away, but that doesn’t make sense if the students don’t even have the basic vocabulary needed to construct sentences. Even if you learn all the articles of clothing, what exactly can you say about them? How can you have conversations about clothes if all you know if a list of nouns? In my class’s textbook, students learn to say Je porte un/e ___ and then some adjectives to describe the clothes. I really don’t see how that is going to help them communicate in the real world.

It seems to me that it’s more of a classroom vs. real world debate. We want students to be able to use the language as soon as possible, even if that means teaching things that will only ever be used inside the classroom. But isn’t it our job as educators to prepare students as much as possible for the future when they will leave our classrooms? Or are we simply just trying to make sure they don’t fall asleep in class?

I’ m not saying that students should just learn the 2,000 most frequent words of a language in sequential order. That would be rather boring and frustrating. But there is a much better way of presenting vocabulary – the most frequent words among a few topics presented in story format, for example – that textbook authors keep resisting. And I want to know why! Is it because the textbook publishing industry does not want to change and try something new (for fear of losing money)? Is it because too many people think it’s more logical to learn vocabulary in semantic sets regardless of what research says? Personally I feel it is much more logical to learn the words that you are most likely to encounter, i.e. the most frequent words. Even if there are problems with frequency – such as, what texts were used in the corpus to generate the frequency data? – it is actually supported by research, and that is what is most important to me.

How many first year French students do you think really need to learn the words arc-boutant (flying buttress) or fluocompacte (energy-saving) but not tel (such), également (also), soit (either…or), mener (to lead), appartenir (to belong to), atteindre (to reach), entier (whole), moindre (least), or intérêt (interest)? These are all words that are not taught in the active vocabulary lists of ANY of the 12 first year textbooks that I am analyzing and they are all ranked among the top 500 most frequent words in French.

So what do you think?

404 Days in Australia: On my way to Permanent Residency

By   August 13, 2012

As I am diligently working on my PhD research and starting to write up my preliminary results, I haven’t had much time to devote to the website or blog. My one year anniversary of arriving in Australia came and went in the middle of finally buying a car, learning to drive on the left, moving into a house, spending way too much money on furniture and appliances, and adopting a cute black cat.

His name is Charlie. Or Chah-lee.

I am feeling much more settled in my life in Australia. I really like my house, I can go to the places that I need to go without having to depend on someone else, and I have a routine and purpose to my days that was missing in France. I have two years left of my PhD, and then I hope to do a post-doc and perhaps even stay in academia to become a full-time French and/or linguistics lecturer. Or maybe I will leave academia and do something completely different. I’m not entirely sure. The certainty in all of this is that I will stay in Australia. Once I finish my PhD, I can apply for permanent residency, and then hopefully one more year after that I can apply for citizenship.

I am much happier in Australia than I was in France, mostly because I feel that I can have a real career with a decent income here. In France, I was always searching for a better and permanent job but always ended up with temporary contracts and very low incomes (compared to the US and Australia, that is.) Teaching English was never my passion even though I have a TESL certificate and many years of experience. Teaching French to Anglophones instead of teaching English to Francophones was always my intended goal, but I could never accomplish that while in France.

There are things that I miss about France because they were such a large and important part of my life. But life goes on regardless of where I am in the world. True friends know how to stay in touch, and I can always go back and visit. I still love being a tourist and traveling around France but living there as an expat is a totally different experience that I don’t want to try again. And it certainly isn’t that I don’t care much for France; it’s more that I am completely in love with Australia.

I love wide open spaces and sunshine. Plus cute animals!

For now I’d like to focus on the French influence in the South Pacific, and to help Australians learn about all of the wonderful places  that are much closer to home than France. (New Caledonia and French Polynesia are at the top of my travel list once I’ve seen more of Australia.) I am, of course, very interested in creating resources for Australian students learning French since all of the textbooks used here are either written for American students or designed for foreigners living in France. Implementing online French classes for students in rural areas is also important to me. Australia is a big country with not a lot of people, but the few people who do live far away from the major cities deserve the opportunity to have a good education as well.

Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching

By   August 9, 2012

Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching by Keith Folse (2004, University of Michigan Press) is a great introduction to the gap between practice and research in vocabulary learning and teaching.

I highly recommend the book, but if you’d like a shorter summary, Folse’s article “Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary: What Recent Research Says” [TESL Reporter 37,2 (2004), pp. 1-13] is also available if you have access to online journals.

The eight myths are:

  1. Vocabulary is not as important in learning a foreign language as grammar or other areas.
  2. It is not good to use lists of words when learning vocabulary.
  3. Vocabulary should be presented in semantic sets.
  4. The use of translations is a poor way to learn new vocabulary.
  5. Guessing words from context is as productive for foreign language learners as it is for first language learners.
  6. The best vocabulary learners make use of only one or two effective specific vocabulary learning strategies.
  7. Foreign language learners should use a monolingual dictionary.
  8. Vocabulary is sufficiently covered in our curricula and courses.

