Elsa’s Tips on How to Learn French

Learning or relearning a language as an adult can be difficult, but it can be done. Find tools that work for you, practice practice practice, and NEVER give up.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don't forget the most important: commitment.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don’t forget the most important: commitment.

Bonjour ! Comment ça va? (Hello! How are you?) I have been away from blogging about Paris for too long. I have many reasons for this — excuses, really — but one reason is that I have been focusing on learning French. Some day, I hope to move to France, whether it is to retire or to work, or both. Although more French people than ever are learning English, it is important to me to learn their language, for it is the only way to truly immerse myself in the French culture. And what better way for me to show how much I love France than to learn French?

I am the first to acknowledge that different people learn differently. That said, here are my tips on how to learn French.

1. Focus on learning French like you learned English, learning sounds (phonics), words, and putting together short sentences. Yes, this is how a child learns their first language: Since this method works for them, it will work for you. Look for children’s books on teaching French (see below). No need to be embarrassed: no one will know.

2. Watch “Learn French With Alexa” Videos. Click here: Overview of Learn French With Alexa Lessons 1-55.  Many people offer free French lessons on YouTube. Even though I took a year of French many years ago, I wanted to start from the very beginning, as I’ve stated above. Most lessons have you learning phrases without learning sounds or grammar. I found what I was looking for in Alexa, who teaches French from the ground up. After her first lesson on greetings, she teaches sounds, words, small sentences…everything I was looking for in a French teacher. She is also very funny: an added bonus. I highly recommend using ear buds to listen to language videos. You can miss the nuances of pronunciation without them.I watch her videos a minimum of 3 times: once as introduction, then to take notes, and a third time to go over the notes. I often also write words and phrases on flash cards to let the words sink in and become part of my way of thinking. I have watched at least one verb video 50 times to make sure I grasp it; after all, reciting what I’ve learned while watching a video is one thing — to be able to call upon it in the moment of conversation is something else. Repetition is key! I can still hear Miss Dawson, my first English teacher, saying,”Attention ! Écoutez, répétez après moi!” (Attention! Listen, repeat after me!) And we repeated and repeated and repeated…

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

3. Use French Vocabulary Flash Cards. This is just another way for me to build my French vocabulary. I have copied the flash card words onto my own flash cards to carry with me during my commutes (so as not to ruin the originals). The only problem with the flash cards is that they don’t give you the pronunciation. Which brings me to #4…

4. Use the French to English, English to French tool on Google. I love it! Again, use your ear buds to hear the nuances of pronunciation. Click here: Translate French to English Google link.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children's books in French to help learn French grammar.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children’s books in French to help learn French grammar.

5. Look for books aimed at children learning French, such as French for Middle/High School by Carson Dellosa Education. The book basically reiterates Alexa’s videos. But that’s just the point. There’s no such thing as redundancy in language learning: You have to go over lessons over and over and over again until you think in French.

6. Watch movies with more child characters than adults in French and in English with French subtitles, such as the Harry Potter series. Children, even in middle school and high school, are still developing their vocabulary and sentence structure, so they express their thoughts with less complexity than adults. This lower language complexity, when translated into another language, is perfectly suited for an adult to learn the new language. Also, since children tend to be less sophisticated speakers, they don’t generally talk so fast that you can’t hear individual words.

7. Listen to French music. Many people have told me to watch French news and movies to learn French. While I frequently see French movies at the French Embassy in DC (with English subtitles, thank heavens), the characters speak much too fast for me to hear individual words. French music is better for me at this stage of my learning French: it’s much easier to hear individual words, and I’m becoming familiar with French artists while I’m at it. I listen to the RJM French Music app: I  love Avance by Garou, De L’amour le mieux by Natasha St. Pierre, and Les Matins D’hiver by Gerard Lenorman, just to name a few.

