mercredi 28 mars 2012

How to Hyperdecant Wine

Sometimes there is not enough time in the day. We are impatient and don't want to wait for things. Tim Ferris of the Four Hour Work Week prescribes in his post  'How to “Age” Your Wine 5 Years in 20 Seconds: Hyperdecanting' four methods for aerating wine: swirling and swishing, decanting, using a Vinturi, and for the time-poor wine connoisseur, using a blender.

I can't vouch for the blender method. You could of course use this method after you have opened your wine with your shoe!

mardi 27 mars 2012

Home Exchange - Benefits and Getting Started

What is Home exchange?
Home Exchange is where you swap your home with that of someone else, either simultaneously or non-simultaneously. These days contact is usually made via the internet. The families negotiate duration, dates, what is on or off limits. A car may or may not be included in the exchange. In addition to exchanging homes some home exchangers also offer hospitality. I am heading to France at the end of next month and will be taking up three offers of hospitality. I will also be doing a non-simultaneous exchange in Paris with Fraussie Grouet from Aussie in France. I am so excited about it. Imagine me staying in the Palais Royal.

Home Exchange is not for everyone, but we have found it a rich and wonderful experience and certainly recommend it for like-minded people. Trust and communication is the key to a successful exchange. It doesn't matter whether your home is large or small, modest or luxurious, there are people who may be interested in what your home offers. 

Why home exchange? 

For me the answer is much more than the obvious cost-savings associated with the scheme. 
  • You can live as a local rather than just as a tourist. Often you will be in a residential area so you can meet the neighbours, shop at the local shops, use public transport etc. The chance for real cultural exchange and immersion are greatly increased compared with staying in a hotel. 
  • You will have the added benefit of the inside knowledge of the local area by your home exchange family. 
  • You will frequently have more space to relax and enjoy. This may include outdoor area.  
  • You can prepare your own meals, wash your clothes etc. Children can access toys and books, and infant equipment may be provided.
  • The advantage of having your home, pets and plants cared for in your absence. This includes improved security for your home.
  • The option of access to a vehicle included in the exchange.
I recently instituted a get-together of more than 20 exchangers in Adelaide. All of them spoke of positive experiences. So far we have completed exchanges to Melbourne, Sydney and Belgium. We currently have exchanges for France planned. In addition a number of French exchangers have offered me hospitality when travelling in France this year. They are not planning on travelling to Australia but have kindly offered for me to stay with them. What a wonderful privilege and opportunity to meet the local people. I am very excited about this. In other cases where an exchange was not mutually convenient I will be meeting up with people for a drink or meal. Likewise we will meet and show some French exchangers around Adelaide when they are here staying at other people’s homes. This is such a culturally rewarding opportunity which we greatly value. As one person said at the Adelaide Homelink gathering: 
When you get people who love travelling together, there is always something to talk about. 

Where to start?
There are numerous organisations on the internet offering exchange programmes. Ideally the one you choose should allow you to search for homeowners in your desired location who are seeking to come to your area or are open to offers. I recommend that you research and peruse the listings of a number of sites. Check out the Frequently Asked Questions on these websites. If you can, speak to family and friends to see if they have any experience or knowledge of the groups. Travel sections in magazines and newspapers often review the various organisations. Some organisations specialise in what home exchanges they offer; eg luxury, over 50 etc 

We chose Homelink as it has been operating since 1953 and also provides Local Coordinators in more than 27 countries including Australia. It is possible to telephone toll-free Lisa, our Australian coordinator, and ask questions. Additionally we found that Homelink offered lots of French families who wanted to come to Australia. It also offers the ability to search for non-smokers or people without children if this is a requirement. Contact information is only available to members of the group and there is a facility to contact exchangers within the Homelink database. Homelink also offers a facility to tailor, record and save exchange agreements. Having a formal agreement means that if for unforeseen circumstances the exchange falls through the Homelink Coordinator will assist in locating another exchange. 

Future direction for home exchange organisations
The face of home exchange organisation is on the verge of changing with the arrival of CasaHop. It proposes using social networks to help find the perfect home exchanges. CasaHop has not yet been fully launched but you are able to register your details with them. Time will tell whether this method of using social networks is accepted and viable for home exchangers.

I will be covering in future posts some tips for exchanges and preparing the home. In the mean time you may be interested in the following:
Advice on home exchanges:
Home exchange organisations:

lundi 26 mars 2012

Phone Application: Google Translate

Translation apps are a growing market. No longer do we need to fossick in back packs or handbags for our bilingual dictionary or phrasebook. No doubt there are now young international travellers who have never had to worry about the weight associated with carrying these books with their dog-eared pages. 

I will be looking at a number of translation tools for travel but I will start with my favourite, Google Translate. This choice is is influenced by the fact that I have an Android phone which has serious memory issues (like its owner). This has meant that I am forced to use online translation apps rather than offline ones due to size limitations. The widget on my Android phone home screen allows direct access to Google Translate. Like all electronic translators it is not perfect and should only be used to get the gist of a discussion or text. Keeping sentence structure simple does help with accuracy.

I was extremely thankful for having loaded Google Translate on to my phone when I was returning from the tour I recently did to Kangaroo Island (The French take on Kangaroo Island). A young Chinese man seated in front of me on the bus was extremely agitated and was unable to communicate his concerns to the driver. None of the other passengers could speak Chinese and he had no English. Google Translate to the rescue. I whipped out my phone and within minutes I was able to establish that he needed to be dropped at an alternative location, explain to the driver what was required and reassure the young man that he would be dropped off as requested. I was rewarded with a huge smile of relief and gratitude. Thank you Google Translate!

  • Translates 63 languages from Afrikaans to Yiddish.
  • Voice input in 17 languages and text-to-speech in 24 languages. 
  • Conversation Mode allows direct communications with another person using speech-to-speech translation. 
  • Previous translations can be saved offline and favourites 'starred'.
  • Simplicity of use and minimalist interface.
  • Requires online access.
  • It conveys general meaning sometimes mangling complex sentences.
  • Regional accents and background noise may affect accuracy when using voice input but this will improve as people use it more.
Cost: Free

Further Information:

dimanche 25 mars 2012

Sydney Rediscovered - Architecture

Sydney is relatively young in comparison to European cities.  It has a mixture of both old and modern architecture (Sydney Rediscovered - Sydney Harbour). We were fortunate to exchange our home for a lovely place in the inner suburb of Erskineville, neighbouring Newtown, with its eclectic mix of shops. (Sydney Rediscovered - Playing the Tourist)

Inner suburban homes
Our home exchange on left

City of Parramatta Town Hall
 The Parramatta Town Hall built in the Victorian Free Classical style was built between 1881 and 1883.
Department of Education building
The New South Wales (NSW) Education Building occupies an entire city block, bounded by Bridge, Loftus, Bent and Young Streets and Farrer Place in central Sydney. It is an important example of the Edwardian architecture during the period 1915 to 1930.
Contrast of the old and new
General Post Office, N° 1 Martin Place

With its Italian renaissance architcture the General Post Office in Martin Place was constructed in stages from 1866-91. It is the most notable work in the city by colonial architect James Barnet. The Post Office now retains a relatively small presence at the site with it now being used for cafés, bars and restaurants.

Waiting by J. Seward Johnson Jr (grandson of co-founder of Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company) at Australia Square 
Customs House, Circular Quay
Customs House is conveniently located at Circular Quay. It has a café and restaurant. A enormous model of the city centre is showcased under the glass of the ground floor. Definitely worthwhile visiting. You can also read newspapers, browse information about visiting Sydney and access free wi-fi.
Australia Square, 264 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000
City of Parramatta Town Hall, 182 Church Street Parramatta NSW 2150

Customs House, 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay, Sydney NSW 2000
Department of Education Building, 35-39 Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW 2000

vendredi 23 mars 2012

Francophonie canadienne - Capsules humoristiques

Aujourd'hui à l'Université de Troisième Age nous avons parlé de la francophonie canadienne. Le site web Les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie dit: 
Aujourd'hui, près de 9,5 millions de personnes au Canada font vivre et rayonner la langue française autour d'eux. Ces personnes se retrouvent principalement en Acadie, au Québec et en Ontario, mais aussi dans l'Ouest et dans le Nord du Canada. Elles sont francophones de souche ou d'origines diverses issues de l'immigration, ou anglophones et allophones ayant choisi d'apprendre et de vivre en français.
Malheureusement le concours « La Francophonie s’éclate ! » des Rendez-vous de la Francophonie (RVF) 2012 est ouvert uniquement aux résidents canadiens. Néanmoins, on peut profiter des 20 capsules vidéo d'humour en français, en anglais et bilingues, portant sur la dualité linguistique au Canada. Quelle vidéo préférez-vous?

Merci à Fraussie d'avoir corrigé mon français.

La Coupe de Cheveux Gratuite

One of my friends recently shared this story with me. I understand that it has been doing the rounds for considerable time. Please let me know if you know its origin so I may correctly attribute the work.

Un jour, un fleuriste se rendit chez le coiffeur pour se faire couper les cheveux. Après sa coupe, il demanda combien il devait. Le coiffeur répondit :
- C'est gratuit, je fais du bénévolat cette semaine. 
Le fleuriste s'en alla tout content. Le lendemain, en ouvrant sa boutique, le coiffeur trouva à sa porte une carte de remerciements et une douzaine de roses.

