Tag Archives: France

Polyglot Austin: Our Multicultural & Multilingual City!

Bienvenue to the next French installment of our ongoing ‘Polyglot Austin’ blog series, where we celebrate our city’s cultural diversity while taking an interactive approach to language learning. Rewarding on so many levels! Practice your French and interact with us here for a chance to win more free language practice with us at FLC in ATX! Read on to see how.

Through our video interviews in French below, we’re thrilled to introduce one of our most dynamic Freestyle students, Barbara Baeyens.  A true polyglot, Barbara speaks not only the 3 official languages of Belgium (Dutch, French and German), but her English is parfait as is soon to be her Spanish. Oui, c’est vrai!

French is the 2nd most spoken primary (Belgian) language, used natively by almost 40% of the population.

An Austinite of several years, Barbara works dans le domaine du logiciel (in software). Learn more about her and what she loves (le soleil!) and doesn’t love about Austin in these beginner and intermediate level videos (beginner, subtitled in French; intermediate, full transcription provided, pas d’excuses!)

Bon, alors, au travail! grab yourself un verre de vin (‘the great fluency builder’, n’est-ce pas?) and practice your listening comprehension, reading and writing – all while learning more about une femme francophone à Austin. C’est super génial! 

Beginner Level

Beginners, to get the most out of this exercise, watch it first without sound, while reading the subtitles.  Then, watch the video again with sound. See how multiple viewings of segments of the video improve your reading & listening comprehension. Be sure to answer the questions here in our comment section for a chance to win 4 French Saturday conversation ‘cafes’! Our teacher will get back to you en français bien sûr

Beginner Questions

1. D’ou vient-elle? spécifiquement …

2. Qu’est-ce qu’elle n’aime pas à Austin?

Intermediate Level

To get the most out of  this level, we suggest first listening to Barbara while watching the video. Then read the full transcript in French, followed by another pass of listening / watching. How much more do you understand after reading the transcript?  Et n’oubliez pas de répondre à nos questions! 

Click HERE for full transcript (‘show more’ section of video)

Intermediate Questions

1. Comment gagne-t-elle sa vie? C’est à dire, elle fait quoi dans la vie en tant que boulot?

2. Qu’est-ce qu’elle a étudié et pourquoi?

We are over the moon proud that Barbara chose Freestyle for her next language journey.  She started her Spanish with us Fall 2014 and never misses an opportunity to practice and put her Spanish to use in our various wine tastings, dance lessons, art tours….she’s showing US how it’s done!  #gopolyglot!

We just want to know one thing, Barbara, which language next?!  And what is YOUR favorite aspect of being able to speak all these languages?

If you’d like to practice your French more, please come in for a FREE trial to any of our “Saturday Cafes” or Classes. We also invite you to join us at Chez Nous  for an evening of classic French food and conversation en français. 

Additionally, think about joining us March 7 pour une journée entière (!) en français. Austin based Sojourne Tours is partnering with us to bring a private tour of Austin through a French perspective. We’ll be touring various French businesses, restaurants, and will learn more about the Texas-French connection, including a stop at the Bullock Museum to look at the shipwreck La Belle.

The Freestyle Lifestyle

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Using language in context! Students at our wine tasting, in the classroom & at our Spanish Salsa dance party!

Our one-of-a-kind approach to second language acquisition uses technology and interactive media in a way that brings the most recent, relevant, high-usage vocabulary and everyday expressions to our students in an entertaining and effective way. Join us as we continue to revolutionize language learning: Spring Session starts March 23-May 12!

Merci for interacting and practicing with us! Answer the questions below in our comment section, and one lucky reader will be chosen to win 4 French Saturday ‘cafes’!

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Polyglot Austin: Our Multilingual, Multicultural City!

Bienvenue to the French installment of our ongoing ‘Polyglot Austin’ blog series, where we celebrate the city’s cultural diversity while taking an interactive approach to language learning! In this post we highlight 2 French Austinites, Sarah & Philippe, and our city’s long connection to France. 


Our Texanized version of Fleur-de-lys, ‘ le symbole de la France’!

Despite the 5,000 mile distance, French culture has permeated the heart of Texas–its history, its language, its people– for centuries.  The omnipresent Six Flags Over Texas represent the deep cultural and historical liens we have with France.


The second flag, white with gold fleurs-de-lys, represents Texas under France in the late 1600’s.

Flash-forward to the 21st century! Meet Sarah and Philippe who bring their très French vibes to Freestyle. As current Spanish students, learning their 3rd language, they get the Freestyle lifestyle – Go Polyglot! 

annecybordeaux2While Sarah hails from Annecy in the beautiful S.E. region where France meets Switzerland and Italy…


annecybordeaux  …Philippe moved to Austin from Bordeaux. Happily, we can find good Bordeaux wines at The Austin Wine Merchant  in  ATX  to keep him here!


