Lost in translation

Alright, I’ve just watched the Orientation video for the famed French in Action class, and am left with two thoughts:

      1. Being fatigué (or fatiguée, in my case) is a lot worse than being tired. (see 15:23)
      2. Also, and related: it may not be possible for a person born and raised in central Illinois to be fatiguée, at least not in public.

Which brings me to my first question: how does one say “Great!” in French?

Or: Good!

As in:

Pascaline: Hi, Catherine, how are you?

Catherine: Great!

Or, alternatively:

Pascaline: Hi, Catherine, how are you?

Catherine: Good!

(Is it rude to say Great! (or Good!) in France? With the exclamation mark?)

That’s my second question.

Mysteries of the apps

Meanwhile, on Doug S’s recommendation, I’ve also devoted myself to Duolingo & Tinycards, which seem terrific and well worth my time.

But I’ve hit a snag:

  • I’m stuck on the difference between bonne soirée and bonsoir
  • I can’t figure out the meaning of Duolingo’s color coding, or its skill charts, or the rules that govern when I get to move on to learning words for food; nor do I know what an ‘xp’ goal is or what “60/20” means in relation to my xp goal, or whether it’s good or bad that I have “6 hours left.” Six hours left till what, exactly?

The plan seems to be for me to carry on learning (or “strengthening“?) Lessons 1, 2, 3, and 4 until a time to be determined, and not by me.

Maybe you have to know when to say bonne soirée before they let you learn the French word for bread.


Duolingo___Learn_French_for_free 2

Is there a Missing Manual for Duolingo?

Doug S on Duolingo and YouTube

This is helpful:

FWIW, I’ve been working on my German again for some months now and have been pretty happy with Duolingo. It has the virtue of being free and has been reported to me by people who have used both as being about as good as Rosetta Stone.

Which is all very well for the usual sort of classroom language learning (with all its many limitations). For actual conversational language, I’ve found YouTube videos on subjects that I’m already interested in and uploaded by native speakers of the language I’m working on to be quite valuable. The cadences, slang, and vocabulary are similar to those I’ve run into on the streets in a way that more formal products (like newscasts and translated scholarly works) are not.

I’ve always wondered about Duolingo & haven’t quite had the wherewithal to form an opinion.

And I’d never thought of using YouTube videos!


How to hear

I’m trying to remember the line C. came up with, when he was little, re: Jimmy, his autistic brother.

It was something like “He can’t listen.”

That’s me with Spanish and French.

I can’t listen.

I’m hoping Gabriel Wyner can give me a shortcut. (Wish I could remember which box his book is stored in . . . . )

Many language textbooks begin with a list of hard-to-hear words—the rocks and locks you can expect to encounter along the way to fluency. With a handful of recordings of those words (freely accessible through Web sites such as Rhinospike.com and Forvo.com) and with testing software such as Anki (ankisrs.net), you can build powerful ear-training tools for yourself. These are tools that, after just a few hours of use, will make foreign words easier to hear and easier to remember, and they may give you the edge you need to finally learn the languages you’ve always wanted to learn.

How to Teach Old Ears New Tricks


Dual-language news at the Times

We’re spending 6 weeks in France this summer, so, in theory, I’m going to improve my French before then.

Either that, or spend a lot of time tracking down websites, books, software, and apps that would undoubtedly help me improve my French if I stopped looking for resources and started actually using the resources I’ve got.

Maybe tomorrow!

Anyway, in the interests of saving other people time tracking things down, I’m posting the URLs for Times articles in French and Spanish:

Nos reportages et tribunes en français 


As far as I can tell, all articles have been translated from the original English to Spanish or French (possibly vice versa for some). So you can put the two side-by-side in a table, et voilà: dual-language news.

The Times also has a guía de The New York Times that doesn’t seem to be translated. However, the headlines are so familiar you can probably guess your way through and not be wrong. (“Las polémicas de Trump” anyone?)

What I really need, of course, is dual listening, and I think I’ve got the resources for that. Will post later.

Linguistics on the fly – and a question for the other Katharine

I’ve been volunteering in a conversation class for L2 speakers, and last Thursday a question came up re: questions.

The exercise we were doing was a reverse Q&A. You’re given the answer and you have to construct with the question.


Answer: “Catherine”

Question: “What is your name?”

Midstream, I became intrigued by a puzzle.

When do we use the “do-operator” to form a question and when do we not?

Here’s a do-operator:

Answer: “Tarrytown.”

Question: “Where do you live?”

Why do we use a do-operator in ‘Where do you live’ but not in ‘What is your name’?

Only two L2 speakers had come that night, both long-time immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. Although they seemed to be using the do-operator correctly, neither could say how or why they used it when they did. I assume that means they’ve learned most of their English informally, interacting with native speakers.

The young man who volunteers with me — his Spanish seems to be fantastic (jealous) — had no idea, either.

Naturally I became obsessed on the spot, which may not have advanced our L2 speakers’ cause, I realize. Then again, a little linguistics never hurt anyone.

Running through the do-questions in my head — while simultaneously trying to keep the exercise going so as not to short-change the class — I spotted a difference, or thought I did: the presence or absence of a linking verb, or copula.  (I learned the term “copula” from Katharine, for the record.)

As I understand it (Katharine will have to weigh in) we use linking verbs when, in a simple clause, the subject and the ‘3rd term’ – the complement – refer to the same thing (or “have the same referent”).

I am awake. “I” and “awake” refer to the same thing.


NON-LINKING VERB (“Dynamic” verb?)
Luke and Lucy like to chase balls. “Luke-and-Lucy” and “balls” refer to different things.

So far, so good. All three questions follow the rule I came up with on the fly:

I am awake. Are you awake?
Luke and Lucy are sleeping. Are Luke and Lucy sleeping?
Luke and Lucy like to chase balls. Do Luke and Lucy like to chase balls?

But now I have a problem:

I am writing this post. “I” and “this post” refer to different things.

But the question form doesn’t use a do-operator:

I am writing this post. Are you writing this post?

So what is the do-rule, anyway?

I suspect this page has the answer, but it’s way too hard to read. Way too physically hard.

If you’re going to learn linguistics on the web, graphic design is a must.

Luke and Lucy