September, 2013

Learn French with Victor

Did you just get home from an after party, but don’t feel like going to bed? Are teletubbies and late-night infomercials just not doing it for you? Do you want to learn French along with a cartoon boy and a menacing disembodied interrogator who forces him to watch videos of French people performing dull tasks?  Yes? Well then, “Learn French With Victor” is for you.

In my brief quest (i.e. two pages of google search results) to find out the origins of this chef d’oeuvre, I came across the following description:

“The well known language learning method is now finally arriving in America! Using an enjoyable audiovisual technique, the learning experience is made both quick and pleasant. The method taught by the Victor Ebner Institute has proven itself for millions of students.”

The date of this arrival was 2009.  That’s right, 2009. I don’t know when this was filmed (the 70s perhaps?), but this is how I imagine Victor finally made his way across the Atlantic:

Victor braving the waters

(apologies to Kon-Tiki)

I looked up the Victor Ebner Institute to see what other amazing products they offer. These happy stock photo people sure seem to be enjoying themselves:

happy Elber people

Learning is Fun!

The bottom of the page includes a sample of their “anglais américain” series. That animated opening is money well spent indeed. Enjoy!

Sadly, we can’t produce such hi-tech, hi-budget, professionally acted, video goodness. Maybe some day. For now, we only have our 223 page interactive beginning and intermediate iBook What The French?! (for $9.99 on the iBookstore). Once you’re lucid again, check it out. Or read our FAQ section right now to learn more. We also liked to be liked on our Facebook page.

What The Frenchie?! : Celebrity Endorsement Quest, David Bromstad Edition


Is it a Frenchie? Is it a Faux Frenchbo Bulldog? (I know it’s not a Boston Terrier—not with those bat ears—so don’t try to tell me otherwise.)

The important thiing is that this Parisian puppy is irresistibly cute…the perfect lure for the first David in “Celebrity Endorsement Quest” (aka Da(vid)Da(vid) Marketing):  HGTV star David Bromstad.


So, why David Bromstad? Why should he be the very first David of all the famous Davids in our celebrity endorsement quest? Two reasons:

1. He’s a household name in my house. That’s right. Even my kids know him by name. True story. We watched him win Season 1 one of Design Star. We like creative people who aren’t afraid to take risks (even ones who have collections of sneaks that would make Imelda Marcos blush).

2. He has an entire pinboard devoted to French Bulldogs— “Frenchies.” We have no idea if David speaks French, but clearly his dogs do, so I’m sure they would appreciate it if he helped his followers learn about the best grammar book available on the iBookstore: What The French?!

Sounds logical to me.

So, in honor of our first David and his appreciation of French canines, here are five facts about Frenchies, followed by a gift.

5 facts about Frenchies

1. In French, they are called le bouledogue français. (boule=ball; dogue=molosser or mastiff)

2. Frenchies were actually an import from England, miniature bulldogs brought to the Normandy region of France in the nineteenth century by lacemakers who were displaced by industrialization.

3. The dogs were great at killing rats. Take that, cats!

4. They became so popular in France (among highbrow artist and fashionable women as well as the lowbrow laborer and prostitutes), that there were soon few left in England, and people began to think of them as French.

5. At the end of the nineteenth century, the ladies of the French Bull Dog Club of America were the first to decide that the “erect bat ear” was de rigueur in the ideal Frenchie.

BONUS: Martha Stewart was head-butted by her bulldog, Francesa, in 2011. This would never happen to David Bromstad.

And now a gift:

See that adorable Parisian Frenchie at the top of this post? You can download it for free (follow link, scroll down, click download icon below photo) in a size suited for a 10×10 inch print (or smaller) from

And if you are David Bromstad…

you could be really nice and pin this What The French?! pin, or like our Facebook page (which is as new as a tiny pup).

Or you can simply pin (or tweet or whatever, we’re not picky) the adorable Frenchie in this post.

Or if you are a Bromstadian or a loyal What The French?! follower…

you could warmly encourage David to endorse the amazingness that is What The French?! on his facebook page, or any of his bajillion other social media outlets.

And remember, every time a famous David doesn’t endorse What The French?!, a French bulldog puppy loses a little bit of its faith in humanity.