Follow along as we listen to Sarah, une jeune femme très branchée (hip), who works in “le domaine de la communication“, and pétanque-playing Philippe, an artist in both leather repair and le jardinage. Qu’est-ce qu’un potager?  Tu ne sais pas? Must read and listen to find out!

Beginner Level- Sarah Bovagnet

To get the most out of this first video, where Sarah simply introduces herself, watch it once without sound, reading the subtitles. Then watch it with the sound on. See how multiple viewings of segments of the video improve your reading & listening comprehension.  To practice writing, answer some questions below in French and you’ll hear back from our teachers!

For full transcript, click Youtube logo bottom right of video; transcript in the ‘about’ section.


1. Comment gagne-t-elle sa vie? (une autre façon de poser la question: qu’est-ce qu’elle fait dans la vie?)

2. Qu’est-ce qu’elle n’aime pas à Austin?

Intermediate Level- Philippe Barbaroux

Q: Que faites-vous dans la vie? / Philippe: Je répare le cuir, le plastique et le vinyle, alors c’est les fauteuils en cuir, les sofas, ou les sièges de voiture- par exemple, tout l’intérieur d’une voiture. Potentiellement je peux réparer à peu près tout ce qui est à l’intérieur, si c’est pas trop important au niveau des dégâts.

Q: C’est bon à savoir, j’en ai besoin! / Philippe: Oui, c’est bon à savoir, ca peut aider! ca évite d’avoir ,des fois, acheter tout un nouveau sofa quand on peut faire juste une petite réparation.



1. Qu’est-ce qu’un potager?

2. Quels sont les avantages et les inconvénients du jardinage au Texas?

3. Qu’est-ce qui pousse bien à Austin?


The Freestyle Lifestyle


We do language learning a little differently at Freestyle!

Our one -of-a-kind approach to second language acquisition uses technology and interactive media in a way that brings the most recent, relevant, high-usage vocabulary and everyday expressions to our students in an entertaining and effective way. Join us as we continue to revolutionize language learning: NEXT Open House Fri. Aug. 22nd 6pm-8pm at 801 Rio Grande!

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Embracing Subtitles; the Road to Fluency

This is not your mother’s pair of jeans, nor your father’s Oldsmobile… this is language learning in the 21st century! It’s pop culture, y’all. It’s slang and everyday language, it’s the fun path to fluency.


Don’t let subtitles scare you! Get over your fears and hesitations; don’t be too cool for this kind of school.

Films use language in real-life situations enabling the learner to grasp the meaning and sounds of colloquial expressions at the heart of everyday language while experiencing cultural contexts… all while entertaining!

Sit Back and Enjoy the Amusement of Subtitles!

Subtitles can uniquely create humor, adding a pure comedic touch. Take this clip from the comedy Airplane for example with two men speaking jive, obviously English… but is it? Check out the video to see what all the hoopla is about!

Subtitles are humorous! Enjoy… and embrace them!

When learning everyday jargon in a foreign language, we can’t all go about faking it like Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds! Watch as Brad Pitt is thrown off entirely by the fluency with which Christopher Waltz’s character speaks Italian; subtitles enhance the comedic effect.

To Swear or Not To Swear? No Matter, It’s Idiomatic!

To go about one’s day, one needs an understanding of common lingo, or street talk. Don’t tell your mother we told you, but swearing is a huge part of cultural context, colloquial language! Every language has modern slang that defies literal meanings. For example, non-native speakers of English wouldn’t know the flexibility of using swear words such as *hore, bi*ch and *ss without watching films such as this American high school parody, Mean Girls in their native language subtitles.

Embrace, even if you choose not to personally swear like a (bilingual) pirate!

Similarly, we see the French word putain used everywhere, rarely in a literal context.  But we would not know that without seeing how it’s used in everyday language, ie… scenes in films! With film, we grab the cultural meaning behind the language. Watch this clip of Jean Dujardin accepting his Oscar for Best Actor. Did you catch that slip at the end? “Ouah, putain, genial, merci, formidable, merci beaucoup, I love you!”

French films teach us quickly that putain, a high-frequency swear word (but harmless, really) appears just about anywhere in most French sentences.

Global Speak; It’s all Relative

We, as Americans specifically, need to get over our fear of subtitles. People use them all around the world for varying purposes.


Subtitles carry the potential to be an international game-changer in poverty, status and education.

Millions of people in countries around the world embrace subtitles with no hesitation as a means to improving their everyday life. See this NY Times article on how learners use subtitling to further their education and career and to make global connections.

Even in the realm of entertainment, the entire world seeks to connect to Hollywood and Bollywood films and they do so with subtitles in their native language!


Let’s eradicate the misconceptions we tend to have while dealing with subtitles in film; they’re useful and globally accepted!

The Science, The Backbone Behind It

Acquiring language through a medium such as film is not only fun and entertaining, but multiple studies have shown it’s a driving force for second language and culture acquisition.

