17/02/2017

HOW I LEARNED FRENCH BY IMMERSION ONLY


I'm reading a novel in French, when suddenly I come across the word cadavre. I know the word, which baffles me a bit in a sense - I mean, 'a corpse'? Where the heck did I learn that? To go back to the context where the word sounds the most familiar, my mind starts forming a word pair: cadavre... brulée. Cadavre brulée.
A burned corpse. Right. Slaying dragons in a video game in French for a year finally paid off.

Three years ago I didn't speak a word in French - well, that's a lie really. I had a beginner's course of French at the age of 16 (i.e. ten years ago), after which I was able to say merci, bonjour and s'il vous plaît. There we had it. All of my French. Then I met a guy who spoke French as his first language and everything was pretty much downhill from there.

So I moved to Québec, the only French-speaking province of Canada, with my vocabulary of merci, bonjour and s'il vous plaît. Again, a lie. I had another beginner's course in French just before crossing the ocean, after which I had added things like Je m'appelle Melissa and au revoir to my vocabulary.

These five phrases were pretty much all I had when I landed on Canada's French-speaking soil, ready to find a job and settle down. As history tells, all that ended well and I managed to work for the world-famous video game company Activision for a year. I went from Bonjour, je m'appelle Melissa to effortlessly reading the book you see on the cover of this post (Pays sans Chapeau by Dany Lafarrière) without ever studying French. How?

1. I PLAYED MY VIDEO GAMES IN FRENCH
As you can guess, someone working for Activision might enjoy playing video games. That's where I started. Whether it was an enormous open-world RPG or Spore, I switched the language to French. Obviously at first I had no idea what was going on, what's my quest, where am I supposed to go. But believe me, after you're told Tu vas mourir! ("You will die!") in the beginning of a battle enough many times, something will click. You start seeing the structure Tu vas in other places, like Tu vas aller là, "You will go there", and little by little you notice how making these links with different contexts in the game will reveal you what it means. After passing many enough STOP signs on the streets of Québec, screaming ARRÊT with capital letters, it wasn't that hard for me to guess what my enemies in the game wanted me to do when shouting Arrêtez! C'est assez! ("Stop! That's enough!")

Video games are pretty straight forward, in the end. They tell you to click a button, talk to a character, pick up an item. Seeing these instructive sentences in a familiar, repetitive context can help you build your vocabulary really fast: there are only so many things the game would like you to do when putting a sugar roll in front of you and telling you to press X to manger. After pressing X, you hear munching, and the sugar roll is gone. Could manger possibly mean "to eat"?

Don't enjoy video games? Try the same with something similar you like - you could start by switching your Facebook in French, or any other familiar website you frequently use. My phone was on French settings for my whole year in Québec, and I swear to god I will never forget the phrase Batterie faible, thanks to my wonderful, ancient phone who reminded me of that every five minutes after it went under a certain battery power percentage. Fun times.


2. I COPIED LOCAL PEOPLE
Every morning I came to work and sat down on my desk, my colleagues would tell me Bon matin! Now, matin is to this day one of the words I hate the most, but when you hear it every morning, you answer to it every morning, you get used to it. Eventually it becomes automatic.

Every lunch break I went to get take out to bring back to the office. The discussions with cashiers are always pretty much the same:

Cashier: Bonjour! Ça va?
Me: Bonjour! Oui, vous? Je vais prendre _________, s'il vous plaît.
Cashier: Manger ici ou pour emporter?
Me: Pour emporter.

... And so on. When you repeat this discussion with a slight variety every day for a year, in the end ordering food in French is the simplest thing. I listened to my colleagues a lot in these situations, trying to see what kind of questions they'd be asked, and what kind of answers they'd give to these questions. Then I went on and repeated the same thing. The same happened when charging my monthly bus card: I learned the phrase, repeated it once a month, and finally the 12th time was actually fairly effortless.

Locals know what they're doing - listen to them and see how they go, and every time you'll learn a new phrase or two. If you have native-speaking friends to help you, you're in good hands: there was this one time when after ordering my sushi the cashier suddenly said something I had never heard before. My colleague saw my desperate face and translated: "She's complimenting your earrings!" There we had it: boucles d'oreilles. Earrings.

3. I READ A BOOK WITH A NATIVE SPEAKER
That's only one of the hundred things I did with Alex to learn more words, but damn it's efficient. We bought me a fairly simple book, and I'd then read it out loud with my native-speaking spouse, stopping at every word I didn't know. He'd tell me the translation to every unfamiliar word, and correct my pronunciation when needed. The things I learned! By repeating, repeating and repeating the same words, getting corrected ten times over the same mispronounced phrase... By staying stubborn and learning from my mistakes I eventually read my first book entirely in French.

Reading a book isn't the only way, of course, and most definitely not the only occasion where I'd harras my French-speaking friends over unfamiliar words: signs I'd see on the street, phrases I'd hear them use often (C'est tellement drôle, "that's so funny" and an impressive cavalcade of swear words are forever burned in my spine), I took every occasion to ask what's going on around me.

Read, ask, repeat: the best possible way to learn a language on the go when school books are out of the question and your boss keeps sending you emails only in French. 


Now, there are a few things we need to recognise in the process of learning a language by immersion only:

First of all, you might not learn how to write. That's the case with me. Remember that boucles d'oreilles a few rows back? Yeah, I had no idea how to write that, I used Google Translate. I know the word like the back of my hand, it's "boucl dorei", but no one has ever asked me to write it down. I can't successfully conjugate verbs in future or past tense on paper, because they all sound pretty much the same. I don't always remember where the accents are when written, unless I can hear it from the word, like in the case of passé composé, where I hear the e and the end of the verb and know it needs an accent to be pronounced: mangé, sauté, aimé.

Secondly, learning a language by immersion brutally beats up any other language you speak while immersing. Want a proof? Check out these terrible inverted sentence structures in this post. Check out how I accidentally used the word "these" in my previous sentence - why? Because that's how it works in French! French is now forever imprinted in my head with such a strong bond that the moment I hear someone speak French on the streets of Dublin, everything I ever knew about English sails away, and I might accidentally answer to my English-speaking friend in French.

BUT: No matter how unstructured, chaotic, messy and tiring experience it might be, I would never give up learning French by immersion for learning it at school. I might not write well, I might not sound like your typical French-speaking girl after learning it with a bunch of guys, but damn right I'm not afraid to speak it. I didn't learn it perfectly, but there's more to it now than merci, bonjour and experct knowledge of passé composé. There's a real life aspect to it.

And about that cadavre brulée.You know that dessert, crème brulée? It's obviously burned from the top, burned "cream", crème. But burned what? Well, cadavre sounds like that death spell from Harry Potter, avada KEDAVRA. Kedavra, cadavre, my mind told me there's a link between these words. Since the spell is about death, it must be--

.... And that, folks, is how my polyglot mind works.

Have you learned a language by immersion? Any tips or tricks to add to my list? I was thinking of filming a small video of myself speaking in French to demonstrate how I sound. Would you like to see it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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04/02/2017

MELISSA'S MISADVENTURES #1 | "Slavery is Legal in Finland"


I do lots of awkward things. LOTS. The level of awkwardness in my everyday life has only increased since I moved abroad and started introducing cultural misunderstandings into this terrible mixture of face-palming encounters. You can only imagine how many times I've failed the classic "Hey how's it going?" question the Irish so adore by stuttering "Oui... NO I mean ehh fine, or good, or like... you?"

This is exactly why I wanted to start a little weekly series of stories about all the cringyness I face every day, namely MELISSA'S MISADVENTURES. Are you ready? Because the cringe will only be stronger from here on.

So, I have a module of international human rights law this semester in university. This module is taught by a pretty important person, an outsider to our college - a barrister from the international court of justice or something like that. He's a big deal.

Honestly, I love these classes. The problem is they start at 9:00 and I'm not friends with mornings, at all. I usually go to sleep at 2:00 and wake up after 10. So you can only imagine how hard it is to concentrate sometimes when the barrister is going through a set of articles from the European Convention on Human Rights word by word and all I can think of is coffee. Lots of coffee.

Well, now. A week ago I had managed to stay awake and take notes for a solid half an hour when I let my mind wander for a tiny bit. It couldn't be that bad, right? It wandered to Facebook (I use OneNote to take notes in class) and noticed an interesting article from Irish Times. It took me approximately 30 seconds to read the article and send it to Alex.

Sadly this is the exact amount of time the barrister needed to start a question round in the class, and I, concentrated on Facebooking as I was, had absolutely no idea what the question is. There's only two people before me now. I panic. A girl answers something I can't hear, and now it's time for the guy sitting right next to me. He answers "legal".

"Melissa?", the barrister says. I have no other option than to copy the guy's answer and hope for the best.
"Uhhh...." I go. "Hmm... leeegal...?"
Everyone in the class chuckles. The barrister smiles. "Oh! As you can see, we have many different countries represented here in the class!"
And he moves to the next student. His answer is "illegal." And so is the next one. And the one after that.

I had no idea what I had answered to, but it started to sound pretty damn bad. Worst of all, we never went back to the question after the round so I lived in this painful state of ignorance until lunch, never mind some extremely uncomfortable thematics of "torture" and "degrading treatment" being thrown around in the lecture after the question to give me an idea what it might've been about. So eventually I got out of the class room and asked a friend.

"Oh, right!" she said. "Yeah, that was funny."

It turned out I had stated that slavery is legal in Finland.

"Oh my god. You know, I slept so badly last night" I told her, "And this morning in the class, I just completely zoned out and I wasn't listening AT ALL!"

And immediately after shouting these words in the echoing stairway I heard footsteps from behind us. I turned around.

It's the barrister.

Have you ever embarrassed yourself in front of a professor you wanted to impress? How to stay awake without coffee? Let me know in the comments below!


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31/01/2017

MY INTERVIEW IN LIFE IN DUBLIN


"I never felt like I left Finland because I didn’t like it – it just wasn’t enough, and spontaneously leaving everything behind to run away with a foreign guy might just have been the kick in the butt I needed.... "

Hi Lovelies! Today I come to you with more external material from the depths of the internet. Life in Dublin blog's wonderful writer Ana-Maria Hota interviewed me to give her readers more insight to the many lives of immigrants from different nationalities in Dublin.

The interview discusses my observed similarities and differences between Finland and Ireland, the craic of the Irish and even experiences of discrimination. How's the life of a Finnish emigrant in Ireland? You can read my interview here:

MY INTERVIEW IN 'LIFE IN DUBLIN'

Do you have similar thoughts about Ireland? Or did I get it all wrong? Let me know what you think in the comments below! 

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27/01/2017

HOUSE TOUR! | Our Dublin Home


Hi everyone! Welcome to our Irish crib! Or chez nous, like my French-speaking counterpart would say. We recently moved to a lovely new flat not too far from the city centre of Dublin, so why not take you to a little tour around this Irish-Finnish-Canadian fusion living of ours?

This is the first time I have a hall in my apartment since I left Finland. Our flat in the UK, both flats in Canada and my previous one in Ireland all opened straight to an open space or to a long corridor, but this is some serious hall-ness happening right here. The door on the left opens to a bathroom, the one on the front leads to the apartment.



LIVINGROOM
Welcome to our living room! And bedroom. And kitchen... Needless to say, we live in a studio. Dublin is a nightmare when it comes to the rental market, so as poor-ass students there's not much more we can afford. Luckily this beauty is more than spacious for us two, with a mezzanine to sleep on. Let's take a tour around!



In case you're wondering about the white panels on the walls, those are our heaters. Now, we've all heard horror stories about badly built apartments on the British Isles, and I've got my fair share of that in the past, but this apartment has none of that crap. The temperature goes down to 16 or 17 degrees Celcius during the night if we don't keep the heaters on, but we can set the heaters to a fixed temperature (usually 23) after which they turn themselves off automatically. It's a dream, really. And like I stated in one of my Christmas vlogs, upon returning to Finland for the holidays I realised I'm not comfortable in the typical dry, 24-degree indoor air of my parents' apartment. Ireland has made me thick-skinned.



