The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘studying’

Final(ly)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on December 10, 2013

in 5 hours i will (hopefully) be going through my final exam. in 5 hours I will be going throught my (hopefully) final. this should be the final exam. Well until next time. But it should be my final exam this time around. Finally, the conclusion of my studies so far. Or is it? What if I fail?

Seriously. I am terrified.

I’m spending the next few hours re-reading my thesis, and honestly, I am glad I did not linger on it too much before. The only thing I can see are the mistakes, the simplistic approach, the frail, awkward logical connexions. Surely even a 5 year old could have done it better. Since I sent in the three copies of my magnum opus, I haven’t had any feedback from my correctors, and I haven’t dared ask. I was just too mortified. Why on earth did I ask my two favourite lecturers to do it? How could I force upon them the tedious task of reading my dreadful ramblings in halting pidgin German? I never dared ask what they thought about it because I didn’t want to hear how dissapointed they might be. “Really Alice, how could you send us this. Is this really all you have learned these past two years? Aaaah the disappointment! Ah the shame!”

Am I being overdramatic? Surely if it were this bad they would have told me. They wouldn’t let me come all the way down to Bavaria to tut me in their office and say: “Well, too bad. Try again”

Right?

headdesk

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Rough around the edges

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 23, 2013

Being a student has its advantages: you get a card, free internet access on crappy computers in stuffy rooms at uni if you get up early enough, you get to learn things, you are surrounded with people who care about your future; in fact, you have a future. Come to think of it, you have little else: People don’t so much ask what you do, as what you will do once you’re done being a student. Even when you tell people something as questionable as: “I do Intercultural European Studies” , the next question automatically is “what sort of outcome can you hope for once you’re finished?”.

Some people stroll through their studies, their lives, and the university corridors, knowing exactly where they are going and how to get there. Serene, unwavering, purposeful, they take great big determined steps towards their goal. You can hardly call them students, they are all future somethings. Future lawyers, teachers, doctors, etc. If you ask them what they want to do, they answer, “I’m studying to be a [insert job title here]”. They know. Lucky them!

I am not one of those happy few. Never been one for choices: decisions, decisions… This is why I spend ages in the chocolate aisle, why I don’t have a favourite colour, and also why I have picked the most general course I could possibly find. Literature, comparative cultural studies, image analysis, translation, media studies, cultural projects management… Some day, I know I will have to make a choice, to specialise in something or other, but I don’t wanna! Certainly, I adore plain chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa and cocoa nibs, but hazelnuts are tasty too, so is high quality milk chocolate, and who’s knows if this new “Irish coffee truffle” filling might not be even better? As long as I don’t decide, a near infinite number of possibilities exist. I could have a last minute change of heart and grab a bag of Maltesers. But I haven’t got the means of buying all the chocolate in the shop. And as long as I don’t choose, I can’t eat any of it. Or share any of it. None of this chocolate is mine.

Same with my studies: as long as I don’t choose a specialised field, I could be anything, but am nothing. I am a student without a visible future. Is that depressing or encouraging?

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Quote… unquote.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 6, 2012

There I was reading my book the other day when I saw this:

McLuhan, page 54 of Understanding media: “…as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanism.”

Did you see it? I saw it. Hurray!  I am an educated woman. The sort who can notice a reference to Shakespeare in a modern text without a literature teacher having to point a chalky finger over her shoulder and leaving a little white mark on the page. It felt so good! I basked for a little while in the glowing warmth of self-satisfaction before realising how pathetic I was. Not only was this a reference to the most famous speech in Shakespeare’s most famous work, but the only reason I knew it is because one day in school I just randomly decided to learn said speech off by heart. Did I do so in order to be a more refined, educated person? No. I wanted to show off. How unscholarly. What’s more, if McLuhan did just happily pepper his book with quotations, Shakespearian or otherwise, he surely hadn’t limited himself to one from Hamlet on page 54. I had spotted one; how many had I missed? It would seem after all I am not the sort of person capable of floating from one text to the next in what the French call transtextualité.

