Friday 7 December 2012

I’m not learning Danish, but I am…

What I’ve learnt by watching 7 episodes of Borgen.


If you still haven’t heard about it, Borgen is a political Danish series (the Danish West Wing) set up in Borgen, the Castle, in Copenhagen, where the Danish Parliament is based.

The series is available on Lovefilm in Danish with English subtitles and this is what I learnt in 7 episodes watched in 8 days, without wanting to learn Danish, but with a strong interest in languages and other cultures. And this is an answer to the question I’m asked at pretty much every dinner or phone call at Voulez-vous parler: ‘How quickly can you become fluent in a foreign language?’ Well, very quickly, if you’re language obsessed and have a natural talent for it, and quickly if you’re less of a linguist but an avid learner, because…this is what I’ve learnt whilst watching the new Prime Minister’s life of Birgitte Nyborg:

  • Greetings
  • A key word that will open lots of doors: Tak
  • Some numbers
  • Cognates
  • Some countries, such as France, Denmark, the States, Greenland, England
  • TV channels
  • A few swear words 
  • Food and drink such as pancake, beer, wine
  • Sports such as spinning, running (Katrine often runs and goes out with a spinning intstructor at some point)
  • Clothes
  • Political and economic vocabulary
  • Some elements of the Danish way of life: relationships, politics, issues regarding gender ratios in companies, the Greenland issue, childcare, MP and PM expenses (scandal) etc.
  • Last but not least, I’ve learnt a lot more than a book will teach you about intonations. You can speak a language really badly if don’t have the right intonation, think: English & French train drivers reading their health and safety sheet as quickly (and as badly it seems) as possible in the Eurotunnel shuttle (I have very good tutors Eurotunnel management if you read this, ring me, your staff is eager to learn).


The conclusion is that if you want to learn a language fast, of course, take lessons, but what you do outside classes, like going to meetups to practise with native speakers, find a girlfriend/boyfriend who’s native in the language - hey, Pourquoi pas? It’s the best way to become fluent - and the hours you will spend watching films, youtube videos, listening to the radio in the language you want to learn will make wonders. I’ve just been watching Sex and the City in English with Greek subtitles to revise my rusty Greek. Talk about a woman crazy about languages!


Friday 26 October 2012

Voulez-vous parler nominated for the Franco-British Intercultural Trophy

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Sophie Marette, the managing director, in the middle in pink.

In September 2012, Voulez-vous parler was nominated for the Franco-British Intercultural Trophy of the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain. The Trophy, made by Cartier, has been awarded since 1997, and rewards a company for making particular efforts to develop stronger ties between the UK and France or has been promoting Franco-British cross-cultural relations, which Voulez-vous parler has been doing for the last 5 years. Congratulations to French Radio London who has won the Trophy, they’re a great team making programmes that I recommend:

Sunday 21 October 2012

Language Show 19 October 2012




Some of my purchases, to teach French and Spanish. The dice, from Linguascope, can be used to teach all languages. This is the beginner’s pack. and


I attended the Femaura workshop on British Sign Language, which really makes me want to attend their courses, Deafway and level 1. They’re based in N7, Caledonian road. They also have a deaf club on Thursday, where you can go to practise your Sign language.


I was also very impressed with a new product, very useful for language teachers, where the teacher or pupil can record her voice. Depending on the device, you can record from 10 seconds (£4.25) to 6 minutes. They also do USB voice recorder (6 minutes, 4 GB, 40 hours, £24.95) and Talking photo albums, a great present for Christmas for families who live far apart.

By the way, they don’t pay me to say that, I just talk about products I use, bought or am very enthusiastic about. The Language show is always a great opportunity to talk to people who make the products/books for us, language teachers. We use their products all year long for years, so they are important in our lives.

Language Show October 2012– part 1


What a great show, lots of great conferences, talks, methods, book, materials and goodies. It was also a great surprise to meet the CLE team from Paris. As you know, they’re my favourite books to teach French.



Saturday 3 March 2012

How long will it take me to learn French/ Spanish/ Italian/Greek?


This is the most common question my clients ask me on their first phone call.

It really depends. A Complete Beginner with great motivation, who will ask a lot of questions, will listen to the answers (not all students do so), and do homework (at least 1.5 hours a week), listen to the radio, watch TV, attempts to read the paper or magazines in the language studied, will, in a few months, have a higher level than someone who is a Higher Beginner/Intermediate, but who rests on his laurels and neither does homework nor the other activities mentioned.

It is not uncommon, when a couple starts taking lessons, where one is a Complete Beginner and the other one an Upper Beginner, to see, within 4/5 months, the novice overtaking the confident partner, who will soon be amazed at how his partner has progressed. Usually, this is when the latter decides to take things seriously.

Learning a language can be slow, remember how long it takes babies to speak. They listen for months and then one day, they speak. For some, it will take 2 years, other 3 or more. Everyone is different. It comes more naturally to some people. Usually, when students have learnt another foreign language previously, or have 2 mother-tongues, it’s easier for them to learn a new language. Why? Because they make connections, they’re used to switching languages, but also, like in my case - I grew up in France and learnt English, German, Spanish, Italian and Latin at school, and started learning modern Greek as an adult – I know what words, phrases and verbs I need to get by on a holiday or to have a conversation with a foreign friend.

Think of it this way: when we meet our friends/colleagues, we often ask them the same questions, we usually talk about the same subjects.

On Monday morning, in London, we all ask each other:

  • Did you have a nice weekend? Tu as passé un bon weekend?
  • What did you do? Qu’est-ce que tu as fait?
  • Where did you go? Tu es allé(e) où?
  • Was the food good? C’était bon?
  • How much was it? C’était combien? Tu as payé combien?


  • I had a great weekend. J’ai passé un excellent weekend.
  • I went to the restaurant. Je suis allé(e) au resto
  • It was really good. C’était super bon.
  • It wasn’t too expensive. C’était pas trop cher.

Every week, with your teacher, you can learn new expressions and verbs to expand this conversation. Now you know why a lot of teachers ask you what you did at the weekend. This practice is very important, and with time, one should be able to have this conversation in the studied language without looking at his notes.

Before travelling, I always recommend my students to take a piece of paper and write all the most important expressions they think they’ll need – if you’re unsure of your numbers, put them on the list. This is what I do when I go to Greece. Also, it’s reassuring to have this paper, knowing you can take it out and show your interlocutor, who will always be impressed at your interest in communicating with the locals in their language. You might even be invited for dinner and make a new friend!