Take a look at Language Museum's blog, filled with great articles on world travel and languages!

Quick Enquiry

3 Books To Get You Excited About Berlin!

Posted on March 17th, 2015by Heather Keagan
In German | Leave a Comment »

Berlin, a city once divided in two, still has clear remnants of the wall’s effects today. The more you know about Berlin’s history, its people and the attitudes that have existed there over the last 70 years, the better you can appreciate the city itself. We’ve compiled a small list of books to give you better insight on exactly that, so sit down, grab a cuppa, and get inspired by this fantastic historical hub through literature:

By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


1. The Wall Jumper: A Berlin Story, by Peter Schneider.

The Wall Jumper highlights and examines the differences for those living in a bisected Berlin during the time of the Berlin Wall. The story is told through an anonymous narrator, who seems to know people or has had encounters with people who have crossed over the wall. Collecting stories from East Berliners and West Berliners, the narrator shows only his own bias and allows you to make your own opinion on the tales he relates.

The stories range in emotion and purpose, from the seriousness of those escaping the East to family in the West, to the lightheartedness of those simply wanting to watch Western movies. The tone throughout the novel remains quite sombre though there are moments of jocularity. Throughout the reader is reminded of the political climate that the narrator lives in.

The Wall Jumper is an interesting novel that gives you some insight into the history of Berlin before the fall of the wall. That time may have passed but its effects can still be easily seen in the city today. While not a long read, it will give you an unique view of how life was for many Berlin locals post World War II.


2. Slumberland, by Paul Beatty.

Something entirely different to the previous choice is Paul Beatty’s ‘Slumberland’. The narrator here is DJ Darky, and African-American music enthusiast who is on the search for a famous jazz musician called the Schwa.  He’s really done his homework in hunting the Schwa down, and we learn a lot about racial attitudes in Germany during this pivotal time based on DJ Darky’s informative breakdown of what he’s found. For what it’s worth, he finds the Schwa in a bar in West Berlin, just before the fall of the wall in 1989.

The writing of this novel is humourous, raw, adversarial, and unique. DJ Darky makes his way through Berlin working at a bar where he encounters black foreigners like himself who have their own take on German society, as well as the white women who mainly want to sleep with him. The novel is racially driven and will tell you as much about Berlin as it may tell you about yourself and shine a light on your thoughts on race, identity and culture. Read this funny novel out for an interesting break from some of the more emotionally heavy stories out there.


3. Pavel & I, by Dan Vyleta.

A dark love story/drama/comedy/tale of epic proportions, this novel is not one to be overlooked. Set during the coldest winter on record in postwar Berlin (1946-47), the story follows a decommissioned GI named Pavel Richter and his fortuitous friendship with an orphan named Anders. The story starts off with a dead Russian soldier in a frozen apartment and gets crazier and wildly more interesting with every page turned.

As a reader, you really get a feel for how Berlin struggles and suffers after World War II. Vyleta depicts a city that is battling to get through the mire, sometimes with indifference, sometimes with hatred, sometimes with overwhelming passion. Without giving too much away this novel has it all; violence, sex, murder, and heartbreaking betrayal. What’s not to love?


Did these titles get you excited about Berlin, its culture, history and language? Speaking German will elevate your understanding of the city’s – and country’s – intricacies. Why not contact us and see what German courses we have available in your area?

3 Books to Read Before Going to Mexico

Posted on February 5th, 2015by Heather Keagan
In Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Photo via Kevin Dooley/Flickr

Photo via Kevin Dooley/Flickr

Understanding the culture and history of a place like Mexico may seem easy initially, but don’t judge a book by its cover. There is so much more to Mexico that what you see in travel brochures or cheesy depictions in the media. Make the most out of your trip, and check out these novels before you leave – they’ll help you better understand a country that has so much to offer, yet has been so often overlooked.

A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveller’s Tale from Mexico by Sybille Bedford

The first on our list of books to read is a travel novel, which explores the author’s  experiences in a post World War II Mexico. An English woman who comes from money, she is eager to see what the world has on offer, and Mexico is her destination of choice. What follows is a story of a young woman’s exploration of food, tumultuous history, the Spanish language and a new land, all unlike anything she was familiar with in Europe.

