Mais Oui! A Guide to Learning French Online

Meet Jessica, who writes on behalf of This is a website with all kinds of tips and tools for beginners, intermediate and advanced learners, as well as French teaching resources, ideas and activities for primary and secondary teachers.
Take it away, Jessica!

I didn’t require much convincing to decide to learn French online. Indeed, this has proven to be an effective, inexpensive, and convenient way to learn the language. There are, however, several challenges that I’ve faced and I’d like to share them with you — and tell you how I overcame them.

First, I had a real problem with pronunciation. Like all native English speakers, I found this difficult because some French sounds have no English counterparts. I had an especially tough time with the letters U and R, which take on modulated pronunciations and which are difficult to describe in text. It’s challenging because you don’t have a tutor to guide you on the correct accents. I overcame this by watching French movies and listening to French music, all of which can be accessed through your local library. I also recently visited France, which allowed me to get firsthand experience in French pronunciation.

And then there’s the French H. The French H comes as either muet or aspiré. Both sound the same (they are both silent), but there’s a huge difference in that mute H (H muet) requires liaisons and contractions whereas aspirated H (H aspiré) acts as a consonant. Remembering which H word is which is tricky, but I’ve overcome this by making a vocabulary list that has definite articles such as l’homme (H muet) and le homard (H aspiré). English movies with French subtitles also helped. (Additional helpful hint: I’ve discovered that the longer you make spelling mistakes, the more difficult it will be for you to fix them!)

Listening to French recorded lessons, watching French movies and my interactions with other French learners in discussion forums and other online communities has been a great resource. As an example, I now automatically pronounce B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R whenever I find them at the end of a word.

When I was starting out, I had a problem concentrating in my lessons and following my personal schedule. I’ve discovered that — for me — learning French in a structured manner was the path to learning effectively and efficiently. I enrolled in an online class and set a specific time early in the morning for my French lessons. (I also talked to my family and asked them to give me sufficient space and support.)

Finally, French is unique in that French words are assigned gender (they are either masculine or feminine). This, as I’m sure is the case with most native English learners, has been very confusing to me. The only answer seems to be memorization. There is no other way around it. I have read countless books to get proper usage of French words and to determine their gender.

And in the end, has it been a worthwhile endeavour? I can confidently say: mais oui! It certainly has.

Let’s Get This Party Started … Again

Having wrapped up a very interesting 2013, it’s time to let you know what I’m thinking about for 2014.

Instead of focusing strictly on life hacking, I set a number of goals that I’m going to be turning to my library for assistance with. And … I have some interesting adventures coming up.

Let’s start with adventure — it’s more fun. From June 29 until July 23, I’m going to be in summer school in Austria and Italy. I got the acceptance letter two weeks ago and now that I’ve stopped dancing about in joy, I’m realizing there’s actually a lot of pre-planning required for something like this. However, there’s also loads of opportunity for some good-quality life hacking. I’m looking forward to sharing all my sneaky travel tricks. (That is, when I learn what they are.)

Plenty ‘O Goals
Now, about those goals:

  • Lose 20 pounds.
  • Start running again — and keep running.
  • Learn to speak passable German and Italian.
  • Pull together a wardrobe that will work for Europe in the summer, make me look sophisticated and wordly, and yet fit into a backpack.
  • Get my job under control so that leaving for a month doesn’t create mountains of chaos for my beloved co-workers.
  • Buy a condo.
  • Get successfully through eight university-level courses.
  • Be creative.
  • Learn how to be content.

I know that’s a pretty tall order, but I figure that if I at least put in some effort, at the end of the year I’m still ahead of where I was at the beginning of the year.

I’ve already started working on some of them. The good folks at Weight Watchers are helping me with the 20 pounds, and I’ve used Jeff Galloway’s “Running Until You’re 100” (which we first talked about early last year) to build a training plan.

Ciao Bello!
I’m also quite jazzed to be trying out the Mango Languages software, which is available FREE through my home library. This is language learning that’s completely online, so I can chirp “Buongiorno, Signore!” and “Guten Tag!” in the privacy of my own home, whenever I want. You can even access Mango on your phone. It’s just so cool. (You can check at their website to see if your own library has access to Mango.)

