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Le Blog: Lingual Links

By angelaluke, Mar 4 2017 08:17PM

It is often said that developing foreign language listening skills is the hardest skill to master, yet it’s also one of the most important ones. What can we do to improve listening comprehension?

Well, it goes without saying that practice makes perfect. But if you’re not living in the country, how can you listen to authentic language? Actually, there are lots of ways and mixing up your sources of listening material will stop you getting bored.


With the Internet, it is very easy to search for radio stations in your country of choice. Whilst it’s true to say that radio presenters seem to talk particularly fast, radio programing follows a format. Therefore, start by listening on the hour, in order to hear the time, news headlines and maybe the weather. These sound bites are enough to get you started. The radio also makes great background noise and, the more you listen, the more your ear will get attuned. Here is a link to a marvellous site: radio garden - http://radio.garden/live/ You can spin the globe and listen to any live radio station in the world in real time – awesome!

Songs with lyrics

And if music is your thing, why not listen to foreign songs with lyrics. You can search on YouTube and if you’d like French lyrics, search for ‘chansons en français avec paroles’ and for Spanish, ‘canciones en español con letra’. You’ll find a huge choice and the lyrics on the videos help make the listening more accessible. The other day I was searching for songs in French and came across Sara’H who sings French covers of British and American artists. So, if you are a fan of Adele, you can hear ‘Hello’ in French. Knowing the song in the original language helps your comprehension enormously. Here is link to Sara’H’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/sarahageali


Podcasts are a great way to listen to relatively short bursts of French or Spanish and you can often get the transcript if you subscribe. There are many to choose from, but a French one I particularly like is called ‘One Thing in a French Day’ and the podcasts are produced three times a week. Here is a link: http://onethinginafrenchday.podbean.com/ For Spanish I like Audiria, with its transcripts and online exercises: http://audiria.com

Or maybe you prefer films?

Films are another entertaining way to improve listening skills, and give great insight into the country’s culture. Amazon has a fabulous collection of foreign films under the genre ‘International’ and if you are an Amazon Prime customer, the films are free to watch. It’s also worth checking what’s on in your local town. In Farnham, for example, Brasserie Blanc shows French films every Monday in their secret cinema upstairs and the Maltings also puts on foreign films. Don’t worry that the films are subtitled - the subtitles are there so that you can check how closely the English adheres to the original script!

Lastly, flashcards.

Building your vocabulary is another important language task and quizlet.com here kills two birds with one stone. Quizlet’s flashcard and online activities are great. You can search for any topic or easily add your own set. However, what I like is the fact that the site has built-in audio so you can listen to the words on the flashcards in the foreign language. Why not give this a try! https://quizlet.com/

Hold conversations with people who speak the language you’re learning.

Ultimately, we learn a foreign language to be able to communicate with other people so conversation groups are a great way to practice listening and speaking. Anyone who attends our French or Spanish conversation groups will know this, but if you can’t find a group near you, why not look to chat online? There are many sites that will help you find an online chat partner but here’s one I like: https://www.conversationexchange.com/

So, what do you do to practise listening? And what might you try now you’ve read this? Please leave me a comment below as I’d love to hear what you do and, if you’ve liked this article, please share it on your favourite social media.

Merci et gracias, Angela

By angelaluke, Feb 20 2017 04:41PM

Shrove Tuesday for us – Carnival for them!

So, it's a week tomorrow until Shrove Tuesday when in Britain we traditionally have pancakes, historically to use up all the rich food before eating more simple food during Lent. However, I have to say that some parts of Spain do much better than this; like Venice, certain towns put on a carnival. This lasts typically over a week and ends on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Their logic is to party hard before the forty days of simpler living. And party they do…

Vilanova i la Geltrú

In this coastal town 40 kilometres south of Barcelona, the carnival program started on 5th February and involves several balls with live music, activities for children, poetry readings, processions, meringue-throwing, and a huge boiled-sweet battle between different local groups, to the sound of live music. If you have a chance to be in the area, it’s well-worth visiting, particularly the sweet battle on Sunday 26th February, starting at 9am – but don’t worry, if you stay over on the Saturday you’ll be woken much earlier by the brass bands in the streets.

