The tide is turning; f-a-i-l is no longer a four letter word, because the benefits of failure are increasingly being embraced.
William Alexander, whose bookFlirting with French is coming out this fall, recently wrote about his difficulties learning French in a New York Times op-ed piece, The Benefits of Failing at French. Despite his slow progress with the language, he found his memory improved, as documented by before and after cognition testing.
I've written before about the brain science of learning a second language, but I don't think I've discussed my belief in the importance of failure. Until recently, our culture was all about success. Americans backpeddled away from the stink of failure, not recognizing it as a crucial step in learning. However, the tech industry knows that to truly innovate, you have to make mistakes. The new mantra is Fail Often; Fail Faster, i.e. quickly learn which new ideas work and which new ideas don't work.
And children don't worry about making language mistakes, they delight in their ability to connect. If you really want to remember something, screw it up and get corrected: you'll never forget that correction. Don't focus on how dumb you felt, celebrate the acquisition of a new concept. That's why it's important to speak without turning on your shame detector. Embrace what the Buddhists call "Beginners Mind".
Neurology is starting to prove that this concept is therapeutic. A recent aging study from the University of Texas looked at seniors who learned new skills compared with those who joined a social club and those who stayed home and did word games on their own. Only those who continually confronted themselves with new mental challenges improved. This was a surprise because the prevailing thought was that social connection would have the stronger effect.
My interpretation is that we must continually push ourselves into the new, risking failure, acting like toddlers learning to walk and speak. Me? I'm trying to learn HTML and CSS. And making a lot of mistakes. A good mistake is a terrible thing to waste.
I found the object pictured below in a neighborhood brocante.
And it got me thinking:
- You have to be a certain âge to remember it.
- Why haven't the techno-geeks created something radically new instead of minor iterations?
- Aha! Another opportunity for French of le quotidien.... the everyday language that we don't learn in school.
I don't want to exclude men, so I'll start with this:
In English, we call this a jockstrap ("bike jockeys", aka delivery men, were early adopters). In French, it's known as un suspensoir. A logical name. But wouldn't you imagine that a bra could be called a suspensoir as well, instead of a soutien-gorge? I recently learned that an archaic usage of la gorge referred to the breasts which explains the whole soutien-gorge thing.
But back to menstruation....the everyday (or every month) word that some folks still have difficulty using in mixed company. In French, the menses are les règles (f) or les menstrues (f) or la menstruation. The general term for 'feminine hygiene products' as the Mad Men labelled them is les protections périodiques (f).
Pads are serviettes hygiéniques, protège-dessous and sometimes come with wings, ailettes. They come in a variety of absorbancies: léger, moyen, super, super plus or de nuit.
Tampons are les tampons (m), but remember that un tampon is also the name for a rubber stamp in French.
Pantyliners are des protèges-slips (m).
There are many idioms for having your period:
les anglais ont débaqué (the redcoats have landed), avoir ses ragnagnas (les ragnagnas (f) = slang for your period), les fournis rouges attaquent, avoir ses gnoufs (le gnouf = slang for prison), avoir ses bricoles (une bricole = a trifle), écraser des tomates.....
And then there are these:
If we live long enough, we'll need les couches-adulte or les couches adultes (f), adult diapers.
TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Talks are available free online at ted.com. They are a great way to learn something new, hear inspirational speakers and connect with great ideas in bites of 18 minute or less.
But did you know they are available in over 100 languages, from Afrikaans to Vietnamese? I've been listening to talks in English with French sub-titles. It's a good way to pick up new vocabulary. Or see if your translation matches the one supplied by the francophone translator. Just click on 'translations' at the top of the opening page:
It's another technique to add to your language learning arsenal. Enjoy! And share your favorite TED talk with the rest of us.....
I'm a fiend for onamatopoeia, words that imitate the sound they describe. You might imagine they would be the same or similar in most languages, but they aren't. Sometimes they sound the same, but are spelled differently. A sampling of French onomatopée:
Boo (to scare) Hou
Brrr Brrr/ gla-gla
Fart sound prout/pête
pee-yew/pee yoo pouah
splish splash flic floc
tick tock tic-tac
um euh/ ben
What onamatopoeic words have I missed in English or in French? Add to the list, s'il vous plaît.....
Everyone's heard of Craig's List. Now in honor of a teenage family member who will going on her first trip to France this spring, I'm creating Lizzie's List. This particular trip is a school trip, so I won't be there to inject mes mots favoris.
Lizzie's List is a compendium of vocabulary words that aren't usually taught in high school but which teens might need in France. No, not the dirty words! Teens have no problem learning those words. I believe you feel more part of the culture when you learn the argot of daily life.
Today's word is branché/e. Literally, it means plugged in or connected (for example, plugging in an electrical appliance). But in la vie quotidienne, it means hip, cool. In school they teach génial or super (pronounced soup-air), but branché is more current.
Please suggest other non-x-rated words for Lizzie's List.
Did you know that the Smurfs are Belgian and actually named Schtroumpfs? Yes, like Tintin, the Smurfs were created by a Belgian. Georges Rémi created the Tintin empire, but it was Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, pen name Peyo, who gave birth to the Smurfs/Schtroumpfs. Smurf is the Dutch translation of Schtroumpf.
Legend has it that Peyo wanted a friend to pass him the salt, but the word momentarily escaped him, so he called it "schtroumpf" (passe-moi le schtroumpf). The two friends spent the weekend goofing around with the word, creating a whole schtroumpf language. The schtroumpfs first appeared in a magazine in 1958.
The smurf cap is based on the Phrygian Cap, adopted as the symbol of French liberty during the French Revolution.
I prefer the name Schtroumpf to Smurf. It sounds almost Yiddish: schmuck, schlemiel, etc. Too bad Hannah-Barbera didn't use it when they began producing the cartoons in 1981