Meilleurs Vœux

I didn’t really notice the end of 2013 approaching until I started seeing “Meilleurs Vœux” posts from my francophone friends on facebook. Although the expression can be used any time to mean “best wishes”, I wouldn’t be surprised if it saw 90% or more of its use in the weeks before and after a new year.

In fact, I barely saw a peep from my francophone friends about Christmas, but they’re going nuts for the new year. And a number of them belong to various Christian denominations, so it’s not that they didn’t celebrate Christmas. But from my own experiences and interactions with (some) French people, Christmas in France is, if celebrated, more a family thing, and therefore more private. Compare this to the good old US of A, where 81% of non-Christians celebrate Christmas (according to the Pew Research Center) and where the holiday is a public event.

Christmas may be more personal and private for the French, but the new year is universal and secular (yes, I know there are culture-specific calendars as well, such as the Hijri, but the Gregorian is used everywhere in some capacity or other) and perhaps that’s why we often send and receive Christmas cards in the US, while the French equivalent is the carte de vœux

voeux 2014

Google it, and you’ll see fine specimens of e-cards like these. Perfect for your facebook walls.

Bonne année et meilleurs vœux à vous tous!

When you google it

You probably use Google to find out a lot of things: you spy on your enemies, stalk the people you wish would think of you in a romantic way but never will, and prove to your friends once and for all that Africa is not a country. In fact, a lot of your opinions are based on what the apparent majority of the internet thinks about a given topic.

So how about French?

The search? “French class”:

french class grab

On the top, you can see related searches suggested by our all-seeing Google overlords: “French Classroom”, “Clipart”, and “I hate French Class” being the top three contenders. They tell a very sad short story: Enthusiastic but underpaid teacher searches for French classroom decoration ideas. Then for clipart for worksheets, and maybe a class web page that people will assume comes from 1997. And then, after all that, the ungrateful students still hate their French class.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It really shouldn’t be that way. In fact, whether your teacher is an underpaid, but brilliant and caring human being or someone who very openly lets you know that teaching French is a grim consolation prize for losing the coveted English Lit class (and as for why the hierarchy sometimes works that way, I have no idea), you can take charge of your own learning. An example: I learned French personal pronouns and their correct usage very quickly, because it allowed me to complete worksheets much faster than my classmates by replacing every long name and noun with a pronoun, thus giving me time to draw strange pictures for the rest of class.

Whatever your motivation is, maybe you’ll be one of those second-row-results people who really does love this language. Your reasons why are entirely up to you, but please, please just don’t make any of those 4-to-8-panel copy/paste “comic” monstrosities that prove to the world just how cool you delusionally think you are. Seriously, just don’t.

If you’re soldiering on in a French class where things are moving too fast, not fast enough, or just not clicking for you, may I suggest having a look at What The French?! It’s designed with self-motivated students in mind, and it’s easy to use the book at your own pace, especially with the interactive exercises and clear explanations. If you haven’t yet, give it a look in the iBooks store.

What’s $10 worth?

What The French?! is a comprehensive textbook of French grammar for beginning or continuing students. It’s full of examples and exercises for your learning pleasure. It costs $9.99 (so basically $10…we know we’re not fooling anyone with that penny).

So aside from a copy of What The French?!, what can you get for $10? What’s ten bucks worth?

For $10…

  • You could go to a live music venue and get the pretentious new album of a local band who thinks their music is worth $10.
Married To The Sea comic: printing our music on sheets * Text: We are conducting this Kickstarter for funds to print our music on sheets, for it is Expensive, but if you donate enough. I will give you my hat, and also the sheet music, and also my hat will smell like hair

(click to go to source)

  • You could have two $5 footlongs, not counting tax.


  • You could get 10 things at a dollar store, most of which you’ll regret immediately.

(Except for the googly eyes. You’ll never regret the googly eyes.)

  • You could buy about a couple hundred loose screws at a hardware store.

Let’s play “Who can fit the most screws in their mouth without crying”!

You’d have to work a little over an hour and fifteen minutes if you were working at the federal minimum wage.

How many copies of What The French?! could you get with…

  • the price of the 2013 US government shutdown? At an estimated $24 billion, you could buy 2,400,000,000 copies of the book…enough for most of the people in India and China combined.

  • the inflation-adjusted value of the Mona Lisa? That’s a solid 76,000,000 copies you could get…and who even actually wants to see that old painting, anyway?
See adjacent text.

Trade for millions of ebooks. It’s what Leonardo would have wanted.

I can’t tell you what to do (yet), but hopefully this quick look at the real value of $10 will have you convinced of what a great deal What The French?! is. If you already knew that and you’re just waiting for it to come out on non-Apple devices, great news: the formatting is almost done, and the conversion to other formats should be done very soon.

What the formatting?! or, I have no idea what I’m doing

Don’t worry, French fans, I have a very good idea of what I’m doing when it comes to French grammar. Where I’m completely lost, though, is the world of ebook formats.

We wrote What The French?! inside of iBooks Author, a piece of software provided by Apple for free in the hopes that authors will use it to make Apple money. It’s like a lot of Apple stuff: sometimes beautifully intuitive, sometimes utterly rage-inducing. Consistency in formatting was a bit of a nightmare, but I’m happy (and a little sheepish) to say that I got off easy on that count, since I was busy doing the illustrations. So why did we choose iBooks Author in the first place?

It was really a matter of how easy the program made it for us to include interactive exercises within the text of the book. Instead of the old-school method of lists of questions with answer keys, our book in the iBooks format lets you answer the questions and find out if you’re right. It also removes the possibility of peeking at the answers before actually trying.

iba demo

The problem is…well, the main problem is, a lot of people aren’t citizens of the Apple Kingdom. So even with the upcoming OSX Mavericks update (which will finally allow users to read the book on OSX-running desktops and phones), we’re still withholding this wonderful book from anyone running Windows, Linux, Android or any of the many flavors thereof.

Because we want those people’s money, I’m about to immerse myself in the confusing, upsetting world of ebook formats in an effort to get What The French?! to the good people of all operating systems and devices, and (if I’m going to be totally honest) to get their money into my hands.

To give you an idea of what that means, though, check out this table of contents on the Wikipedia article “Comparison of e-book formats”:

ebook formats

So there are a lot of them. No big deal, right? And my answer is, I honestly have no idea. I’m pretty intimidated by the prospect, but I plan to dive on in anyway. The things to figure out are:

  • Which formats do I need to put it into? (For now, that looks like it’ll be at least the ePub and the Kindle-specific KF8. I need to research it more, though.)
  • Where can we sell the ebook (which online stores) for the royalty rate we’re currently getting (70%)? Amazon is the only one I know of right now.
  • What are my options for interactivity? If it’s too hard, what other solutions are there? (Hint: if all else fails, lists of questions and an answer key are what it’s going to have to be).

Feel free to use the “contact us” form if you have any input on this.

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!?

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