Tips for Language Learning on One’s Own


Have a goal. You feel you want to start learning a language or improve one you learned but fear you can’t remember. However if you just fancy learning a language without really knowing why, your enthusiasm will probably soon disappear. Learning a language is not very hard but it takes a little time.There are all sorts of good reasons to learn a language: a trip abroad, a book you want to read or a series you want to watch in the original version, family history you want to investigate… What is yours?

Find your own method. Remember how the way you revised for exams was different from the way your friends did, this still holds true. Try to imagine yourself working – with a book, on the computer, with your mp3 player – and find a method that suits your style.

Search the Internet. Whatever the method you have settled on, do some research before you spend your money. You will need to know the strong and weak points of the method you have set your eyes upon. Read what other people think of a language book on online bookstores and search inside the book if you can, visit the local university bookseller and talk with the shop assistants, type key words and see what people have written on forums. Some websites have a few free lessons before you are asked to pay, try them.

Take advantage of free language learning tools. There are lots of them on the web. They may not all be great but they are free. Here is a short list.

Set a specific time for your lessons. Don’t think you will work when you have the time, you may never start. Ten minutes a day is easier to find and much more effective than an hour once a week. Set this time for yourself and keep to it.

Get a dictionary. Whether you prefer a paper version or a smart phone app (some are quite cheap and good), you need a dictionary. You may also find it useful to have a small notepad where you write the vocabulary you acquire and which you can use as a revising tool every now and again.

Vary the sources. Once you start making progress, try to broaden the way you learn by incorporating authentic documents in your learning process. Follow a recipe in your target language, watch movies, read articles online, play vocabulary games…

Good luck!

Sign Language for Babies


It is the second time in three days that I have heard about sign language for babies: a FB friend mentioned a baby she has in care learning the sign for “more”; the other was a colleague who teaches History and Geography in German in a special program we have in my school and who has taught her son a few signs.

I therefore googled some key-words and found numerous articles related to babies and sign language. The main idea is that a child can sign before she can speak and is thus able to express herself at an early age in a few key situations.

One of the advantages of sign language is that it reduces the frustration linked to the inability for a very young child to express himself. Fewer tears and tantrums certainly can’t hurt a child-parent relationship.

In addition, it seems that by developping this skill, a child develops other skills and in the end talks more and more fluently than his peers.

Specialists recommand starting with easy and common words such as milk, more, eat, sleep and saying them at the same time. Once the child starts using them, add more words.

More on this topic:
Signing with your baby
Signing Babies
Sign Language – Start Baby Signing: Five Simple Steps

10 Things I Love About Belgium


– I only have to drive eighty miles to be in a foreign country with a distinct foreign feel.

– Belgians enjoy design and have lots of lovely interior decorating stores at affordable prices – there are also some expensive ones if you’d rather spend a lot of money.

– Petrol is cheaper than in France.

– The royal family is a stable feature of the country. They are rather subdued people who shun scandals and sometimes make me regret that we beheaded our monarchs two centuries ago.

– We use the same currency. Apparently some people are dissatisfied with the European currency and tend to blame all our evils on the Euro. They don’t seem to realize that it would make more sense to blame those who took advantage of the switch from a national currency to a new one to increase prices rather than take it on the currency. Besides they fail to see that it has made traveling within the Euro-zone much easier and cheaper too.

– You can use your phone to pay for a bus fare or a parking space.

– I simply love the architecture. Belgium has some beautiful cities and towns with magnificent town halls and beautiful crow-stepped gable or Dutch gable houses. It is also one of these Northern European countries which has managed to turn brick-building into art.

– The Belgians make nice beers and serve them cold rather than lukewarm like our friends over the Channel.

– The average Belgian is bilingual. Maybe I need to qualify this statement. Flemish Belgians are trilingual: they speak Flemish (their own version of Dutch), French and English. Walloons speak French. Indeed, like their French cousins, they take pride in not remembering foreign words and structures and whenever by chance their brains have registered some they make sure never to use them, especialy with foreigners.