Plus tard, c'est le boulanger qui se présenta pour se faire couper les cheveux. Quand il demanda pour payer, le coiffeur lui dit :
- Je ne peux accepter d'argent : cette semaine, je fais du bénévolat. 
Heureux, le boulanger s'en alla tout content, et le lendemain, déposa à la porte du coiffeur une douzaine de croissants, avec un mot de remerciements.

Puis, ce fut le député du département qui se présenta et lorsqu'il voulut payer, le coiffeur lui répondit :
- Mais non, cette semaine c'est gratuit : je fais mon bénévolat !

Très heureux de cette aubaine, le député quitta la boutique. Le lendemain, quand le coiffeur arriva pour ouvrir, une douzaine de membres du parlement attendaient en ligne pour se faire couper les cheveux gratuitement...

Voilà mes amis, la différence fondamentale entre les citoyens de ce pays et les politiciens qui nous gouvernent.

A méditer

mercredi 21 mars 2012

Learning French: Starting over again (Part 3)

View from the auberge near Annecy
I have only recently discovered Aaron Myers and his website The Everyday Language Learner which helps people learn another language. Aaron is a language coach. I had never heard of such a thing, but now that I have, I want one. 

Aaron has written a guest post for Multilingual Living titled Language Learning: Climb Past the Saddle! He believes that in language learning you reach where you need to reach in the language. My French has again plateaued but I am comfortable (or is that complacency?) with the level it is at. I can discuss a large range of topics in French with French friends and acquaintances. I can understand French books, magazines, films etc. I can manage to make myself understood and understand others in most situations. I make lots of errors and don't necessarily understand every word but I am able to communicate. I am an expert at finding alternative ways to say something if I don't know a particular language structure. I would like to be able have more 'shades' and 'nuances' in my language repertoire but the reality is that I don't need this as I can reasonably manage without it. When it becomes I priority, I will work harder to master the subtleties that are currently unknown to me.

I do however strongly advise against not understanding every word when ordering a meal. I was dining at an auberge near Annecy and when I read the menu I came across a dish that sounded most appealing. It had cream, bacon, onions etc. There was only one word in the entire description that I didn't understand. Not wanting to show my ignorance, and confident that it would just be the manner of presentation, I placed my order. The dish arrived and I took my first mouthful. I had to stop myself from gagging. I instantly realised my mistake. Rognons is the culinary term for kidneys. Sometimes knowing all the words is important! 

In my post, Learning French: Starting over again (Part 2), I listed a number of things that I have tried to supplement my language learning. Aaron succinctly lists 3 items to help 'stay in the game': 
  • Reading: I couldn't agree more. I can't recall the last book or magazine I read in English. 
  • Develop Friendships: Aaron talks about developing 'deep and lasting relationships with native speakers of the language you are learning'. I have also found that having good friends who are sharing the language journey is invaluable. They provide support, encouragement and also challenge me. I love having coffee or a meal with them and we chatter away in a 'safe' environment. It has helped break down reservations to speak the language and provides practice in getting my mouth around those tricky nasal sounds and the pesky French R. We may need to resort to looking up an online dictionary when none of us know the word and we don't always know enough to correct each other but still we are communicating in French. 
  • Imagine and Do: Imagining what I would like to do with the language is not something that I had consciously considered. It does however make a lot of sense and is perhaps something I have subconsciously done. I recall an animated French class when we sidetracked our teacher and ended up discussing terms when buying clothes and shoes and going to the hairdresser. We were all highly motivated knowing that we would definitely be using these skills. Writing blog posts in French is something that I would like to try. They will be riddled with errors but they will push me to go further on my French language journey.
I recommend you check out Aaron's The Everyday Language Learner site for lots more tips for learning languages.

Paris: People Watching at a Café

One of my favourite activities in France is people watching when I am at a café. The chairs in front of the café are carefully positioned to directly face the street. They are inviting you to join in this traditional French past-time. I love the fact that I can order an espresso and then have the right to sit at the table for almost as long as I like watching the world go past. No need to even pretend to be doing something else such as reading the paper. I am of course welcome to read, study, chat etc but just looking is a perfectly acceptable.

Sonia Gil of 'Sonia's Travel' motto is: Every Place Has a Secret Code. I Get a Kick Out of Finding It. Her video of people watching certainly reflects one of France's 'secret codes'.  She has 8 videos in her YouTube France Travels play list should you need more of a French fix.  Every Thursday she releases a new travel video (not just France) and on Mondays she now also releases a vlog (video log). 

