French Numbers (the Abe Lincoln method)

At first glance the French have a somewhat unusual counting system which seems normal up until the number sixty-nine (soixante-neuf). Then things get a little “Abraham Lincoln”. But I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment.

But first lets us take a look at the French counting system.

The French write their ones and their sevens slightly differently.
The French write their ‘ones’ and their ‘sevens’ slightly differently than the English speakers. The French number ones can sometimes look like upside down ‘V’s. 

One = un (masculine) or une (feminine). The number one is the only number to really have a gender. Also, the first day of the month is the “premier”.

Two = deux

Three = trois

Four = quatre

Five = cinq

Six = six (exactly the same)

Sept = seven

Eight = huit

Nine = neuf

Ten = dix

Eleven = onze

Twelve = douze (kind of sounds like “dozen”)

Thirteen = Treize (This is the beginning of the Teens (tens) in English. The dix numbers don’t start until 17 in French).

Fourteen = quatorze

Fifteen = quinze

Sixteen = seize

Seventeen = dix-sept (This is the start of the regular patter of the name of the number from the tens followed by the name of the number of the ones).

Eighteen = dix-huit

Nineteen = dix-neuf

Twenty = vingt

Twenty-one = Vingt-et-un.  (The “et” is only used in two digit numbers ending in “one” starting with 21 and ending with 61.)

Twenty-two = Vingt-deux (There is a dash between the numbers linking them. This is the pattern for the rest of the numbers up until 69)

Thirty =  trente

Fourty = quatrante

Fifty = cinquante

Sixty = soixante

Sixty nine = soixante-neuf. (Now a new pattern begins.)

Seventy = soixante-dix ( And so it starts. 70 is 60+10 Soixante-dix. Learning French numbers from this point on will help you with your mathematics skills.)

Seventy one = Soixante-et-onze  60 and 11.

Seventy two = Soixznte-douze (Just add the teen numbers to the end of Soixznte. This pattern continues until 80)

Eighty = quatre-vingt (four twenties) 4 x 20.

Eighty one = quatre-vingt-un. (four twenties one)

Ninety = quatre-vingt-dix (four twenties ten.) It really means 4 X 20 + 10

One hundred = cent

One hundred and one = cent-un

The Honest Abe Lincoln French Counting System

lincoln-006I don’t know if Abe Lincoln spoke French but for some reason he counted like a Frenchman. Looking at the first four words in Lincoln’s most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address the opening line is one of his most quoted and least understood lines in history.
(What’s a score anyway?)

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

The word “score” has gone out of fashion in America. “Score” means “twenty”.

“Score” was once quite common in English.

merry-adventures-of-robin-hood “…the Sheriff of Nottingham did cow bold Robin Hood and seven score as fair archers as are in all merry England?”

“The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”
Published in 1883
By Howard Pyle



What President Lincoln was really saying in his Gettysburg address was,

‘87 years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…’

In French the number 87 is «quatre-vingts-sept», which translates as four-twenties-seven or as Lincoln put it, “four score and seven”.

Maybe French numbers after 70 aren’t that far-fetched. For after all they are using the same twenty based counting system that President Lincoln famously used.

My little French Calendar Scrapbook

Making a Living Language French Calendar Scrapbook

I don’t know if I use my French Living Language Calendar the way it was originally intended. My personal scrapbooking system I describe in this post is sort of something I have developed over the last two + years.

I bought my first Living Language French (calendar) in 2014. Back when French was still really just a foreign language to me. I remember opening the box on January 1st and thinking, this is way too advanced for me.

In some ways it was the calendar was too advanced. It used a lot of words that I’ve yet to encounter in my studies, however I have made up a number of games with my little French calendar over the years, and I’m on my third calendar now and still having fun.

Over the past two almost three years I have use my calendar as a way of exploring French culture. It is my escape from learning boring low level French terms like “Good-day, how is it going?” etc. etc. And into the higher levels of French culture. But more on that in a moment.

With my little French calendar I get to play detective and CSI linguistics expert. My little calendar is teaching French terms way beyond my learning level.

The Daily Language Habit

Steve Kaufmann from that the most important part of learning a new language is the daily learning habit. If you can do even a little every day you will be progressing. LingoSteve also encourages you to have fun while you are learning your new language to help avoid burnout.  (Look for LingoSteve Kaufmann’s videos on Youtube.)

Q: So how can I make my French calendar fun?

A: By starting a daily scrapbook.

The calendar features a new French word every day. This word comes with a pronunciation guide. I should point out that this is a readable pronunciation guide (yeah!) And not the fancy “International Phonetic Alphabet” (IPA) guides that I never learned about in school. The whole internet is being taken over by the IPA. It is used to show pronunciation using strange alien characters like; ɯ, ø, œ, ä, ɨ, ʌ, ʉ, ɤ, ɐ, ɞ. (The IPA guide needs to come with a guide.)

The French word or phrase also comes with a definition. Some words have more than one meaning. So often it is handy to look this word up on Google Translate.

Press the speaker icon to hear the word pronounced in French.
Press the speaker icon to hear the word pronounced in French.

Also Most of the translation pages have little speaker icons. If you click the speaker icon the page will read the word or sentence out loud for you. [This is one of the best tools ever created for language learning!]

Next the word or phrase will be used in a French sentence. Below this French sentence is an English translation of this sentence. (Most of the time these translations are fairly accurate but sometimes they are not. This is where the detective work begins.)

