France choosing new president

So, it’s showtime in France today—- No interest in making a political post here (really); however, regardless of your viewpoint, there’s no denying that today’s second round vote is a biggie.

If you’re learning French, my money is on both the winning and losing speeches tonight being powerful and historic.  Even if you’re not into politics, it’s hard to undersell the significance of what Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron end up saying by the time the campaign trail finishes tonight.  (Round 1 victory speeches from Macron and Le Pen below).

Message on the bottle: Mind Game Moments for language learners


Someone gave me a free (swag) water bottle the other day–looking at the picture on the box, I could see that the design was one that seems to be pretty popular these days. With a somewhat subdued design that wasn’t dominated by a corporate logo splashed everywhere (hidden here), it seemed like a keeper. Before throwing out the box, however, I thought it would be a good idea to check if I was going to be able to wash my water bottle in the dishwasher.

That’s when it happened– I picked up the box and….found myself looking at the French version of the description and instructions.  The language learning mind games had begun.


As someone who likes to speak French sometimes (still a rusty B2), I was essentially faced with a question: read the French, or take the easy route and flip over to the English?

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Use your target language to learn something new

Since the middle of last year, I’ve needed to learn a number of new Excel skills to manipulate and analyze data at work; for the most part, this has meant paying regular attention to youtube videos by Bill Mr. Excel Jelen, and Mike Excelisfun Girvin.  They have both quick and easy “here’s something you might not know about Excel” videos, as well as longer “clear and concise instruction of an Excel function” videos.  In addition to their own ‘shows’, they also get together and share unique approaches to the same excel problem and share their differing answers together, as part of an ongoing series of “Dueling Excel” episodes.  I’ve learned so much from these videos, as well as their books (many available at my local ibrary).

Excel in French?

A while back, I wondered if it would be hard to track down similar Excel videos in other languages.  As it is with most things these days, all I needed to do was turn to Google and ask “comment utiliser index match excel youtube“. Once a youtube video that was remotely close to what I was looking for opened up, I was set— Youtube’s “suggested videos” eventually guided me (as expected) to videos with a decent number of views.  Without trying very hard, I found a short video introducing the =VLOOKUP function, which is evidently called the RECHERCHEV function French– voila!

Other hobbies?

If learning Excel in another language isn’t your thing, what about guitar?  In English, you can have James Taylor teach you how to play Fire and Rain, himself. If happen to enjoy the guitar and also want to learn Brazilian Portuguese, why not try learning how to sing and play a song? Or just sing along…. or just play along.. etc. etc.


I don’t know how to say “how to play guitar” in Portuguese, so I used Google Translate, and then used copy/paste to put the results, “como tocar guitarra,” into a google/youtube search.  Once you start adding in the names of artists and songs that you like, you may find something.  In my case, I ended up finding a high-quality guitar lesson for Caetano Veloso’s ‘Sozinho’.  The video wasn’t done by Caetano Veloso himself, but this teacher quite cleverly incorporates great on-screen tabs as well as original audio from the song.


What if the language level is over your head?

At this point, I don’t understand more than a few words of this video (i.e. I don’t speak Portuguese); however, looking at the guitar instruction, it’s pretty clear that it’s a good video (over 80,000 views at this point).  If I stuck with this video long enough to pick up the song on guitar, I’m confident that at least a few of the phrases from the teacher would stay with me.

Don’t torture yourself

If you don’t feel like learning the whole song, remember you might just want to try learning the chorus before moving on to another song.  I don’t think I would ever encourage people to treat these kinds of videos as something to memorize; however, if you’re not using your target language as a tool for learning something new every once in awhile, then you may find that this kind of exercise is an interesting change of pace.

Again– if Excel and Guitar aren’t your thing, what about French instruction on how to cook?  Are you a student in the Sciences? Why not listen to how a French math teacher explains integral equations?  There’s nothing really revolutionary about anything that I’ve written here, but I think many language learners would benefit from giving it a try.

