Excepting February alone…


Oh yeah, February is a really short month.  It feels like time is flying by faster and faster all the time.  Why do all these cliched sayings keep coming true!

Regardless February was an interesting month.  My project was to continue with studying French and add in Stretching everyday.  I would say the month was definitely a learning experience.  The French part went pretty well.  I read my first 6 French books,

livre en francais plus four other kid’s books I forgot to take pictures of, doh!

I completed my beginner’s French textbook and I began to memorize a ton of French songs.  Finding all the Disney songs that have been translated into French may have helped push that along 🙂

This one’s my favorite so far:

Most importantly I feel pretty confident going about basic errand-like tasks.  I can read a menu, I can order food and drink, I can answer the typical questions when shopping and I can take and give directions.  I can still get caught completely off guard by a random question I wasn’t expecting though,and that’s when I tend to crumble and revert to English and apologize… a lot.  Overall it’s continued to be really fun and I am going to try to take a more structured class when I return home.

As for stretching …


I was able to increase the number of days I was stretching, but I didn’t stretch as much as I wanted to.  Which brought me to a realization.  I am here in Montreal with nothing to do but train and I still was unable to train as much as I planned.  Finally I think I have to accept that there is a physical limit on what my body can do in a day and what I’ve planned may be too much.  Instead of beating myself up for not being able to stick to a schedule that is unreasonable, I think I will just have to plan ahead with that fact in mind.  I can’t practice everything, everyday.  I can’t be good at everything.  I think instead of fighting that, I need to embrace it.  Otherwise I am just annoyed at myself all the time, and so far that hasn’t helped either.   I always thought I just wasn’t trying hard enough, but I am beginning to think I need to work within my limits and not just be exasperated that I have them.  SO while I don’t feel like I succeeded in stretching as much as I initally wanted, if I can make more accurate training schedules then I did succeed in the long run.

I also wanted to make a stretching routine.  In my mind it would be like a long stretching set with interesting transitions.  Turns out after many many trials, this just isn’t a good idea.  It makes me more tired, less focused on the stretching and didn’t make anything better.  Which is annoying because I’ve wanted it to work for a long time now and the answer seems to just be… It doesn’t.


It looks like I will have to adjust my expectations a little.

I know that failing doesn’t mean you are a failure, and the other million + inspirational quote surrounding failure will tell me that this is a learning experience and you don’t get anywhere without failing a lot… but it still sucks for a little while to fail at something.

Oh well another month and another project is around the corner!  It’s like a restart button 🙂






French easy listening


One thing I really like to do when learning a language is listen to music from that country over and over.

Do I like to do it to be more in tune with the cultural and artistic heights of the culture?


Do I chose the best lyrical works of art the country and it’s chanteuses ( Now there’s a true cognat!) have to offer?

Not at all.

I chose pop music, the more bubble gummy the better!  Why?  Because they are usually simple lyrics to catchy tunes, it’s like a memory’s dream come true!

Here’s my French playlist so far:

Pink Martini – Sympathique

Yelle – a cause des garcons

Joe Dassin – Aux Champs Elysée

Pink Martini – ou est ma tete?

Les Colocs – Pi si au moins*

Graeme Allwright – Petites boîtes

Les Colocs – Belzebuth*

Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien

Yves Montand – Sous le ciel de Paris

Belle, notre dame de paris

In-grid – oui, oui, oui

In-grid – tu est foutu

The songs of Les Colocs are definitely not bubble gum music, but I really like the band so I’m more willing to put effort into learning the lyrics… even though they are much much harder than the rest of the songs on this list.  Check them out if you have a chance, their music is great and they are the only ones on this list that are French Canadian!  You can listen to their songs at grooveshark.



French in 20 hours?


So it’s the end of January, how did my head first dive into French go?  Is 20 hours of practicing enough to learn anything?

The answer is about as ambiguous as the question: yes and no.

Here’s where 20 hours of studying French got me:

  • I know over 400 words in French and the first 250 most commonly spoken French words
  • I can conjugate basic verbs in the present tense and a select few (or a well selected few) in the past and future.
  • I can read books for very young children
  • I can order coffee and usually a full meal 🙂
  • I can understand basic directions and ask basic questions.

Am I fluent?  Of course not, not even close.   Am I happy with my progress?  Yes.  Well…when I look back at how long I have been avoiding French, I feel pretty happy with my progress.  In the heat of studying or talking, I tend to feel more frustrated than proud.

So can you really learn anything in 20 hours like Josh Kaufman claims?  Well to be more accurate he claims you can learn* anything in 20 hours.

*where the definition of “learn” is to get over the first hump of being absolutely horrible.

However getting over that first hump of being really, really bad at something is really important.  Really. It’s that first hump, that first climb up the roller coaster, that stops most people from continuing on.   Beginning a new language or any new project is so exciting for me, I do great learning in the beginning and I am super eager for more.  Numbers, colors, animals… bring it on.  It’s always around the second week for me that the first hurdle appears.  I say hurdle, but in reality it seems like the great wall of china.  I start to get overwhlemed by the sheer amount of things to learn in a new language and single words aren’t as exciting anymore.  I want to make sentences, I want to talk to people.  It’s this hurdle that I wanted to break through in one month, because it is this hurdle that has made me quit in the past.