As renowned linguist and second-language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen once said “language needs to be fun!” Language acquisition works best when the input is interesting and compelling to us, so much so that we forget we are immersing ourselves in another language!

ideas head tree

“The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear.” -Krashen.

Rod Ellis, a leading theorist in 2nd language acquisition, elaborates:  “Successful instructed language learning requires extensive 2nd language input…where 2nd language needs to become the medium as well as object.” Film is the medium, and an entertaining one at that! SO, pull yourself out of the humdrum routine of hours with flashcards and intensive studying. Although these methods help in retaining information, the delight and entertainment of film best supplements them.

Plenty of science revolves around it, but the ultimate goal is to have fun while you’re learning; your brain will do all the work! While watching foreign film, in the midst of having fun, you increase your metalinguistic awareness, unbeknownst to you. Qu’est-ce que c’est  metalinguistic awareness? It’s simply the ability to think of and be aware of language in relation to its cultural context, that language has specific functions and rules. Furthermore, multiple viewings of a foreign film also increase awareness of important paralinguistic elements: body language, gestures, facial expressions, loudness, tempo….all features highly important to communication in another language.

One of the most renown (and local!) language specialists, Dr. Garza, Director of the Texas Language Center of the University of Texas, provides an important pedagogical framework for the use of video and film in the classroom. See Dr. Garza as he explains how video and film, as authentic texts, contain the possibility to develop language learners into “active learners”. He states that the application of technology such as video, film, internet, etc. may hold the key for language learners to go from competence to proficiency, i.e. to make great strides along the road to fluency!

The Freestyle Way

Freestyle’s unique methodology incorporates foreign film in our curriculum in a step-by-step process that allows significant realization of linguistic and cultural meaning. We study relevant vocabulary themes and intermediate to advanced grammars entirely in the context of a specific, chosen film; here’s a quick break down of our process:

1. Watch the film in target language with English subtitles; this provides semantics (meaning)

2. Work thoroughly through target language subtitles and/or transcribed dialogue of film over the session; this provides lexical and syntactic information (vocabulary and word order)

3. Watch the film in segments with no subtitles;  this provides phonetics (sound/pronunciation/listening)

4. Witness a significant boost in listening, comprehension and speaking ability!

Additionally, Freestyle is proud to incorporate Austin’s own ITAL in our classes! Transmedia specialist Sergio Carvajal-Leoni, in collaboration with Austin-Based Filmmaker Romina Olson and UT Award-Winning Italian instructor Antonella Del Fattore-Olson, created ITAL, a digital channel that blends entertainment and education to teach Italian language and culture. The entertaining ITAL videos are intended to expand students’ knowledge of contemporary Italian culture while helping them to increase their vocabulary and oral competency. As you can see in the video that follows, part of ITAL’s instructional component is reflected in the use of subtitles – sometimes in English, others in Italian – to emphasize how new vocabulary is used in everyday conversation.

HINT: This fall, intermediate Spanish students will be studying Spanish through Volver, intermediate French through the romantic comedy Heartbreakers, Portuguese through the comedy The Man Who Copied, Italian through the dramedy The Last Kiss!  Come visit a class for FREE.

Additional Tip! 

Try practicing with subtitles by choosing a tv show/film you enjoy watching in your native language with your target language subtitles. For example, the American hit romantic comedy, Two Weeks Notice (Sandra Bullock / Hugh Grant), like many U.S. shows and films, offers both French and Spanish subtitles.

We hope you see the many varied reasons to embrace and enjoy subtitles so that your road to fluency will be smoother and more enjoyable.

Happy Trails on Your Journey to Fluency

Accepting subtitles in foreign film will allow you to grasp a whole new realm of knowledge  that would otherwise only be receivable via physical interaction in the actual country.
Seize the power of film to help you obtain the gift of gab in your target language and join us at Freestyle to further develop your language learning in a relevant, fun and social context!

The idea that language learning is rote and boring is defunct in the 21st century!

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The Mexican, The Caveman, The French Chefs & their “Pâtisseries”

Continuing with our Summer “Games”… This post provides lots of “food for thought!” AND an opportunity to practice your Spanish, French and Portuguese! Our Food & Wine theme, both delicious and fun, included tantalizing  recipes and vocabulary. The guest speakers added another interactive dimension. For anyone who was not able to attend, let us transport you to our week of culinary delights… 

Spanish: “The Mexican: Comida Fresca y Margaritas!”

Our very own French student and polyglot, native Mexican Victor Martinez, shared his familial love of cooking with only the freshest of ingredients.

Yo creo que una de las principales características de México es la comida. Tradicionalmente la gente come comida fresca, lo que hay en temporada. Mi abuela no tenía refrigerador, ella iba al mercado todos los días, compraba lo que estaba fresco y eso comía la familia.*


All comida fresca best complimented by an authentic margarita perfect for the summer heat!!


