Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

A Ten-Year-Old Learns French With GamesforLanguage

Gamesforlanguage French 1 Course Home PagePublic schools in the US traditionally have a week of school vacation in mid-February, that didn't change even during the pandemic. Since spending time with our grand-kids was out of the question, Peter had came up with a suggestion for an activity they could do.

After all, their parents had to work, and the kids needed some projects. The children are learning other languages, so we thought we'd give them the challenge to go through the French 1 and the German 1 course. At the end of the week, we would interview them.

Our ten-year-old grandson Will chose French. His family has traveled a few times to France, and he's been getting regular French lessons on Zoom. By the end of the week, he had finished three lessons of French with GamesforLanguage.

We're encouraging Will to continue playing the French course and the Quick French Language Games. We "interviewed" him on the front lawn of his home where he was building a snow fort. It was obviously not a school-like setting for him, and he was pretty relaxed.

Did any answers surprise us? Yes, a couple of them did.

Here are the Questions about learning French with GamesforLanguage:

Question 1: You've been learning French for a little while now, what do you like about French?
• I like the sounds, French has cool sounds.

His answer was quick and spontaneous and surprised me at first. I did not expect it to be "sounds". But then why not? Hearing sounds, imitating them, and producing sounds to get things, that's how children actually learn their first language. Reading and writing doesn't come until later and takes several years of schooling.

Question 2: What's the first French word that comes to your mind right now? Dialogue Page, Lesson 1, French 1- Gamesforlanguage
• I want to say "juice" but I can't remember the French word. But I do remember "pomme".

Okay, now we know kids can't remember everything either. In our French 1 course, "jus", "pomme" and "jus de pomme" come up early and several times. Looks like it was "pomme" that stuck.

Question 3: Do you remember your visit in France? Did you actually have the chance to say things in French? Order food? Do you remember any words?
• Oh yes, a lot. I said things in French when we were in restaurants. I always ordered what I liked. What I said many times: "De la glace. Je veux de la glace, s'il vous plaît."

Clearly, even kids learn to say things that they "need" to say, much better than stuff they just have to learn by rote. That's as true for them as it is for us, and includes saying things in another language.

Question 4: What is your favorite French word?
• The word I really like is "fromage", and also because it tastes to good.

A good example here of associating a word with one of the senses. For language learning, it's well known that "sensory input" boosts your memory.

Question 5: What French sound do you find a little hard to pronounce?
• The sort of harsh sounds are hard. I'm thinking of, like, "cr", "croissant" or "crème".

I was expecting him to say that he found the "nasal" sounds hard, as in "moi", "non"; or the French "u", as in "tu". But he had no problems with those. Just shows: mastery of new sounds is an individual thing, not everyone has the same difficulties.

Question 6: How do you practice a sound that's hard?
• Oh, I say it over and over and over again, "croissant", "croissant", "croissant au chocolat" ...

For anyone - children or adults - learning new sounds takes practice. To produce a sound that's not in your own native language, you have to move your mouth (tongue and lips) in a different way. And that takes practice until it becomes automatic.

Gamsforlanguage French 1.1 Memory Game screenshotQuestion 7: When you're playing GamesforLanguage - What is the easiest game for you?
• The easiest? It's the Memory Game. That's the game where you see 4 cards for a word. I had no problem picking the right one.

The Memory Game is multiple choice and a good way to introduce 4 new words or phrases. You first see the right match for each word (French and English equivalent). Then the English cards are mixed up and you need to pick the one that's the translation.

Right in the first lesson, you have the 4 phrases: "un jus de pomme" (an apple juice), "si'il vous plaît" (please), "mon premier voyage" (my first trip), "en France").

Question 8: On GamesforLanguage - When playing a game, do you repeat out loud or just in your head?
• I definitely repeat out loud. Sometimes again.

He's got that right! An online game doesn't make you fluent, but saying what you hear out loud is good practice for improving you pronunciation and listening skills. To be able to say a word right, you have to hear it correctly and to check whether your pronunciation matches. Just silently thinking what about the French is not good enough.

Question 9: What game do you find a little hard?
• The Clouds Game, it's harder to pick the right one.

Snap Clouds is a recall game, which makes it a little harder to pick the correct answer. Plus, the choices are not as obvious as in the Memory Game. For example, you'd be asked to choose the correct pronoun and form of the verb: For "I speak", you have the choices: "tu parles", "je parle", "elle parle", "il parle".

Question 10: What game is the most fun to do? GamesforLanguage French Wordinvaders screenshot
• I like the Space Invaders. I don't find that hard, I can shoot the right word.

Actually, we call that game "Word Invaders". With it you build phrases and sentences, word by word. For each word you get two or three choices. For example, you're asked to build the phrase in French: "An apple juice, please (formal)". The answer will be: "Un jus de pomme, s'il vous plaît".

These are the choices that you have for each of the words:
1. un une 
2. jus eau vin 
3. à de
4. poire pomme raisin
5. s'il mais
6. vous tu
7. plaît parle passe

Question 11: What do you think you learned most with GamesforLanguage: words, pronunciation? Or has it improved your understanding of what the speakers say?
• I learned reading French the most. I didn't know how to read much French before.

This answer surprised me because I hadn't thought about it. In his Zoom lessons, he hears his French tutor and answers in French, but he doesn't see the words. So, seeing how the French words he hears are written was a novelty and probably the most challenging for him.

Question 12: Do you like getting points at the end of a lesson?
• Yes, I like it. It feels like you earned something.

"Earning" something seems to matter to some learners. At the end of each lesson, we've set a minimum percentage of correct answers a player must reach in order to continue with the next lesson. That number goes up gradually, from 50% in the first 6 lessons, to 90% in the last 6 lessons.
He also told us that he had not listened yet to the lesson audios or downloaded each lesson's PDF file.  (You can access the audio for each level (six lessons) via the Podcast link and the PDF file via the link under each course lesson.)

It was fun to talk with our ten-year-old grandson about his tryout of learning French with our GamesforLanguage course. He's one of our younger users.
We have several school classes located in the US, UK, and Australia playing French, German, and Spanish. What appeals are the Quick Games and the game structure of the courses.
Besides, our games, courses, and podcasts are completely FREE, there are no Google advertisements.
Only our courses require a simple registration and a password - which is only needed so you can continue your course where you left off.
Quick Games, Podcasts and Blog can all be accessed by just clicking on the link

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage Favorites During Covid-19 in 2020

Gamesforlanguage Games and Stories Ten years ago, GamesforLanguage started out as an experiment and family project: a language teacher and course editor, a retired engineer, a computer programmer (our son) and his graphic designer wife collaborated on what has turned out to be a fun and rewarding enterprise.

Over the years, we've had a steady stream of users and have gotten valuable feedback. We've also found plenty of incentive for our own language learning by using our own courses, joining online language learning groups and trying out other language programs and apps.

Our site is free to all - without any Google advertisements - a fact that more and more teachers and parents seem to appreciate as well. You can play our Quick Games and Podcasts, and read our Blog Posts by just clicking on the links.

Only our language Courses require a simple registration. This way, players can pick-up the story and continue learning and practicing where they last logged off.

At the beginning of a new year, we usually look back to determine what has interested our users most. Over the last few months of 2020, we've noticed a substantial increase in groups playing our Quick Games and travel-story Courses.

Registrations increased by users with an institutional email address, in particular schools. Most of the students registered that way play Courses in addition to Quick Games.

Although we don't know the email addresses of users who just play Quick Games, Podcasts, or read our Blog Posts, we are able to identify which content receives the most traffic.

Travel Story Courses

Our original purpose for Gamesforlanguage was to combine the idea of learning a new language with a travel story and fun games. Being language learners ourselves, we've used (and are still using) many different language programs.

Like most people, we want to avoid getting bored while learning. One antidote seems to be using stories. You can read about that in our 5 Top Reasons for Learning a language with Stories.Gamesforlanguage.com Registration Page

Not surprisingly, it was our German courses that had the most players from registered users last year. This may also be due to the fact that we have two(2) 36-lesson German courses, as well as an active German Facebook page.

If German or any of our other languages - French, Italian, and Spanish - interest you, click on the registration page or the screenshot above, and register. (Our Course English for Spanish Speakers is still in development and has 3 levels at this time.)

Quick Games

We currently have over 300 Quick Language Games, and we are adding new games every few weeks. These can be played by just clicking on the Quick Games link on our website and selecting the language you want to practice.