France in an alternate universe

Google Books is always good for some interesting light reading. The biggest set of free books are the ones that have fallen out of copyright (meaning that they’re old). And, as I was skimming through a book from 1901, written by an Englishman and entitled The French People, I realized just how many different ways the past could have gone.

french people

Whoa. “Representative institutions are unsuited to the French people”. The French people in the early 20th century must have been desperate for a dynasty of Napoleons who would dominate Western Europe. When the last vestiges of the Revolution finally fizzled out, rejected as much for their abuse of power as their failure to govern effectively, Napoleon VI would rally the nation from its depression and poverty, call for a new nationalist French movement, and lead the people on to a glorious new future where la patrie would rule the world. The year would be 1932. Rallies would be held, the streets lined with Jeunes Légionnaires in uniform, saluting as the Emperor’s convoy passed. The United Kingdom, still believing in appeasement, would barely bat an eye when l’Empire began to annex its neighbors. But eventually, they would have to face the truth when bombing raids began to fly over their own island.

Long story short: France could have been the bad guy in the world war of an alternate universe.

Oh, and here’s the link to that book.

Youtube auteur sktgamerdudejr13: genius, recluse, pedagogue

It is our intent, here at, to periodically acknowledge the Youtube heroes out there making French-related content. Sktgamerdudjr13 has the best “être” verb song on the internet. Far better than the dozens of  Ke$ha rip-offs. Sadly, he never responded to our request for an interview, which leaves my imagination free to make the whole thing up.

Marc: Jr—May I call you Jr.?

Jr: No

Marc: So, Jr. Why être ?

Jr: It’s quite simple, really. The two most important verbs in the French language are arguably “to be” (être) and “to have” (avoir). Avoir or Être?  Whichever you choose as the most important says a lot about your values. Are you a “have” or a “be”? I, for one, am a “be.” Are you a “have” or a “be”? I, for one, am a “be.” Conjugating the verb is an invitation to being. Je suis, tu es, il est, elle est…I am, you are, he is, she is…without consciousness of being, we have no authenticity.

Marc: Mind. blown.

Jr: I have that effect on people.

Marc: Who are your biggest influences?

Jr: Well, Godard, of course.

Marc: Of course.

Jr: But also German expressionistic cinema by way of Guy Maddin’s early work.

Marc: Really? How surprising. I would have guessed cinéma vérité inflected through Vertov’s notion of “Kino-Pravda,” or “film-truth” had influenced your choice to capture the banal act of watching television on a handheld videocamera.

Jr: Was that a question?

Marc: Um, no.

Jr: Were you just regurgitating things you found on Wikipedia to sound smart?

Marc: Maybe. Moving on…Your critics have called you “incompetent,”laaaaameeee,” and “stupid,” is there anything you’d like to say to them?

Jr: I believe it was Lars Von Trier who once said, “I think it’s a very strange question that I have to defend myself. I don’t feel that. You are all my guests, it’s not the other way around, that’s how I feel.” Critics are jealous. It’s as simple as that.

Marc: I realize that you have probably heard this question a million times on the indie film festival circuit, but what kind of budget did the film have?

Jr: $1.2 million.

Marc: Was that mostly spent on post-production? marketing?

Jr: Mood enhancers, mostly. And catering.

Marc: Well, thanks for not actually responding to my request.It’s been a pleasure to have this imaginary interview.

Jr: Likewise. Anytime.

The rumors aren’t true: The French language

I believe it was Rousseau who wrote that the French language was logical and rational (but I can’t find the quote right now- anyone want to do that for me?) at a time when logic and rationality were very fashionable. Learners of French prepositions and personal pronouns (among many other concepts) would beg to differ. Common complaints list the irregularity of forms and spellings, the verbal system, and grammatical concepts that don’t exist in English. So which is it: is French the language of enlightenment and reason, or is it a chaotic mess of nonsense designed to ruin your life?

I’m going to spoil the anticipation and tell you that it’s neither. What you need to understand is that French is just another human language; it’s not particularly special or unique in any way, either in its features or its history. In fact, when compared with languages like Navajo or Arabic, French practically looks like “English with a silly accent”. Or vice-versa.


Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss dude who wrote in French, influenced the field of modern linguistics a ton. One of his best-known and most thoroughly-debated ideas is l’arbitraire du signe (the arbitrariness of the sign). To put it simple, this idea states that, for example, there is nothing naturally dog-like about the word ‘dog’, or chien, or كلب or any word you like that means dog. It’s just sounds which, by the unspoken agreement of speakers of a language, symbolizes the real-world creature which we call ‘dog’ in English.

