Rediscoverd Blogging: The Knowledge Illusion Blog

  I really enjoyed posting to this blog when I was in Marseille and then again on my return back to the UK – it certainly helped me learn French and feel in touch. So for 2012 I decided to learn again and have started a new blog about learning and technology more generally – beyond learning a language.

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Rediscoverd Resources: La vie en Rose Quotidienne Blog

When I wrote my blog entry yesterday I remarked on the value of finding things that help me with my French learning as I go about my everyday life tasks. In fact after writing my blog yesterday I started to watch the films Mesrine again. I find the spoken French quite hard to understand and whilst I keep hoping that I’ll manage without the sub-titles, inevitably I have to look to check out the meaning of an unfamiliar word or phrase. This revisiting of previously enjoyed and useful resources extends of course to this blog. It originated when I arrived in Marseille and I find myself returning to sections to remind myself about the things that I learned and the resources that I used. I can’t of course have the same level of background french media: sounds and images from the TV, text and images in the street, in shops and on advertising hoardings, or regular interactions in French. However, there is background French that is easily imported. For example, france info radio which I now play in the background as I blog. I don’t claim to understand every word, but as with most radio stations there are regular bursts of weather, sport, news and magazine type articles whose regularity aids comprehension. Today there was an interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg about her most recently released film: L’arbre, which I have not yet seen.

Whilst looking at the blog I was also reminded of the usefulness of making myself write sections in French. So with that in mind here is a little review of another French film that I saw and enjoyed recently: Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque). I had not expected great things after some mixed reviews, but actually I enjoyed the film – except the mad Papier-mâché LA GUEULE, which was bizarre.

Lorsque j’étais jeune, j’ai écouté la chanson enregistrée par Serge Gainsbourg et Jane Birkin et j’ai pensait que c’était la chose la plus étonnante et risquée que j’avais entendu parler. J’ai lu sur Serge Gainsbourg et toutes les femmes qu’il est censé avoir aimé, mais je me rends compte que je ne connais rien de plus à son sujet. Je ne savais pas ce qu’est un musicien de talent qu’il a été ou comment prodigious il avait été comme un jeune garçon. Le film raconte cette histoire et engage le spectateur avec le jeune garçon et l’homme célèbre qu’il est devenu. Il est plein de musique et de la couleur et les épisodes de la vie familiale, l’audace juvénile et la floraison de talents. Bien sûr, il ya aussi le côté sombre de l’homme et son manque d’attention à sa propre santé grâce à l’abus d’alcool et le tabagisme par exemple.

Another more extensive review of the film in French (not by me).

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Found Resources: Je suis heureuse parce que je trouve un cinéphile comme esprit

One of the things I find very useful for keeping me in touch with learning my French now that I am back in England is when I find serendipitous links to the French language as I go about my normal activities. I was delighted when I opened the Sunday paper yesterday and read Henry Porter’s piece about the “golden age for serious movies” that exists in France. I was of course also delighted to see the pictures from some of my favourite films this year, not only the wonderful, but sad Partir, but also two of my other real hits from the last year: the two-part of Mesrine and Un Prophéte. I am not normally a fan of violent films and both of these are certainly that, but there is something about the manner in which they are made that makes the violence an acceptable part of the experience for me. I agree with Porter’s analysis that the French know how to tell a story and that they see film as being about more than entertainment – as he says “it is culture”. This is perhaps why I find it such a powerful stimulant for learning the language – I want to understand why a particular phrase or word is used and of course I just simply love the passion and the power.

There is another link for me to my own French language learning experience through the film Un Prophète, probably my favourite film of the year, because this tale of an Arab in a French prison who discovers his own power is connected to Corsica and through that to Marseilles.

Much of the film is in Arabic, and I also find that the French is hard to understand, however the sounds remind me of wandering around the market at Noailles, and the experience motivates me to re-engage with learning the language.

I realise that Porter’s article is about the demise of the UK Film Council, due to close in 2012 and whilst this is not the point of my post, I do agree that we need someone to ensure that we have films that do the same for Britain’s cultural life as the French film industry. It is after all that ‘film as culture’ aspect that draws me into to language learning through film.

Found Resources: Lhasa de Sela

Another useful way back into language learning for me is through music. I am extremely fond of the artist Lhasa de Sela, and in particular her second album: The Living Road. Sadly Lhasa died in January this year – she was only 38 years old – but her songs live on and when played they fill the room with an amazing, vibrant sound. She sings in French, English and Spanish and her website is in all three languages.

I remember going to a very small venue in Bristol to see Lhasa a few years ago, it was one of my favourite live performances: very intimate and evocative. The song that prompted me to think about language learning through music, was La Confession, which I remember her performing. I was listening whilst working and suddenly found myself translating these lyrics:

Je me sens coupable
Parce que j’ai l’habitude
C’est la seule chose
Que je peux faire
Avec une certaine
C’est rassurant
De penser
Que je suis sûre
Se ne pas me tromper
Quand il s’agit
De la question
De ma grande culpabilité

Now I believe this means something like: I feel guilty because I am in the habit of feeling guilty. It is the only thing I can do with some certainty. It is reassuring to think that I am sure not to be mistaken when it is about the question of my great guilt.

For an alternative and probably more accurate translation see

You can also listen and see Lhasa perform La Confession

However, I must confess that my favourite Lhasa song is not a French song but a Spanish one: it send shivers down my spine. Maybe if I get the French Language sorted I’ll try Spanish next…

Found Resources: Encore je trouve Michel et la mer

Well, I am pleased to report that I have indeed managed to recapture something of those Marseilles seaside moments by listening to Michel whilst rowing. The sound of the water is very relaxing and if I shut my eyes and listen to the audio of Michel talking about the French language I can easily imagine that I am walking along au bord de la mer, smelling the salty air and feeling the wind in my hair. All I need is the taste of pastis in my mouth and the l’aroma de la bouillabaisse de Marseille and I would be truly transported.

I was a little disappointed however to also rediscover some of my early language errors. I had hoped that I had progressed beyond these, but they are clearly quite strongly rooted. For example, the two that have featured in my learning this morning have been my forgetting to add the pas part of the negation, so I respond to questions such as: I am not coming for dinner today with je ne viens pour diner aujourd’hui, rather than je ne viens pas pour diner aujourd’hui. Of course I know that the ne part of the negation is only the signal and that the pas part is important, but knowing is not the same as doing. I also found that I had failed to put into practice another rule that I know: the use of the infinitive when the verb is not the first in the phrase. So, for example when translating can you wait for me, I was saying pouvez-vous m’attendez, instead of pouvez-vous m’attendre. Ah well, clearly I will have to row a lot further if I am to get back to the level I had reached so that I can then go beyond.

Found Resources: Partir

I love films, so another good way back into language learning for me is watching a French film (with subtitles of course) and what better motivator than the fabulous Kristin Scott Thomas and the  lovely Sergi López (wow). The film is called Partir, which is translated into Leaving. So an immediate question for me is why is the infinitive form of Partir used to express the ‘ing’ form of the English infinitive to leave?

I remembered that when listening to the  Michel Thomas audio course as I walked to the language school in Marseille that he explained that our use of the ‘ing’ form of a verb in English can be translated into French as the infinitive form when the word is being used just by itself or with a preposition. He uses the example of  Voir, c’est croire = Seeing is believing. I therefore conclude that the translation between Partir and Leaving is based on the same principle.

This made me remember how much I had enjoyed walking to my language classes and listening to Michel Thomas when in France and it motivated me to find a way to fit some of this audio back into my life. Since I have just bought a rather splendid rowing machine that uses water for resistance perhaps I can recapture something of those Marseilles moments by listening to Michel whilst rowing: the gentle slooshing of the water blending with his ‘dulcet’ tones and reminding me of those happy seaside days, we shall see..

Found Resources: High Fidelity

Lynne commented on my last post that when trying to get back into language learning “There have got to be fun ways that involve fine wines and good food, haven’t there?” Absolutely, I agree and food and wine are definitely high on my list of ways to get back into language learning.

I have also re-aquainted myself with the book I was reading before the perturbations in my language learning and reminded myself how much I like it. I find this book much more useful than the first French translated text that I read, there is less colloquial language and more everyday chatter.

As I read I use a pencil to ring the words that I don’t know that crop up more than once in a chapter – particularly those little words, (such as conjunctions, adverbs and prepositions). For example, in the first chapter I note that I had ringed:

ainsi – as in: “La Boutique sent le tabac froid, l’humidité, la Cellophane poussiéreuse; elle est petite, inconfortable, sale, encombrée, en partie parce que je l’ai voulue ainsi – c’est á ça qu’un magasin de disques doit ressembler” = The shop smells of stale tobacco, damp, dusty cellophane and is small, uncomfortable, dirty, crowded, partly because I wanted it thus – it is as a record store should look,…

dehors – as in: “…j’ouvre la porte d’une main, le décroche du bac de l’autre, et le jette dehors” = … I open the door with one hand, unhook the catch on the other, and throw him out.

tandis que – as in: “…puis il jette un coup d’oeil aux mots croisés du Guardian, tandis que je parcours le magazine des imports américains” = … Then he takes a look at the Guardian crossword, while I tour the U.S. imports magazine

ah yes, nothing like a good book and a nice glass of Bandol

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Lost Resources

Josh made a very insightful observation in his comment to my post about not really being in the mode for learning – he drew the analogy of pulling over when driving, and I certainly feel as if that is what I have done. As Josh notes, I had been using some driving metaphors and it is true that any learning experience is a living journey and such it can head off in unexpected directions and diversions, as well as in accordance with the original route.

