#34 My frustration with post-B1 level French

Featured picture is a view of the Italian quartier and the Bastille Fort across the Isère river in Grenoble. Picture taken from inside the Grenoble Museum.

You may have heard that the French language is very similar to the English language. It’s true, I think it takes around 500 hours for an English speaker to reach an acceptable level of fluency in French, compared to 2000 hours to attain competency in Japanese. And I certainly made more rapid progress than my Chinese peers who don’t speak English back in French class.

For example:
English: Comprehension, energy, conquest, numerous
French: Compréhension, énergie, conquête, nombreux

See, easy! C’est totalement identique! (It’s totally identical!)

And if you were a Chinese speaker (with limited English ability), it would be:
English: Comprehension, energy, conquest, numerous
Chinese: 理解,活力,征服,許多

So that explains the extra 1500 hours lol.

But it would be the other way round if you were a Chinese speaker trying to learn Japanese. Because:
Chinese: 理解,活力,征服,許多
Japanese: 理解、活力、征服、多種

But a language is not just words. You need to learn grammar and understand the sentence structures and flows and all that shit and these are the things that take up the most time. Let’s return to my topic, i.e., how frustrated and betrayed I felt by the French language once I advanced into intermediate level, which is where I am at currently (but I should be in advanced level on paper, because I’m doing a Master’s course in French, lol. #phoney #sorrynotsorry)

When you first start learning French, you practise sentences like:

What is your name?
Quel est votre nom? / Quel est ton nom? / Comment tu t’appelles? (more common)

I eat an omelette.
Je mange une omelette.

Look at the pretty girl!
Regarde la jolie fille!

I start work at nine.
Je commence à travailler à neuf heures.  

And the French sentence structure appears to resemble the English structure a whole lot!:

What  |    is     |   your   |  name?
Quel    |  est    |  votre   |  nom? 

I    |   eat        |    an     |   omelette.
Je  |  mange  |   une   |    omelette.

Look at  |  the   |   pretty  |    girl!
Regarde  |   la    |     jolie   |      fille!

I      start               |        work          |        at nine o’clock.
Je commence à   |       travailler   |      à neuf heures.  

Hoorah!! But who speaks in present tense all the time right? Let’s see how past tense works in French:

J’ai bu un verre du vin. 
I drank a glass of wine.

L’oiseau a survolé la rivière.
The bird flew over the river.

Let’s break it down to the literal meaning of each French word in the sentence:

J’     |   ai          |     bu       |   un   |  verre     |du    |  vin. 
I      |  have     |   drunk  |    a     |  glass     | of    |  wine

L’    |     oiseau  |    a        |    survolé        |   la      |   rivière.
The |     bird       |    has    |   flown over   |   the    |    river.

Still not so bad. Now, let’s spice things up with negation.

Je n’ai pas fait mes devoirs.
I did not do my homework.

Elle n’a pas compris pourquoi il était en colère. 
She did not understand why he was angry.

Literally in English,

Je       |    n’             |   ai       |      pas          |   fait   |    mes   |    devoirs.
I         |   negation |  have  |  negation    |   did   |   my     |     homework.

Elle    |       n         |    ‘a        |     pas        |   compris          |   pourquoi |    il  |    était |   en | colère. 
She  |   negation |    has   |  negation  |    understood    |       why     |   he   |  was  |   in   | anger.

Now let’s add one pronoun. To make things less complicated, let’s go back to present tense, non-negation sentences.

Il l’invite à la soirée. 
He invites her to the party.

Il     |   l’     |   invite     |    à  |    la      |     soirée. 
He  |  her   |   invites   |  to  |    the    |     party.

Now it gets more confusing. What about having two pronouns and changing it to past tense?

Je te l’ai donné.
I gave it to you.

Je    |    te   |  l’  |    ai        |    donné.
I      |  you  |   it  |   have  |   given.

What about trying some negative, past tense sentences with pronouns now?

Tu ne me l’as pas dit.
You didn’t tell me that.

Tu      |        ne               |     me    |       l’     |    as            |           pas            |    dit.
YOU   |   NEGATION   |   ME     |   IT        |  HAVE       |    NEGATION  |    TELL.

So basically, when coming up with a French sentence, in my mind I gotta be like ” YOU NO ME IT HAVE NO TELL” when I mean “You didn’t tell me that.”

Let’s compare that with other languages:

Tu ne me l’as pas dit.
You didn’t tell me that.
你沒跟我說那件事。(Mandarin)
你冇同我講嗰樣嘢。(Cantonese)

あなたはそれを私に言っていなかったよ。(Japanese)
Kamu tak beritahu saya tentang ia. (Malay)

Tu      |        ne               |     me    |       l’     |    as            |           pas            |    dit.
YOU   |   NEGATION   |   ME     |   IT        |  HAVE       |    NEGATION  |    TELL.

Mandarin:
你       |    沒   |    跟      |  我        |  說    |   那        |      件事。 |
You  | no       | with    |   me    |  say  |   that    |    thing    |

 

Cantonese:
你       |    冇   |    同      |  我      |  講    |   嗰樣      |      嘢。 |

You     | no     | with  |   me    |  say  |   that    |    thing    |

Japanese:
あなたは  |    それを   |     私に    |     言っていなかったよ。|
You          |   it             |     me      |   didn’t say        |

Malay:
Kamu |   tak  |    beritahu   | saya    |    tentang     |  ia.  |

You     | no     |    tell             |   me    |     about         |  it   |

To sum it up:

For an English sentence “You didn’t tell me that”
French: You no me it have no told.
Mandarin: You no with me say that thing.
Cantonese: You no with me say that thing.
Japanese: You it me didn’t say.
Malay: You no tell me about it.

Surprise! The structure of the Malay sentence is the closest or at least most instinctively understandable order of words compared to English. Second place actually goes to Mandarin/Chinese, followed by Japanese, THEN only French! Don’t even get me started on the conjugations…

This proves my argument, when it comes to sentences with a combination of pronouns, tenses, and negation, French sentences are nothing like English. But I have to say, I get it though, somewhere deep in my brain I understand why the Latins decided to make their sentence order like this. In fact, the more I learn French, the more I feel that it’s actually quite an efficient language.

And the best thing about it is that it’s so different from Japanese, my other foreign language, in terms of precision. In Japanese I could be vague and beat around the bush yet have decent conversations in Japanese but in French you really got to find the most accurate word to describe what you’re saying what you’re saying to avoid a misunderstanding. I think that over time, when I continue to improve my French, it’s even possible that I will even enhance my critical thinking and assertiveness. And as a plus side, I’m also on my way to increasing my vocabulary in English because I’m coming across a lot of French words which have English translations that I’ve never even used or heard of, like “redact”, “injonction”, “attestations”, etc. etc. and these French people throw words like these around in daily conversations.

I always don’t know how to end my blog posts lol but I guess I’ll just say this, learning languages is wonderful! Till next time!

 

 

 

#33 Reminiscing PB88: Santorini (Port 6)

Lol it’s been more a year but I’m only at Port 6!! Not giving up though!!!

What is Peace Boat?

Yassou! (Hello in Greek)

  • Date: 2015/9/26
  • Port Name: Santorini
  • Country: Greece
  • First time there?: Yes!
  • What did I do?: In the morning, I interpreted for a tour that includes a hike up the hill on the Nea Kameni island (I remember memorising the Japanese words for volcanic activity like lava and caldera, etc. etc.), followed by a dip in the “hot springs” at Palia Kameni. Then I had the afternoon free to roam around on my own!

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This was me before the tour. Red polo and clipboard ready! We were gonna take the boat to Nea Kameni for the hike, then hop on the boat again to the hot springs at Palia Kameni, then back to Santorini Island.

I had my swimsuit on because we had to go swimming in the “hot springs”. Why inverted commas? Because it wasn’t like your typical Japanese onsen hot spring but a muddy-looking bay (contains sulphur) by the Palia Kameni (old volcanic island) with a water temperature of 33°C. Plus we had to jump off the boat and swim about 100m to the bay in order to reach the lukewarm “hot springs”. I remember the day before the tour when we had the briefing with all the participants, some of them got so mad and felt cheated because they were expecting the great Japanese traditional onsens, resulting in about half of them cancelling their reservations. Well, that’s a smaller group to take care of so for me, it wasn’t that bad! In the end they also loaned us life jackets from the cruise ship and we had some cute looking floats to help us stay afloat and I personally am super grateful for that.

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At the top of the mountain overlooking the volcanic crater.

AFTER THE TOUR:

Lunch time! I ordered some tomatokeftedes (deep fried tomato balls) which made me sick after I got back on the boat… lol. But at this point, sitting in the cafe, I was still in bliss! And I got my Wifi fix, of course.

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Then I took the cable car up to the city. There were three ways to get up here, you could hike, take the cable car, or ride a donkey. I wasn’t going to ride on a donkey alone, lol. Plus they looked really sad.

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It’s the calmness, the color of the ocean, and the climate in this region of the world that gives the Mediterranean Sea such a magical quality.

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When in Greece, eat yogurt! I don’t even remember if it was authentic greek yogurt or just a tourist trap! Either way, either this guy or the tomato balls gave me diarrhoea for the next few days…

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Or it could be me stopping to pat these donkeys on the way down back to the boat.

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It was drizzling a bit and I didn’t have time to go to Oia, the place with even more beautiful white buildings with blue roofs but this part of Santorini had its charming architecture, too! The part of the city close to the ocean was naturally super touristy but once you venture out a bit you would be able to see some houses that looked like locals actually lived there.

To wrap up, my day in Santorini was a lesson in natural history (had to explain the timeline of the volcanic eruptions, etc.) and an afternoon walk in postcard Greece. It was wonderful and more than a year later, it still feels surreal to me that I was actually there.

Postcard back home: (I’m cheating because I didn’t even go to Oia, haha)

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Postcard for the bf:img_2746

Next port: Kusadasi!

#32 Reminiscing PB88: Crossing The Suez Canal

  • Date: 2015/9/24
  • Port Name: No port, just passing through the Suez Canal!!
  • Country: Egypt
  • First time there?: Yes!
  • What did I do?:
    It was a day off for volunteer staff so we played basketball on the top deck while enjoying the views of Egypt on boat sides of the boat.

Despite having a Bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t really know much about the Suez Canal before signing up for Peace Boat. But after I found out that we were going to go through it, I did some googling and of course got super excited about it.

I remember that in the Middle East leg of our trip (Dubai, Doha, and now Suez Canal), the boat was experiencing a very hot and stuffy phase that was out of our control as we couldn’t individually adjust the air conditioning systems. And as you can see in the pictures below, we also had our fair share of sun when were passing through the canal.

We didn’t have internet on the boat (unless you paid ¥2000 aka RM60 for 100 minutes) so I was reading up on Suez Canal in my electronic encyclopaedia which in my dictionary. I remember reciting these facts to anyone who would listen. Oh, and I also played basketball with Wendy, Joe, and Wendy’s student lol.

FUN FACTS (THEY ARE SO FUN AND AWE-INSPIRING) according to my dictionary:

  1. The Suez Canal connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. We went from small ocean in the south (Red Sea) to the Mediterranean Sea in the north through the crack as marked by Google.screen shot 2015-08-05 at 10.21.57 am.png
  2. Financed by the French and Egyptian governments, it was built by French engineers (notably Ferdinand de Lesseps) with construction starting in 1859 and ending in 1869, using a method that’s essentially digging a passage through the land. It’s still impressive but wait till we get to Panama Canal for even cooler engineering.
  3. It was built by the French but when Egypt had some debt problems they sold some of their shares to Britain, and eventually in 1882 Britain officially occupied Egypt and took over control of the canal for their own interests *rolls eyes*, as Suez Canal was the shortest way from Europe to Asia without having to circumnavigate Africa.
  4. I just googled Suez Canal’s history and the article’s too long with too many wars in between, it’s kinda sad and reinforcing my belief in the fact that humans are just prone to warring with one another… I just have to conclude that I feel very lucky and kinda melancholic to have visited this canal that was the backdrop and cause of many wars and important points in hum any history.
  5. Length of canal: 162.5km, Width: 160-200m, Depth: 14.5m.
  6. About 60-73 ships pass through the canal daily.
  7. Takes about 12-16 hours for a ship to cross.

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Here’s us approaching the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, a bridge built in 2001 with financial and technical assistance from the Japanese government and Kajima, one of the biggest general construction companies in Japan. This is one of Japan’s ODA (Official Development Aid) projects, which serve to help developing countries through civil engineering and other assistance.