Recipe: 3 partes tequila (100% agave)

2 partes licor de naranja (patron citrone)

1 parte jugo limon

Miel de agave al gusto


Going back a few millennia…

Spanish: “The Caveman: La Paleo Dieta”

These days it seems like everyone is on some kind of dieta, but have you ever considered the Paleo Diet? This “Caveman” approach is a modern nutritional plan derived from ancient times. It includes pescado, carnes, huevos, verduras, frutas y nueces.

Peruvian-Italian and cross-fit enthusiast, Fernando Nieri shared his estilo de vida, which encourages healthy and nutrient-filled eating. “You are what you eat.”

La lista que les di muestra todas las frutas, verduras y carnes que puedes comer. Lo importante es si vas a comer carne, si se puede comprar carnes de animales que comen pasto o carne orgánica. Hay mucha gente que dice que la carne es mala, consumir mucha carne es mala para tu cuerpo, pero yo creo que el problema es cuando consumes carnes que tienen hormonas y muchos aditivos. *



Ready for dessert? Les macarons et le gâteau du diable arrivent !

French: “The French Chefs & their “Pâtisseries”

French native, world traveler, macaron expert, owner and chef of Cinnamon’s Bakery, Chef Loïc Duchesne spoke about his boulangerie et ses macarons délicieux. This crunchy and irresistibly-colored petit dessert is a French classic.


Chef Loïc even took the time to share his recette with us! Listen as he explains the baking process.

Pour les macarons: sucre en poudre, amande en poudre, blanc d’œuf, sucre cristallisé… on mélange la poudre d’amande et le sucre en poudre, et bat les œufs en neige avec le sucre. On mélange les deux en même temps et après on a une pate à macaron qu’on va presser sur une plaque avec un papier. On laisse croûter pendant une demi-heure, on double les plaques.  Après une demi-heure, on les met au four  pour 8 minutes et demie.  On sort un peu d’eau sous le papier; 3 min. on enlève les macarons, et on met la crème à l’intérieure, on recouvre le macaron… et voila! *


Our next treat is Chef Alain Braux’s gâteau au chocolat fondant. Sinfully delicious and gluten-free, his cake can be found at People’s Pharmacy. Customers call him le diable for creating his chocolate confection… 

Bien que ce ne soit pas le Gâteau du Diable, il est vraiment tentant. Vous avez été prévenus!

Let them eat cake!

Let them eat cake!


Portuguese: “Comida Brasileira em Austin” 

Mocotó and vatapá and caldo verde, oh my! Portuguese students focused on learning about gastronomia de Portugal e do Brasil. Both countries’ gastronomy borrows from various sources, such as the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and indigenous areas. Some essential spices and cooking staples include piri piri (small chili peppers), cinnamon, saffron, açai and olive oil.

Students presented their favorite comida to the class em português. For an authentic taste of Brazil closer to home, we recommend Rio’s Brazilian Café.

Here are our top picks:

  1. Appetizer: Pão de queijo, small yucca & cheese “breads” (gluten free!)
  2. Entrée: Estrogonofe de Frango, a traditional Brazilian chicken and mushroom stroganoff
  3. Dessert: Pudim de Leite, one can never go wrong with flan and fresh whipped cream!
Pão de queijo

Pão de queijo

How did you do? Need translations? Comment below!

Continue to follow us as we explore the upcoming themes: Arts & Entertainment and Movies. We will foray into the worlds of Cine Las Americas, ITAL, and the French music scene at SXSW!


*In the translation/transcription periodic nuances occur relating to the difference between speaking and written.

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Let the Summer “Games” Begin!

Ready, set, GO! We’ve kicked off our Summer Session with our “Special Guest Speaker Series” in a range of topics such as Sports & Fitness, Earth & Environment, Food & Wine, Art & Entertainment, and Movies. This Summer reflects Freestyle’s unique model of learning languages through relevant social events.


The speaker series particularly highlights culture which plays a critical role in the comprehension of your target language. Follow along with us as we venture deeper into the cultures of Portuguese, Spanish and French. We will showcase a wide range of experts on a variety of topics, with guests from Olympic athletes to French chefs.

This week’s guest speakers engaged our students in all things Sports & Fitness, starting with Brazilian native and futebol fanatic Karina Marcela Gotuzzo.

Portuguese: “The Ginga”

Karina explained (em português, claro!) the fanaticism of Brazilian soccer.  The basics of the game – the teammates and the soccer ball – come together on the field but the “ginga” or soul is what completes it. “Ginga” is the “springiness” and balance on the field . It has turned into an art and a form of language through which Brazilian society can express their passion.


Passionate fans, talented players and the richest soccer history in the world… Benvindo ao Brasil!

Read, listen and watch for yourself as Karina explains ginga.