So I wonder: how do the other people do it? You know when you listen to the radio or watch politicians on TV. There they all are, debating away when all of a sudden it happens: one of them says something and pauses. Just a second. The rest nod with knowing glances and smile and you know. You just know you’ve missed out on something. You look around nervously. Did the other people in the room get it? Ears peeled you listen and hear a ripple flowing through the BBC radio 4 audience. Did they really get it? Or are they just trying to sound clever? It could just be some obscure reference but all of a sudden, doubt creeps in: could it have been obvious? Are you the only one who doesn’t know? Often a benevolent chairman will kindly clear things up as subtly as they can: “Mr. N., you were just quoting Voltaire I believe… would you say his opinions on Utopia are still…”. And they always get it right.

But HOW? I mean surely they can’t know ahead of time what their panel might come up with. How can they keep in mind everything every politician has said over the past eight years, and everything every second politician has said during the eight years before that? Not to mention every passage from every significant book and article ever written. Some even manage to fit in a couple of pop culture references in there too, before conjuring up musicians, artists, filmmakers and figures from greek and norse mythology. And this database grows daily; with the media capturing every minute of everything, everyone is given the chance to speak out and have their dose of nonsense filed into the global archive. How do chairmen and women keep up?

Do they have the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and the Oxford Companion to literature digitalized and saved in their brains in zeroes and ones, and maybe a live connection to ever-growing wikipedia, wikiquote, wiktionary etc?

Or maybe I’m just stupid.

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End of an era and Neubeginn in Regensburg

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on September 27, 2011

Did I ever actually mention I am now officially a postgraduate student? Yes, I have a degree: I have finally been able to academically achieve something higher than the baccalaureate. It took me some time, twice the “normal” number of years (ie: a grand total of 6), it seemed like an eternity, I sometimes wondered whether I would ever graduate, but  I made  it!  And now I am moving on, specialising in “Intercultural european studies”: lots of language, lots of translation, lots of comparative cultural whatnots.  Sounds like something totally up, down and spread all over the walls of my street. And the first year of that course takes place in Regensburg! Now I mean no offence to Clermon, which is after all a very lovely town, but I needed out and now here I am, with my 43 kgs of luggage, unpacked and sprawled across my room. It would seem my untidiness followed me here…

And so: Regensburg. New town, new flat, new uni (hopefully, if I can manage to climb over/ram through the extra tough made-in-Germany wall of administration), and new blogging projects. Now I make new year’s resolutions every other minute, but this time, it is the start of a new (school)year, and I think this is ideal for resolution-making.

It’s probably best not to kill my fledging ideas by overexposure to public scrutiny, so I will not tell you about them right away, but let’s say if it all works out, there should be some interesting things in store. Let’s just say I intend to get as involved in Regensburg as I possibly can!

TTYS!

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How career advice will precipitate you into existentialism.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 28, 2011

Indecision time.

What shall I do? I am now entering the final semester of my degree, and, to be quite honest, I’m terrified. This could be the end of all these years of general expansive studying: soon I will have to specialise. Dread. And simultaneously: excitement. I’m really looking forward to working, to finally putting my years of studying and wandering around Europe to some use, and at the same time I can’t help but worry: Am I good enough to do this? Should I study some more before I definitely enter into this? Have I even picked the right career? Would I really be satisfied with translating other people’s thoughts and words? What about my own thoughts? I have thoughts! (and judging by this blog, I have trouble keeping them to myself).

Strangely enough though, this wave of turmoil hit me only three weeks ago.  Well, it isn’t exactly as if previously I walked serenely through life, full of confidence, never troubled by thoughts about the future. I worry as much as anyone else, and then some. But what really got me started this time was a spoken exam a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty obvious I could do with improving my German (and yes I am talking about language skills, I do not carry a small german person in my pocket). So we concluded maybe I wasn’t ready to apply to that ESIT interpreting school I’ve been dreaming about for ages. And I was really looking forward to that! So that night I cried myself to sleep and the following day I started considering my options.

