Tag Archives: Learning

So, what’s a nerd to do over the summer?

I’ll admit it, I’m returning to my old nerd ways. You know, that kid who was always done her work first, or never missed a homework assignment? That was me.

This past year out of school has left me a little bit lost. Sure, I loved when friends would complain about their exams and I didn’t have to worry about studying. But, deep down, I kind of missed going to school and taking notes and the smell of a new batch of school supplies.

Nothing better than some perfectly sharpened pencils, right? Right?!

I’ve always wanted to learn how to code properly. I know basic HTML from when I fiddled around with coding petpages for my neopets account as an 11 year old. Don’t even judge, I won so many beauty contest trophies for my neopets on that site.

That’s right.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered coursera.org. They have free online courses from excellent American universities! What? This has to be a joke, right?

It’s not, and they’ve got a pretty wide selection of courses. No languages, though. My French grammar will have to wait a little while longer.

So far, I’ve finished the first three weeks of the Computer Science 101 course. Every little video I watch I just sit there with a face like “O_O.” All of these things I didn’t know! Codecadamy.com didn’t work for me, since I had a really hard time following along with the written explanations. In contrast, the videos on Coursera are actually recorded little mini-lectures (at least in the case of Computer Science, I think some other courses have 70 or 80 minute lecture videos), with a small video in the corner of the professor speaking. The majority of the screen is a lecture document (notes, really) that the professor teaches which, and you can easily hit a button at the bottom to pause the video and switch to the lecture notes so you can review anything that was skipped over, or try out some code in the case of computer science.

It’s mostly basic coding (not in any particular language, exactly, just getting used to the idea of syntax and variables and whatnot) and technical explanations of hardware, networks, software, etc. There were a lot of  “OOOH, so that’s how it works!” moments.

A self portrait.

If you’re curious, go have a look. You can still get in on the CS 101 course, although on a lot of your exercises will lose marks for being late (which really doesn’t matter if you’re just doing it for fun). It’s really less than an hour of video a week, and a 10 minute exercise for each one.

And then maybe this will start your career and you can eventually code something awesome (like an app!) and rule the world! Or you can just find solace in the fact that you know the jist of what is happening when your computer saves something to your hard drive. Either one.

Saving the world one Instagrammed photo of a squirrel at a time.

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The Best Thing About French TV

I’ve been spending a lot of my downtime passively watching Radio Canada while I’m doing other things (mostly looking at pictures of cute cats and wasting time, but that’s beside the point.)

Sometimes I pay attention and learn something, but lately I seem to be wishfully thinking that if I absorb enough French dialogue I’ll magically find myself bilingual the next time I try and order just coleslaw and wine at St-Hubert.

Occasionally I’ll look up, usually while my computer has decided to rainbow wheel during the loading of an adorable hedgehog video, and find something weird/awesome.

There is a game show called Privé de Sens which is kind of fun to follow. They’ll throw up a word on the screen and one person has to give a good enough one-word hint for his partner to guess what the word is. Simple, but a pretty good tool when you’re trying to learn the language.

And then there is this segment:

What I can only guess to be a giant bag of Saskatchewan cocaine.

Arguably the best thing on TV, the poor contestants dress up in ridiculous costumes and act out even more clues. I still can’t understand enough to know why they need costumes for these clues, but I feel like being kept in the dark makes it much funnier.

My trusty Yahoo Babel Fish translator is telling me that Privé de Sens literally means “deprived of direction.”  (Hm, sounds a little like this blog, am I right?)

My dream of fluency finally has a measurable goal:
Be a contestant on a Radio-Canada game show and win (or I can just understand an entire episode. That will work, too.)

Seriously though, does anyone know what that thing is supposed to be?Anyone?

French…With Ease? My Thoughts on The Assimil Method

Here, in North America, we have Rosetta Stone. It sounds pretty awesome and all, until you see the price.

Is that a typo?