One of the aims for this bridge is to facilitate better connectivity between mainland Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. The latter is still part of Egypt but is separated by the Suez Canal. Funny, the only time I remember learning the word Sinai before this was in the bible, and at that time, it felt like a land far, far away. I wonder how many of my church elders can actually point out where Sinai is on the map?? Lol. #backslider #nawjustkidding #maybe #sorrynotsorry

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A lonely looking mosque on the bank of the canal. I hope to visit you one day, Egypt!

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Cheese!

Next port: Santorini!!

#31 Provincial France = Real Life Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon is a highly successful farm-simulator game made by a Japanese game company called Natsume Inc and easily tops the list of my all-time favorite games, along  with The Sims. Actually, I played this game so much it was probably the reason my eyesight deteriorated and why I needed glasses when I was 11. Basically, the story is you inherit a farm and you gotta work the land to produce seasonal crops, attend to livestock, make money, court girls (yeah, lol), participate in festivals and life with the community, etc. Being a city girl from a tropical big city, everything about the cute towns and the farm with a barn and chicken coops and a vegetable patch with SEASONAL veges and of course, a forest with wood to chop and flowers and mushrooms to pick was almost like another world to me.

That is, until I came to France.

The chateaus here with their French gardens and the old forts remind me of Disneyland and other RPG games respectively, but I’m mostly going to focus on Harvest Moon for this post. I need to share my happiness about stepping into this real world that up until this year had been virtual to me.

The Town Halls

First up, the itsy bitsy teenie weenie mairies aka Municipality Halls!

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Here’s the town hall of Gieres, a tiny town next to the university campus with a population of 6,000 people in an area of 6km2. It’s a stone building with a brick roof complete with windows and shutters! Apparently there are community facilities like tennis courts and conference rooms managed by the city and you just come here to get permission if you want to use them, most of the time for free! Such socialism. That explains the high taxes I guess.

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The Grenoble agglomeration consists of 46 of such municipalities, each with their own governing body hence their own municipality hall. My “city” of Meylan has about 17,000 inhabitants over an area of about 12km2.

To understand my glee and why I think the French town halls look like the ones in the game, you gotta know what the city halls that I’m used to look like:

Selayang City Hall (Left) and Nerima Ward Office, Tokyo (Right)
Pfft such boring modern buildings!

The Town Squares

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Public square in the city center of St. Etienne

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Dining at a restaurant by the public square in a tiny town called Allemont

Almost all cities in France that I’ve visited, regardless of size, had squares like this for people to chill, sunbathe, or to people-watch. It’s a shame this doesn’t exist in Malaysia. In KL, most “public spaces” are owned by private developers / malls, anyway.

The Crops

As any fan of Harvest Moon would know, growing vegetables is the most essential part of earning your livelihood in the game. I still remember that you plant turnips, potatoes, and cabbages in spring, tomato & carrots & corn & & pineapples in the summer, and sweet potatoes & pumpkins in the winter. Super important lessons about botany right there, because in Malaysia we don’t HAVE seasons, you know? 😦

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And tada! Here’s a real life example ↓ In fact, I see plenty of them everywhere in the outskirts where people have enough land to own a little vegetable patch like this.

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And here’s a real apple tree in the rain!! With actual apples growing on them. They were laughing at me for taking pictures of such an “ordinary” tree but it’s frigging exotic for me lol. Strange I’d never seen one in Japan before, but I just never had the opportunity to go up north to Aoyama where all the juiciest Japanese apples come from.

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The Flowers

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“Aku sedang apa?” Haha random pic of the indonesian version of Harvest moon I found online.

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Here’s my post on picking wild flowers during my hikes in spring.

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Besides amassing flowers, I also hug them to pose for pictures.

The Farm Animals

Here’s my other post on animals in France.

Horses:

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This is a groovy horse with highlights on his mane.

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Dogs:

One of my favorite things about France is how much they love dogs. ❤ But as a downside, you see dog poop everywhere. :/

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This lil guy barked at us when we walked past his house but didn’t dare come near us.

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I think this lil guy is a shepherd dog trained to check out passers-by like us to make sure we are not a threat to his flock. All we had to do was look and act normal until he decides we’re harmless and runs away back to his flock.