Think about your language classes and how many of these myths were prevalent in the textbook or even encouraged by your teacher.  These myths make teaching languages as well as designing textbooks much easier for the teacher or author, but they go against second language acquisition research on how learners should go about learning a language and tend to make learning even harder.

Books on French Linguistics and Sociolinguistics (in English)

By   July 26, 2012

For any students interested in French linguistics or sociolinguistics, here are the books that I recommend for an introduction as well as a more in-depth explanation. You don’t necessarily need to have a background in linguistics to be able to understand everything, especially for the first three books.

Exploring the French Language by R. Anthony Lodge, Nigel Armstrong, Yvette M. L. Ellis and Jane F. Shelton

French: A Linguistic Introduction by Zsuzsanna Fagyal, Douglas Kibbee, and Frederic Jenkins

The French Language Today: A Linguistic Introduction by Adrian Battye, Marie-Anne Hintze, and Paul Rowlett

A Sociolinguistic History of Parisian French by R. Anthony Lodge

French: From Dialect to Standard by R. Anthony Lodge

Unfortunately a few of these books are a bit more expensive (mostly because they only exist in hardcover). Hopefully you can access them electronically through your library.

Social and Linguistic Change in European French by Nigel Armstrong and Tim Pooley

Social and Stylistic Variation in Spoken French by Nigel Armstrong

Sociolinguistic Variation in Contemporary French edited by Kate Beeching, Nigel Armstrong, and Françoise Gadet

Recommendations for books written in French to follow.

On textbooks, moving, and being cold in Australia

By   July 7, 2012

Sorry about the lack of updates lately! I have now been in Australia for one year, which means (supposedly) I am a third of the way through my PhD already.  My days are filled with reading textbooks (all eighteen of them) and analysing vocabulary lists, which I know sounds incredibly tedious exciting. I’m also currently in the middle of moving so even though we’re still on the break between semesters, I haven’t had any time to update the site or blog.

Just a few of my new best friends

I am extremely excited about the house I’m moving into (not so much about all the money I’m spending on furniture though), especially since it has ducted heating & cooling. Australia may be known as a hot country, and it doesn’t exactly get that cold in winter – the average temp around here is 15° C / 59°F – but to North Americans like me, it is very cold indoors. Houses aren’t built to keep the warmth in, and a lot of places just have electric heaters which are very expensive to use. The place I live now is usually only 12° C / 53.6°F when I get up in the morning. I cannot wait for spring! Plus I will be able to have a cat at the new place, so Canaille will soon have an Aussie cousin. The other major accomplishment this past month was buying a car. I’m still getting used to driving on the left, though it’s actually sitting on the right side of the car and using my left hand to shift into drive that I still find bizarre. I keep reaching for the seatbelt on the wrong side!

She’s the same age as some of my students

So while I’m still distracted from the blog thanks to real life, here’s a quote from Paul Nation on the vocabulary in language textbooks that teachers and students should think about:

“It is worth noting that there are principles that some teachers and course designers follow that go against research findings. These include: ‘All vocabulary learning should occur in context,’ ‘The first language should not be used as a means of presenting the meaning of a word,’ ‘Vocabulary should be presented in lexical sets,’ Most attention should be paid to the first presentation of  a word,’ and ‘Vocabulary learning does not benefit from being planned, but can be determined by the occurrence of words in texts, tasks and themes.’ Course designers who follow these principles should read the relevant research and reconsider their position.” (Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, 2001, p. 387)

I am particularly interested in the first three principles, and I’ve already posted about use of the first language in classrooms. The issue of lexical sets is what I am focusing on right now and will hopefully be able to write about on the blog soon.

Free Corpora of Spoken French

By   June 9, 2012

I am always looking for corpora of spoken French for my research so I was quite surprised to come across several freely available resources on the internet in the past week. Most of these corpora contain audio and/or video with transcripts of authentic and spontaneous spoken French – perfect for self-study or use in a language lab.

  • SACODEYL (System-aided compilation: an open distribution of European youth language) is actually available in seven EU languages (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, and Lithuanian) and was designed specifically for teaching purposes. Click on Resources after choosing a corpus to access the learning packages.
  • FLEURON (Français langue étrangère : ressources et outils numériques) is a collection of audio and video resources that cover aspects of student life in France. Captions and a glossary are also provided.
  • CFPP2000 (Corpus de français parlé parisien des années 2000) contains several interviews of Parisians within the past decade. Audio files and transcripts are available for download.
  • CFPQ (Corpus de français parlé au Québec) is a multimodal corpus that also includes information on non-verbal aspects of communication (such as gestures, facial movements, etc.) It also dates from the 2000’s; however, only PDFs of the transcripts are available.

Other corpora of spoken French or simply videos with transcripts that I’ve mentioned in the past include: