Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wordsmith Wednesday: Come 'Voler' with Me

In this installment of Wordsmith Wednesday, which -- I know -- is being posted on Thursday (oh, like you've never gotten your days of the week wrong in French?), we look at how two sentences below differ:

- Je vole souvent means "I fly often."
Je vole souvent means "I steal often."

Yes, they're identical. I learned, the hard way, by declaring myself a kleptomaniac at French language school in Provence, that the verb voler means both "to fly" and "to steal." I pointed out this idiosyncrasy to one of the instructors (in the context of "how do you expect me to learn this language?"), who pointed out that in English, the word "fly" also has two meanings: to become airborne and an insect that buzzes around the room.

"But," I protested, that's not the same thing at all!  Flies fly!
"So do burglars," she said.

I knew this was one argument I wasn't going to win, so I went back to my conjugations.

Happy Wedne Thursday!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Contest closed

Thanks to all who entered the contest to receive beta access to a new French-learning product. The contest is now closed, but do keep your eye on this blog for future giveaways, contests, and shameless promotions!

(Sorry, no French lesson, today -- I'm busy editing the first page proofs of Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Special to my readers: Free access to beta release of FluentU French

I get, to be kind, junk sent to me all the time by -- ahem -- entrepreneurs hoping I'll push their products, most of which will teach you as much French as -- ahem, again -- this blog. But once in a while something comes in (as they say in the publishing world) "over the transom" that I feel is worth passing on (especially when it's free).

FluentU, which previously had only a Chinese course, is now in the process of expanding to French, and I'm able to offer 10 of my readers FREE access to the beta version. I test drove it myself, and imagine my surprise and delight to see that the first video I came across was a spoof (in French) of the already hilarious "Royale with Cheese" discussion between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction where they discuss how the cheeseburgers have a different name is America. Another one is fun cartoon. They give captions and cover difficult words, and, best of all, in all of these clips the actors speak at a normal pace, not the baby talk you get from you-know-who.

FluentU is making free beta memberships available to 10 of my readers. And when I say "beta" I mean "beta." They still have a bit a work to do, and I'll be adding a full review once it's finished,  but the videos are up and you can't beat the price.

To enter the raffle and be one of the lucky 10, simply send a blank email to (To enhance your chances of winning, don't make it blank. Say something, anything: Flattery, why you want to learn French, your favorite line from Pulp Fiction, or your bank account information.)  The winners, whom I will select, will receive an email from FluentU with a link to the free beta. They promise not to use your email for any other purpose.

 Bonne chance, mes amis!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Does the language we speak influence how we think?

Americans returning from the Winter Olympics in Sochi last month may have enjoyed fewer shades of the frequent (and snow-melting) blue skies than their hosts. According to scientists, because the Russian language has multiple words for nuances of what in English is simply the color “blue,” Russians are in fact more adept at distinguishing shades of blue than are Americans, leading to the highly controversial hypothesis that the language you speak affects how you perceive the world. My own, unpublished research has found multiple examples of this phenomenon closer to home.
  • Because natives of northeastern New Jersey have fourteen expressions, not known in any other American dialect, for traffic, they are able to detect more gradations of traffic congestion. Indigenous terms include “bridge traffic study” (aka “a Christie”), “Giants game,” “cheap gas on Route 4,” “some moron with Michigan plates asking the toll talker for directions to Massachusetts,” and “Holland Tunnel hookers.”
  • After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the core reason that traffic was snarled for 24 hours in Atlanta following a light snowfall was not, as previously believed, the city’s unpreparedness, but the fact that Georgians have no word for “snow plow.”
  • Germans, who have a word, Schadenfreude, for “taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune,” have been found to more frequently take pleasure in the misfortune of other people (and nations) than pretentious Americans, who must explain the term every time they use it.
  • Frenchmen, who have more words for “love” than for “work,” take 4.5 times as many mistresses as do American men.
  • And 0.6 the number of jobs.
  • Researchers have found that native New Yorkers, who are fluent in at least nine variations of “f*** off,” are more likely to live alone than the residents of Moose Jaw, Canada, who mistakenly believe that a “f***-off” is similar to a hockey “face-off.”
  • Bushmen of the Kalahari do not have a word for the hair color of the grandmother in 4B.
  • Some knowledge of British English is essential to avoiding a grievous misinterpretation of the statement, “I was pissed in the lift to my flat.”
  • Eskimos, who have 50 words for snow, have no word for "Cancun."
  • The Japanese have a word, tsundoku, which means “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, piling it up together with other such unread books.” An increasingly popular English term for an impulse buy of a book that will remain unread is a Rushdie-to-judgment. Readers in any language are particularly likely to tsundoku (or Rushdie) Stephen Hawking, Thomas Pynchon, the latest 700-page novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and Infinite Jest.
  • The Russian word for light blue, goluboy, is also a derogatory term for a homosexual.

Friday, March 7, 2014

How to Fake French

Came across this useful video while surfing YouTube instead of studying French: