Best way to learn a language?

If you had to pick just one method…that isn’t taking a class or moving to that country?

That’s the premise of a great video I watched earlier this year from Talk to Me in Korean, which I’ve been consulting since my high school days. Over the years, the company has grew from a site with online lessons to a whole big production that includes videos, textbooks, and a cafe in Seoul?! But in this video, TTMIK founder Hyunwoo shares just one thing you should do to get better at Korean.

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When in French…

41Z3HwLG7BL._SX294_BO1,204,203,200_I was excited to dive into New Yorker staff writer Lauren Collins’s new memoir When in French: Love in a Second Languagebecause I love French and I love love. Though, as existing Amazon reviews have accurately assessed, the book isn’t so much about a neatly tied together love story in France than about a love for French and language learning, facilitated by and amid a serious, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual relationship.

With that expectation in mind, the book will be a fun read for French/second-language learners and language enthusiasts. What it lacks in continuous, focused, satisfying story, the 250-page book makes up for in language-learning #realtalk and wonky delights. Here’s a taste:

…I was intrigued by the blend of rudeness and refinement [in French], the tension between the everyday and the exalted, that characterized the little I knew of the language. “Having your cake and eating it too” was Vouloir le beurre, l’argent, et le cul de la crémière [“To want the butter, the money, and the ass of the dairywoman.”]

Simultaneous interpretation requires almost superhuman neurological coordination. The task is so demanding that, at the United Nations, an interpreter typically works a shift of no more than twenty minutes.

In English, I strained to avoid such [familiar] formulations. But in French, conformity was my goal…I was trying to join in, not to distinguish myself. It was such a happy thing to strive for cliché.

In Russian, you can’t call the sky ‘blue.’ The language obliges its speakers to make a distinction between siniy (dark blue) and goluboy (light blue), so that what is in English one color becomes in Russian two.

I had once interpreted Olivier’s reticence as pessimism, but I now saw the deep romanticism, the hopefulness, of not wanting to overstate or to overpromise. Vous and tu concentrated intimacy by dividing it into distinct shades—the emotional equivalent of two shades of blue. I understood, finally, why it made Olivier happy when I wore makeup; why he didn’t call me his best friend; why I had never hard him burp. Love was not fusion. Je t’aime was enough.

Bisous!

 

 

A couple of videos en français

I’m always looking for videos in French with English subtitles, and this week, I lucked out with two. About things I like! Enjoy 🙂

A Paris-based illustrator tells the story of how she got there: 

Inside the Marrakesh retreat of Yves Saint Laurent’s former botanist: 

Idiom: 三下五除二

I was speaking to my mom on the phone today when I heard and then dwelled on a phrase I know but, as it turns out, don’t really understand.

I’m talking about…

三下五除二 | sān xià wǔ chú èr

I’ve always heard this while I was growing up, and based on context clues, have gathered that it means to do something quickly, decisively, effectively…and that’s essentially what it means. But more interesting is its literal origins, which I only found out after doing some googling today.

As you might be able to tell, there are a lot of numbers in there: 三 (three) 五 (five)  二 (two), so it shouldn’t be too surprising that this idiom comes from a calculation formula for the abacus, which I totally don’t remember how to use…And I’m not sure how that formula works either (3 = 5-2?), but I guess the main point is that doing calculations on an abacus is much faster than using fingers or physical objects…Fun!

French Videos I Don’t Understand

It all started with the show-stopping Balmain x H&M collab, which got me somewhat transfixed by the French fashion house’s bright, young, just dashing creative director, Olivier Rousteing (seriously, are those cheekbones even real?)…

Then comes the frantic googling for info/interviews/etc…Lucky for me, the guy speaks French! Here’s one (argh won’t let me embed!)

I didn’t understand too much…but am always happy to discover new places to listen to authentic French…actually, Canal+ (French cable company, Google tells me) has a trove of HQ videos, including this series of comedy shorts.

Silly Me

Tranquil afternoon at Beihai Park in Beijing (August 2015)
Tranquil afternoon at Beihai Park in Beijing (August 2015)

I’ve been away from this blog for about half a year, during which summer came and went…as did my much-anticipated vacation to China — those simultaneously long and short two weeks were a huge boon to my teenage brother’s Chinese language skills and only a moderate one to mine…

But today I pop back in here to say that recently I keep finding myself defaulting to the narrative that modern Chinese culture contains a chock full of nonsense English and similar gaffes — that in the process of plucking desirable Western traits, something always gets lost or otherwise garbled in translation.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was musing (for the umpteenth time) why my mom’s alma mater, 北京师范大学 (Běijīng Shīfàn Dàxué), is called Beijing Normal University…are there abnormal universities? What could “normal” possibly mean in this case? Was it an erroneous translation that just came to be widely accepted? All I knew was that the school was historically a teachers’college…and other teachers’ colleges were also called “normal” universities in English…

This time, I finally asked my mom and she said something about how the name was based on an early teachers’ college in France. What do you know, Wikipedia confirms:

A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name. Most such schools are now called teachers’ colleges.

In 1685, Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the École Normale, in Reims[source]

And this tidbit from the article on the university:

A normal school referred to an institution that aimed to train school teachers in the early twentieth century, and this terminology is preserved in the official names of such institutions in China. [source]

Laugh out loud.

So all this time I thought China was translating English weirdly…it wasn’t even about English…it’s French! I was just way limited in my knowledge.

Now, English blunders can be found all over China, but I think this is nonetheless a case for avoiding presumptuousness and the general viewpoint that the culture you’re most familiar with is the most correct and at the center of everything.