Posts Tagged ‘French’

They say that if you keep your brain active and alert, it will slow down or prevent the onset of dementia.  

As a retiree, I find the eventual possibility and onset of dementia worrying.  I therefore keep as active as I can, I read copiously, I undertake puzzles and games on my iPad and I complete jig-saw puzzles.

All of this (hopefully) helps to prevent my memory from deteriorating too quickly.

It is also suggested that learning a new language can help to slow down the process of age related memory loss – or brain ageing.


Well, bully for me – because I am desperately trying to learn Spanish.

However, I’ve never been good with language classes.

At secondary school, French was a subject only accessible to the top class (class ‘A’).  It took me a few years to reach that level and once I started to move up through ‘B’ and finally to the ‘A’ class, it was not accessible to me because I’d missed those early years. Later, at catering college, French Language was offered on Friday afternoons but it was not interesting and made no sense to my sixteen-year-old self.  Yet, the ‘kitchen’ French I learned in normal catering classes WAS interesting and I devoured that. I have always been able to decipher menus during the (roughly) thirty consecutive years I have visited France.

As a young adult, I attended evening classes, to learn German. I enjoyed those as they were aimed at grown-ups and Jill, the teacher, was fabulous.  I passed my Institute of Linguists ‘preliminary’ exam – no worries. The second year didn’t take off however and my interest lapsed.

I picked up French again when I began teaching, but by now it just seemed very hard and my progress was very slow.  I tried lunchtime courses, evening courses and – just a few years ago I attended an inclusive course in Sancerre.  I can get by in French. I can get by in German. But I cannot converse in either language.  Anything other than travel requisites (food, drink, fuel, rooms, tables, directions) and I begin to flounder.

I do not want that to happen with my Spanish. 

se habla español

I want to communicate socially and conversationally. 

To be fair, I am probably already at the stage it took me thirty years to reach in French, but it seems to be SO DIFFICULT.

And yet, I’m still avoiding formal classes.

Formal classes haven’t worked for me so far, so I’m undertaking some self-directed learning for now.  I’m using Duolingo as my base and have just recently completed ninety consecutive days of learning.  Each ‘day’ has a minimum of 10 minutes – I set that up at the beginning. I often do far more than that, but on busy days the minimum is 10 minutes.  I’ve found that online learning works ok for me, but that it does still lead to some confusion.  I therefore back up my learning on other sites and dictionaries. Google Translate is a Godsend.

750px-Flag_map_of_Spain.svgBecause Duolingo is available on the computer, as well as on my iPhone and iPad, it is constantly available.  If I stop for a coffee, instead of simply reading Facebook posts, I can complete a five-minute lesson on Duolingo, or its sister App Tinycards.  As time passes I find myself going over lessons more and more because the new words are taking much longer for me to process.

And that’s the thing:  How much more vocabulary do I need (do we need, as Sharon is also trying to learn Spanish) before I start to think in Spanish?  Some words and phrases come immediately to mind, without thinking what I need to say and, to be more fluent/competent, this needs to happen more often.

I have recently been given some children’s crime/adventure books, in Spanish, which I am beginning to wade through just now.  I know about 20% of the words on the page and understand about 40% of what is going on – but I have to stop and translate whole sentences to get the full gist.  I’m enjoying doing that – so perhaps all is not as bad as I think.

After all I studied for and achieved a Masters Degree – how hard can this be?


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I’ve just seen this subject discussed on Huffington Post (same link below)

Brits Abroad Can’t Speak A Single Word Of Local Language

And it’s true isn’t it? I often feel guilty that no matter how many times I go to France (I can’t remember any year in the last twenty that I haven’t been – even if only for a couple of days), I can’t retain enough of the language to hold down a sensible conversation.

I’m not as bad as Delboy by a long chalk and can ‘read’ most French menus because A) they are almost always the same no matter where you eat and B) I taught catering for so long and have a good grasp of ‘kitchen French’, but linking words and phrases I know seems to escape me. Unlike the 20% who don’t understand ‘bonjour’ and the 16-24 year olds who can’t even order beer in anything other than their mother tongue – I’ve always understood those basic requirements (in French, German and Spanish – I could always order beer!), I’ve even been able to book rooms and order food in French and German. I’m better at slinging things together in French these days but don’t stay there long enough to pick up more of the language, which I’m sure I could given the time.

Next year however, I will be making a determined effort to learn and retain more. Sharon has booked us a week of intense training at a language school in Sancerre as my main birthday present. Hopefully it will be conversational (we think that’s what we’ve asked for – but you know what doing stuff on the Internet is like :-)) as I just don’t ‘get’ grammar. Well, I do when it’s practised but not in abstract – I’ve done enough French language classes here in the UK to know that they (or at least the style of delivery) don’t work for me.

So it will be a week of hard listening and even harder remembering for me. Roll on Easter.

Me souhaiter bonne chance?


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I always bow to the French and their (feeling of) superiority in all things related to cooking, cookery and their ‘cuisine’. Really, I do – I taught catering for 17 years and know the heights that French Cuisine can reach. At its best there is no other country on earth to match French cookery, but you have to search high and low for its best and pay through the nose when you find it. I’ve learned what to expect when holidaying in France and will eat out when needed and where possible will self-cater.

Today in Limoges, we stopped to eat lunch at the Café Central – in the square right outside Monoprix.  Their ‘menu de jour’ choices were: Quiche or Croque (Monsieur) + Salad + Dessert (ou) Tartine + Salad + Dessert (ou) Sandwich + Boisson (as long as it is water based) + Dessert. I knew Sharon would have a sandwich, as would I on other occasions, but today I felt adventurous and as I’d never had a Tartine before (it was beyond my comprehension, despite having it described to me many times) I ordered the Jambon Bleu Tartine (I could have had Lardon Reblouchone!)

I’ve always thought that there was only so many things that you could do with bread, ham (Jambon) and cheese (fromage, gruyere, emmental, etc.) but the French never cease to amaze me. You can have Sandwiches au: Fromage (cheese!); Jambon Beurre (ham on buttered baguette); Jambon (no butter); Jambon fromage (your guess which); Jambon gruyere (with gruyere cheese); Jambon emmental (are you with me?); Jambon Crudites (with a bit of lettuce and tomato, perhaps some gherkin too) – and that’s just the cold stuff. One of their favourite lunchtime dishes is Croque Monsieur, basically a cheese and ham toasty, but if you’re lucky (I’ve not been so lucky in France – yet) it could be one of the best taste sensations you’ve ever had! We used to get our students to shallow fry one side of bread discs in clarified butter and then make a sandwich of ham and cheese with the fried side on the inside. The whole sandwich would then be shallow fried (again, in clarified butter) until the cheese melted and the whole sandwich was golden brown. Super fattening – but super tasty.

All the Tartine turned out to be was a Croque Monsieur with no top on! Like a topless bikini, a bourbon biscuit with just one piece of biscuit … you get the idea. The bread was nice (wholemeal; not usually seen on French menus), the ham was … ham, and the blue cheese was gorgeous.

Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, no more, no less than I’d expected but I do wonder why it was €2 dearer than the Croque Monseiur – which did have a top on it!

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