Category Archives: Learning French

Extra Spanish, French and German Videos

A huge thank you to Andrew at and commenter Robin who led me to the Spanish, French, and German Extra TV series. They were produced by Channel 4 in the UK and are aimed at teenagers learning languages, but any language learner should find them useful. Unlike language textbook videos where the speech is too slow and unrealistic, these Extra Spanish, French and German videos are actually fun to watch!


The characters do speak somewhat slowly but that’s part of the plot since there is an American character who is learning the language.  The 13 episodes and 4 main characters, as well as the actor* who plays the American, are the same for all three languages. The basic story is that two girls, Lola/Sacha/Sascha and Ana/Annie/Anna share an apartment in Barcelona/Paris/Berlin. They have a neighbor called Pablo/Nico/Nic, and an American, Sam, comes to stay with them. The episodes are about 95% in the target language since Sam says a few things in English. The scripts aren’t exact among the versions but they are extremely similar so once you’ve watched one language, it will help you figure out what’s going on in another language.

Personally I find the Spanish version the best, mostly because Pablo is hilarious, but the German version is good too. The French version doesn’t work quite as well, but that could just be because French is my strongest language. The series remind me of a 90’s sitcom, complete with laugh track and abandoned plot points, even though they were filmed between 2002 and 2004. And even when Sam the American says things like flatmate, on holiday, and the washing instead of roommate, on vacation, and the laundry, I find it cute rather than annoying.

bromancePlus the bromance between Pablo and Sam cracks me up.

There is also a version set in London with an Argentinian character learning English (Pablo from the Spanish series) that has 30 episodes. All of the episodes can be found on YouTube and all of the transcripts and exercises/activities can be found either at the channel 4 site or this German site (in .pdf or .doc format). Madame Thomas also has a Wiki with the Spanish videos cut into smaller segments.

 * The American is played by a Dutch actor who is actually fluent in Spanish, Italian and German. And English, obviously.

Open Lectures, Course Materials, MOOCs, iTunes U: The Internet is for Learning

MOOC (massive open online course) providers such as Coursera, Udacity and edX have been in the news and featured on blogs recently. The free exchange of knowledge and ideas is an exciting concept for those of us who love learning for the sake of learning. However, Udacity and edX don’t seem to have very many courses yet, and even though Coursera has quite a bit more content, none of these MOOC providers offer language courses. The focus always seems to be on technology, math and science – which is great because let’s face it, everybody need more science – but I’m a little sad that no one seems to think language courses are just as vital.

Even other open source educational sites such as Khan Academy or The Saylor Foundation, which  let you go through the material at your own pace rather than enrolling in a course that has a specific start and end date, currently offer no resources for learning languages. MIT OpenCourseWare does provide materials used in their language courses (some of which might be available on edX in the future), though some languages only have PDF files rather than multimedia content. Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative is another great open-source site, except there are only 15 courses available for free. French is the only language offered, but Arabic is in the works.

iTunes U still seems to be the best place to find free linguistics lectures and language learning materials. Hundreds of universities, colleges, and even some secondary schools offer resources. The Open University [iTunes link] is one of my favorites. Another great aspect of iTunes U is that resources from non-Anglophone universities are also available so you can listen to lectures in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Swedish, etc. (Some universities offer podcasts of their courses through their own websites rather than through iTunes, such as UC San Diego.)

If you’re interested in language learning/teaching research, two talks I recommend are:

UCLA, Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona and La Trobe seem to have the most linguistics lectures on a wide range of topics. Besides The Open University, these universities offer language learning materials:

  • Yale (French, German, Mandarin, Brazilian Portuguese) [iTunes link]
  • Glamorgan (French, Spanish, Italian, German, Welsh) [iTunes link]
  • Emory University (lots of lesser taught languages) [iTunes link]

Although it is not available via iTunes U, the Center for Open Education Resources and Language Learning at the University of Texas-Austin has several amazing resources for learning languages, most of which can be downloaded as podcasts via RSS or iTunes. I’m sure I’ve mentioned these before, but they are really well-done and COERLL is adding more languages and resources all the time. Most of these materials are meant to accompany the actual course rather than act as an online course, but independent learners can use them as well. Some of the resources include:

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

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?


Topic vs. Frequency in Vocabulary Learning

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?

Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching

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)

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.

Free Corpora of Spoken French

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:

Authentic French with Commercials and Films

Friday was my 30th birthday and as my birthday gift to all of you, I give you even more authentic French listening resources and exercises!  Luckily we have a great language lab at my university so I have been able to create some listening exercises for my students to try out, and of course  I want to share them with other educators and learners. So as a sister site to the original French Listening Resources – where you will find authentic and spontaneous mp3s and videos of French spoken in France – I have created a new page on for learning authentic French with online videos and transcripts.

Authentic French with Commercials and Films

There are watch & read resources and some gap-fill exercises available for commercials, film trailers and the mini-série Bref. I also have a few transcripts of short scenes from films, but the clips are not available online so you’ll have to use the DVDs. The resources include Belgian, Canadian, and northern France (Picard / ch’ti) accents in addition to the standard French of France accent.

As of right now, the resources are: commercials for McDonald’s, Orangina, Nutella, and the film trailers for Rien à Déclarer and French Immersion as well as one episode of Bref. The DVD scene transcripts are available for L’auberge espagnole, Bienvenue chez les ch’tis, Prête-moi ta main, and Bon Cop Bad Cop. (I will add the time codes soon.)

Examples of Authentic French: The Case of Ils

As a follow up to my post on Subject Pronouns in Textbooks: Written vs. Spoken French and how French textbooks do not include the spoken meanings of the pronouns, I came across a few examples of the use of ils in the indefinite sense while preparing transcripts to use in class.

Textbooks still teach that on is the indefinite pronoun that means one / they / the people in a general sense when not referring to anyone in specific; however, this is not actually the case. Just like in English, French uses ils to mean they in both a specific and indefinite sense while on, instead of nous, is used much more often to mean we – which most textbooks do acknowledge, though it is usually classified as only being used in “casual conversation.”

  • From the film L’auberge espagnole:

Moi, par exemple, je suis wallonne, je ne parle pas le flamand. Quand je vais en Flandre, je me fais passer pour une française. Alors, ils me parlent en français… S’ils comprennent que je suis wallonne…

  • From the series Bref on Canal+:

Sur la notice, ils indiquaient qu’il fallait être deux pour monter ce meuble.


Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo


For advanced levels, all of the episodes of Bref are available online for free – though many of them probably cannot be used in American classrooms. For self-study and learning slang vocabulary, they are extremely useful. There are no subtitles for the online videos, but the DVD does have closed captioning (of course, it is not the transcript but more of a summary.) The opening screen even includes more examples of using ils in the indefinite sense:

Ils m’expliquent que c’est pas bien de télécharger, mais comme ils me disent sur un DVD que je viens d’acheter, j’ai l’impression que je me fais engueuler à cause des autres.

Finally, Institut Français Deutschland has several great dossiers pédagogiques to use in class on many French films, including L’auberge espagnole, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre, Ma Vie en Rose, etc.