Sheep:

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This was taken from the top of a mountain with a powerful zoom, but if you look closely, those are sheep resting and frolicking in the grass. Some are sheared and some not.

Chickens:

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And that’s all, folks!

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#30 My first 3 weeks at a French university

I started my Master’s course 3 weeks ago here in Grenoble. The first two weeks were pretty intense because 1. I’ve basically been bumming for the past three months with no serious commitments and 2. Apparently in France, they like to make the first weeks of uni relatively busy to prevent students from slacking.

Also I started with a weird system, the first two weeks were fully assigned to Graphisme (or graphics / drawing) and I handed in my dossier (a folder with about 8 types of drawing assignments) at the end of the 2 weeks. After that, I was done with this subject and didn’t have to come back to Graphisme again. It’s a bit strange to me because in Waseda, we had 1.5 hours or 3 hours of class every week for each subject from the start till the end of that semester, which I thought was the norm for most universities, but I guess not.

THE CLASSMATES:

  • French girls are all skinny. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I don’t wanna say they are all pretty objectively but to me holy shit most of them were all so above average. Lol check out my PC-ness. And yeah, no comment about the guys because we’re, I wanna say, 75% girls? And obachans like me no longer check out guys.
  • Speaking of the male:female ratio, many of my professors are women, too so that’s pretty refreshing to see. ALTHOUGH, all of them are white (and my class of 48 people are 80% white anyway). Well, when in Rome, Grenoble.
  • The same girl power is evident in the ratio of smokers. I wanna say at least 20% of the students smoke here. It’s their prerogative I guess, but sometimes it’s annoying to have to walk past a group of smokers just to get into my school building.

THE TEACHERS:

  • “Teachers” dress really casually. My photoshop professor was in shorts and a see through top, and another male professor was in a polo, shorts, and sneakers. Reminds me of my time teaching English in a Japanese primary school when I wore a slightly see through top with a camisole inside and comparatively short skirt and the headmaster told me to dress more decently in case I made the 11-12 year old kids “excited” -.- Apparently girls in high school in Japan MUST wear camisoles in case their bra straps / hooks are visible and “distracts” the male students. EYE ROLL

THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES:

  • French classmates at AUTOCAD class were wondering why the decimal point on the software uses a PERIOD ( . ) instead of a comma ( , ) because they don’t realise it’s a universal thing. I.e. in France they write 99.9 as 99,9. And then I stumbled upon the list of countries using decimal commas instead of decimal points and I got a slap in my face because apparently more countries in the world use the decimal comma. But with China, India, and the USA on our side I can confidently say there’s more PEOPLE in the world who are more used to the decimal point.
  • Naked people in my professor’s slides. Naked people in the magazines we had to use to do our collage assignment. It’s not exactly a SUPER culture shock for me like すごい!!! (sugoi!!! or OMG awesome!!! ) but more like やっぱり (yappari, or “as expected, the French really do live up to their stereotypes”). Digression: This reminds me of my trip to Musee d’Orsay in Paris where I saw an explosive X-rated painting. It’s a realist painting by Gustave Courbet and totally NSFW so I’ve saved it for the very very bottom of this blog post. Check it out only when you’re sure no one can see your phone screen. After looking at the painting from up close and cheekily snapping a picture at the museum, I had to leave because I was joined by a Japanese old man who stood next to me and it quickly made me nervous.
  • It’s so weird to do the bise, or cheek-kisses every morning every day when you see friends for the first time. And it’s even weirder to do it with my ASIAN FRIENDS here. LIKE WTH HOW PHONY ARE WE?? STOP IT. (does it anyway, because I’m weak like that and when in Rome)

THE SUBJECT:

I’m still super super excited about being able to study urban planning again. Since last week we have been having lectures (2 frigging hours) and the workshops / practicals will finally kickoff next week. We’re going up north to Annemasse, a city right next to Geneva on the Swiss border for a field trip to the city hall!!! AND it’s going to be in ENGLISH!!! HALLELUJAH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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L’origine du monde (“The Origin of the World”) by Gustave Courbet, 1866. Apparently when it was first revealed at a salon back in the day, they had to hide it behind a curtain and only sleazy rich men privy people were able to look at the painting.