samedi 23 janvier 2010


Just a little note about Facebook... a few months ago I started writing some of my status reports in French and then a day or two later, everything automatically changed into French and it totally freaked me out! (FB maybe detected something... I don't know. Maybe it's too smart for it's own good). I hadn't changed any settings but I quickly went to read about how to change it back into English.

And now, I've purposely changed the language setting to French and it really helps! So try it if you dare... (you can easily change it back if it's too scary) ;)

It's really easy to change. The option is in the bottom left hand corner.

French people left right and centre!

At times I feel like I'm going crazy.. but in a good way. I feel like I am hearing French whenever I go and the strange thing is, I'm not imagining it!

About 10 days ago I went for a walk along a beach and now, this beach is not touristy at all. In fact it's mainly only locals who go there (and I'm not a local either) but whilst I was in the carpark I came across 4 young people and a van, and I wouldn't have given them a second glance if it wasn't for the tiny French flag embroidered on the polo top of one of the guys and I sort of surreptitiously eavesdropped and yep, they were all speaking in French.

Then, 2 days later, last Saturday, when I had just finished my first class at Alliance Francaise I was in the bakery department of a big supermarket (Woolworths) in the city when I overheard a (loud) conversation a girl was having on her mobile phone. I could hear "pain au chocolat" and "pain" this and "pain" that. She was obviously pointing out what was on the shelves and asking the other person what he/she wanted.

And today... when I'm in the city I seem to come across French people all the time and hear it being spoken on the footpaths and in shops and everywhere!

I already had a mini-lunch during the break in my class today but I was still hungry and decided to have a late lunch after the class. (I should mention that it was over 40 degrees today and I wanted to do anything to stay indoors in the air conditioning!)

Actually, I wandered into a food court only to use their bathrooms but then decided to stay and 'chill out' (haha) and get something to eat. I got a sushi box which was perfect. Small and light and fresh.

I plonked myself down at the only remaining space at a table designed for 8 (but there were only 7 chairs). As I was eating my sushi I couldn't help but eavesdrop on the conversation of those around me. At the other end of the table I saw two Asian looking females, about my age, speaking French. I couldn't make out what they were saying (because there was too much background noise) but it was definitely French. They were probably Vietnamese I told myself ;)

Then, right next to me were two young girls (who worked for the store I was in) speaking in English... nothing strange about that but one of them had a very strong accent and after hearing only a few sentences I was 99% sure she was French. When the other girl left to get both of them something else to eat, I couldn't help but be a little bit nosey and strike up a conversation with her.

I asked her if she was French (she was ;) ) and I told her I just finished my class at the AF. Then after her friend came back we all chatted for a bit and had a jolly good time until they both had to get back to work. In hindsight I should've had the conversation with her in French but the heat and lack of sleep from the week past was doing bad things to my brain...

I know this may sound weird but I actually love talking to strangers! (and I have no fear whatsoever of doing so). I always get a massive high from it, no matter who they are.. shape, size, age, race, sex... It's so fascinating to connect with people in this seemingly disconnected world and find out about others. There is a great tv series in Australia called Front Up where the host goes through streets all over Australia to interview random people for a few minutes and it's really fascinating hearing about other people's lives and their view of the world...

Then in other (unrelated news) whilst I was in a lift, I bumped into an old high school friend I hadn't seen since.. er... high school, 15 years ago!

It was a very interesting (and extremely hot) day to say the least.

(excuse me for the picture.. hahaha)

jeudi 21 janvier 2010

France and Australia

I'm having quite a stressful time of late with certain problems in my life (which I won't go into here) which has lead me to have night after night of insomnia, and this constant heatwave doesn't help things either.. however...

January for me is an interesting month.

I know that in the northern hemisphere it is freezing but in Australia (and most of the southern hemisphere too I imagine) it's the hottest month of the year. And it's my favourite month because the stress of Christmas is over, New Year's drunken antics are over, yet people are still in a happy, holiday and relaxed mood and some people and many offices choose to take their vacation over this period.. suffice to say, not a lot of work gets done! My friends who are teachers also have almost the whole of January off, and of course all students do too.

So from December-February so many people I know have gone on, are still on, or about to go on some sort of vacation and frankly, I'm jealous. I can't really go because I can't afford it and I don't really have anyone to go with because everyone is so busy and wrapped up in their own lives (especially those with husbands and kids who can't leave them to go on a trip with l'il ol' me) so I'm feeling kind of depressed because most years I go on 2 vacations and this past year I've been on a grand total of 0.