Sybille Bedford, herself, describes the novel as semi-fiction, purely because when she was there, she took very, very few notes and wrote the entire novel after her time in Mexico had finished. Perhaps some elements of the book can be seen with a rose-tint to them, and perhaps some of the descriptions are tainted with the influence of memory, but that’s what makes the book a delight to read.

The book itself is made up of short stories or essays, that read a bit like a patchwork quilt of Bedford’s time in Mexico. Some of the stories, like the one of bags stolen by gunmen on donkeys or the invitation to a wealthy home and fabulous dinner party, seem too good and too funny to be true. Bedford captures the feeling and spirit of Mexico in her careful and reflective writings on her time there, and the novel will both entertain you and impress upon you how Mexico has developed into what it is today.

Did we like it?

4 out of 5 stars

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos

One of our stranger (and shorter, at only 70-ish pages long) choices on this list really takes liberty with the narrative voice. Villalobos’s novella is told through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy; the son of an infamous drug kingpin, who is kept imprisoned in his home as we learn of his life and of the things that make up his world view.

The narrator tells us about Mexico, through its food, its culture and its drug scene; of course you have to allow for questioning as a 7-year-old cannot always be completely believed, but the tale is told well, and really sucks you in. The author seems to ask the reader to see the faults in missing the bigger picture throughout this novella, and to look at the information we are not given as much as the information we are.

This story teaches us a bit about how drugs and gangs have influenced present day Mexico and because of this, it isn’t a particular light or uplifting read. It does have merit, in the ways it brings to light the problems and issues that exist, as well as nod to the past, with character names written in Nahuatl, Mexico’s indigenous language. An interesting read, this book won’t take you too long to finish, but will stick with you long after you’ve put it down.

Did we like it?

4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

This book is considered a classic, and one of our longest books on the list. Essentially, it’s a book of essays that focuses on Mexican identity and humanity’s solitude. Paz takes the idea of solitude, a human condition, and uses its role in Mexican identity to explain the way the country acts, celebrates, loves, governs, and lives.

The book also dives into Mexican history, focusing on the country’s historic connection to Spain as well as the role its indigenous people played while forming the country as a whole. Paz discusses the political history of Mexico and how battles fought in the past still affect the identity of the people today.

Easily read in pieces, it can be a bit heavy at times, but it will definitely paint a well defined picture of Mexican culture and society; focusing on what has come before and what will continue to come long after the novel is finished. Paz enlightens the viewer, making it a novel that will truly help you understand what Mexico is all about.

Did we like it?

4 out of 5 stars.


So now you’ve read more about the history, the food, the culture and all of the beautiful insanity Mexico has to offer, why not try learning the language? Spanish is a beautiful language that will come in handy in many places, not just Mexico! Why not contact us now and see what courses are available?


3 Books to Read Before Your Trip to Paris

Posted on January 20th, 2015by Heather Keagan
In French | Leave a Comment »

Everyone plans a trip differently, and there is no ‘right way’ to get ready to leave home, whether it’s for a weekend or for several years. When you’re preparing for your journey, don’t just look at guidebooks; try to read some prose about the city or country you’re planning on visiting. You’ll find you might just learn so much more from a novel set in Paris, than in a guide book! Here is our list of 3 books to read while you’re preparing for your trip.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik.


Paris to the Moon is a novel that will show you what it’s like to navigate the streets and arrondissements (districts) of Paris through the eyes of an American, and the eyes of a new father. This book will give you a good feel of the city as a whole, as Gopnik’s descriptions of bistros, parks, and the beautiful Parisian streets are both entertaining and accurately written.

This book is both funny and sweet, and carefully takes you on a stroll through the city, woven together with the everyday aspects of life that exist everywhere; doing laundry, making dinner, cleaning dirty diapers. These short essays will have you choked up, giggling, and pausing for review on what Gopnik says about life, parenting and Paris. It’s quite interesting to see the city covered by an American’s viewpoint, contrasting the cultural norms with a man’s need to try and get by while still attempting to enjoy all of the finer things the beautiful city has to offer. Give this one a try to set the stage for a particularly long or cultural trip, as its essays resonate with you for ages to come.

A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke.