Each fun game only takes a couple of minutes or so. It helps you practice a few words, a grammar point or some typical phrases.

We post one of tLearn German - A Game A Day Facebook Pagehe nearly 90 Quick German Games every weekday on our German Facebook page, Learn German -A Game A Day.

Guten Morgen is the most popular German Quick Game, while Numbers 1-20 is the favorite of learners of Italian, and Numbers 21 and beyond of those learning French.

Blog Posts

Since we started Gamesforlanguage in January 2011, we've added nearly 400 Blog Posts about language learning, travel experiences, and related topics. That's an average of over 3 posts per month.

It's always interesting to see which of the older posts have become perennials.Victoria des Los Angeles and La Paloma lyrics Our 2013 post about La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish with a Song, was also a favorite in 2020. (And if you like that idea for learning Spanish, we can suggest one of our partner sites, Language-Zen.)

For those who have tried our travel-story based Courses, it's no surprise that we like stories for learning and practice. We are obviously not the only ones. Our 2016 post: Why Polyglots Also Use Stories for Language Learning has been very popular.

And, as it's quite a short post, we're always surprised to see the 2013 entry - Quick French: “On y va”, “Allons-y!” - to be on our most read list year after year!

Podcasts

We have not yet promoted and expanded our Podcasts. (Something we're going to focus on in 2021.) Most of our podcasts are the MP3 audios and chapters of each of our courses.

Gamesforlanguage:German 2 Podcast screenshot We believe that listening to the story BEFORE or AFTER playing a course lesson, helps you to internalize the sound and rhythm of the language and to memorize the phrases.

In the Podcast section, the German 2 Story “Blüten in Berlin” was the favorite in 2020. No surprise there.

We are planning to add more Podcasts about Language Learning, Culture and Travel.

We're hopeful that in the fall of 2021, we can again travel to Europe. In any case, until travel is safe again, there' s plenty of time to practice languages online, to read books, to listen to podcasts and to watch foreign movies.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Pre-Corona European Travels 12 – Bordeaux and Arcachon

Cité du Vin MuseumIn September 2019, as we flew from Amsterdam to Bordeaux, Ulrike and I had no idea yet how different our life would be in a few months. I am writing this post just about a year later.

Checking the websites of the places which we visited during our week-long stay in Bordeaux and travels through the Périgord region, I realize that many activities are out of reach at the moment: exploring Bordeaux by tram and bus, visiting museums, a wine tasting class in the Cité du Vin (see picture above), a river cruise with Bruno, visiting castles and the Lascaux caves, wine tasting in vineyards, etc, etc.

Fortunately, the memories and pictures from that trip will last us for a while. And maybe this post will motivate some readers to explore Bordeaux and its surroundings once the Covid-19 period has passed!

A Very Brief History of Bordeaux

As we usually do in a new city, we visited the local history museum, here the Musée d'Aquitaine. This gave us a quick and comprehensive overview of both Bordeaux's ancient and recent history.

We learned that Bordeaux's importance as a major port increased after the marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry Plantagenet (who is better known as Henry II and was King of England from 1152-1189).

The “English era” gave Bordeaux protection, and the wine trade and tax-free status with England made the city flourish right into the middle of the 15th century.
Aerial view of the Port of the Moon in 1899
Annexed by France in 1453, Bordeaux eventually entered into another golden era in the 18th century, when it became France's busiest port, supplying much of Europe with coffee, sugar, cotton, etc from overseas. (Image by Hugo d'Alesi, 1899, Archives de Bordeaux métropole.)

After World War II, two long-serving mayors were responsible for Bordeaux's development: Jacques Chaban-Delmas from 1947-1995 and Alain Juppé from 1995-2019, both with various interruptions, as they also served as Prime Ministers under Jacques Chirac and Georges Pompidou respectively.

Today the Bordeaux metropolitan area has a population of about 780,000 with about 250,000 living in the city. As such, it is France's sixth largest city, the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and the center of a major wine-growing and wine-producing region.

Exploring Bordeaux by Tram

Bordeaux wireless tramNeither Ulrike nor I had ever been in Bordeaux or that part of France before. We especially looked forward to exploring the surrounding wine country as well.

Our rental apartment was near the Place Gambetta, right in the center of town. This allowed us to explore “la vieille ville” and other quarters on foot, and by using several tram lines that were nearby.

Eager to use the public transport system, trams and buses, we made the mistake of purchasing a seven-day transport card online. Why a mistake? Because each time we used a tram, we had to use our smartphone and internet connection to validate. (A better choice is to purchase a 7-day card in one of the public transport offices.)

And as the tram was our favorite mode of transport, we noticed one thing right away: there were no overhead wires in the city. We were intrigued. (See picture above of tram in front of the Bordeaux Opera.) I noticed that there was a center rail set in the pavement, but people normally walked over it, so obviously it could not be electrified.

A Google search and our visit to the Historical Museum solved the mystery: Mayor Chaban-Delmas had the last of the 38 tramlines, with their over 120 miles of tracks, removed in 1958. But plans for a subway failed because of the sandy soil and related costs.

The “Bordelaises and Bordelais” (women and men of Bordeaux) had to wait until 2003, Bordeaux wireless tram trackswhen the first of the now 3 lines (about 40 miles) of a modern tramway were opened. Mayor Alain Juppé had insisted that no overhead wires should spoil the view of the buildings in the city.

Thus a ground-level power supply operates in the city, called APS (Alimenation Par Sol). The center rail is not continuous, but connected with what look like ceramic isolators. (You can see the center rail with the light brown isolator in the picture.)

In the city, electric power is supplied to the tram by the center rail with only the portion under the tram electrically live. Reportedly, the system had problems at the start, but seemed to work well while we were there. (We wonder, however, how it would work during snow and ice conditions.)

Once the tram leaves the inner city, the overhead lines appear again and each tram raises its collector arm (pantograph) to connect.

Cité du Vin

One of the must-see sites when you visit Bordeaux is Cité du Vin, the Bordeaux Wine Museum. You can get there either by tram or by water shuttle on the Garonne river.

At the museum, you will learn more about the world's wine cultures than you'll likely remember. The permanent exhibition explains how “humans cultivate vines all over the world in a wide variety of natural conditions. Winegrowers have adapted, invented and modeled their landscapes and shaped them through their traditions.”
Cité du Vin wine shopWe also decided to take a wine tasting class in French. The teacher was entertaining and familiarized an international audience with the basics of French wine terminology.

And while it certainly takes more than a one-hour class to become a real wine connoisseur, we became fully aware of how many vivid adjectives the French language has for describing wines.

For example: The level of “acidité” (acidity) can be described by words like “mou, vif, nerveux” (soft, lively, nervous); the level of “tanin” (tannin) with “souple, charpenté, âpre” (flexible, framed, harsh); the level of “onctuosité” (smoothness) with “creux, gras, lourd” (hollow, fat, heavy).

And most importantly, we learned: When you “name” (i.e. pin down with words) your own impression of the wine that you're sampling, you'll better remember a similar taste next time. (But it requires that you equip yourself with the relevant vocabulary to describe your impressions! Here is a link to such a wine glossary in English.)

The shop at Cité du Vin has a large selection of wines from the region (see picture above), and from the top of the spectacular building (where more wine tasting occurs), you have a spectacular view of Bordeaux and the Garonne river.

Bordeaux's Museums

Besides the Musée d’Aquitaine and la Cité du Vin, we also enjoyed the MECA,Bassin de Lumières exhibition poster musée des arts décoratifs et du design, and the Musée Mer Marine (Maritime Museum).

Indeed, when we visited the Maritime Museum, we were also intrigued by the nearby submarine bunkers. An unattractive remnant of World War II, which had housed the Italian submarine fleet at the time, its thick concrete walls and roof have made demolition cost-prohibitive.

At the time of our visit, parts of this base were just being converted into the Bassins de Lumières. While not yet open to the public then, the above link and picture give you an impression of a spectacular exhibit, which appears well worth visiting.

La Garonne and Le Miroir d'Eau

Miroir d'eau in front of Place de la BourseFor many cities a waterway adds to their special appeal and Bordeaux is no exception (see also Lisbon, Portugal).

Pictures in the Musée d'Aquitaine showed us that before World War II and even into the 1960s, the Garonne river's waterfront had been a busy port, with ocean-going ships docking right up to the Pont de Pierre.

Today commercial harbor terminals and pontoons, especially for container ships, have moved downstream. But major cruise ships can still dock downtown, close to the Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d'Eau.

