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.

howguitar

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

If you were held to the same standard as English learners….

The other day I got to thinking of the standard to which English language learners in my community are held every day.  I wonder how well I would measure up if the shoe were on the other foot?

Regardless of your performance on standardized tests, If you’ve developed some competency in another language, do all of the following describe your level of comfort in that language?

1. Able to write coherent text, explaining somewhat complicated circumstances? Able to do the same verbally, over the phone.
2. Able to persuade, teach or train?
3. Able to calm a tense situation?
4. Aware when you are being misunderstood, and able to get conversation back on track?
5. Develop professional rapport with someone who initially doubts your abilities?
6. Write a comprehensive report?
7.?
What makes a few of these difficult (I’m sure there are better examples), is the cultural context in which they rest. Added to that, the consequences of ‘getting it wrong’ tend to rattle your confidence and, over time, it get’s harder and harder to step out of your comfort zone.
Which part is ‘hardest’ will be different for everyone; however, in terms of being able to think on your feet in a professional context, I think the fourth one is especially valuable— and probably the one over which you have the most control (or at least practice).

Studying French (DELF) in Canada—why aren’t you watching the Charbonneau Commission?

“Two more bureaucrats admit accepting gifts from construction companies”

Reading the headlines about the ongoing Charbonneau Commission in Quebec, it occurred to me that the commission was probably available as a live stream in French.

Much to my surprise, I easily found the public page for the Commission, which not only includes video archives, but also transcriptions of testimony.

Allegations of public servants unabashedly taking bribes for years and years?  Accusations of politicians and mafia in cahoots? It’s almost too much to believe.

But there it is— probably much more engaging than your current French textbook– why not study something like this instead?

Instead of paying money to study, all you have to do is pay *attention*:)

homepage of archive: https://www.ceic.gouv.qc.ca/audiences/repertoire-des-audiences.html

Commission d’enquête sur l’octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l’industrie de la construction – Gouvernement du Québec.

Suspended City of Montreal engineer Yves Themens testifies at the Charbonneau Commission (click for Montreal Gazette story)

What works for you?

So many arguments about ‘the best way to go’ for language learners at different levels…

The tricky part, of course,  is that what works for one person might be totally off-base for you.

Ultimately, we can only really judge ‘what works’ for ourselves—if you find yourself arguing, it’s probably a sign that you should try something different…… conversely, what works for you may not work so well for someone else…..  “learn and let learn” I guess.

The designers of most language tests (DELFJLPTHSK, etc.) are trying harder and harder to make test scores reflect real world communicative ability; are you aiming beyond standard language tests (that really only mark the beginning of the next stage of learning)?

As you consider your goals (however broadly), what works for you?