It is February and with the realization of that (I guess I might have had things on my mind) comes the reminder as I sit sipping my coffee that the snow mounds outside are still shoulder height with me (I am 5’ 10”) and the ice floes on the roof are thick.  The only thing that gives me hope is that the daylight situation is very clearly changing.  Okay, as I reread this paragraph I am only sorry it sounds so negative, because I am not at a negative point at all!

Yesterday was a tough one technology wise, it seems that I have had a few of those lately.  I am currently blogging on two sites until I can get the new one under control.  As I have stated in the past, control seems to be the almighty word of reality in most of our lives whether we admit it or not.  In my world, most of my true frustration has been in regards to people and control.  This situation is more like man fighting machine.  It remains to be seen who shall win this one but I have not given up the battle.  Instead of doing what I might have done in the past, I am biding my time more and I am doing only enough fighting to keep me from total frustration.  On the new site, I click on a button and nothing happens or I click on it and I get an ERROR message.  Christian told me that with the upload of pictures that I need to diminish their size first, which makes sense, the old site did that automatically for me.  This makes me wonder whether or not I have made a mistake in choosing to move to the new site.   Supposedly, in the long run, I shall have more freedom to make the site my own.  Yesterday, another main struggle on www.richardjkoerner.com was the one where I was trying to change the background picture on the top to one of my own taken in France about ten years ago.  I have the choice of a wheat field northwest of Paris or of a surprising attractive weedy poppy field.  They are both cool, but although I seemed to have properly chosen my avenue of change, nothing happened.  Christian is coming over, and a part of his new consulting business, check this out: www.cnkconsultinggroup.com, is to work with issues like this so we shall see if he knows his stuff.  I know he does and I know we shall regulate my website issues.  It is just that you have to weigh whether or not the whole thing is worth it.  My natural tendency is to hang on to the old since I know it works.  Okay, let me restate this, in a way I dislike change, but I am smart enough to know that it needs to be done.  It is just that, emotionally I have not always had the ability to handle that well.  The aging process, as maligned as it is, can be of help and it is most certainly helpful here.  So I am hanging in there for the ride.

I am really happy that yesterday I managed to set up some really nice electronic flashcards that are associated with the Bien Dit textbooks by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston that New Trier is using.  I “spreadsheeted” the vocabulary and uploaded it to a website associated to the app.  This shall allow the students I am tutoring to have another avenue of ways to learn vocabulary.  I find that as the time has gone by since I first started teaching, that memorizing has gotten harder and harder for students.  I am sure that it is totally associated with the evolution of pedagogy and the relegation of memorization to a position in learning where it is not totally appreciated.  I do understand that memorization for so long was overused and over touted.  I also am cognizant of the fact that language learning employs a large amount of memorization whether or not we like the concept.  What I am seeing is that the students who are having the most issues, and here we are not talking about students who are failing, but who are trying to maintain more of an above average profile in their classes, are often in their predicament because their continued inability to maintain the vocabulary load and acquire more is hampering their reading ability and causing unnecessary errors.  The subsequent issue is that their confidence level declines and they become sometimes totally or close to totally paralyzed in the learning process.  They then think that they are not language students.  I maintain that anyone can learn a language.  Yes, the ability we all have may be different, but just take a look at the influx of immigrants to the U.S.  Not all of them learned English perfectly, but if they were surrounded by the need to know English, somehow they all managed.  As I may have stated in the past, I misjudged my own grandparents’ abilities with English.  Their speech may have been halting but they frankly communicated quite well, for the most part.  My goal with all of this is to squelch some of the “elitist” attitudes that have been passed on about language learning.  World language teachers are sometimes at fault for having this elitist attitude with their students and cause the lack of confidence that turns them away.  So, I hope that this fun “tool” of a simple app on a phone or iPod will help in some way.  It is most interesting as I tutor and find that my best work is done when I can make it a bit more fun on a personal level and I play psychologist and inject their personalities with the confidence they deserve and need.