8. Join a French group. Chances are, there are groups of native English speakers in your area who want to practice their French. A friend introduced me to one that meets in DC once a week: they meet in a church and go out to dinner together. I don’t feel I am quite ready for it, but I will attend their meetings when I am ready.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

9. Surround yourself with French things. To learn a language, you have to learn to think in that language. I can think of no better way than to surround yourself with French things, such as a comforter with French words and pictures, French tea towels, a French clock, a Page-A-Day calendar of French locales, even a print from a French master painter, such as Monet or Renoir. These things help to transport you to France — at least in your mind, anyway — so you can think in French.  I am the first to admit that learning a language as an adult can be tough for a variety of reasons, especially because of the time it takes. All I can say is: Don’t give up. View any progress as real progress. Use any down time you can to practice or recite what you know. While I cook, I try to name all the kitchen items I use. While vacuuming, I recite all the parts of the room I can. I’ll review a small stack of flash cards while I’m waiting for my dinner to cook. If ever I start to feel hindered in my lessons, I think about how much I want to speak French when I travel to Paris the next time. It keeps me going. Find your own motivation to learn French and keep it in front of you. It will help you when you feel like quitting. It certainly has helped me.

Au revoir !





Learning French image by CanStockPhoto. French Vocabulary Flash Cards from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. French Workbook from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. Vintage French poster from Pinterest, CCBY 2.0.




Happy Valentine’s Day!

Vancouver Cappuccino by Gord McKenna_FlickrToday I am sharing a recipe for French Hot Chocolate based on Cafe Angelina’s recipe, and a poem about love. We might live in a crazy, mixed-up world, where little makes sense, but that is no reason to forget simple pleasures in life, like love and good hot chocolate. In fact, I’d say it’s all the more reason to embrace these things. Take time out to read this short but lovely poem about love, which I’ve illustrated with scenes in Paris. Then enjoy the hot chocolate with the one you love.




Paris in rain by Milena MihaylovaCome watch the rain with me,



Couple walking in rain in Paris by four12_Flickr_2480754339_894bc0cf50_zAnd as it pours over our shoulders,







Under the rain by Vincent Anderlucci_Flickr_18126238743_f2e85c833d_zAnd beats atop our heads,






Paris dancing by Quentin ChernierLet it be said,




Montmartre after rain_3680661782_827f9ea4ee_z



That the rain confirmed our love.

by Samara Kae Gibbs





French Hot Chocolate

Yield: 2 large, intense cups of hot chocolate or 4 more reasonably-sized cups

Prep Time: 3 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 8 minutes


    • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but delicious. Will intensify chocolate flavor)
    • Giant bowl of whipped cream, for serving


In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, whisk together the whole milk, heavy cream, powdered sugar, and espresso powder until small bubbles appear around edges. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir the chopped chocolate until melted, returning the sauce to low heat if needed for the chocolate to melt completely. Serve warm, topped with lots of whipped cream.

Choose the best quality chocolate you can, such as Guittard, Ghiradelli, or Godiva, as the flavor carries the drink.

 — from lawstudentswife.com

Salut !



Trump, Putin & Climate Change: Could It Be A Matter Of Quid Pro Quo?

Is there a secret agreement between Trump and Putin regarding climate change?

Is there a secret agreement between Trump and Putin regarding climate change?

While I write about traveling to Paris and France in general, I also write about political and cultural issues that are important to France. It is only natural that France is the leading voice against climate change since Claude Lorius, a French glaciologist, was instrumental in proving man-made global warming. [See the trailer for the documentary about his work, “Antarctica: Ice and Sky” (2015) by clicking here.] France also does not deny what is right in front of them. As a supporter of France and an American horrified by what I view as an assault on American values coming out of Washington, I feel it is my duty to add my observations and questions to the discussion. I hope I am dead wrong about the suppositions I write about here.