Her first two vlogs have some very interesting information about language learning. She suggests that the minute you start learning a language, e.g; French, you implant a seed of Frenchiness within you.  She adds, that she does believe that languages open the doors to new cultures, but it is up to you how far past that door you go. I totally agree on both counts. I am always appreciative to have found someone voice the thoughts that I share but have been unable to put into words.

You can view more of Sonia's videos on:

lundi 19 mars 2012

Phone Application: Viber

I am always looking for ways to cheaply and easily keep in touch with family and friends both within Australia and overseas. Last year friends from the United Kingdom told me about Viber. Since installing it has become one of my favourite smartphone applications.

The application is free and is available for iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch and Android phones. Once you install the application on your phone it scans your address book and identifies contacts who also have Viber installed. Not only do you have free voice calls internationally and nationally but you can also send free text messages and photos. Viber is free to use but it will contribute to your data usage and if using 3G you will need to consider any roaming charges.

Advantages of Viber over Skype:
I am a keen user of Skype on my PC and laptop but for use on my Android phone I have found Viber superior although it does not offer video calls.

  • To receive texts and calls you don't need to remember to open the application or to have it running in the background.     
  • On my HTC Desire phone I have found it much better than Skype for voice calls. I have not been able to successfully receive or place voice calls using Skype on my phone, yet alone video calls. It keeps cutting out. I suspect that this may be a limitation of my handset.
  • The other advantage is that you don't need a separate identifier and permission to contact friends. It identifies those with Viber loaded by their mobile number in your address book.

Viber is available free to download from iTunes and Google Play (previously known as Android Market).  Viber Support advises that they are currently developing Viber for Blackberry, Nokia and Windows Phone 7.

samedi 17 mars 2012

Sydney Rediscovered - Playing the Tourist

Our home exchange is at Erskineville an inner suburb of Sydney and only a couple of minutes walk to King St and its 600 shops which stretch for kilometres through to Newtown and to the University of Sydney. This is not your fancy, shmancy Double Bay but rather a vibrant, cosmopolitan area with many students and gay couples. There are many speciality shops, bookshops, galleries, lots of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The choice of food is huge including: Vietnamese, Korean, African, Thai, Polish, Macedonian, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Lebanese - and the list goes on. Apparently the area is referred to as 'Eat Street'. There are also vintage clothing shops, music stores, massage and nail salons and second-hand shops.

View along King St, Newtown
A wonderful start to the day with brunch at Martini Café in Newtown. Great to have options for the sizes of the breakfasts. Thoroughly enjoyed my fruit, ricotta, honey and berry compote on sour dough toast along with one of the best espressos I have ever had. 

Brunch at Martini Café, Newtown
We caught the bus into the city where we picked up the 'I'm Free' city tour at the Town Hall. There were about 30 in our group. The tour takes in the well-known sites of the city. I am unfit and yet easily managed the 3 hour walk (with a 10 minute break) which finished in the Rocks area.
Clock in Queen Victoria Building
From the Town Hall we went to the Queen Victoria building and through Pitt Street Mall to Hyde Park where I heard about a rather unlikely French connection. The fountain was bequeathed J. F. Archibald to commemorate the association of Australia and France during World War 1. Archibald in spite of being the editor of The Bulletin magazine which encouraged writers to write about Australia, was a proud francophile. He had a neat French styled beard and changed his name from John Feltham to Jules François Archibald.
Archibald Fountain, Hyde Park
From Hyde Park we wondered past many historical buildings as we headed to Circular Quay, where the ferries arrive, and then on to the historical Rocks area.

The pubs in the Rocks were filled with Irish people good naturedly celebrating Saint Patrick's Day. I am not sure what the traditions are for celebrating Saint Pat's Day, apart from drinking Guinness of course. I was surprised to see girls in haut talons with so much haut that they were nearly toppling over. On their heads they had fascinators and they wore skimpy dresses that were no match for the cool, windy conditions as they spilled out of the pubs on to the foot paths. Security guards ensured that all drinking was kept within the confines of the temporary barriers. The girls looked more suitably dressed for a day at the races than downing a few Guinnesses at the pub with the boys wearing funny hats and green wigs. The bizarre thing is, that on 18 March they are having the Saint Patrick's Day Parade through the city and festivities in Hyde Park.  I am trying to work out whether the Irish are having a bit of a lend of the Aussies, two days to celebrate seems a bit much, or perhaps they didn't check their calendars to see what date it would be on this year when they planned the parade.     

During our 10 minute break in our tour I did manage to sneak a chausson aux pommes from La Rennaissance Café and Pâtisserie. I was eager to taste their pastries having read so much about them online. I was not disappointed. The pastry was crisp and light, enveloping an exceedingly generous amount of tasty apple filling. 