I could still try out for the ESIT, with English as my first language of tranlation and forget about the German for a while. But wouldn’t it be a shame after spending so many years learning German? Add to the equation the fact that any one person can only apply there twice… I don’t want take any chances. And yet if I don’t try, I can’t really know. On the other hand, I could go to Germany for another year: there’s this bi-national masters degree in cultural and media studies, one year in Regensburg, one year in Clermont. It actually sounds quite interesting, and I’m sure after a year studying in Germany, I should be fine for the ESIT exams. And this way I would also meet a lot of new people, and maybe get some ideas for an alternative career orientation if I am still not good enough for the ESIT…

And then since questions without answers bring on only more questions, I am ow starting to doubt everything: am I really meant to be an interpreter? And this masters degree in Regensburg, is it really a way to improve my german, or is it an escape route: am I running away from growing up? because that’s what the ESIT is, in a way. It’s the end of my being just a student. I’d be an interpreter in training, almost a grown up… I suppose maybe it’s time? Oooooooooh I don’t know… and I went to the careers’ advice office at Uni today, and came out with even more questions!

So I still don’t know what to do with my life.

Decision time?

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Karate tournament (hence the delays in blogging)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 27, 2011

Dear reader,

It’s been a week since last I published anything, and yet again: many apologies. I’ve been having a more difficult time than expected keeping to my fresh un-new-year’s resolutions. Not that I have erred from the straight and narrow path, I’ve stuck to my decisions, only to end up with a lot less time to devote to daydreaming (and consequently blogging). Every time I wa going to write, I ended up doing some reading/studying/grammar exercices. So now I have shuffled out of my usual lethargy, I simply need to find a way for my new found drive to cohabit peacefully with my good old lazyness and propensity to lie/sit/stand around and let my mind wander off. Not as easy as it sounds. Plus, I can’t even write in the evenings, these days as soon as my head hits the pillow I am dead to the world and in no shape to write anything whatsoever.

And yet, I find whenever I do something unusual (go to a local karate tournament, sing at an Irish session, make smoothies), I want to tell the world about it. So no more shilly-shallying, let’s not waste any more precious time and start with the karate tournament.

It was last Sunday (23rd of January), and I’d been really looking forward to it, so on saturday night I made macarons au caramel de beurre salé (salted butter caramel filled macaroons) and charged my camera battery. It was the first “proper” tournament I have ever seen, and I was ridiculously excited, for someone who was just going to sit in the audience and admire her friends do what they do very well, or punch each other to a pulp. What’s a bit sad though is that there were very few competitors: karate is apparently not as popular as other martial arts, and those who choose to practice it often do so with no further objective than learning. Fair enough, says I; that’s precisely why I started, but it is a shame for those who are interested in tournaments and competitions, because they often find themselves without an opponent.

I mean, that’s good for them if all they’re interested in is getting a medal at the end of the day: they can do so without the effort of having earned it, but surely that’s missing the point isn’t it? I thought competition is about finding and pushing back your limits when facing an opponent, about hard work and, well, competition. A girl from my dojo, Roxane, was suggesting I started competing, just so she should have an opponent (in kata, not combat, thank god). She came all the way to the tournament to find out she was championne du Puy-de-Dôme, without even having to pull on her kimono. I know it would be nice for her to have an opponent, but with my less than satisfactory technical skills, I would be little more than a useless presence on the tatami. Then again, what an easy way to become the local vice-champion… (once I got over the ridicule of tripping over my own feet in the middle of my kata – which let’s face it, must be my unescapable fate whenever I try to perform anything in public).

But anyways, it was nice to see them all at it (from a safe distance), and I took innumerable photos with my amazing second-hand lens, and I fed people macaroons, which made me very popular. I look forward to the regional tournament, maybe this time there’ll be a couple more participants.