No one likes to be bad a something.  And being bad at a language is so painfully obvious in the first stages of learning because the sole point of languages is to communicate… and it’s constantly clear that you can not.  Adding to the discomfort is that to improve it’s best to keep trying to communicate with native speakers…it feels like walking into an orchestra’s rehearsal a couple weeks into learning the violin and trying to join in.  Language learning is just something that is difficult to improve completely on your own.

Now if you watch the video or read his book ( I did both), I like everything he says and it makes a lot of sense to me, but I think the title is quite an exaggeration.  But I guess no one would buy a book called:

20 hours till you stop sucking


Learn to be average in 20 hours

It also would really depend on what you choose to learn in those 20 hours.  Learning French is going to take way more time than learning to juggle three balls or to play one song on the guitar.  Additionally, the concept of “learning French” is such a vague goal I don’t know if I could ever accomplish it.  To go further I would probably make a much more concrete goal.  Which is always a better choice in goal making 🙂

One undeniable fact is that focusing on one thing in an absorbed way for 20 hours is definitely going to get you further than doing nothing or doing nothing consistently which is almost the same thing. nightingale

If you are interested in Josh Kaufman’s book, but need a little more info check out this visual book report from Sacha Chua’s website, “Living an Awesome Life.”



Au revoir janvier!




Using your minimal French


Throughout learning a language there are many hurdles to overcome.  At times it feels like you are on a rollercoaster of emotions toward your new language.

Step one, off to the races we go:  You’ve chosen your new language congratulations!!!  Everything is new and exciting, the world is your oyster!

Step two, climbing that first hill of the roller coaster:  There is just so much to learn, there is no way in the world I will ever be fluent.  Everything sounds like gibberish and no one wants to have conversations about colors and numbers.

Step three, the first exhilerating free fall: Ahhh, I just ordered coffee without any problems (happy dance!)

Step four, climbing up again: Wait, why are you asking me so many questions… stop, please stop.

Step five, free fall: I can conjugate basic verbs!!  Let’s talk about what I am doing right now or continuously!

Step six, and we’re climbing again:  I can’t conjugate verbs in the past tense, so I will just add the word yesterday into all my “past tense” sentences… that won’t get confusing right?  Yesterday I go to the mountain, it is beautiful.

Step seven – hundred:  I understand!  I don’t understand 😦  I’m getting my point across!!!  You have no idea what I am talking about 😦

Step one hundred and one:  … I’ll let you know when I am there!

As for now, language learning is a process and you just have to take it in stride and do you best to “ride” out the hills.  Knowing in advance that they will be there helps, but pushing forward even when you want nothing more than to give up your language forever is how you get better.  As they say, you just have to “keep on, keepin’ on”.


SO maybe you can’t actually have great philosophical conversations right off the bat, that’s not a reason to not try at all!  It even helps to talk to yourself.  The more you use the new language and make it personal and part of your life, the more likely it is that it will stick with you.  For example when I am trying to memorize verbs and nouns I try to put them together into sentences I might use or at the very least are familiar to me.  Like writing up a short bio about yourself, you know like the kind you wrote in 3rd grade.

1st grade

 It’s amazing how personalizing words can increase your memorization.  Those very sentences about yourself are most likely the first things you will say when getting to know a new person in your new language.  Stick with learning words that make sense in your life.  Learning vocab that pertains to your job or to your hobbies is much more useful than learning random words that a book tells you to learn.

Lastly, you got to make it fun.  Yes, you will be talking like a 4 year old, better to embrace it while you strive for better.  SO I will leave you with how I’ve been making it more fun inspired by one real event.  To preface, all language books I have read have a section in the beginning trying to make sentences out of the very few words you have learned.  These sentences usually go as follows:

“Is this a dog?”beautiful cat #1

“No, that is not a dog, that is a cat.”

I understand what you are doing there book, but it’s still a string of ridiculous statements that I would never make.  So one night I came into the kitchen to see this:dan counter

TO which I proudly exclaimed, ” Dan Ce n’est pas un lit, c’est une table!”  (Dan, that’s not a bed, that’s a table!)

I think I may be the first person in real life to be able to use that ridiculous phrasing from a beginner’s book.  Lucky for me Dan is very interested in helping me learn French… or being ridiculous 🙂

dan maple

Dan ce n’est pas un bière, c’est sirop d’érable!     (Dan that’s not a beer, that’s maple syrup!)

dan beerOui!  C’est un bière!

dan wallDan, ce n’est pas un télévision, c’est un mur!  ( Dan that’s not a TV, that’s a wall!)

dan tvOui, c’est un télévision!

Thanks Dan for making basic French fun 🙂


The paradox of Quebec

Right now I am in Montreal.  Winter_wallpapers_214Je suis à Montréal!