The Carnival King

Another part of the carnival is the arrival of the carnival king, Carnestoltes on Thursday 23rd February. His burial on Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the end of the carnival, but there is a still a ball that night!

Carnival in Catalunya

The Catalans take the carnival seriously and have serious fun. This is partly because Franco banned carnivals. Barcelona and Sitges also have impressive carnivals, the one in Sitges being particularly flamboyant. Given the excellent transport links along the coast, you could easily visit all three towns and sample the carnival in each. The atmosphere is fabulous and this would be something you’d never forget.

Have you been to any of these or other carnivals in Spain or Latin America? I'd love to hear about them...

Links to the three carnivals:

Vilanova i la Geltrú: http://www.carnavaldevilanova.cat/index.php/carnaval-2017/programa (in catalan)

Sitges: https://www.sitges-tourist-guide.com/en/events/sitges-carnival.html

Barcelona: http://www.barcelonayellow.com/bcn-events-calendar/details/11-barcelona-carnaval

By angelaluke, Oct 30 2016 04:12PM

You may remember being taught in school that the French for ‘us’ is 'nous'. And then you may have been told that 'on' in French is the equivalent of 'one', as in, one is not amused. However, language changes and evolves and, whereas in English the use of the pronoun 'one' is quite unusual and possibly old-fashioned, 'on' in French has gained in popularity and now is used much more than ‘nous.

A reason for this increase in popularity is down, in part, to a laziness of French speakers. As ‘on’ has the same verb endings as ‘il/elle’, the verb also sounds the same as the ‘je’ and ’tu’ forms, thus the speaker has to think less about conjugating the verb. Here’s an example: je regarde, tu regardes, on regarde.

Another reason for its popularity is the fact that the meaning can be quite fluid. We can use ‘on’ to refer to people in general (where in English often say ‘you’). For example, on doit se tenir à droite – you must stay on the right. But ‘on’ could also refer to you, me and the others we were with – on s’est bien amusés hier soir – we had a great time last night. Lastly, ‘on’ is used in French where English would use a passive. For example, ‘French is spoken here’ is often translated as ‘ici on parle français’.

If you are lucky enough to go to France soon, listen to the people around you and you’ll hear lots of ‘on’. And then try using it – you’ll sound more French and will spend less time conjugating the verbs… which will lead to more fluent French…

By angelaluke, Oct 6 2016 11:03AM

We are so used to using tags in English that we don't even think about them, do we? That's one I’ve just used, but there are loads more, aren't there? June, you were asking about these, weren't you?

Tags have several functions and that is why French and Spanish speakers learning English are keen to master them. Tags make a conversation sounds more natural, encourage the listener to become active in the conversation and offer the speaker reassurance that the listener is following what he or she is saying.

For speakers of other languages, the English tags are quite complicated. On the other hand, English speakers learning French or Spanish often feel a need to use a tag but can't find one as tags do not translate easily.

So what are the equivalent expressions to English tags? Let's start with French. (if you are a Spanish enthusiast, you can jump to the next paragraph!) The easiest expression is 'n'est-ce pas' which can cover the idea of ‘don't you?’ ‘can't you?’ at the end of a statement. What is tricky is the response to this. A simple ‘oui’ or ‘non’ can sound a bit too blunt so if you are agreeing, it’s sounds more natural to say, ‘oui, c'est vrai’, or ‘oui, bien sûr’. If you don't agree with the statement, use 'mais non!' which is a strong contradiction, just like ‘No I don’t!’. Here’s an example: Tu joues au foot, n'est pas? Mais non! Or conversely, ‘Mais si’ if you are contradicting a negative statement. E.g. Tu n'es jamais allé en Turquie, n'est pas? Mais si, l'année dernière.