É a tal da ginga, do molejo, este balanço tão particular que já tornou o Brasil cinco vezes campeão mundial.

This is the ginga, the springiness, this particular balance so that Brazil has become the world champion five times.

Leaving the soccer fields of Brazil, let us transport you to Mexico.

Spanish: “A Good Kick”

Meeting an Olympian is not an everyday occurrence, but it is something we got to do on Wednesday! Leo Manzano is a native of Mexico, a proud Austinite and former Longhorn.  His specialty in the 1,500 m and the mile took him far, earning him the Silver Medal at the London 2012 Olympics.

Watch this clip and follow along as he explains his signature kick.

“Un buen cierre es un “good kick.” Entonces, miré hacia el lado y estaba rebasando al chavo con 200 metros, pero lo estaba rebasando en línea 2. Usualmente no se rebasa en la línea 2 porque estás corriendo más de cuando estás en la línea 1.”

“A “buen cierre” is called a “good kick.” Then, there were only 200 meters left and I was passing another runner, but I was passing him on lane 2. Usually you don’t pass someone on lane 2 because you end up running more than when you pass someone on lane 1.”

This past week, our French students have been building their français by learning about some unique sports found en Europe. From the casual la marche nordique to the intense parkour, there is something for everyone. 

French: “Parkour et plus!”

Here are our top picks:

  1. (Nordic) walking/faire de la marche (nordique) : A resourceful way to work out le système cardio-vasculaire because of its easy access to people of all ages, not to mention that it is the most economical sport, only requiring a comfortable pair of tennis and a pair of Nordic walking sticks if you choose. Bougez un peu! NordicWalking3
  2. Parkour : For those seeking more adrénaline, parkour has more than enough to go around! It was originally called le parcours (the course) which derives from parcours du combattant, the classic obstacle course training method used in the military. This extreme yet graceful sport that is often practiced in urban areas involves la course à pied, la varappe/l’escalade, la balançoire, la voltige, le saut périlleux and la reptation — whatever suits that particular environment. The goal is to navigate des obstacles while moving quickly and efficiently and maintaining as much momentum as possible.


A favorite vocabulary word of the week was franchir : whether crossing the finish line or overcoming the fear of speaking in the target language, the same concept can be applied! Practice and persistence are key.

Stay tuned for our upcoming take on next week’s theme of Food & Wine… Chefs, Paleo Diets and pâtisseries galore!

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French fare in the heart of Texas

French food is one of the most globally celebrated cuisines,  infinitely rich in cultural and historical influences. Offering des plats rustiques et élégants, world famous desserts and pâtisseries, French flavors and influences abound in cuisines around the world. It’s because of that diversity that we’ve put together a list of our préféré French and French-inspired restaurants in Austin. Bon appétit!

Elizabeth’s Street Cafe

Elizabeth’s Street Cafe: 1501 S. 1st St. Austin, TX

For those who want a taste of the French influence on Vietnamese food, head over to the dynamique et mignon Elizabeth’s Street Cafe on S. 1st. This cute restaurant offers Vietnamese classics and some of Austin’s best and most authentic French pastries. Here are our top picks:

1. The croissants- In any shape or form they are, hands down, the best in town. We’ve used them for our popular Saturday “cafe”…délicieux!

2. Broiled escargots- Tender escargot with an Asian twist. Instead of the usual butter and garlic, they use a Thai basil curry butter, served with a baguette.

3. Bánh mì- Our favorites are the grilled marinated pork, and the house speciality of chicken liver, mousse, pork pâté, and roasted pork…Ooh la la!

Flip Happy Crêpes

Flip Happy Crepes: 400 Josephine Street, Austin, TX.

Crêpes, thin- like pancakes enjoyed as either crêpes sucrées (sweet) or crêpes salées (savory), are often served from street vendors. Flip Happy Crêpes offers some of Austin’s best original and unique crêpes, and what’s more Austin than serving something unique and fantastique from a trailer? Here are our favorite crêpes:

1. The Ham and gruyere cheese and green onions, a perfectly French combination.

2. Nutella and bananas (or strawberries) a classic enjoyed by children as well as adults.

3. Roasted chicken, mushrooms, cheddar, and caramelized onions. Hearty yet simple.


Lenoir Restaurant: 1807 South 1st Street
All photos from http://lenoirrestaurant.com/

Lenoir is the creation of culinary husband and wife power team Jessica Maher and Todd Duplechan, and despite only being open for less than a year, it has already created a reputation for amazing locally produced French-inspired food. This cozy space (which only seats around 30!) is dreamlike and eclectic in decoration and menu (which changes seasonally), with it’s menu featuring dishes from “field, sea, land and dream”. Here are our top picks to fall in amour with.