When I do my daily French calendar scrapbook. I often see myself as someone trying to break the code. (Believe me in the early days it was all seemed like code to me.) I quickly noticed after using Google translate a few times that the English version weren’t always a 100% word for word translations of the original French sentence.

Take for example the sentence:
«Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.» (Little by little the bird makes its nest.) I have seen this translated on line as (Every little bit counts.) with no further explanation of the words like oiseau= or nid=nest.

“Every little bit counts” may be the underlying meaning of the proverb but it’s ironic that the translator ignored all the little bits that counted.

In my opinion, it is more important to understand what the words actually mean. Word for word. Even if the proverb is strange. Finding the meaning is an insight into how the French think.

Discover Grammar patterns

I must point out that I hate the whole idea of learning grammar “rules. However I enjoy discovering the natural way in which the French say things. Grammar is really a rhythm and and sort of logic. It is something that you learn to know by ear.

When you put words together in the wrong order in an English sentence the sentence just sounds wrong. It’s not about learning rules. Its about learning to hear pattern. The rules where made up to explain the pattern. Learning to hear the pattern first makes it easier to understand the rules.

The Experts are wrong

What are the French really saying?

I don’t know how many times that I have read that «bonjour» means “good day” and “good morning”. No it doesn’t

«Bonjour» means “good day”. The French may say bonjour in the morning, however «bon» means “good” and «jour» means “day”.

«Matin» means “morning.”

It’s good to know exactly what words mean.

«Ça va» means “It goes”
«Ça» = it
«va» = goes.
«Ça va» doesn’t mean “OK” or “how are you?”
It means “How is it going?” With the words “How” and “is” left off.

Understanding these little details are important.

My Little French Calendar Scrapbook

Here is an example from the digital scrapbook that I keep of my French calendar.

The word (phrase) of the day is «À couper le soufflé» which is given the definition of “breathtaking”.


        À couper le souffle (ah koo-pay luh soo-fluh) = breathtaking

Cette reproduction est à couper le souffle.

This reproduction is breathtaking.

(Bing translate)

Cette reproduction est à couper le souffle. This reproductrion is breathtaking.
le souffle.
the breath.


In the table I have inserted on the page above, I have typed in the original French sentence on the left and in this case, I have used the Bing Translator translation on the right.

You can see that Bing translates «à couper le soufflé» as breathtaking. However when I added a enter between each word the Bing translator now translate «à couper le soufflé» as separate element; “to cut the breath.”

I do the same process with Google Translate just to double check. You can see in the sample below that the French word «reproduction» has been translated as “production” by Google.


(Google Translate)

Cette reproduction est à couper le soufflé. This production is breathtaking.
le souffle.
the breath.


But something doesn’t seem quite right here. “Breathtaking” translates as “Cut the breath”.

I try putting «couper» in Google translate by itself. This will give me any alternative translations of this word.

Google translate gives me 33 new meanings for the word couper. But which one is the right one?

cut, turn off, cut off, disconnect, shut off, break, stop, chop, cut down, slash, sever, break up, intersect, clip, crop, cut back, snip, lop, switch, cut away, hew, undercut, ax, axe, bite, pare, cease, shear off, whack, haggle, adze, intermit, fritter,

To be left breathless is describing a feeling. It’s not really like being cut.

When you see something that leaves you breathless. It can feel like your breath has been “turned off”, or “breath cease” or maybe the breath knocked or “breath whacked” out of you.

The French word «couper» reminds me of the French word «coups».

The 400 Blows. Directed François Truffaut
The 400 Blows. Directed François Truffaut

There is a famous French movie called “The 400 Blows” The French title is «Les Quatre Cents Coups»(1959). The title sounds like the movie is about corporal punishment as the poster depicts a young boy.

But there is nothing in the movie about corporal punishment or any type of blows. The name “Les Quatre Cents Coups” is really difficult to translate into English as «coups» means both “blows” and “cuts”. The  French title refers to an old French idiom “faire les quatre cents coups”, (make the 400 coups) which means “to raise hell”.

Somethings don’t translate. The English distributes might have been better off with a title like “Wild Oats” which had been proposed at the time.

I’ve tried to find more details about the meaning of the 400 blows idiom. One French friend suggested that it might come from French theater. When a play is about to begin the usher holds a long staff and stamps it on the ground three times. The noise the staff makes are called coups. The coups signal that the show is about to begin. The 400 coups may mean that a really big show is about it begin.  (This case it still open.)