There is evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a hand in electing Donald Trump as U.S. president this past November by conducting a widespread cyber operation directed at the election. In fact, some believe the Russians changed voter counts, and while this fact has been disputed, as a former election judge, it wouldn’t surprise me after seeing firsthand just how temperamental voter machines can be. Computerized machines are supposed to do what people program them to do; these machines seemed to have a mind all their own. Whatever the method, it is clear the Russians are guilty. The expected response from Trump by many is that he would be outraged over outside influence in our election process, even if he is the declared winner; after all, he has alleged that the Clinton Foundation illegally received millions of dollars from foreign powers in exchange for special treatment. One would think Trump would want to avoid similar accusations. But instead of condemning Russia’s unlawful actions, he wants to ease U.S. financial sanctions against Russian individuals and groups, such as those put in place in 2014 after Russian military aggression in Ukraine. Why would Trump do this?

Images like this of a lone Polar Bear floating in the Arctic are not faked. How can they be denied?

Images like this of a lone Polar Bear floating in the Arctic are not faked. How can it be denied?

Perhaps the answer can be found in Trump’s climate change policy: he flatly denies it exists. He has called climate change “bunk” and a “hoax” and has said that taking measures to halt its pace would “make us noncompetitive in the manufacturing world…” Photographs of melting Arctic ice, estimated to be melting at rate of 13.3% per decade, are not a hoax, nor are images of starving polar bears who can’t find food. How do Trump’s denials about this help Putin? As 60 Minutes reported on October 2, 2016 in the segment entitled “The Arctic Frontier,” the melting Arctic ice means ships will be able to pass through the once-impassable Arctic Ocean, specifically the Northern Sea Route, a possible alternative to the Suez Canal that could mean a decrease of as much as 28 days from northern European markets to Asian markets. The savings for the shipping industry would be a “big boon to business around the world.” The Northern Sea Route runs along Russia’s Arctic coastline, and Russia now has a strong military presence along the route. When 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Philip Breedlove, a retired four-star general who most recently was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO with responsibility for the Arctic, what would happen if the Russians gained control over the Northern Sea Route, Breedlove responded, “If the Russians had the ability to militarily hold [it] at ransom, that is a big lever over the world economy.” By denying that climate change is real, Trump has ceded his leadership role to challenge any country on whether this shipping route should even be used, much less challenge Putin on Russia controlling it. This all but guarantees the United States will remain silent as the Arctic ice melts into the ocean and numerous species go extinct – and while Russia gains control over the Northern Sea Route. Russia as a superpower would be reborn.

Unfortunately, unlike Antarctica, which is governed by an international treaty that bars countries from owning or exploiting its land, the Arctic has only a council that meets every six months and issues a non-binding declaration of its business every two years. Only states with territory in that region can be members with voting rights. So if it is in a member state’s best economic interest to allow the Arctic ice melt so as to open the Arctic Ocean to trade ships, no observer state on the council can vote against it. The U.S. is a member state on the Arctic Council due to Alaskan territory contained within the Arctic, so it has the power to be a dissenting voice. But it seems the U.S. is just as anxious to see the Arctic ice melt as Russia. When Lesley Stahl visited the temporary U.S. Navy base in the Arctic for the 60 Minutes segment, the Navy was there to map the bottom of the ice and was “amassing…research to prepare for an expanded presence in the Arctic, as the ice continues to melt.” If U.S. policy prior to Trump being elected was indeed to halt the march of climate change, would the Navy have been there gathering data on how to maneuver beneath the ice? My guess is they would say they were there so they could eventually match Russia’s military presence within the Arctic region, not that they were there to prepare for the U.S. to send commercial ships through the Arctic. It feels like U.S. climate change policy is a kind of doublespeak: Take some actions to show we’re against climate change, but don’t do too much if it impacts us economically in the short term. Remember, this segment aired on October 2, 2016, while Obama was still in office; Trump was elected on November 8. I freely concede, however, that with ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson as Trump’s Secretary of State pick, whose company stands to profit from oil deals in the Arctic region, Trump isn’t double-speaking his climate change policy, he is screaming.

