Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pas de ketchup?

Readers of my books and this blog know that I love France and all things French (including French mustard, which I go through a lot of), but even I have my limits.

And those limits have been tested with the new Maille mustard bar that just opened in New York. Modeled on the nearly-as-silly olive oil tasting bars, they have some 20 varieties of Maille mustard on tap. You can taste as many varieties as you can stand, guided by, yes, a mustard sommelier to give your tasting notes, and then have a ceramic crock filled up with the condiment of your choice, which will set you back a whopping 25 bucks for a mere 4.4 ounces!

Meanwhile, an 8-oz. jar of Maille in your grocery store costs about $5. But of course, you can't get the blue cheese or cognac flavor there.

Only explanation I can come up: this is revenge for us sending the French the hot dog.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Does language affect how we think?

Nice op-ed in today's New York Times that is on the larger issue of "why save a dying language" touches on the question of whether language affects how we think.

In Flirting with French I discuss this topic in much more depth, especially as it applies to gender. Gender is often said to be arbitrary, and with good reason, given that in French a beard is feminine a vagina is masculine. But in a research project, when subjects were told they were selecting a cartoon voice for a inanimate objects (the objects chosen had different genders in French and Spanish), the test subjects nearly always choose the voice the matched the gender of the object in their language. Thus French speakers wanted a woman to be the voice of a fork -- la forchette -- while Spanish speakers wanted a male to be un tenador.

The one exception was a peanut, which, despite being feminine in French, was assigned a masculine voice by the majority of subjects. I'm no scientist, but I think I detect some investigational interference -- in the guise of that international figure, Mr. Peanut.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cyber Monday language program deals

Just because so-called Cyber Monday is ridiculous doesn't mean you shouldn't take advantage of it to get a good deal on language-learning software - but which one to choose. Click here to see my full, unbiased reviews of the leading products, but here's a quick summary of some of the sales you'll find today:
  • Rosetta Stone is selling their full, 5-unit software for just $189 today. That's the lowest I've ever seen it. I pains me to say that I paid $600(on sale)  just a few years ago. You choose between the traditional desktop version and the 3-year tablet subscription (the same price). The CDs you have forever; the subscription works beautifully on a tablet, and you probably won't be using it 3 years from now anyway. [Full review]
  • Fluenz is selling their 5-unit software today for $268. A hundred bucks more than Rosetta? Hmm. Two major differences between Rosetta and Fluenz: 1) Rosetta Stone has speech recognition software, which Fluenz does not, meaning that you do a lot of typing in Fluenz. 2) Fluenz has explanations, where Rosetta is supposedly intuitive. Supposedly. [Full review]
  • Rocket Languages is the dark horse in this race and worth a look and selling for $179 today. Less organized their either of the others, Rocket is a good deal when Rosetta is full price and may be attractive to those who tire of the Rosetta's sameness and Sonia Gill's (of Fluenz) vanity. [Full review]
Whatever you choose, bonne chance  (and bon courage!)