How to to make a French Calendar Scrapbook

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

At the top of the page I write the date in French and then English

Vingt-quatre octobre deux-mille-seize
 24 October 2016
Monday – lundi

  1. Open your French Calendar to today’s date.
  2. Open a new MS Word documents and named it French Calendar 2016 or 2017 or whatever year it is when you start this scrapbook.
  3. At the top of the page type today’s date in French (See the example above. Right justify the date to keep it out of the way.)
    Make sure to spell the numbers
    Vingt-quatre octobre deux-mille-seize. The first of the month is written as «premier» and not «un».(this is a great way to learn your numbers 1 to 31.)
  4. On the next line I write the date in English using number 24 October 2016. (the French use the dd/mm/yyyy format.)
  5. On the next line write the day in both languages. Monday – lundi (French day and month names are NOT capitalized unless they at the beginning of a sentence. To remind me of this I write them second.)
  6. Next type the word of the day and its pronunciation and its meaning.
    Many French words contain letters that have accents. I used to skip these but then I found a pages with all the keystroke shortcuts for writing French accents. I made a little chart of these and paste it at the end of my Word document, so it always just below where I need it.
  7. Next type the French Sentence. (Try and pronounce it while you type. Google translate will pronounce French sentences for you.)
  8. Then type the English translation. (Remember not to trust these translations. They can be misleading.)
  9. This is where I start my investigation I open two online translation pages. (my favorite)
  10. Type the French sentence into each translator page. (Make sure the language is selected to translate French to English.)
  11. Press the speaker icon and repeat the sentence out loud a few times. If the sentence is too long to remember, then remove a few words. You can add them back later.
  12. Are there any words in the sentence that you don’t understand? If you put your cursor between each word and click [Enter]. This will put the words on separate lines and the words will be translated separately.
  13. When I have translated a sentence I copy it back to my Word Scrapbook document.
  14. If I’ve translated each word separately I copy and paste those words onto my table as well.
  15. If you type a single word into Google Translate then all the different definitions of the word will appear in the lower right hand side of the page. Sometimes words have more than one meaning and it’s interesting to understand these different meanings. I copy and paste these words onto my Scrapbook doc as well.
  16. Save your work.

                    How to use French Accent Alt codes for PCs.
Hold down the Alt key and then type the numbers. Then let go of the Alt key and the accented letter will appear.

French Accent ALT Codes For PCs


à = ALT + 133

â = ALT + 131

ä  = ALT + 132

æ = ALT + 145

ç  = ALT + 135

é  = ALT + 130

è  = ALT + 138

ê  = ALT + 136

ë = ALT + 137


À  = ALT +  0192

  = ALT +  0194

Ä  = ALT +  142

Æ  = ALT +  146

Ç  = ALT +  128

É  = ALT +  144

È  = ALT +  0200

Ê  = ALT +  0202

Ë  = ALT +  0203


î = ALT + 140

ï = ALT + 139

ô = ALT + 147

œ = ALT + 0156

ù = ALT + 151

û = ALT + 150

ü = ALT + 129

« = 174

€ = ALT + 0128


Î = ALT + 0206

Ï  = ALT + 0207

Ô  = ALT + 0212

Π= ALT + 0140

Ù  = ALT + 0217

Û  = ALT + 0219

Ü  = ALT + 154

»  = ALT + 175



Option codes for Mac

•Euro symbol (€) Press [Option] + [Shift] + [2]

•Acute Accent ( é ): Press the [E] key while holding the [Option] key, take your finger off the option key then press [E] again.

•Grave Accent ( à, è, ù ): Press [ ` ] while holding down the [Option] key, then press either [A], [E] or [U]. to put a Grave accent above the appropriate letter.

•Cedilla ( ç ): Simply press [C] while holding down the [option] key.

•Circumflex ( â, ê, î, ô, ü ): Press [I] while holding down [Option], then press either [A], [E], [I], [O] or [U].

•Tréma ( ë, ï, ü ): Press [U] while holding down [Option], then press either [E], [I] or [U].

•OE Ligature ( œ ): Simply press [Q] while holding down the [Option] key.


A Picture is worth a thousand words.

Next I copy the original French sentence into Google Search and do first a normal search and then an image search.

attention-a-la-marcheI like to illustrate my calendar scrapbook. This is often the most interesting part of the process as I often find that the sentence was taken from a French saying or part of a famous French song, or a quote or it might even be a catch phrase from a French game show. (I didn’t know that the French had game shows).

I record all this information. I usually try and write a quick biography of the author, painter or game show in question.

A lot of this information can be found on Wikipedia.

If the author doesn’t appear in the English version of Wikipedia then look on the left hand side of the Wikipedia home page. There is a “Languages” heading. Find and click on “Français”.

The Français page will be in French, but you can copy and paste the page into Google Translate.

Once a month my French calendar has short biographies of French painters or authors or other famous French people or places.


In this case I type out these biographies onto my Word scrapbook and then look for pictures on Google.

This is a whole cultural and history lesson that I look forward to every day. I’ve been introduced to several different art movements as well as the works of a number of different authors that I had never heard of.

chateau-de-chambordI remember the first time I did an image search was when the French calendar was when there was an article about a French Château (castle) that I’d never heard of before.

So I looked up Le Château de Chambordthat. And I included some pictures of the Château and a map of where it is located.

Living Language: French 2017

My Personal Journal of Language Learning – Part 1

A look at different language learning systems.

I’m looking at a number of different ways to Lean French and Improve what I already know.

The systems that are am currently using for language learning are;

youtubeYouTube: there were a number of Youtube videos that I looked at before I started serious language learning.

Steve Kaufman creator of the website.
Steve Kaufmann creator of the website.

I found Steve Kaufmann’s approach to language learning very refreshing. He knows around 15 languages and he his always learning more. From time to time he has 90 day challenges. Where he focuses on one language for 90 days to see if he can crack it. He encourages other people to join him on his 90 challengers. My favorite part about Mr. Steve Kaufmann is how it does not like traditional academic language teaching techniques. He (like myself) found that he learned little in his high school language classes. Steven Kaufmann is very much for the idea that we should all design our own language learning program to fit our needs. He interviews other polyglots from time to time and they discuss their personal styles. Most importantly Steve Kaufmann taught me that it might be possible for me to learn French even though I was over 50. He also has a language learning page called There is a free version a subscription version to I am a member. It’s a very useful sight once you get to use it.

