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!


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.]