There is now a wonderful promenade that stretches from beyond the Miroir d'eau with mistPont de Pierre to the row of converted warehouses downstream. These hangars house various expositions and events as well as brand-name discount shops.

The Miroir d'Eau, in front of the Place de la Bourse is reportedly the world's largest reflecting pool with 37,100 sqft. It is indeed quite spectacular, both as a mirror and also when the rising mist begins to hide the people walking around.

I would be amiss if I didn't comment on the color of the Garonne river.Dordogne joins Garonne river I had already noticed the brown color of both the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers from the plane as it made its approach to the Bordeaux airport.

Bruno, our Garonne river cruise guide, made it his first point of business to explain why the Garonne is NOT “dirty”: the color is the end-result of a natural phenomenon.

The sediment that the Garonne carries downstream meets the oceanic tides that come up the estuary. With salty water being heavier than fresh water, the undercurrent brings the sediment to the surface and coagulates in the form of microscopic flakes, producing the brown color. Nevertheless the Garonne is ranked as one of Europe's cleanest rivers!

Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat

Oysters lunch @ ArcachonAt the end of our one-week stay in Bordeaux we rented a car to explore the surrounding wine country. (More about that in another post.)

We had heard from friends that a visit to Arachon was also a must: both for its famous oysters as well as for the “Dune of Pilat”. Arcachon is only a 40 mile drive from Bordeaux and a favorite weekend spot for many locals.

For centuries the name of Arcachon has been related to “great oysters”, and keeping the Arcachon Bay unpolluted is of key concern for many area residents.

(Over the last 50 years there have been a number of natural and man-caused disasters affecting the oysters in the bay.) The area's oyster industry grows oysters for the French restaurant market as well as seed oysters for oyster growers all over Europe.

The delightful little Hôtel du Parc, where we stayed, was in walking distance to the Plage Pereire. After renting bicycles directly at the hotel, we were soon using the bike paths up and down along the beach.

We even made it all the way to downtown Arcachon and its harbor. The downtown area is not very attractive, as it is overbuilt with hotels and condominiums.

However, the promenade along Arcachon Bay with its beach, promenade, restaurants and large marina is lovely. It was still bustling during the weekend even at the end of September. Sitting in one of the many restaurants, "people watching" can be a great pastime!

We sampled the famous “huitres” (oysters) at several restaurants. Our favorite was the Restaurant du Soleil, right at the beach, with a fabulous view of the sun set each evening.

Climbing up the Dune du Pilat was an amazing experience. Located just southClimbing the Dune du Pilat of the entrance to the Bay of Arcachon, the dune rises to over 300 feet above sea level and is about 1.7 miles long.

The name “Pilat” (or “Pyla”, to the locals) originates from the Gascon word “philar”, which means heap or mound.

On the last September weekend there was a stream of visitors climbing up and down the dunes, some picnicking on top, others just watching the para gliders making their turns and  – because of the upwinds –  often landing above from where they started.

The dune has been observed to move backwards at the rate of about 15 feet per year, encroaching on the pine forest and swallowing up houses built at its base. This explains why the visitor center and large parking lot have been placed far in the back.

After our stay in Arcachon we still had a few days left to explore the “Médoc region” to the left of the Gironde estuary, but we'll report on that in our next post.

Posted on by Peter Editor

Apples, Butter, Rain and More in French Idioms

 Three ApplesBelow are 12 French idioms that you might not have heard yet.

In our last post, Sausages, Fruits, Ships, and more in German Idioms, we listed a number of typical German expressions. In fact, what prompted us to write it, was overhearing a German woman "translate" a German idiom into French by giving a literal equivalent.

In their literal translation, many French idioms are also confusing to a German or English speaker. (Whenever available, I added a French synonym from Le Petit Robert, a popular French language dictionary.)

1. Haut comme trois pommes

Idiom: knee-high to a grasshopper
Literally: as high as three apples (Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash)
Explanation: Refers to someone who is not very tall, or just very young.
Origin: Even if you put three apples on top of each other, what you have is still not very high.

2. Tomber dans les pommes

Idiom: to pass out
Literally: to fall into the apples
Explanation: to faint, lose consciousness [Petit Robert: s'évanouir]
Origin: This expression first appeared in 1889 and may go back to the writer George Sand, who used "être dans les pommes cuites", a play on "être cuit" (to be cooked, exhausted).

3. Mettre du beurre dans les épinardsSpinach in pan

Idiom: to put butter on your bread
Literally: to put butter on the spinach (Photo by Kim Daniels on Unsplash)
Explanation: It means to earn a bit extra, to top up your income, or to improve a situation that is troublesome. [Petit Robert: améliorer sa situation]
Origin: This expression goes back to a time when butter symbolized wealth, while spinach was a common vegetable. Putting butter on your spinach makes it taste better, richer.

4. Vouloir le beurre et l'argent du beurre

Idiom: to have your cake and eat it too
Literally: to want the butter and the money for the butter too
Explanation: You can't have it both ways, you can't have it all.
Origin: This expression appeared at the end of the 19th century and is a piece of good old fashioned common sense (bon sens paysan). Once you sell the butter, you have the money, but no longer the butter. Or, in other words, to get something you want you may have to give up something else.

Rainbow at Arcachon, France5. Parler de la pluie et du beau temps

Idiom: to make small talk
Literally: to talk about rain and nice weather
Explanation: It means talking about trivial things, exchanging chit-chat. [Petit Robert: dire des banalités]
Origin: The weather is an innocuous subject to talk about, so it's a safe topic among strangers or a way to talk around topics you want to avoid.

6. Faire la pluie et le beau temps

Idiom: to call the shots
Literally: to make rain and good weather
Explanation: It means to be in charge, to control the situation or determine what action should be taken [Petit Robert: être très influent]
Origin: The idiom is said to go back to mythical times when the gods had power over the world. They could change the weather, create storms, hurl lightning, etc.

7. Ce n’est pas la mer à boire.Looking at the ocean

Idiom: It's not that big a deal.
Literally: It's not the sea to drink.
Explanation: This is a metaphor for something that's impossible or very difficult to do. It's also used in its opposite meaning: C'est la mer à boire - it's very difficult. [Petit Robert: C'est, ce n'est pas difficile.]
Origin: The expression dates back to a 17th century fable by Jean de la Fontaine.

8. Chercher midi à quatorze heures

Idiom: to make a mountain out of a molehill
Literally: to look for noon at 2 pm
Explanation: To complicate things unnecessarily, to see difficulties where there aren't any. [Petit Robert: Chercher des difficultés où il n'y en a pas, compliquer les choses.]
Origin: This expression is said to date back to the 17th century as "chercher midi à onze heures" (to look for noon at 11o'clock), to look for something where's it's not.

Rolled in the flour9. Se faire rouler dans la farine

Idiom: to be taken for a ride
Literally: to get rolled in the flour (Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash)
Explanation: to be fooled, taken in, be cheated  [Petit Robert: tromper]
Origin: Flour-based makeup was often used in the theater and allowed actors to change how they looked and thus fool the audience.

10. Il ne faut pas mélanger les torchons et les serviettes.

Idiom: Don't mix apples and oranges.
Literally: One mustn't mix up dishtowels and napkins.
Explanation: Don't mix totally different things, don't combine things that are completely different. [Petit Robert: Il faut séparer, traiter différemment selon leur condition sociale, les choses selon leur valeur.]
Origin: This expression is based on the idea that you must not mix social levels - dishtowels were for servants and the poor, while napkins were for the bourgeoisie and aristocracy.

11. Ce n'est pas la mort du petit cheval.Small horse in grass

Idiom: It's not the end of the world.
Literally: It's not the death of the little horse. (Photo by Soledad Lorieto on Unsplash)
Explanation: It's not the worst thing that could happen. It's not as bad as it seems, even though it's a disappointment.
Origin: According to an article in Le Figaro by Claude Duneton, the expression "la mort du petit cheval" was probably coined in the 1930s and referred to losing one's bet on a horse that didn't win the race.

The expression was picked up by d'Hervé Bazin in the title of his 1950 novel: "La mort du petit cheval." In it, the protagonist makes a shocking discovery about his mother but decides that it's not the end of the world.

12. Avaler des couleuvres

Idiom: to swallow a lie
Literally: to swallow grass snakes
Explanation: to be taken in, to believe anything, to take insults without protest  [Petit Robert: subir des affronts sans protester, croire n'importe quoi]
Origin: This expression came up already in the 17th century and suggests swallowing something slithery, tortuous. The image evokes unscrupulous people who in the olden days added a few grass snakes to a plate of eels without telling their guests or customers.