Of course, this includes one-on-one time with professional language teachers via a video program like Skype or something. Sounds awesome, but seeing as I’m just trying to warm up before hopefully pursuing French in university, it’s a little excessive.

I can’t even remember where I found out about Assimil. It’s not a household name on this side of the pond, so I was skeptical. Although, the American Amazon site had the French kit up for a total of $40 with shipping, and I was sold.

Just 8 days later and it was on my doorstep when I arrived home from a particularly horrible shift at work. Once I got all the tree sap off my hands (don’t ask, but if you’re ever in the situation, margarine works like a dream), I opened it up. You get a small, but surprisingly heavy, book with over 500 pages of lessons. There are also 4 CDs included, which just have people reading/acting out the exercises so you can work on your accent and word recognition.

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I only use the finest of bookmarks

Here is a look at a lesson:

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Trust me, it makes more sense when you're actually doing it.

I’ve only done the first six lessons, but I feel like this is perfect. It picks up almost right where high school French left off. Instead of memorizing grammar over and over and over again by just filling in the blanks, this system uses it practically. You go over common phrases and how to use them, as well as small grammar things I missed in high school. (ex. make sure you use “de” when asking someone about an object. Vous voulez de la tartine?…oh god that’s probably wrong.)
These were just things that would be crossed off in your essays in high school and you’d have no clue why, you’d just accept it because you were so sick of grammar.

My one gripe: The audio recordings are spoken at a snail’s pace. I want to listen to how a French person would converse with another French person, not how they would converse if they were speaking to an invalid. There should be a fast and slow version of each sentence spoken, but I guess that would have doubled their costs (?)
Oh well, I’ll stick to French TV with the captioning on for that part.

Perhaps I will one day achieve my goal of being able to order what I actually want when driving through rural Quebec. One day, Michelle, one day.

The book also likes to remind you regularly to not try too hard or study too much. I’m already in love. 

Je veux appendre le français! Pourquoi?

I don’t even know if that is grammatically correct. I can translate things word-for-word, but when it comes to the settle oddities or French sentence structure, I must sound horrible. If they had a French equivalent of Engrish Funny, I’d probably be their top contributor.

“Wait, you mean “tête carrée” isn’t a compliment? Whoops.”

As many of you probably know, Canada is a bilingual country. This doesn’t mean that everyone in every city speaks French, or that we even like French. It just means that there are two sides to every cereal box, a French one and an English one. Québec is our French province. In most places outside Montreal, everyone you encounter will speak French and perhaps a little English. There are also the Acadian areas of the east coast, and various small towns in northern Ontario and Alberta that are francophone.

Toronto, however, is the opposite. People here speak every language on earth. Russian, Hindi, Italian, Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin. Not so much with French. I think I’ve encountered maybe…I don’t know…10 people speaking French in Toronto? (Yes, more probably know the language but were just conversing in English.)

This is why I’m having such a problem with it. I want to become fluent. I took French throughout high school and I can conjugate verbs like no body’s business, but when it comes to conversing, I don’t know what the hell people are talking about. Every spoken word in high school French was slow and straightforward. I can’t even understand French kids’ shows, they speak too fast for me.

The amount of times I’ve driven through Québec and lost my nerve to order a sandwich in French in frustrating. I’ll stand in line and think to myself, “Bonjour! Est-ce que je peux avoir une six inch vegetable sub, s’il vous plait?” only to walk up and order in English? What if they don’t understand my accent? What if I have to switch to English when they stare at me with confusion? Ahhh!

I mean, if I’m going to get a degree in something a little abstract with no surefire job, as I had in nursing, I might as well have something going for me that most people don’t.

Hopefully next year I’ll have the guts to join a French club at university. What could be more fun than going out to a pub and getting drunk with a bunch of French-learners?

Until then, I’ll suffer through watching Dino Train on the French channels with the captioning on.

Don’t even get me started on learning Quebec French vs. France French.

Anyone who has struggled to learn a new language without the option of immersion, please share any tips you have avec moi.