Unless Trump completely changes course, he will likely lose the chance to prevent a climate change tipping point that scientists predict will happen between 2020 and 2030: the defrosting of the Arctic permafrost. Billions of tons of plant material frozen for centuries and containing carbon are slowly thawing out from within the permafrost, but as time passes and more carbon is released, the thaw rate will increase. Excess carbon in the atmosphere heats the planet; excess carbon in the ocean makes the water more acidic and therefore deadly to marine life. Once the plant material has thawed, there is no putting back the permafrost. The cycle will continue, and the earth will continue to heat up at an accelerated pace.

I have to wonder what prevents world leaders like Trump and Putin from seeing what is right in front of them. Is it that they don’t care because they won’t be around to experience the worst effects of climate change? Besides being world leaders and seem to be scratching each other’s back, there are three other things Trump and Putin have in common: They are both older, rich, and have adult and young children. Trump will be 71 years old this year, while Putin will be 65. They are both billionaires, though Putin is far richer than Trump. Trump has four adult children; Putin has two. Trump’s son Barron will be 11 years old this year, while Putin reportedly has three young children under the age of 10 with Alina Kabaeva, who may or may not be his wife. Because of their respective ages, Trump and Putin will unlikely be alive to suffer the full effects of the heating earth. But their young children will – and their adult children are witnesses to their respective father making choices that will impact their lives, and the lives of their children. The earth will one day belong to the children of today. Will it be habitable for them? Do Trump and Putin think their billions will somehow save their children from having to live with the full effects of an overheated planet?

If that is the case, they fail to understand an ancient proverb: “Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”



Image of U.S. & Russian Cooperation by CanStockPhoto. “The Last Polar Bear” by Gerard Van der Leun, Flickr, CCBY 2.0.


“The Arctic Frontier,” 60 Minutes segment, aired October 2, 2016. “Arctic Council” from Wikipedia, CCBY 3.0. “Claude Lorius” from Wikipedia, CCBY 3.0.

“Global Warming Climate Change Forecasts – 2030” from Global Warming Forecasts, http://www.global-warming-forecasts.com/2030-climate-change-global-warming-2030.php.

“Effects of Changing the Carbon Cycle,” by NASA Earth Observatory,




Bonne Annee ! Happy New Year!

Fireworks on Eiffel Tower by Yann Caradec_Flickr_7574806098_6ca78260e3_zHappy New Year! I hope January 1, 2017 finds you well and ready for a new year.

French people today will typically get together with only close friends and family. Having consumed crepes and Galette des Rois (“the Cake of Kings”) yesterday, tonight they will have a special dinner and might attend a ball, une soirée dansante (“a dancing night”).

Make a new year’s resolution to be more like the French, and focus on friends, family, eating well and enjoying life. Life expectancy in France as of 2012 is 82.57 years; in the U.S., it is 78.74 years. There is likely a myriad of reasons for this difference, and some might point to the French having socialized health care. But my time spent in France tells me there are probably other reasons for this difference. To begin with, French people eat far more fresh food than Americans, and take their time eating it. This is one reason why they eat less: the slower you eat, the less you consume. Having wine with dinner also helps, since it helps to satisfy the palate, also allowing you to eat less.

Wine, specifically red wine, has other health benefits as well: it releases flavonoids, which helps the brain to be more plastic, or in other words, makes the brain more capable of forming new memories and recover from injury. Sounds like a prescription for preventing Alzheimer’s Disease, doesn’t it? Dark chocolate, widely consumed in France, also provides this health benefit. Think quality, not quantity, should you decide to incorporate red wine and dark chocolate in your diet for health benefits. More is not necessarily better.

I will continue to write about how to incorporate the French way of life into your own life, as well as write about travelling to Paris. I am signing off for today to spend time with friends.

Those work emails can wait. Have a glass of wine. Eat some dark chocolate. Spend time with those you love today. Be more French.


Salut !


Fireworks on the Eiffel Tower by Yann Caradec, Flickr, CCBY 2.0.

Experience Christmas and New Year’s in Paris!

Galeries Lafayette by Brett_FlickrIf ever there was a time of year to visit Paris for just a few days, Christmas time is it.