The Spanish equivalent of the tag at the end of a statement would be ‘verdad’. Juegas al tenis, ¿verdad? Or, no juegas al tenis, ¿verdad? The replies would be ‘Sí, es verdad’ or equally ‘la verdad es que sí’ or ‘sí claro’ and the negative would be ‘Pues no’ or ‘Pues sí’ if the question was negative like this one: No juegas al fútbol, verdad? Pues sí / Pues no.

Next time you need to give a short answer in French our Spanish, have a go at adding a tag equivalent - the goal is to make your answer a little longer than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I promise you will sound more natural and less stilted. Let me know how you get on in the comments box below or comment if you use any other tag equivalents. Please also share with any friends who may like to know about this topic.

Merci / gracias, Angela

By angelaluke, Sep 25 2016 11:31AM

I often have people telling me that they are good at understanding written or spoken French, Spanish or English but really struggle replying and they wonder why. I think there is a good explanation for this.

Firstly, formulating a response requires much more than just putting a few sentences together. Putting the sentences together is the tip of the iceberg. For these to be intelligible, they have to make sense to the listener. This in turn means that the learner has to have understood what was said in the first place. Therefore, the language learner's brain is already in overdrive before they utter a single word.

Also, learners often question whether they have correctly understood what was said to them. My advice here is to assume you have. And if you haven't, your response is not likely to trigger a world war, so don't worry about it too much. It's better to communicate something than to be turned to stone by self-doubt. Or, take a step back and check you have understood. It's very easy to ask someone to repeat or rephrase something; we do it all the time in our own language in noisy environments and no-one thinks anything of it.

Furthermore, it may be that the person you are talking to does not require a complete answer from you - they may be looking at you simply for a signal to show that you are following (to a greater or lesser degree) what they are saying. It is very hard for a speaker to continue if he or she does not know whether the listener is engaged. So, in this case, you just need a couple of set phrases such as 'ah bon', 'bien sûr', 'ah sí' or 'claro'. The speaker is then reassured that you are not stuck in the quicksand of their language and they'll carry on speaking (which gives you a reprieve!) The good news is that there is every possibility that your mind will catch up with the general flow of the conversation and you'll then be able to participate.

And so now it's your time to talk. Learners often think this is the hard bit, but actually getting to the stage where you have understood enough of the conversation to have thought of a contribution is harder still in my mind. Now you are holding the conch, don't get caught up in this momentous occasion. Instead, just say something and pass the conch on. You don't have to say anything complicated or impressive and people will be thrilled you are communicating with them in their language instead of making them speak yours. And of course, it's only a conversation when there is an exchange between two people, so you are right to give the others another opportunity to speak: after all, you don't want to be accused of hogging the conversation!

The third stage in this process, after having listened and understood and then replied, is to metaphorically pat yourself on the back but also remind yourself that what you have just done was not that hard. The hard part is pushing yourself to do it in the first place instead of taking the easy way out and saying, 'Parlez-vous anglais?' And you'll find that the next time gets easier, and the time after that even more so. Actually, I would argue here that your ability to converse hasn't got any easier, but your confidence has increased massively... because you've done the hardest part, succeeded and maintained a conversation!

The above partly explains why people enjoy our conversation groups. The vocabulary emailed out beforehand means that people are familiar with the language being used and the crib sheets offer enough support to get you to the crucial stage where you are ready to join in the conversation without the brain already overdrive. Everyone is so relaxed that confidence soars and then the conversations go hors piste. And that's when the authentic conversations and fun really starts...

By angelaluke, Apr 29 2016 10:05AM

Last week in our French conversations we had the phrase, ‘ça a été?’ This common colloquial expression is used in conjunction with something already mentioned or mentioned in the phrase itself. For example, ‘le weekend, ça a été?’ and is a way of asking how your weekend was, but the speaker is often expecting a positive response. The closest to this in English would be ‘And was your weekend good?’ What is great is that you can use the expression with lots of subjects, eg ‘Ça a été le repas/le theatre/le film/les vacances?’ So it's a good piece of small talk and something you might hear in a friendly informal French bar.