– In the Flemish part of Belgium, you feel very clever as you understand the language, even if you have never learnt it. Here are a few examples so that you can feel smart too: koffie, thee, melk, jam, zalm, brood, zwembad, markt, haven, stadhuis, kanaal, parkeerplaats. The only problem is that when the people pronounce the words, it is virtually impossible to understand them; which is fine since they speak French and English anyway.

Belgian recipe: Beef Stew



Creative workshops are extremely trendy here. People from all ages and all walks of life take up scrapbooking, painting, engraving, etc.

A young woman just a few yards from my house made advantage of this trend and set up an art workshop with a difference: she teaches art and English. Apparently her workshop is popular with young children as well as teenagers and adults.

She holds different courses: in some you learn art only, in others you learn English only but the most popular are those where you learn both art and English – or should I say art in English.

As there is a huge Japanese-owned factory in the area, a number of Japanese senior executives live in my hometown with their wives and children. I assume they don’t want to make France their permanent home so they welcome the oportunity for their kids to learn another foreign language they will be able to use in the future. These classes are also popular with teenagers preparing for an exam and adults who want to brush up their English in an unconventional environment.


My Hebrew Needs Brushing up

180px-Eliezer_Ben_Jehuda_bei_der_Arbeit.jpgI started learning Hebrew six years ago. My first teacher was the father of one of my pupils. He taught me how to read the letters and then we started on the parsha straight away. I was learning along with his wife and two of his daughters. It was a fantastic experience and it was good to be confronted with the text so soon.

Then the family moved to Paris and I joined a course for beginners at the local university. I drove there every thursday and had a two hour lesson with a group of other people. There were about eight of us. The aproach was different – more systemeatic – and this time we were learning modern Hebrew from a textbook. Yet the teacher was patient, kind and conscientious which made the course pleasant and worthwhile. I felt that I was learning and improving. We also had exams and I meant to go on like this for a few years.

Unfortunately the next year was far from being as positive. We still had the same teacher (but only for an hour) and we had a new teacher. The problem when you are a language teacher yourself is that you can tell how a course has been devised as well as if there is clear planning behind what you are being taught.

Obviously this new teacher was not as careful as the other one about what she wanted us to learn and how. It is useless to go into the details of what was wrong with this part of the course but the unfortunate result was that I quit.

The other regrettable outcome is that I no longer learn Hebrew on a systematic basis. I pray in Hebrew and sometimes check a word to make sure I get the overall idea of what I am saying but this is far from enough. Sadly my hometown is too small and there is no rabbi in residence so nobody to learn with. I still feel however that I greatly need to improve but am not sure how.

Yiddish and Hebrew Survey

ketubah.jpgDo you speak fluent Yiddish/Hebrew? Do you sprinkle your sentences with Yiddish/Hebrew words?

Prof. Sarah Bunin Benor and Prof. Steven M. Cohen would like to know. They are social scientists teaching at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and are interested in knowing how these two languages influence the way you speak and have put a survey online to find out.

Lack of Enthusiasm

cheder.jpgI am back at school, after two weeks of holidays, cleaning and kashering the house. I dreaded the return and have’nt been disappointed.

The kids I teach this year aren’t too disruptive, with one notable exception (a class of 33 monstrous creatures labelled as students by our administration). However when it comes to teaching, and not socializing, classes that are ok are not enough. I get paid to teach those kids, to instill something in their minds, not to supervize aimless teenagers. However this is what it has felt like since I got back.

One group of seniors (who by the way have an English oral in less than a month) had to choose between two pictures and prepare an oral presentation. In spite of the holidays, only two students in this small group of 7 had bothered to produce something.

In another class of seniors, students for whom English is supposed to be a major subject, I had asked all students to bring their textbooks to revise a few grammar points. Disappointingly less than half the group had remembered so I ended up excluding those who couldn’t work. It may look a bit rash but there is no point in pretending.

Lastly, in the most awful class, I had to nag and threaten for about 15 minutes before they agreed to keep quiet so that the lesson could really start. Obviously the rare sentences produced by a few reluctant students were disappointing and very different from what I had expected and counted on.