1. From the “sea”  try the poha-crusted fish, butternut curry, pomegranate and corn.

2. From the “land” try the delicious crispy rabbit terrine, sweet potatoes, watercress and orange salad.

3. And lastly, this “dream” dish of chocolate brioche pudding, coconut sorbet, rum raisins and pecan crunch.

Justine’s Brasserie 

Justine’s Brasserie: 4710 East 5th Street, Austin, TX

 And finally, a list of French restaurants wouldn’t be complete without the très tendance and très français Justine’s Brasserie. Not only is the food extraordinaire but so are the cocktails. A must try is their soixante-quinze, or as we know it the French 75 ( gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar), a sip seems to immediately transport us to Paris. Here are our top dishes:

1. Soupe à l’oignon- French onion soup.

2. Ratatouille – Classically prepared à la Provençal, c’est superbe!

3. Moules frites- Mussels and fries.

C’est magnifique!

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Language Learning is the Swiss Army Knife of Knowledge…

For when you don’t have a Galactic Hitchhiker from whom you may borrow a Babel Fish…

Han Solo understood Chewbacca’s Wookiee language and the speech of Greedo, a Rodian (Thank goodness or Han would’ve only had a bit part in A New Hope!).  Jabba the Hutt understood English (but still didn’t heed Luke’s warning!). And C-3PO, that loveable goldenrod, was fluent in over six million forms of communication!

Image Copyright Stanley Chow

John Malkovich and Johnny Depp know more than English.  Emma Thompson does, too.  Penelope Cruz has made a career in both Spanish- and English-language films.  Gérard Depardieu makes films in France and Hollywood.  Samuel Beckett, an Irishman, Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian, and Milan Kundera, Czech, all wrote in French, their second language.  And Haruki Murakami wrote the first lines of his debut novel in English, then translated them back into his native Japanese, finding his voice along the way.

It’s what separates the Fleming Bond from the Hollywood Bond.  It’s what makes Jason Bourne way cooler than both.  What’s “it,” you say? Why, speaking more than one language. Being a polyglot.


You know the old joke: What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. Three? Trilingual. One? American.


Mandarin is spoken by over 1 billion people.


According to CBS news, Barack Obama, at a town hall meeting in 2008, said, despite having spent part of his childhood overseas, “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!”  Days prior he was reported saying, “It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?”   When Mr. Obama championed the idea of Americans learning another language, his opponents jumped to criticize, deride and worse.  His response?  “You know, this is an example of some of the problems we get into when somebody attacks you for saying the truth, which is we should want children with more knowledge.”




G. Tucker Childs, in his 2003 An Introduction to African Languages, declares that there are more than 2100 languages spoken on the continent.


Whenever I’ve told someone that I speak French, I’ve never been met with, “Holy Cow! Are you kidding!?  Why on earth would you want to speak another language?”  Very often there is the refrain of “Oh man, that is so cool!  I wish I spoke another language.”  Sometimes a rousing chorus of “Wow, I studied [insert language here] in high school but I don’t remember anything except [insert “hello” or “please” or random curse word from previous language].”  There is the occasional stunned silence, usually for people who aren’t sure how to respond, but they often follow up with a question about how I learned it, or where or why.  And then there are those who, despite having no background in learning another language, still try to relate:  “Wow, that’s great.  I have an uncle who had a step-daughter from his second, no third, marriage, who took French in junior high.  She really liked it.”


Did you know that Spanish is the de jure or de facto language in some 23 countries around the world, on four continents? 


There are a million reasons (I know because I’ve counted—#1, to communicate) to learn another language.  Gaining cultural competence and awareness, and improving one’s ability to think and reason notwithstanding, learning another language allows us to better know our mother tongue (Oh, how many students I’ve had who didn’t understand English grammar until we studied French grammar.).  It leaves us with the ability to travel far-off with the magical power to experience a more authentic Spain or France, a more personal Senegal or Columbia.  It bestows upon us even more ways to express ourselves and, better yet, know and understand ourselves.  For music fans, it is your gateway to an exponential number of new favorite bands that you won’t ever hear on the radio, so no  more listening to the same misses over and over and over.  For movie buffs, your DVD collection will grow, your bank account shrink, and Friday Film Nights will never, ever be the same.


French is the official language (or one of several) of 30+ countries around the world, used unofficially in even more, spoken on five continents, and figures among the official languages of dozens of international organizations.


Living in Austin, I find myself in the car quite often.  By which I really mean, all the time.  When I’m not listening to KUT, the local NPR affiliate, I have CDs constantly playing music.  You may not think this terribly unusual, save one detail.  Almost without fail, those discs are playing French music.  Or African Music.  Mostly likely hip hop.  In my mind, the soundtrack of Austin isn’t Sara Hickman, Alejandro Escovedo or Brownout (though I listen to them!), but IAM, Saïan Supa Crew, Magic System and Sexion d’Assaut.  And, full disclosure, listening to what surely seems out of place to everyone but me, I always do two things.  One: At stoplights, when the weather’s nice, I open the sunroof and the windows and turn up the music.  When people stare, I know I’m cool, and I secretly wait for them to ask me what I’m playing. Two: Every time I hear a Sonic ID on KUT, I automatically imagine it’s me on the radio, talking about how my soundtrack to Austin goes back and forth between Morning Edition, All Things Considered and French Hip Hop.  Other drivers will listen to this same Sonic ID and think, “That guy must be so cool.”  The ID ends with me singing along to something fun, like Magic System.

