Friday idiom: a stone’s throw

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Scene 1

Salman: Excuse me, I’m looking for the nearest post office, could you help me?

Rebecca: Hi there, sure! The post office is just a stone’s throw from here. I’ll show you.

Salman: I’m sorry, I don’t know what « stone’s throw » means.

Rebecca: It means it’s very close by. Come, I’ll show you where it is.

Salman: Thank you so much. That’s very kind of you.

Scene 2

Two friends, Sam and Kruti, are walking down a country lane together. Sam looks around nostalgically.

Sam: You know, I grew up just a stone’s throw from that pond over there. This place really hasn’t changed a bit.

Kruti: I’ve heard that expression before, but I’m not sure what it means. Can you explain it to me?

Sam: Of course, it means « close ». I grew up very close to that pond over there, just over the ridge.

Kruti: Thanks a lot! Would you like to walk up to your old house to see it?

Sam: That’s a great idea. Perhaps the family living there now will let us have a quick look around.

Kruti: Okay, let’s go!

So how do you feel? Did you get a sense of the meaning? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or send me a message and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

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Word of the day: robust

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Here are some examples of the word robust in use:

  • I’m so happy with my new table, it’s very robust and aesthetic too!
  • I’m really looking for something more robust, I’m not sure that little car will cut it.
  • Have you seen her new sculpture? Yeah, it looks really robust. So different from all her other work!
  • I would buy the other cupboard, it’s more robust and you’ll need something sturdy with 3 kids running around.
  • Eric said his new son in law seemed like a very robust sort of man.

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Grammar Time: present perfect vs past simple

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The present perfect always has a bearing on the present. It must be relevant now. If it’s not relevant now, then you should use another tense.

For example. If you’re talking about life experiences, you often use the present perfect because you’re talking about experiences that you’ve had in your life until now. So, you’ve travelled to many different countries in your lifetime. You’ve seen lots of wonderful things. You’ve read books, you’ve been to the theatre and you’ve attended music festivals. But you’ve never been skydiving, and that’s something that you’d really like to do.

When you talk about experiences, as in the above example, you talk about things that you’ve experienced until now. You don’t mention a specific time frame. We don’t know when any of these things happened, we just know that at some point until now, they occured.

If you want to pinpoint an experience to a particular time, use the past simple. For example: I went to the theatre last week. Or, I visited Mexico during my last vacation.

Top Tip: if you talk about a specific time, use the past simple. You may use words and phrases such as: yesterday, last week, last year, in 1999, on my birthday, etc.

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Friday idiom: the ball is in your court

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You’ve done the research, you’ve given your opinion, now you need to say to your partner/competitor, etc, « the ball is in your court ». Basically: it’s time for you to make a decision.

If you’re waiting for someone else to make a decision after discussing the issue and giving your opinion, you can also say of that person: the ball is in his/her court. Meaning that you’ve given them all the tools to decide and/or you’ve given your opinion, now it’s their turn to make a choice.

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Word of the day: nap

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Oh naps, how I love them! A good old afternoon nap can really be quite wonderful! However, too long a nap will make you (read: me) groggy or cranky (make you sleepy or put you in a bad mood).

So here are some ways that people take naps:

  • Pretty much all small children take naps in the afternoon, and babies take them in the morning too!
  • Some people take power naps that are about 20 minutes long, in order to refresh and restore energy.
  • My grandfather always used to take a nap in the afternoon, my step-father does, and actually, most older men I know, nap in the afternoon. Very few women, though, I wonder why? Something to research!

So, do you take naps?

I must confess that I enjoy a good nap on the weekend sometimes, but I rarely have time for them.

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Word of the day: lobby

Améliorez votre anglais avec notre mot du jour! Pour réussir à devenir bilingue, il faut avoir la motivation mais aussi une bonne communauté d'entraide, venez apprendre avec nous !

Every building I’ve ever lived in in Canada had a lobby. Here are a few things lobbies are for:

  • It’s where the concierge can be found, if your building has one.
  • It’s where our building organised Christmas, Halloween, and other parties.
  • It’s where the elevators are located.
  • It’s where you meet people if you work in the same building or if you ask someone to meet you at your office.

Lobbies don’t seem so be very popular in France, but for anyone visiting or moving to North America, be ready for them!

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Grammar Time: present perfect (4)

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Although I know the present perfect can be tricky, there are some ways to simplify your life and to remember when to use it.

For example: use the present perfect with for and since when you talk about a length of time, or how long.

For is used to talk about a period of time.

  • I have been in France for 13 years.
  • Mary has been working for hours on her project.
  • Ida and Jack have been together for a month.

Since is used to talk about the start of a period of time, a point in time from which something began.

  • They’ve been in France since 2008.
  • We’ve been married since May.
  • Alice has been studying for her test since last Friday.

Sometimes, you want to say how long ago something happened, in this case, you must always use the past simple: I moved to France 13 years ago.

You cannot use the present perfect with ago.

Here are some more examples:

  • My grandmother died 11 years ago.
  • Ali and Gem opened their business a year ago.
  • We ordered our food 20 minutes ago.