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Oooh look! Grammar…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 20, 2011

Like oh-so-many people, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship thing going on with grammar, and german grammar in particular. I mentioned a few days ago that Mark Twain called it the “awful language”, partly because of its strange and mind-boggling syntax. I still haven’t read the rest of his essay, but I like to imagine it like a metaphorical summary execution, each rule being dragged out of the dark recesses of a grammar book, into the light, exposed to everyone’s view and shot down. Aaaah, if only someone could do that with Russian genitives…

looking for the local tribes in the German library

But I’m missing the point really, because although I could kill a prepositional verb right now, as well as the person who turned up with the idea of declensions, in fact I really love grammar. I love observing it, and as with most things pertaining to language, I think it’s a wonderful invention. I personally am definitely not a grammarian: I don’t like putting labels on things and saying : “This is the way this should be” or “that should happen in such and such a way because that’s the way it is and otherwise it would be wrong”, just in the same way that I hate it when people put their pre-conceived set ideas on my and label me as “nice”, “boring”, “french”… Some people go through languages with a magnifying glass, a butterfly net and a pair of tweezers, ready to catch a grammar rule, pin it down onto a page and pull it apart under the microscope. I’m much more of an explorer: I travel through the world of languages with my backpack and a safari hat, taking a few notes, and trying to get used to the strange customs of the native compound-adjective tribes. And the populations of these heathen lands are both fierce and shy. I had to circle around the declension village about ten times before I could even get close, and even today some of the little guys won’t come out of their hiding place.

I honestly do get a little thrill of joy when I find out something in the way a language works which cries out loud: I am somehow related to such and such another language. I get pangs of recognition, sometimes, in Russian or German, and I go: but that’s just how it works in English, or I wonder if that’s related to the way they say that in spanish… I get all flustered and most people think I’m crazy, but I just love it. In fact, I’ve long since figured out that’s the only way to understand a language.  By observing it in situ. All those guys with their butterfly nets and their glass boxes haven’t understood a thing, and this is probably why there are so many display cases hopelessly labelled: Exceptions

So basically I love grammar, I just don’t like studying it. Am I a linguist then or am I not?

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Starting afresh: un-New-year’s resolutions for today (yes, again)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 18, 2011

For those of you who were already aware of my blog’s existence, you may have noticed that this is somewhat of a repeat. For those who hadn’t a clue: well it’s pretty obvious in the title anyway, and I won’t be cross-referencing so you should be fine. The point is, I was having a bit of  a writer’s block today, and lists are always an easy thing. For example, here is a quick list of the things I could talk about today, but won’t: starting karate; changing my plans for the future; the constant litter on our front door; the gardening-inducing weather and the lack of garden on my top-floor flat; holiday plans… etc.

See: easy.

But anyways, revenons à nos moutons. Resolutions: I need to make some and write them down. Publishing them on this blog really helped the last time: exposing your failings to public scrutiny seems to be a good incentive. And also a good means of procrastinating: while I am writing those resolutions down, I am also postponing the fatidic moment when I will start living by them. Today is my making lists day: tomorrow will be the start of my new year. The Chinese, Christian Orthodox, Japanese, Tamil… have their own so why shouldn’t I? From now on, the 19th of January will be the first day of the AmphibianAlice calendar.

Seriously though, I need to make some improvements in the way I lead my life, and you will notice that unlike my previous new year (which started on the 9th of November), the following list includes a lot of habit-type resolutions. Things I will have to do on a regular basis. It just dawned on me during my exams that I simply didn’t work enough. Like my mam says: if I want to do something, I have to give myself the necessary means. This, it would seem involves a lot of studying.  I kinda knew I wasn’t working enough: I was bright-ish at school and never really needed to put in a terrible amount of personal effort into my studies; now’s the time to change that! So here goes:

– Every morning I will arrive at Uni before 9:15 or 8:30 am (having watched German channel arte on the telly) and open up the library where I will work and read german newspapers until my lessons start.

– Every week translate the headline articles of “die Zeit”

– As soon as I get paid, purchase a swimming pool card and go once or twice a week (do it girl, stop talking about it!)

– Always concentrate during trainings, even if/ especially when I am tired or in a bad mood

– Try not to leave my lessons till the very last minute. (try not to leave everything till the very last minute; and that includes administration)

– Either stop obsessing about being single or do it more scientifically and be funny about it, not sour or despondent (I know it may be weird, but I really like that word: despondent)

– Will keep to the strict-ish timetable I will set up tonight (and set myself exercices and everything…): let’s prove all of them wrong, who think all linguists are lazy. I know I am, but I’ll try and fight against it. You watch me…

-actually learn my Russian vocabulary

– Cook more / Eat less

– Of course at the back of my mind there are also the usual : lose weight, cycle more often, smile more, live more healthily, take more photos, be more artistic, etc, etc…

As you may have noticed, most of these have something to do with studying and improving my German. An lecturer let drop after one of my exams that I had really better spend another year in Germany before I even attempt applying to the ESIT translation school in Paris. I had a vague feeling my spoken german wasn’t good enough, but reality catches up with us all in the end. I guess next year’s destination will shift to Regensburg 430 km further away from Paris than I am now, and ever so slightly more to the east… Anyway, the bottom line of it all is that I need to improve: if I do end up in Regensburg in Bayern ( Ratisbon and Bavaria to you and me), I will have to attend proper university courses and lectures entirely in German, and I doubt the lecturers will stop and translate everything for me, so I’d better be up to it. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll let you know if I’m sticking to my resolutions at all or if it’s just been a waste of an hour. I’ll come back to this post in one month and if I’ve kept any of my promises I’ll cross them out.

I think I’m starting to understand my aunt Hilary’s enthusiasm for lists.

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Mark Twain and truancy in the German department…?

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 17, 2011

Well today was the first of a shiny new semester, after two long weeks of exams, and what an impressive kickstart it was! For starters, there were only two lessons all day, adding up to a total of three and a half hours. Some cynics will say that’s because linguists have an easy life, and maybe that’s true: this semester I have four-day-long weekends (but just wait until wednesdays, when I have 7½ hours lessons with a just a 30min lunch break to run and find something to eat, closely followed by three hours training).

That not being my point however, I move swiftly on to discuss a serious attendance issue in my class. Indeed for the first lesson (translation), half the class was missing, then for linguistics, two thirds of the students simply didn’t turn up! So basically not only are we a bunch of lazy sloths, but we also have a serious truancy problem! And yet, you’d think it would be easy getting all three and a half of us together!

Yes, you heard me right: our university is strong of three, sometimes four final year german bachelor students. Obviously taking a literary, linguistic and cultural approach to German is not a very popular choice. There are way more lecturers in the department than there are students and -you may have guessed/calculated it by now- sometimes you end up getting private tuition. A bit of quick maths will tell you I spent two hours today faccing our linguistic teacher alone, while she grilled me. For example, please analyse this sentence:

Olaf steckt die Flöte in die Hosentasche und geht rülpsend und grinsend an der Jette vorbei, hinter der Mutter her, schön an der Hand.

I hope you’re not actually expecting me to analyse this for you now, I just did it in French; no way I’m going through this again especially since I have no idea how stuff like anaphore, ellision, le plan morphosyntaxique translates into English! Have fun analysing this yourselves!

I also learned today that Mark Twain knew German, and that he hated it! I had no idea! Here is something he wrote about parenthesis in a text about “the awful German language” as he calls it:

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the other half at the end of it. Can any one conceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called “separable verbs.” The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is reiste ab — which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:

“The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.”

However, it is not well to dwell too much on the separable verbs. One is sure to lose his temper early; and if he sticks to the subject, and will not be warned, it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it.

And it’s so true…

Anyway, I need to go shopping if I want food when I return from training tonight! TTYL

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Aaaaahhh. Books!

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 16, 2010

I don’t know if I have mentioned it yet, but I have a little part-time job at the German Department University Library. Officially it’s only five hours a week, but I like to do a couple of unpaid extra hours every now and again: five hours a week is really not enough for people to find, borrow and read all they want.