There used to be a fireplace, but the structure was removed during renovation. What's left is only the beautiful exterior as a sign of the apartment's past. Most flats in here seem to have a fireplace of some sort, functional or not.




MEZZANINE
When living tight, every square meter has to be used. Our bed is up the stairs on a mezzanine. Storing clothes is also well planned...




This is the coziest space ever. I confess sitting right here at this very moment, typing this post! The bedsheets are the absolute best.



KITCHEN
Welcome to our kitchen. This kitchen is a source of many disagreements for a multicultural couple - kitchens often tend to be. During the last few years I've learned to live without the greatest Finnish invention since the dawn of mankind - that being the dish drying cupboard. The substitute is this metal horror on my counter.

Another issue is the brush/sponge debate. To be honest, I had kind of forgotten the Finnish fascination of brushes and submitted to using sponges, up until I re-encountered a brush when the previous tenant left us his unused dish brush. Nothing prepared me for the pleasure of washing my dishes with a good ol' brush once more. Alex, however, can't stand this anomaly, so we had both options until I decided to do some self-rehab therapy and sacrificed the dish brush to wash our stove plates with it. Good bye brush: gone, but never forgotten.



One of the hardest things to adjust to in a country of teadrinkers is the poor quality of coffee. Now, before anyone attacks me by screeching "THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THE COFFEE IN IRELAND", let me remind you that my lovely northern nation is statistically speaking the most passionate coffee drinker in the world, with an average of 5 cups of coffee being consumed each day per person. Let that sink in. Also I'd like to know why there aren't more heart attacks per day.

Anyway, coffee. My lovely sister bought us a French press accompanied with some real Finnish coffee for Christmas, and I absolutely love it! Two years of drinking instant coffee has left its mark on my dark Finnish soul, but those days are no more. I have a French press now.


BATHROOM
There's not much to photograph in our bathroom apart from a few Anglo specialties. Now, the first one is of course familiar to anyone who's ever been to London for a holiday. The taps. Right. The physical representation of all illogic of the Empire. This shit drives me nuts, no lie. Every morning I'm put on a trial to choose whether I want to start my day by burning or freezing my hands/face: great times, each morning. It keeps you on your tip toes in a way.

Don't look at the toothbrushes, I know there are three. One of them is, according to Alex, his next toothbrush.



Here we have many more funny things to wonder and ponder. Air conditioning up right, this random source of heat on bottom left. My primary way of using this heat anomaly is to dry my hair with it, because for some absolutely unknown reason the only power socket in this whole house that does NOT follow the British/Irish standard happens to be in the bathroom. It fits the European standard. It fits the Canadian/American standard. It even fits the AUSTRALIAN standard, but no, my hairdryer with its British/Irish plug doesn't fit. The irony.


This was new for both me and Alex. The fuse. We have a water tank in the cupboard behind our bed, which heats us water on command. The command is this red button. It creates a weird kind of sense of control to my life, as now I have to plan my showers at least 15 minutes in advance. What a terrible idea for a postgraduate used to spending each day in her pyjamas, living dangerously and spontaneously by using cookies and snack bars as her primary source of nutrition.



I hope you liked what we did with the apartment! Alex and I are well-suited in many ways, one of them being a similar taste in decoration. The only element which caused trouble was the above scented candle I insisted on buying because it was fancy and colourful and it has this little furry thing hanging from it. No regrets! Alex learned to live with it within a few days after realising it doesn't smell like balsam and amber after all...

Have you found it hard to adjust to a new apartment in a foreign country? Who decorates in your couple? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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24/01/2017

HOWTH: CLIMBING THE CLIFF


Now I know Ireland usually isn't on the Top 10 travel list of anyone - you can't really imagine how many times I've heard "Ireland? Never really thought of travelling there..." after moving here. BUT believe me, there are some pretty sweet spots on this isle. That is, if you enjoy rambling through empty moors and climbing cliffs to stare at the endless horizon of the Irish Sea or Atlantic Ocean. And who wouldn't?

Howth is a town not more than 40-minute train ride from Dublin, and undeniably one of the places you absolutely need to visit if you ever get crazy enough to plan an actual holiday to an island where it never stops raining. The town is a perfect afternoon getaway from the crowded streets of Dublin. The town lives from fishing, so if that traditional fish and chips is what you're after, head to Howth and the fish will surely be fresh.

But I'm not here to talk about the village, nevermind how cute it is. The best part of Howth is a bit further past the docks: Howth Cliffs. That's where I took my Finnish friend Annemari, who came to visit me for the weekend. The climb doesn't take more than an hour. Follow us to the top!



Check out the rock on the left. See those wooden planks pointing towards the water? The residents of the house next to it use them to jump to the water straight from the rock. Oh god.

Now, the path can get muddy at this time of the year (January), so good shoes are a must along with appropriate clothing. The hardest part of travelling to Ireland is to realise how to dress: it took me a solid few months before I was able to feel comfortable outside. It gets pretty damn windy in here.




Facing the Irish Sea. There is nothing but the vast water between us and the Great Britain at this point. I once took a ferry from Holyhead, the closest peninsula of the UK to Dublin - worst seasickness of my life. You really cannot help but feel tiny in front of a horizon like this.




And this wouldn't be Ireland if there wasn't a farm on top, right? Looking at a landscape like this really doesn't make you wonder why it's called the Emerald Isle.



Finally on the top:




I admit struggling to find a common ground with Ireland a while after moving in here, and a part of me still does. But standing on a spot like this, admiring the never-ending emptiness of the horizon of the Irish Sea, surrounded by nothing but wild nature and fields with horses and sheep, you kind of have to fall in love with Ireland. I've been ridiculously busy from the moment I returned from Finland a bit before New Year, and a little getaway like this was exactly what my mental stability needed to survive all my upcoming assignments. Seriously, the life of a postgrad student. What is this?

Have you ever been to Howth? Do you think exploring the nature of your new home country somehow helps you to adapt? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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05/01/2017

THE MOOSE AND THE REINDEER: FINLAND THROUGH CANADIAN EYES


My Canadian SO is the comic relief of my blog, and he's at it again. This post by Alex is a window to his Canadian mind, experiencing Finland as an outsider. Stereotypes confirmed, stereotypes broken? How do Finland and Finns seem for someone from the Great White North?

~ * ~
Hi there, Alex here.

As you may know if you have been reading this blog for a while now, this is my second contribution other than the anthology St. Pumps joke from the IKEA post. My previous text, the seminal text aptly titled His story: the Canadian behind the scenes is available HERE.

This time, I was asked to write about my impressions of Finland as a Canadian who has had the chance of going to Finland thrice.

Before meeting Melissa, I had always kinda pictured Finland as some kind of permafrost land where Saku Koivu had grown up riding reindeer and dog-sleigh to go to free and great university. And I was 100% right as you can see.

Finland was far, close to Russia (therefore very, very alien to me as a North American) and I never expected it would be one of the countries I’d end up knowing the most about. It looked cold, barren and unwelcoming on the maps with all this northernness and I don’t think I would have decided to go by myself, Canada has given me my fair share of cold. Happily, Mel warmed me up to the idea.


One of the things I expected to be really important to do is learn Finnish. No need, they all speak English well, and some could be mistaken for native speakers to someone who hasn’t heard as many Finns speak English. Still, Finnish is the sound of Finland, a chesty language that makes it so that all men sound to me like they should be muscular giants to have that voice, but still a very musical and weirdly soft and flowing one. Finnish also happens to be one of the hardest languages to learn and I look back in envy on myself trying to learn how to introduce myself back in Leicester, all naïve and optimistic that I would speak Finnish reasonably within a year and a half. Nowadays, Finnish sounds to me like a song I sorta know but can’t remember enough to sing it outside of the chorus, I understand some words and expressions, just enough to guess what people are talking about 60% of the time and to have a blank and terrified face when people address me expecting an answer in Finnish. Finland also has interesting music, and I’m not talking about metal, I don’t care much for metal. I may not understand, but Finnish singing is very beautiful, and some of their artists have extremely catchy songs, as in they get stuck in your head forever (looking at you Elastinen). Finally, Finnish is extremely entertaining when comments and statuses are bing translated on Facebook, one little slang word and you might know someone who does slave trade.