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Why it’s a good idea to have a French teacher

I like learning on my own. In fact, I love learning on my own; but there are some things in French that just need explaining by a specialist!

By now, I’ve been in France for over 13 years. I speak well, and I have no problems understanding what people say to me, watching TV, or listening to the radio. However, when it comes to drafting articles, emails or letters in French, I’m never 100% sure of my grammar. I need to double check if I haven’t left out an extra « e » somewhere, or if, perhaps, I haven’t added one in where it doesn’t belong.

Currently, I’m thinking about taking a French test. I took an online « pre » TCF test and received a score of B2. This upset me because I know my level is higher than that. But, my knowledge of grammar is a little rusty, hence the need for a real teacher.

Here are the advantages of a teacher over an online app:

  • Teachers can answer your questions! Okay, this seems obvious, but it’s actually very important when learning a language. Sometimes, the grammar rules simply seem outrageous. Without someone there to help you practice and give you lots of examples, you may not get it quite right.
  • Teachers can correct your pronunciation. I’m not talking about accents here, I’m talking about getting the right intonation, making the right sound, and figuring out what to do with your mouth. An app can’t adequately help you with this.
  • Teachers are real people, and if you want to learn how to speak with real people, then you need to communicate with them.
  • Finally, they will train you and keep you motivated. I don’t know many people who have enough discipline to keep learning even when there are more interesting things to do. Maybe you’re that type of person, but you’re really not part of a crowd. If you’re paying a teacher, and you have appointments to keep, you will make sure you show up, and if you show up, then you’ll progress. Of course, there are those who will go ahead and waste their money and not show up, but for most people, spending money on a course will mean showing up for that course.

Now that you’ve been reminded about why having a teacher is a good idea, here are a few tips about different types of courses:

  • Private lessons. These can be useful, however, you won’t get the kind of interaction as you would in a group. Private lessons are good for people who are very shy, or for those who need help in a specific area. If you’re preparing a test, for example. Though even for specific tests, it may be a good idea to practice in groups.
  • In person group lessons. These are obviously great, but, you need to choose your school wisely. In person group lessons will often be expensive as they’re probably given by an accredited and well-known school, such as the Alliance Française. This well known school is good, however, much will depend on the people you study with and how often you have classes. It will also depend on the division of levels, you should always go for schools which divide their students into seperate levels. You should be with other people of roughly the same level as you, obviously. Make sure you follow this up! Another important thing to remember here is that you need to be wary of falling into the expat trap: keep speaking French even if the other people in your group speak English! This is really important because if you don’t practice, you won’t improve.
  • Group lessons at a university. For me, this was a stellar way to learn, but I think it’s best suited to younger people who want to take part in university life. My experience at the university of Avignon was wonderful in part because I was able to make friends and in turn, practice my French.
  • Group lessons online. I’m a little biased because these are the types of lessons that my school predominantly offers. But here are some tips anyway! Online group lessons are convenient because you can more easily fit them into your schedule and you don’t have to go anywhere. This is useful for anyone who lives outside of a major town. Make sure that when you sign up for these, your group isn’t too big; you’re not looking for a lecture, you’re looking for an opportunity to practice what you’re learning. You should sign up for lessons where you get a maximum time to speak. Grammar lessons are important, but they need to be paired with real practice.
  • This last point brings me to my last tip: look for lessons that take place several times a week, particularly if you’re someone who needs motivation. If you only have lessons once a week and you don’t spend much time studying outside of that, you won’t get anywhere and you’ll have wasted your money. Learning takes practice, and it’s the same for language learning as it is for learning to play a musical instrument or cooking. You need to practice regularly and you need to practice deliberately in order to progress. It’s better to spend a little more money on frequent classes than to draw them out over a year and miss out on rapid improvement.

So there you are. In my opinion, if you really want to learn to speak well, you won’t be able to get around paying for a course. Deciding on the type of course that’s right for you is important, and speaking with potential schools and teachers to see what they can offer you is primordial. Learning apps can be fun, and they can be very useful, in the end, however, in order to improve, you’ll need a coach. Everyone needs a coach (read teacher) to push and help them get better.

If you really want to improve significantly, you need a teacher/language coach.

Disagree with me? I’d love to hear your opinion and open a discussion. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Friday idiom: of your rocker

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So this is a funny wee idiom.

How do you use it?

Imagine you’re watching your friend do something totally crazy, you can comment on the madness by saying to your fellow onlooker (the person who is watching with you): she’s off her rocker!

It tends to be a stand alone phrase, meaning that you don’t really use it within a long sentence. It’s more of a short expression you’d use to comment on someone’s action.

Let’s have another example:

You and your friend are at the mall and she sees a guy she has a crush on (that she likes). She decides to make a grand gesture and take control of the announcer’s microphone to declare her love for the guy. You can tell her, « Oh my goodness, you’re off your rocker. »

This idiom is generally used for funny situations rather than serious ones; you shouldn’t use it to speak of someone who has real mental health problems.

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