We finished our tour at the free observation tower (near Quay Restaurant) at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. It offers a panorama of about 270° of Sydney Cove, Circular Quay, Bennelong Point and the Sydney Opera House, Kirribilli, Luna Park and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Unfortunately today the weather was much less kind - it was cool with intermittent showers. No photos today of the blue harbour bathed in sunshine. I was too busy shivering. Tim, our guide today, was personable and knowledgeable about his city and its history. At the end of the tour participants are encouraged to tip with what they feel the tour was worth. 

Wine Odyssey - Great food and wine!
The obvious option would have been a coffee to warm me up, but I recalled Wine Odyssey Australia, owned by an ex-student of a good friend. A glass of wine was just what I needed to warm up. Wine Odyssey introduced a wine journey room which allows you to serve yourself one of their 44 Australian wines. The wines are available in a taste (25ml), a half glass (75ml) and a full glass (150ml). Its rooms are beautifully decorated and its staff are very knowledgeable about the wines and foods on offer. We thoroughly enjoyed the mezze plate of dips, dukkah and olive oil, sword fish wrapped in parma ham, crispy soft-shelled crab and risotto balls. I sometimes find sword fish a bit dry but it was cooked to perfection. One of the dukkahs had the most delicious lemon flavour. The mezze serving was very generous and regrettably we could not manage to eat it all.  We chatted to a very friendly couple, Mary (ex-Scotland) and Lucy (ex-England), from the table next to us about our meal and home exchange. The meals, wine and warm, friendly ambience at Wine Odyssey are such that you are eager to share your experiences with your neighbours. As Mary and Lucy headed off to the Opera House to see a play we wandered back to our bus stop to catch the bus back to Erskineville.

La Renaissance Café Pâtisserie47 Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney NSW 2000
Martini Café, 529A King St, Newtown NSW 2042
Wine Odyssey Australia, 39-43 Argyle St, The Rocks, Sydney NSW 2000

vendredi 16 mars 2012

Overdoing the Parisian Theme?

I spotted this dress whilst on my way to Sydney's Botanic Gardens. People talk about wearing their heart on their sleeve but this is probably taking it too far.  I didn't rush in and buy it. Would you wear this?

Apologies for the reflections. I tried various angles, but still no luck. 

jeudi 15 mars 2012

Sydney Rediscovered - Sydney Harbour

Sydney is a long way from Adelaide and even further from Paris. I have only spent a few days in Sydney in the past 30 years so this week has been a chance to rediscover its beauty. The weather has been ideal for sighseeing and the humidity that I was concerned about has been thankfully absent.

I have been amazed by the amount of green everywhere in terms of open spaces and trees. Looking from the ferries that we have taken to Parramatta and Watsons Bay a surprising number of the homes are obscured by the trees. There is no doubt that Sydney Harbour with its 240 km of shoreline is the star attraction of this city. The bays are full of all manner of boats and yachts. They range from small 'run abouts' to large, luxury, sleek vessels waiting for the next champagne cruise. 

View from Sydney Eye towards the Heads
View from Sydney Eye towards North Sydney
Circular Quay

Sydney Opera House

View of city centre
View of city centre

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney ferries and Opera House

Circular Quay

Watsons Bay

Dunbar House, Watson's Bay
View of CBD from Watsons Bay

mardi 13 mars 2012

Use your French to help combat hunger

La langue française au service de la lutte contre la faim 
Each year, on 20 March, French-speakers around the world celebrate the International Day of Francophonie. 

This year to mark the day the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and the United Nations' Programme alimentaire mondial (PAM), known in English as the World Food Programme (WFP), provides you with the opportunity to not only extend your knowledge of the French language and the French-speaking countries but at the same time help those who are hungry. 

This is your chance to use the French language to have some fun and also to make a difference to those who are starving. I urge you to participate and to encourage friends and family to do likewise. You can register individually or create a group and monitor how many grains are donated because of your involvement.  Note: I have created a group titled 'Femmes Francophiles' so we can monitor how much rice we raise.

Quand : du 17 au 25 mars 2012 (On peut jouer avant le 17 mars)

Comment : Rendez-vous sur, un jeu de culture générale en ligne où chaque bonne réponse vous permet de reverser 10 grains de riz au PAM pour permettre de nourrir ceux qui ont faim dans le monde, un jeu pédagogique et amusant avec un impact réel. À l’occasion de la Journée internationale de la Francophonie 2012 sur Freerice : l’OIF et le PAM appellent à tous les francophones à travers le monde à tester leurs connaissances en vocabulaire français et sur la francophonie et à s’engager dans la lutte contre la faim! ( )

vendredi 9 mars 2012

Learning French: - Free language tutorials

I am a huge fan of the linguist Jennifer Wagner and her easy to navigate site and her 'Jennie n'est plus en France' blog. The site covers a number of languages but for me the huge attraction is the abundance of free quality French learning resources. I particular like Jennifer's practical and realistic approach in recognising the importance of learning French as it is spoken and not just looking at the written French. 