Learning a few idioms in your second language is not only fun, but it may very well break the conversational ice next time you try out your French, on zoom or in real life.

For the French idioms that are listed here, I looked at a few different sites. You can find out more about these expressions, or search for new ones on the following sites (not linked here): www.expression-française.fr  www.thoughtco.com  www.lawlessfrench.com/expressions  www.linternaute.fr
I consulted Le Petit Robert, a single-volume French dictionary, for synonyms in French and added them to the explanations.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 9 – Fribourg: Kaeserberg, Languages, and more...

Upper and Lower City of Fribourg, Switzerland You may never have heard of the “chemins de fer du Kaeserberg”. And unless you live in Europe or are familiar with Switzerland, you may draw a blank when you hear the name Fribourg, or its German name, Freiburg (“im Uechtland”).

Perhaps you're more familiar with the city's German cousin Freiburg (“im Breisgau”), a picturesque university town located in Southern Germany's Black Forest. 

Well, Fribourg is the capital of the Canton of Fribourg, (see picture above). It is located on the cultural border between German- and French-speaking Switzerland and the seat of the country's only bilingual university. 

Every February, for over ten years now, Ulrike and I have visited my sister in Fribourg before heading to the Berner Oberland for some skiing. While in the city, we always make some new discoveries. This year it was the “Chemins de fer du Kaeserberg". And, we always take advantage of learning more about languages and enjoying Swiss food specialties. Our Swiss experience typically begins in Zurich after an overnight flight from Boston.

Zurich Airport to Fribourg

One of the pleasures of traveling in Switzerland is the ease of train travel.Zurich Airport - Fribourg Map We now know that there is a direct train from Zurich Airport to Fribourg that runs every hour. We often don't have to wait long after buying our train ticket.

A few years ago though, we didn't have time to buy a train ticket. So we just boarded the train. The conductor didn't come by until after the next stop, which is Zurich Main Station. We told him that we had boarded the train without tickets at the airport. He sold us the tickets and was nice enough to waive the penalty fee.

Now you can no longer purchase tickets on the train, and penalties have increased if you're caught without a ticket. However, if you don't have time to buy a ticket at the counter or ticket machine, you can now easily purchase the tickets online with your smart phone.

Just download the free SBB Mobile app for iOS or Android devices to check time tables, purchase tickets, make seat reservations, etc.

Our 2018 Fribourg Discovery: Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg

Over the years we have visited many of Fribourg's sights, the Cathedrale St-Nicholas, the picturesque lower town you can get down to with a Funicular, the Espace Jean Tinguely-Niki de Saint Phalle in the Musee D'Art et D'Histoire Fribourg, the Musee Gutenberg, etc.

During our visit this year,we spent a whole afternoon at theChemins de fer du Kaeserberg model at night Musee des Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg. If you're a model railway enthusiast, the railway museum is nothing short of a feast. But anyone from 4 to 90 years old will enjoy this technical marvel.

The model railway was a childhood dream of Marc Antiglio. He had taken over the family construction business as a young man and worked on his dream throughout his adult life. (I had met Marc over 40 years ago when I worked for a few years in Fribourg as a structural engineer.)

It took Marc 17 years to fully realize his dream: A model railway exhibit on three levels, in a custom-designed, multi-level, state-of-the-art building with solar collectors, a geothermal heating system. All of this was completed just a few years ago.

Built at a scale of 1:87, the model exhibit occupies an area of about 6,500 sf, with currently over 6,000 ft of rails (both H0, 16.5 mm, and H0m, 12.0 mm). The rolling stock consists of 300 locomotives and 1,650 wagons and cars, many of which are stored and can be accessed on the depot/station, the first level the visitor encounters when entering.

Lake Scene @ Chemins de fer du KaeserbergThe attention to detail in building and landscape design is amazing. The model imagines a Swiss landscape around 1990, with villages, buildings, railway stations, cars,and people, plus circus tents, lakes and ships – so realistic - that you need to look twice to see that they are not real. Even the background photos of sky and mountains blend in seamlessly.

The introductory video for the visitors we saw was in French with German subtitles. In it, Marc Antiglio recalls how he got fascinated by trains as a little boy. He explains the many challenges he and his team of dedicated professionals and volunteers had to overcome to create the model. (Marc speaks with a slight "Fribourgois" accent. If you want to learn more watch this video on French accents and and French pronunciation.)

We had a wonderful time watching the many trains going through tunnels, over bridges, stopping at and leaving the stations. In the night mode, the changing lights created magic images.

The exhibit is open to the public at certain days during each week, and private visits can be arranged on other days. Check the website for the opening days and hours.

(If you wonder about the name “Kaeserberg” - it has nothing to do with the German word “Käse/Kaese” (cheese), but is the name of Marc Antiglio's late friend, who was instrumental in supporting Marc's passion.)

More about Fribourg

View of Fribourg upper and lower city In the past, the language lines in the city of Fribourg were drawn rather clearly: In the lower town, since the city's founding in the 12th century, people spoke mostly a Swiss German dialect. In fact it was the official language until about 1800.

In fact, today the language spoken on the streets of “la basse-ville” (lower town) is a mix of Swiss German and French called “le bolze”. This swissinfo.ch article - “Nei, dasch zvüu, tu me connais!” - (No, that's too much, you know me!) not only gives some wonderful examples of typical bolze expressions, but also more details of Fribourg's linguistic history. (Sorry, the article is in French and does not solve the origin mystery of  French “bolze" or German “bolz”.)

With the industrialization and the influx of French immigrants, the French population in the upper town became the majority in the 19th century. (see picture of upper and lower town). By the year 2000, nearly 64% of its 38,000 inhabitants spoke French as their first language, and only 21% German. Italian was third with about 4%.

In restaurants, cafes, and shops, etc. you hear a mixture of French, Swiss German, and Swiss standard German, which curiously is called “Schriftdeutsch” (written German). Increasingly, you also hear other languages. In 2008 nearly 32% of the population were resident foreign nationals.

The term “Schriftdeutsch” - written German - is used to distinguish Swiss standard German from the spoken Swiss German dialect. Swiss German children learn to speak Swiss German at home. They start to learn “Schriftdeutsch” in first grade and likely French a couple of years later. That's about the same time that Swiss French-speaking children learn “Schriftdeutsch” as a second language. Also, in many schools children learn English already in fourth grade.

From discussions with family, friends and acquaintances in Fribourg, we've gained the impression that there are more German speakers who are fluent in French, than French speakers who are also fluent in German.

We don't know why that would be. Maybe it's because French speakers are now the majority in Fribourg, or learning French as a third language (after “Schriftdeutsch) is “easier” for Swiss German speakers, or maybe Swiss Germans feel a more personal or economic need to be bilingual than their French speaking compatriots.

A visit to the local market provided a non-representative sample, as most of the Swiss German-speaking farmers easily switched to French, while French-speaking bakers and butchers had more difficulty speaking German.

Language can still be a divisive issue

While the casual observer may be pleasantly surprised by the city's apparent bilingualism, language in Fribourg - as in other Swiss cities and towns that are located on a language and cultural fault line - is often still a divisive issue.

Not much has changed since swissinfo.ch covered this issue in 2004, citing both Biel (where French speakers are the minority of the population, with 28 %) and Fribourg as examples. Family connections, social status, school locations, etc. all influence parents' decisions which language path their children should pursue.

In 2017 the Swiss Bilingualism Foundation awarded Rapper Greis (alias for Grégoire Vuilleumier) that year's “prize for bi- and plurilingualism”. Listen to his “Enfant des Etoiles” song which switches between Swiss German and French.

It certainly seems that in a small country like Switzerland (about 8 million inhabitants), being bilingual or at least being fluent in two of the major languages, German and French, should have great professional and personal benefits.

A couple of years ago just as we were visiting Fribourg, the local Happy in Fribourg songnewspaper, La Liberté, reported that local film makers had adapted Pharrell Williams' song“Happy” from the movie “Despicable Me 2” to Fribourg, similar to what other Swiss cities have done. You can watch the YouTube video which shows many images of Fribourg.

(You may recognize Ulrike in one of the video's scenes while she was at the weekly farmer's market.)

Now Our Swiss Tradition: Cheese Fondue or Raclette

Before heading to Gstaad and Schoenried (more about that in a future post), we typically will have a Cheese Fondue or Raclette with our family.

