May 24, 2009

Review: DK Visual French-English Bilingual Dictionary

A visual dictionary is an excellent way to learn or browse vocabulary by topic rather than alphabetically. The concept of a visual or pictorial dictionaries is nothing new: they've been around for a long time in technical spheres, for example.

The DK Visual French-English Bilingual dictionary, recently reviewed on the French Linguistics web site, strikes an excellent balance between range of vocabulary and avoiding too much detail or complication that could be daunting for intermediate learners. Rather than concentrating on technical topics, the dictionary covers many everyday topics such as travel, restaurants, the home, parts of the body etc, but with just that little more detail and ease of organisation compared to basic vocabulary books. As mentioned at the end of the review, modern technology means you can take the guesswork out of deciding if this dictionary is right for you. Use Amazon's the Look Inside option, and then click the Surprise Me! button to flick to a random page. Keep flicking to browse different topics and see if the dictionary looks right for you.

Interestingly, various other traditional dictionaries are also now available with this Look Inside option.

May 23, 2009

This week on the forum

This week has seen a few interesting discussions on the French language forum, which I'd urge you to take a look at if you've not already paid it a visit. Some of my own contributions come in the form of the French Word of the Day category: each day, I'll be posting a word that is "interesting" in some way-- for example because it illustrates a useful basic grammar point, or because it has some interesting history to it. The French slang system verlan also had a mention this week.

Other questions posted by members of the group (of which we now have nearly a hundred and this number is growing every day), hit on a range of topics such as the pronunciation of certain words, or various translation and grammar difficulties that cropped up in certain sentences.

I'd like to take this opportunity to mention a couple of tips on posting. The first is, if it's easy for you to do, please try and put accents on French words and sentences, although I appreciate that on some keyboards/setups, this is cumbersome. Windows users may be interested in the French Linguistics article on how to type accents in Windows-- if you're going to be dealing a lot with French, it is definitely worth finding out how to get the accents. The other tip is simply a reminder that the forums allow you to use formatting such as bold and italic if this makes you post clearer. A convention that I like to use, for example, is to put French words in bold and translations in italics.

Anyway, enjoy the forum, and I look forward to some interesting discussions over the next week!

May 22, 2009

Book review: Correct your Spanish Blunders

Those who have read my review of Correct your French Blunders may be interested in its counterpart, Correct your Spanish Blunders. For those who know the French book, its Spanish cousin offers much of the same type of pragmatic advice. In other words, for most students who don't want to get too bogged down in too many tricky details, it will be an excellent companion through high school level Spanish, or an excellent way to "fill in the gaps" in your knowledge at this level. (Note that, in the case of both books, more advanced students will be looking for something more in-depth.)

May 19, 2009

Software review: Instant Immersion French

A new addition to the French reviews section of the web site looks at a piece of software called Instant Immersion French. The software provides a number of vocabulary and grammar-based exercises, some traditional, some less traditional. Generally, a good variety of types of exercise are provided.

One of the most interesting features of this software is its use of speech input as well as output. As well as listening to recordings of various French speakers, you are encouraged to take to the microphone and practise various dialogues, pronunciation exercises and other activities into which speech has been integrated.

The Deluxe version reviewed represents particularly good value as in addition to the program itself, some "bonus" CDs and DVD are included, along with a simple point-and-click French adventure.

Note that the program is primarily of interest to learners at lower levels, although, as discussed in the review, if you have various people in your household learning at a mixture of levels, there may be something in the product for more advanced speakers in the adventure game and in some of the more advanced information in the grammar section of the program.

May 17, 2009

Translation examples: searching for accented words

A couple of minor improvements have been made to the Translation Examples service to allow more reliabe searching of words with accented characters (or charcters not from the "standard" Roman alphabet, such as the German ß).

In general, you can simply search for a word without including the accents. (If a version of the word you enter exists both with and without accent(s), then examples of both words will be returned.) This includes the c cedilla used in French and Portuguese. In German, to search for a word with ß, replace this with ss (in any case, the choice between ß and ss is arbitrary and subject to variation, not helped by the recent Rechtschreibreform).

At present, when you look up conjugated or delcined forms (e.g. different tense forms of verbs), these will be treated as separate words. For example, looking up the French form trouverai (afuture tense form of trouver) will list example translations including specifically the form trouverai (and not, say, trouver, trouveras etc).

This has advantages and disadvantages, and is something that will be thought about more as the site matures. On the one hand, the translation often isn't dependent per se on the particular person form, and a change in tense form often results in an uninteresting, predictable change in the translation. On the other hand, there are times when a change in one of these factors can bring about a less obvious change in the translation.

As always, feedback on the example translation search is welcome, and can be left as a comment on this blog entry, or on the French Language forum.

May 5, 2009

Translation examples now available from English

Users of the French Linguistics site may be interested to know that the Translation Examples search engine now supports searching for translations of English words. You can now search English-French, English-Spanish, English-Portuguese, English-Dutch and English-German (as well as the reverse of these pairs).

May 2, 2009

Translation examples

The first version of an additional tool is now available for advanced language students and professional translators. At, you'll now find a translation example search engine that lets you search for examples of translations between various languages and English. At the moment, you can search for translations from French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Dutch.

When you look up a word, you are presented with a list of sentences containing that word, plus English translations of those sentences. At present, the example translations are drawn from a bank of around 1,000,000 translated sentences from the Europarl corpus (a set of proceedings from the Euopean Parliament that, along with their corresponding translations, have been placed in the public-domain). It is likely that other corpora will be added in the near future.

Note that this example translations database should be seen as a complement to, rather than replacement for, the regular French dictionary.

May 1, 2009

350 new French wordsearches

Whether you're a wordsearch addict quarantined in your home during a swine flu outbreak, or a teacher looking for an end-of-term activity, you may be interested in the new set of 350 French wordsearches now available from the French Linguistics site. A small charge is made for the download, but the wordsearches cover more topics, come in more sizes, and include answers.

The sample of free wordsearches and crosswords is still also available, and in any case, you're advised to try these to make sure that the wordsearches will suit your needs if you decide to go for the whole set of 350.

Teachers may be interested to know that the 5 USD download fee also include permission to print out and/or photocopy any of the wordsearches as many times as you require for distributing to teachers/students at your establishment (or to any of your private students if you're a private French tutor). Similarly, if you're a student, you may give printouts of the wordsearches to any of your classmates/coursemates.

The wordsearches are downloadable in PDF format. You'll need a PDF reader such as Adobe Reader (downloadable free of charge for most platforms). Strictly speaking, you need a reader than can read PDF format 1.2 or later. On mainstream platforms, that means practically any PDF reader in the world. If you're using a more "exotic" platform such as a ZX Spectrum / Commodore Amiga etc, please check!