French audiobooks at your local library

A while back, I shared a link to a funny Stéphane Guillon video—when I was actively preparing for DELF, I really enjoyed his style of delivery (even if I didn’t understand everything he said).  At the time, watching him read his ‘episodes’ for the radio made me wish it were possible to have a copy of his speaking notes.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago—–while searching my local library for audiobooks for my son, I was playing around with the search filters and ended up looking at children’s audiobooks in different languages.   Through that process, I was pleased to discover that they had a copy of a children’s audiobook read by Stéphane Guillon (honestly, I can’t say enough about the fantastic Edmonton Public Library).

The name of the book is L’atroce monsieur Terroce”, by Nicolas de Hirsching.  As a bonus, they have a copy of the printed version of the book as well. This book appears to have been put out as part of the J’aime Lire series.

For me, being able to have both the audio/visual and a copy of the script/text is ideal— if you want to read along, you can do that; if you want to listen once, and then practice reading aloud on your own, you can do that; if you want to try and transcribe a couple of sentences, and then check how well you did against the original, you can do that too.

All that to say—If you live in a decent-sized city, don’t forget about your local library as a resource!  In the spirit of things you don’t have to spend money on, remember that your local library may well have excellent language learning resources— everything from Pimsleur cd sets to lessons by “language teacher to the stars” Michel Thomas, and even audiobook versions of classics like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince.

As for my son, he ended up asking if we could borrow the “Magic School Bus with the CD” again:)

epl l'atroce monsieur terroce stephan guillon

A textbook to prepare for DELF B2?

cover of Hachette

With the hope of saving a few pennies, I scoured the Edmonton-area public and university libraries in search of DELF preparation/teaching materials–alas, I couldn’t find anything that held much promise.   Before rushing out to spend my hard-earned money on the first book I bumped into, I thought it would be worth it to check in with a friend in France who is somewhat familiar with the publishing industry– perhaps she could recommend something?

True to her style, she responded with a ‘to-the-point’ four word message: ” Of course Hachette FLE”, and included a link to the book cover you see here.

After poking around their website, I called one of their North American distributors in Montréal (Librairie MICHEL FORTIN) to place my order.

I have to be honest, when given the choice, I called the English number—I know, lame, eh? However, when the guy answered the phone in French it felt like the universe was calling my bluff, almost as if to say “You’re serious about improving your French and you can’t even muster the courage to call a bookstore in French?  BOOOOOO”.

So, in the end, I stuck it out in French—I’ll save my rant for another day, but I really do think that fighting *that moment* and resisting the urge to slip back into English is more than half the battle of learning another language.  If I needed to, I probably could have switched to English at any point in that conversation, but the guy on the phone stuck with me until I completed my order (can’t imagine how it would have felt if he had taken pity on me and switched to English).

As I hung up the phone, I thought about all the things that could have gone wrong— did I get my credit card number right?  What about my address and phone number?  Heck, did I even ask for the right book?    When the book finally arrived in the mail the other day, it really was a treat on many levels.

I can’t give any thoughts on the content of the book yet, but when I’m done, I’ll likely donate the book to the Edmonton Public Library so someone else can make use of it.

Thoughts on DELF B2

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me in my personal Linguathon.  As promised, I wrote the B2 level of the DELF French examination last week.  I imagine that it will take some time before I receive my actual score, but I thought I could post a simple summary of the structure of the test and how I thought it went.

At the outset, I should note that the pass/fail line, or  “Seuil de réussite pour obtenir le diplôme”, is 50%.  Having said that, one must obtain a score of at least 20% in each of the areas listed below to receive the diploma.    This is quite similar to most standard language tests that I’ve seen, including English ones.  One notable exception is the highest level of the Japanese proficiency exam, which requires that you obtain a mark of 70% in order to pass(!)

With that cleared up, here is a summary of what the DELF B2 test takes you through over the space of a few hours (immediate reactions in green, more comments below):

[edit: this is one of the most popular posts on this blog– many people have found this post while preparing for DELF B2 and have asked follow-up questions in the comments section below]

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