5 Films for Improving your French

Watching subtitled movies will boost your listening comprehension if you’re new to learning French, and it’s also a great way for translators to keep up to date with a language or culture. And who would consider watching foreign films a chore! So think about renting a few – and indulge in a bit of stress-free ‘homework’.

Below are a few that I enjoyed, although there are many, many more to choose from – the French are masterful filmmakers.

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie) – 2001: Who can forget this charming romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. A must-see if you missed out.

Le Placard (The Closet) – 2001: A side-splitting comedy directed by Francis Verber about a man who needs to keep his job – and pretends to be gay in order to do so. Of course, a number of complications ensue.

Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game) – 1998: Also a comedy directed by Francis Verber. Successful Parisian businessmen play a game, known as ‘The Dinner Game’, and invite ‘idiots’ to dinner, with the Winning Idiot selected at the end of each evening. One evening, on the way to one of these dinners, things go very wrong.

Être et avoir (To Be and To Have) – 2002: Directed by Nicolas Philibert is a touching French documentary that follows the pupils of a small rural school, as well as their teacher, George Lopez.

Léon (The Professional) – 1994:  Written and directed by the formidable Luc Besson, this French thriller features a hitman (Jean Reno) who takes in Mathilda (who I’ve just realised was played by a very young Natalie Portman!), a girl whose family has been murdered. I’ve always appreciated Jeno Reno’s work and his gruff quirkiness doesn’t disappoint in this film.

Have you watched any of these? What are some of your favourite foreign films? I’d love to hear so that I can keep an eye out for them.


Freelance Translation: Do You Have What It Takes?

A friend of mine is thinking about making a career change and she recently asked for some tips. The 2012 Blogathon is the perfect opportunity for writing up a few pointers.

In the beginning, like with most things in life, you’ll probably be feeling your way around in the dark. You might also learn some very hard lessons. I know I did.

The best advice would be to read as much as possible and remember that Google is your friend.  There’s the old question of “How do you eat an elephant?” and the answer, of course, is “one bite at a time“. This is fitting for any new endeavour. It’s also the African take on things – and why I love this continent.

As for me, I fell into translation, and was lucky enough to have a mentor, as well as a ‘built in’ specialistion, since I studied law in France. I’d highly recommend finding a mentor, if you’re able to.

There’s no magic formula, but over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting articles for new (and established) freelance translators.

What does it take to become a Freelance Translator? 

First of all, you need to decide on your language pair. Your target language is usually your mother tongue – the language you were raised in, whilst your source language is your second (or third) language. Translators only translate from their source language into their target language ( unless you had a bilingiual upbringing, and are comfortable either way). You need to be fluent in at least two languages, and by fluency I mean that you’re able to fully understand, read and write a second language. And I don’t mean merely getting by – you need to understand your second language on a professional level.

Secondly, you need to have above average writing skills in your target language. After all, translators are writers, and you need to have an excellent grasp (and feel) for your target language. Many translators are in fact closet writers (even though translation is incredibly stimulating all by itself).

Over and above the nitty-griity, and the technical details, what are the essential qualities of a freelance translator? Answering the following questions might give you a better idea:

– Do you love languages and new cultures? Are you fluent in another language (so much so that you’d feel comfortable speaking to the president of a foreign country in this language?)

– Do you enjoy language-related challenges and are you a stickler for detail?

– In fact, are you at times a bit pedantic when it comes to grammar and spelling?

– Are you an eternal student (ie. are you thrilled to learn about new ideas and study new subjects)? Do you enjoy learning new things? Do you love researching?

– Are you an entrepreneur? Are you comfortable wearing many hats? Are you okay with doing admin and marketing and actual translations? In fact, do you crave variety in your work and environment?

– Are you brave enough to stand up for yourself, even when your business is still growing?

– Are you okay with spending time alone? Do you enjoy working independently? Are you inspired by a quiet work environment and would you be content with filling this time with research? Do you enjoy cracking ‘codes’ or figuring out puzzles?

If so, you might be the perfect translator. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be posting on the technical aspects of becoming a translator. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts, and thanks for stopping by.

The Key to Learning French

Learning French (or any other foreign language for that matter) can be a daunting task, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be. You’ve got a much better chance of success if you understand the basic principles of second language acquisition. These three factors will help you on your journey of learning French.

The Journey of Learning a Foreign Language

Total immersion, coupled with commitment and motivation, is undoubtedly one of the fastest ways to learn any new language. There’s nothing that concentrates the mind quite as fast as needing to communicate basic needs, especially when you’re in a hurry.

But you don’t have to ship off to France just yet.

Whilst I was lucky enough to spend over half a decade living there, I also studied Spanish (without ever living in a Spanish-speaking country), am currently learning Swahili, and also teach French classes and hold workshops.

Past experience has taught me that the best approach to learning any new language is a multi-pronged one and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) researchers seem to agree.

Although there are many differing opinions, experts point to three basic principles: input, output and interaction.


Over and above taking classes or using self-study methods, you need to see your brain as a sponge and take in as much information as you can from different sources.

Plug in by reading as much French as possible. Read what interests you, in print or online. You can also listen to French music and rent movies. Keep stimulating your mind and you’ll soon see a vast improvement in your grammar, vocabulary and writing, even if you’re a beginner and it all seems like Greek to you.


This is where you need to take a more active approach. You need to write and speak as much as you can, even if you’ve got nobody to talk to. Do exercises, write sentences and practice your pronunciation. Get CDs or listen to online clips that leave time for you to repeat whatever was said. This will loosen you up for when it comes to the real deal.


This is where you put into practice everything you’re busy learning and it’s a vital part of the process. SLA experts seem to feel that ‘feedback’ helps speed up your learning. When there’s a communication break-down, you also have to think quickly and find solutions, and this pushes you to further develop your skills. Even if you don’t live in a Francophone country, you can still interact by finding someone online and communicate via email, or take part in forums or sign up for various French language and culture groups in your area.

These are just some ideas you can use to follow the three principles of input, output and interaction.

I’ll follow up soon with more links and ideas to help you on your path to (almost) French fluency. Get in touch if you have any questions, ideas or tips and tricks that helped you to learn a foreign language.