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Super Polyglot
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 Message 705 of 1317
01 October 2013 at 7:06pm | IP Logged 
In America people do not learn how to write cursively or by hand, they just write in
block letters. Proper cursive writing is a European mainland thing.

@emk: that's perfectly normal handwriting...that's how everyone here writes...

Edited by tarvos on 01 October 2013 at 7:06pm

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 Message 706 of 1317
01 October 2013 at 7:10pm | IP Logged 
Ogrim wrote:
emk, I am curious. Is American handwriting really very different from
European? I hardly every communicate with people handwriting any more, so can't remember
ever having seen an example written by an American.

As someone working in hospitality who encounters a lot of European handwriting, yes it
is. I usually have to decipher the French writing for the other employees but other
continental European writing can be tough (though from the very little German I know, I'm
able to decipher str. at the end of words as strasse). Part of it comes from the fact
that Americans are writing in cursive less and less so we're just getting worse at
reading it overall but then the handwriting style taught elsewhere can also be quite
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 Message 707 of 1317
01 October 2013 at 8:21pm | IP Logged 
tarvos wrote:
In America people do not learn how to write cursively or by hand, they just write in block letters. Proper cursive writing is a European mainland thing...

I beg to differ. As an American, I was indeed taught how to write cursively- by hand. Kids are taught to print first. After mastering this skill, sometime in the second or third grade, they are taught cursive writing. At least that was my experience growing up there.

It is true that nowadays there is a decline in handwriting as computers, smartphones and tablets become the interface of writing, displacing the pen and paper.
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 Message 708 of 1317
01 October 2013 at 8:57pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
I was always pretty bad at self-discipline, which sounds weird coming from somebody who has done something every day in French for an unbroken 2150+ straight days. [...]

I knew you were going strong with French, but that number left me flabbergasted: Simply amazing!

Keep up the great job!

With sincere admiration,

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 Message 709 of 1317
01 October 2013 at 9:39pm | IP Logged 
Thank you, Emme, for your kind words!

I was taught how to write cursively in US schools. In high school, I also took a drafting class, and was taught a very precise block lettering. This was basically a single-stroke Gothic sans serif style, and we were expected to follow a specific stroke order. If we made the loop on our Ps the wrong size, we lost points!

I vastly preferred the drafter's lettering. Every letter was completely unambiguous, and my writing fit nicely between the lines of graph paper notebooks. (I had discovered graph paper notebooks in Switzerland, and I loved them madly.) Today, my writing is a bit sloppier, but it's still based on the drafting style, and I much prefer to type unless I'm using something like a Moleskine notebook for brainstorming.

I think that US cursive handwriting starts out much the same as European handwriting, but as people age, it "decays" differently. I'm certainly not a fan of US cursive handwriting, at least not as written by people over the age of 14, but I find the French style absolutely maddening.

The essential problem is that many people's cursive writing is indecipherable on a letter-by-letter basis, and you need to bring high-level linguistic knowledge to bear. Let's look at my example again, remembering that it's better than a lot of what I encounter in real life:

That actually reads Écart type d'une variable aléatoire, but I'd have trouble recognizing the é in aléatoire without the context, and a lot of the other es look like dotless is, or possibly one side of the letter u. The iable is actually pretty horrible, too.

This sort of writing is pretty easy for a native speaker or somebody who has reached B2. But back when I was around B1, I could barely read French cursive at all. I just couldn't supply the higher-level linguistic knowledge required to decipher the squiggles.
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 Message 710 of 1317
01 October 2013 at 9:48pm | IP Logged 
I had trouble with that 'e' as well, but that seemed minor to me, so I figured there was more going on. I'm
used to having much harder problems reading English cursive, which in turn I find infinitely easier than the
maddeningly non standardized Yiddish cursive. All relative, guess.
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 Message 711 of 1317
04 October 2013 at 2:05pm | IP Logged 
I continue my preparation for my upcoming probability class in French. The course description states:

Le contenu du cours va de la définition d'une probabilité au théorème de la limite centrale, et contient également un ouverture aux processus aléatoires.

(roughly:) The content of the course ranges from the definition of a probability to the central limit theorem, and also includes an introduction to random processes.

To prepare myself, I'm using French YouTube videos, French Wikipedia articles and other French sources I find online, and I'm working through proofs of some of the major theorems.

