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 !



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.

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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 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.

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Salut !


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

Paris Trip Day 27

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The 284 steps inside the Arc de Triomphe are probably not for the faint of heart, but there are places to stand aside and rest.

The 284 steps inside the Arc de Triomphe are probably not for the faint of heart, but there are places to stand aside and rest.

Sunday. A lot of attractions are free today. Unfortunately, it’s cold and rainy…the type of cold that seeps into your bones. I took the metro to Champs-Elysees, mostly to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. I took pictures all around it and while I was on the top level. I happened to get there just before a crowd came (which I saw on my way out). The lift was broken, so I had to walk up a lot of stairs in a very winding staircase – I thought I heard someone say there are 222 steps to get to the top – but hostel staff told me there are 284. While the width of the staircase was small, there were occasional landings where you can step aside and rest while allowing others to pass; as someone who studied design, I found that design detail impressive. Sometimes it has seemed to me that designers and architects forget much-needed details, like having spaces for people to catch their breath on staircases while not holding up people behind them. There were exhibits in the Arc de Triomphe on military uniforms and aspects of the monument’s design. There was also a shop for souvenirs. I people-watched for a bit: I love seeing the joy on people’s faces as they investigate Parisian sights.

After I took plenty of pictures (and had a couple taken of me), I was so cold I had to leave. I didn’t want to. I went to the McDonald’s on the Champs-Elysees to use the restroom, and took some more pictures until my fingers were too frozen to handle the camera. It might have been the coldest day of the trip. Funny enough, I was feeling so frozen, I decided to take a couple of pictures of Queen Elsa.

I headed back to the hostel and grabbed a Grand Marnier crepe on my way. It was hard to eat with frozen fingers, but I managed. (!)


Queen Elsa on the Champs-Elysees. It was so cold, I'm sure she felt right at home.

Queen Elsa on the Champs-Elysees. It was so cold when I was there, I’m sure she felt right at home.

Salut !











Images of Ferris Wheel at the Place de la Concorde and McDonald’s by Can Stock Photo. Image of Arc de Triomphe staircase by Wally Gobetz, Flickr, CCBY 2.0. All other images by Elsa L. Fridl.

Information on the Arc de Triomphe taken from Wikipedia article, “Arc de Triomphe,” retrieved July 26, 2015.


Paris Trip Day 26

I ached all over from my quick trip to London, but the pain was worth it.

I ached all over from my quick trip to London, but the pain was worth it.

Saturday. Since I got back to Plug-Inn Hostel very early (around 7:00 A.M.) from London, I went to bed after breakfast. I had to stay in bed most of the day: my feet were killing me, my back and neck were sore from being scrunched up in the coach (bus), and I simply felt achy all over. I completed the picture by walking around the hostel (what little I did) with wild hair again. I talked with staff and others about my experiences in London and drank oodles of cappuccino from the machine. Hostel staff told me the weather in Paris changed for the worse just after I left.

I also finished reading Elvis: My Best Man, and thought about what I want to do for the rest of my time here, especially tomorrow, since many attractions are free (it’s the first Sunday of the month). It’s been cold and rainy, and it looks like more of the same tomorrow.

An image of how my heart feels to be in Paris.

An image of how my heart feels to be in Paris.

Still, a bad weather day in Paris beats a good weather day anywhere else, hands down. It might be raining outside, but in my heart there’s sunshine: that’s what Paris does for me.


Salut !




Images by Can Stock Photo.

Paris Trip Day 25

European cities at night via NASA satellite. It is an easy "day trip" (or night) to London from Paris.

European cities at night via satellite. It is an easy “day trip” (or night!) to London from Paris.

Friday. I woke up feeling fairly rested though my eyes were bloodshot: there’s probably mold in the hotel.

I showered, shampooed and got dressed. Then I set out for my free breakfast in the hotel. There were at least 20 people in the dining room, though few looked like they had taken a shower already. The place felt rather seedy, especially when I saw lecherous eyes look my way. I sat down at a table that wobbled, so I moved to another. One of the women working in the kitchen came into the dining room and basically asked me if I was crazy for sitting at a table for three when I was alone: “Sit somewhere else,” she told me, eyes blazing. Nothing like making paying customers want to come back! Breakfast consisted of white bread toast, butter and jam, weak coffee or tea, cheap cornflakes. It wasn’t very satisfying or particularly nutritious, but it was something to eat until I could get a piece of fruit. I tried to enjoy my breakfast at the wobbly table as I thought about the day ahead.

I went back to my room and wrote out two placards (which I had packed, rolled up, in my new French suitcase) to take with me to Buckingham Palace. After finishing them, I finished packing and did a sweep of the room to make sure I didn’t forget anything; then I walked down the 8 flights of stairs. I asked the manager if I could leave my luggage in the lobby while I was out. He said no problem, which was nice of him. I felt like my bags would be safe. Of course, having locks on my important stuff helped with my piece of mind.