What can I do? In the long run it gets really annoying to see them arrive at the beginning of a lesson, sit down, get their books out if they havent forgotten to bring them, knowing that very few will have bothered to learn their lessons or do their homework. After some months, this is really getting on my nerves. It is also depressing and worrying. I used to love teaching and was eager to go back after the holidays. Now I feel drawn as a teacher and perplexed as an individual. What’s more a lot of my colleagues, both younger and older than me, share my feelings and concern. Where has the passion for learning gone? The enthusiasm for ideas, poems, books and movies? Why do they seem so passive even when we tackle topical issues or when they are meant to be the active producers of posters, articles, book covers, radio shows and so on?

What makes everything even harder just now is that most teachers here feel let down by the current government. Numerous teachers retire and are not replaced. We are asked to teach extra hours (this is cheaper than creating new teaching jobs) yet lack the backing and support we need. Doesn’t anybody realize we are talking about the future generations?

Dealing with Difficult Teenagers

images.jpegThis has been a hectic day. It all began last night just after Shabbes after our Swedish guests had arrived for a friendly and relaxing meal.

We host one of the three Swedish teachers and as we had already started eating her cell phone rang. One of her students was on the phone complaining that her penfriend wanted to go out despite her own wish to stay in. Apparently the two girls had reached a point when they were no longer talking to each other. They were both firmly entrenched in their positions and would not budge. My colleague tried to calm her student down but in vain. At that point I endeavoured to call the French student; however she would not give in and was not ready to wait until her parents came back from the movies before going out.

Eventually hysteria reached a peak when the Swedish girl ended up in the street with her luggage, claiming she had been kicked out while her penfriend contended she had only hinted she could not stay any longer. We then thought it was high time to drive there and do something about the whole thing. In addition the girl’s mother had phoned my colleague, practically demanding that her daughter should be put up by a new family.

We decided to host the girl for the night and wait until the next morning before taking a decision about her. She seemed to calm down and her teacher tried to comfort her and convince her that flying back home was no solution. So this morning we phoned around and found a family who were ready to receive the Swedish girl. In the mean time we understood that no effort had been made on either side to reach a compromise. Moreover neither teenager seemed to realize that they had relied on their teachers to solve the problem for them while I am convinced they could have settled this disagreement easily.

Unfortunately more troubles were in store. Another girl phoned her teacher at 7.30 this morning. She was feeling homesick and her stomach hurt. She demanded to be taken to hospital to be cured. In turn her penfriend phoned me. She was worried about the girl’s health and anxiety. We advised her about what to do, where to go and suggested her parents should make a medical appointment as soon as possible.

Another teacher accompanied this girl to the doctor’s. She tried to cheer her up and make her see the positive aspect of her stay. It seemed the girl had spent a lot of time in front of her portable dvd player instead of mixing with her host family. Like the other Swedish girl, she had phoned home and her teacher before trying to explain how she felt to her own penfriend.

In spite of her host family’s kindness, the sick girl did not want to go back there and demanded to stay with another Swedish girl. Luckily a French family accepted to host her for two days, hoping that she would go back when she felt better.

People might argue that the language barrier was an obstacle to the communication between the two parties. However this is not the first time we have received foreign students in our school but it is the first time we have had such reactions. I can’t help wondering why this is. Why do young people (after all these girls are 18 and 19) so unable to stand on their two feet? Why are their parents so quick to back their children instead of trying to tranquilize them? Why are they so suspicious of our capacities to deal with the situations?


languages.jpgThe start of the International Year of Languages was launched last week by UNO and UNESCO. Here are a few interesting facts about language:

– Over 3000 languages are in danger of disappearing.

– 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by 4% of the world’s population.

– One language disappears on average every two weeks.

– 80% of the African languages have no orthography.

– Chinese courses have been blooming internationally since 2000 at every level of education.

– By the time 200,000 Americans are able to speak Mandarin, 200,000,000 Chinese will speak fluent English.

– In June 1999, the Swedish Parliament enacted legislation giving Yiddish legal status as one of the country’s official minority languages.

– The Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Federation is a federal subject of Russia where Yiddish is an official language along with Russian.

– Hebrew is spoken by about 5 million people in Israel. In addition, it is spoken by several hundred thousand speakers in expatriot Jewish communities around the world.