Finland is a tech and design hub so everything is cool, stylish and very modern. Helsinki is said to have the best public transport in the world, and while me carrying my 20kg luggage over my head because the snow blocks the wheels while running to catch the bus about 2 km away from Mel’s place would not agree, you can really get anywhere fast an easy. It could be because almost every Finn I know except for 2, I’ve met through Mel and she is like that, but it also seems like everyone is really into design and fashion (well women at least, guys don’t seem to care all that much), everyone owns those Iittala plates and cups (especially the Moomins ones) and have very cool looking houses.

Now Finns. Where do I start. There is this stereotype that Finns are shy and silent to the point of being rude. It does throw one off if it doesn’t come with understanding. Sure, I have mocked Mel quite a bit about how much she stresses in situations that seem really mundane to me, and I have been somewhat shocked by the utter lack of interest people seem to have for one another, but it all becomes logical when you understand that this is how they picture politeness. They give much more importance to privacy and personal space and they feel like not talking or looking at you in the eye is just the best way they can respect your space and privacy. They treat bus seats like urinals in the sense that you should not use one that is right next to a taken one, unless you really must. What I don’t quite understand still is how you are supposed to meet new people when every attempt to talk to a stranger is perceived as an invasion.


Once you know Finns, they are just as cheerful, fun and enjoyable as anyone else, but it might be hard to try to go to Finland to make friends without knowing any first to be your ambassador.

Finland is also not as cold and barren as I thought. Canada is actually about as cold on most winter days, but is more likely to get colder. Sure Finland also doesn’t have a really nice and hot summer that we have in Canada, but almost everyone I have talked to about this seems to disagree that 30 is great anyway. Finland is barren in terms of people, it’s a gigantic space with about the same population as Ireland. A lot of the culture is based around the cottage, a secondary house, usually by one of the 168 000 lakes (actual number). Nowhere can you have as much personal space as by a lake in the middle of the vey lush and definitely not barren forest. This is where you can do nothing, drink beer, long drink, vodka, go to the sauna and jump into previously mentioned lake. Bonus point if no clothes are involved at any point in this process. I have to say not much is more relaxing.


Finland is not very renowned for its cuisine, Berlusconi and Chirac both mentioning Finnish food as an example of terrible, Chirac going as far as calling it second worst after Britain’s. While Britain indeed has terrible food, Finland is one of those places I would go to get fat without any ragrets. While I’m not overly fond of rye bread which is too hard, dry and bitter for my taste, it is mostly extremely enjoyable. I really like fish and it is a very big part of their diet. But the thing I love the most is the reindeer. We went to a Saami buffet, and I have eaten enough to make any vegan sick (and myself too to be honest) and it is just so delicious, the tastiest meat I’ve ever eaten. KotiPizza even made a pizza with it, ironically named Berlusconi, and it is one of the best chain pizza I’ve ever had. Finland has even found a way to make black liquorice tolerable to me.

However, I have a few disappointments. First and foremost, Aurora Borealis are nowhere as beautiful as I had envisioned. They basically look like clouds and without a camera, you can’t see the colours. Then again, I was told that they are more colourful the further up north so I will leave my final judgement for later. Reindeers are absolutely adorable looking, and look super soft, but they are so small, there is no way only eight of them can pull a huge sleigh through the sky.

I just came back from Finland a week ago, it was as lovely as ever and I will probably find a reason to pop by again this year for their 100 years’ celebration. Congratulations Finland, may you celebrate more centuries, you are awesome, beautiful, and too unknown for the world’s own good. Torille!
Have you ever been to Finland? Do you have similar experiences? Or are you a Finn - do you agree with Alex? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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