Danish Practice

Dear Liza,

Learning Danish is a real challenge! I have been working at it on Duolingo every day since you moved to Denmark in August, and I am still at “baby talk” level. I know you and your folks are working hard at it, too.

I started using art to help me learn vocabulary a few months ago.

You know I’ve been studying French for a few years now, and there are words that have been adopted into Danish from French! Words like ‘restaurant’, and ‘menu’ and ‘toilet’ are Danish, as well as English and French. So there are a few gimme’s, as they say.

But those only go so far, and Danish has another difficulty.

Danish has TWENTY vowel sounds, at least three which do not happen in English. They all seem to be a variety of ‘o’, ranging from a puckered ‘oooo’ in the front of your mouth to a broader sound that sounds like you are choking on a potato. The consonants tend to get left off, leaving a pudding of vowel sounds that is hard for me to differentiate.

Also, Danish doesn’t pronounce the ‘d’ in the middle or end of a word, but it is still there (sometimes doubled) in the spelling. So ‘bondegård’, which means ‘farm’, is pronounced ‘bonnygo’. See what I mean?

I know you will work hard at Danish and get the hang of it well before I do, since it is all around you. Maybe you can help me when I come visit.


Grandma Judy

And the French Just Keeps on Coming!

Dear Liza,

This past week, I passed a new milestone: 1200 straight days of French lessons on Duolingo! I started being diligent about it after I retired and moved to Portland , and Auntie Bridgett makes sure I don’t skip a day.

I like learning on Duolingo for many reasons. I am on the FREE program, so it doesn’t cost me anything.

I can learn silently if I’m sitting near someone and don’t want to disturb them, or turn up the volume and hear how the language sounds.

The little green mascot owl, called Duo, is always encouraging and never appears to think I’m an idiot, even when I’m sure I am.

And now, because of my streak, I have three days of cool extra French lessons. I have also had fun learning a bit of Danish, so I can read menus when I visit you.

Seriously, I wish I could have gotten my students as pumped about learning as I am right now. I did try. But I’m not as cute as Duo.


Grandma Judy

Still Duolingo-ing

Dear Liza,

I have now been practicing French with Duolingo every day for 800 days in a row! This is partly an advantage of being retired; I don’t need to get up and go anywhere first thing in the morning. Cereal, coffee, and Duolingo are my first activities. Partly it is having a reliable study-buddy in Auntie Bridgett.

And partly it is a big, buttery longing to return to La Belle France!

I remember our trip to Paris in 2006, when my ignorance of even basic French drove me to tears of frustration and made for some awkward moments.

It was better in 2008, when we included Angers, Angouleme and Nantes in our itinerary. Having studied with Rick Hughes, I could read the wonderful historic plaques. I could understand the menus and signage at train stations.

But I still couldn’t talk to anyone! French seemed to gallop by while my brain trudged at a snail’s pace.

When we returned a few years later, I had done some Duolingo and studied with Veronique Sepulchre, and I felt more capable. I was still speaking French like a backwards child, but I was speaking French!

And when we are finally able to travel internationally again, I plan to be Paris ready.

La ville de lumiere, je vais retourner!


Grandma Judy

Playing Scrabble en Francais

Dear Liza,

You know Auntie Bridgett and I have been studying French for years now. We do an hour or so of Duolingo online every morning. We practice talking to each other in French when Grandpa Nelson isn’t around (because we don’t want to be rude). And now we have a new way to learn.

For her Christmas present, I made Bridgett a French Scrabble set. The ones you can buy in France are a little different from American sets, since French uses more vowels. The accents and other bits that are not letters (like the accent over the ’e’ in cafe) are not on the letter tiles.

I went online to make sure I had the right number of each letter and the right value on each tile, because some were different. Part of the gift, of course, was an official French Scrabble dictionary. We can play on our American board.

The other day, we had our first practice game. We know more than two thousand words, so we felt very confident. But it was a challenge!

Whatever seven letters you have on your rack are all you have to work with, and sometimes they are not very promising.

Still, we stuck it out, helping each other when we needed it. There was a lot of “fishing” in the dictionary, looking for words that used just those letters.

We have played a few games now, but still haven’t finished one. But practice, while possibly not leading to perfection, will certainly lead to improvement. And besides, it’s fun, these cold winter days, to have a new challenge.


Grandma Judy

300 Days of Duolingo

Dear Liza,

Languages are so much fun to learn! You get to find out where words come from and how they are related. You figure out ways to remember hundreds of new words. And in the end, you are able to talk to people from other countries. That’s a pretty good pay off.

I made it!!

This weekend I reached my 300th day straight of doing half an hour a day of French lessons on the teaching site, Duolingo. Auntie Bridgett and I make time for it every morning, right after breakfast. We work separately, sitting side by side on the couch for company and help. Let’s face it, with hundreds (maybe even a thousand by now) of new words, sometimes I just blank out.

“This is silly,” I’ll say. “What’s cupboard?”

“Placard,” she’ll answer. “It’s masculine.” It’s important to know that. Every noun (a person, place, or thing) in French has a gender, masculine or feminine, and that tells you how to spell the words that describe it. The gender isn’t always what you think it is.

“Robe”, which means dress, is feminine, so that makes sense, but so are the words for “car”, “orange”, and “house.”

Auntie Bridgett uses her sketchbooks to draw pictures to help her remember how words go together.

Words that are masculine are “coat”, “bicycle”, and “garden.” Sometimes to help me remember the gender of a noun, I will think of a cartoon showing the thing with long eyelashes if it is feminine, or a mustache if it is masculine. Be careful, though! Mustache….. yep….. is feminine.

So now I head off toward the next 300 days. With any luck, by the time I get to that milestone, we will be able to travel to France again, and put all this learning to use.

Paris at sunset

I know it is silly to be homesick for someone else’s home, but I sure miss Paris.
But at least when we go back, I’ll be able to have a conversation!


Grandma Judy

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!


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.


Grandma Judy

Downtown with the Cousins

Dear Liza,

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.



Grandma Judy