La Fondue (au fromage)

Probably the best-known dish of Switzerland is a cheese “fondue”. The word is French and comes from the verb “fondre” meaning “to melt”. Used as a noun, “fondue” is the feminine form of the past participle “fondu”. (larousse.fr)

Young women eating cheese fondue Fondue has a lengthy history in Switzerland. The recipe “Käss mit Wein zu kochen” (cheese cooked with wine) was first mentioned in a Zurich manuscript in 1699.

“La fondue” showed up in 18th century culinary literature as “oeufs brouillés au fromage fondu”, scrambled eggs with melted cheese (as noted in the dictionary, Le petit Robert). The dish was particularly popular in the western French-speaking cantons, and there mostly among city dwellers who could afford the rich cheese.

Fondue, as we know it, dates back to around the middle of the 19th century and by 1875, it was named a Swiss national dish. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) used the idea of a national dish for its own marketing purposes. That kind of promotion was continued after WWII. Fondue was popularized in the US in the 1960s, helped by being showcased in the Swiss Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

The traditional fondue is served in a fondue pot (un caquelon), which is kept warm over a chafing dish (un réchaud). To make the fondue smooth, you add cornstarch to the cheese mixture as it heats. Each one of you gets a long thin fork for spearing chunks of bread (or sometimes potatoes), which you then dip into the cheese. Eating fondue is definitely a social event that also includes plenty of white wine and/or tea.

Various traditions are observed: for example, if you drop your bread into the pot, you pay a round of wine, or a pot of hot tea.

Cheese Fondue Variations

Many of the Swiss cantons have their own version of fondue, using different combinations of cheeses. For those who want to try, this Epicurious post will give you the recipe for making a perfect traditional Swiss Fondue. Being frequent travelers to Fribourg, the two fondues we know best are the Fondue Fribourgeoise, and the Fondue Moitié-Moitié.

Fondue Fribourgeoise

Fondue Fribourgeoise is prepared with 100% local Vacherin cheese.

Swiss Vacherin CheeseVacherin is a medium-firm cheese made from cow's milk, as the name - vache (cow) - implies.The cheese is melted in a few tablespoons of water over low heat. To our knowledge, this is the only cheese fondue that does not use wine. Often you dip pieces of potato instead of bread.

Fondue Moitié-Moitié

Moitié-Moitié (or half-half), as its name states, uses Gruyère and Vacherin cheese in equal parts. This fondue is made with white wine, (dry and high in acid) and for flavor a shot of kirsch is often added to the mixture. You eat it by dipping chunks of bread.

La Raclette

Traditional Raclette serving Our foray into the world of melted (Swiss) cheese would not be complete without mentioning the “Raclette”. The name is derived from the French “racler”, meaning “to grate or scrape” and that clearly describes the method in which it is served: The melted cheese is scraped off the roasted/heated end of a large piece, most commonly a half a wheel of cheese (as in this picture).

The Raclette Suisse site traces Raclette's origins to the 13th century. In the German-speaking cantons, convent writings mention “Bratchäs” (roasted cheese - note the Swiss spelling of “Käse”) already in 1291 as a nutritious food for mountain cow herders. Raclette cheese is made of raw milk and many variations exist. Only the “Raclette du Valais” is a protected brand under Swiss law.

The traditional method melts the half-wheel of cheese, either right at an open fire place, or in restaurants, with an electric heater. The Raclette cook/server scrapes the melted cheese off unto each customer's plate. (see photo above, courtesy of: Grcampbell-Wikipedia Commons).

The modern, self-serve version uses small pans in which to Modern Raclette heat Raclette cheese pieces right at the table with a special gadget (as in this picture). In eithercase, “Gschwellti” - Swiss German for potatoes boiled in their skin -  are served with gherkins, pickled onions, and often preceded or accompanied by dried meat, such as “Bündnerfleisch” or “viande des Grisons” or “jambon cru”.

A Raclette evening, during which the meal is served the traditional way to a large table, is a social event that can last for hours. As with cheese fondue, locals will warn you not to drink cold water. It doesn't mix well with the hot cheese. However, hot tea, a “Kirsch” (cherry), “Poire” (pear), or “Framboise” (raspberry) Schnaps come highly recommended.

Raclette and Fondue (whether the cheese or meat variety) always make for a lively, social dining experience.

Even after the taste and smells of melted cheese have faded in your memory, you'll certainly remember the fun you had with your family and friends sharing such a meal in a warm and cozy mountain hut after a hard day of skiing, snowboarding, or hiking.

The best kind of travels are those where you can linger in a place, make discoveries, learn new things, and try out new tastes. It's a kind of “slow travel” that lets you soak in some of the local language, history, and customs. You have time to explore different neighborhoods, go to various cafés, bars and restaurants, and visit local shops and markets.

And if you've learned a new language for your trip, you'll have the chance to try out what you've learned. That's one of the great pleasures of travel: Get that sense of accomplishment as you stretch your boundaries.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

national flags on TVYou know that you're making progress when you start to pick up language subtleties in the language you're learning. Language subtleties can be fun or embarrassing, but you'll especially remember the embarrassing ones.

I'm not only talking about “false friends”, which are not that hard to check. For example, my (German speaking) father quickly learned the English word “gift”, as the same word means “poison” in German.  “Gift” was also the first entry in our earlier post, 20 German False Friends To Watch Out For.

There are also quite a few such “cognates” in Spanish, as we listed in False Language Friends – Spanish: me despierto et al. (And, we just realized that we are still to list the major cognates for Italian and French, Gamesforlanguage's other two languages.)

In the meantime, here are just a few language subtleties we came across recently.

GERMAN SUBTLETIES

One of our sons told us the other day that during a stay in Germany he responded to a question whether the room temperature was ok: “Ja danke, ich bin warm.” But, the correct German expression for "I'm warm" is “Es ist mir warm.” He could not understand the chuckle of the family friend he was staying with.

The friend explained that the answer did not go together with the question:  “warm sein” in German is used to mean to be “gay”, or “schwul”. Although the above exchange occurred over 15 years ago, our son still remembers the different meanings of the two expressions.

Going back even further, I remember when my French-speaking brother-in-law, who also spoke excellent German, was puzzled when he heard one of our friends tell us over a glass of beer:monkey on tricyle cartoon

“Als ich nach der Party mit dem Fahrrad nach Hause fuhr, hatte ich einen ordenlichen Affen sitzen.” (Literally: When I rode home on my bicycle after the party, I had a substantial monkey sitting.)

My brother-in-law laughed as heartily as all the others, but later he asked me: “Why did he have a monkey sitting on the bicycle with him?”

Idioms

As many other languages do as well, German has many ways to express being tipsy or drunk, for example:
• einen sitzen haben  (literally: to have one sitting)
• einen Affen sitzen haben (literally: to have a monkey sitting)
• einen Schwips haben (somewhat literally: to have intoxication)
• einen im Tee haben (literally: to have one in the tea)

And in the various German dialects there are quite a few more.

Words with more than one Meaning

This brings me to German words with more than one meaning. For example, “einen Kater haben” could mean “owning a male cat”. But more likely – and you would know from the context – it would mean “having a hangover”.

In German, there are plenty of words with more than one meaning. There is no way around learning them. Examples are:
• “Linsen” are “lentils”, but also lenses of cameras
• “ein Gericht” could be “a court of justice”, or a meal
• “die Wirtschaft” could mean “the economy” or the local pub
• “ein Bienenstich” is a German cake specialty, made with yeast dough, filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds, but it also simply means “the sting of a bee”. I still have no idea how this cake got its name.

You can sometimes guess the meaning of a word from the context, but that is often harder for idioms.

SPANISH SUBTLETIES

The other day I was again reviewing the use of “estar” and “ser” in Spanish. One of the explanations of the difference between both is the following: Think about “ser” as a “passive” verb, something “being” that way permanently, e.g. describing a personal trait;  “estar”, on the other hand, is a more active verb describing a (temporary) condition.

Expressions with Ser and Estar

In the examples below the use of either “ser” or “estar” changes the meaning of the adjective. For example:

Bored woman ignored by her dateThe young woman in the picture certainly would NOT want to say: “Soy aburrido” which means “I am boring”, when she really wants to say: “Estoy aburrido” (“I am bored”) - hopefully only a temporary condition with her date!