I did a little sightseeing on my way to Buckingham Palace…..

Then I held my breath and showed up at the Palace. I held up one of my signs, which essentially told Queen Elizabeth II to leave me and my family alone. Some young woman (from Ireland?) came over and asked if she could take a picture of me and my sign: “Of course,” was my response. I had been there for about 30 minutes or so when a Palace police officer came over and started asking me questions. I told him that in the States, protesting is a right, and besides, I’ve seen other people protesting at the Palace. He basically told me that if the Queen doesn’t want people protesting right outside her residence, she was within her rights to shoo them away. Then he told me I was free to protest outside the gold and black gate, yet he also continued to try to ask me questions, like where was I staying. I said, “You just said I’m free to leave and that I can protest outside the gate, am I right?” He said that was correct. “Good, I’m leaving now,” I said, and walked away without looking back. I wasn’t trying to cause an international incident: I just wanted to stand up for my family name.

I stood at the corner he directed me to for about an hour. After I felt I had made my point, I left. It was drizzling. I went to St. James’s Park and took some pictures. Then I went to Inn the Park restaurant and warmed up, having some coffee and a dessert. It felt like a modern-day log cabin with cool lighting (and stiff seats). After I left, I threw out my placards in the trash bin near the restaurant. I felt like I had made my point. After seeing Palace police mill about as soon as I showed up, I couldn’t wait to get back to France, where I belong.

I went back to the hotel to retrieve my luggage, and thanked the management of The Continental Hotel for their service. Their hotel may not be the best, but they treated me okay, so all in all it wasn’t a horrible experience to stay at their hotel. I hope they….how shall I say?….do a little redecorating.

Victoria Coach Station was dark and cold, with almost no place to sit or stand.

Victoria Coach Station was dark and cold, with almost no place to sit or stand.

I made my way to the bus station with a light rain falling. It was absolutely freezing in the bus station. People who worked there told me they had to leave the doors open (to the buses), even though no one was boarding. I went to wait in another part of the station. I struck up a conversation with an English woman who seemed nice enough, but she started asking me questions that were none of her business, like whether I owned the house I was living in, how could I afford to take this trip, and do I have money to get home. I wanted to tell her to bugger off. I wondered who was more tactless: the Englishman who was determined to get on The Tube sooner than me, and basically pushed me out of the way, or this woman, who wouldn’t know what boundaries are if they bit her on the nose? Ahh, travelling. You meet so many kinds.

I decided to que up in line since it was nearing boarding time (finally!). A guy behind me spoke to me, and he came to understand I had only been in London for 24 hours. He asked me which country I liked better: I told him, hands down, nothing beats France. I was hoping to sit next to him just to know I would be sitting next to someone friendly, but we boarded too late to be seated next to one another. I ended up sitting behind a couple who seemed to enjoy the idea they were giving me and others a show with their French kissing. They did it so much I felt like a voyeur. I completely get that many people aren’t hung up on showing a little Public Display of Affection, but it can get to a point where you want to say, “Get a room, already!” Some people behind me where shaking their heads and smiling: they knew what I was thinking.

We arrived at the ferry and were told to remember where we had parked. (I had to laugh: they made it sound like we were parked in a mall.) The inside of the ferry was nicely appointed, with leather and other types of seating, and places to buy something to eat and drink, though I was much too tired to do either. The young people (hehhehhehheh) were all so excited, many of them drank and ate and whooped it up. No thanks. Like many others, I curled up on a sofa for the trip, which was over before I knew it. I couldn’t believe how trashed the ferry as we were exiting: it was worse than any New Year’s Eve party I had ever been to. I felt groggy when I first got up but then adrenaline kicked in: I couldn’t find my bus. Someone seemed to know which one I was looking for and helped me find my way to it.

I was much relieved when I started to see signs in French again while on the bus back to Paris from London.

I was much relieved when I started to see signs in French again while on the bus back to Paris.

As the bus drove into Paris I and I saw signs in French again, I was so relieved. Nothing beats France. I felt like I had been in enemy territory in London (though I have no beef with British people in general, only with the Queen), and now I’m back “home.” The bus let us off at a bus station that was a bit of a walk to a metro station, but I couldn’t care a less. I was SO GLAD to be back in Paris. I got back to the hostel in no time. I ate my delicious French breakfast and went to bed, happy that I had made my point.


Salut !


Images of European cities at night and bus back to Paris by Can Stock Photo. Image of Victoria Coach Station by xjy, Flickr, CCBY 2.0. All other images by Elsa L. Fridl