Source: Christmas in Paris – New Year in Paris – Paris Tourist Office

Looking for a new tradition? Go to Paris for Christmas or to ring in the new year! The city dressed up for the holidays will take your breath away — if you go to Paris during Christmas time, you might think the city got their nickname “The City of Light” from this time of year. (Actually, it was probably because they were the first European city to use gas lamps outside.) The entire city is bathed in Christmas lights, from storefronts and windows to trees and landscapes. As always, there is plenty to do, including visiting Christmas markets and seasonal ice rinks.

I have given details below of several of my favorite things to do in Paris this time of year. But first, here are 12 pictures of holidays past to see for yourself: Paris during the holidays is a must-do. Even if it’s just once in your lifetime.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Here are 3 of my favorite activities to do in Paris during the holidays:

"Reconnect" with loved ones on the ice; just be sure to wear gloves.

“Reconnect” with loved ones on the ice; just be sure to wear gloves.

1. Go ice skating at one of the temporary ice skating rinks, such as: inside the Grand Palais (avenue Winston Churchill, from 14 December 2016 – 2 January 2017), or outside on the Eiffel Tower (5 avenue Anatole, from 15 December 2016 – 19 February 2017). Ice skating isn’t just for kids: it can be a good way to “reconnect” with the one you love, especially if one or both of you have a hard time staying upright on the ice. Doesn’t that sound like fun for the whole family? Just be sure to wear gloves as protection from the cold and others’ skates in case you fall. Or is that when you fall?

Christmas markets are a great place to eat and people-watch.

Christmas markets are a great place to eat and people-watch.

2. Walk and admire, eat, drink, and buy gifts at Christmas markets. There are Christmas markets all over Paris, but probably the largest is on the Champs-Elysees. The highlights of my visits to this market in 2014 were talking to a Moscovite about his black lacquer boxes he had for sale and eating a crepe with Grand Marnier. (Okay, I might have had two.) I also got a serving of German-made goulash that was so large I had leftovers for 2 more meals. Since you’re in France, you can also purchase hot and cold liquor drinks to warm your bones.


Celebrating New Year's on the Champs-Elysees? Hope you like crowds!

Celebrating New Year’s on the Champs-Elysees? Hope you like crowds!

3. Ring in the new year on the Champs-Elysees (31 December 2016). Could there be anything more romantic than celebrating New Year’s Eve with the one(s) you love under the stars in Paris? I doubt it.


Salut !




 Fouquet’s Paris and Galeries Lafayette by Elsa L. Fridl. All other images from Flickr, CCBY 2.0. Featured image, Galeries Lafayette by Brett. The Eiffel Tower by C. A Paris Street by Dirk Haun. Au Printemps by Brett. Vendome Place by PhOtOnQuAnTIQuE. Notre Dame by Linus Mak. A Christmas Decoration by Jean-Yves Romanetti. The Champs-Elysees by Daxis. A Tree with Lights (“Christmas in Paris”) by John Stanforth. Decorations at Notre Dame (“Notre Dame dans la Boule”) by Luca Vanzella. Paris Opera House by Chris Chabot. Ice Skating on the Eiffel Tower by C. Christmas Market by Linus Mak. Celebrating New Year’s by Falcon Photography.


Paris Trip Day 29

I said my good-byes and was on my way to the airport before Paris was awake.

I said my good-byes and was on my way to the airport before The City of Light was awake.

Tuesday. Travel day to go back to Washington, D.C. I got up at 3:00 A.M. to make sure I was ready before the shuttle came to pick me up at 4:45 A.M. I said my good-byes and grabbed a cup of cappuccino from the machine before I left. The van driver was nice enough to hold my cup for me while I climbed inside.

We had to pick up a few people before going to Charles de Gaulle Airport. I struck up a conversation with a couple from the States seated in front of me; later, I spoke with a young woman who lives in the E.U. and I felt a twinge of jealousy: she spoke of how easy it is for her to travel because she lives in the E.U., and I wished I could be her.