A Year in the Merde is a funny novel that will teach you all about Paris from an Englishman’s point of view.  This story follows Paul West – a young man who has been hired by a company to create an authentic English tea room chain. He falls in love easily, and explores the city with the eyes of someone who both loves and hates the place and the culture. As the reader you can watch Paul become entranced with beautiful French women and amazing French food, and caustically hate things like ordering coffee, arguing with his bosses laissez-faire attitude, and trying to motivate French employees.We follow his journey of assimilation, and see the discord he feels on a trip home.

This is a great book to read for the cultural and language aspects of Paris travel. Stephen Clark paints an accurate and relatively current portrait of the city, and a colourful rendition of the people in it. His trials and tribulations will have you shaking your head and laughing, (sometimes at the same time!). You’ll learn some pretty interesting slang, along with some great tourist actions and sites to completely avoid. All in all, a great book for someone heading to the city.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.


Set in Paris, and the majority of the story takes place in a luxury Parisian apartment building. The two protagonists are Renee Michel, a 54 year old concierge that works in the building where Paloma Josse, a 12 year old genius lives. Paloma is unhappy and hides her talents because she feels as if she is vastly different from everyone around her. Judged by others to be short, stupid, fat and insignificant, she is really hiding a keen mind, and an amazingly profound wisdom. Renee and Paloma find each other after a wealthy Japanese gentleman moves into the building and highlights their contradictions. It’s a sweet book, with laughs and tears sprinkled throughout.

This book will give you an interesting viewpoint on the French class system, and the general way in which much of French society functions, in terms of people and the places they fall into. You can see the difference highlighted particularly by the alternation of narrators; the novel switches between Paloma and Renee. You’ll also pick up some interesting vocabulary and insights into elements of French culture that you may not have the opportunity to experience or see otherwise!


With images of Paris and your newly acquired French vocabulary, why not see what classes we have available to get set on your journey to fluency ?


4 Tips for Surviving A German Christmas Market

Posted on December 22nd, 2014by Heather Keagan
In German | Leave a Comment »

Christmas time means Christmas markets, and Germany’s Weihnachtsmarkt is the best. You’ll find yourself wandering down newly made streets of little wooden stalls selling amazing handicrafts, useless souvenirs, homemade honey, homemade wine, homemade cakes… homemade everything! If you’re looking for a good souvenir or a uniquely made Christmas present, you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you come prepared though. We’ve made a list of tips and tricks to make sure you get the best experience possible. Fröhliche Weihnachten and happy Christmas market hunting!

Photo by Nenyaki/Flickr

Photo by Nenyaki/Flickr

Pack the right bag

You need a bag that isn’t too big but has plenty of pockets. Christmas markets are busy and crowded, and you’ll want to be able to store your purchases in multiple pockets to keep them separate from your phone and your cash. It’s important too, to make sure that your cash is in a place that’s hard for you to get to, which will mean it will be hard for pickpockets to get to as well. Don’t bring a backpack, as it will just hold you back in the crowds, and it’ll be difficult for you to get in and out of as you shop through the amazing handicrafts you’re bound to find.

Fingerless gloves are your new best friend

You need something that will keep your hands warm, but will still allow you to eat, pay for your purchases, drink your Gluhwein, and maybe check your phone without taking them off. I would recommend normal gloves with fingerless gloves on top, but only if you don’t plan on checking your phone all that often. Don’t wear mittens. They will simply get in the way of all the eating, drinking, purchasing and photo taking.

Photo by Roxnstix/Flickr

Photo by Roxnstix/Flickr

Find the best Gluhwein and make that HQ

Gluhwein is amazing. In English, it’s called mulled wine and it is the best part of any Christmas market. The first thing you’ll want to do when you get to a Christmas market is find the perfect mug of hot, fruity wine. Based on experience, you’ll want to look for the longest line, or people working the stall who look generally rushed off their feet – this is where you’ll find the best Gluhwein (or alternatively the best Wurst). Make this your HQ. If your group gets separated, you meet back there. Every lap that you do, you head back to that stand for a Gluhwein refill. You’ll thank yourself for making this your first priority, because the Gluhwein will help fight off the cold and stop you from buying as many things, as one hand will always be full!

Go on an empty stomach

Christmas markets are full of tasty, hearty, delicious foods. You’ll find multiple stalls offering amazing Wurst, Christstollen (amazing cake),  Lebkuchen (yummy cookies), as well as different stews and baked goods. You can eat like a king and the smells will have your mouth watering and your tummy grumbling. Budget a little extra money for this part of the market. You won’t regret buying some tasty food here, and though it might be a bit pricy, your taste buds will thank you for it!