I feel a bit stupid admitting this, but I'm tired of logging into my Facebook and being bombarded with status reports and photos of people's vacations CONSTANTLY. I don't think people have any clue about how I'm feeling, just like when I'm being bombarded with photos of babies and kids CONSTANTLY. I know it's selfish of me to act like this, but I'm just kind of sick of feeling like the only husband/boyfriend/partner-less, childless, homeless (ie I don't own my own home), and now vacation-less one!

Is it wrong of me to just wish once in a blue moon someone could empathise with how I'm feeling? I feel more comfortable talking to strangers than my own friends about how I really feel... I mean one of my friends gives me advice such as, "Don't worry, you'll get a (boyfriend/better job/more money/a house/a holiday) soon".. I'm sorry - but that is CRAP advice!! What the heck does that mean? All it does is make me feel worse and feel more pressured to 'hurry up' and do something about my sad state of affairs.

Note that I'm just in a complainy mood because I'm actually feeling sick (as well as having the insomnia) and being stuck at home with noone to talk to makes you think a bit too much about these things.

But to get to my point, what I wanted to say mainly was that I am DYING for a vacation yet I can't go and even if I could, I have noone to go with. I constantly wish I were in France right now (yes, I know, even though it's snowing and freezing and it's beautiful and sunny here in Sydney, Australia). I just need a change of scenery.

Don't get me wrong. I love my friends, but I am just itching and dying to make new ones! I'm dying for an adventure, dying to be in a place where nobody knows me, where I get to start from scratch so to speak.

Almost every French person I have spoken to has asked me, "So why do you want to move to France? ... you live in Australia!" It's apparently every French person's dream to go to Australia (and everyone else's in the world too ;) ). I guess it's some sort of 'paradise' to some but like every country, there are problems too... I admit the weather is mostly pleasant all year round but weather isn't everything, at least not to me. Sure it's really important but after living in Sydney for WAY too long I'm just dying to go somewhere and do something différent!

According to the Quality of life Index France is named best place in the world to live, and Australia is second.

According to a UN report Australia is second again, and France is 8th (Norway is 1st).

And then on other charts such as these, Sydney is usually in the top ten cities!

So I can't help but feel a little bit crazy for wanting to move away from such an 'ideal' city but meh, I have my reasons... :P I know that eventually I'll come back here again (as almost everyone does after they have kids) but for the moment while I'm still young and free I want to roam the world. I don't just want to see France but all of Europe as well. It is my aim to spend my birthday (November) and Christmas in France this year! So watch this space...! ;)

mercredi 20 janvier 2010

Text orientation on the spines of books

It's funny because after I came home from my French class the other day, I commented to my friend that the text on the spine ran bottom-up and not top-down like I was used to... then I came across this post at Another American in Paris blog...!!

I had a quick scan of my bookshelf and yep, all my titles run top-down, even the Asian language ones. It's just the French (or Europeans) that are weird ;)

The way I look at it is, if you put the title the right way up (ie reading horizontally instead of vertically) the cover is on the top, the book is lying face up if the title runs top-down but if the title runs bottom-up the back cover is on top!! So doesn't make sense! hahaha

So it seems that Anglo countries and northern Europe (ie Scandinavia) goes from top-down but the rest of continental Europe goes bottom-up ! Quelle bizarre chose!

More discussions
  • Wikipedia

    Early books did not have titles on their spines; rather, they were shelved flat with their spines inward, and titles written with ink along their fore edges. Modern books, however, have their titles on their spines. In languages with Chinese-influenced writing systems, this is naturally written top-to-bottom (as the characters don't change orientation, and the language is generally written top-to-bottom), but in left-to-right (and right-to-left) languages, the spine is usually too narrow for the title to fit in its natural orientation, and conventions differ. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, titles are usually written top-to-bottom, and this practice is reflected in an industry standard; when the book is placed on a table with the front cover upwards, the title is correctly oriented left-to-right on the spine. In most of continental Europe, the general convention is to print titles bottom-to-top on the spine.

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  • Typophile 2
  • Ask Metafilter
  • Soro Design

YouTube is great for learning stuff!

I've been watching clips on YouTube for years but it's only really in the past year or so that I started using it a lot to learn French, but also to learn other things that interest me, for example:

* Photography techniques
* Software tips and tricks - Photoshop, iPhoto, iMovie, Illustrator, Flash, Lightroom, etc...
* Make-up techniques
* Reviews of make-up and skincare
* Cooking techniques/recipes
* Exercises you can do at home for keeping fit
* Playing certain songs on the piano
* Drawing/illustration techniques

and more which I can't think of right now.

But it didn't occur to me until recently to search for these tutorials in French! That way I can do 2 things at the same time. Learn something new and practise my French listening skills. I recommend you try it. Voilà!

