France · Things that happen in French class

#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.

Kamu tak beritahu saya tentang ia. (Malay)

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

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


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

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

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

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!




Other Countries · Peace Boat

#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!


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.


At the top of the mountain overlooking the volcanic crater.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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


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)


Postcard for the bf:img_2746

Next port: Kusadasi!

Other Countries · Peace Boat

#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.


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


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



Next port: Santorini!!