If you’re looking to go exploring the markets this Christmas time it’ll be handy to have a few phrases under your belt. Contact us today to find German courses and make the most of your trip!


More Than Just Gluhwein? German Christmas Traditions

Posted on December 11th, 2014by Heather Keagan
In German | Leave a Comment »

You may know that the Christmas tree originated in Germany, but do you know about St. Nikolas’ Day? German Christmas traditions may not seem all that strange, but they are interesting and a little quirky. We’ve compiled a list of the most interesting (and weirdly similar to the Western world’s):

The Christkind

Germany’s Christkind (or Christ-child in English) is the one who brings the gifts on the 24th of December.  The Christkind is usually depicted angelically, with blonde hair and delicate features. No one ever sees the Christkind dropping off the presents.  Parents tell their waiting children that the Christkind will not come if they try to sneak a peek. When the Christkind leaves, a small bell can be heard (or at least parents pretend to have heard it), signalling the time to open presents has arrived!

Every year a Christkind look alike is chosen in Nürnberg, and it may surprise you to learn that it’s a girl, with long curly blonde hair.  She is dressed in a gold and white dress, and has different duties that come along with her position. She participates in Christmas parades, and opens the Christmas Market or Weihnachtsmarkt on the Friday before Advent starts (four weeks before Christmas). She also visits hospitals, nursing homes, and appears in some obligatory television appearances for the holiday season.

St. Nikolas’s Day

St. Nikolas’s Day falls on December 6th, and is celebrated in Poland, Holland, France and Malta (to name a few), as well as Germany. In Germany children write letters to St. Nikolas asking for presents.  On the 5th of December, they put a Nikolaus Stiefel or Nikolas boot, outside their front door (nowadays they can also be found outside their bedroom door, or at the foot of their bed). If they have been good throughout the year, St. Nikolas will fill their boot with fruit, chocolate and candies. If they’ve been naughty, they end up with a stick, called a Rute. St. Nikolas has a big book that holds the naughty and nice list (much like the Western idea of Santa), which he checks before filling up the boots.

In areas with a larger population of Catholics, St. Nikolas is dressed as a bishop, with a long beard and rides a horse into town to greet all the children who have been good.  In Bavaria, he hangs out with Knecht Ruprecht; a kind of helper who follows him around, and often carries a cane or staff and a bag of ashes. If you appear on the naughty list, he covers you in ashes from his bag, or he might feel inclined to beat you with a stick. An easy way to encourage naughty children to behave!

Die Sternsinger

Photo by Norbert Staudt/Flickr

Photo by Norbert Staudt/Flickr

Translated as ‘Star Singers’, this specific German tradition (which is also particularly active in Austria and Switzerland), doesn’t take place until the Epiphany, on the 6th of January. It starts with a house blessing, which those who celebrate the Epiphany have the local priest place on or above their door in chalk. The blessing consists of the year, and the phrase C+M+B (so for this year, you would see 20* C+M+B+15). These letters represent each of the Wise Men (Magi); Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.

The tradition of Sternsinger started around the 1500s, but today is used as more of a charity fundraiser. Young boys and girls will dress up as the Magi/Wise Men and will carry a large staff with a star at the top, sing throughout town and move from house to house. It’s a bit like the idea of carolling. At each house the singers ask for donations to a local charity, and in some towns the Sternsinger themselves inscribe the blessing on the house.

Think you know every word to Stille Nacht, or O Tannenbaum? Why not sign up for one of our German courses, and start your journey to knowledge in both the language, as well as its country’s Christmas traditions!

Study Abroad in France: Top 3 Universities

Posted on November 11th, 2014by Heather Keagan
In French | Leave a Comment »

Maybe it’s the beautiful beaches in the south, or the cafes and charming patisseries in Paris that have set your heart a flutter over France. Maybe you’re in love with the language, the culture, or the people. Whatever the case may be, if you’re thinking of studying in France, there are some important things you should know before taking the plunge.