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

Living Language French (Calendar): I bought my first Living Language French (calendar) in 2014. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Each day it has a new French word and uses that word in a sentence. In the early days I found this difficult as the sentence often contained words that I did not understand. So I came up with a system. (I have written a lot more about my Living Language French calendar but this post is getting a bit long so I will post it separately.) There is no cost for using Duolingo. I started Duolingo 10 January 2016. I think it’s a very effective system. I have written a review of it a few days ago. I’m very glad Duolingo exists. I now have a vocabulary in French of roughly 2600+ words. Duolingo tells me I have about 56% fluency level. (Which would go up if I liked doing flashcards)

I have reached my limit on Duolingo French. And because Duolingo is so addictive as a daily dose of language I have started Italian* so I can maintain my score.

Habits are important

Duolingo is very good for helping one to develop the habit of daily language learning. Habits are important. If you get into a daily habit of language learning you will progress.

[*On a side note I was thinking that if I started to learn Italian as a French speaker, instead of as an English speaker, that I could get a dose of both languages every day. But I haven’t had time to look into this.]

Private Tutor: This is a good idea. I started taking lessons a few months ago. Duolingo and LingQ are very good ways of learning vocabulary but if you want to speak the language you will need lessons hopefully from a native speaker. LingQ does offer an exchange where you can find a tutor on line, and then arrange an time to practice with them.

italki_logo_2016_200pxiTalki: iTalki is a website where you can find a tutor. The tutor’s charge. Some a little and some a lot. It is a very simple system to use. I took several lessons on iTalki but as I wasn’t very good at using Skype, (which is very simple to use) I had a number of problems in the early days.

How iTalki works:

1. Create an account with iTalki.

2. Add money into iTalki system. You will be given a number of iTalki Credits (ITC). The reason of the ITC is you might be dealing with a person from another culture who has a different currency. The ITC takes into account the fluctuation of the different currencies. Make sure you make a note of the conversion rate with your local currency so that you know how much you will be paying for lessons.

2. Search for a Teacher on the iTalki website.Find a teacher who is available at a time that you are available. Different teachers charge different amounts for their time.

3. You can contact the teacher through iTalki. The teacher then has to accept you (sometimes they are busy with other clients). If and when the teacher accepts you they will email you through iTalki.

4. For those unfamiliar with Skype you will need to set it up on your computer. It is a simple system. You will need to send your Skype number to your teacher.
[You will most likely need headphones. My Dell computer doesn’t give me an option to plug in a microphone. (Thanks Dell). Dell has hidden a mic in my keyboard somewhere and hasn’t bothered to tell me where. It works, so don’t stress out if you have a computer created by the Dell.]
Video Camera. Skype uses a video camera so you can see your teacher and they can see you. Most computers these days have video cameras. [until the people at Dell decide not to put them on any more.]

5. Before the scheduled time of your call your teacher will send you their Skype number through Skype’s email, (yes Skype has it’s on texting email system) for you to accept. You need to accept their number in order to receive a call from them.

6. At your scheduled time your teacher will call you. Accept your Skype call.
You will be able to see teacher and they will be able to see you, unless you are shy. They can show you flash cards on the screen and they can text you the spelling of words as you talk.

7. When you are done you can save all the Texts and uses this as your learning notes.

8. iTalki will then ask you to settle your account by transfering some ITCs to your teachers account.

Tutor tips. You want to get your money’s worth from your tutor whether they be on Skype from LingQ or iTalki or in person, so study what they ask you to study so that you are ready on the day. Different tutors are going to have different styles. Me personally I didn’t want to know about grammar rules I wanted to have conversations. Practicing the alphabet with a tutor is useful as you are practicing the sounds that you need to make with your mouth. Later after you can hold a short conversation it is important to learn some grammar rules. But the rules should come after some understanding. If you learn a bunch of rules before you get a feell for the language you will just be confused.

pimsleur-french-levels-1-5-mp3-9781442381827Pimsleur French Method: Dr. Paul Pimsleur was a language teacher that came up with the theory that the best way to learn a language was to hear a new word or short sentence, as spoken by a native French speaker, and then learner is asked to repeat the word, or sentence shortly after it has been spoken. This process is repeated again and again.

The learn works their way through the course learning a few new words and sentences every day.

I was still a nervous new language learning when I bought the Pimsleur French lesson #1 on CD series. I played one lesson a day, but as I progressed I had deep insecurities about how well I was doing. The Pimsleur system is a good system but it’s not interactive like Duolingo where you are scoring points as you progress.

I gone back to using Pimsleur now that I am a little more secure in my knowledge of the French language.

For some people the Pimsleur method will work well. Others may not like it so much. If you can create a daily habit of listening to them they will work well. They are idea for someone who drives to work and has a CD player in their car. You can also get them at (I love Audible by the way. When I use to take public transport to work I used to read books all the time. But now that I have a car I don’t have as much reading time and I’ve started listening to audio-books.)

So a program like Duolingo or the Living Language calendar are good for starters to get you into the daily learning habit. Once you are in the habit and have built you vocabulary and confidence up I found it good to use CD systems like Pimsleur. This is also a good time to start thinking of getting a teacher either in real life or on or

People are going to learn at different speeds so it’s hard to say how fast you should be progressing. Just make sure that at all times you are having fun. Make your learning system your own.

Pimsleur French

What is next.

I’m always looking for new systems to play with. I have the French for Dummies book but I didn’t find it all that useful so I only read a few pages. I have bought a few other courses and will look at those in a future post.

[Full disclosure: I’ve included links to the different
language learning systems mentioned on this post.
Many are free but a few of them pay commission
which will go towards paying for upkeep of this blog.]

Songs in Translation

Songs and Lyrics don’t always translate

My daughter just showed me this video this morning. It’s very powerful.

