Grammar, lesson 1

This is a memory from my university years, studying linguistics in French and English. My teachers then had a talent for giving examples – examples that I still remember 15 years later.

So there was this campaign promoting lamb’s lettuce (!) at the time when I was supposed to learn about theme vs rheme. And time has proved the catch line was just what I needed to remember it forever!

What you want to talk about = theme.

What you want to say about it = rheme.

It’s that simple: La mâche, ça change de la salade. (Lamb’s lettuce, it’s a change from lettuce)

la_mache

Excuse me, do you speak Earthian?

Although not a big fan of sci-fi, I’m always fascinated by the way we imagine other forms of life and other tyna'vi_pas bizarrepes of civilization. Fascinated, as well as disappointed: what our imagination creates never seems to reach the infinite possibilities of what could exist. And then I come across this article gently making fun of Star Trek writers for imagining a planet with 18 billion people and only 3 languages. Ha ha, so simplistic! So, I read the article and Chomsky is quoted, together with the universal features of the languages we know on Earth. And apparently “Chomsky has even argued that if a Martian linguist were to come to Earth, they’d conclude that all 6 billion of us speak just one language“. I mean, it’s Chomsky, right ? What can I say… Just that linguists inventing languages for sci-fi movies will have to puzzle over different forms now. Not “same, but different”, because that’s still earthian dialects, but DIFFERENT different. Bon courage !

na'vi

Pay attention: it may not be as foreign as you think.

What do linguists do? They probably don’t agree on this (either). Well, some of them are historians, or archaeologists, of words. Check out what their job is about in this super-simple, gorgeous TED-Ed animation that also reminds us that languages are far more than a linguistics matter. They ask questions – and sometimes give answers – about our histories, our societies, our politics.

Do you know a good language school there?

That’s a question I often get from students or friends travelling to France. They trust me for having taught there for several years, which was, I have to say, a fruitful experience. The thing is that there isn’t one school that is good for everyone, nor one teacher, so I get a little embarrassed to give a strait answer.

However, there is a relevant clue that can help assessing the quality of a school: their use of education technologies. They’re equiped with smartboards? Fine. They have a computer room? A bit old-fashioned, but why not. ilabThey provide a tablet with each registration? Good. All those tools are cool, they are fun and often a way for a language institution to show how modern and professionnal it is. Many teachers are trained to use those technologies efficiently, adding dynamics to their lessons. “Dynamics”. Not “interactions”. Interactions in the language being our goal.

Now if the website claims that the school offers an interactive learning BECAUSE they use technology, then you know the marketing guy doesn’t know a thing about language learning. Digital white boards are not interactive, neither are tablets. Interaction in language is based on communication, and communication only exists if there are at least two conscious persons trying to address each other. No such thing when you’re studying on a software. Communication and interaction involve people. Some institutions offer special classes based on the technology tool: you’ll have computer classes, tablet classes, and so on. Just run away: you want to learn a language, right? So the point should be the skills that you will build, and the people you’re going to use these skills with, not the type of screen involved.

It’s a money-saving method for big, international language institutes to develop softwares and to get rid of skilled and experimented teachers. That’s why the emphasis is put on convincing the customers that they will learn better with a machine. But you want better than that. You deserve better. You deserve to have a real person with real skills, real empathy and real interaction capacity to help you achieve your goal of learning a foreign language.

You picked the right language to learn

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That is, IF you’re currently learning French, IF you’re planning to use it by 2050 and IF the study led by Natixis is somehow right. Mainly due to French speakers presence on all continents and its widespread use in several growing African countries, this language’s “rayonnement” isn’t over. This article on Forbes summarizes the results of the study, and may give you motivation and confidence to keep brushing up your French.