Michael went out of the house quite early, off to take a basic skills test in order to matriculate in a graduate program at the university.  I remember taking this test myself in the not so distant past as I completed the program for administrative certification, a certificate which, in fact, I never used.  I recall that despite my knowledge that it was a no brainer, that I would have no problem passing it, that it was an annoying, silly hurdle that I had to get past.  It is unfortunate that we have to have such a test to take, but the reality is that there are people who just are not prepared to move on educationally.  This all reminds me of the reasons why Mary Kay and I moved where we did.  We realized that education is just like real estate as they always say, “Location, location, location.”  As much as my children complained of the snobbishness, the crazy attitudes of the newly rich, and the entitlement of their peers, they received a good education here in the northern suburbs of Chicago.  And, as we all know, they can take everything away from you but they cannot possibly take your educational instruction back!

I didn’t mention that last night we had dinner with one of the sons and his fiancée, a delightful dinner that if seen by outsiders would have been questioned as perhaps the activity of a loony bin.  There was, of course, the delicious repast prepared by Michael served with the last of the Beaujolais Nouveau which was accompanied by almost “wet your pants” laughter that I cannot today pinpoint as to subject.  I just asked Mary Kay about it, she called it a “pinky up” sort of discussion which somehow refers to the fakey British accents put on by just about everyone as movie quotes were flung about and the humor went from normal to bawdy.  Somehow, the only thing I remember was the mention of “Spotted Dick” which is a supposed dessert in Britain.  That says a lot about British cuisine, doesn’t it, and perhaps this last comment lends credence to my supposed discrimination against the Brits that I put in a previous blog entry.  In any case, we were literally rolling on the floor.  That was a pleasure to see as the evolution of events from Michael’s arrival at home in December that went from total and all out dysfunction to where we are now.  It seems that the healing process is well on the road, we just need to hang on to it and continue to go with it.  Last night was wonderful and I am so glad that dinners are going back to where they should be.  The culmination of all our healing will be evident as we come together this coming Thursday to fête Mary Kay’s birthday, the number of which shall remain nameless. 

On the agenda today is perhaps a visit to the gym if we can fit it in, a movie and relaxing dinner with some very good friends, and perhaps some insight into my technology war.  I am looking forward to it, bring on the day!


Samantha, imagining and hiding

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Samantha has found a new hero of late, Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story.  Today, she found it among the toys we have saved from twenty to thirty years ago, and even not so far back, because I am guessing that Buzz is younger.

Samantha is really into hiding.  So we put up a tablecloth and set it up so we could go inside.  Once inside, I asked her if she needed a lamp and a blanket.  She said yes, but quickly divested herself of the lantern.  She did take Buzz inside and talked to him incessantly. 

While taking him around to different locations in the house and inside the shelter we set up, Samantha was weaving stories, something she has been doing for a bit.  Some of it I can understand, other parts, not so much.  She seems to be mimicking us; it is absolutely fascinating how language development is.  She is telling him to come with her, to climb, to fly, etc.  It is adorable.  She is having a relationship and communication with him.  Imagination is amazing and I want her to maintain it as long as she can.   I only wish I were privy to all that is going on in that intelligent head!

Samantha and the iPad

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Samantha is no stranger to technology and that certainly is normal for a child growing up in this world.

Mary Kay noted this information from The Week magazine recently. To recap what she put on her Facebook page, she said that twenty percent of the two to five year olds can do smart phone applications. 

The other day, Samantha asked us to pull out either the iPhone or iPad to see one of the apps.  She has consistently enjoyed Talking Carl, an app that repeats what you say and things like Wordbag, which features Pim, who speaks in French if you so choose and introduces everyday item words and pronounces them, or Peekaboo Barn, which when you tap the barn door produces an animal and the word for it. 

My mind was wandering as Samantha poked at the iPad (which was readily available in our vicinity) and I noticed right away that she was able to see that I had filed the kiddie apps in the game folder and then she tapped on the Peekaboo Barn app.  She continued until she had viewed all the animals.

