Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | October 21, 2014

The French experience


This blog post is about imitating. To what extent do you imitate when you learn a new language ? Actually, quite a lot. As shown by this guy from Argentina.

Actually, the same guy in one of his videos was talking about how, in Argentina, there was a kind of eye-movement that Argentinians would make.

I was playing pétanque with a few French guys the other night. To what extent do you imitate their movements ? I would say, at the end of the day, not at all. Just be yourself. We are not parrots. Although to an extent when you’re learning the language you’re a little bit like a parrot. You use the same expressions.

But the question is not to what extent do you speak like a French person, but to what do you do like a French person. Totally different, right ? I mean, I was invited to a machon the other day. To know what a machon is, you have to know what a bouchon lyonnais is ? A bouchon is a restaurant in Lyon with a lot of charcuterie and red wine. A machon is the same, but with white wine, and in the morning. 7 o’clock. For me, people who drink white wine at 7 o’clock in the morning are alcoholics. It’s not something I particularly want to do. So, to what extent do I act like a French person ? In this case, not all. Another example would be driving. A lot of French drivers intimidate other drivers on the road. By driving really close behind them, (and then overtaking on the left because they fed up). Do I choose to do this ? No. I think there’s a braking distance and I keep to it. I obviously still have to drive on the right, but the interesting thing is to what extent to I have to adapt to the French way of driving.

Just some thoughts.


Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | April 5, 2014

Quoi ?

J’ai un ami anglais à Lyon.

Il était dans le supermarché l’autre jour. La caissière l’a demandé quelque chose. Il n’avait pas entendu.

“Quoi ?” a-t-il répondu.

Le regard tueur qui a suivi l’a fait savoir que “quoi ?” n’était pas la réponse correcte.

Nous pouvons parler de compétence socio-linguistique. Mon ami était en train d’apprendre ce qu’on peut dire et ce qu’on ne peut pas dire dans un contexte social. Quelque chose qui aurait été quasi-impossible dans une salle de classe en Angleterre. La prochaine fois il dira: “excusez-moi, je n’ai pas entendu…”


Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | March 17, 2014


This carries on a little bit from my last post.

Because the key is clichés.

I was watching a football programme the other day on tv, and the interviewer said “please don’t give us the cliché answer”. It’s exactly like that when you speak a foreign language. You’re supposed to give cliché answers like (to take an extreme example): “oh la la”. And people do.

Plus it helps get you in the mindset. So the mental block to pass is to get into the mindset, and make yourself use the clichés, whether you like the language or not. You will (hopefully) find yourself liking the language once you’ve got past this stage and you start using clichés… it will help your learning no end.


Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | March 17, 2014

An analogy

I’ve been missing an analogy as to how hard it is to learn and say a new phrase. A phrase like ‘c’est pas grave’ for a beginner in French, or a word like ‘rouge’ (made up of the ‘r’ sound and the ‘ou’ sound in French).

Some French people wear pink or black shirts. O.K. – that’s a stereotype, but at the same time, it’s true. For an English person to put on a jet black shirt, a pink one, or get a French-style haircut is really hard. But I’d like to argue that it’s just as hard to learn a new word.

For example, for a French person to use a new expression in the correct context like ‘I haven’t go the foggiest idea’ or say a word where they might not be sure on pronunciation like ‘asked’ is actually really difficult. You have to pass the same mental barrier that a French person living in England would face when eating sausages and bacon for breakfast. You are, I would argue, adopting a new expression like it’s your own – but it’s not your own. It’s another language. It comes from another culture. And this can be one reason why it can be so hard to learn a new phrase. It might sound strange to you. It does sound strange to you. But it’s not strange. So one way to counter this is to everything you can to make it not sound strange. Like listening. A lot. Or going to the country. Or maybe you don’t want to do it. Like the bacon and eggs. Well, if you don’t want to do it, I can’t force you. 

Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | March 12, 2014

What is fluency ?

What does it mean to be fluent ? 

I may have mentioned this before but I think there are a few definitions of fluency.