We arrived at the airport and I alighted. I started to make my way to the gate, but stopped first to tell an American something she was asking of her friend, loudly. I don’t even remember what it was, I was so tired as I walked away — I might have been awake, but I was running on adrenaline. Still, I found some coffee (people in Europe say they “have a coffee,” which I’ll miss) and sat down to write a note to French President Francois Hollande on my French stationery that I had bought in a shop near the Eiffel Tower. I told him how much I love his country and how much I’d like to teach English there. The stamp didn’t want to stick to the envelope: good thing I’m always prepared with transparent tape, though it wouldn’t surprise me if it made an awful impression on him or his staff. I located the mailbox downstairs and headed to my gate.

I'm leavin' on a jet plane...don't know when I'll be back again.

I’m leavin’ on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again.

I sat patiently waiting for the flight attendants of Turkish Airlines to tell us it was time to board. The flight took off without a hitch. We were served a meal shortly after take off. I struck up a conversation with a French woman who seemed to turn up her nose at me as a(n) (fill in the blank) American. (I didn’t know what she thought of me, but I gathered it wasn’t good.) That’s okay, she seemed to me a bit stiff. Not sure how else to describe it.

Our stop in Istanbul was uneventful. We got back on board to go to Dulles, and I curled up for the long flight. The plane was about half empty so everyone had a lot more room to spread out and sleep, or whatever. I spoke with a couple with a young child about taking more seats, and they said they had their eye on a row right after take-off. The food, as before, was great. I still love French food the best, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy another country’s food.

When we landed in Dulles I found myself hungry again. I tried to find something to eat but my taste buds were on full revolt: they didn’t want to come back to American food. It’s like they were saying, “We want more French food. Now.” Can’t help you there, taste buds. You’ll have to settle for what I can find to eat in the States. In the end, I bought a muffin from Starbuck’s that wasn’t very satisfying – but it was something.

I took the new $5.00 shuttle from Dulles Airport to the Silver Line. Not a bad way to travel, but I’ll bet it’s hurting cab and shuttle businesses. From Metro Center I took a cab to D.C. Lofty Hostel in Washington, D.C., and settled in my room. I’m not sure how long I will be staying, since I have to find a place to live — and accept the fact I’m in Washington for the foreseeable future.


Salut !


All images by Can Stock Photo. “I’m leavin’ on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again,” from the song, “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” by John Denver, recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary.

Paris Trip Day 28

Moulin Rouge, where Henri Toulouse-Latrec found inspiration for his art.

Moulin Rouge, where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec found inspiration for his art.

Monday. My last day in Paris. I can’t believe a month has gone by already. I’m trying to savor every moment today. I’m pretty organized – I’ve reorganized my stuff enough times, I should be – so I went to buy that cute mug I saw in a shop nearby (with its own spoon!) and bought a few other small souvenirs. A guy who has a kiosk selling souvenirs at Blanche Metro had gone to his home country and come back, so I got to say good-bye to him. He asked me when I would be returning: I told him I didn’t know, but that my heart will always be here. He smiled in recognition.

I went to Champs-Elysees one last time, and took in the ambiance as much as I could. I don’t want to leave. I belong here. I wandered around taking pictures until I knew I couldn’t put it off any more. I walked to the Champs-Elysees Metro and took it for the last time to Blanche Metro. After I got off, I took some pictures of Moulin Rouge and met some travelers: one of them asked me if I wanted my picture taken. Sure! Then I walked up the Montmartre hill to Le Basilic and had dinner there again – another perfect French meal — and took a few pictures, saying my good-byes. Then I went back to Plug-Inn Hostel. I am thankful for my time here. I’ve made a lot of connections with people, some of whom I’ve forgotten to write about in my journal: my long-term memory is so much better than my short-term, that sometimes I remember things better 6 months to a year later than I did right after an experience. I still have more to say about my trip. Well, that’s something. Maybe I can even blog about it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Salut !


Images of Paris metro train and metro doors by Can Stock Photo. All other images by Elsa L. Fridl.