I was aware that movies are often dubbed into other languages. But this is a very dramatic demonstration of the art of dubbing.

Frozen French Poster
La Reine des neiges
(The Queen of the Snow
or The Snow Queen)

It’s not easy to translate a song into another language and keep the same meaning. As you know the words of a song are often a poem set to music. This poem has a rhythm that corresponds to the rhythm, beat or melody of the music.

Translations of a sentence from one language to another will change this rhythm.

It should also be pointed out that rhyme, which is a big part of poetry in English, is not all that important in other languages.

In other language like Italian where most of the words rhyme anyway poetry is created by the rhythm of the words. So the rhythm created by the placement of the syllables and the meaning of the words are more important than the rhyming of the words. Once again this sort of poetry doesn’t translate very well.

Beyond the Meaning

One of my favorite examples of a song that was changed in translation is “Beyond the Sea”. “Beyond the Sea” is based on an original French song «La Mer» by Charles Trenet (written in 1946).

«La Mer» of course is “The Sea”, but is also a homonym for «La Mère» (the mother). This is a double meaning that is completely understood by the French but is completely lost in translation. The sea is the giver of life.

La Mer is a song about the changing moods of the sea. It’s about the beauty of the sea in the sun and in the rain.

The song La Mer was translated and basically rewritten by American song writer and lyricist Jack Lawrence.

In the English version the words «la mer» have been changed to “somewhere”, which rhyme. And then he added “beyond the sea” keeping with the Sea theme.

The Jack Lawrence version are some what reminiscent of “Somewhere over the rainbow”. It’s a song about an imagined journey on a sailboat to a place beyond the sea. A sort of magical place that one can dream about.

I’ve always like the song “Beyond the Sea” but watching the original French song «La Mer» on Youtube I’m now a fan of both versions.

Which comes first the Music or the Words?
(It all depends on who is writing the song)

French Poster
Le Roi Lion
(The Lion King)

Elton John is a famous British singer and song writer. A number of years ago Elton John appeared on the British talk show hosted by Michael Parkinson. Parkinson asked Sir Elton how he wrote songs. Sir Elton had grown up playing the piano and could play in the style of any pianist that he saw as a child. Sir Elton said that he wrote the music to his songs based on the lyrics, of whichever lyricist he was working with at the time, game him. So in Elton John’s case the words came first.

Knowing this beforehand, Parkinson had one of his writers prepare a simple poem about a cat (a moggy) which he read for Sir Elton. Sir Elton after listening to the poem only once was able to ad-lib the music as he sang the words to the poem.

This is amazing to watch. It becomes a completely different poem once it is set to music. And Elton John with years of experience was able to recreated the poem musically almost instantly. Amazing!

In this same interview, Sir Elton spoke of working with lyricist Tim Rice on the movie “The Lion King”. Once again Tim Rice wrote the words to fit the story and Elton John wrote the music based on Tim Rice’s lyrics.

During the pre-production of “the Lion King” the story was changed a number of few times and Time Rice had to do a number of rewrites. But as the rewrites matched the rhythm of the original lyrics Elton John didn’t have to change the music.

The Translation Game

I’m no Tim Rice or Sir Elton, but I do have fun from time to time translating lyrics of my favorite song into French. I’m no singer but I have my own version of “I love Paris in the Spring time”.

♪ J’aime Paris au printemps
♪ J’aime Paris à l’automne
♪ J’aime Paris en hiver quand il pleut
♪ J’aime Paris en été quand il grésille

My syllable count is way out of wack here, I need a one syllable French word for fall. L’automne is just to long. But it still might work.

My French vocabulary isn’t really big enough for my to be able to pick and choose just he right words yet. But I had fun doing it. This is game that I sometimes play with my fellow French learners. The main thing to remember is not to take it seriously.

Translation Game Rules

1. There are no rules.

2. It is OK to use Google translate.

3. It’s OK to completely change the meaning of the song if you are so inspired.

4. Don’t look up someone else’s translation of a song until you have had a crack at it yourself.

5. Don’t show this to anyone that my criticize you. It’s none of their business.

6. This game can also be played in reverse. Take a French song and translate it into English.

7. Try and make your new word fit the rhythm of the music.

I’m always reminded of a scene from the original book “The Three Musketeers” «Les Trois Mousquetaires»  by Alexandre Dumas (first published in 1844).

Cardinal Richelieu who appears in the book as one of the main antagonists of the Musketeer was a real person. Richaelieu wrote books on fencing and also an opera. When Cardinal Richaelieu is first introduced to DÁrtagnan he is composing “Mirame, a Tragedy in Five Acts” counting syllables on his fingers.

Counting syllables on ones fingers is a centuries old practice.


This sort of translation for fun, but with a purpose is very educational and will stick with you longer than flash-cards.

Memorizing song lyrics is a good way of learning a new language. Some people are really good at memorizing lyrics. I never really have been. But if this technique works for you then it’s worth doing.

Trivia: There are French versions of many English pop-songs and vice versa. In fact many songs that you may have thought were created in English are just translations of French songs. Surprise!

Bonne chance!


In search of Lost Bread – French Toast Recipes.

The French term for “French toast” is “Pain Perdu”
(pronounced = pan per-do)

Pain = is bread
Perdu = lost

So French toast, pain perdu, is “lost bread”.

“But why is it lost?” I hear you ask.

Lost bread is bread that is a day or so old and has gone stale and hard. The recipe for French toast is a way of saving this otherwise ‘lost bread’.

