Language · Things that happen in French class

суббота / 酢豚 / Sabtu

Today I learned the word суббота or Subbota, which means Saturday. My first thought was, “Sounds like subuta (酢豚), meaning sweet and sour pork in Japanese. This is one of my favorite things about learning foreign languages, my brain starts associating one word in one language to another similar-sounding word in another language although they have nothing in common.

So суббота sounds like 酢豚. If you look closely, 酢 literally means vinegar and 豚 means pork. This dish is ubiquitous in Japan, you can easily find them in most bento shops and ALL chinese restaurants over there, because it does have a Chinese origin.

In Chinese, it’s called 咕噜肉, pronounced “gu lou yok” in Cantonese or “gu lu rou” in Mandarin. 肉 means meat, but as far as I know (ahem semi-banana), the words “gu lou” on their own don’t mean anything. A guick search revealed that there are two possible explanations for why this dish is called gu lou yok:

  • An onomatopoeia of a person swallowing her saliva when the dish is served because it just smells and looks too delicious. Try swallowing your saliva! It does sound a bit like “gulugulu”??
  • 咕噜 sounds similar to another Chinese word 古老, but pronounced with different tones. 咕噜 is like higher tone and 古老 lower? (It always tickles me when non-Chinese speakers can’t tell the difference between tones teehee). Anyway, the latter (古老) means old or ancient which hints that perhaps the dish was originally called 古老肉 or ancient meat dish, and over time, it evolved to 咕噜肉.

To summarize, we started with суббота, which led to subuta, and ended with gulouyok.

But actually, Subbota sounds like Sabtu (Saturday in Malay), right??

Another search led me down another rabbit hole. Look at this beautiful discovery:

Saturday in various languages:

  • Russian: Subbota
  • Croatian, Serbian, Ukrainan, Bosnian: Subota
  • Slovak: Sobotaul
  • Bulgarian: Sabota
  • Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Polish: Sobota
  • Italian: Sabato
  • Portuguese, Spanish: Sabado
  • Georgian Sabati
  • Sudanese: Saptu
  • Somali: Sabti
  • Arabic: Sabet
  • Latin: Sabbatum
  • Malay: Sabtu
  • Greek: Savvato
  • and more…

Are you as excited as I am?! This is probably basic to someone familiar with socio-linguistics, but it’s super interesting to me! Up to now I didn’t identify an obvious pattern in the languages I know (Samedi, Saturday, Sabtu, 礼拜六, and 土曜日) but now with this, I can really feel the horizons of my mind widening.

Apparently, the root of all these words is the Sabbath, and ‘in more than 100 ancient and modern languages, the seventh day of the week was named Sabbath or its equivalent.’ The Sabbath was originally Saturday, not Sunday.

There you go, an interesting piece of trivia to share the next time somebody says Sunday is the Lord’s day or over a plate of sweet and sour pork with friends.

Food · Things that happen in French class


The title is pronounced segodnya, meaning “today” in Russian. Because that’s one of the words I learned during my Russian class with the Université Populaire de Genève over Zoom today. It reminds me of Segovia, that pretty city with the castle near Madrid, famous for its local delicacy of roasted (?) WHOLE piglets with their faces still intact and on display. I feel bad for the vegetarians and vegans in that city…

I’ve been attending Russian beginner class every Wednesday evening since September at the university in town, just for fun and because it was cheap. My teacher is a Russian lady  in her late 40s or early 50s with the same name as my supervisor at work (who’s also Russian). There are about 10-12 regular students and we’re from all sorts of backgrounds and ages, so it’s kinda cool though I can’t say I’m friends with any of them yet #introvert. Everyone’s very pleasant though! And given more opportunities (when the weather’s better and I’m not rushing to go home) I’d definitely want to stick around after class to get to know them better.

Among these classmates is a 50-something year old Spanish guy, (or possibly Latin American guy) called Jose. And I always though he was the teacher’s pet – he came to every class and sat in the front every time, and (I think) is always one of the last to leave. My teacher speaks Spanish more fluently than French, so sometimes when she struggles to find the right word in French she would turn to Jose for help. Once or twice, I think he even helped her with her audio player or some similar technical problem.

So when they declared the lockdown a month ago, my teacher proposed to have lessons over Zoom. Today was the third online lesson and something very “juicy” (at least the “juiciest” thing I’ve had in the past month) happened:

Teacher: Okay everyone I’ll play you this audio clip… *struggles with the computer while sharing her screen for 3 minutes, while all of us students wait *

Teacher: Hmm, why doesn’t this work… Jose? Jose can you help?

Jose: Sure… wait, hold on. *Removes headphones and stands up*

Jose: *Disappears from his camera frame*

Sheng: (oh, he probably needs to close the window or something since it was getting chilly)


Sheng: *Trying to hide my surprise while checking to see if anyone else was surprised, and I think some people had the same fake nonchalant expressions as me, also I think my teacher looked kinda amused too”

Now I’m stuck wondering if they started dating even before Russian class started or after… Nevertheless, it’s still super cute! And juicy!

So that’s what happened segodnya.

Other than that, since I promised food in the previous post, here they are.


Lunch was garlic ginger egg fried rice with carrots and coriander.


Dinner was a quitoque meal with a long name that translates to: Pan fried smoked bacon, Saint Marcellin cheese, and kohlrabi* caramelized with maple syrup

*kohlrabi: yeah no idea what this was either. I’ll do a compilation post of obscure veges soon, too!


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!