The next day she noticed I had my iPhone in my hand and we went through the same process, this time she did the same thing but noticed that the apps were in a folder called “Jeux” since, geek that I am, my phone is in French.  She went for the Wordbag app and “Petit Pim” appeared. “Pim” is the panda who is multilingual. She started tapping on his backpack so he would introduce the everyday items.

Am I the typical Grandpa, or plutôt the Papi who thinks his Granddaughter is just the smartest kid in the whole wide world?  Yes!  Wait a sec, is that what I really want or think?  Perhaps not, I know that Samantha is a well-adjusted young lady and I believe that our family will provide her with a stable network to get her through life’s trials and tribulations, but I also know that she, like anyone else has certain gifts and then probably areas where she is less gifted.  It is hard for me, as Papi, to currently recognize any flaws because, wow, she is just the “bee’s knees” to quote my mom. 

At present, Sam is playing Papi like a violin, and I must admit it is darn cute.  When she comes to “Papi House” as she calls it, she now plays quite the coy, coquettish young thing and makes me work for her affection.  If I don’t get the immediate hug and I go into a sad funk, she will run to me and put her sweet arms around me and give me that hug and kiss.  But sometimes she just makes me wait.  In her world, she has her ducks all in a row and knows she is loved and cared for by so many people.  Since I am a “certainty” in her life, she can most assuredly play the game and make me seem like a secondary fixture at moments.  I know better.  I know my place and her momentary putting aside Papi’s feelings doesn’t bother me one iota.

When I was younger and less self assured and had three children I learned a valuable lesson from MK who was often treated like Samantha treats me by the three boys, who for some reason must have deemed me needier in the emotional area.  They were right, I was.  I watched as they played the Samantha game and MK never flinched a bit.  I think I may have even mentioned the time Christian decided to go to school with me one day when he was quite young.  I told him that he couldn’t because I wouldn’t have time for him while I was doing my job.  He told me that I would have to because he couldn’t stay with Mommy because he liked me better!  Parents need to understand that these commentaries cannot be taken the same way they would be if they were coming from an adult.  Sometimes, that is easier said than done but as kids are feeling their way through emotional development this is often what ensues.

So, is Samantha brilliant? I am her Papi and she is the most amazing young lady in all aspects and has a beautiful future ahead of her.  Will I feel the same way about Samantha’s future siblings and cousins?  You are darn right I shall, that is what a good Papi is for!

Oh, and by the way, thanks for all the comments on how cute Samantha is and how she is growing into a beautiful, intelligent young lady.  (Papi is beaming!)

Tutoring in French

I have been doing a good amount of tutoring of late, high school students wanting to have a better understanding of what is going on in French class, for the most part. During last summer I tutored a girl who was so motivated that she worked with me and skipped freshman year French classes and went straight into Intermediate French classes at Northwestern.  She was amazing, had studied Spanish in high school and started Italian in her first year of college, transferring right after that.  She worked it out with the professors and passed her oral and written exams to get right in the program.

Tutoring is an interesting situation.  It is so easy when students are truly motivated and energized.  In many instances, however, I am called upon to help them reach that point.

It is particularly hard when the students don’t have the willingness and desire to do the memorization.  I spend a lot of time giving them devices to remember vocabulary.  I try to have them visualize situations that might make it easier to remember vocabulary.  I help them relate the words to their counterparts in English, when possible, something which may not be easy if their English vocabulary isn’t as rich as it could be.

Last week, in a particularly interesting vocabulary acquisition case, I had the young tutee actually stand up and walk around the room as I had her chanting things like the numbers (which she was having trouble with) and with verb conjugations.  It really gets the blood going and helps them retain what they have learned.

I give them special rules which need to be memorized and I tell them why that is so.  I truly try to clarify the concepts they have been given in the classroom but have not conquered, for whatever reason.  I try to organize and streamline the information to make it easier to acquire.