When I was in college, French toast was the quick and easy way to make pancakes. Mix an egg in a bowl with some milk. Dunk some bread in the mixture. Cook the soggy bread like a pancake. Eat with butter and maple syrup.

1 egg
1 dash of milk
2 or more slices of bread
Mix well in a large bowl large enough to fit a piece of bread.
Fry in a frying pan. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

French Toast photo by Ralph Daily
French Toast photo by Ralph Daily

(By the way my Scottish friends were horrified when I told them I put maple syrup on my French toast.
“Syrup on eggs?!?”
The British often have tomato sauce (a.k.a ketchup) on French toast.)

The worlds best Pain Perdu

When in Paris a few years ago a friend took us out to breakfast at a very fancy Hotel called Le Bristol. If you have seen the movie “Paris at Midnight” the Hotel in the movie is Le Bristol. In the movie there is even a shot of the foyer of the Bristol near where we had breakfast.

The breakfast was a sort of spur of the moment thing so I wasn’t really dressed for a Five Star restaurant. So I was a bit nervous as I felt completely out of place in my travel cloths.

A little voice in my head kept asking, “What was I doing is such a fancy hotel.”

There were three waiters standing around us, maybe even more, as there may have been a few extra waiters standing behind me as well, but I was too nervous to turn around and check. These guys were completely poised for action watching every move we made. I felt that any minute I was going to give away the fact that I wasn’t really a millionaire’s son, and they were going to jump on me and toss me out.

But they were all so nice and helpful. Waiters in posh places are trained to make on feel comfortable.

I relaxed a little as I looked around and saw that there were other dinners dressed as casually like myself. And I soon realized that the waiters were there to jump in at a moment’s notice and get us whatever we wanted. They really were really 100% focused on the patrons of the restaurant. I’ve never seen such service.

Don’t ask me how much the meal cost I really don’t know but it was wonderful. Thank you Evelyn!

The Hôtel Le Bristol foyer from "Midnight in Paris".
The Hôtel Le Bristol foyer from “Midnight in Paris”.

My daughter ordered a French toast/pain perdu, and when it came it was divine. It was like a completely different food group than the French toast I had made in college. I find it really difficult to describe. It was made  from big thick pieces of bread, yet it was so soft and moist taste. I don’t know if it was fried or cooked very lightly. It was sprinkled with powdered sugar and thinly sliced strawberries.

There was a little crystal container of maple syrup on the plate (for us Americans). The pain perdu tasted almost like a very moist cake.


One of the earliest references to Pain perdu in English is from a cookbook printed in 1430. In the cookbook it is called “Payn perdu”. Payn perdu is described as a recipe for bread that’s sliced, dipped in eggs, fried in butter and then sprinkled with a little bit of sugar.

American’s first First Lady Martha Washington wrote about the history of Payn Perdu in her “Booke of Cookery”.

She wrote that, “the English early took to Payn Perdu and made it theirs.  It was rarely omitted from a cookbook, usually listed under ‘made dishes’.”
(Made dishes’ are any dish that amuses the cook or shows off her skill.)

There are any number of recipes. Some include a bit of sugar, and or nutmeg and or cinnamon and some even include a dash of wine.

The Egyptian King and Queen

It took a while, but everyone was so friendly at Le Bristol that my worries about the waiter change to feeling sorry for them having to stand so attentively. Then to rationalizing that they were being paid well for their troubles and I was finally able to stop thinking about them and enjoy the breakfast.

That’s when things got really strange.

Behind my family I suddenly saw a white fluffy cat strutting through the middle of the restaurant. The cat was followed very closely by a woman wearing the Hotel uniform and carrying a walkie-talkie. The cat stopped and the woman stopped. The cat started moving again slowly and the woman followed at the same pace.

This was something one might see in a cartoon. The cat had it’s own P.A. I pointed the cat out to my family and we watched it strut by. To this day this is one of the things we talk about the most when we tell people about our trip to Paris. The cat at the Hotel Le Bristol.

“Who was this cat?” We wondered.

“Maybe it belonged to a rich guest.”

“Maybe it really the owner of the hotel.”

We began to snicker among ourselves at the possibilities. The cat and it’s P.A. walked on through the restaurant and disappeared into the foyer.

Later I spoke to the concierge and she explained that the cats name was Fa-raon (Pharaoh) and he belonged to the hotel.  Fa-raon even had his own chair in the corner of the foyer, where he was curled up when we left.

Fa-raon the cat.
Fa-raon the cat.

Looking up the hotel on google, I found their webpage where there is even a page of pictures of Fa-raon who now has a little friend named Kléopatre (Cleopatra).

It was a very memorable morning. And even though I can’t prove it I am still convinced that Fa-raon is the true owner of Le Bristol Paris. (At least in his mind) and who knows he might have inherited the hotel from his former master.


Looking around on the web, I’ve found any number of recipes for French toast. I’ve given my bachelor version. I can only just imagine what ingredients Le Bristol hotel Paris used to maker their amazing Pain Perdu. After reading a number of pages looking for the best recipes I’ve decided that I don’t want to violate anyone’s copyright. So I have made a list of the most common ingredients and added a few of what appears to be the most interesting additives to the basic ingredients of Pain Perdu.


Bread: Thick cut bread works better as it doesn’t fall apart as easily.
Many chefs still recommend  that you use day-old bread. Leave bread out overnight until it is hard.
Stale bread is said to soak up the batter without falling apart.