As usual, this involves a lot of rewriting proofs, eyeballing each step to make sure I can explain why it's true, and frequently backtracking to write out another page-long proof of some detail I couldn't justify to myself. This means it may take me several days and multiple YouTube videos to understand any given theorem. This is how math works. Expecting to read a math book and to understand it immediately is like expecting to read an Assimil course cover-to-cover in a weekend and speak the language. Sometimes understanding a page of math a day is a triumph.

So far, I'm up to the law of large numbers, which is traditionally one step before the central limit theorem, which—as previously mentioned—is the whole goal of the course. To get there, I needed to review more details of variance and covariance. Combined with my other work, I've already reviewed a large fraction of the material in the course before it even starts, using French sources for everything except a few mysterious details in the proof of Markov's inequality.

This means that when the course starts, I'll have a good base in both the subject matter and French mathematical terminology. This sort of context is always good for a major comprehension boost. Let's just hope that they haven't dumbed this online course down too much compared to the version they teach at l'École polytechnique.

Edited by emk on 05 October 2013 at 2:17pm

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 Message 712 of 1317
05 October 2013 at 2:13pm | IP Logged 
The Great EBook-Buying Experiment

I strongly dislike violating copyrights, because far too many authors live far too close to the poverty line, and they deserve a reward for their work. And frankly, as a science fiction reader, I know that most publishers are scarcely better off, and if you took away their few big-selling titles, many of them would promptly go bankrupt. In the US, the situation is even worse, because few authors can afford to buy health insurance on the open market, and a great many of them are financially ruined by medical bills (unless their spouse stays insured through a job). The medical situation is different in France, and US authors will benefit tremendously from the ACA starting this January, but still. I want to pay the people who make books.

But it's amazingly hard to buy French ebooks from the US. As patrickwilken pointed out, this isn't because buying ebooks is illegal. Instead, it's because of a private contract between and various French publishers. Amazon isn't allowed to sell to people outside of a certain geographic area. Those people, however, have never agreed to the contract, and so they still have every right to buy.

The trick is convincing Amazon to sell.

Attempt 1, in 2012: Change my existing Kindle account to be located in France using the online tools. Result: I bought one or two books, and received a very polite email from asking me if I was really French, and if so, could I please produce paperwork to prove it? No, I don't feel like asking my wife to scan her passport, so no more books for me.

Workaround: Order books in paper, and read them without popup dictionaries. Very occasionally retype interesting sentences into Anki. Result: Much less efficient use of my reading time.

Attempt 2: Purchase a 1-month VPN account through VPN France, and stay logged in. Create a new Amazon account using a new email address and Chrome's "Incognito Mode", to prevent cookie leakage. Fund the new Amazon account using email gift cards purchased on Set the billing address to "My name chez someone I know in France." Buy books over the VPN, and read using Kindle software (with the VPN still active).

Note that any human could figure out what I'm doing: My new account is still in my real name, and there are various other subtle giveaways. I have not, for example, resorted to a dedicated virtual machine, a private VPN server in France, or asking my in-laws to buy physical gift cards and mail them to me. Even I have my limits.

Results so far: I have bought several French ebooks, and I'll spend next week watching my email for another note from Amazon. I'll let you know what happens.

Working with Kindle ebooks

You can tap a word to bring up a definition in French (the Kindle will download a dictionary automatically). You can highlight sentences for later entry into Anki. In fact, if you have a US Kindle account, you can find your highlighted sentences at and copy-and-paste them straight into Anki. Unfortunately, there's no equivalent French site, and the US site doesn't seem to work right with French accounts.

Working with DRM-free ebooks

If you can buy DRM-free ebooks, which is increasingly the case with certain US publishers and only rarely the case with French publishers, then you might want to try the following tools:

* Calibre ebook reader. This is amazing—it converts formats and organizes huge libraries, and it's free.
* Dropbox. You can use this to sync your Calibre library from your computer to your mobile devices. Just configure Calibre to store everything in Dropbox/eBooks.
* Moon+ Reader Pro. This is the key part of the system, because it's one of the few Android ebook readers that (1) integrates nicely with Dropbox, (2) has fully-integrated dictionary support, and (3) allows you to export your highlights easily for later import into Anki.
* ColorDict with a French dictionary. This integrates nicely with Moon+ Reader Pro.

EDIT: If you have trouble highlighting text with Moon+ Reader Pro, press and hold one word. When the dictionary comes up, tap quickly outside of the dictionary area, but not on the word. You can then drag normally to extend your selection. This is annoying, but it's the only real headache I've found.

Edited by emk on 06 October 2013 at 6:39am

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