So there’s nothing logical about most words. How about stringing them together into grammatical sentences? I hate to break it to you, but this is another area in which things appear to be pretty arbitrary. Take the idea of basic sentence order: different languages use different orders for subjects (S), objects (O), and verbs (V). SOV / SVO / VSO / VOS / OSV / OVS— all of these are possible orders for the basic parts of a sentence. There’s nothing more or less logical about any of the possible orders.

OK, so if vocabulary and grammar are arbitrary, what does that say about logic vs. chaos? In relative terms, languages are more or less equal in their chaos. In absolute terms, yeah, they’re all crazy and weird, but in different ways. If languages weren’t adequate for their speakers, they (the speakers) would either change them or pick a different language.

That doesn’t mean that all languages are equally hard to learn. But the biggest factor that changes how hard they are is the language you’re coming from, and how similar or different it is to/from the language you’re trying to learn. English to French? Not so bad, because they have a lot of vocabulary, grammar, and history in common. English to Tshiluba? (That’s a real language, spoken in the Congo, by the way) They’re two unrelated languages with very little history in common. The grammar and vocabulary are very different, and so it’s going to be a bit tougher.

Now you know: everyone is wrong. French isn’t logical, and it isn’t a total mess. Like pretty much all human languages, it does what it needs to do for its speakers. It does OK.

Celebrity Endorsement Quest: Da(vid)Da(vid) Marketing


See that little thumbnail image of  What The French?!  on the top row of the “New & Notable” section of the “reference” category on the iBookstore? That’s our book gasping for breath, frantically waving, crying out “DAVID! DAVID! Help!”

How long will those little stick figure arms last? How long until the oblivion of “2 million books and counting” overtakes what is arguably* the best French grammar review book in the history of the world? (*hey. I said arguably.)

It all depends on David.

You see, we have no marketing budget. No SEO savvy. No PR firm.

We just have David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. David. Da…Da…


—oh. I’m sorry. What was I saying?

oh yeah. David. If we could just get celebrities named David to endorse our book, we’d have it made. Let’s call it Dada marketing. To quote Wikipedia, “Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition.” Perfectly “What The French?!” if you ask me.

You see, there are a lot of famous Davids out there, and we’re pretty sure that all of the cool ones would love our book.  Here are just a few of the Bs and Cs:


We heart them all. Well, almost all of them. We’ll pass on the serial killers.

And David Blaine. Random acts of self-levitation are creepy. Not mime-creepy, but close.

So Davids, don’t think that you’re any less special just because there are so many of you. Yes, you were on the top 5 list of baby names nearly every year between 1948 and 1989. So it was probably difficult to stand out at school—what, with all the other little Davids running around, competing for attention. It’s not your fault that your parents lacked imagination. You rose above all of that stifling conformity. And look where you are now. You’re a sports legend/actor/rock icon/director/musician/late-night talk show host/pastry chef/prime minister/magician/writer or something.

Impressive. But have you really crossed everything off your bucket list? How much better would it be if it looked like this?

  • become famous
  • negotiate a peace treaty with Israel
  • make What The French?! the best-selling French grammar book of all time

Pretty great, right?

By now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How can I leverage my well deserved celebrity status and considerable amazingness to help these poor struggling French grammar experts?”

Good question.  Consider one or all of the following:

Follow us on Twitter Pin a link to us on Pinterest Like our Facebook page
  • Or you could have Annie Leibovitz take your photo with scrawled across your naked torso. Or…I don’t know…Look. You’re the talented one, surprise us. 
  • Now, I know what the rest of you are thinking:


There. There. Don’t be sad.

Instead, ask yourself: Do I know anyone famous named David? Can I pressure a David to endorse What The French?! by writing crazed fan mail, tweeting to them, posting on their Facebook, or sending delicious baked goods to their agent? 

Yes. yes, you can. And you can share your efforts on our Facebook page, or in a comment here, or on Twitter or your blog, or Youtube. We’re all in this together. There is no “I” in DADA. But there is an “I” in David. Which sounds like it might mean something.