There are three main types of higher education in France: public universities which are government funded and open to anyone with the right qualifications, Grandes écoles, which are considered more prestigious and will usually require exams for entry, and technical institutes that usually deal with vocational subjects and are particularly good for those considering engineering, or hands-on science degrees. There are a wide variety of programs offered at countless educational Institutions throughout France, meaning that regardless of your needs or educational requirements you will find something that suits you. If you choose to study in French, you will need to sit and pass a Test de Connaissance de Francais (TCF). Now that you know the basics, here’s our list of amazing French universities to check out:

Université de Nantes, Nantes

Photo by Christophe Laigle/Flickr

Photo by Christophe Laigle/Flickr

The University of Nantes is located in Western France on the Loire river. A large school, it has over 42 000 students, of which a little under 10 percent are international students. They have over 1500 researchers and professors, and they offer 295 different diploma programs. Many of these options are taught in English exclusively, or in a mixture of English and French. Some of the English-taught programs include Master’s degrees in multimedia and data management, biology-biochemistry, and a Bachelor’s in British and North American studies.

If you are looking to study in French, even more options are available to you. The university is organized into 4 campuses all of which have energy efficient facilities.  They have a very active theatre on campus that organizes around 70 performances a year, in addition to multiple festivals, such as an International Film Festival held on campus every year. There’s a lot to see and do in Nantes outside of your studies as well, making it a great place to live and study for your degree.

Want to see how fluent you already are in French? Test yourself with our free French level test!

Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble

Joseph Fourier University is located south-east of France. The university rests in the heart of the Alps, making it a beautiful place to live and to study. With a much smaller student body (consisting of approximately 15, 000 students), Joseph Fourier University offers a mix of science and humanities options with a good assortment of English-taught degrees available.

The university also considers itself to be quite career-oriented with internships and Master’s degree placements available as well as additional help and training that will give you the edge for future polytechnic education, if that’s what you’re interested in.

Some of the programs offered in English include networks and telecommunications, physiology and epigenetics, mathematics, and computer science. Joseph Fourier University is highly ranked and a great place to complete your Bachelor’s degree, so explore it as an option if the programs listed above seem up your alley.

Université Paris Diderot, Paris

With approximately 26 000 students (around 20% of which are international), this university has a wide variety of degree programs and is connected to the Sorbonne Paris Cité group which consists of 4 universities in Paris that subscribe to the highest possible value of education. They provide courses in film studies, genetics, scientific journalism, and psychology among many other disciplines.  The university has a selection of cultural and art workshops every year for both students and staff and are tailored to different artistic abilities.

CinéDiderot is known for its unique film society that shows an eclectic mix of cinema. Paris Diderot also offers a wide variety of sport extracurricular activities, like scuba diving, Kendo, and volleyball. The university proffers courses taught in English, however the school does require you to be fully fluent to succeed in the courses and in academic life. For more information on language requirements for the program you’re interested in, take a look at the university website.

The opportunity to study in France is waiting for you to seize it. Make sure you’re fully prepared before taking the plunge by getting your French up to scratch. It can seem daunting studying in a foreign country and especially in a foreign language, so why not make French feel more like a first language, than a second? Contact us and see what courses we have available near you!

4 Amazing French Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen, But You’ll Wish You Had!

Posted on October 29th, 2014by Heather Keagan
In French | Leave a Comment »

The French film industry has often been touted as the pinnacle of cinematic greatness. Cannes film festival is one of the largest, and most publicized film festivals in the world, with many avant garde (and quite a few ground breaking) films debuting there every year. Perhaps you’ve seen a few French films, or perhaps French cinema is something entirely new to you. Whether it’s to further your language skills, or to introduce yourself to a new medium of social and self expression, these films are sure to provide you with a little bit of everything:


Le Dîner de Cons (Dinner Game), 1998

Have you seen ‘Dinner for Schmucks’? Well, this is the film that started it all. It doesn’t try nearly as hard as the English adaptation: the jokes are smoother, classier, and the general feeling is much more subtle and not nearly as crass. The premise? A dinner party is held for a group of French business men, and their guests: ‘idiots’. Each diner must bring an ‘idiot’ with him that the rest of the diners may ridicule, and at the end of the meal, an ‘idiot champion’ is chosen. Similar to ‘A Christmas Carol’, we see the lead (played by Thierry Lhermitte) transformed from a man who has it all, to a man who has nothing, into a man with a better understanding of what and who is important in life. An excellent French cast, mixed with a unique premise and a soft rolling comedic humour make this a great film to watch.