Similarly, when you tell somebody that you are not ready, say “No estoy listo” and NOT “No soy listo”. The latter means that you are not intelligent or a quick thinker.
Also:

• vivo/a is “alive” with estar, but “clever” with ser
• cansado/a is “tired” with estar, but “tiring” with ser

Remember as well that “estar” is used to indicate your location, as in “Estoy en casa” (I'm at home), but “ser” is used to indicate your origin, e.g. place of birth, “Soy de Austria.” (I'm from Austria.)\

Exceptions

And just when I thought I had understood the differences well enough, I was reminded of a few major exceptions:
• “Está muerto” (he is dead) seems to be quite a permanent condition, but uses “estar” to indicate that somebody is dead.
• On the other hand “ser” is used to indicate time as in “Son las tres de la tarde” as in “It's 3 PM”, which seems quite transitional.

Words with more than one Meaning

As with German, Spanish also has words that have more than one meaning:
• piso: can mean “apartment” or “flat” but also is used for a building's “level” or “floor”
• gato: “cat” is the translation I know, but apparently it is also a “car jack”
• tiempo: can mean “time” or “weather”
• techo: can mean “ceiling” or “roof”

Different Meaning in Different Countries

As Spanish is spoken not only in Spain but also in the Americas, it's not surprising that there are quite a few words that have acquired various meanings in different countries. A few examples include:
• fresa: a “strawberry” in most Spanish speaking countries (but “frutilla” in Argentina); in Mexico it's also a slang term for a “spoiled, egocentric, wealthy youngster”
• coche: a “car” for Spaniards, but a slang term for “pig” in Guatemala (maybe from French “cochon”?), or a “babystroller” in Chile
• torta: a “cake” in most Spanish speaking countries, it also translates as “a punch in the mouth” in Spain.

This iTalki post has quite a few more Spanish words with different meanings in different countries. Only the context of a sentence lets you sometimes figure out the meaning. But because Spanish has phonetic spelling, it is much easier than French with its many homophones, as we'll see below.

FRENCH SUBTLETIES

As with German and Spanish above (and most languages), some French words have two or more meanings.

words with more than one meaning

For example, “voler” can mean either “to fly” or “to steal”. (Maybe the image with the seagulls below will help you remember the two meanings).

seagulls trying to steal food on beachBut with nouns, often the article changes, and that can alert you to which meaning is used.
• la tour (a tower), le tour (a trip)
• la poste (the post office), le poste (a position)
• la mémoire (the memory), le mémoire (the essay)

I'm doing a lot of listening at the moment (on LingQ) to get my French up a notch for an upcoming trip to French Switzerland.

words that sound the same but have a Different Meaning

One feature that makes spoken French particularly tricky are its many homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Here are a few examples:
• fin (end), faim (hunger)
• verre (glass), vers (a verse, or “towards”), ver (worm), vert (green)
• vin (wine), vain (in vain), vingt (twenty), vint (came)
• saut (jump), seau (bucket), sot (dummy), sceau (seal)
• maire (mayor), mer (sea), mère (mother)
c'est (it is), sait (knows), s'est (reflexive pronoun + est)

Not to mention the various personal verb endings that get swallowed in spoken French.
• (il) est, (tu) es
• (je) parle, (tu) parles, (ils) parlent

You have to pay special attention to the context to get the right meaning and spelling.

Idioms

Idioms pose their own challenge as the literal meaning is often quite far from the idiomatic meaning. A couple of my favorites are:
• poser un lapin à quelqu'un - to put a rabbit to someone (to stand someone up, not show up for a date)
• faire la grasse matinée - to do the fat morning (to sleep in)
• faire le pont - to make the bridge (if Thursday is a holiday, you may as well not work Friday either and take a nice long weekend)

If you like French idioms, check out our post on Other Cats to Whip? The Book of French Idioms. It's a collection of funny idioms with delightful illustrations.

Québecois

Last August, we spent several days in Montreal to attend LangFest 2017. The conference is a popular annual language gathering that attracts language enthusiasts from all over the globe.

We really enjoyed being in a French environment, but it took us a few hours to attune our ears again to the melody and expressions of Québecois, the local language spoken there.

One of the first workshops at LangFest was a quick overview of Québecois by translator and editor Grégoire Lahaia. This was really helpful for us. Lahaia pointed out three major characteristics of how Québecois is pronounced:

1) Dipthongization of long vowels (also called vowel breaking)
• père (pronounced: paèr)
• rêve (pronounced: raève)
• fort (pronounced: faort)

2) The consonants t/d are pronounced ts/ds before the vowels u/i
• tu (pronounced: tsu)
• tuer (pronounced: tsuer)
• tirer (pronounced: tsirer)
• durant (pronounced: dsurant)

3) Many words are contracted
• tu es (pronounced: t'es
• sur la (pronounced: s'a)
• il aime (pronounced: y'aime)
• je suis (pronounced: j'su)

It made us realize again how important it is to listen to different regional accents of a language to train your ear to understand variations beyond standard pronunciation.

ITALLIAN SUBTLETIES

Even if you've figured out the difference in Spanish between “estar” and “ser”, the Italian verbs “stare” and “essere” will provide you with a new challenge.

Expressions with essere and stare

In general “essere” means “to be”, and “stare” means “to stay”. But in some contexts “stare” also means “to be”. As a starter, it's useful to learn a few basic phrases, so you don't have to think about what to use with these.

Use “essere”:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.
Sono italiano. - I'm Italian.
• Sono insegnate di francese. - I'm a French teacher.
• La casa è di Carla. - It's Carla's house.
• Il tavolo è negro. - The table is black.

For condition or emotion.
Sono malato. - I'm sick.
• Sono felice. - I'm happy.

For Date and Time.
Sono le dieci. - It's ten o'clock.
• È lunedì. - It's Monday.

Use “stare”:

For precise location (but in some cases, you can also use “essere”)
• La sedia sta/è in cucina. - The chair is in the kitchen.
• Lui sta da me. - He's at my place.

For certain idiomatic expressions.
Sto bene. - I'm well.
• Come stai? - How are you?
• Sto male. - I'm feeling bad.

For the continuous tense:
Sta piovendo. - It's raining.
• Sto mangiando una pizza. - I'm eating a pizza.

The little word “ci”

The two-letter word “ci” pops up a lot in conversational Italian. You'll see it on its own and also attached to the end of a verb. It helps to learn basic phrases, but more importantly, just become aware of it as you read or listen to Italian. With time, you'll learn to recognize the various meanings of “ci”.

Personal pronoun “ci” = us/to us/ourselves
Marco ci ha invitato a cena. - Marco has invited us to dinner. (direct object)
• Ci l'hanno dato. - They gave it to us. (indirect oject)
• Ci siamo divertiti molto. - We enjoyed ourselves a lot. (reflexive)
• Ci vediamo là? - We'll see each other there? (reciprocal)

Demonstative pronoun “ci” = about it/on it
Non so che farci. - I don't know what to do about it.
• Ci penserò. - I'll think about it.
• Ci puoi contare. - You can depend on it.

Adverb ci” = here/there; there is/there are; it is/they are
• Qui non ci ritorno più. - I'm not coming back here again.
• Conosco Roma perché ci ho abitato. - I know Rome well because I lived there.
• Ci sono 30 kilometri. - It's (there are) 30 kilometers.
• C'è nessuno in casa? - Is there anybody at home?

Verbs with ci

A number of verbs change meaning by adding “ci”. The meanings have to be learned in context. Here are a couple of examples: 
• pensare - to think
• pensarci - to think/take care of sth; ci penso io (I'll take care of it)

• stare - to be, stay
• starci - to be up for it/to fit in it; non ci sta (it doesn't fit in it)

• credere - to believe
• crederci - to believe it; non ci credo (I don't believe it)


We obviously could only touch the surface of the four languages' many subtleties. But once you start paying attention to them, you'll be a step closer to mastering the language you're learning. The proof will be when you recognize some of the expressions in conversations and can use them yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How YouTube Videos Can Boost Your French (And Other Languages)

father, mother, and daughet at beach Recently, we enjoyed a week's visit of family from French Switzerland. Since only Daniel, the young father, spoke any English, we were delighted to have our world dipped into French.

Focusing only on French - without resorting to translation - can give your language skills an enormous boost. But if you really want to stay only in French, you already have to have a decent level of comprehension and speaking ability in the language.

No surprise that I learned a lot from nine-year-old Michelle. She spoke fast, could only explain things in French, and relentlessly corrected my French, pronunciation and all.

I love those long, leisurely French-style mealtimes. Besides catching up on our lives and discussing current politics in Europe and the U.S., we talked of course, about language learning. We're always eager for new ideas and resources.