One urban myth concerns dreaming in a foreign language, but some people have said they don’t dream in any language at all – they just dream in pictures.

Perhaps a better definition is to do with the idea of fluidity. If you can say ” I – WILL – GO – TO – PARIS – TOMORROW” then you might be able to construct a reasonably correct sentence but it doesn’t sound very fluent. If you can add to that and say “I will probably go to Paris tomorrow but I’m not really sure” it sounds much more fluent and like you have a much better control of the English language.

Another definition (and I’m not sure where this comes from) concerns being creative and being able to build all the possible sentences in a given language, even if they sound like nonsense. The blue car is in the swimming pool is a sentence you won’t hear very often but you should be capable of recognising that it’s a grammatically correct sentence.

Another definition now is using our (only-a-few-years-old) tool, the European framework for languages. If you can say you’re a C1 or C2 level in English based on this scale, then it’s a pretty good guide that you’re reasonably fluent.

For me personally, at one point I realized I was fluent after 7 years in France: one day, listening to the radio in French every day, I realized that my mind had switched to French and I was thinking in French.

Any other suggestions as to what is fluency ?  

Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | March 11, 2014

Extreme adjectives

I’m working with an online company:

One of the worksheets they provided is to do with extreme adjectives. This is fantastic for natural vocabulary development.

An example:

– I am tired

Most of my students at the current point in time can master this.

but it adds to their vocabulary set to also know: I am exhausted (je suis épuisé(e)) and I am knackered* (je suis crevé(e))*

Other examples:

– crowded ==> packed

– good ==> fantastic, wonderful, amazing

– bad ==> terrible, awful

– hot ==> boiling

– cold ==> freezing

However, it is interesting to go a bit further than this. A student also needs to be able to use these words in their everday speech.

That means they really need to know how to use these words in a convincing way (understanding the word is one thing, being able to use the word in their active vocabulary is another).

In my opinion, there’s probably nothing wrong with using “knackered” as a foreigner in a business context, but if they end up pronouncing it “I’m Ke – Nackered” or ” “Ke-Nacker-ed”, something went wrong. They may as well have stuck to using I am very tired. People who come back from spending 5 years in the U.K. often come back with a correct use of the word – the question is: how to get students who have not spent time in the U.K. to be as convincing…

Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | March 9, 2014

A new word in English: amazeballs!

Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | July 2, 2013

Modelling the world

Becoming bilingual doesn’t just mean you learn a few foreign words.

It’s means you learn to model the world with different words and labels.

That includes all the vocabulary for each object, but it also includes learning all the verbs – the actions. Retourner la feuille = turn over the paper, for example in English. 

The world might be modelled in a different way in each language, especially when it comes to certain concepts. This is when comparing languages becomes interesting and merits much more than a small blog post.

It’s also obvious that modelling the world with new labels is going to take time.


Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | July 2, 2013


Mon fils a inventé un nouveau verbe: tiendre.

Tiens-moi la tasse, s’il te plaît, papa! Jusqu’à là, tout va bien.

Mais c’est quand il doit se servir de l’infinitif: est-ce que tu peux me tiendre la tasse ? 

L’acquisition linguistique des enfants n’est pas parfait!

Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | June 9, 2013

Filtering out

I was in the car on the way back from a football tournament the other day. Talking to an American expat in Lyon, he was explaining how he had learnt French. One thing that he mentioned that was key to his French learning was what he called ‘filtering out’. I’ve already mentioned this before on this blog, and for me, it’s a key factor in language learning. There are just some words that some people use all the time.

The one I’ve mentioned before on this blog is ‘quoi’ – as in, “c’est comme ça, quoi!”

Don’t underestimate the importance of this – it might not be something that is very cultivated or educated – but it’s something that certain people, including educated people! use all the time in their speech. If you don’t understand it, you’re basically lost.

The other one he mentioned was the use of “en fait”. He was in Paris when he first heard this, apparently, he thought that they were saying “en fête” and that in Paris they had a lot of parties.

So, one of the first things you need to do when learning a language is filter out (faire le tri) – for this kind of thing, so that you can understand the rest.

Happy language learning!




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