When I tutor, I always take a laptop or my iPad with me so that I can take notes during the session and then e-mail the notes to them afterwards for some sort of permanent record.  This may include assignments of both oral and written variety. My favorite aspect of it all, geek that I am, is my ability to use accents when I type, and I just found out that I can use all of the accents on the iPad keyboard I purchased!

More often than not, the addition of the tutoring session to what is going on in the classroom helps immensely.

I remind them that it is very important that they figure out their individual learning styles.  Some people need to write out notes to acquire the concepts, others need just hear it, still others need to type it.   Determining the personal learning style is helpful not only to the French acquisition, but for other classes as well.

I also tell them that some of the means by which I try to help them remember are quite silly.  Frankly, the sillier the better when it comes to learning grammar and vocabulary.  In the end the goal is to be able to learn material faster and thus get better grades while economizing time.  While doing all this I always like to inject bits and pieces of culture as it could well be the carrot that entices them to do better and continue.

A field trip to Christkindlmarket by a German Class at Lake Forest High School

Today was a bit different.  Got up very early as usual, MK’s alarm goes off and the lightning shot of adrenaline hits my veins.  So miss the initial days of my pretirement when her alarm would go off and I would just continue to snooze for a few more minutes, and on rare occasions, even sleep beyond her departure from the bedroom.

These days, that doesn’t happen so I dress, do my quick exercises, and then my toilette.  Today my plan was to see MK off to school (she was being picked up by a colleague) and then go to the gym, swim, then go to Lake Forest High School where I would join MK and help her out by chaperoning her field trip.

Mary Kay was waiting outside and realized that her ride wasn’t going to appear.  Thoughts of the possible occurrence that she wouldn’t be picked up were few and far between as Andrea is just like me and very unlikely to forget anything.  But even people like Andrea can succumb to being forgetful, and she did!  So I ended up taking Mary Kay and another colleague stranded by Andrea.   Andrea said she would return but was told that that was silly.  Andrea was so embarrassed that I received an e-mail from her apologizing while I was on the trip.  I e-mailed her back to tell of my major embarrassment in pre-cell phone days when I was halfway to school before I remembered my promise to pick up my colleague. Andrea’s colleagues and Mary Kay welcomed this gaffe as we who attempt to be perfect in all situations sometimes need to be reminded that we are flawed as well and frankly, life is too short to get bent out of shape over such silliness.

We were taking some thirty-nine high schoolers (mainly boys because the Koerner theory has pointed out that German classes have the highest percentage of boys, French classes the highest percentage of girls, and Spanish classes are pretty well mixed) down to Daley Plaza to see Christkindlmarket, an authentic German market with booths and sales people shipped from Germany with their Christmas wares.

At noon, after about an hour ride in some pretty heavy traffic, we arrived at Daley Plaza, stood across the street by the Joan Miro statue and received final instructions from the “Frau” as she is called.  Not that that is standard procedure, because it is not, but it is standard for an American teacher of German to be so named.  We had until 1:45 pm to enjoy the surroundings.  We traipsed across the street, MK, the two moms, and I ready to keep tabs on the kids while enjoying the donated Christmas tree and the cool European stands.  Naturally, we were all hungry and the boys lined up first for hot soups, Bratwurst, Weisswurst, potato pancakes, and hot cider. Once sated, everyone set off to check out the goodies.

Käthe Wohlfart’s Christmas decorations were to be found in her unique boutique, we have visited her store in  Rothenburg, Germany and in Riquewihr, France as well.  She is our all time favorite and we were anxious to visit her shop where we made a few purchases.  Amazing painted pewter, glass ornaments, and wooden decorations were being purchased right and left by the throngs of people in the booth.  Are we really in a recession?  There were lots of little boutiques selling honey, beeswax candles, wooden toys, glass ornaments, and then there were a few international boutiques.  We were amazed by the crowd and wondered if the slightly warmer weather (in the 30s) was the cause.