Did we like it? 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Caché (Hidden), 2005

A film starring Juliette Binoche of Chocolat fame, we get to watch a seemingly happy couple; the husband is a television personality and the wife works at a upscale publishers office. Their world is shaken when they begin to receive video tapes of themselves in their house, outside their house, at work – everywhere. They don’t know who has made these tapes, or why. All they know is that they keep coming in, become more disturbing, and shake the foundations of the family to its core, all the while toying with the idea of blame and racism, and managing to turn these questions towards the viewer. This is one that will keep you guessing, but not so much in a ‘Hollywood thriller’ sort of way. It’ll get you asking, why? Why them? Why do they think that way? A creepy film that stays with you, it’s not one to miss.

Did we like it? 4 out of 5 stars.



The Intouchables, 2011

This film will take you a bit by surprise, and the fact that it’s based on a true story might just warm your heart. It’s the story of an extremely wealthy quadriplegic searching for a care worker. He goes through countless aids until he stumbles across a man who does not fit the role in any respect, and is simply looking for a signature for unemployment benefits. He offers him the job and the story follows both of their lives and the way they, sometimes complicatedly, intertwine. While taking up ample space in your heart, along with being expertly cinematographed and extremely well acted, this is a movie that will remind you of the good in human kind and in friendships.

Did we like it? 5 out of 5 stars.  


Les Choristes (The Chorus), 2004

This is a heartwarming story that will tug at your heart strings and have you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Told in a flashback, you get a taste of what the lead character, Pierre Morhange, has made of his life before you see how he got there. During his youth, he was sent to a boarding school for difficult children and his life was changed by the choir conductor, Clement Mathieu. You’ll feel sadness, anger, and hopefully, by the end, pride and a sense of satisfaction. Critically acclaimed, this film has an amazing cast with actors like Gerard Jugnot, and Jacques Perrin.

Did we like it? 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Watching films in French is always a handy way to study the language, but if you need a little help getting started, contact us to see what courses we have available for you before you settle down with the popcorn.

3 Fantastic German Novels and the Authors Behind Them

Posted on September 25th, 2014by Heather Keagan
In German | Leave a Comment »

Germany and Austria have produced some of the most amazing minds in literature. As you read German fiction you will notice it often takes a bitterly realistic turn towards the darker side of life; the subconscious, death, sadness, the ugly side of human nature. Not all German fiction is dark though. German fiction by its nature is existential, and is supposed to make you question your world view, and your position in it. Deep to the core, German literature will leave a lasting impression. Check out our list of German authors and their books that you should definitely read:

Charlotte Roche – Feuchtgebiete (Wetlands)

Charlotte Roche is a British-German author and television presenter who currently lives in Germany. A wild child of sorts, she had her own band which fell apart rather quickly. After that she began experimenting with shock entertainment, delving into self mutilation in order to paint with blood, and even more recently,  offering to sleep with the German president, Christian Wulff if he agreed to veto a law that would extend the life of nuclear reactors.

Her novel Feuchtgebiete (Wetlands in English) is an amazingly intense novel. It’s sexual to the extreme and so graphic at points you may find yourself putting the book away. It was Amazon’s best selling novel in 2008, and it’s easy to see why. Feuchtgebiete pushes every boundary you can imagine while still staying within a comfortable reality. It is perverse, hilariously funny, and heartbreakingly sad. You will cringe, and you will feel incredibly confused and slightly attracted to the characters and stories in this novel, and because of that it is definitely not to be overlooked.

Franz Kafka – Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis)

Franz Kafka was so influential and revolutionary with his writing that you may be familiar with the term Kafkaesque, which is often used to describe situations or works of fiction that have a bizarre, nightmarish or illogical quality about them. Kafka was not actually German: he was born to Jewish parents in what is now Prague but was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Kafka studied to be a lawyer and worked at an insurance firm after graduating. He initially began writing short stories in his spare time, though as time passed he considered it to be his true calling. Very few of his works were actually published before his death, and he asked that his manuscripts be destroyed on his death bed. His wishes, however, were never carried out, and much of his work was published posthumously.

