French at Home

Dear Liza,

For most of my life, cities like Paris, Nantes, and Bordeaux were unimaginably far away. Not just in miles, but in culture, language, and history. The family I grew up in liked to travel, but didn’t care much for languages that weren’t English or countries that weren’t the good old U. S of A.

My folks, on top of the world

I studied Spanish as part of preparing to teach in California, which made sense to them. But when I started studying French to enjoy our trips to Europe more, their eyes sort of glazed over, as though I were learning how to chat with bumblebees. “They’ll speak English if you just go to the right places,” they said, with a knowing nod, as if other countries were just being stubborn.

Us, on top of the Arc de Triumph

When I first met Auntie Bridgett, one of the things we had in common was that we both wanted to learn to speak French. My school district offered discounts on Rosetta Stone, a wonderful online language learning app, and I used it for a year. Then we took a class at Hartnell College, and Shawn Quione made the lessons fun and interactive. We also met our friend Donald, whom we still hold dear.



The semesters ended, classes got canceled, but our French was improving. When we traveled to France, we could order lunch (granted, there were a few misfires) and read the memorial plaques and museum signs.

It’s nice to understand!

When we moved to Portland, we thought about attending a French class at Portland Community College, but we kept putting it off. And now we are in shut down.

Enter Duolingo! This free online app has been allowing me to keep learning and practicing French even when there is no way to take a class. It is easy, encouraging, and just repetitive enough to drill things like indirect object pronouns into my thick head. There is a silent mode, so I can practice and not bother anyone, and also a mode to listen to the spoken French.

I have now been practicing for a half hour every day for 155 straight days, and am working my way through the French translation of “Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu”.

My latest challenge

I love being able to keep learning. It is good for my mental and emotional health to struggle a little, as well as plan for a time when we can get on planes and travel again. And maybe the next time I travel to Paris, I can take you with me!

Love,

Grandma Judy


More Fun with French

Dear Liza,

Paris art at PAM last summer

Our family speaks a lot of languages! You speak Russian with your Mommy and Grandpa Victor and Baba Alla, Spanish with Ita and your friends at school, and English with everyone else.

I know sign language and Spanish from school and have studied French with our friend Shawn and Hebrew with dear Rick Hughes.
I want to be able to speak with people when we travel to France later this year, so that’s what I’m working on now.

Auntie Bridgett’s memories of Paris

But we learned our languages in different ways. Even when you were a baby, your different people spoke to you in different languages, and you somehow sorted them all out. I only knew English for a long time, and have been playing catch up ever since.

For French, I use books, tapes, Duolingo, and movies to help me learn and remember new words. I spend some time each day practicing, sometimes having slow conversations with Auntie Bridgett.

And now we have a new way to practice! Our friend Michelle has given us Refrigerator Poetry in French, and with the help of a metal cookie box, we are using it everyday for a giggle and practice.

So far, my favorite sentence is “Je suis ici pour la mousse au chocolate et des chausettes rouges.” This means “I am here for the chocolate mousse and the red socks.“

Pretty much says it all.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Downtown with the Cousins

Dear Liza,

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The cupola

It is hot again here in Portland, so I made sure my Monday with Jasper and Kestrel included lots of air conditioning and water.

We took the number 4 bus downtown to the Pioneer Courthouse. This nifty building was built in 1875, and is still being used. It has a wonderfully old elevator that feels like a birdcage, and lovely steps, as well. We enjoyed both as we headed for the main attraction, the cupola!

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Cool old elevator

A cupola is a little tower with windows that sticks out the top of a building. The courthouse cupola was built because this was where customs officers could come and see what ships were in the port of Portland. In those days, this was the tallest building around, so you could see the river from here. Not anymore, I’m afraid.

But we enjoyed the old bubbly glass, the views, and knowing that we were in a special place. Looking down, we saw Pioneer Square, which is called Portland’s Living Room because of all the public events there. Once we climbed down from the cupola, we crossed the street and had snacks there while listening to bluegrass music.

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Pretty carpeted stairs

But it was getting hot. So we headed up to the Oregon Historical Society, which is air conditioned and free, since I am member. Their main exhibit was about Oregon State University (OSU, Go Beavers!) and many of the famous and influential people who graduated from there. There was information about Linus Pauling, The McMenamin brothers, people who invented whale tracking technology, the fellow who invented the computer mouse,  and much more. There was also a soft comfy couch for Grandmas.

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Tracking whales

Having filled our heads with history and science, we walked to Director’s Park, where there is a fountain designed for playing in. The kids got wet, splashed other kids, and generally had a good time. We ate a cobbled together picnic in the shade, played a big game of Connect Four until tempers started to fray,  and then we headed home.

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Kids and water

I had brought storybooks to read, and Kestrel had lots more. Jasper practiced Spanish on his Duolingo program. We made dinner, Auntie Katie came home, and Grandpa Nelson came to fetch me. I was one pooped Grandma Judy!

When it “cooled down” to 88 degrees at 9 o’clock, Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk. The moon was almost full and the park was beautiful, but it was still too warm to be comfortable. Tomorrow will be a quiet inside day, I think.

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Moonshine

Love,

Grandma Judy