Chartopia: 5 Nineteenth-Century French Grammar Charts

In What The French?!,  we have an appendix called “PTK’s Chartopia” (PTK=Pretentious Technicality Kid, a recurring character in our grammar review book)—a land full of nothing but charts, for people who are into that sort of thing. Charts probably put most readers to sleep (myself included), but they can also be useful, and sometimes even beautiful. Here are five examples excavated from the massive Gallica online collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France:

Titre : Paradigm or model on which all French regular verbs are conjugated, thereby reducing the numerous conjugations and exceptions, has hitherto given in every French-english grammar, to only one conjugation... by M. H. Chauvier,...1850

Titre : Paradigm or model on which all French regular verbs are conjugated, thereby reducing the numerous conjugations and exceptions, has hitherto given in every French-english grammar, to only one conjugation… by M. H. Chauvier,…1850

I don’t know who colored this verb chart, but I love it.

Abécédaire français, ou leçons tirées de l'histoire de France... Seconde édition...

Abécédaire français, ou leçons tirées de l’histoire de France… Seconde édition…

This book goes from individual letters, to the alphabet, to syllables, to words, and so on.

Jean-Baptiste Say. Papiers. III Grammaire et reliquat littéraire. 1701-1900

Jean-Baptiste Say. Papiers. III Grammaire et reliquat littéraire. 1701-1900

Individual manuscript pages from 1701-1900 are grouped into this book. I never knew that personal pronouns could look so elegant.

Tableaux synoptiques des deux parties de la grammaire française...

Tableaux synoptiques des deux parties de la grammaire française…

hmmm. could somebody please get out the watercolors?

How to learn the genders of fourteen thousand five hundred French nouns in ten minutes ! by professor Fairchild... Third edition, 1866

How to learn the genders of fourteen thousand five hundred French nouns in ten minutes ! by professor Fairchild… Third edition, 1866

From a short pamphlet that promises to teach you the gender of 14,500 French nouns in 10 minutes. All I have to say is “What the French?!”


If cooking shows were like language classrooms…

My posts of the last two weeks have been pretty heavy in their criticism of modern language pedagogy (a word meaning “teaching” which some people use to justify their college education). I was throwing around ideas for another heavy entry, but I think I’d better change things up a bit. So today, I’m going to compare the way languages are taught to a (really awful, totally hypothetical) cooking show.

Only, since this cooking show is done communicatively and with the Inductive Method, it’s more like one where everything the host says is in gibberish.

The HOST stands behind a counter with various bowls and implements scattered across it. The shows’s title flashes on the screen, and the show begins.

HOST: Blerpa gonhuer schnabber plaft!

HOST holds up a picture of a cake.

HOST: Hueb bubpe larpe.

HOST pours an unknown quantity of flour into a large bowl on the counter. Maybe it doesn’t matter how much?

HOST: Hwaschte gons filiurpe.

HOST cracks three eggs into another bowl, then beats them.

HOST: Len metsch fili jorgenan.

HOST shakes head as though telling you not to do something, but you can’t tell what. You’ll just have to watch closely and hope you can go through the motions.

HOST takes a third bowl full of already-mixed ingredients, and says:

HOST: Lakke, bubpe, snarke, bork! Drinne flag inner buul.

HOST mixes two smaller bowls into the bowl with flour. Wait, what was in that third one? You are so lost. The camera pans to the oven, which has been on this whole time, only the temperature is shown in Kelvins. Who uses Kelvins to measure conventional ovens?

HOST points at wristwatch and says:

HOST: Tallen fierftig jippity, an er bork, bork, bork!

HOST smiles, camera cuts to the HOST removing a cake from the oven, and you despair of ever baking a cake yourself. Your friend, whose birthday it is, will just have to put candles in a piece of toast or something.

OK, class! After that lesson, who knows the word for ‘cake’? How about ‘bowl’ or ‘mix’? In fact, do you know any but two of the ingredients? Now, turn to the person next to you and make a cake like the one on the show.

Bork, bork, bork!

If you enjoyed this post, and have been frustrated when learning a language, check out What The French!?

Free hi-res Paris desktop wallpapers

To celebrate the launch of What The French?!, we have Free Paris Hi-Res (1920X1200) desktop wallpapers just for you, exclusives of from Marc Olivier (that’s me). Normally, you can find my work at various retailers (and on, but here are seven wallpapers that you won’t find anywhere else. You can download them free here or from my photo site. If you want to thank us, please tell your friends about our beginning and intermediate French grammar book on iTunes.
14Juillet lettredenotredame librarydog lips Parisstonework pontalex vaux


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