The site is divided into the following main sections:

French: This part of the site is where you can learn French online for free. It includes phrases, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and listening resources.  The resources are well indexed and logically grouped. They are complemented by MP3 recordings, audio vocabulary lists, exercises and in some cases 'Real French' audio files to help improve aural comprehension. There is a an extremely useful section on Informal French

FranceThis section includes information for English Assistants as well as general information for expats living in France.

Realia: A treasure trove of authentic language resources. It highlights French objects and places that are different from their American counterparts. The differences often exist equally with English and Australian counterparts.

BlogJennifer covers a huge range of topics in her posts including culture, language learning, managing French bureaucacy and travel. She writes clearly and succintly and touches on topics interesting to not only French language learners but to anyone with an interest in language learning. 

Podcasts: Authentic recordings with transcripts are added here. They may be difficult at first but they are a great way to extend yourself when learning French.

Travel: Jennifer shares with her readers her photos, videos and travel tips. This is the first place I have found a cheap option to get from the airport in Lyon to Annecy.

There are also sections for learning other languages and linguistics.

I hope you find the site as interesting and useful as I do.

Learning French: Immersion Programme with the Alliance française de Rouen

I spent about 10 years studying at my local Alliance française (AF) in Australia, the Alliance française d'Adélaïde. It provided a wonderful environment for learning the language as well as an understanding and appreciation of the culture. The social events and support by teachers extends way beyond the classroom. I have also been fortunate enough to have made some wonderful lifelong friends who are equally passionate francophiles. 

My confidence in the AF organisation meant that I had no hesitation in choosing the AF for each of my linguistic stays within mainland France. I have done 5 stays including the last 3 at the AF de Rouen. Once I had done my first stay at Rouen my initial resolve to go to a different location each year was broken. The AF at Rouen not only met all my expectations but greatly exceeded them. I initially chose Rouen because I had spoken to other students at the AF in Adelaide who without exception spoke of the extremely positive experiences they had in Rouen. They cited the teaching skills of the staff, small size of the classess, warmth of the homestay families and the programme of visits. As an added bonus there was the ease of getting to Rouen from Paris by train in just little over an hour. They even organise transfers from Paris airports if you prefer.

My first visit to Rouen was organised through through the AF d'Adélaïde. I booked my flights but they organised my registration and payment for the course and the homestay. It could not have been simpler. All queries were quickly dealt with by my local AF who got back responses overnight from the AF in Rouen. Several months before I was due to leave I was allocated my host family and this enabled us to establish a relationship through written correspondence before my arrival. I chose to stay with them for each of my return visits.
Students participating in tour of Rouen
It can of course be daunting staying in someone else's home but I need never have worried with my family. My family was a retired couple and Mamie (Grandma). Breakfast was light and you helped yourself to it. I only had to ask if I had any special requests. Each evening there was a lot of laughter, joking and sharing over the gourmet dinner which the husband started to prepare immediately after breakfast. Dinner was included in the half-board family home-stay. Only French is spoken. Even with students who spoke nearly no French the family worked hard to ensure they were welcomed and were always supportive and encouraging of the students' attempts at French. Dictionnaries at the dinner table were not considered out of place. On my first day at the AF my homestay mother took me to the Alliance and introduced me. The family also provided me with an initial orientation of the town, ensured I was confident to use public transport and took me on visits in the region. I really felt I was a part of the family and not just a boarder. Staff in the office, teachers and homestay families actively encouraged feedback on all aspects of the homestays to ensure any concerns are immediately dealt with.

The first morning at the Alliance there were aural comprehension and written tests to assess competency in order to place you in the most appropriate level. Ongoing continuous assessment by teachers ensured that students remain in the most suitable class. Talking to other students I found that they all felt they were in a class commensurate with their abilities and were happy with their progress. Except for complete beginners, courses started each Monday which provided great flexibility when trying to fit in with travel plans. You can choose to stay for as few or as many weeks as you like.

The teaching staff were not only extremely professional but I would have to say very gifted. Over my 12 years of studying French I have had many teachers but the expertise of the teachers at Rouen in teaching adult learners from a huge cross-section of cultures, ages and backgrounds a second language is astounding. The classes were animated which made the entire learning process lots of fun. Time just flew. The classes were small and a variety of resources were used so that grammar, conversation and culture were integrated into all lessons in a natural and entertaining manner. Even if staff speak other languages they exclusively used French and always exhibited patience and good humour.