My therapists say my delusions completely lack grandeur.


Learning languages is a Swiss Army Knife for knowledge.  It makes you smarter; it makes you cooler.  It opens the world to you in ways you haven’t even imagined.  It bridges cultures and continents; it links one human to another.  And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, that link turns romantic, then you woo someone in their language, and they you, in yours.  That’s probably worth the price of admission right there.

An Attempt at Internet Dating


I’ve got Japanese and Arabic on my list. What language do you want to start learning today?

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Another Midnight in Paris, but not Woody Allen’s Paris

Paris. Winter. The numbers shining from my cell phone warn me that midnight is fast approaching. It was only days before that I’d returned to the city I’d previously called home, and which has felt like it for far longer. I’d just left a rendez-vous with a  dear friend, a night cap after attending a poetry reading together. Quitting her, the wine and the company inspired me to do something a little more cozy with my other dear friend, thus the solitary walk in the almost-quiet streets. “Et j’ai dû côtoyer le pavé / Pas à pas je me dis, c’est pas vrai.” [“I had to take to the streets / Step by step I tell myself, it’s not true”]

Heading east, more or less, the Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle turns into Boulevard St Denis turns into Boulevard St Martin as I stroll upstream, toward the Place de la République.  I long ago gave up learning all the names of the streets I wandered here, still wander, instead memorizing their beginnings and endings. This particular stretch of by-many-another-name boulevard starts in République and ends somewhere just beyond the Opéra Garnier, aptly adopting the appellation of the man who Haussmanisized all of these Grands Boulevards.”Si Paris va bien, Maître Gims pète la forme!”[“If Paris is doing well, Maître Gims is in great shape”]

It happens terribly often that these wanderings, in the dead of night or full life of day, present to me those intimate, those magical moments that keep me connected to this city.  No matter how long between visits, or how long each stay, something happens to remind me not just that I’m fully there, here,  but that I’m never absent from Paris.

Now where was I? Ah yes, Paris. Winter. Midnight. Boulevard St Martin depositing me in the Place de la République, eyes alert for the closest entrance to the métro, the subway, so that I might make it back to the apartment in some reasonable amount of time.  To my right, and about a block away, I spot said entrance, a few bodies entering and leaving, apace with my own rate of travel.  This wasn’t the hurry-and-get-there clip of the morning rush hour, or the I-can’t-get-home-soon-enough trot; those I see are climbing and descending the steps as if weighed down by second jobs, or second bottles of Chinon, or simply slowed by the extra seconds between arriving trains. The casual arrival on the quay complements the less frenetic rush to board.

As my body turns right, out of the corner of my left eye, something bright catches my attention, day-like and massive.  Stopping in my tracks, I turn to figure out what’s going on.  Some distance away, in the opposite direction of the yawning of the métro, I see a semi truck and flatbed trailer, parked next to the sidewalk, with what are clearly a film crew and a massive set of lights focused on the trailer bed.  My initial assumption is of course that yet another movie is taking place in Paris, and at this late hour they might be escaping the throngs of lookers-on, or perhaps simply looking to avoid the traffic common just a few hours earlier in the evening.  “J’vois pas Paname du même coté que les touristes … / Derrière le papier-peint pas d’assurer tout risque (Paname!) ” [“I don’t see Paris from the same view as the tourists…/Behind the wallpaper no insuring against all risks”]

I’m not in any rush so, cat-like, my curiosity shifts my weight and then movement towards the action.  A few steps closer, the truck is now some thirty or forty meters away. Perhaps I should say some thirty or forty yards away, it’s just that sometimes it’s not only language and demeanor that totters back and forth between arrivals, but perspective, too. Fully facing the truck now, I can start to make out more clearly what’s going on.  It’s not a crew working on a film, but rather a music group working on a video.  They’re rehearsing on the flatbed, moving (dancing?) in unison to a piece of music I can’t hear at all. From here I can see that they’re all wearing the same outfits, black and gray letter jackets and jeans, some with baseball caps, some without.  My first thought, my first instinct is that this is a hip hop or R&B group working on some new clip destined for MTV Base or M6 musique.  As I take a few more steps, it becomes easier to distinguish between the members–height, weight, stature, even faces become just a little more defined. The figures taking on their own forms, I start to recognize what I think are the people behind the voices of “L’école des points vitaux” and “Désolé.”  Is it?  Could it be? I think to myself, but that isn’t quite accurate because I hear the words come out under my breath.