Between 1:30 and 1:45 pm we tried to reassemble by the Christmas tree as proposed by MK and all but two showed up. The rest of us went across the street to wait for the bus back and MK waited patiently.  The two missing girls showed up with us by the Miro statue and thanks to cell phones we were easily able to get in touch with MK across the street to be able to tell her to join us.  One of the girls was convinced we were meeting at 2:30 pm.  Go figure!

A good time was had by all!  At 2:45 pm we were back at Lake Forest High School!

How to easily use French accents on any computer

I am so sorry that it took me so long to find out the information I am giving here.  For years as a French teacher, I tried numerous ways of producing the accents, some better than others.  My biggest frustration was  when the method I chose ended up looking like what I call “gobbledygook” in the e-mail I sent to my francophone friends.  I finally ended up using the ALT key + a number for the accented letters and memorized that until I found out that you can easily add different keyboards on any computer and toggle between the American one and the other ones you choose. 

In my job with ASC Direct Inc., I have shared this information with many language teachers, most of whom had never heard of this.

I have to say, that while in France, I never told Fabienne that I did this to her computer so as not to have to deal with the difference between the American QWERTY and the AZERTY keyboard.  She would have freaked so I set it up upon arrival and cleared it out before leaving!

Anyway, here is how you can do it, you cannot believe how many different language options are available.  The best is that you can use this in e-mail and it works.

Canadian Multilingual Standard 

This keyboard layout is commonly used in French speaking Canada. English speaking Canadians mostly use the same keyboard layout as in the United States, unless they are in a position where they have to write French on a regular basis. In addition, the Canadian Multilingual Standard layout can commonly be found on portable computers (laptops) marketed in Canada.

A remarkable characteristic of the Canadian Multilingual Standard keyboard is the number and variety of its shift states and dead keys, thanks to which it can be used to type just about all accented Latin characters, including such exotica as the ġ (dotted g) of Maltese or the ĵ (circumflexed j) of Esperanto.

 To set this up on a PC, follow this protocol:Select:

  • Start
  • Control Panel
  • Regional and Language Options (this may change slightly from PC to PC)
  • Languages
    • Click on “Details”
    • Under “Input Languages,” scroll to:  FR  French  (Canada)…(you will probably also see just below the explanation of  “Canadian Multilingual Standard”)
    • Click on “Okay”
    • Click on “Okay”


You can toggle between the French and English and also between other keyboards if you choose to add them.  You will see EN for English and FR for French on the screen tool strip.  You can also usually toggle by hitting the shift and Alt keys as well.

For other languages, just decide which keyboard you want and locate it…you can find this on all computers.  To select a keyboard you are interested in using, check out Wikipedia.

To set up on Mac, follow this protocol:


  • System Preferences
  • Click on:
    • International
    • Input Menu
      • Scroll down to Canadian French – CSA
        • check it
      • Check Show Input if it was not already checked

You can then toggle between flags

Once you set this up, go to Wikipedia and make a copy of the look of the keyboard you have chosen and you can use it as you type until you have memorized the locations!

Samantha and French

Samantha is twenty months old.  I see her with great regularity and watch her two full days a week.  Since her birth I have spoken to her in nothing but French.

She can repeat everything I say in small bits.  She is just starting to put together ideas and sentences in English.  She understands absolutely everything I say, no matter how complicated.  We have noticed that she is already using cognates in English, her mom said “beautiful” to her and she said “pretty.”  We think that my speaking to her in French may well have enhanced her ability to do this.

I am already sad about the fact that she may soon be able to pronounce “s’il te plaît” (please) correctly.  I think we are pretty close to that.  The way she currently does it is adorable.  It is something like “te pi ta.”  She readily knows how to respond to “au revoir” (goodbye” and today for the first time, she said “merci” without having to be prompted.  I have been working on her conjugation of the verb “s’appeler (to be called, my name is) and she knows how to respond when I ask her what her name is, what my name is, what someone else’s name is.  It is amazing.

If I were to say anything to her in English, she looks confused.

Her language acquisition is amazing!  More to come!