(I haven't included any links to any videos because they might only interest me... I recommend you find your own keywords to search with and once you've hit upon one good video you can check the related links...)

OK here is a link, VideoPeps featuring tutorials on various subjects.

lundi 18 janvier 2010

Foreign language learning: Classroom vs self study

I mentioned in my previous post that I prefer self study over classroom learning, at least in the beginning.

When I tell people I'm learning French, the two main questions I get asked are:
Why do you want to learn it?
Where are you learning it?

Most people assume I'm learning it in class and when I tell them I learnt it at home by myself 'toute seule' they are very surprised and shocked.

IMHO I think it's far far better to learn alone (with the aid of the internet of course) and/or with a 1:1 tutor at the beginning and THEN go to a class once you're at an intermediate level, than the other way around (learning in a class first and then with a 1:1 tutor). Of course a 1:1 tutor is invaluable no matter which level you're at but I think you would accelerate your learning by NOT going to a class at the beginning. If you're a fast learner you would be held back and if you're a slow learner you would not catch on to the concepts (particularly if you've never learnt a foreign language before).

I think the most successful learners are those who can learn alone, with self motivation. For me it was easy to do this because I've always been self motivated. I'm not swayed by friends, peer pressure, my parents, the media, etc etc. If I want to do something, I just go and do it. I don't need to drag a friend along to everything I do. I'm a fairly independent learner anyway.

It's just interesting because I came across two recent blog posts about the topic of classroom learning vs self study and they both agree that self study is better. I think the vast majority of successful language learners would agree with this too!

The Linguist Steve Kaufmann
Portland State University report

Jennie en France
New York Times article

First class at Alliance Française


OK so I feel that this moment in my life has been coming for some time. I used to pass the AF building quite often over 10 years ago and always wondered about this mysterious yet interesting place. However, I never really had the yearning to learn French so I never stepped foot inside it.

Recently (late last year), the building got a complete make-over (you can read my previous posts about it through my tags) and last week I finally enrolled and went to my first class!!

They are pretty busy and operate 5.5 days a week holding classes from morning to night. I had hesitated about going here only because they are more expensive than any other French/language learning adult college type places but I just bit the bullet and did it. I figured, why not? I can scrimp on other areas of my life...

The classrooms are really small and there are no tables, except one for the teacher. We just have those little tables (that are barely bigger than our books) attached to the side of each chair. The seats are placed around the room against the wall in a square U-shape and there were 14 seats and (including me) 12 students in total.

From the outside it just looked like an ordinary (but sparse and small) classroom but the whiteboard was something else! I was absolutely blown away and fascinated by it! It's a Smart Board (this one here) and made in the USA and costs a few thousand dollars I believe.

The board is connected to a PC running Windows (and their own special software), and the board is basically like one giant touch screen. You can also write on the board using the whiteboard 'markers' but there is no ink involved. It is rather like writing with a stylus on a blackberry or a similar effect as writing with a graphics tablet. It seemed hard to write on it (ie it was very sensitive so it emphasized every stroke) and therefore it made everyone's writing look sort of childish. I haven't had a turn yet but hopefully next time ;) There is also a back and forward arrow, so you can just jump to a blank screen without erasing anything, or retrieve any of the previous screens quickly.

In addition, it's connected to the internet so you can just hop onto Google and look up things. Attached to the sides of the whiteboard are also some speakers, and some USB ports!
Watch a movie of the Smart Board in action

OK enough about the board. At first I nearly had a heart attack because I thought everyone in the class was so much more advanced than I was. And why shouldn't they be? Most have been learning French for 6, 8, 10 or more years! although I think someone said they'd been learning it for 2 or 3.

The entire class is conducted in French and I barely heard the teacher speak a word of English (although, obviously, he can. In fact I think he's lived in Sydney for quite some time and like my previous teacher, speaks English with a British accent).

I would say the ages of the students ranged from 20s to early 50s, and with lots of different cultural backgrounds too which made for a great mixture of students. Most people in my class could also speak 1 or more languages other than French and English. The classrooms have glass walls (much like many office buildings these days) so as I was walking past the other classrooms I could see what they were learning and also noticed the different people of people in each of the classes.

We used a textbook but didn't use it for the entire class, the second half the class was mostly all oral work which is good since I need the conversation practise but bad because I knew nothing about the topics we had to talk about :(

But overall, I enjoyed it and (so far) I quite like my teacher and fellow classmates. It doesn't bother me so much that most people speak better than I do, because after doing a group exercise, I think I write better than most do (ie with correct spelling and conjugations) and I would rather be in a class that's a little too hard than in one that's too easy!

(my own photos taken in Le Grand Café by Bécasse)

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