Die Verwandlung, (The Metamorphosis) is one of Kafka’s most famous and most bizarre works of fiction. It was published in 1915 and tells the story of a travelling salesman named Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one day to find he has been turned into a giant insect. Kafka doesn’t give a reason for the transformation and simply goes on to tell the struggles Samsa has in trying to adapt to his new body in a world where his family is repulsed by his transformation. It’s a little heavy, but an amazing read. It bounces back and forth from idea, to stream of consciousness, with a mixture of the completely bizarre contrasted with everyday life. This strange novella is definitely a must-read for the adventurous.

Alfred Döblin – Berlin Alexanderplatz

Döblin is a huge figure in the German modernist movement. His writing varied in genre from historical fiction to sci-fi. He wrote novels, plays, letters and essays on religion, politics, art and society. The entirety of his works is enormous, and were written and published between 1915 and 1945.

Born in Poland to a Jewish family, he moved to Berlin when he was 10 years old and lived there until he was forced into exile when the Nazi party rose to power. Once World War II began, he fled to Los Angeles and converted to Catholicism. After the war he returned to West Germany and, following that, went to France where he died.

Berlin Alexanderplatz was written in 1915 and is one of his most important works. It’s a chaotic novel that tells the story of Franz Bieberkopf. Bieberkopf has been through some serious stuff, all of which you find out about as the story unfolds, but all we know for sure is that he’s trying to reform himself and it is not an easy task. The novel is written as if you are inside Bieberkopf’s head, experiencing everything as he experiences it. Döblin leaves nothing out, from the things Bieberkopf sees to the flashbacks he experiences. The novel takes you on a pretty intense ride, but the twists and turns make it completely worth it. You’ll find yourself wondering if the people in Bieberkopf’s life are the problem, or if Bieberkopf should shoulder most of the blame. Either way, the novel is a fantastic, albeit sometimes difficult, read.

All of these novels are available in German as well as English for those beginner German speakers out there. Being able to read the work in the original German is always better, so why not contact us to see what courses we have available for you in your area?

Explore the Beautiful French Island of Corsica!

Posted on September 8th, 2014by Heather Keagan
In French | Leave a Comment »

You might not have considered it before but Corsica is a perfect place to practice your French – check out our list of places to visit when you’re there!

Usually, when thinking of places to practice French, Paris, or Marseille, or even Nice come to mind. Not that these aren’t amazing places to travel, explore and improve your language skills, but they’re heavily tourist-oriented and the chance of you truly getting to practice and improve your French are more limited than in a place less dominated with tourists. Corsica offers some of the most beautiful views in the Mediterranean and is incredibly accessible for tourists, though it still allows you to immerse yourself fully in a French-speaking environment. Check out our list of places to visit in Corsica (where you can practice your French):

Be the active tourist in Bonifacio:

Bonifacio is located directly on the Mediterranean sea, is the only major harbour on the southern coast, and also covers the Îles Lavezzi, a small outcropping of islands near Sardinia. Much like other European cities, it has an Upper/Old town (Vielle ville or Haute ville in French) where you can find the citadel that overlooks the whole town and the sea.. At night, the citadel is lit up in a way that makes you want to bust out your tripod to capture the beauty and peace of the view. Spend your evenings wandering the narrow cobblestoned streets, ordering beautiful wine and chatting en français with new friends in the making. Entertain yourself during the day by exploring the limestone cliffs, visiting the citadel’s museum, or taking a boat trip to the Îles Lavezzi. Go for a swim, or better yet, go rock climbing or kite surfing at La Tonnara beach.

Photo by traroth

Photo by traroth

Be the festival-goer in Calvi:

Calvi lies in the North, and is home to quite a few spectacular festivals –the Festival du Vent is one of them. Held in October every year, it is host to a multitude of arts events. There’s cinema, sculpture, paintings –you name it, you can find it there. That, combined with the beauty of the town,and the gorgeous sea view make for an unforgettable trip. Take in the artwork and watch some unique French arthouse cinema while you’re there (often without subtitles, giving your listening skills a thorough workout!). Or if you’re more physical, try some windsurfing or water sports while the festival is in full swing. Another interesting festival to take part in, is the Festival des 3 cultures. It’s held every three years and goes between Calvi, and Ciboure in the Basque country, and Collioure in Catalonia. You can expect to see music, art and street performers while it’s in town (plan for May 2015!). Calvi also has an amazing citadel, and stunning views, though really the whole island is gorgeous, so it’s hard to pick the best view.

