Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vacation strikes!

The French usually take their vacation in August.
My mind instinctively took a vacation, too - happily following my body to Glasgow, Chicago, Jakarta and Ubud - leaving behind French grammar and homework.

But while the French returned from their holidays in September my mind turned to another French pastime and decided to follow suit: it went on strike. It decided to continue to indulge in recreation. There would be no conjugating, no adding to the vocabulary, no reviewing. There wouldn't even be the pretense of good intentions: no taking the grammar workbook only to stuff it into the literature pocket of a Recaro airplane seat behind the safety-cards; no lugging the Apple laptop poolside only to ignore the Microsoft Word document containing pages of vocabulary; not even toting the beloved Moleskine around village, town, city, or the island to jot down musings à la c'est intéressant.

I went through my days barely noticing the increasing absence of French in
my daily life. I was content with slowly acclimatizing myself to the plateau that I didn't realize I had reached: I did only half of my overdue homework, I watched a French film with German subtitles while leafing through a magazine and managed to answer only one question du jour each week, if at all. Still, I felt confident about my French- thinking it would be the bicycle I would ride effortlessly once I chose to finally get back on.

I mean, I would at least be able call up the Paris Marriott Hotel and somehow come up with
a sentence that would have me speaking to my friend in room 132, right? Crashing realization as I began with "je" followed by silence and then finally "voudrais" as I soldiered on battling more awkward silence until I finally fell apart - "..uhm aaah diiiiiire" - stretching out my words hoping to stall for some time.

The receptionist had had enough and brusquely demanded,
in perfect English, that I stop butchering a language that sounded otherwise so lovely: "please! speak English". I acquiesced and mumbled my request.

Time to get back on le vélo...

La photo: à Ubud (Bali), en Indonésie. Septembre 2006.
Le photographe: monsieur_foufou

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


To English speakers it's known as the Hippocampus.
No, I'm not talking about seahorses or hippos.

Does it sound Greek to you? Guess what, it IS! The hippocampus does take its name from the Greek: hippo = horse, kampos = sea monster.

Okay- but what's so intéressant about this "monster"?
Well, this monster is in our brain. It's the part that's responsible for memory. It can be ton meilleur ami or ton ennemi juré in language learning.

Réviser, réviser, réviser! Words of wisdom gladly repeated by teachers
everywhere. In this case, French. But what if you've reached a plateau and reviewing isn't getting you anywhere anymore?

According to Berhard Hobelsberger's article in issue three of
Brigitte Balance (bonjour aux lecteurs allemands!) there's a better way to review. And it has to do with the Hippocampus.

The Hippocampus is basically not a friend of repetition. What does that mean for those of us who want to avoid being at odds with our français and our hippocampe? It means saying the same thing in different ways - instead of just repeating the same phrase over and over - is going to help you learn it faster and better because l'hippocampe likes to hear "new" things.

Hobelsberger's other tip to get your Hippocampus friendly and listening?
Change the tone of your voice!

mon exemple:

Je crie. I scream.

Tu cries. You scream.

Nous crions tous pour une crème glacée. We all scream for ice cream.

Tu as criè, "Je veux une crème glacée". "I want ice cream", you screamed.

Tu veux crier, "crème glacée!" You want to scream "ice cream!"

repeat after him:

ton meilleur ami your best friend

ton ennemi juré your worst enemy

réviser to review

La photo: Atherton Tablelands en Australie. Octobre 2004.
Posted from the air en route to Indonesia! Merci Boeing connexion!