Daniel had a good suggestion for us, one that he uses to improve his English. It's just as useful for French, and I'm happy to pass the idea on.

French YouTube Videos

For anyone with a good basic knowledge of French, YouTube videos in French are a great resource. YouTube button

I mean especially the ones that explain in French how to do things. These are excellent for broadening your vocabulary and tuning your ear so you'll understand various regional pronunciations.

Besides, you can learn (in French) anything you want: from fixing things, to cooking local French dishes, to philosophizing about life. There are computer tips, gardening tips, beauty tips, decorating tips, fashion tips. You name it.

YouTube: Cuisiner

mother & daughter cooks in kitchen If you're a budding chef, it's fun to watch and follow cooking and baking instructions on YouTube.

Michelle loves desserts, like all kids (young and old), and she's already acquiring all kinds of knowledge about how to make some of the famous French "patisseries."

Her favorite YouTube channel is called Commentfait Ton (a play on words, the host's name is "Ton"). But as you can imagine, there are countless easy-to-find YouTube cooking channels in French.

YouTube: Minecraft

If you (or your French-learning kids) are into Minecraft, there are lots of tutorial videos in French. Here's a link to an early one: Chambre secrète minecraft fr

Here's
a more recent one that gives you translations: Modern French Practice with Minecraft, Ma maison et Subjonctif

You can search (countless) others by typing in something like: "tutoriel minecraft en français"

Wildly Popular French Channels:

The YouTube channels listed below are popular ones in France, and I'm sure with French learners too. They are definitely worth a look.
Cyprien - Humorous sketches about daily life, in French with English subtitles.
Norman - Funny videos in French, sometimes with English subtitles.

These are just a couple of possibilities. You can certainly look for specific tutorials, by putting in the French phrase for what you're looking for.

For do-it-yourself odd jobs, home-improvement stints, etc., the key word in French is "bricolage."
Pratiks ("des videos pour tout faire") is a also popular channel in French. 

To really benefit, it's a good idea to write down any words that you want to learn and to review these a little later. It also doesn't hurt to watch the same video a couple of times.

PS: And if you are interested in other languages – just search for similar topics in that language – and:
Have fun, and keep learning!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Language Learning With Songs: From Traditional to Pop in French, German, Italian and Spanish

colorful song signIf you love music, songs provide a wealth of language learning possibilities for you. But not only that. Each culture has its own tradition, which makes it all the more interesting.

A simple word like the English “song” is a good example of how various languages may differentiate among alternative meanings (or not) for a basic concept.

And, as you get more familiar with the culture of the language you're learning, you'll also begin to appreciate different traditions of "songs".

When you google for the translation of “song” in the four languages of our Gamesforlanguage site, you'll get the following results:

French

English “the song” translates as “la chanson” (music with words) and “le chant” (song-like piece of music, song-like poem), from “chanter” (to sing).

The English language uses “chant” as a synonym for “song” or “singing,” often in connection with spiritual or religious singing. We talk about Gregorian chants, not Gregorian songs, and it's the same in French.

France has a strong tradition of “art songs,” which include not only beloved arias from operas by Bizet, Fauré, Gounot, and Massenet, but also poems, by Hugo, Verlaine, Baudelaire, set to music by Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, and others.

While the English “song,” may or may not include any lyrics, the French “chanson” is typically a lyric-driven song.

Singers that we enjoy include Edith Piaff, Jacques Brel, Mireille Mathieu, Charles Aznavour, Joe Dassin, Georges Moustaki, and Québec's “chansonniers” Félix Leclerc, Claude Léveillé, Raymond Lévesque, and more.

The traditional French “chanson” has a long and colorful history, dating back to the Middle Ages. “Chanson” differs from other French “pop” music by reaching back to French traditions of lyrics and music (rather than following British or American trends).

French Hot songs 2017Songs in French are a wonderful way to acquire the sounds and the rhythm of the French language, and to learn words and idiomatic expressions.

By listening over and over to a French song you really like, you'll even pick up some typical grammar structures.

We are especially fond of Edith Piaf's Non, je ne regrette rien, which let's you pick up a number of grammatical clues.

Check out the “Chanson française du moment” and see if you can find one that you like. If it gets into your head, your French will surely improve.

German

The German translation of “the song” is “das Lied.” This may be a little confusing as the verb “to sing” translates to “singen,” and for “the singing” and you'll get “das Singen” and “der Gesang.”

“Das Lied” is similar to the French “la chanson,” and “Gesang” is the equivalent of the French (and English) “chant.” In German, for example, we talk about the “Gregorian Gesänge” (der Gesang; pl: die Gesänge).

German music lovers will also be familiar with “Lieder” (das Lied; pl: die Lieder). These are often poems put to music by composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, etc.

German Hot songs 2017An English translation for “Lieder” may be “art songs,” as these are poems set to classical music. Their tradition goes back to the 12thCentury and the German “Minnelieder” (courtly love songs). 

From the 1960s on, German singer-songwriters liked to call themselves “Liedermacher” (makers of songs).

In modern German, “songs” may also translate as “Schlager,” the popular German songs of the Hit Parade.

Songs performed by Marlene Dietrich and Lale Andersen (Lili Marleen) went around the world; Peter Alexander, Catharina Valente, Freddy Quinn, Udo Jürgens, and many others all had “Schlager” hits in their time.

One of our favorites is Jürgen von der Lippe's  Guten Morgen liebe Sorgen.... It topped the Hit Parade list for several weeks in the 80's.

Every week, the Offiziellen Deutschen Party & Schlager Charts are updated. Take a look and see if you can't find a song that you like, and – by memorizing the lyrics - you will improve your German.

Italian

The Italian translation of “the song,” is “la canzone.” “The singing” translates as “il canto,” derived from “cantare” (to sing). All Romance languages trace the equivalent for “song” back to the Latin word “cantio” (singing).

The Italian “canzone,” (which derived from the Provençal “canso,” a troubadour's love song) traditionally referred to a song of 5 to 7 stanzas with a particular rhyme scheme. The form was later made famous by the Italian Renaissance writers Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.

Italian Hot songs 2017Italian opera, born in the 17th century and fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries has been a rich source of “art songs” that are popular to this day.

Just think of the great Luciano Pavarotti singing exquisite arias from the operas of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, or Puccini.

In the late 1950s and 1960s emerged the “cantautori” - the singer songwriters, who wrote and sang their own songs, often in protest against the more traditional “canzone.” This was an interesting and important development.

Starting out as an imitation of sorts of the French “chanson” at the time (Brassens, Brel, Ferré, etc.), the Italian “cantautori” soon succeeded in creating songs about Italian everyday life and reality. It's a trend that's strong even now. 

A smash hit from 1962 that has 55 versions is “Quando, quando, quando.” We featured it on one of our  blog posts, "Dimmi quando..." - An Italian Song for Language Learning. Italian Pop and Rock music is often characterized as “musica leggera” (light music).

Songs by contemporary singers such as Eros Ramazzotti, Mina, Ligabue, Javanotti, Laura Pausini, and many others are good for learning and practicing Italian because the lyrics are relatively simple. The music is great and many of the songs get under your skin, which boosts language learning.

Check out the Canzoni del momento and see whether there is one you can memorize. It will certainly help your Italian.

Spanish

The Spanish translation of “the song” is “la canción” (music with words, song-like music) and “el canto” (song-like poem). “To sing” translates as “cantar.” Spanish music combines a wide range of cultures that were part of Spain's past, most notably Arabic culture.

During the 17th and 18th century a Spanish form of light opera, or operetta, called “zarzuela” developed and became popular. It was a kind of music theater that combined spoken and sung storytelling, and included regional and folk elements. The Spanish full opera was much slower to develop.

Well-known Spanish “art songs” are by the composers Manuel de Falla, Enrique Granados, Fernando Obradors, though this genre did not become quite as popular as its French and German counterparts. 

But we shouldn't forget Sebastián Iradier (later Yradier), who wrote “La Paloma” after he visited Cuba in 1861. “La Paloma,” which has been translated into many languages, is arguably one of the best-known Spanish art songs. (See also La Paloma Lyrics – Learning Spanish with a Song, or La Paloma – Carmen – Cuba: Spanish Language Connections.)

After the Spanish Civil (1936-1939) and during Franco's repressive government which followed, regional culture and its music were banned. Rock and roll and pop music found its way into Spain only towards the end of Franco's regime.

