Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 1: Arrival at Cité a.k.a How Slow Can You Go?

When traveling, I can get a bit neurotic. Check-in time for the place we were staying at, an international housing complex called Cité Universitaire, was apparently at 2pm and not the 11 I thought it was. As a result I was quite early and at least got to sort out all my stuff before everyone else arrived.

But I didn't realize how weird time could be until everyone got here. Our group consists of 2 professors, 1 boy and 14 girls. The monumental slowness at which people get ready is awe inspiring. I honestly don't know how we're going to get anything done. It took us almost an hour to just get everyone downstairs and ready, and that's with the professor breathing down people's necks. When we decided to go out on our own with about 5 people to buy water, it was obscene how slowly people move.

Notre Dame
Which seems to get only slower when taking pictures. I'm not much a shutterbug, to the side you see one of the 5 pictures I took today on our walk to Notre Dame, but some people just spend hours and hours. This is fine normally, but not when we're a group of 17 that need to stick together with a professor who walk so fast we're worried he might break the sound barrier. We almost lost some people on the Paris Metro (which isn't a very hard thing to do. Paris Metro is very efficient, and therefore very much used and very much busy.) Not to mention the people who got caught behind traffic lights. This does not bode well for the rest of the journey.

If anyone is out there actually reading, be kind to the people in your tour group and don't delay them like this. It's cruel and my feet are still throbbing from the extra standing/walking time they brought upon us.

Of course, I suppose there's always that one picture you just have to take.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Parlez Vous Français?

In high school, I took two years of french, so naturally I know next to nothing about the language. What I've managed to retain is a jumbled mash of unconjugated verbs, phrases I learned from TV and the French songs that my mother would sing when we were little kids. The actual language I feel I can understand well enough; It shares similar roots to Spanish, my first language, and most words translate over just fine, but speaking the language is a whole different kettle of fish (maybe halibut, but I don't know how to say that in french either).

So once I decided that, yes I was going to spend a month in Paris, and that I didn't want to be a) a mute, or b) entirely clueless (mostly clueless is fine), I set about to try and get my french back up to some sort of conversational standard. Looking around, I found a variety of tools that might help me on my way, and here is a list of them.


The Babbel webapp is something that I had been using on and off since my high school attempt at the language. Back when I signed up, the program was like a group run watered down Rosetta Stone, where images would represent words and phrases and it would supply and teach you words related to certain themes like food or clothes or body parts. It also had a community, which I have toa dmit I didn't take advantage of.

Several years have passed and Babbel now has a LOT more features. It has grammar practice and the technology for the vocabulary is streamlined and precise.  Of course with all this refinement has come a price tag. The previously free application now works on monthly subscriptions.

In preparation of my trip, I decided to head back and found that I was sort of grandfathered in: allowed to review the words I "learned" when it was still free but unable to unlock any new content. Overall, a nifty program, but I had to admit I liked it much better when it was free.

Conclusion: Useful for vocabulary, but I can't speak for the grammar instruction.
Price: 12.95 a month. Less if you buy in bulk.

Ma France

Track of Ma France lessons
I only just discovered this webapp about a week ago. Hosted by the BBC, Ma France is a collection of 24 video lessons, ranging in topic from Food, to Directions to Dating. The videos come with both english or french subtitles, so you can follow along. After the viedo is done, the program includes a few short games to check vocabulary and grammar from the lesson.

The only apparent downside to the program is the fact that it's catered to people who already have a basic understanding of the language. My French II training is just enough to scrape me by and help expand my vocabulary, but it isn't quite at the level they assume you are.


Conclusion: Informative videos and a lot of conversation, but only for people who already have a solid base in the language.
Price: Free


While not a language learning tool on it's own, StudyBlue has become one of my new best friends when it comes to iPhone apps. Free to students, StudyBlue is a combination webapp/iPhone app that allows for the creation and sharing of flash cards. The system is great to use, with the program letting you mark the cards that you had wrong or right, use the cards others have created and sync with one of my all tie favorite applications, Evernote.

For the french study, I've been using it mostly for vocabulary and to refresh my verbs, but I can see myself using it for more than that later on.

Conclusion: Well organized and easy to use notecard application. 
Price: Free  with an .edu email


Finally, there is Fluenz, which is the program I've been using the most to help me with my French study. I've been fortunate enough that my family also expressed an interest in learning the language so we began to search for some kind of software that would help. Rosetta Stone seemed the obvious answer but we weren't fully convinced by the picture and text, full immersion, learn like a child kind of experience that Rosetta Stone was advertising.

But then we found Fluenz, and it was exactly what we were looking for. Fluenz is a 5 disk system that, like Rosetta Stone, tries to teach adults how to speak a foreign language, but unlike Rosetta Stone, Fluenz uses english and the english grammar you already know to explain concepts in French. 

I myself started from Disk 1, even though I did remember most of the material, but the place where Fluenz shines is it's grammar instruction. The explanation videos are always clear and concise, never too long, but clearly explaining the sentence structure, in relation to the language you already know. I'm already on Disk 2 and I've found the program to be exactly what I was looking for. With it's focus on conversation, real life situations, and clear grammatical explanations, I'd have to recommend the Fluenz system to anyone trying to learn a language on their own. 

Conclusion: Focus on real life conversations and thorough explanations make the program a delight to learn from. 
Price: $498 for the 5 disk set

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An Introduction

Photo from Flickr and the Brooklyn Museum[Link]
Paris, the city of lights, the city of love, and the city where I'm going to have my first foray into the great wide world in more than one sense. 

To start, this is my first time introducing myself to the internet. Hello Internet (and those who dwell here), My name is Astrid and I'm a 3rd year Liberal Studies student from South Florida. I'm participating in a study abroad program at my school for the month of July and while I have travelled before, even been to France before, this will be a trip unlike any other I've had.

For starters, it will be my first time staying away from my family. I chose to save money by going to a smaller (cheaper) local college for my undergraduate degree and for that reason I've never moved out of the house. Since I'm in no hurry to get rid of my parents, and my parents are in no rush to boot me out of the nest, I find myself in a precarious position: wanting the freedoms afforded by stepping out on your own, but not feeling ready for all the risks involved. 

Which is why this month long stay in Paris will be my own little adventure in independence, as strange as that probably sounds. 

This is also my little adventure into blogging. For the two weeks leading up to a planned family vacation, I will try to blog about the preparations for the trip. Then there will be a two week (probable) black-out where an internet connection will be a big maybe for me. 

On July 1st, the daily blogging will begin. From the 1st to the 29th, I will write about my experiences as a study abroad student, and just a young woman spending almost 30 days in Paris.

I hope that my posts will be of some interest, and that you'll be able to follow me along for the time we'll have. 

Au revoir