My journey has encountered such a change or route and I have ‘pulled over’. Many of the resources that I would normally have been using to support my learning have been unavailable to me. These are the resources that I bring to my learning: such as my motivation; and the resources that other people and my environment contribute: such as not being in a French location and hence not being surrounded by French sounds and images. Just to make matters more intense, my iphone also broke!  I therefore need to look around for alternative resources to support me and to keep me connected with my learning.

My trip to France was cut short and I am now back in the UK . So, what exactly has changed and how can I make best use of my new set of resources? As ever when learning one needs to be flexible, the world changes as do the people in it and skillful learners can adapt and maintain their progression. So this is now my new challenge – am I flexible and skilled enough to keep progressing with my French despite my changed circumstances? We shall see…

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Making connections

On many occasions, particularly when I have been trying to read books in French I have come across these words:  comme = as/since, quand = when, depuis = since/as,  puisque = since/as. cependant = however, donc = so/therefore, lorsque = when (more formal than quand). They are all used for linking words or phrases together (i.e they are conjunctions) and now I come to think of it I realise that I need to understand more about how to use these connecting words, because they make it much easier to string together the language that I know into the holy grail of a conversation. A little like the connecting streams and weed between the rock pools in this picture.

Depuis j’ai été l’apprentissage du français, j’ai fait beaucoup de progrès, surtout quand j’ai été pu d’ assister les classes en français. Cependant, lorsque je n’ai pas pu assister à ces classes, j’ai eu moins de possibilités de parler dans un groupe de personnes et donc ma progression est moins, comme vous pouvez voir de cet blog, puisque la preuve est dans l’écriture.

Since I have been learning French, I have made a lot of progress, especially when I was able to attend classes in French. However, when I could not attend these classes, I had fewer opportunities to speak in a group of people and so my progress is less, as you can see from this blog since the evidence is in the writing.

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I’m not really in the mood for learning

Phrase for the post is – avoir envie de = to feel like, as in: Je n’ai pas vraiment envie d’apprendre le français à ce moment.

I have spent some time thinking and writing about the way in which how I feel impacts upon how I learn. I have explored using twitter to record my changing emotions as I tried to master speaking and understanding French. I found this worked quite well in the early days where everything was a challenge and the highs and lows were really quite intense. As I have relaxed into learning I have stopped feeling the need to record these changes in my emotional state throughout the day. I do however believe that such techniques are valuable in these circumstances and that technology can help to make explicit and to support the emotional needs of learners and teachers (see for example,  grafitter; and subtle stones). However, I now find myself in a slightly different situation as far as learning French is concerned. At the moment I feel a little like the boats in this picture – covered and not open for action. I simply don’t feel in the mood for learning, it doesn’t seem a very high priority for me at the moment and I lack motivation to expend energy on it. This is quite a different emotional state to that which I experienced when I first started to learn French and I felt anxious or demotivated at one time of the day, and excited and motivated at another. It is a state about which less has been written concerning the ways in which technology might support the relationship between ones emotional state and ones learning. It is a state that is longer lasting and less acute, and that is part of the normal manner of human existence. In my case it has been precipitated by a serious family illness and a feeling of helplessness. It is a state that is having a significant impact upon my learning.

So what can be done? Well, I suspect that writing this blog entry is a helpful start, because it acknowledges the situation and accepts that something needs to be done. And, because I am in charge of my own learning and I am experienced and skilled at self management I am in a position to reduce my expectations, to lower the bar (or enlarge the goal posts – well it is that time football of the year!), and to make adjustments to what I try to achieve. For example, I had started to notice that there were many useful little words that I was coming across frequently and that I needed to note and learn. I am therefore setting myself the simple target of finding a few of these each day and using them. There are practical adjustments to be made too, because I am unable to now spend the time I had anticipated in France. So, for example, I had been keeping a brief record about my daily activities when I was in France and I can now reflect on these and think how these might be adjusted to reflect my changing circumstances. I have added these daily routines to the learning materials section of this blog:

Daily Routine: April

Daily Routine: May