More Crazy Experiments
As well as my ridiculously ambitious list of goals, I still have a whole pile of life hacking experiments left over from 2013 to be tried out. Here’s a quick sample list:

  • Making port
  • Fixing a car (I thought an oil change might be a good place to start)
  • Making candy canes
  • Building a guest bed
  • Learning how to paint watercolors
  • Learning to cook Thai food
  • Figuring out how to make my own lunch instead of buying it every single day
  • Growing herbs indoors
  • Writing a Harlequin romance
  • Learning how to win at blackjack
  • Making good-looking pottery without a potter’s wheel
  • Basket-weaving (and that’s not a joke)

Even though I haven’t quite figured out how to make it all happen, I think we’re in for a fun 2014. I hope you’ll come back and visit now and again, and I’ll endeavour to have something new and interesting to show you.

Next week, we have a guest post from Jessica, on some unconventional ways to learn French. Until then, I hope the sun is shining in your part of the world!


A Look Back At 2013


Before we get too far along in this brand new year, I thought it was a good idea to wrap up what we did in 2013.

The initial goal of Library Life Hack was to determine the dollars-and-cents value of a library card in the life of a (more or less) ordinary person. At the close of 2013, the life hacks I had tried out had saved $3971.86.

As well as life hacking, I borrowed entertainment resources that would have cost me $424.26 to buy, and I also borrowed $124.32 worth of books and DVDs for my academic pursuits. That’s a grand total of $4520.44.

My library card weighs 3 grams, so pound for pound, that makes the card much more valuable than platinum.

A library card is worth more than $4500. Who would have thought?

And … what did I learn?
Quite a lot. My favourites:

All these little enrichments added up to a life that felt very much enriched by the end of the year. I also got exposed to a lot of terrific, insightful and inventive authors and filmmakers. I felt like my brain expanded into all kinds of new territory, and there were several nights I would lay awake, too excited by all these unexplored frontiers to go off to sleep.

I learned a few other things along the way. To my surprise, a rolling pin is nothing to be afraid of. And not so much to my surprise, food that you make yourself tastes way better than anything you buy in a typical grocery store.

And I had so much fun
Oh my gosh, I had fun. I loved doing the experiments and I loved writing the goofy stories about the results. I still play my Butter-Making Dance Mix when I’m cooking and cleaning, and laugh as I’m shaking my 50-something derriere to Katrina and The Waves.

Thank you, Thank You, Thank You
We’re now two weeks into 2014, so let’s close off 2013 with a few words of thanks.

  • First to Chris Guillebeau, who provided $100 and the instructions that inspired Library Life Hack. (You can read the whole story here.)
  • Second, to the brilliant staff of Strathcona County Library, who offered help and suggestions at every turn. (This is a gorgeous library. If you’re ever in Sherwood Park, stop in for a visit. You won’t be sorry.)
  • Third, to everyone single person who has ever sat down and read through the posts, offered their comments and even trusted me far enough to subscribe. You’re a giant part of what makes this blog so much fun and so worthwhile. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And now … it’s 2014. Let’s go!

Happy New Year!

Hello and Happy New Year!

Exactly one year ago today, I released the first post on this blog, full of the enthusiasm and optimism that accompanies new ventures. And exactly two months and three days ago, I released the most recent post.

For this, I apologize. My intention, on January 1st of 2013, was that this be a weekly blog.

“Life is what happens” said the great John Lennon, “when you’re busy making other plans.”

In my life, the happenstance is that I work full-time and go to school part-time. At least until this past September. I decided to try taking three courses per semester, which meant that — legally, anyways — I was now a full-time student. Juggling a three-course load with a demanding full-time job was … well … a little hairy. And Library Life Hack became a casualty of my academic pursuits.

I survived. I even got good marks. And I signed up to start three more courses on January 8. Having tackled it once, I’m gambling that I could manage a little better on Round Two.

Library Life Hack’s domain registration came up for renewal four days ago. And I had a decision to make. Do I continue? Can I do it? Do I want to do it?

The answer to the last question is easy. Of course I do. Library Life Hack was one of the brightest spots of my 2013. Despite my embarrassment at falling off the wagon for two months, I’m quietly proud of my blogging adventures. I’ve even gotten to speak live about it to other library folks.

And there are still things — lots of things — I want to try. So, I’m back for another year of kooky life experiments, engineered with library materials. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it. It would be foolish for me to promise weekly posts because that’s unlikely to happen. But I will tell you that I’m taking a page from “The 4-Hour Workweek” and looking at the possibility of outsourcing.

There are fresh adventures yet to come. And I’m really glad you’re here.

Happy New Year.