But I also have a secret reason to spend as much time as possible in this library. Do you want me to tell you what this secret is? Well never mind if you don’t, here it comes: I luuuurve books. I just adore them. Ever since I was a child I have loved reading. When I was in collège (between 11 and 15 years old) I would borrow a couple of books first thing in the morning, even before lessons started and read them during break-times. Even during lessons; while other pupils were sneakily showing off their new mobile phones and quietly texting to each other across the classroom, I was hiding a novel behind my desk and every time someone got interrogated by the teacher or photocopies were being passed around, I would quickly read a couple of pages. Then, in the evening, I would bounce out of my classroom and run to the library to hand back the books from that same morning and borrow more to keep me going until the following day. Basically, I was mad. When I left the school, the librarian gave me my file. It still lies somewhere in my room, a list of all the books I borrowed during those four years. Impressive, if I do say so myself…

Book! Photo by PoPville flickr user BrennaLM

I have changed a little since then, and I like to think that nowadays my life does not revolve exclusively around books and words, but who am I kidding? I study languages, have a job in a library, and the first thing I do whenever I move somewhere is decide where the bookshelf is going to be and how it will be organised. And although I have other passions, like singing, cooking, karate, travelling…, I very quickly search for books that are relevant to the subject. When I first started karate, I bought Le karaté pratique by Roland Habersetzer; I regularly write down all the songs I know in a notebook and then spend evenings pouring over it going through them all in my head, and the first item on my Christmas wish list is a vintage first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique (1938), the same one which features in Red Dragon, and Julie and Julia. Did I say I had changed? Maybe not after all.

And I do not know whether my love of books led me to loving words and paper, or whether my love of paper and words combined to make me love books. It’s the whole egg and hen cycle, I personally haven’t a clue which came first, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. It just means that when I see a box in the German library which says “To give away”, my heart jumps to my throat and my hands start trembling with excitement. And when I see one of the books to give away is a German atlas from 1933, I can’t help it. It doesn’t matter if I never open it ever again and it just sits on a shelf until I move to someplace else and pack it away in a cardboard box, it is definitely going to my personal library. And the fact someone has been using it as a flower press makes it all the more interesting. I wonder when those flowers were picked. Could it have been under the Nazi rule, during the second world war? In Germany, in Paris, somewhere entirely different (there are scribbles in polish on a bookmark)…? And it has the smell. You know what I am talking about. That smell, the smell of old books… I once heard on a television programme (my friends and family will know I am talking about QI of course) that the mould in books is in fact hallucinogenic in high amounts. Well this is my drug.

Mind you, I get a similar effect when I smell a brand new book fresh from the press, too! GOing into a bookshop and coming out with shiny new books has something exhilarating too. Just today a leaflet arrived, addressed to the “Librarian” of the German department, advertising the publications of Routledge Language Learning Reference Books 2010 and I just had to add a few more items to my Christmas wish list (which is growing daily). How can you resist when you see titles like: The Routledge Concise Compendium of the World’s Languages, with “provision of IPA symbol grids arranged by articulatory feature and by alphabetic resemblance to facilitate use of the new phonology sections”, and “classification by genetic relationship of all languages covered (111)”. How can you resist that? Another tempting item was The Routledge Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets, with its “enhanced introduction discussing the basic principles and strategies utilised by world writing systems. Phwoaarrr… And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I closed the leaflet and spotted on the back an advert for the second edition of the Atlas of the World’s Languages! £450.00 though. I might have to wait until the third or fourth edition comes out… But one day, one day I will have those books. In my future house there will be an entire room devoted to reading, with comfy chairs and a thick carpet (maybe a fireplace too), and so many books! I can’t wait!

PS: nothing to do with the rest of the article, but I thought I would share this gem of an anecdote with someone. This morning as I was buying my customary Tuesday Ham and Brie sandwich from the Boulangerie, a man burst in and said:

“Que Dieu vous donne la vue, et du poil au cul! “(May god bless you with good eyesight and a***hair). Food for thought.

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