However, let’s not forget that ‘été’, as well as being the past participle of être, also is a noun meaning ‘summer’. So, in September, if you are catching up with a French-speaking friend you haven’t seen since April, you could find yourself saying, ‘Alors, l’été, ça a été?’. And if someone does ask you, a stock response whilst you're thinking of what else to say would be, 'Super, merci!' and then you could add more detail. Alors, cet article, ça a été? :)

By angelaluke, Apr 15 2016 09:50AM

Tenir is a verb that came up in our French conversation groups last week. It is quite a useful verb but one that tends to get missed. It literally means ‘to hold’ and conjugates like ‘venir’ but has a myriad of other meanings. It’s a great sentence starter, or a way of introducing a subject. You can use it in the ‘tu’ or ‘vous’ form to attract your listener’s attention. E.g. ‘Tiens, devine ce que je viens de faire’ = ‘Hey, look what I’ve just done’.

Tenir also indicates surprise : ‘Tiens, je me suis trompé encore de numéro!’ – ‘Goodness me, I’ve got the number wrong again!’ You’ll also hear it in shops when the shopkeeper gives you your change: ‘Tenez’ = ‘Here you are’.

And there are lots of idioms using this verb: ‘j’y tiens’ means ‘it’s important to me’ and ‘ je te tiens au courant’ means ‘I’ll keep you posted’. The verb is not to be confused with ‘le tien’ which means ‘yours’, so ‘ce stylo, c’est le tien? = ‘Is this pen yours?’. Which brings me to finish with ‘A la tienne, Étienne!’ – a colloquial expression for ‘Cheers’!

A la semaine prochaine, Angela

By angelaluke, Apr 9 2016 03:57PM

Wednesday’s scripted dialogues at the French conversation groups threw up some imaginative endings when people were faced with the situation that their payment card had been refused. We had all sorts of scenarios but the most useful phrase seemed to be ‘je me suis trompé(e) de code’ meaning ‘I got the code wrong’. The grammar here is a reflexive verb in the past tense but the best way forward is to learn the set phrase, ‘je me suis trompé(e) de...’ as you can then add any noun. In English we have many ways of expressing this: ‘je me suis trompé(e) d’adresse’ means ‘I got the wrong address’, and ‘je me suis trompé de ville’ could mean ‘I went to the wrong town’. ‘Je me suis trompé(e)’ on its own means that you made a mistake. However, ensure you use the reflexive pronoun, otherwise you are deceiving, betraying or cheating on someone, instead of making a mistake. So, ‘elle a trompé son mari’ means that she had an affair, which I guess is still getting the husband wrong in a way! And lastly, there is a very similar verb: ‘tremper’ which means ‘to soak’, so ‘je suis trempé(e) jusqu’aux os’ means that you are soaked to the bone. A bientôt, et ne vous trompez pas de verbe :) A bientôt, Angela

By angelaluke, Mar 30 2016 01:44PM

The expression 'est-ce que' came up today in our French conversation groups. These three little words are so small and mean so much. I am often asked what 'est-ce que' actually means. Well, literally the expression means 'is it that...' which is not really that helpful! It is more useful to look at the function of the expression. 'Est-ce que' serves to introduce a question, which by default means that you are expecting an answer. Therefore as soon as the person you are talking to hears 'est-ce que', they are hooked in and ready to reply. This is particularly handy if you are in a noisy environment or if you are unconfident about your spoken French and so speaking softly. 'Est-ce que' is also useful as it means that the rest of the question follows the usual word order of a statement; no need to invert the subject and verb or to raise the tone of your voice to indicate you'd like an answer. 'Est-ce que' can also be combined with other question words such as 'pourquoi'. For example, pourquoi est-ce que vous êtes ici? And n'oublions pas that if someone says, 'est-ce que' to you, they are also expecting a reply. My tongue in cheek advice at this point is, if you are not entirely sure of the question, to reply 'oui', as they are probably asking you something pleasant like 'est-ce que vous voudriez encore du vin?' or a pleantry such as 'est-ce que vous êtes ici en vacances?'... Any queries, don't forget to use our website panic button. A plus, Angela

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