Mont Saint Michel Pictures, Images and Photos

The office staff helped locate services in the town and even had bus passes for sale. Free internet and WiFi was also available. In the afternoon cultural and linguistic workshops were run which provided opportunities to focus on a particular topic of interest eg film, prononciation etc. A comprehensive programme of visits was provided and could be selected and paid for once you were there. The visits included Mont Saint-Michel, Bayeux Tapestry, Monet's Garden, Amiens Cathedral, Somme, D-Day landing beaches) etc 

I so appreciated what the AF de Rouen did for me and was doing for other that I chose to work voluntarily for them both in France and in Australia for a number of years. The personalised, warmth of the welcome from all those involved including the host family, teaching and office staff, the professionalism of the programme and the supportive environment make the AF de Rouen a highly recommended choice for a linguistic stay.

Video about Rouen (in French)

Alliance française de Rouen, 80 boulevard de l'Yser, 76000 ROUEN France

jeudi 8 mars 2012

Learning French (and other languages): Pronunciator

This video cleverly illustrates numerous emotions through the use of simple graphics. No need here for a translation in English, Spanish, Korean etc.

If you like this then you probably will also enjoy the lessons provided online at Pronunciator says it is the 'world's largest language-learning service'. It has 60 languages available to  learn. The interface is not restricted to anglophones. You select the language you speak and which you would like to learn, from Afrikaans to Vietnamese. It looks like an ideal programme if you want to learn the basics of a language for travel. Not only do you get the vocabulary but the pronunciation as well using speech recognition software. Progression is tracked in the full version. 

Pronunciator has exercises in French across a range of levels. There are three access options for the product:

  • There is limited free access which gives you plenty of opportunity to see if you want to pay the addtional ongoing monthly fee for the full version. 
  • The full version includes access to up to 354 hours of downloadable MP3 audio lessons per language. 
  • Free access is available to the full range of products and services using a library card number via remote access where the library subscribes to Pronunciator. 
I don't know what the retention rate is for language learning through this method but it certainly is a convenient adjunct to other tools for the motivated independent learner.

mercredi 7 mars 2012

Leasing or hiring a car in France - Breathalyser kits

As if there is not enough already to think about when hiring or leasing long term a vehicle in France.  For some of us we find ourselves having to drive on the 'wrong' side of the road. From 1 July 2012 all drivers in France will be required to carry breathalyser kits in their vehicle when driving. Theoretically, having the kits will encourage drivers to self test so that they can determine if they are over the legal alcohol limit. Current reports recommend drivers to carry two of the single-use kits so that if they use one they will still have one to meet the requirements of carrying one. The penalty for not carrying one of the kits will be 11 euros. A period of grace until 1 November 2012 is expected to be applied.

I am not sure of the effectiveness of such a scheme in reducing road deaths and injuries as a result of drink-driving. If people already brazenly get in their cars and drive, having consumed excessive amounts of alcohol and knowing the penalties for drink-driving, then I think there is little likelihood that the testing kit will see them refrain from getting behind the wheel. I hope I am wrong and that it will impact on people's behaviour and stop them risking the lives of others as well as themselves.

The introduction of the law regarding breathalysers is in addition to a plethora of existing laws that visiting motorists driving in France need to be abide:
  • Warning triangle and a fluorescent safety vest are required to be carried at all times. I have also read but have not been able to verify that a driver may be fined if the vest is stocked in the boot rather than within arm's length of the driver. I could not however find the requirement about the proximity of the vest on the French Government Sécurité Routière site.
  • Some British websites advise that there is a law pertaining to rendering assistance in times of roadside emergency. Perhaps motorists need to carry a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher too. Again when checking on the Goverment website I could not find such information. I expect that rendering assistance may be a general law which extends beyond driving.
  • Radar detectors were banned from 5 January 2012. This included those incorporated into portable and integrated GPS systems and those which appeared in mobile phone applications. It is the drivers responsibility that their GPS is updated to conform to this requirement.
Currently vehicles leased by expatriates through programmes such as 'Peugeot Open Europe'  and delivered in France include the reflective vest and triangle on collection. This was certainly our case in April 2011.  No mention however is currently made on their website regarding arrangements for breathalyser kits when leasing these vehicles. It is probably too early yet for the information to appear on their sites. Until such time as the position regarding the provision of the breathalyser kits is made clear by rental and long-term leasing companies  I would suggest that it be prudent to ensure that you have a couple of them with you before venturing forth upon collecting your vehicle in France from 1 July 2012.