After Franco's death in 1975, and as part of the new countercultural movement Movida Madrileña, there emerged a new, energized style of music. It resembled the British new wave and the Neue Deutsche Welle, but added flamenco passion and rhythms.

Since then, the Spanish music scene, with its centers in Madrid and Barcelona, has been nothing but innovative and exciting.

Spanish Hot Songs 2017Latin Music opens a new world of diverse and beautiful sound. Check out this Latin Music History. Croonersinclude Jose Jose and Juan Gabriel, Mexico; Jose Feliciano, Puerto Rico; Leo Dan, Argentina; Jose Luis Rodriguez 'El Puma', Venezuela.

Click on Latin Music: Top Latin Songs, (see above left)  and find YOUR Spanish song to practice and learn with.

Maybe you'll also like “El Perdón", the subject of a recent post. And, if you like to learn Spanish with songs, Language Zen, has a number of Spanish songs with lyrics to do just that!

If music turns you on, songs are a fantastic tool for getting the sound, the rhythm, vocabulary, and grammatical structures of a new language lodged deeply in your mind. And singing along in a foreign language is just fun and a pleasure – so why don't you find one in the language you are just learning?

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Practice French Conjunctions with Language Games

French flags as connected puzzle pieces Conjunctions join words, groups of words, clauses, or sentences, and show how actions, events and ideas are connected. They are essential for conversations and are the staple of any speech or argument.

Memorizing French conjunctions individually is not that difficult, but using them correctly in sentences takes some practice. Most of them occur in our French 1 travel-story course, where you can practice them in various games.

French, like English, has two types of conjunctions: coordinating and subordinating.

French Coordinating Conjunctions

These join words or groups of words that are of equal value. The most commonly used French coordinating conjunctions are: et (and), ou (or), mais (but), ni...ni (neither...nor), car (because, as), donc (therefore, so).

Our Quick French Language Game, Basic French Conjunctions, will let you practice the most common ones. Click on the link or one of the images below.

Gamesforlanguage.com's French Conjunctions Wordinvader screenshotet (and)

• De rien, et bon voyage. (You're welcome and have a good trip.)
• Il est fatigué et dort un peu. (He is tired and sleeps a little.)

ou (or)

• Vous pouvez prendre les bus 3, 4 ou 6. (You can take the buses 3, 4 or 6.)
• Aller simple ou aller-retour? (One-way or return trip?)

(And don't confuse the conjunction “ou” with the acverb “où”, which is pronounced the same, but has a grave accent on the “u” and means “where” and in some cases “when.”)

mais (but)

• Oui, mais c'est mon premier voyage en France. (Yes, but it's my first trip to France.)
• Je ne suis pas certain, mais je crois que c’est ça. (I'm not sure, but I think that's it.)

ni (neither... nor...)

• Je n'aime ni la glace ni le chocolat. (I like neither ice cream nor chocolate.)
• Ni moi ni la police ne pouvions te joindre. (Neither I nor the police could reach you.)

car (because, for, as)

• Je suis inquiet car elle n'est pas encore rentré. (I'm worried because she isn't back yet.)
• Je reste à la maison car je suis malade. (I'm staying at home because I'm sick.)

donc (therefore, so)

• Je pense, donc je suis. (I think, therefore I am.)
• Je n'ai rien vu, donc je ne sais pas. (I didn't see anything, so I don't know.)

French Subordinating Conjunctions

These connect a dependent clause to a main clause, showing a relationship of time, place, or cause and effect between them. When using a subordinating conjunction, you'll have to think about which tense or mood of the verb to use.

The most commonly used French subordinating conjunctions are: quand (when), si (if), que (that), comme (as, since), quoique (although)

Gamesforlanguage.com's Shootout game of French conjunctionsquand (when)

• Quand je me suis réveillé, il était midi. (When I woke up it was noon.)
• Julie m'a fait visiter la ville, il ne faisait pas beau. (When Julie showed me around town, the weather wasn't nice.)

si (if)

• Tu peux le prendre si tu veux. (You can take it if you want.)
• S'il fait beau, on ira se promener. (If the weather's nice, we'll go for a walk.)

que (that)

• Je crois que c’est ça. (I think that's it.)
• Je suis content que tu nous rendes visite. (I'm glad that you're visiting us.)
• Il faut que tu reviennes bientôt. (You have to come back soon.)
• Dommage que je parte demain. (Too bad that I'm leaving tomorrow.)

Note: With expressions such as “je suis content(e) que”, “il faut que”, “dommage que”, you would use the subjunctive mood for the verb. This will be the subject of another post.

comme (as, since)

• Elle est partie comme j'arrivais. (She left as I arrived.)
• Comme il arrive demain, il faut préparer une chambre. (Since he's arriving tomorrow, we have to get a room ready.)

quoique (even though, although)

• Je veux l'acheter quoique ce soit très cher. (I want to buy it even though it's very expensive.)
• Quoiqu'il soit pauvre, il est très généreux. (Even though he's poor, he's very generous.)

Conjunctive Phrases

French also has a large number of phrases that function as conjunctions. They usually end with “... que” and mostly require the subjunctive. Here are just a couple of examples:

avant que (before)

• Il n’attend pas longtemps avant que le train arrive. (He doesn't wait long before the train arrives.)
• Avant que la réunion ne commence, le Directeur veut vous parler. (Before the meeting starts, the manager wants to speak with you.)

parce que (because)

• D’accord, mais c’est bien parce que c’est vous. (All right, but only because it's you.)
• Je suis en retard parce que mon réveil n'a pas sonné. (I'm late because my alarm didn't go off.)

jusqu’à ce que (until)

• Juste le premier chapitre, jusqu’à ce que je me souvenais. (Only the first chapter, until I remembered.)
• Reste ici, jusqu'à ce que je revienne te chercher. (Stay here until I come back to get you.)

Maybe next time you read a French article or listen to a French podcast, you'll pay special attention to the conjunctions. Reading and listening to French will help to internalize how conjunctions work and how they are used by native speakers.

Our easy language games will give you a good start by teaching you the individual basic conjunctions and how to build short sentences with them.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter and Ulrike Rettig

How to say 'song' in French? Try this Language Game!

screeshot of Gamesforlanguage.com Quick Game: La chanson We are always surprised that “How to say 'song' in French?” gets so many hits on our Gamesforlanguage Dictionary! And those hits are in spite of the increased use and popularity of Google Translate, which provides the translation as well.

So we thought we would give those who are looking for the translation of 'song' a  Quick French Language Game: La Chanson. Click on the link or the image above to play it. You'll learn also a bit about the Saint Bénézet bridge - which you may know under another name.

And for those who like to practice French with songs and want to learn more about the etymology of “song” and “chanson,” here are a few fun facts.

Singing the Song 

It appears that the English “to sing” has its roots in the Proto-Germanic word “sengwan,” and the later old High German and Old English word “singan.” Variations in other Germanic languages over the centuries have led to today's German “singen,” Dutch “zingen,” Swedish “sjunga,” and Norwegian and Danish “synge.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that there are “no related forms in other languages.”

Chanter la Chanson, Cantare la Canzone, Cantar la Canción, Cantar a Canção

Gamesforlanguage.com dictionary song-chanson screenshot The roots of the French "chanson" go back to Latin. This is also true for other Romance languages: “canzone” (Italian), “canción” (Spanish), “canção” (Portuguese).

The Old French “chançon” derives from the Latin “cantionem” (song) and from the Latin verbs “cantare” and “canere.” The French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese verbs for “to sing” are all identical or close to their Latin root.

Song vs. Chanson

The words “song” and “chanson” clearly have different roots. This may not be surprising. Still, a recent article pointed out that “The English language is a lot more French than we thought,...”. What is interesting from the article's analysis and chart is the conclusion that of the first 200 most-used English words, Old Norse makes up 5-10% and Anglo-Saxon 85-90%.

Can that be the reason that the French or Latin terms never replaced the Old English?

Our Two Favorite “Songs” in French

Our readers will know that we also like songs as a way to practice languages. We are especially fond of two French songs: Edith Piaf's: “Non, je ne regrette rien and Joe Dassin's: “Si tu n'existais pas.

The ear-worm quality of these songs lets you easily memorize key phrases and expressions. And when you hear them several times, you'll discover new words and grammar forms that stay with you.

But these are just two songs we like. You should find a few of your own. Listen to them, memorize and sing them, and your “chanson” (or canzone, canción, canção, etc.) will not remain just a bunch of foreign words to you!

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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