It’s a lovely city, I’ve really enjoyed my time here, J’aime Montréal!  I was so excited to come here for a bunch of reasons, but right up there was the ability to practice and learn French in a French-speaking province.  Even though it can be stressful, immersion is really the best way to learn a language.  But here’s the problem I am having…Montreal is a completely bilingual city.

Pretty much every person I attempt to speak with knows right off the bat I don’t really speak French and they switch to English.  While I understand why they switch, it makes it really hard to practice!  I don’t want to waste anyone’s time by muddling around in French trying to get my point across or understand theirs, but that’s how you learn.

Although here are a couple “exciting” conversations that have gone as planned:

me:  “Avez- vous un lave-auto?”     “Do you have a car wash?”

gas station clerk:  “…Oui…”     “…Yes…”

me:  “MERCI!”     “THANKS!”


me: ” je voudrais un cappuccino s’il vous plait”     “I would like a cappuccino please”

coffee shop gal: ” est que tout?”     “Is that all?” … this is my best guess at what is being said to me…

me: “oui, c’est tout”     “Yes, that’s all”


Yes/ no questions are my specialty:)


French 101


I am about half way through my first French primer book and I’m also halfway between astonished at how much I can read and dismayed by how little I understand verbally.  This has always been my main hurdle with learning French, the complete disconnect with what a word looks like to me and how it is actually pronounced.

For example:

qu’est-ce que c’est     which is pronounced:  kess-kuh-say

WHY DO YOU HAVE SO MANY LETTERS IF YOU AREN”T USING THEM!  Stop being such a letter hoarder!

I hope that eventually I stop seeing French words from an English perspective… but that hasn’t happened yet.  Luckily when I need a good laugh I just put the French phrase into the English side of google translate and listen to the computer’s horrible attempt (left side):


Now don’t you feel better, I know I do 🙂

So halfway through the book and after about 12 hours of studying I know a variety of basic nouns like colors, numbers, animals, family members, days of the week, months, basic weather, telling time, and basic adjectives, verbs and prepositions.  I believe the next section is going to be the rules for conjugating verbs in past, present and future… yay!

Since understanding spoken French has been my biggest hurdle I found a few super basic French Kid’s videos and basic French learning videos online to listen to to help my ears acclimate.  First I watched several episodes of this series:

This series is definitely at my comprehension level… but it is so boring!  It reminds me of the horrible learning films we had to watch in Spanish class.  SO while I could understand it, it didn’t really hold my attention for long. So I switched to the BBC’s Muzzy.  This is definitely a kid’s show and yet I find it much more interesting than the one above

I’m going to stick with Muzzy for now, I’ll let you know how it goes!




My biggest problem with learning a new language is getting overwhelmed at the sheer volume of things to memorize. Somehow my brain processes, “There is so much to learn!”  as ” whoa, better stop now”, rather than the more successful approach of, “better start chipping away”.  The best way I have found to counteract that is to have a plan and really try sticking to it.  In essence putting on blinders to the mountains of French I don’t know all around me, to focus on the French ahead of me I am trying to learn.  So this time my “plan” was this:


Get out “French in 10 minutes a day” and start going through it.  I like this series and the” Learn Language X the Fast and Fun Way” one.  They are simple, get right into the basics and come with flash cards 🙂 They are workbooks, and I personally learn well from writing down the things I am learning… plus I already had it from that time 5 years ago when I decided I should learn French… then promptly didn’t.

In addition to the workbook, I also wrote down all the words I was learning in three columns in a notebook: the English word, the french word, and the phonetic spelling.

Every night I would study and add to my list of words, and every morning I would cover up everything but the English word column and quiz myself on the French, by writing it down and saying it out loud.  

I believe, especially in French that you need to do a lot of your learning out loud.  You need to hear the words pronounced correctly and you need to get in the habit of speaking immediately.  Of course it helps to be in a French-speaking area.  Being immersed is probably the easiest and best way to learn a language.  It’s all around you all the time, you are constantly hearing and seeing the language and often being forced to use it.  Even when you don’t understand what you are reading or hearing, I think that constant barrage of the language is helping a lot.  Your eyes and ears start getting used to the language, word by word it no longer sounds or looks like a blur of nonsense.  Even outside of a French-speaking area you can learn.  With sites like italki and livemocha you can find real people looking to speak other languages with you.  A quick craigslist search might find you language partners as well!

That all said it really does depend on your goals.  My main goal is always conversation, so talking with others is key.  However if your goal is to read “Les Misérables” then your time should be spent reading, reading and then reading some more.

Les Mis

In addition to the book I have explored many different language apps.  My favorites are Mind Snacks and Duolingo.  mindo duo

Mind snacks is really fun to play and it is a great way to learn vocab for me.  Duolingo is a good learning tool because of the many different ways it has you working through sentences.  They also both are great ways to listen and repeat basic french words over and over.  Most of all these apps work well because they are so fun.  

My reading is coming along much quicker than my listening skills, so I think in the next week  I will try to listen to more material 🙂

SO overall:

pick a plan and stick with it

start speaking right away

listen and read French as much as you can!