Ingredients for the French toast batter
-Eggs (the number depends on how many people you are cooking for)
– Milk or cream
Possible Additional ingredients

After the French toast is cooked you can add:
-Powdered Sugar
-Fresh Fruit (Strawberries and or Blueberries are nice)
– Maple syrup
– HP or Tomato sauce (if you are from the UK)

Bon Chance & Good Luck


How to use Duolingo


Language Hacks

duolingo-logo Today we are going to look at In my humble opinion one of the best language learning systems yet to be invented. And it doesn’t cost a cent.

Let me explain. I never really thought that I was much of a language learner. I have always wanted to learn another language however I spent a year in middle school Spanish and didn’t learn a thing. Later in college I took a French course and did a little better, but had to drop it after a term because of course loads. I still didn’t feel that I was brilliant at languages. In fact I was far from it. But I still had a burning desire.

So many years passed. My family and I finally made a trip to Paris and I fell in love with the place. A few months prior to leaving on a trip I took an evening course in French but it wasn’t enough. I began searching the internet for more information on language learning. Steve Kaufman (lingoSteve) at LingQ has some brilliant videos on language learning.

The two things I learned from LingoSteve is that language learning should be fun and you should do it daily.

Daily language learning sounds like a lot of hard work, especially for someone like me who never liked home work. This is where Duolingo’s system came into play.

        Gamification ˌɡeɪmɪfɪˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/ noun

The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.

I think the fancy word for it is “gamification” which just means to make a game out of it. Duolingo is a bit like a computer game. You as the user acquire points (called Lingots) as you progress. A record is kept of the days in a row you have logged in and completed your lessons.

As silly as it sounds this “gamification” awoke the inner gamer in me (I use to be addicted to computer games).  I became very protective of my daily log-in tally. Missing a day causes your days log-in score to  go back to zero, which kind of hurts once you get into it.

You can buy a protection with some of your acquired points (there are absolutely no hidden costs in Duolingo). But this protection only lasts a day.

For some reason this running score was the motivational factor that I needed. So was the acquisition of  Lingots.

289 Days and 742 Lingots
289 Days and 742 Lingots

This gamification through the acquisition of days and Lingots tricks the brain into thinking that you are being paid to work on your daily language lesson. (This is the good kind of trickery.)

Often when learning a new language you feel that you are just spinning your wheels. But the running tallies make you feel like you are making progress.

Educationally the doing a little bit daily is the best way to learn a language. Duolingo allows you to pick your daily language goal. To start off with I chose 10 words a day. (I really had very little faith in my language learning ability.)

After about 14 months I moved that up to 30 new words a day. I was kicking myself for not doing this before. But I had been worried about feeling overwhelmed.

Duolingo will require you to go back every so often and relearn some of the words that you have already learned. This revision count towards you score and it is very very helpful.



I’m a poor speller and didn’t want my language learning to be hampered by having to memorize the spelling a bunch of words in a new language when I could hardly remember the spelling of words in my first language. So I came up with some hacks to get around this.

I used the hacks because I didn’t want to become frustrated with my daily language learning, especially in the early stages when I had so little faith in myself. I wanted to expose myself to the words but I did not want to be tortured when I couldn’t remember how to spell them.

So I started a running Word Document. Every day before I started the lesson, I opened the Duolingo word document. I wrote the date. (After a while I started writing the date in French.)

I would then open Duolingo.

Duolingo would show me the words I was to learn next. I would copy those words onto a Table on my Word document. This table had three columns. One was for the French word the next for the pronunciation as the last was for the English translation/s. Sometimes there are more than one translation for a word. (I would add more words to this table during the lesson as Duolingo would sometimes add different conjugations of the daily word list.)

I would then open google translate.

I would then translate each word. Typing the translations in the third column of my table.


tumblr_mjg0xebmgk1s56exfo1_500In Google translate there is a little speaker icon that you can click on. This will say the word out loud for you. I would do my best to write down the phonetic sounds of each word as best I could.

I hope this isn’t sounding like a lot of work. It really wasn’t. It was a sort of system that I built up over time. In recording it now there seems to be a lot of steps, but as I was originally doing it I added a few steps at a time.


French letters also comes with accents. At first I used to skip over using the accents. Duolingo will still count your spelling as correct if you leave off the accents; however I wanted to get use to learning accents so I looked up the short cut keys for PC. Here is my list. I cut and pasted this key to the end of my word document so that it was always just below where I was typing.

French Accent Alt codes for PC
French Accent Alt codes for PC

The daily lesson.

A daily lesson for ten words in Duolingo usually has less than 20 questions. These questions are a combination of Translating short French sentences into English and or from English into French. This is very helpful as you learn the differences in sentence structure between the two languages.


You are also learning your daily words in the context of a sentence rather than just on random flashcards. This gives you a real feel for the rhythm of the language.

There are also exercises where you are asked to read a French sentence allowed, into your computers microphone.*

For the first year and more I skipped the spoken part of the French lesson. You are given the option to click on “Can’t talk now” and then you aren’t given any more questions that you need to answer verbally. The first time I tried a verbal question I kept failing and felt my frustration start to rise. But after a year and a few lessons with a tutor, I gained some confidence in my ability to speak French and now do this as part of my daily routine.

Duolingo is a wonderful system for building up a language vocabulary. After a year or more I began to look at finding a tutor. (I will talk more about finding a tutor in future posts.)

How much have I learned?

I have come a long way in the 20 months that I have been using Duolingo almost daily. I use it one my iPhone or on my iPad or on my computer. I no longer keep a running record on a word document, but I still think that was a good idea in the early days.