Photo by Pierra Bona

Photo by Pierra Bona

Be the history boff in Filitosa:

It’s not so much a city as it is a historical goldmine. If you’re into history at all, this place will astound you. Arrow heads and pottery were found dating back to approximately 3300 BC, and the large stone megalith structures give way to Neolithic structures and finally to Roman settlements. There are quite a few menhirs (French for ‘long stone’) surrounding the site at Filitosa, which have been carved to look vaguely like people with weapons and human faces. One theory for their existence is they were used to ward off an invading group of people called the Torréens, though perhaps even more remarkable is how well preserved these stones are. Get a history lesson en français with a local guide, or pick up some French reading material on Filitosa at the gift shop to give yourself some try unique reading comprehension practice. There is a great deal of information and history surrounding Filitosa and you can easily spend a day walking around and exploring this amazing site.

Photo by xtra

Photo by xtra

With so much beauty, so many places to explore and opportunities to practice your French, why not contact us to see what French courses are available near you before you head to this beautiful part of the world?

The 5 Best Canadian Foods You’ll Ever Have the Pleasure of Eating

Posted on July 15th, 2014by Heather Keagan
In English, French | Leave a Comment »

What really is Canadian food? Much like Canada’s culture, Canada’s food has been influenced by immigrants, that have brought their food and their own style of cooking to Canada. Because of this cultural mosaic, often times you find variations on classics depending on where you are in the nation. On this list you’ll find an interesting amalgamation of food that you can really and truly call Canadian:

1. Poutine.

Poutine is a delicious mixture of cheese curds (though you can find it simply with shredded cheese, depending on your location), brown gravy, and French fries. Some people like to add a little ketchup, I personally like to add a little vinegar.  In Canada most restaurants or pubs that serve French fries will have some version of this on the menu, and KFC gets in on the craze with their own incredibly tasty poutine. Don’t pass up the opportunity to try this Canadian classic.

Photo by  Yuri Long

Photo by Yuri Long

2.Maple Syrup.

Maple syrup is something that every Canadian child will have on their waffles and pancakes growing up, and something that as an adult you may enjoy as a marinade on your wood-fired Pacific Salmon. We dip our bacon into it, we put it on snow cones, we turn it into fudge. Really there’s nothing Canadians don’t use Maple syrup for, so smother your pancakes in it whenever you have the opportunity.

3. Nanaimo Bars.

Originating in Nanaimo, British Columbia, these little squares are perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth.  The first layer is similar to a chocolate brownie with coconut mixed in. The second layer… well if I was to tell you what it’s actually made of you probably wouldn’t eat it (it’s butter and sugar), and makes a creamy delicious middle to this chocolate sandwich. On top there’s a hardened layer of chocolate that sometimes has a pattern to it, depending on the baker. Delicious with a coffee (perhaps a Tim Horton’s double double?), if you’re watching your waistline try to keep the squares small.

Photo by Sherri Terris

Photo by Sherri Terris

4. Halifax Style Donairs.

Similar to a Turkish kabob, a ‘donair’ in most of Canada refers to the ‘Halifax’ style. This is actually so popular among people on the East Coast of Canada that you can buy the meat, and sauce pre-packaged and ready to heat at home.  The meat is heavily spiced ground beef and is a bit peppery and salty. This ground beef is molded into a dense log and heated and sheared off for each serving. It’s served in a pita with onions, green peppers, cabbage and topped off with a sweet white ‘donair sauce’.  Perfect after a night out on the way home from the bar, and many people like to use the donair sauce for pizza dipping; however you decide to enjoy it, it’s an interesting uniquely Canadian treat.

5. Atlantic (or Pacific) Salmon.

Because I’m from the East Coast of Canada, I am naturally biased towards Atlantic Salmon. Of course, Pacific salmon on the West Coast is also delicious, I just prefer the taste of the Atlantic stuff. There’s no end to the use of salmon in Canada: mixed with mayonnaise in sandwiches, smoked and served with a cheese plate or onto of a bagel, mixed into a fish chowder, blended into a fish cake, bar-b-qed on a cedar plank, marinated in maple syrup and roasted with root vegetables.  Really any way you could want to try it, you’ll be able to find and enjoy it in Canada.

Photo by pug 50

Photo by pug 50

Want to learn even more about Canadian food and culture while studying a language? Why not contact us to see what French and English courses are available for you!