This is an opinion post and has no legal basis. Whilst writing this post I found many websites with contradictory information regarding driving in France. There appears to be a large number of urban myths surrounding the topic and copied from one site to the next. I recommend referring to the French Government Sécurité Routière site for accurate and up to date information on driving in France.

lundi 5 mars 2012

Learning French: Immersion Programmes

I have to admit first up that I am a huge fan of immersion programmes for learning a foreign language.  I don't have scientific evidence of their success compared to other methods of learning. Having completed 5 linguistic stays in France metropole and one in New Caledonia I have learnt lots about the French language and culture as well as improving my speaking, listening and writing of French. On top of this I had lots of fun, saw and experienced wonderful things and made lots of new friends.  I have lost much of my nervousness when speaking the language. These things may well have happened without travelling and undertaking immersion courses. I suspect not in my case.

In Judy MacMahon's article Continuing to Learn French Camille Chevalier-Karfis of French Today discusses not only the benefits but also the disadvantages of immersion programmes. It is a sad reality of life that there are scams as well as programmes of dubious quality. I cannot stress enough the importance of thoroughly researching an immersion programme before commiting to it. It should not only be of an adequate standard but needs to suit you and your specific requirements.
Students from Alliance française de Rouen
Selecting an immersion programme:
There is nothing better than a personal recommendation for an immersion programme, especially when it comes from a friend with a similar language ability and interests. This is not always possible so therefore in addition to ensuring that the programme is legitimate, my criteria are:

  • Location: The size of the town tends to influence how busy the locals are and their perserverance in communicating with me in French.  The timing of the programme will also influence how willing the locals are to make the effort to speak to someone learning the language. As Camille says in Thoughts on Going to France to Practice your French, consider going at off-peak times. She also provides a number of other useful tips. On the other hand the town needs to be big enough that there are plenty of cultural activities. I also look for a location which is easily accessible by train so that I can venture further afield independently without needing to hire a vehicle.
  • Homestay option: This is a crucial element of the programme for me. It is just as important for my learning as the classes I attend. How are the families selected? Is there a 'no fault' arrangement where if things don't work out between the family and the student that the school will assist with finding alternative accommodation?  Is there someone who has responsibililty for coordinating the placement of students?  I attended one language school where all admin staff were involved but there was no one person responsible to speak to if there was a problem.
  • Responsiveness to enquiries: I have sent repeat emails to some locations and never had a response back. I prefer timely and comprehensive responses. 
  • Additional activities and classes: Does the school offer excursions and visits in French? Are there some social activities offered?  What language or cultural workshops are offered?
  • Class sizes and levels: What is the maximum and minimum number of students per class? How many levels are expected to be offered when you are planning to attend. Eight levels may be offered in summer but there may be considerably less in the middle of winter. Is it expected that there will be a class run at my level? Most language schools in France use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. If you are unsure of your current level of language proficiency, a good starting point is the Test de Charlotte offered by the CNED (Centre National d'Enseignement à Distance) which will indicate your level. You can self-examine online for this, free of charge and the test will take about 45 minutes. How are students assessed and placed in classes? How is progression monitored?
  • Age range of students: I admit to being ageist. I am middle-aged but I don't want to be in a class where there are only 'seniors'. I find the enthusiasm and confidence of students in their twenties infectious and have found that my rate of learning increases when surrounded by them. I am generally less enamoured with those in their teens.  
  • Class times: My preference is to have classes only in the mornings with optional activities in the afternoon. I have found that in the first few weeks of an immersion programme I am brain dead by lunch time. Having the flexibililty to later pick up extra afternoon workshops or classes is invaluable.
  • Payment arrangements: I was nearly not going to include this. If the school is legitimate then the payment arrangements are usually fair and reasonable. I can't define what is fair and reasonable. I would however be wary if students are asked to prepay all in advance.  

I have not included a criteria for teaching staff as I have yet to find a practical way of assessing the school this way.
View from CREIPAC in Noumeea
There are a number of search engines for locating language schools and some of them are included in Isabel Eva Bohrer's Intelligent Travel article: The Key to Cultural Immersion– Learn the Language! – Intelligent Travel.

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the Ministry of Culture and Communication jointly awards the Qualité français langue étrangère label to French as a Foreign Language centres that meet their guidelines. Their website allows you to search for centres that they have accredited. Whilst the standard of these centres undoubtably would be very high it does not mean that centres that are not accredited don't also offer equally high standard programmes. I will post about my wonderful experiences at the Alliance française de Rouen where I have done 3 linguistic stays and for whom I also worked as a volunteer for a number of years. I have already written about my experiences at the Centre de Rencontres et d'Echanges Internationaux du Pacifique (CREIPAC) in Noumea: Learn French in New Caledonia - August 2012

Finally, I stress the importance of carefully researching whichever centre you choose to ensure its legitimacy as well as to ensure it is a good 'fit' for you and your learning objectives.

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