Picking up a book in French before I started using Duolingo 99% was alien to me. Now I can read about 60 to 80% of a Tintin comic without help. I can read most French menus in French restaurants. I can even read and understand most of the headlines in French newspapers such as Le Monde. (Use to be able to buy Le Monde locally but all my sources for this French newspaper have dried up. So I try to read on story a day on the web.

Most importantly my confidence has been built up. When I started working with a tutor after 18 months of using Duolingo my tutor was really surprised at my vocabulary.

It was all thanks to Duolingo.duolingo-owl

* [I have a Dell computer these days. Someone at Dell has decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to pick my own microphone! So my Dell computer does not have a microphone jack. I can plug in my headphones but not my microphone. Dell has a hidden microphone somewhere in the keyboard. The exact location is a secret.]

Welcome to My Learning French page

I’m not a language expert, however I’ve always wanted to learn other languages.  I’m not someone for whom language learning comes easy. I see language learning as an adventure of words, sights, tastes, and sounds.

This blog is an exploration of different languages, starting with French and different learning styles. I have discovered quite a few hacks and tricks on the way to learning my first second language, and I will be sharing them with you.

We will also be talking about culture and history while we learn. Because you can’t just learn a language without learning about the many cultures that go along with that language.


Todd LeMay
14 October 2016


Happy Tintin Day!

Yes in honor of the great French speaking Belgien hero, Tintin, I would like to here by designate today, the tenth day of the tenth month to be 10/10 day.

Of course in both France and Belgium 10/10 day  would be pronounced = dix/dix jour,  so the pun would be lost. So this is just for the many many English speaking fans. (To make it up to the French Tintin fans I promise to look for proper French date name puns to name pseudo holidays after in the future.)

Happy 10/10 day!
Happy 10/10 day!

It’s interesting a few years ago on Pi day (which is March 14 as Pi = 3.14) I looked up Pi day on the French Wikipedia pages. (By the way Wikipedia is a great language learning resource. You can look something up in English and then if you find and click on “Français” on the “languages” menu on the right side of the page you can see other cultures have to say on a subject.)

In French Pi day is called “La journée de π” (the day of the pi). Of course the French don’t write dates the same way Americans do. In French the date format is DD/MM/YYYY. So the irony of 3/14 is lost. However this is very patiently explained in the article.

Also the Pie = Pi pun doesn’t really work in French either as Pie = Tarte. But once again this is carefully explained in the French article. Puns don’t always translate.

But back to Tintin.

A very early picture of Tintin from the newspaper insert Le Petit Vingli`eme.
A very early picture of Tintin from the newspaper insert Le Petit Vingli`eme.

Tintin is a cartoon character invented in 1929 by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907-1983). Remi used the pseudonym  Hergé for his cartooning work. Tintin is a newspaper reporter who travels around the world and even to the moon, with his little white dog Milou (which was changed to “Snowy” in the English versions). Milou was Hergé’s nick name for his first girlfriend.

Tintin has a very round head with a tuft of hair sticking up over his forehead, like the accent on a French o-acute Ó, or an o-grave Ò, depending on which way Tintin is going.

In his early adventures Tintin’s hair was slicked back. Then one day Tintin rode in a car and the wind blew his hair back. Hergé clearly liked the windswept look and Tintin’s hair remained like this for the next 50 years (and beyond).

A weekly installment of Tintin.
A weekly installment of Tintin.

Tintin was published a comic strip and a magazine called “Le Petit Vingtième” (“The Little Twentieth”). youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtième Siècle” (“The Twentieth Century”.

If you read one of the comic book collections of Tintin you can see that each page of the comic book is made up of two of these weekly strips. Getting through a complete Tintin adventure would have taken months if not years. Imagine having a week to find out what happened next.

I first came into contact with a Tintin comic book in grade school. My older brother was doing a French class and he brought a French language version of Tintin home. The story was about Tintin going to the moon. It had been written a decade before the first Apollo moon landing. It was amazing. I wanted so much to read it. The story looked exciting and funny and so completely from a different culture than my own.

Reading Tintin in French its one of my goals.

Comic books as learning tools

Reading comics is a good way of learning new languages. Years ago I had a friend whose father was fluent in two or three languages. (This was the first Polyglot that I’d ever met.)

His dad was an international businessman and languages were important. My friend told me that when his father was studying a new language he would buy as many comic books in that language as possible.

This was way before comic books became cool so it was kind of funny at the time to think of an important businessman in a suit coming home to a pile of Donald Duck comics in French or Italian, but that’s just what he did.

Comics are an excellent tool for langue learning.

  • Comics are written in simple but effective language. (There is a principal in language learning, that if one can learn the 600 to 1000 most commonly used words in a language one is on their way to being able to communicate.)
  • Comic books use pictures to tell the story. So when you don’t know a word sometimes you can guess the words meaning from the context.
  • Reading a comic book is about relaxing and having fun. You can do something fun for hours and not even realize the passing of time. You also retain more of what you read when you are doing it for your own in enjoyment.

Polyglot Tim Ferriss also uses comic books (manga) as part of learning regimen when learning a new language.

I own a few French comics including a few Tintin and Asterix books. Reading them isn’t that easy. I set myself a goal of half a page a day. When I’m reading a comic, I have Google Translate open near by on my computer. I also have a word document open. Any words or phrases that I do not under stand and can’t work out I type into Google Translate. I then copy the word or phrase and it’s translation on to the word document so that I can come back and study the words I need to work on later.

It’s slow going at first but after a while I found my pace picking up.