“Is it? Could it be? Mais c’est pas possible!” [“It’s not possible!”] There’s no way that on this, of all nights, I would wander into Place de la République when they are filming a video.  Would I get that lucky?  I’ll know if I see him.  Look for the glasses, look for the aviators.  A few more steps, a better viewing angle and the director comes into view, previously hidden by the corner of the rig.  His hands are up, giving some directions to the guys, who nod in agreement or understanding.  A few more steps, and some movement based on the directions, then a few more and from behind one of the lights comes into view a head, hat cocked to the side, and the reflection of the set lights in a pair of sunglasses.

“C’est pas possible! Ce n’est pas possible!” I talk to myself a lot; like a sports announcer I often have running commentary in my head and in my mouth.  In France, it’s not unusual for me to do all of this code switching.  “It’s them, it’s really them!” Sexion d’Assaut tourne un clip right here in Place de la République, and I’m about twenty meters away.  I feel my pace quicken, so I force myself to slow down, lest I look too eager to become an on-looker, wide-eyed groupie, psycho fan.

So here I am, self-induced almost-crawl, not so slow as to appear creepy or stage five stalkerish, but certainly not the racing pace that would have given my pulse a good run for its money. I’m still eyes-wide, but if I can just keep a low profile, perhaps the others milling about won’t take too much note of my presence.  It is all I can do not to run up to the trailer.  Are they going to take a break?  Pourrai-je parler avec eux? If they  stop, I’m going to talk to them.  If they stop, I’m gonna talk to ’em.  Another five minutes of rehearsal; they seem to have the steps down, everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to.  Or at least I think they do, hell I don’t know what the director told them or whether they all did their thing.  At this point, I’m all If they take a break I’m gonna talk to ’em. If they take a break I’m gonna talk to ’em.  I feel the words generating in my throat.  “Qui a eu l’idée pour ‘Désolé’?  Qui sont vos poètes préférés? Je vous admire depuis la sortie de “Antitecktonik’!!!  Je suis américain, stupide mais je kiffe trop la musique!!” [“Who had the idea for ‘Désolé’? Who are your favorite poets? I’ve admired you guys since the release of ‘Antitecktonik’!! I’m just a stupid American but your music rocks!!!”] Who the hell is this white guy yelling at us?  In French? We’re trying to make a video here.

Thank goodness such an outburst never leaves the voice box; thank goodness the knees didn’t automatically kneel themselves near the tires.  I’m stuck right here, a good twenty feet (yes, twenty feet) away, and as the others loitering about seem to be over the chance sighting, I keep my focus on the trailer, on Sexion d’Assaut.

Another three or four minutes (oh how they stretched into what clearly felt like the end of an LP, spinning the scratchy silence, too lazy to lift the needle) and then a shout:  “Alright, we ready?” A rousing “Yeah!,” then someone climbs into the cab, puffs of black smoke indicating the diesel engine is up and running.  They take off, easing into traffic in a manner only possible after midnight.  They turn right onto Boulevard St Martin, heading towards Opéra.  Automatically, my legs turn, too.  Yep, we’re following the rig.  A determined mosey, surely the rig will get caught at a light.

Again, my body’s trying to do one thing–keep it cool, keep it cool, we’re just out to flâner un petit peu, take a little stroll tranquillement–but my mind is racing–what are we going to say to them? how do we start? when they stop do we run up, or just stroll by? what if we get drinks? am I going to get drunk with Maître Gims and Black M?

And so I keep following as the truck passes one green light then another green light (Who gets this lucky with intersections?).  Mutter-breath, “If they stop I’m gonna talk to ’em, if they stop I’m gonna talk to ’em.” Another green light. Their height decreases by half.  Another.  Half again. Another. My legs, no longer suitable for running anyway, cultivate the saunter in a perfect field test; I am not speeding up, but neither am I slowing down.  I am Baudelaire’s flâneur incarnate, his midwinter night’s hip hop flâneur chasing the metal carriage that rumbles past those dandy, agèd arcades.  Another. Brake lights become twinkles.  Is that a street light or the lights for the camera? Another. They must have a code or a cop for les feux.

Ten blocks. Or twenty. Or  four-twenties. My mind out of breath from its relentless racing; my legs, still in amble mode, ready for the next twenty, and the next.  But I’ll never catch up.  This is Paris, at night, in the winter.  Behind me, the Place de la République beckons, so I turn, then return.  This time, on the north side of Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle turning into Boulevard St Denis turning into Boulevard St Martin. Appropriately enough, even the switch to the opposite side of the street from earlier gives everything a completely new perspective.  “Et j’ai dû côtoyer le pavé / pas à pas je me dis c’est pas vrai…”

Totally worth every moment I’ve ever spent learning French.

“Et j’ai dû côtoyer le pavé / pas à pas je me dis c’est pas vrai…”

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